Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Better World with More Kevins

I doubt anyone is very happy with the tone of political discourse today.  Certainly I am not, the press is likely not, the president is not and neither are most in Congress, possibly on both sides of the aisle.  And principally, the folks who read and write columns such as these are particularly disgusted.

Hiding behind icons, avatars and screen names, they are in no small way responsible for that; it is now very common to have profanity and ridicule as the norm in the Comments section of news articles.  I assume that the people who write that way are happy to have an outlet for their upset and their venom, but it is not a "happy" I would be comfortable with.

I have written a few times about my very liberal grand-niece, a Ph.D. candidate and Bernie Sanders supporter, and probably will be until she has to earn a living.  She is the child of conservatives, at least one set of grandparents were conservatives, including the surviving grandmother, and her grand-uncle and aunt are certainly conservatives.  We disagree with her on so many things.

But we are not able to communicate that.  The past few years, when the family was together, she would declare that she was not going to talk politics, although the rest of the clan certainly would.  She did not want to have the conversation.  I don't want to presuppose anything, or put words in her mouth, but it struck me that she did not feel capable of having a persuasive argument with people a generation or two her senior.

As I wrote once, I believe this is exacerbated by the associations on social media that such youngsters have, that evolve to where only like-minded people talk to each other.  My best girl closed her Facebook account recently, after posting a reasonably-presented counter to a relative's statement of assumed (leftist) fact, and being condemned for her opinion with venom far higher than imaginable, since her counter had been presented with out anger at all.

That refusal of my grand-niece to engage at all is likely the exception to the rule, I fear.  More frequently, such encounters as with my best girl erupt into arguments that cannot be won once the anger rises to a certain point.

And so it was with great interest that I received a lengthy email from Kevin, a classmate in college, fraternity brother, and also a roommate for a year.  We had not especially kept up a great deal over the ensuing years, an occasional message but that was about it as we went through our respective careers.  I had not seen him for 40 years when we got together at our college reunion and spent some time at some of the scheduled events and talking with the other few brothers of our class who had attended.

Kevin's email brought up a piece I had written a few weeks ago, and was intended to ask if what I had written expressed a true feeling, or was rather a literary exaggeration-for-effect to make a point.  More importantly, it was indeed lengthy, and included several questions intended to break down the content I had written and get to what I was actually saying.

I think I can comfortably say that he felt differently from the way I did on that particular topic.  That fact is relevant, since for the first time in I-don't-know-when, there was the case of people disagreeing on a specific topic, actually asking the other person, ever so politely, to explain the root of their feelings in regard to that topic.  Now, I suspect that Kevin and I agree on other things, possibly many.  If memory serves, we were of a fairly common mind back in college, so although there was real difference on this issue, there might still be fundamental agreement on other areas.  Possibly, but I don't know.

It doesn't matter.  What does matter, and I hope you will apply this to your own daily dealings, is that differences on an issue were addressed by trying to understand the nature of the other's points.  Obviously therapy, such as marriage counseling, tries to get married couples to try to understand each other's perspectives, to listen, to ask, to try to divine the source of the other's opinion before trying to argue them out of it, and certainly before belittling them because of their view.

Let us imagine ... what kind of astronomically better world would we be living in, if it were populated far more by people who asked what lay behind your opinions, and far less by those quick to anger, quick to belittlement or, sadly, quick to avoid the discussion in the first place, lest they actually learn something from it.

I am strongly for the world with more Kevins in it.  And I will point out that since his initial inquiry, I did respond -- not quickly, though.  Thoughtful questions deserve thoughtful answers, and it took some real thought to get into the fundamentals behind my own opinion (!).  I didn't change my view, mind you, but I was able to clarify the connection between my experiences and my views, and communicate that.  We have had a slow and careful discussion on another issue, since.  And my first reaction is invariably how good and pleasant it is to talk about an issue without raising arms.

Good.  Pleasant.  Nice thoughts to get a week going.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, February 27, 2017

#600: Where Have You Gone, CNN?

Back in the '90s, I had to travel around to military headquarters in different locations in the world for my assignment.  This was in 1992-93 or so.

One thing that was a fairly common sight back then were the war rooms, or situation rooms, where the brass would meet to brief and be briefed.  They were pretty high-tech for the time, with large TV screens around an otherwise normal conference room type of setting.

Obviously it was a bit intimidating to be in such a space while a war was going on, or at least winding down, although I was never that close to any of it.  Well, I was in Panama less than a year after their internal war, and there were still bullet holes in the outside walls.  That wasn't fun and it defined "intimidating", although Panama City then was certainly safer than south Chicago now, or south Chicago in 1968 when I lived there.

But I digress.

In each one of those situation rooms, one of the television screens would be running the Cable News Network, known then and now as CNN. Twenty-five years ago, CNN was the McNews of the traveler, in the same sense that USA Today was called "McPaper."

The point was simple.  For pretty much ever, news was delivered locally even when the content was national.  If you watched an affiliate of a network in the evening, you got a half-hour or so of local news followed by the anchor of the local affiliate's network doing a half-hour or so of world and national news.  But you watched Channel 6, or whatever, in your town, to get it.

The print media were the same.  The Herald, or the Times, or the Post, or the Press, or the Times-Picayune, or the Register, of whatever city or town, well, they carried world and national news but were delivered locally.  They were associated with their locality and were loyal to their locality.  The larger ones had bureaus in Washington and other places to represent them and deliver customized reporting, but they were the reporter or bureau chief of the Springfield Whatever, not of a press service.

All that changed with CNN and with USA Today.

These outlets had no locality to represent.  They vaguely resembled AP or UPI, the news services, except instead of being news services that fed the working press, they were their own outlets.  USA Today put kiosks in every airport for their paper, and stuffed one under hotel doors all over the place, a perk for guests, or at least guests with frequent-traveler status.

And CNN, ahh, CNN.  They, too, were all over, on the screens in airports, hotel rooms and all manner of "non-local" places.  We of a certain age grew up in the '50s and '60s when "news" was available first thing in the morning, and 6-7pm at night.  That was it.  CNN brought to us the concept of news being updated all the time, a 24-hour news cycle wherever you were, and the same news in Idaho, Texas, New Jersey, Maine and Alabama.

Some of that is the same 25 years later.  It is still there, CNN is, still delivering "non-local" news.  But so is Fox News Channel, and so is MSNBC, possibly (we're not sure if it actually is, as this column has not found anyone who actually watches it).  CNN is owned by Time-Warner, and while we can't really say that has mattered, and I don't want to go all post hoc, ergo propter hoc on you, what we know is that their reporting is unabashedly to the left, or at least anti-Republican.

And extremely anti-President Trump.

I expect that what bothers me most about whither CNN has drifted -- and I don't have to remind you of stories they have recently filed that are factually incorrect but reliably anti-Trump -- is that they had a position they could have staked out.  CNN built its reputation as a non-local news provider, practically the inventor of the 24-hour news cycle.

It could have been an essentially neutral provider, as it was in the 1990s.  It could have reported Barack Obama's warts and failures along with whatever good he might have done (I have forgotten if there was any, but I'm not pretending to be neutral).  It could have critiqued the Democrats in Congress for their fruitless stalling of Cabinet appointees with the same vigor that it criticized Mitch McConnell for holding up any hearings on the Supreme Court nomination last year of ... of ... gaack, I've already forgotten his name.

It could have been a reliably unbiased provider of 24 hours a day worth of news, a position that its origin allowed it to be.  I know that news virtually everywhere else is reported with bias, in some cases with a lot of it.  CNN had set a position for itself where it could have been a respected journalistic beacon.

It is now something quite smaller than that.  It has become advocacy journalism, unabashed Hillary supporters frustrated by their backing of the wrong side.  They appear to be solely inclined to enhance the political position and power of establishment Democrats, and to minimize the political power and position of Republicans, currently by their corrupt bashing of President Trump.

By doing so, they have sacrificed their standing as a respectable outlet, and their journalistic endeavors, which are at their highest when they are neutral and unbiased, are compromised everywhere.  MSNBC is to the left, we get that.  Viewers, if any remain, expect that and want that.  Fox News is to the right, and we who do watch it expect that point of view as well.

I didn't watch CNN that often, but I used to.  I trusted that their purpose dictated that they would tell us what happened, no more, no less.

