Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Moving Hiatus ... Again

Hey, dear readers.  Thank you for the tens of thousands of reads of this site, and the interest shown by you all that has grown substantially in the last year.

Just in time, as it were, I'm going to go on a very brief hiatus for about a week to give time to move into the new place.  My best girl and I will be unpacking for a while and setting up, and between that and actual work, it's best if I take a deep breath and come back refreshed (I hope) and intact in a week or so to comment on our intriguing world.

See you all soon!

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.

A Look Back from 2019 Or So

I was reading, of all things, ESPN The Magazine, in passing this week.  The "passing" aspect has gone quicker and quicker over the years.  The more pages are assigned to motor sports, trash-sports like "X Games", women's basketball and the NBA, the less time it is taking me to read through it.

There are usually two or three essays in the form of what we would call an editorial.  They use people to write them like Howard Bryant, who would find ways to interject racism into a discussion about flavored coffee.  But I read them anyway, in the place you, uh, need reading material.

This issue had a couple things I objected to, though.  The first was an article by Pedro Gomez, a staff writer, about the joys of Latin baseball.  I don't object to the joys of Latin baseball, of course; it's fun to watch players having fun themselves, and the Latin players are second to none in making the game fun.

I did object to his first paragraph, though, wherein he describes Roberto Clemente as the "first Latin superstar" in the professional game.  Now, Clemente was great and a superstar, for sure.  But he wasn't first.  That, as I pointed out months back, was not only the first but the greatest Hispanic player in baseball history, none other than Ted Williams.  Old Ted, who broke into the majors when Clemente was about four, was every bit as Mexican as Barack Obama was black, so you get my drift.

But I digress a bit.

One of those editorial-type articles was about something that had nothing to do with politics, but the guest author still tossed in a paragraph worth of drivel about how he was afraid, and his people were afraid, and we should all be afraid, obviously because of the results of the last election (hint: he didn't mention President Trump by name, but he was talking about him.  Duh.).

So you know how people like me sometimes make notes of the predictions made before a sports season, or a playoff season or the like, and then look at them after the games are over to see who got it right, or how bad the predictions were, that sort of thing?  I mean, I do that too, before the baseball playoffs start but once we know the teams.  Maybe 30 reporters give their predictions, and if three of them get the winner right, that's pretty good, and no one ever gets all the rounds correct.

Well, I want someone to do that now.  Note down a dozen or two of those predictive statements about why they should be afraid, or what this or that exaggerated outcome will definitely happen, and how bad it will be.  Then set a reminder for, say, mid-2019.  Look at what we were supposed to fear and see if it actually happened.

I think the outcome would be amazingly educational.  We will find that some things we were concerned about indeed were as bad or worse than predicted -- Obamacare is a perfect, horrible example.

But for the most part, I expect -- let's say "predict" -- that all the panic among the snowflakes, and among the people who write articles for ESPN and sneak in little fears, will turn out to be completely unjustified.  We have a system of government in place that tends to stabilize the tiller of the ship of state, as it were, after all.  Except when the Democrats have 60 senators.

And I hope that I will have the perspicacity to go back in a few years, after Donald Trump has been president a few years, and look at some of the writings of people who were talked into fears they should not have had.  We'll see, I am confident, that whether or not we have advanced that much as a nation, on all of the many fronts in which we needed to have advanced, the fears will have proved completely unfounded.

I'm going to try to remember to look back in a few years.  Will 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."  Appearance, advertising, sponsorship and interview inquiries cheerfully welcomed at bsutton@alum.mit.edu or on Twitter at @rmosutton.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

No Comment

As I was working yesterday morning, in the background was the congressional committee, chaired by Trey Gowdy (R-SC), who had called for testimony from the director of the FBI, James Comey, and the director of the National Security Agency, Michael Rogers.  The topic was Russia, of course, in that the Democrats are still on their RussiaRussiaRussia kick, trying to find something with which to undercut the presidency of Donald Trump.

There was, of course, a great deal of non-answering going on.  This is to be expected, as it was an exceptional case that a sitting FBI director and a sitting NSA director would testify to an open committee hearing in regard to an ongoing investigation, or at least the existence of an investigation.  "I can't answer that" was a common -- the most common -- answer, and understandable.

I wonder some things, though.  OK, I wonder a lot of things, but several in regard to the hearings yesterday.

First, and perhaps the least relevant is this.  Trey Gowdy was a prosecutor for some 15 years or so.  I have to wonder if he ever lost a case.  His questioning of the two directors was so critically focused, with such detailed chains of logic, that he could get his points across through the asking of the questions themselves.  The answers were almost obligatory in following.  If I were the criminal and he were the prosecutor, I'd cop a plea.

Second, though, is more able to be generalized.  Congressional hearings are a stinking mess.  The committees cycle through alternate allocations of time among the chairman, the ranking member (from the opposing, minority party), and the members of the committee in alternating party membership.

It would be nice, be helpful and be immensely more engaging for the poor person being questioned, if the congressman asking the questions were required to ask at least one question for every declarative sentence that they make.  Would that not be better than the interminable speeches made by the committee members prior to asking a question, that may or may not have any connection to the speech preceding it?

I could not help watching the bored expressions on the part of the two directors as the committee members spoke so many words just to hear themselves speak ... on and on ... finally getting to an actual question that, as noted, as often as not could not be answered in a public committee hearing.  If I were either of them, I would call for a bladder break every 20 minutes or so.

In fact, perhaps I would be less kind.  I would be yawning through the declarative sentences.  I would be saying, "Could you repeat all of the preceding statements, with the original intonation, so that I might possibly understand and distinguish your speech to the audience from the actual question to me -- there was a question in all that, right?"

OK, that might have sounded like contempt of Congress, but if congressmen act contemptibly, is not contempt warranted?

Feline attention diverter (as Yoda)
And I suppose there is a "third" thing to ask.  If we peeled out all the speechifying in committee hearings, would not the committee members be freed up to do more actual legislative work to the betterment of the nation?  How about giving each member five minutes instead of 15, and enforcing a "Questions Only" rule?

I was so struggling to have my attention not be diverted by, I don't know, my work, my cat, anything that moved, trees swaying in the window.

Let congressmen make speeches on their time, not mine, thanks.

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, March 20, 2017

Marching to Madness

If lots of parts fit right, I could finish as high as 466th in the NCAA men's college basketball tournament pool that I am entered in, populated primarily by employees of a company I have not worked for in many years.  That's how those pools seem to go; they have a life of their own, long after the employees have "left."