I asked too much.  CNN ran away from me.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Wanting to Cry, Occasionally

I have mentioned that I am a member of the Barbershop Harmony Society, although my quarter-century of world competition is now behind me, and although it is not the actual topic of this piece.  Having competed for decades at the highest competitive level of the art form, I am as aware of anyone how amazing well-done barbershop is at its best, which I link to, and how awful it is at its worst, which I won't hurt you with.

Of, course, I have often been asked to speak about the art form, and when I do I try to separate out the more complex musical attributes from the entire "other part", which is the story-telling nature of barbershop songs.  Barbershop is both.  It is the musical complexity of three male voices harmonizing to a melody in such a way as to produce a blend wherein you regularly hear more than four notes.  It is also the capacity to bring an audience inside the story that the lead singer is telling in his rendition of the lyrics.

Those stories are often unhappy ones, some of lost love, or lost family.  They are popular, at least among the singers, because they allow the performer to plumb the deep emotions that he has felt for an analogous situation in his own life -- in fact, we advise and coach performers to find that analogy to make them better at delivering the emotional impact of the song.

Accordingly, I have always made the point that barbershop singers value our emotional "lows" as well as our highs, because it is a form of exercise to experience the entire emotional spectrum and react viscerally to it.  So although this piece is not at all about singing, I wanted you to know where I am coming from; that I think it is valuable to experience real breadth of emotion.

What it is about is actually a television show airing on the TLC channel on cable.  The show is called "Long Lost Family", and is hosted by Lisa Joyner and Chris Jacobs.

Long Lost Family is an adoption show, an adaptation of a BBC production of the same name.  Both hosts were, themselves, adopted.  An episode typically consists of two stories, one handled by each host, in which an individual seeks a blood relative separated since birth (or extreme youth) by an adoption.  It may be a child seeking biological parents, or parents seeking children given up at birth for adoption -- both scenarios are common.

In each case, the subject has reached out to the show producers, having failed on their own to find the person or couple they seek to connect with, or being uninformed and incapable of doing the search themselves.  Early in the show, the subject shares with Miss Joyner or Mr. Jacobs everything they know or have found in their own unsuccessful attempts.  The assigned host then goes back to work to find the people sought.

The tools for finding people, even with only a first name and a date of birth, are pretty sophisticated in the hands of someone determined enough.  I may have mentioned, for example, that I am the secretary of my class of 1,000 at M.I.T. from 44 years ago.  In 2013, I started trying to find the 75-odd classmates whom the college had lost touch with.  Within 18 months I had found all of them, including one who didn't want to be found (I counted speaking with his sister as a form of success).  So it can be done.

But I digress, probably quite a bit.  These stories are all deeply emotional, not the least of which reason being that the parties themselves are emotional about it.  Imagine having to have given up a child for adoption when you were a teenager, loving the child for 40 years without any idea where he might have been all that time, or even if he wanted to see you.  Then Lisa Joyner comes to see you and tells you, softly, "We found him.  Yes, he wants to meet you."

The reunion scenes are amazing and touching.  I can't say if they have many failed reunions and select out the successful ones, or don't do stories on the ones where the found person doesn't want to meet, but it would be OK if they did.  Even produced and edited to highlight the drama, you can see the amazing, happy, stressful wonder is real, and amazingly tear-inducing.

The stories are striking even at their least.  In several cases the person sought has been within a few miles of the seeker all that time.  In one amazing case, a woman was seeking the mother who had given her up for adoption at birth over thirty years earlier.  She discovered not only that they had worked at the same hospital in Rochester, NY, but they had worked together and knew each other!  I can still remember when the host brought the picture of the mother over for the daughter to see, and she said with a shock "I know her!"

How would you feel watching that, knowing that the story was not a movie plot, but absolutely real -- the whole thing is quite real, and the flaws of the characters are quite there on display, where in the movies they would be played by glamorous and attractive stars?

How would you feel being the son in another case on the show, a young man living in Idaho, given up by a teenage Texas high school couple at birth?  You are contacted by the show, and discover that the couple stayed together after you were given up, married and had several other children -- your full-blooded siblings!  That reunion was a truly special moment, especially when the young man, now married, introduced his natural parents to their daughter-in-law -- and grandchild -- they never knew existed.

The producers of this show, to their credit, have been doing "follow-up" episodes from previous years' stories, to show what has been happening since the initial reunion.  I say "to their credit" because the stories don't always work out the way we wish they would have happened.  Remembering that in most cases, the person sought was surprised to have been found, we have someone searching for years for a relationship with someone unaware of their being sought.  That's not an ironclad recipe for success.

I confess that this show regularly brings me, a 65-year-old mature adult, to tears.  I also confess that it is why I watch it -- back to barbershop songs for a moment -- because the exercise of extremes in our emotions is a valuable practice, and seeing real, actual stories like these definitely taps emotions as extreme as it gets.  I have already learned that such extremes are healthy to explore.  So I value the situations -- whether a barbershop ballad or a TV show about adoptive family reunions -- where we can do that.

I do urge you to watch the show in its various iterations.  It is quite well done, and the situations are dealt with real sensitivity and without added drama -- the situations and stories are more than dramatic enough.  I'm not a celebrity, so I can't be a celebrity endorser, but this one rings a lot of bells with me.

Enjoy your weekend.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Rationale for De-Funding Sanctuary Cities

President Trump has made a point of addressing the problem of cities whose mayors and city councils refuse to turn over illegal alien criminals to Federal authorities.  Now, we know that even non-criminal illegal aliens are already criminals by virtue of being in the USA without authorization, but this isn't it.  The president is not actively trying to deport those people anytime soon.

He is, as those who give him the benefit of the doubt can see, a compassionate man, and is reluctant to come down hard on people such as those brought here illegally at a young age by their parents.  Those people have nothing to do with this piece.

He is far less compassionate for those who, on top of being here illegally, are doubly criminal by virtue of having committed serious crimes while here.  Those people he intends to deport as soon as they can be found, given that they are not entitled to the due process granted to the US citizen by the Constitution.  Come here illegally, commit a serious-enough crime, and you're out of the country.

Apparently a number of cities don't follow that reasoning.  Calling themselves "sanctuary cities" (pass on the Hunchback of Notre Dame references), they have declared that they will protect such criminals by refusing to notify the Department of Homeland Security or the Customs and Border Protection people to come get them for deportation.

"You're safe here", they say to criminal aliens, which should make criminal US citizens wonder what's in it for them.

"Not so fast", says President Trump.  Not surprisingly, the Federal government sends billions of taxpayer dollars to local governments for any number of purposes.  In the largest cities, the order of magnitude is in the mid-to-high hundreds of millions, each.  US cities certainly get their share.

So the president, who has campaigned in opposition to the notion of sanctuary cities and stressed their illegality, is planning to implement a policy cutting off funding for sanctuary cities.  Already Miami, to note one city, has dropped its "sanctuary" policy rather than lose its funding.

In the meantime, we have had plenty of reactions to the policy of cutting funding to such cities.  And, needless to say, I have one as well.

You see, here's the thing.  The Federal government does not "have money", per se.  It has the funds that it has taken through taxes to fund its budget.  That budget, as we know, has for many years authorized spending of money that the government does not have.  You and I can't do that, but the government can.

The result is that while the government spends the taxpayers' money, it is, without our consent, borrowing money and spending it, leaving us, the taxpaying class, holding the credit card bill.  So accordingly, it ought to be a heck of a lot more careful what it borrows money from places like China to spend on.

Think about it, and you don't have to think hard.  If San Francisco, which gave us fog, more fog, and Nancy Pelosi, but I repeat myself, takes money from the Federal government, it is actually taking from you and me, who don't live in California at all, to give to them.  San Francisco, a sanctuary city, then uses my money to allow serial illegal alien criminals to commit crimes, be deported, commit more crimes, be deported again, ad nauseam, until one of them murders an innocent person like Kate Steinle.

If San Francisco's elected officials choose to ignore Federal law, there are consequences that they should not be surprised at.  If President Trump pulls Federal funding from San Francisco, or Chicago, he is also saying that he respects every penny the IRS seizes from hardworking Americans.  He is saying that such cities have no "right" to that money, and accordingly are subject to punishment if they disobey the law.  They certainly don't have the right to break Federal law and be rewarded by being given money from taxpayers in other parts of the country to fund lawbreaking public officials.