Or in my case, "were laid off", along with half of the company when it was suspended from government contracting by the Small Business Administration.  And no, I was not in the part of the company that actually was -- falsely, as it turns out -- accused of having done something upsetting to the SBA.

But I digress.

So yes, I still only have nine of the "sweet sixteen" as it stands now, and although I only have four possible wins for the round of eight, I have three of the round of four, and both finalists, still alive.  That's where I could do something remarkable and not lose as badly as usual.

None of the above, however, is good for the NCAA.  That's because while the NCAA is not exactly proud of the fact that betting on the men's tournament is as rampant as it is, and that most people associate "March Madness" with betting and pools and having their brackets tank, it does provide what should be a huge level of interest in the games themselves.

It's about basketball, after all, isn't it?

Well, no, it is not.  I have a lottery subscription for one of the national multi-state lotteries out there, a cheap whim that some day I might win enough millions to live exactly as I live now, and exactly where I live now, only with a bigger bank account.  Oh, yeah, and not having to work until I'm seventy and probably beyond.

But I don't watch the lottery drawing.  There is nothing so divine and mind-blowing about the drawing of lottery numbers that I can't just read the email with the numbers the next morning.

And such it is with the NCAA men's basketball tournament.  I have watched exactly none of it, and plan to watch exactly none of it.  That's not because I'm not a sports fan; I am an excessively passionate sports fan, from baseball to football to golf and a more-than-occasional hockey game when my team is on TV.

I watch none of it for the same reason I would not watch a Nashville vs. Calgary hockey game, or a Diamondbacks-Rockies baseball game.  I don't care about the teams involved, you see.  It's just a bunch of guys playing baseball, and I'm sure I would have better things to do with that time.  Read a book.  Pray.  Talk to my wife.  Sleep.  Watch something else on TV.

Let's face it, in this era when the best college basketball teams are lucky to keep their star players a year or two before they try to go professional, the quality of the basketball being played is unwatchable.  The players have little loyalty to their teams, and are out there primarily to be seen by pro scouts who already know what they can and can't do.  A system like at Duke, which is actually a team system, that's a different story.  But they're a rarity and, by the way, Coach K's crew is already out of the tournament.

I am an unabashed fan of the University of North Carolina, whose medical school I attended in an earlier time.  And I do hope they win the tournament, even though it would kill my bracket.  But I can't watch the games, knowing that the players care less about the school than I, who never played basketball for UNC except in my dreams (yes, in actual dreams), do.

The graduation rate of most top schools' basketball players is sickening.  I remember reading, many years ago, of course, a list of those rates by school, before jumping early to the pros was much of a thing.  UNC was actually pretty good, well over 50% of its players getting a degree.  I think it might have been Oklahoma State or Memphis that was at 7%.  As I recall, that wasn't a scandal.  Ew.

So no, I'm not interested in watching the games, or seeing the sponsors' ads, which I won't, as I won't be watching the games.  I won't be seeing the selfish style of basketball that blasts forth when the spotlight is on selfish players.

But I did do the pool.  That, at least, is interesting.

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, March 17, 2017

Time for Force at the VA

Depending on where you get your news, you may or may not have seen this little piece on the TV screen or in your paper, if anyone still gets newspaper.

If you have ever had a connection with the Federal Government, ever worked for them, ever was a contractor, ever showed up at a Federal facility, you know that there are portraits in the lobby or reception area.  They include the sitting president and vice-president, and the Secretary or other head of the department or agency whose facility you are in.

A Veterans Administration hospital in south Florida, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Veterans Affairs, did not put up the requisite photographs, leaving empty spaces there where the  photos should be.

The sitting congressman in that jurisdiction, Brian Mast, took matters into his own hands and had pictures of the president, VP and the VA Secretary hung personally.  There was a brief ceremony with a number of veterans attending and present.

Now, "sitting congressman" is an ironic statement in Rep. Mast's case, since he lost both his legs as a soldier in the Army.  He certainly cares a lot about decorum and the proper place for the photos.  He personally arranged for official portraits to be provided and was there for them to be hung.

Apparently, though, that did not satisfy the administrators at the VA hospital, West Palm Beach, who immediately removed the portraits, claiming that they were not "official", and that the portraits needed to be sent from the "VA central office", whatever the heck that is.

Worse, when Rep. mast called the hospital to find out what happened to the photos and why they were gone, he was told that President Trump was "not my president", meaning that whoever the moron was who said that apparently had the authority over who was and was not the president.

Now, I'll tell you that although I no longer travel for work, and so no longer visit Federal facilities, I always had to choke back bile when I would walk in and see grinning pictures of Barack Obama, a man I thought was trying to destroy America from the White House.

But he was the president!  The nation, in my view, had ignorantly made him the president, and that's what he was.  I would never have thought to take the photograph down while he was serving, although I would have volunteered to be first in line to take it down one second after he left office.

Well, it is time for reality to set in.  I would have wished that President Trump had said nothing at all about this issue; he cannot possibly gain by doing so (update ... a few minutes ago, he did).  But the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, David Shulkin, should act immediately with the following letter to each and every head of each and every VA hospital and each and every VA facility in the USA:

Dear Sir or Madam,

You have been sent the official portraits of the President, Vice President and VA Secretary.  You will post those portraits immediately, as in today, in the places authorized in your facility.  I will personally inform the nation's veterans, who have fought for our country and too often have waited far too long for care in your facilities, of this notice so that they can ensure the portraits are in place.

If I receive a confirmed report that the portraits are not where they should be, your employment will be terminated immediately, and the person removing them will be terminated as well.  VA facilities are no place for political statements. 

Respectfully,
U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs

David Shulkin, Secretary
 
I think that would probably get the point across, don't you?

By the way, as of this morning, the portraits are back on the wall at VA West Palm Beach.

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, March 16, 2017

George and the Woodchuck

Last year, I wrote about George, a wonderful fellow who was deprived 40 years ago of a promotion in the Army, but would not lift a finger to dispute the case, believing that it was not his place to argue with the Army.  He was just a simple soldier, and what the Army said was good enough for him.

Of course, at age 94 he finally did ask the Army to look into it, and in their inimitable fashion, they came up with a weak and ineffectual response that did nothing, apologized for nothing, and accomplished nothing.  George decided that was it, and took no further steps.  He left us in 2011 at age 95, comfortable in his service to the country.

A separate aspect of the same man's life is that he was a long-time champion marksman with both rifle and pistol, from his Army days in 1940 all the way into his nineties.  I even mentioned that in my piece on the Second Amendment last year.  He taught his sons to shoot, and both still do, as do his grandsons.

He also taught hunter safety classes, which were, and maybe still are, required in his state before one could get a hunting license.  George did that for a number of years, and graduated hundreds of young hunters after imparting the essentials of safety in the woods when armed.

And so it seemed completely out of range, as it were, that with all that skill, and all that knowledge of hunting, he didn't hunt.  I guess it took a while before my brother and I realized the incongruity of his not hunting, despite his marksmanship and accuracy, and obvious familiarity with the sport.  He did not go hunt in the woods, but rather competed at ranges, with targets.

At about age 14 or so, we were living on a large property, with a long building in the back area that George had converted into an indoor shooting range, complete with steel deflectors behind the targets and all the required accoutrements. 

As rural as the property was, it had its share of wildlife, including our share of woodchucks.  They were more a pest than anything else, digging tunnels and leaving an occasional tunnel entrance in the lawn that one could trip on and break something.  Fortunately that never happened, but it didn't make them any less of a nuisance.

Not infrequently we would see the woodchucks themselves, and would amuse ourselves by whistling to them from 50 yards or so.  They would then sometimes stand up, and as kids we would think about going out and shooting them.  George, our dad, would nod and chuckle and say "Sure, one of these days."

I might have been 14 or 15 or so.  It was probably in an autumn weekend, we were finishing lunch when through the window I saw a woodchuck out there by the range.  I told Dad there was a perfect opportunity to "get one", and we went to get my rifle, a Mossberg .22 with a peep sight.  We unlocked the cabinet, got the rifle and headed outside.

I'm sure I was a bit excited as we quietly took a position 150 feet from the woodchuck, which was still out there where it had been.  I softly whistled to get him to stand up, loaded up and aimed, at which point my father taught me a lesson that, 50 years since, still is with me ...

He reached over to the barrel of the rifle, pressed it down a bit and said "We don't have to do this."  I remember being a bit disappointed, but understanding there was a message.  I unloaded the rifle and we went inside, leaving the woodchuck to do what woodchucks do.

Oh, what a lesson.  Shooting a stupid old woodchuck was not sport.  Humans were a lot smarter; it was not an accomplishment but, rather, the work of what today we would call a bully.  If we shot the woodchuck, we'd have to dispose of it, which is certainly an unpleasant task.  And Dad, not a particular animal lover, at least had enough respect for the forces of nature to let this animal live its life, at least until eaten by a bear.

We never discussed, or had a need to discuss, that incident again; it wasn't a big deal to him apparently.  He could hit a dime repeatedly at 50 feet even without a scope, over and over without missing it, but shooting a woodchuck was not as important as raising a son with the right values.

In 2005, we had a small party for him when he turned 90.  We have a very, very small family, so each of us had a chance to say something after dinner.  I related that story to the group at the table, and it appeared for all the world that he had completely forgotten the incident entirely!  To him, it was simply another in a long-forgotten list of interactions, and he was quite surprised that it had made such a lasting impression.

I can only hope that I taught my own two sons anywhere near as well as he did.

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, March 15, 2017

The Elephant, the CBO, Health Insurance and Paul Ryan

John Godfrey Saxe was not the inventor of the saxophone.  That was actually a different man, Adolphe Sax.  This bit of history is completely irrelevant, except that heretofore we can comfortably assume that the two men had never been put intentionally in the same paragraph.

Mr. Saxe, the former, was a poet of some renown.  One of his most familiar works is the poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant" which, even if we didn't memorize it, at least we have read it enough to know the point.  It derived, to be fair, from ancient parables across the west Asian continental peoples.

Six blind men in India ("Indostan", in the original work) are led to an elephant, which they approach from different angles -- one touches the trunk, another the side, a third the tusk, etc.  Being blind, they touch the first elephant part they come upon, and being simple, they make the assumption that "this wonder of an elephant" is very like some analogous reference and stop there.

The blind man touching the tusk, for example, immediately decides that the elephant is "very like a spear", while the one touching the side decides that the elephant is like "a wall."  A rope, a fan, a tree -- you get the idea.  And if somehow you don't get the idea, Saxe closes with this verse:

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion, exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong!


Such it is with the health insurance bill being shepherded through Congress by the Speaker, Paul Ryan.  To be accurate, it is not about that bill itself; it is about the overall program which consists of three parts.  Only the first, the "reconciliation" bill, is available for discussion at this point.

I would like to hope that by now everyone understands what the repeal-and-replace program is.  The first part consists of the repeal of significant parts of Obamacare.  The parts of the program that are in that bill are what can be legally done through "budget reconciliation", i.e., using the same legislative trick that was used by Democrats to pass Obamacare in the first place.

That has to be done because any such bill has to be passed by both the House and Senate.  The House just needs a simple majority, but the Senate needs 60 votes to avoid a filibuster that would kill the bill -- unless it goes through under reconciliation, which needs a simple majority in the Senate.  And that is what the currently-considered bill does, and why it is not the complete repeal and replace we all wish we could get.  Not all of the replacement is budget-centered, so the rest has to be passed in the normal process.

The second part is the gift from the original Obamacare legislation, which vests lots of power in the hands of the HHS Secretary.  The current Secretary, Dr. Tom Price, operates "phase two" by neutralizing everything done by the previous secretary.  That takes no votes at all, since it is an executive action by the Secretary.  I hope we infer that so much power vested in an unelected government official is yet another reason to get rid of Obamacare in the first place.  But by not being a legislative step, it can start already, and according to Secretary Price, it has.

Finally, whatever is left goes into the third phase, the final bill with the parts that couldn't, procedurally, go into the reconciliation bill in phase one.  Those are unfortunately subject to the 60-votes-in-the-Senate rule, which is why they're last.  But they also have the good parts, such as the ability to sell and buy health insurance across state lines, parts that will drive down costs and facilitate R&D and quicker-to-market drugs, address tort reform (badly needed) and the like.

All three phases are needed, and Speaker Ryan sees the three, properly, as all necessary to achieve the needed reform.  So they need to be seen in total, and that (you were waiting) is where the elephant comes in.  It is the rules of the legislative branch that force a multi-phase solution, and so any review of the program needs to be done in total.

The Congressional Budget Office just this week "scored" the bill, making a recommendation as to what its impact would be.  But that review was just of phase one, the reconciliation part.  They came out with some dollar figures and, for some reason, an estimate that 20 million or so would no longer have insurance as a result of that first phase.

Now that is deceptive on its own -- no one will "lose" insurance at all; the decline is because since no one will be forced to buy health insurance under penalty of law, some people will decide to "go naked" and not buy any.  But that won't stop the Democrats from racing to the nearest camera to put their two cents in.