Very little is given by the Constitution to the Federal government, as far as authorizing it to take on.  All else, per the Tenth Amendment, is the responsibility of the states.  Border security and immigration law are among those precious few duties reserved for Washington.  If Washington is being thwarted in doing one of the few things it is supposed to do, there are indeed consequences.

I can't wait for the citizens of one of those cities to react to losing Federally-funded city services by asking why they voted for the clowns in charge in the first place.  I can't wait for the next city that calls "BS" on their perpetually failing leadership -- Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Baltimore (Washington, DC is hopeless) -- and starts electing conservatives to help clean up their cities.

I'll bet you can't wait either.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

But What Do They WANT?

"No Trump (beat, beat) no K-K-K no [unintelligible] ..."  Yep, that's what was being chanted, rhythmically, at some protest march a few days back in some city somewhere.  It wasn't near me, so I wasn't exactly put out very much, but it did get my attention.

Back when I was in college, we were in the peak of the Vietnam War, and I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts (I actually lived in Boston, but classes were in Cambridge; it didn't matter).  Lots of protests, lots of riots.  Occasional shooting of firearms outside the MIT range.  Screaming at servicemen in uniforms.

While there was a lot of screaming and protesting about different things, it was centered on the Vietnam War, at least much of the time.  And while I was not an opponent of the Vietnam War, I will at least give the protestors of the day this: They were asking for something.

They wanted the Vietnam War to be over.  Oh, sure, there were lots of other things, but that was fairly central to the protests and rallies and what-all else they were doing.  It was at least something.

Not so, apparently, now.

This became fairly obvious when you looked at the signs at the rallies, and really obvious when you hear the protestors' representatives talking.  For example, on Monday night there was a protest leader interviewed by Fox News's Tucker Carlson on his eponymous TV program.

I don't know the kid's name, but it didn't take long for Carlson to ask what he was protesting about.  I mean, there's a lot of made-up angst around the nation since the election and thereafter, when the Clintonistas' fans panicked at not being able to fathom not winning (typically called "losing").  So the kid was asked "why the protest."

He started in on platitudes for a short bit, and when asked by Carlson to get specific, he mentioned that he was gay, and that there were issues with the LGBT community and an executive order that they had heard might be considered.  He then went back to the platitudes, meaning that he couldn't cite anything they actually wanted changed, you know, specifically.

Carlson immediately stopped him, and took him back to the gay thing.  What particular thing about President Trump, he asked the kid, was he afraid of regarding gay people.  At that, the protest leader said two words about a possible executive order, without any detail, and went back to the platitudes ("This is a movement, blah blah blah ...").

If you have ever watched Tucker Carlson, you can't sneak that kind of thing past him.  Back he brought the conversation to this mythical executive order planned ... "What executive order?", he asked, "What is it supposed to do?"  In reply, nothing but platitudes -- he was being pressured by Carlson on being gay, he insisted, when there were so many important issues.  "But you brought it up!", Carlson replied.  "Tell me what you are afraid of!"

Finally the allocated time had expired without a single tangible thing having been aired as a reason to go for a walk, let alone to have a "Not my president" rally.

Let us step back and think for a moment.  Conservatism, when actually implemented, works.  It rewards effort, talent, motivation and intelligence.  Our concomitant compassion motivates us to take care of the helpless at the same time.  Socialism, on the other hand, has never worked, certainly without a dictatorship to force people to accept it for a period of time.  Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Red China, North Korea, Vietnam -- it doesn't work.

So the callow and idealistic youth, with their signs, are too young to look broadly enough and recognize that it is abject failure for the government to own or run everything.  Now, absent a model of success for them to want to emulate and declare that they want to emulate it, their protests -- and youth always protests -- inherently lack anything to be for.

Lacking that, the passion flies out the window along with the content.  This is why you can see that the organized protests are indeed organized, recruited in newspaper and online ads we have now seen, and are led by paid mercenary protesters.  There is no substance, because these are people without a mission.  Opposition is fruitless without a tangible goal.

This was followed last night when the ever curious Mr. Carlson brought yet another protest leader on the show and gave her air time.  Again, after a few minutes of copious Hitler references (remember that whoever mentions "Hitler" first loses the argument), Carlson found himself unable to get her to answer the same "What do you want?" question.  Finally, after being unable to get her to shut up enough to ask her a question, he ended the segment with her ranting in the background.

It's so ironic.  People with no mission but a few more dollars in their jeans are shouting "No Trump, no KKK" as if the two were somehow remotely related.  They may have missed, among the rather modest number of explicit issues requiring solutions which Trump spoke to in his campaign, that unlike his opponent, he had made a commitment to helping the inner cities, working to update their schools and provide private-sector job opportunities to help them recover.  The protestors screaming "KKK" may have missed the fact that Trump's predecessor (and opponent, by the way), literally said and did nothing for black inner cities.

The kid on the Tucker Carlson show was claiming to fear some kind of anti-gay "executive order."  But it would come from the guy who stood in front of the nation in Cleveland and accepted his nomination for the presidency, declaring his intent to protect the LGBT community (while, if the kid was old enough, he doubtlessly voted for the previous president, the one who for years opposed gay marriage).

There is nothing to protest, whether or not you're upset.  President Trump said he would do X, Y and Z in regard to some pillar issues in the country.  He is trying now, as he finally gets his Cabinet and senior executive-branch people, to start to do those things he said he would.  The people voted for his solutions.

It's a representative democracy we have, with a very sound Constitution.  Under it, we have chosen a leader for the next four or eight years, same as always.  If he implements something, actually implements it, and you want something different, well, our representative democracy is a free country -- have at it, as you ask for a different solution.

But if you march through the streets, at least know what you want.

An hopefully it isn't just your protestor's paycheck from George Soros.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Risks without Reward

Although this piece strays far from the realm of politics, it does at least provide a touching reminder that the world of Federal contracting, the one that occupies my working hours, has its "competitive humor", at least when you look from the perspective of time and a little distance.

The genesis of this piece was from a previous one about the amusing reaction during the S*per Bowl by Google voice-responsive devices around the country, to a commercial featuring those devices.  A bit hard, it apparently is, to demonstrate a voice-response system in a TV commercial without having thousands of such devices within earshot all go off and respond.

Well, I laughed.  At any rate, I compared the issue to the 1999 "Y2K" situation that we all remember, and for which I had managed a group that worked to fix programming code that was subject to the "bug" of Y2K.  A reader brought it up, and it all reminded me of the most memorable story of those years in the late '90s.

I was working for Litton Industries at the time, Litton having acquired the fairly large firm called "PRC", an information technology contractor for whom I had been working a number of years at the time.  Such acquisitions were as common then as they are now; Litton had in fact purchased PRC from Black and Decker in 1996, which had acquired it as a component of a company called Emhart in 1990, who in turn had bought PRC in the mid '80s.
Companies buying companies buying companies

 One of PRC's larger contracts was with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as an IT support contractor, covering a few hundred people.  A big element of that was COBOL programming.  Even then, COBOL was a "very old" programming language, meaning that the people who used it were pretty much, well, old.  I programmed in COBOL for years, if that tells you anything.

With the Y2K bug having started to be the subject of alerts in 1996, PRC decided the next year to form a group to "remediate" older programs, meaning to overhaul them to make all the date fields four-digit, and to test that they did what they were supposed to do thereafter.  Much of that was COBOL code, meaning that there was a big need for COBOL programmers capable of doing the work, and that meant, politely, older software engineers.

PRC's five-year contract with the Patent and Trademark Office was coming to an end in 1997.  Although PRC was confident of winning the recompetition of the work, having done a really good job and gotten high review scores, government contracts are almost invariably price sensitive, and a solid-performing contractor can lose to one who slashes their prices, even if the latter is at risk of not being even able to hire people at the salaries they bid.

Now that brings up a peculiar aspect of contracting.  When you have a hundred people working full-time on a project, they have almost all of what is called "institutional knowledge."  In other words, after five years of managing, developing and fixing code, those 100 people know everything about the code and no one else knows anything.

So if a different company is competing for that work, they would normally expect, if they win, to try to hire all, or most, of the people working for the current employer, the "incumbent."  That's often difficult, since the challenger has to get their price down below the incumbent while still planning to hire the same employees already there. 

To do that with the already-thin profit margins in such work, you have to plan to pay the people less, or give them poorer benefits.  Essentially, you "hope" to keep them and learn everything you can from them before they quit for a higher-paying job.  I believe the past eight years showed how good "hope" is as a strategy.

Obviously the employees, even old COBOL programmers, are not stupid.  They know what's going on, but there has to be an alternative for them.  Typically there isn't, so they just stay on the project for the new contractor, at lower pay or weaker benefits or both.

That was the tack taken by CSC, yet another three-letter contractor.  In their bid, they cut the price of the proposed workforce, while declaring that they would hire the incumbent team.  USPTO assumedly never asked how CSC could be so sure that they could retain much of the work force while paying them less, looked at their proposed price and awarded them the contract in 1997.

But a funny thing happened on the way to that award, though.  Y2K happened.

Now from the perspective of the programming staff PRC had on the USPTO contract, well, they were not excited about changing companies, and even less excited on learning what would happen to their salaries and benefits.  And at just about the same time that award was being worked out, PRC's brand-new Y2K organization was looking for a mess of COBOL programmers for a new task with some of its other customers, to fix old COBOL code.

That meant that, at just the time CSC was looking and ready to hire all those PRC programmers about to come off the USPTO task as it expired, PRC had alternative work for them, allowing them to stay with their company, and keep their salaries and benefits.  Needless to say, a large percentage of them decided to stay and not go over to CSC.

I would have felt sorry for CSC had they not been PRC's competition, and had they not won away an important PRC contract by bidding a price so low that they were going to have a tough time living up to it.  Plus, I was running the services part of the Y2K group at PRC, and I needed those programmers just as much.  So each one we kept was good for me -- and we kept about 50 of them.

Our competitor was not so lucky; they quickly found themselves obligated to deliver on a contract for which they had fewer than half the staff members they expected to have, and all that institutional knowledge they expected to get from them, well, they didn't get it.  USPTO was not particularly happy, although they might have wanted to have looked in a mirror and evaluated how they determined contract awards and to what extent price should have been a factor.

My Y2K team did excellent work, and for a couple years, until just after January 1, 2000, most all of them were busy and productive.  I accepted a good offer and left PRC a month or so before that, and the rest is history.  CSC had a rough time at USPTO and lost the recompetition in 2003.  In fact, if memory serves, USPTO had to execute a sole-source contract to PRC just to get some of that institutional memory available to them.

For the record, the above is certainly not a slight against CSC, as much as a historical reckoning; they did nothing out of the ordinary for the time (or since).  If anything, the blame falls squarely on the contracts people at PTO for accepting a bid so fraught with risk if the contractor failed to hire enough incumbent staff.

A lesson in there somewhere?  I don't know, except for the suggestion that Federal contracting officers look a bit harder at bids for services that charge a lot less than what the agency had been paying.  Hopefully they will, but don't hold your breath.

Just a nice, non-political tale for the day.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Where Was the Outrage in '96

Let's start the week, if we may, with a question for the left.

A surprising amount of flak has been received by President Trump from the left and from the overwhelming left-dominated media in regard to a campaign occurrence.  This was back in November of 2015, early in the campaign, when Trump did a contemptuous reference to a reporter.

Mocking the words of the reporter, he waved his arms around and parodied him.  This was turned into a "mocking the disabled" narrative by the media since this, of course, was a reporter with a disability.  It survived even to this day, and was part of Meryl Streep's acceptance speech at some recent theater-people-celebrating-other-theater-people awards ceremony.

Of course, as it turned out, while mocking the reporter's words, Trump was simply using the very same arm-waving mocking gesture that he had used to mock all manner of non-handicapped people, including Donald Trump himself, Senator Ted Cruz, and an Army general in the same speech as he mocked the reporter.

Evidently, Trump's capacity for mocking includes a rather limited repertoire of gestures.  But that wasn't quite good enough for the left.

So in the interest of questioning hypocrisy, let us turn to the man who penned these words:

“So I've always been interested in politics. And I thank my parents for that. As you can see, there's a strong element of moral indignation behind this interest, and indignation is well and good in doses, but I noticed fairly early in life that some people live to find stuff to be indignant about. And it's pretty unattractive. That's why I decided to become a [wiseacre].”

That would be the ever-friendly comedy writer-turned-senator from Minnesota, good old Al Franken.  Al Franken was the fellow who was as nasty as you please (or should we say "indignant" and thus by his definition, "unattractive") at the hearings for a couple of President Trump's Cabinet nominees.  

Those words about the "unattractiveness of people who live to be indignant", of course, were in a 1996 book written by none other than Al Franken himself.  Wow, who would have thought that he would not have learned about how he looks when he lives to be indignant.

But the important part is that the quote was from a book entitled "Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot."  I'm not kidding; that was the title of the book.  I remember when it came out; Limbaugh was pretty much the same level of fame and wide audience that he is now, meaning that the indignant left thought they needed to try to minimize his credibility by ... well, in this case, body-shaming.

I don't think the term "body-shaming" was used in 1996.  But since then, it has been as in vogue to bash people who make fun of the overweight, as it used to be to make fun of them in the first place. 

You can follow the scandals involving critiques of so-called "plus-size" models, and the associated criticism of the critics, as evidence that overweightness (?) is the next protected class among us.

As an example, I've been curious about the oddly high level of attention (in the form of articles in the media) about the very obese actress Chrissy Metz, who plays one of a set of triplets in the very good TV show "This is Us."  Her part is no bigger (sorry) than any of the rest of the ensemble cast, but they, as they say, get "no ink" by comparison -- for example, I know her name, and do not know the names of the other two triplets off the top of my head.

She is, in fact, on the cover of People magazine, with a caption quoting her as saying "I'm Proud of Who I Am", whatever that means.  I'm sure she is a very nice person, but she might be a bit upset to think that she and her story are being "used."

My inference is that the media are making her prominent -- putting her forward, as it were -- as bait to attract body-shamers to make fun of her and add another protected class of victims.  Those who comment negatively on her weight are positioned right up there with the likes of their image of Donald Trump, who was supposed to have made fun of "the handicapped."

So where, then, was the indignation in the portrayal of Rush Limbaugh in the crudest terms, blatantly using the term "big, fat" right there in the title on the cover?  I mean, I thought when the book came out it was a bit of an over-the-top choice of words, given that Limbaugh, at least at the time, was indeed notably overweight.

I've been searching a bit, for the purposes of this column, for the first left-leaning type who criticized Franken when the book came out for the 1996 equivalent of "body-shaming."  I haven't found a word yet, but I sure am trying.  Readers need to know.

But we know nothing will ever come up.  Franken can be indignant in Senate hearings (despite his professed and printed distaste for such posturing), without mainstream media quoting his words to him.  He can body-shame someone, since the recipient of the shaming is a conservative radio commentator, and thus subject to such ridicule without hesitation.

And the left will find new classes of victims and continue to seek redress of their grievances in as many ways possible, as long as it will somehow generate more voters sympathetic to their "plight."

But Donald Trump will continue to run the country in the way he said he was going to, and do the things he promised in the campaign to do, and eventually the left will run out of victims.

And Minnesota will wise up soon enough and send a non-hypocrite to the Senate.

It says so here.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Bathrooms, Texas and Pro Football

Oh, this one will be fun.  As you know, Texas is associated with many, many things, not all of which are particularly big.  But one of the biggest is football, as the home of "America's Team", the Dallas Cowboys, as well as the Houston Texans, which also were a playoff team this year and which city hosted the S*per Bowl just completed.

As this article relates, the Senate of the State of Texas is currently processing a bill which would mandate that people use the bathroom of their gender at birth, or some definition of the like, essentially requiring that transgender folks go into public bathrooms suitable for their, er, equipment.

Let me quote from the article:

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the [AP] that if a “proposal that is discriminatory or inconsistent with our values were to become law there,” it would be a factor in awarding future events. Simply put: If the bill becomes law, that will be included in the discussion of whether Houston or Dallas gets a Super Bowl in the future.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott was beyond "not amused."  Again, from the article:
 
“The NFL is walking on thin ice right here,” Abbott told conservative radio host Glenn Beck [citing the Texas Tribune]. “The NFL needs to concentrate on playing football and get the heck out of politics.”  We are assuming he said "heck", but not much.

I was particularly bemused when looking at the NFL spokesman's words, specifically "... inconsistent with our values."  "Our" values, he said.