Most importantly, it is an incomplete review, because phase one is a part of a total program.  Obamacare's legislation did not make its dismantling easy.  And we can't say that all three phases will be approved, or at least the first and third where Congress reigns.  But we have to look at all of it.

Otherwise, the commentary on the overall program will sound like it is being done by six Indostani blind men, who may look at only the reconciliation portion and say that "the wonder of the Speaker's plan is very like a mess."  And they would be horribly wrong.

Note: A hat tip here to Fox commentator Greg Gutfeld, who is one of the group on the late-afternoon comment show "The Five."  He consistently attempts to point out that there are three parts to this, and all need to be done to overhaul and completely dump Obamacare.  Anytime one of the panel critiques phase one for something it doesn't do, Gutfeld quietly points out that "No, that is done by the HHS Secretary" or "That is in the third part, because it is not allowed to be put in the reconciliation bill."

And a hat tip to John Godfrey Saxe, who so clearly pointed out that you need to get all the facts on the table, all the parts seen as a whole, so "this wonder of repeal/replace is very like a plan."

And so this wonder of a tag can well and truly scan.

Iambic heptameter.  Try it sometime. 
Sutton out.

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, March 14, 2017

Use the Right Figures

Goose ... gander ... there is a pretty interesting application of that concept that actually needs to be put in place as we are now fairly healthily into the Trump Administration.  And I'll bet you can't guess where I'm going with this.  So I won't keep you in suspense.

In several of the columns on this site, I have decried an over-reliance on the use of the common unemployment-rate statistic as an indicator of the economy's general health.  The definition of what constitutes the labor force, the number of people employed, that sort of statistical basis for comparison, all that has been a challenge to interpret.

We know, for example, that the number of people actually employed took a nose-dive around the time of the start of Barack Obama's first term, and it took six years of that administration before there were as many people working again as when he took office.  The long-term curve of employed totals over time is a surprisingly steady slope, i.e., it increases at almost exactly the same rate, decade over decade (the same rate of increase as has been going on since 2010).

The sudden, anomalous drop in that number early in the Obama Administration was followed by a steady rise at the same slope (see graphic) as the rise had been for the previous decades.  America's economy can even survive Barack Obama, one imagines, although the phase-shift drop when he took office reset the baseline a good bit.

Rate of increase in the number of people employed, after the precipitous decline in actively working people following the election of Barack Obama and his anti-business, labor-deterring policies (source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
Why do I bring this up?  Because aside from my articles, it is important to know that Republicans have been legitimately kicking and moaning for eight years about how the Obamists were cooking the books over at the Labor Department to make their numbers look good.  Particularly, the previous White House was accused of tinkering with the numbers and focusing on the resulting unemployment rate.

Critics, myself included, felt that the "4.8%" rate was cooked heavily at worst, and was unreliable at best.  That's because, while the number of people employed was unreliable enough -- the definition of "full" and "part-time" was a bit squishy under Obama -- the denominator, the people available for work, was tied too much to those receiving unemployment insurance payments, or to who had filed for it.  That didn't accurately reflect people who had given up looking, for example.

My point in all of this is some advice to the new president.  If the unemployment rate was deceptive under Obama, you can't fix it.  You can make it more accurate, sure, by properly counting the labor force in general.  But even if you do that, it will be nearly impossible to re-institute confidence in the unemployment rate among the people, after having explained its faults.

So -- I urge the administration to go back to what was said over and over in the campaign as far as which indicators were reasonable and reliable, and use them primarily.  Don't go out and say "Hey, we got the unemployment rate down to 4.7%", after you spend a year saying that it was a meaningless figure and unreliable to use.

The first time I heard Sean Spicer refer to that rate, and not go to Labor Participation or another figure that had been touted by the Republicans during the campaign as being accurate, I panicked a bit.  If the rate was useless last year, it is useless this year.

It is a similar thing with the stock market, only with a little nuance.  We trust the figures; we just have to understand the reasoning.  For example, the very large increase in the value of the Dow Jones Average over the time of the Obama Administration was a gradual increase, fueled predominantly not by corporate improvements and consumer confidence, but because there was nowhere else to put anyone's money!

Savings interest rates disappeared to fractional points after the Fed's interest rate tinkering drove them below 1%.  If you wanted even to keep up with inflation, you had to be in the market, which (supply and demand strikes again) gradually drove the Dow higher.  At the same tie, Dodd-Frank and other general Obama policies discouraged hiring and encouraged retrenchment and hoarding cash -- and cutting jobs.  That left the companies in better financial positions even as the economy was failing.  Revenues were weak, but the hiring freezes and robotization made the profits higher against those revenues.

The 2,000-point spike since the election, though, is a different case.  President Trump is a sane, pro-business leader who has reached out to the private sector heavily to work on going forward.  The Trump spike is because of market optimism -- there still are no alternatives to put your money, but at least now there is a reason to think that the economy will recover in actuality as opposed to smoke-and-mirrors.

I do hope that the president and his spokesmen will be very careful about which stats they cite, and make sure that they're not relying on figures that they derided as unreliable only a year ago.

Food, I hope, for thought.

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, March 13, 2017

The Thankful Stupidity of the American Criminal

I am grateful for my life to date, for my long marriage, for the fact that my clients still need me as much as ever and keep me employed.  I'm grateful for the lives of my children and for the experiences they have had that help them to grow and mature, for all that God has thrown their way, and ours as well, and I am extremely happy that I was born in the USA.

I am grateful for many, many things.  Today, though, I am thankful for how utterly dumb some people are, including those who commit certain crimes.

This is not about the stupidity that they show in actually committing the crime; that's less a matter of stupidity than immorality, godlessness, contempt for one's fellow man.  That's pretty miserable, but it isn't stupidity.  There are plenty of otherwise less-intelligent people who have also managed to be good and decent people, respectful of their fellow man.

No, this is about the types who manage to get caught by doing something moronic during or after the commission of the crime.  If you are familiar with the Darwin Awards (if you are not, try here), you know that the survival of the fittest leaves a few prizes in the rear-view mirror of evolution.  Some of those, of course, are criminals who have done something idiotic in committing their crime, including sowing the seeds of their own demise.  But mostly about those who sow the seeds of their own arrest.

As I have probably mentioned, my older son is the owner of several "vape shops", which sell the equipment used in the practice of vaping (inhaling water vapor, with a flavor and generally a nicotine level that can be adjusted).  While he is a retail shopkeeper for all things vaping, he particularly encourages use of, and markets his products, as a smoking-cessation habit.  He has been successful doing that.