I am immensely curious as to whose values are defined as those of the NFL.  Roger Goodell's values?  The majority values of the league's franchise owners?  The players?  Brian McCarthy didn't say.  I would be very interested in what the answer would be if someone -- and Greg Abbott might just do that -- were to ask the NFL exactly how it determined what the values of the league were, and if they are perhaps written down somewhere.

I say that because even now, as the champion New England Patriots are planning their ceremonial trip to the White House, several of the players are exhibiting their "values" by saying they won't show up (though I cannot possibly see what it is they are complaining about, based on less that four weeks of the current administration).

Others of the players, most of the team, will of course make the trip.  What are their "values"?  We know that Tom Brady is a Trump man, but Trump hasn't really even commented on the Texas bill and its North Carolina predecessor, and specifically made supportive LGBT statements in his acceptance speech.  So we don't know his take on it and how it jibes with his values.

We also know that many others who are going to the White House -- really, the rest of the league, champions or not -- are all over the gym as far as bathroom laws are concerned.  These are rather large, testosterone-driven men, and anyone who has been in a locker room knows that transgender people are not exactly the source of sympathy when such players are talking about them.

What are their values?

Here is the comparison.  Hobby Lobby is a privately-owned company, that we know to be owned by people with certain Christian values, that oppose abortion, and just recently won a case to allow them not to have to provide a type of medical insurance policy for employees, one that pays for certain services they oppose on religious grounds.

We know that when someone speaks to "Hobby Lobby's values", we know we are referring to the owners.  I don't think that every employee necessarily subscribes to the same beliefs, of course, but the owners do, and theirs count.  We know who they are and who speaks for them.

No one "owns" the NFL, although we could say that the team owners in fact do.  Were they polled as to their opinions before the league spokesman popped off, assuming the league had those values that he said it did?  Did they poll the players?  Coaches?  Sideline marker holders?  Cheerleaders?

I hope you get where I'm going.  I find it very questionable that an organization, a league with some alpha-male owners, an alpha-male commissioner and some serious alpha-male players and coaches, all agree enough on an issue that doesn't affect them at all, to where they have any right to have a spokesman give the impression of agreement.

But I can speak for my own consulting company.

We are with Texas.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sure, Investigate Gen. Flynn, But Also ...

Last week, I wrote what apparently was a prescient column about the fact that the "swamp" in DC included not only Congress and the Federal Government as a whole, but specifically the tens of thousands of Federal employees working there.  Those employees overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton (we know that because of DC's voting record), so that they innately dislike the man at the top for whom they work.

That dislike gets particularly pernicious at the upper levels of agencies, where more of the staff live in the suburbs, and policy is directly implemented and there are decisions that are significant enough to affect you and me.

I am well aware of how that all plays out.  Several years back I was hired as the Senior VP of Operations for a government contracting firm.  My three direct reports, who had each been there before I was hired, were clearly resentful of having a layer of management and oversight placed between them and the owners of the company.

I was hired to make some change and bring a more industry-standard management process to the company's operations.  That did not go over well with the three of them, who wanted to do things the way they always had, and particularly were not interested in participating in developing new business, which is one of the things I was brought in to help them do.

So at every step of the way, I was stonewalled and ignored, when even one of them could have risen in the company by signing on to what the new owners wanted.  Even now, as I think of my frustrating year there, I can see the parallels that match to this situation, except it's a lot bigger, and the person being subverted is the leader of the free world.  I sympathize.

All those swamp denizens who are doing as little as possible to help, and as much as possible to thwart President Trump, well, those are bad enough.  When the thwarting is being done by our intelligence community mid-level leadership, it is pretty sad.

So we have a situation where Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, until recently the National Security Advisor to the president, was forced to resign after having had a conversation with the Russian ambassador prior to his appointment.  It may or may not have involved the sanctions against Russia instituted by Barack Obama as punishment for their alleged attempt to interfere with our elections.

Now, of course, we have Democrats gleefully biting at the still-alive Gen. Flynn's corpse, because it constitutes an opportunity to subvert President Trump (when they should be figuring out how to work together).  They are calling for an "investigation into Gen. Flynn", a special prosecutor, whatever.

And you know what?  I say "Go ahead!".  And if I'm the president, I say that I want a full investigation, that includes what Gen. Flynn may have said -- and how it came to be known to the public.  You see, the process was that at some point after the conversation with the Russian ambassador, the nature of the call was leaked to the Washington Post by the people in the intelligence community who had been wiretapping the ambassador.

So while we are investigating the whole matter, let's make sure that the actual criminal acts are investigated and prosecuted.  That may include whatever Gen. Flynn said (he was a private citizen at the time), but also the fact that the disclosure of what was said by Gen. Flynn to the ambassador was utterly illegal!  Because he was a private citizen at the time, his words were covered by Federal wiretapping law that forbids such disclosure without a court order prior to the wiretap, of which there was of course none.

Yet someone -- and it appears multiple "someones" -- from the intelligence community leaked the information to the Post, who blithely published it with press impunity.  That information was highly classified, since it involved sensitive communications and, you know, the fact that we were successfully wiretapping the Russian ambassador in the first place.  So in that investigation, we are talking about the actual leaking of classified information inside the USA.

However bad or illegal Gen. Flynn's actions were, which we don't know (and that's why there should be an investigation of it), we know that there was a criminal leak of classified information by people inside the CIA.  We know that.  A crime was committed.

So yes, I believe that this should be investigated and, like any investigation, it should be taken where the evidence leads.  And as soon as they track backwards from the Post to how the information got from the phone call to the newspaper and the public, the nature of the criminal act will need to point to the actual criminal actor.  If they're in government, the need to be fired and prosecuted, and their co-conspirators also sacked.

The above may seem like the sacrifice of a decorated general officer, but no punishment from the investigation will be beyond what any action on his part warrants.  What is necessary are two things.  First, those who took it upon themselves to attack the president by illegally releasing classified information are punished, and given the boot from the Agency.

More important, the Federal Government and every senior employee needs to get on board the train, whether they like it or not.  Their orders are coming from a very different place right now, and if they don't like the orders, they need to find another job.

America did not elect them.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

You Want Sean Spicer's Job?

If you happen to watch Saturday Night Live, which I don't, you may have seen Melissa McCarthy, the comic actress, portraying Sean Spicer, the president's press secretary.  Now I like Melissa McCarthy in her various roles, so this has zero to do with her and everything to do with Mr. Spicer.

By the way, there are two reasons I don't watch Saturday Night Live, not that you asked.  OK, maybe three.  First, it's on past my bedtime, although it could be DVRed if I were so inclined.  Second, it is far too "New York" for me.  I can't stand New York, which I regard as the epitome of the idea that you have to follow trends, however stupid they might be.  The Emperor's New Clothes, made into a city, as it were.  The "music" on the show shows that in spades.

The third, of course, is that finding humor in SNL is an often frustrating experience.  Melissa McCarthy may make an awfully funny satiric portrayal of Mr. Spicer, but wading through the rest of an hour, or however long it goes, is simply not worth it.  I don't know if their writers are still as coked-up as they were thirty years ago when the humor was squeezed out of the show, but in the rare times I've recorded the show to see what it's like, well, two laughs don't warrant an hour's worth of DVR bytes.

All of which brings us back to Sean Spicer.

I don't know if he is a basically good guy or not, although we've no reason to doubt that he is.  What he is, however, is one amazing person.

I have never served in the Federal Government, let alone the White House.  But I have had a very close friend who did; he was a Cabinet-level appointee (head of a non-Cabinet agency), so he reported to the president, in this case President Bush 43, and his office was right across the street from the White House.

My best girl and I were invited to join him for lunch at the White House back then, and chatting with him over lunch, well, it became quite easy to identify with what it was like being in the very inner circle of the White House.  There was a lot to it.  The work is fairly unforgiving, and there is so much to know just to speak to your own agency, well, knowing the entire operation of the executive branch enough to face the press on a daily basis is just beyond reasonable.

And yet, there is always a press secretary; there is a daily briefing; there are members of the press who have been looking for raw meat since January 20th (after eight years of rolling over and asking Obama's press secretary what his favorite color was).  When the press is that aggressive, you need to know your facts, because you don't know what they're going to ask.  And don't expect to get paid that much.  The salary is $179,700, which sounds like a lot until you figure it by the hour.

We'd very much like to know whether Spicer actually wanted that job in the first place.  Let's suppose he did, or at least was honored to be offered it, enough to accept.