One of his stores was the subject of a burglary last week.  Located in a 19th-Century log cabin, the store was broken into in the middle of the night, where the perpetrator entered and apparently wandered around for over an hour.  He showed his understanding of the marketplace by focusing on stealing the highest-priced vaping devices, including some custom-made and unusual products, and pretty much leaving the "juice", the liquid heated in the device, alone.  Let's leave it at that.

Now, we on his "team", employees and parents alike, were devastated by this happening.  It is a violation in every sense of the word, and I'm pretty sure we all understand what that means.  As you know, insurance companies make it pretty difficult to value the losses, and require an inordinate amount of time to put together the information they need to make what is generally an inadequate settlement.  There was a lot of pain for several days.

Of course, my best girl and I are both old enough to have lots of cubbyholes in our aging brains.  So while we were all rocked by this having happened, and the possibility of our son taking a total loss on the stolen merchandise, we at least were more hopeful.

You see, criminals are mostly stupid, unlike the type you see on TV -- the Darwin Awards types are a lot more representative of your daily thief than the folks on The Catch, if you get my drift.  So we tried to explain to our son that the thief was pretty stupid, likely, and would try to sell the merchandise in a way that would expose him, probably pretty quickly.

Be comforted, we told him, and consider how one of his customers or competitors (and it had to be one of those, given the knowledge of the shop and the product line) would try to dispose of the loot.  Our son is a pretty bright fellow, and a fairly well-known name in the business in that area.  He also has a solid foundation in social media, so he had a pretty good idea of what would happen.

As it turned out, he was quite right, and so were his parents.  Last night, less than a week after the robbery, we got a text and a call that the perpetrator was in custody.  Want to know what happened?  There was an anonymous tip from someone who had seen a posting online that you may not believe.

There, on the thief's Facebook or other social media site, was a picture with all of the stolen devices, including the custom, one-of-a-kind products, laid out on his bed.  He had taken a picture of them and posted it online, as if to say, "By the way, duh, if you weren't aware that I was a moron before, well, let me show you, so you can be sure I am, ga-huk, ga-huk, ga-huk."

Needless to say, the cops paid his house a visit and he was charged with whatever felony is appropriate when you break into a store and lift thousands of dollars worth of products.  And the principle that you don't have to be an idiot to be a criminal, but it seems to go together, well, that has been borne out classically.

We are all grateful for the association of criminality and idiocy today.

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, March 10, 2017

Fix the Broken Senate, Please

This week I watched an interview with the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), by the always-interesting Tucker Carlson of Fox News.  Carlson, as you know if you have seen him, is a marvelous interviewer, who lets you get away with nothing, regardless of your party.

In this case, the questioning was essentially of the "What has Congress done since inauguration?" theme. Carlson asking the Speaker to tell the viewers what Congress had indeed accomplished in the seven weeks or so since the inauguration of President Trump.  And Carlson was pressing hard to discover whether anything had gotten done, and why the House had taken so many days not in session in February.

I think we know some of the answer to all of that.  The legislative program of the Speaker reflects the principal agenda that the president ran on, and was elected on -- repeal and replace Obamacare, simplify and fix the tax code, build the southern wall, that sort of thing.

The Speaker reflected that structure in his answer, pointing to the sequence with which the legislation for each of those elements would be scheduled.  But in each case, he had to point out why it would take so long to get the bills drafted and voted on -- an it all rested on the quirks of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, the U.S. Senate, and their odd, odd rules.  And Ryan was not happy, although his demeanor was high excitement.

The Obamacare overhaul, for example, would have to take place in three stages, where the Democrats had rammed it all through in one big smelly pile of ugliness through the process known as "budget reconciliation."  All we really know about that process is that it means that parts of the repeal-and-replace effort, the "first third", will use budget reconciliation because it requires only a Senate majority.  But all the rest of the bill is subject to being filibustered to death.  Only certain parts of the bill can go through reconciliation according to rule; important elements, such as offering insurance across state lines, have to wait for the second round to get it through 60 votes.

Of course, the filibuster, a Senate invention, is just part of their process-bound inertia.  When asked why the House had only been in session for eight days in February, it was partly because they recessed to go back to their districts (a normal thing for representatives), but also because they had bills already passed that were on the Senate's desk, waiting for ...

You guessed it, the next problem in the Senate.  Aside from Cabinet members, there are literally hundreds of secondary and tertiary-level positions in the executive-branch departments and agencies.  According to Senate rules, for every single one of them, the opposition can demand 30 hours of debate, and we're talking about the whole Senate.  So while they're bound up prattling on about the qualifications of the Deputy Assistant Undersecretary of Information Technology for the Department of Housing, Urban Development and Toilet Sanitization, the Senate is not doing its real work, such as, you know, passing legislation like the Obamacare repeal.

Thirty hours each for all those political appointees not only blocks the Senate from getting any real work done, but it keeps the departments and agencies from being able to operate with the staff to carry out the objectives of the president elected by the people to do just that work.

Let's say that future Senate minorities do exactly the same thing -- and let's face it, Chuck Schumer is setting a truly fecal standard for honor in all this -- we are going to settle into a model where by the time the president -- every new president -- gets his appointees in place, it will be the next election already.  Nothing -- nothing -- will get done, and we'll turn into an inactive place where the president doesn't ever really run his own government. 

When, pray tell, will the Senate grow leaders who will see that the arcane and inane rules it operates under, now serve to prevent work from getting done?  When will they implement saner rules for legislation?  When will someone with a pair step back and say how stupid and inept the senators look by playing rules games?

The Constitution gives the Senate the right to create its own rules.  The Senate has the right to fix what Chuck Schumer hath wrought and prevent him from "wrighting it" again.  It will be hard.  The left's playbook is "Just do it; the press will make you look good."  But it is a real problem.

Fix it.  Just fix it.

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, March 9, 2017

The Oddest of Priorities

It has been over two years since the one and only time the word "Kardashian" has appeared in a column here, which means that well over 400 articles have left my pen without having to have invoked the name of the first family of celebrity-sans-talent.  I include Kanye West in that, at least until he learns his native language to a second-grade level.

So it was with curious eyes that I came across an article in this morning's news, to the effect that Connecticut law enforcement apparently had some curious priorities.  This message was tweeted out by the police in the town of Glastonbury, which I assume tweets out every one of their arrests for reasons that probably escape all of us.