The daily briefing is, of course, on television, and is in the background while I'm working each day.  So I have to tell you, even if I'm not paying rapt attention to it at all times, I see and hear enough to be able to imagine trying to manage that.

I'm not talking about the shouting herd of reporters screaming to be recognized.  I'm talking about the fact that it is almost never acceptable to answer "I'll check with the President and get back to you."  You had better be able to have an answer to 95% of the questions, or you are failing your job, which is essentially to answer everything so (A) the president doesn't have to, and (B) so the press doesn't make up their own answers, not that they would ever do that.

To answer the questions, you have to know everything, especially the issues of the day.  And you have to have practically instant recall.  My wife will occasionally start a conversation with a sentence that could be about any of two dozen contexts.  I over-complicate things to begin with, so I have to wait for a few sentences to figure out what the topic is.  Then I have to figure out what the answer is, once I finally figure out what the question was.

That is what I project onto Sean Spicer.  Now, the press questions are usually fairly pointed -- reporters are good at asking specific questions there, because they have one shot at getting an answer -- so that part is less of an issue.  But the press secretary doesn't have time (or the opportunity) to ask "What are you even talking about?".  He has to answer, promptly, accurately and compellingly, and his job is to present the president's view in the face of an almost entirely antagonistic media who want to nail your president because they didn't vote for him.

That, of course, means that you have to know the president's view on pretty much everything, as expressed since the last press conference.  How, on earth, do you get that when the president is working 20-hour days and you, well, can't.  You are, after all, human, and this president is a very different being from the rest of us.

You do five of those press conferences a week, and then innumerable interviews all day, with all manner of media outlets, doing exactly the same thing you did in the press conferences.  If you only screwed up 25 times during the week, you are reasonably successful.

And then on Saturday night, you get to watch (if you can stay up past eight) Melissa McCarthy portraying you as a wild man, pushing your podium around like a battering ram and satirizing you, knowing full well that in America she has every right to do so and is actually pretty funny doing it.

And you want that job, eh?   I don't.  I don't envy anyone who has it, I respect them greatly.  I can't imagine anyone not burning out in two years, after burning through maybe ten years of life span in those two years.

That's what I was thinking about yesterday as I heard Spicer deal with the whole odd General Flynn story.  You want that job?

More power to you.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

How Long Does a Collaborative Tantrum Last?

"How long does a tantrum last?"  That was the question my best girl asked me here a few minutes ago, and it struck a chord with me.

The "tantrum" she was referring to was by the comedy-writer-turned-curmudgeonly-senator representing the state of Minnesota, the friendly Al Franken.  Franken had gone off on President Trump in a CNN interview, calling him a liar and impugning his capacity to lead the nation, saying we shouldn't have a president like that, wah, wah, wah.  Then he pointed out that some people (presumably Democrat senators) thought he was mentally ill.

Now let's get this out of the way right off the top.  You lost!  Get over it!

Ahhhhh. That feels better.  So what the missus was talking about, of course, is the continued vitriolic unwillingness of the left, as borne out by the actions of Democrats in the House and Senate, to move forward and try to be a part of what the country said and did this past election day.

Think about it for a moment.  Donald Trump won the presidency, though not in the "landslide" he occasionally refers to.  We know that only a finite number of states (fewer than 50) were part of the campaign (several, like California and New York on the left, and Texas on the right, were conceded to the other candidate and were almost absent from the campaign entirely).

Trump overwhelmingly won the count of contested states; his "landslides" can only be regarded as having won all the contested states, save Virginia and perhaps one or two others.  That doesn't mean that those who did not vote for him are irrelevant.  Their elected representatives should be expected to carry the views of all of their voters, of course, but certainly Democrats in those districts and states are the primary voices of that side of things.

I surely cannot speak for Democrats, their proposals do not work; they have no fiscal sense in the sense that they do not recognize the need for the Government to balance its budget; worst of all, they do not understand that "The Government should pay ..." means "The taxpayer should pay ..."  And don't get me started on identity politics, or their unwillingness to admit their failures.

But they voted, and their elected representatives should indeed represent them.

So I think it is not just that words like Franken's and Elizabeth Warren's and Chuck Schumer's are far over the top.  It is that they are not trying to work with the new president on his solutions.  I think it was unfortunate that the Obama people refused to allow the Republican minority in 2009-10 to participate in designing bills like Obamacare.  I have not heard at all, and I think I would know, that the Trump Administration had come across as not being open to soberly-delivered input from Democrats.

There simply is no such input.  What has come from the Democrats has been vitriol, over-the-top language and condemnation.  They have delayed and delayed and delayed in allowing Trump's appointees to Cabinet positions to be given a vote -- solely to delay, not for any productive investigatory reason.  There has been, with pretty much the sole exception of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), no effort to be part of the solutions.

They're going to get left behind.  Donald Trump is a builder and a CEO.  He has high-level goals and solutions and he is not waiting around to get started.  He is pushing Congress to get going (and it should be noted that Speaker Paul Ryan, who had definitely not been a Trumpist, has seemed positively giddy about the opportunity to step past gridlock and actually work on legislative solutions, knowing his president would sign them).

The Democrats should be trying to be part of that.  But no, they are protesting until it gets old, they are resorting to calling names and rioting in the streets, all when Chuck Schumer could pick up the phone, call the president and say that he is ready to be a part of the solution and the next two years.  Wouldn't that be easier?  Trump and Schumer go back a long way.  If Schumer were to stop the rhetoric and get his caucus in line, and tell them that they could get more done for the country if they equated "loyal opposition" with "participation", Trump would happily allow their input.

But no; that would entail "leadership", and a party that has leaders like Schumer, Warren, Bernie Sanders (whose words against Trump have been equally vitriolic and contemptible) and Nancy "You'll have to pass it ..." Pelosi, who has long since ceased to know what she is talking about, is not a party that wants to work together.

The collective tantrum is easier than actually reaching out to help.  And you know what?  The voting public, the ones who came forward in November 2016, they see it.  They already made their statement once about the kind of politics are playing now.

They -- we -- can do it again.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Boy, Was I Wrong about the Debates

Sometimes I go back to read things I wrote in a few of the past nearly-600 pieces on this site.  It is amazingly instructive; since I force myself, out of a sense of discipline, to write a piece every day, the library of essays becomes a reflection of the -- what, "mini-zeitgeist"? -- the thinking on that day about the issue of the day, at least when the piece was political.

In this case, I went back to something I wrote last September, right before the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

I was trying to define what would constitute candidate Trump as having "done well", since as a complete novice in campaigning barely a year before, it was hard to decide what would qualify as a good debate performance.  He had done a fair number of them in the primary campaign, but this was going to be the first one-on-one, where everything was to be about Trump vs. Clinton.

My thesis was that Trump needed to look calm, presidential and under control.  He needed to make it clear that he would surround himself with advisors and a Cabinet full of recognized experts, people who might not come from politics but from the "real world".  that he would listen to them, accept their guidance and make his decisions -- much like Ronald Reagan did.

Now that the election is over, Donald Trump is now President Trump (still getting used to that) and some, although not enough, of the Cabinet is now in place, I can look back at the piece -- and the debates -- and realize how wrong I was.

I would apologize, but it isn't that I'm sorry.  I wrote what I thought at the time, which is what I truly thought Trump would have to do in order to capitalize on the debates.

Wrong?  Oh, you know it.  Certainly, as far as Trump was concerned.  I was dead right about Hillary, whom I said would be rehearsed, full of planned zinger lines and completely plastic.  And she was all of that and less.

I thought that success for Trump in the debates would be dependent on composure, that he needed for the voting public to see the man in such a way, to look like a president.  However, he was anything but; he was combative, not substantively different from his performance in the primaries, and I think it would be pretty hard to say that he did a good job.

Maybe I was more wrong about what would have constituted a successful performance for him.  After all, he won the election but, truth to tell, he did not have a single debate where you could look back and say he was compelling and clearly "won."  Sure, his advisers and inner circle of spokesmen said he did, but I didn't believe them.

More interesting, it was instructive to look at Hillary Clinton and her performance.  Against a backdrop of her usual over-scripted set of talking points, I noticed an expression on her face that I can recall to this day.