I'll present the tweet in its entirety so that you can have the facts, and just the facts:

GLASTONBURY MAN ARRESTED FOR DESTROYING KARDASHIAN SELFIES BOOKS. On 3/6/17 at 1530 hours, a 74-year-old Glastonbury man was arrested by warrant for Criminal Mischief 3rd Degree, stemming from an incident that occurred on 10/13/16. The man is accused of spreading a red liquid all over some Kim Kardashian books. The books, titled "Selfish" contained large-print photos of Kim Kardashian's selfies. Six copies of the books were destroyed in the massacre and could not be revived. He also left a lengthy note (that he took the time to type out) explaining his dislike of [Miss] Kardashian and people like her. After being booked he was released on a $2,500.00 non-surety bond.

OK, it wasn't a tweet, it was a Facebook post, which I didn't know until I got suspicious on reading character #141 and clicked the link to it.  I don't think the medium is the message in this one.

You had to be a bit startled at the use of the term "massacre" by actual government officials, a word usually reserved for the death of you know, actual living things.  In fact, a few things startled me, including the obviously tongue-in-cheek concept that the books could "not be revived" and the term "large-print photos."  The term "large print" refers to the point size of the font used to present alphabetic letters.  The term "photos" refers to photographs (duh), which are not words and, in the case of Miss Kardashian, likely words of few syllables each.

In fact, as I read the post over and over, I have to think that the writer intended sarcasm throughout.  Connecticut has, after all, had a real massacre in one of its public schools.  The idea that books that had had red liquid spread on them and "could not be revived", well, I get it.  The post was meant to be sarcastic.

But there was one part to it that should indeed get our attention.

This 74-year-old man was indeed arrested and charged with a crime, "criminal mischief 3rd degree", and was held and subsequently released on a $2,500 bond.  Presumably he is free now, given that the "crime" was done in October, he left a note there at the time, but only in March was he actually arrested and charged.

My best girl pointed this out to me on reading the article and chuckling a bit, but then thought on it a bit more.  "How come", the missus asked, "this old guy gets arrested for putting ketchup on a few books of Kim Kardashian pictures, but the American flag gets stepped on and burned all over the place by those idiot protesters and that's perfectly fine." 

Think on that for a bit.  Somewhere either in our legal system or in the selective enforcement pattern of the police forces across the USA, the moral equivalence levels have tilted to where we protect pictures of Kim Kardashian, taken by Kim Kardashian, with legal enforcement that we do not provide to the American flag and levy on those who burn it?

OK, sure, I get the fact that the books were the property of a store, and that we shouldn't be going into retail stores and pouring red liquids on the store owner's property.  My son's retail store having been broken into and robbed this week, I'm acutely sensitive to that.  The guy should have been charged with something, or at least made to reimburse the bookstore owner the cost of those books, even though he did the world a small favor.

But so, then, should those who burn our flag.  And this "case", such as it is, does us the favor of pointing out the rather unequal protection and the absurdity with which we protect flag-burners -- or, for that matter, the burners of anything in the course of protest where burning is prohibited -- under "free speech" interpretations.

I hope you see what I'm driving at.

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, March 8, 2017

Where There's Smoke, There's Smoke

It must be so much easier just to toss stuff in the air and not care where it lands, rather than place it neatly away in an organized space.  That's the only way to explain the Democrats' sudden interest in (shhh, don't say anything loud) ... Russia.

As much as I try, I simply cannot come to understand what is being thought may have actually happened in regard to the 2016 campaign and what Russia may or may not have been trying to do.

I heard one commentator today actually state that there was no question that the Russian leadership had interfered with the 2016 election specifically to get Donald Trump elected and to damage the campaign of Hillary Clinton, the Democrat candidate.  This was stated, as if it were categorically proven fact.

But it leaves us several questions to answer, the first of which is a simple "Why?"

Barack Obama told the Russian president during the 2012 campaign that "after the election, I will have more flexibility," presumably to take actions that the Russians would like.  Hillary Clinton, who had already sold a quarter of USA uranium to the Russians, who was endorsed by Obama, was the candidate of the same party as Obama, and who was a fairly obvious wimp on foreign policy, was the candidate in 2016.

What possible motive would the Russians have for wanting anyone other than Hillary Clinton to be president?  Donald Trump had campaigned on being a tough defender of the USA and its people.  He certainly stated his openness to working with Vladimir Putin on various issues, but he certainly wasn't going to be selling them another 20% or so of our uranium.

Hillary Clinton had obviously shown herself, as Secretary of State, to be willing to prostitute herself, to sell out the country, in order to make money for herself.  How in God's name would any reasonably intelligent Russian leader not prefer that the Americanskis elected Hillary Clinton, who would run the country however best it would be for herself?

So there is that.

Then there is this.  We know that there was successful hacking of the Democratic National Committee by someone.  We also know that the Republicans were hacked, but the attempt failed. The DNC hacking got to John Podesta's emails, which ended up on WikiLeaks and embarrassed the Clinton campaign, to the extent they could be embarrassed (I sometimes think of them as incapable of that emotion).

We know that candidate Trump jokingly asked the Russians to go find, somewhere on the Internet, the 30,000 lost emails that Hillary bleach-bitted off her private email server.  We also know that he wasn't asking the Russians to actually hack that server, because when he made the joke, that server was already unplugged and was up on a shelf in an evidence locker at the FBI.  So he pretty much figured that hacking was mostly the province of the Russians.

In terms of, you know, actual facts, that's all we know right now.  We seem to hear that the Russians were trying to disrupt the election, but we know that if they tried anything, anywhere, actually to affect the results of the voting, they failed.  There is zero evidence, anywhere, of anything being changed as far as the voting.

Similarly, there is zero evidence, anywhere, of any motivation except to disrupt the campaign and the election, perhaps to show us they were capable of doing so, and make us mistrust our own process.  That is not to say that they had a preference, just that they could make a little mischief and be an uninvited player.  We have seen zero evidence that they preferred one candidate; as I noted, from a geopolitical perspective, their preference would have been Hillary, not Trump.

All that makes the foofaraw in the press that much more silly.  It is, according to this week's morality, treasonous if any public official with an (R) after their name has ever been in the same room with a native Russian-speaker.  We don't know why that is supposed to be true, but it apparently is.

Barack Obama can promise the world to Moscow on a live, hot mic but that's just peachy.  Hillary Clinton can sell a quarter of our uranium to the selfsame Russians, but it was Our Lady of Stronger Together who did it, so hey, it was just a little bit of uranium, we can spare it.  Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) can go ballistic about Jeff Sessions, then say that she had never met with Russian officials, but then have pictures of just such a meeting pop up within hours, but she's OK too.  Same with Chuck Schumer.  No problem.  Just a doughnut.