I can only describe it as her feeling mid-debate that she had already won, that the voting public couldn't possibly miss the fact that Trump was such a terrible debater and they'd all vote for her now.  He would repeat one of his typical slogans or statements lacking obvious insight.  "Yes", she thought, a smile on her face, "I only have to answer the questions and show my command of the issues and that I know exactly where Yemen is.  I can't possibly lose to this guy.  And I will win."

You saw it, too.  I was thinking "How is this performance going to win for Trump?  He isn't going to attract anyone who wasn't already going to vote for him.  Maybe his supporters, the ones stuffing 20,000 people into 18,000-seat arenas twice a day, maybe that performance was what they would see as authentic and the kind of non-politician they wanted after, well, the swamp had governed the past eight years."  I really was thinking something like that.

Apparently I wasn't convinced, since I sat there on Election Night expecting the worst.  I had set a standard for his success during the debates, and he had not complied with my standard.  Then the states started falling, one by one ... Ohio, then Florida and North Carolina ... then Wisconsin came out of the blue (literally!), and suddenly there was no route left for Hillary to win.

I thought back the next morning, after the concession speeches and all, about the debates and how I thought that Trump could not possibly win with that performance.  Like everyone else, I was so far wrong it was just silly.

In four years he will have to do the whole debate cycle all over again, and I'm thinking that I will not have learned a blessed thing.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Have at it, Sen. Warren

Elizabeth Warren, the senator from the People's Republic of Massachusetts (where I spent eight years of my life, including college), is certainly trying to make a name for herself, eh?

This week, she had to be sent into the dunce corner of the Senate for having violated Senate rules.  In this case, she tried to read into the record the content of a letter of some thirty years ago, from the late Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr..  The letter purported to have called the now Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, a bunch of things, but mainly tried to portray him as a racist, the "go-to argument" for Democrats who can't argue on merit.

Let us point out something.  First, the letter came from Coretta Scott King, not Martin.  Last I looked, her celebrity was based on whom she married, which makes her 30-year-old letter worth as much as my 30-year-old letters.  And truth to tell, Alveda King, Martin's niece, condemned Sen. Warren for "playing the race card."  So we're pretty much even, at least on what people named "King" think.

Jeff Sessions, as you know, was until yesterday the senator from Alabama, where he served some time back as its Attorney General before being elected to the Senate, where he served his state for several few terms.

To the extent that we saw at Sessions' hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the charge of racism rang pretty hollow.  The testimony before the committee, the words of black attorneys and clerks who worked with Sessions as Alabama attorney general were pretty compelling, as each one described him in glowing terms.  In every case, the depositions of people who had actually worked with him on a daily basis described a man who painstakingly sought to develop the careers of those who worked with him.

Considering that these people actually worked with him, and had been helped by him, and of course the fact that they were indeed black, not only black but happy to testify for Sessions, well, the Democrats had a pretty weak argument.  In fact, if you watched the committee hearings, the testimony alternated between Republican senators yielding their time to guests who had worked with Sessions in Alabama and spoke glowingly about him, and Democrats calling him a racist.  Given that all the guests were black, those accusations of racism looked beyond petty.

But even after that, old Elizabeth Warren wouldn't stop calling Sessions a racist.  Truth to tell, she looked pretty pathetic doing it.  The same Democrats who defended their pet Klansman, Robert Byrd (D-WV) as being "able to change", well, even with plenty of evidence, they were unwilling to afford the same consideration to a man they had been working with in the Senate for years.

It is that kind of thing that makes me happy that Elizabeth Warren is so prominently touted as a candidate for president in 2020, here while Donald Trump has served about 0.00001% of his (first) term.  As I write this, she is on the news again, with her whatever it is that gets into a high dudgeon, in a high dudgeon.

I tend to think of Elizabeth Warren as representing the kind of politics and policies that are why Donald Trump was elected in the first place.  Rather than trying to work with the new administration to get things done in a collaborative, collegial way, she is among those forcing the confirmation debates of every Cabinet appointee to go the whole allowed 30 hours, as if by putting off the inevitable, she is somehow doing something good.

Rather, she and her cohorts and assorted Schumers are simply spitting in the wind.  More than that, they are blowing a phenomenal opportunity.  The one time that the Republicans have the White House and both houses of Congress, the president happens to be not an ideologue, but rather someone with whom Democrats could actually work -- if they chose to.

Three and a half years hence, if she is actually the candidate to oppose President Trump's reelection, he will be able to state, in his own truly inimitable way, that she blew an opportunity to be part of the change that the nation asked for in the 2016 election.  By helping make them the Party of No, she led the Democrats into irrelevance.

And by the way, she will be 71 then.  It needs to be said; not so much because she'd be "too old" although she'd be the oldest person ever elected (President Trump was 70), but because she would have at least 40 years removal from the heartbeat of the left.

You may recall that in 2009, the Republicans declared themselves opposed to Barack Obama's platform.  But they at least voted-in his Cabinet, and the fact was that their efforts to be a collegial part of the legislative process were blocked, by Obama and Harry Reid and Nancy "You'll have to pass it to see what's in it" Pelosi.

What this is all doing now is portraying the Democrats as absent of ideas, and only able to be political beings -- precisely the "swamp" that the nation voted in Donald Trump to drain.  So as unlikable and personally annoying as Elizabeth Warren appears to be, well, bring her on.

At this moment, I can't imagine anyone I'd rather see running against Trump 2020.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The IRS Does It Again

Those of you who are regular readers of this column know that my wife and I were the subject of an audit by the Internal Revenue Service in regard to a business, one we owned for several years but closed in 2013.

Our bizarre tale with the IRS was summarized here, but I'll give you the upshot before getting into this column.  An IRS auditor sent us a bill for over $29,000 in back taxes two years after the business closed, claiming that we had failed to report revenue of the business for tax year 2013.  One year later, about $10,000 in accountant's fees out-of-pocket, and after lots of free lessons to the auditor about how to read tax law, the entire audit was dropped without our owing one cent.

For tax nerds, the bottom line was that the revenue they thought we hadn't reported for 2013 had actually been reported for tax year 2012, because of the way our business consistently reported revenue.  Once the auditor's supervisor recognized that (A) the auditor had no idea of the proper application of the law, and (B) we had indeed legally reported all the revenue we were supposed to, and that it was actually in a way that paid IRS sooner, he shut it down and dropped their claim.

Of course, it is a sad statement on the way the IRS does business -- well, the first of two such statements I'll give you -- is that their "final" letter to us does not state explicitly that their previous claim had been dropped; it does not state that we owe no further taxes; it does not even mention the fact that all $29,000 was no longer due.  The fact that their letter was free of content is plot material.

The second sad statement will not astonish you, I'm sure.  We were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia at the time of the audit, and for two years thereafter.  Virginia also has an income tax.  So the IRS, in their infinite wisdom, sent a notice to Virginia at the same time they sent the original $29,000 bill, telling them that ooh, ooh, the Suttons owe you state income taxes, too!

Now, IRS audits are routinely challenged, and routinely the original figure owed is reduced or, as in our case, eliminated.  So you would think that IRS would wait until a final disposition of the audit before sending a notice to the state of the victim's residence.  OK, no, you wouldn't think that; after all, it is the IRS.

But sure enough, on Tuesday we got a note from our accountants that the Commonwealth of Virginia, acting on an old audit statement sent them by IRS, was asking for a healthy check, including interest and penalties, for unpaid back state taxes.  They quoted the $29,000 figure sent them by the IRS in their letter, meaning that even though the final disposition of the audit, with us owing nothing, was over a year ago, no one from IRS had sent an update to Virginia to tell them that!

I do not yet know how Virginia will act.  I called the Virginia tax department first thing yesterday to tell them what had happened, wanting to explain that I had in my hot little hand the final letter from IRS, which said exactly nothing and therefore could not be used in defense of our contention that we didn't owe anything.

And by the way, our CPA who defended us in the audit passed away in November.  In coelo quies est.

The nice lady from Virginia who sent me the original bill answered her phone the first time.  I described the situation, and mentioned that the IRS letter was useless.  She said, bless her, that she herself would call IRS and verify the disposition, and then write me back.  So I'm hopeful that it will take one simple phone call to drop Virginia's claim.

But in the meantime, I am sitting here wondering why, in the three years since the audit started, did IRS never once think to undo their damage by notifying Virginia that they had dropped their claim?  Would it have been that hard?