Well, there is a problem, and that's my point.  What does anyone actually think the Russians did, and what is anyone actually saying that any Republican did, to help them do whatever it is that they are supposed to have done?

It is a kind of FBI thing that they prefer to investigate actual criminal activity.  If I were at the FBI, and I were handed the "case" of all this as the lead investigator, I would have a first question -- What does anyone think happened, criminally?  You know what I mean?  I'm still trying to figure what the crime was, and the left is already screaming for a special prosecutor (hint: the special prosecutor-authorizing legislation expired a decade ago).

All we get is smoke.  We keep hearing that "When there's smoke, there's fire", but no one seems to be able to explain what the fire actually is, what criminal activity anyone, anywhere, is actually being accused of having done.  Shoot, forget the accusation part, just tell me the darn crime!

I have stepped away from this far enough to gain that perspective.  I simply don't see anything there, let alone enough to be somehow more important than dumping Obamacare, reforming immigration, simplifying and cutting taxes, you know, the things that Donald Trump was elected president to do.

Lots of smoke, no fire.  No "there" there, so it seems.

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, March 7, 2017

Not Proud, but Not Ashamed Either

I have heard a line, over and over, that has made me think, and I thought it an interesting diversion to discuss it today, rather than yet another news commentary.  So UberThoughtsUSA is a politics-free zone today, unless you read the other 600 pieces here.

Which I encourage you to do :).   But I digress.

Today's piece is about mis-assigned pride.  Obviously you have never heard that phrase, because I just made it up.  But it means exactly what it seems like it means, and I hope it will at least have you thinking when the piece, however brief, is completed.

The other night, I watched the TV show "Who Do You Think You Are", which is about celebrities being led through their ancestry, to clear up questions they might have regarding their progenitors.  It is typically a fun show to watch, because tracing ancestry is a fascinating thing to do, and when it is of a celebrity, it is a bit of a voyeuristic exercise for we, hoi polloi.

Sunday night's episode was about the actress Courteney Cox, looking at her otherwise-unknown maternal-side roots.  She had a couple names, but not a lot.  I won't get into too much detail, but after a trip to the U.K. to get into old records, she discovered a few interesting things.  I would think that it would be interesting to discover, as she actually did, that her 19th-great-grandfather had murdered King Edward II, who had been lodged, after abdicating, in a cell in the castle of her 18th-great-grandfather in the 14th Century.

After discovering that, it seemed almost an afterthought when the English genealogist, with whom she was working, showed her particularly aristocratic family tree of the Middle Ages.  French, she was.  A Norman.  In fact, the lady who, in her youth, was the OCD-ish character Monica on the long-running comedy series "Friends", was directly descended from William the Conqueror.

One thing I noticed was that she seemingly never mentioned the word "proud" or "pride" in any of this.  She certainly was fascinated as she went along her family tree and discovered all the noblemen in her ancestry, back to the Norman Conquest and its king, whom she had learned all about years before in school.

It wasn't that she was not happy about her line, but it was more an amazing curiosity and something to talk about.  I think it would be fair to say she reacted as I would have.  Curiosity and maybe something to mention at a party, but that's about it.

You see, I have about had it with "pride."  I am proud to be one thing -- me.  Why?  Because it is all that I can control.  I loved my late parents, and I could admire their lives and accomplishments, but those were their accomplishments.  One grandfather died 94 years ago, how on earth could I know him enough to know what he was like?  I'm certainly not ashamed of any of them, but if I say that my mother was a great lady, that was because she was, not because I can take pride in the things she did or the person she was -- it was she, not I.

So when I hear the term "black pride", or "proud to be Punjabi" or "proud to be born Canadian", I have to ask the obvious question -- "why are you proud of that, you had nothing to do with it!"

It is group-think, and I react poorly to group-think.  We should reserve the word "pride" for ourselves, for what we do and have done, the choices we have made.  We can appreciate that those who raised us taught us how to make those choices, but that's not pride, that's appreciation.

That's a bit why I'm not too excited about inventions like "Black History Month", because they focus on the accomplishments of people who happen to be whatever race or national origin is being "celebrated."  "Ooh, ooh, Charlie So-and-So invented the electric fork!  He was Ugandan, let's put pictures of him up during Hooray for Uganda Month."  But his invention had nothing to do with his being Ugandan and, far more importantly, it doesn't say anything at all about other Ugandans.  Why should his neighbor take any pride for what a different guy did?

So let's be honest; I have a very checkered ancestral background, which leaves me not in much position to know anything about any 3rd-great-grandfathers.  So maybe I'm less hung up on ancestral accomplishments, given that I wouldn't know of any.  But I don't think that's all of it.

Let us reserve "pride" as a designator for our own lives, for what we have done, for the way what we have done has shaped our lives.  Mistakes are mistakes, and perhaps we are proud of the risks we took that led to those mistakes.  Be proud of that.  It is a part of you.

Your ancestors, your race, your national origin, well, that's just blood.  Do not denigrate it, even if you are not descended from William the Conqueror (pretty sure I am not).  But blood is just a curiosity.

They say "You are what you eat", and that is certainly the case in one context.  But more to the point, you are what you have done ... the choices you make, your accomplishments, your contributions to society, family, community and self.  You are what you have done.

Good.  Now you can be proud of something.  Shelve the mis-assigned pride.

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, March 6, 2017

Political Courage Needed, Sen. Franken

It is time for a modicum of political courage to be shown, this time by, of all people, the senator from Minnesota whose sole prior experience was as a comedy writer, analogous to that of Barack Obama before becoming a senator.  OK, even less.  And I will concede that Donald Trump had no greater experience than Franken had, but he at least had been dealing with those people, and actually had run something extensive.

We have all been following the whole teapot tempest in regard to the testimony of Attorney General Jeff Sessions at his Senate confirmation hearing.  In response to a 47-second question by Franken, Sessions had declared that he had not met with any Russian officials during the campaign.

I watched the hearing live, and it was patently obvious that Franken's question -- "did you meet with any Russians", to shrink it to sane length -- was about Sessions' actions in regard to his position supporting the Trump campaign in 2016.  Sessions himself smiled and said that he had been called a Trump surrogate during the campaign, and he had not met with any Russian officials then.

Since then, as we know, it has come out that Sessions did indeed meet with a Russian ambassador in his Senate office during that time.  That meeting was associated with Sessions' position on the Senate Armed Services Committee, his actual job, at which time they discussed the situation in Ukraine, about which Sessions was, he recalls now, pretty firm with the ambassador and not pleased with his country.