Tax reform ... a necessary step.  I'll keep you posted.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

"Laws Optional" in California

I know that California is the land of fruits and nuts, and where "creativity" takes on new meaning.  A lot of very nice people must live there, given that a lot of people live there and some reasonable percentage of them are decent folks.  Maybe even most of them.  We'll stipulate that for today.

But boy, do they have some strange habits when they go to the polls.  I'm sure of that, because not only did they just elect a certified oddball to the U.S. Senate, they've reached new heights with their president pro tem of their State Senate, a person named Kevin De Leon.  Because if he is to believed, obedience to the law is an optional exercise, perhaps depending on the way you feel when you wake up and have your grass smoothie.

De Leon was testifying this week before the state's Senate Public Safety Committee about something or other.  In the course of going on about the topic of services to illegal aliens, he made this remarkable statement:

"I can tell you half of my family would be eligible for deportation under [President Trump’s] executive order, because if they got a false Social Security card, if they got a false identification, if they got a false driver’s license prior to us passing [the state law letting illegals have driver's licenses], if they got a false green card, and anyone who has family members, you know, who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification. That’s what you need to survive, to work. They are eligible for massive deportation."

The next day, De Leon compounded the affront to actual taxpaying citizens by doubling down, commenting on the aspect of the president's executive order that made possession or purchase of a fake Social Security card by an illegal a deportable offense:

“Someone simply who received or purchased a [fraudulent] Social Security card down at McArthur Park, or elsewhere in my district would be eligible immediately for mass deportation ... He’s trying to deputize police officers, and with the suspicion of someone being a criminal or having a broken taillight, that they themselves, as a local police officer, could call the ICE agents immediately and have that person deported without even legal due process.

I don't know how a "someone" can be subject to a "mass deportation", but let that ride for the nonce.

The host, shocked that De Leon thought that defrauding the USA by holding a fraudulent Social Security card was perfectly fine, asked him if he really thought it was perfectly OK to do so.  Incredibly, De Leon declared that it was open season on legal realities:

“The vast majority of immigrants — hard working immigrants — have done that.  I can tell you I have family members specifically who came here as undocumented immigrants, and they did the same thing. That’s what you need to do to survive in this economy.”  Challenged on that from the standpoint of it being often done through identity theft, De Leon declared that it was "not the same as Russian hacking."

This is the temporary leader of the California State Senate.  He declared in public that what "you need [to do] to survive in this economy" is to commit a felony, carrying a fraudulent Social Security card that often is done through identity theft, a second felony.

So here's what I think.  If immigrants, specifically illegal ones but not exclusively, have to commit felonies to "survive in this economy", then maybe the economy of the USA isn't the one they ought to be living in!  I'm sure they weren't coming from a real happy economy in Central America or wherever they're coming from, but if they have to commit a felony to live here, on top of the laws they broke by being here illegally in the first place, then why are we burdening American citizens by allowing them here?

As I write this, Sean Spicer, the president's press secretary, is using the term "people coming to do us harm" to describe those we are trying to keep from entering this country.  I have to tell you, people who come here and commit identity theft are coming here to do us harm, or at least needing to do us harm in order to stay here.

Where does it stop?  Listen to what De Leon was getting at, and I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt by actually considering his words.  He is trying to make the case, though, that possession of a fraudulent Social Security card is not grounds for an illegal alien to be deported.

But being here illegally is already grounds for being deported.  It is only exacerbating the situation by having them defraud the citizenry by using fake documentation, whether identity theft or just made up from whole cloth.

Some strange views they have out there in California, I have to tell you.  They have to, if they're electing House members like Maxine Waters, who literally cannot tell Crimea from Korea.  Of course, they probably think that my view that "borders should be under the control of the Federal government" is strange, too.

Maybe they should secede.  Then they can open their borders like crazy until they go bankrupt.

Oops, too late.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Google Meets Y2K for a Big Laugh

I am not sure you know what happened Sunday night at the S*per Bowl (I think you have to pay the NFL if you say that term out loud, or write it with all the letters).

Sure, you know that the New England Patriots came back from being down 25 points in the second half -- and needing two 2-point conversions -- to roar back to tie the game with essentially no time left, and then score a touchdown on their first drive in overtime, to win the game and the NFL championship.

If you're like everyone else, you also saw all the commercials.  If you could wade through them, and some of them were really a waste of millions of dollars of stockholders' money, then you'll remember them.  Well, most of them.

So an aside ... remember the Y2K bug?  I sure do, and that's because I worked on the Y2K bug for a couple-three years before it was supposed to strike like a predicted earthquake.  The idea was that billions of lines of computer code, that was still operational in 1999, had been written with date fields of only two digits.  That meant that when the clock turned to the last year of the 20th Century on January 1st, 2000, the code wouldn't know it from January 1st, 1900, and the results were not at all predictable.

Lots of things happened those last couple years.  I was the director of services for a group at Litton Industries, whose only mission was trying to fix our clients' Y2K bugs.  Before long, that made me an expert on Y2K issues, and I flew around to a lot of places talking about it.  A fellow named Peter de Jager, a computer consultant from Canada, made an inordinate amount of money flying to a lot of places doing the same thing; we actually spoke to some audiences together.  He was independent, so he got paid -- I just got my normal modest salary from Litton.

I was reasonably qualified to do those lectures, and not only because I had spent more time than most people speaking out about it.  As a matter of fact, I had personally written over 250,000 lines of code that were still in use in 1998, all of which was written with two-digit date fields.  I had tested some of it in 1998 and, sure enough, it had some pretty odd results when I told it the date was 1/1/2000.  So there was at least something real about it, at least for some pottery manufacturers in eastern Ohio.

But as you know, January 1st, 2000 came and went, and the whole Y2K bug also came and went, with hardly a peep.  Computers kept running, planes kept flying.  Whether or not all the reprogramming that got hastily done in the waning months of 1999 helped, we know that, 17 years later, Y2K is mostly forgotten as a bug.

But not completely forgotten, which brings us to advertising on the Sup*r Bowl or S*per Bowl or whatever we're allowed to call it.  Our good friends at Google decided they were going to pay their $5 million for a fractional slice of time to advertise their new product, which is one of those newfangled do-hickeys. 

Not any run-of-the-mill do-hickey, mind you, but one that does what you tell it to, like turn off the lights, or turn on the TV, or any number of imaginable things you can do to or with an electronic device.  Just program some stuff into the device, and you can talk to it!  How neat is that?

Well, Google couldn't wait to do a big-game commercial featuring their devices in use.  They were, after all, so simple that all you had to do was say "OK, Google, turn off the TV!" and bingo-bongo, your TV would shut off.  "OK, Google, turn on the fan" and ta-da, your ceiling fan would turn on and you'd be cool which, given that it is early February, might not be an attractive attribute this moment. 

One leeeeetle problem, though.

In order to demonstrate that a product is "voice-activated", you have to use an actual voice, right?  So Google's ad people designed this nifty commercial showing people saying "OK, Google, do this", whereupon the device in the commercial would turn off something or answer you.

The little problem was this -- Mr. Google, or whatever they call it, may be a "new" product, but it isn't brand new, there are people who already have it.  And, son of a gun, a lot of those people happened to be in their homes hosting Super Bowl parties.  Guess what happened next?

You guessed it.  The commercial came on and sure enough, Google's device worked like a charm.  Now it could have been bad; the person in the commercial could have said "OK, Google, turn off the TV" and the TV would have gone off -- the TVs in people's homes, homes which happened to have the Google device already installed.  As soon as the voice in the commercial told the Google device to shut off the TV, it would have worked like a charm all over the USA in the middle of the S*per Bowl.

Fortunately, they didn't say "OK Google, turn off the TV", they asked Mr. Google something about some spice.  Otherwise, TVs all over the USA, televisions that were connected to already-sold-and-installed Google devices, unable to distinguish between the commercial's voice and the voice of the person right there in the home with the 25 now-angry people wondering what the heck had happened to their TVs, would have been missing the game.  Mr. Google would have blithely shut off their TV too.

I'm sorry, I think the whole thing is just hysterical.  Having spent almost three years of my life trying to prevent a disaster from ancient, 20-year-old software with Y2K bugs in it, I had to laugh when a Google device, one of the most modern of conveniences, almost barfed all over S*per Bowl parties from coast to coast.

Yep, it was a fun night.  My TV stayed on, after all.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."  Sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.