So here is the context.  That hearing, like all the confirmation hearings I heard, consisted of alternate-party senators making long speeches followed by almost-as-long questions directed at the nominee.  If I were the nominee, I would start "spacing out" at the speeches, and have to return to reality when it seemed that the speaking senator got around to starting an actual question.  Let's face it, they're not "How are you today" questions you can answer off the top of your head.

Context is important.

So with that setting, you have Franken introducing some brand-new reporting at the time of the question about someone saying something about how someone in the Trump campaign may have talked to a Russian.  After that, he asks Sessions if he had talked to a Russian official.  In that context, I assumed, correctly, that he were asking about Sessions' actions in regard to his work with the Trump campaign, not as a senator on the Armed Services Committee.

Apparently, Sessions did, too, and said he had not met with Russians.  Franken did not follow up and ask "Well, how about in your capacity as a Senator?", and without the conversation leaving the context of the campaign, it clearly -- and reasonably -- did not occur to Sessions to have mentioned any meetings with the Russian ambassador as part of his committee work in the Senate.

So ... what is "political courage", I ask?  I will happily offer a reasonable answer.  It is political courage to do or say something that is truthful and accurate, but conflicts with the orthodoxy or the morning's talking points of one's political leadership.

Now I think the entire Russian-attack-on-the-election meme to be something slightly above the status of "nothing burger."  They have tried to do something with our election process, but that's pretty much what they have been doing for decades.  We do not know a single thing about whom they wanted to win (they tried to hack both parties' headquarters, but only succeeded with the weakly-secured Democrats). And we know of zero cases where the actual election was affected anywhere, in any way.

The Sessions thing is indeed a true nothing burger.  He answered a rambling question in its context, which is quite evident when listening, painfully, to repeated replays of the question.  It is accurate to say that Sessions could have added "But in my work on my Senate committee, I did meet with Russian officials on occasion."  But it is equally likely not even to have occurred to him, given the contexts not only of the topic of the question but of the hearing itself, the way such questions are hard for the nominee to follow.

Let us have some political courage.  Al Franken -- you need to be a human being, not a political beast.  You need to say this:

"I am the senator who asked the question of Attorney General Sessions during the nomination hearing.  I am the one who set the tenor of the question by citing a story that had just come out that hour in regard to whether or not any Trump campaign officials had met with Russian representatives.  I know more than anyone how the question was posed and the context in which it was asked.

"It may not be the politically beneficial thing for me to say, but Attorney General Sessions' explanation this week, that he was replying in the context of the campaign and his position on it, is a perfectly acceptable statement.  It is quite logical that he would not be thinking about his senatorial duties and meetings with Russian officials relative to his committee work, while answering my question.

"As an example, Senator McCaskill reacted immediately to the report and stated that as a committee member, she had never met with Russian officials, yet it turned out immediately that she had, and had simply forgotten it.  Senators are busy people, who meet with many officials in the course of our duties.

"I believe that we should take the Attorney General at his word, and assume that he answered in good faith and in context, and I urge my fellow Democrats to grant that courtesy, as I am."

Now, that would be political courage.  I'm not holding my breath.

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, March 3, 2017

Being Thoughtful on Immigration

On Tuesday night, President Trump opened the door to discussion about the disposition of illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes, who have lived productive lives (i.e., have been working) and thus are not a net financial drain to the nation.  We're going to talk about that today.

Let us remember first that there is a border issue, meaning that we need to stop illegal immigration at the source, and if a wall is the best idea, or at least a good and cost-effective one, then that comes first.  Stop the problem from getting worse.

We know that the president has said throughout the campaign that we needed to fix the border first, at the same time start deporting the criminals among those living here, and only then deal with the illegal population.  He did not want to say what detailed approach he would want to take on the working, non-criminal illegals, partly because he had compassion for them, and partly because, well, this:

There is a host of discussion points on this issue, starting with doing it in the first place -- "doing it" means allowing the productive, non-criminal illegals to stay, rather than living under a risk of deportation.  And to that, I say that reality might as well play into it -- we are not going to deport ten million illegal aliens.  You know that, I know that and President Trump certainly knows that.

So my view is that the solution that he would prefer is a path to legality for them.  And he didn't want to campaign on how to implement that, because he would run into some opposition in his own party that he didn't want to face in the campaign -- and because there are a lot of right answers -- and a lot of facets to what would be a reasonable solution.

So let's assume that we're going to develop a path to legal status for currently-illegal immigrants with no record, whom for convenience we will call "good illegals."  What do we have to consider?

Well first, where is the path supposed to lead?  There are really only two places -- citizenship and an indefinite "legal resident" status.  If we are giving them a path that leads to being permanently here, then it might as well be to citizenship.  Not right away, of course, but if people intend to stay, fine, let's work toward citizenship so they can be Americans, not foreigners living here forever.

That plays into the second area, which is "what will be required of the good illegals to reach citizenship."  And this is important -- whatever path is developed, it is the price of being here.  In other words, you prevent your being deported, or subject to deportation, only by following the progress that the law (or executive order) on handling good illegals dictates.

So let's deal with some things that I believe have to be part of, or considered to be part of, such a program to implement:

- Priority -- good illegals are in a separate program from legal immigrants and in no situation are put ahead of those going through the legal process to citizenship.  There's no way to codify that, but it needs to be a policy by executive order.  Those here legally come first in any area of priority.

- Productivity vs. Dependence -- in order to stay, you need to be working, enough of the time to be considered employed and self-dependent.  In a family situation, at least one cohabiting family member must be employed, so as to ensure that the family does not receive Federal or State welfare, because ...

- Welfare is Not Available -- good illegals in the program to citizenship must be a net contributor to the economy.  No one in the program may receive Federal welfare, and it shall be Federal law that any State providing welfare to such illegals shall have their block grants from the Federal Treasury reduced by 1.5 times the amount granted in State welfare to good illegals.  The principle?  Coming to America illegally may never be used to be carried financially by the taxpaying citizenry.

- What Does "Non-Criminal" Mean -- we have to decide what constitutes a crime that ends a person's stay here.  Minor traffic violations, no.  DWI, yes.  I think we all understand the philosophy behind where that seam actually should exist -- we expect illegals "in the program" to behave themselves reasonably.

- School is OK, and So Are Drivers Licenses -- It will be OK to allow the children in a good-illegal family to attend public school.  They will have to declare their status as being "in the program", for registration purposes, but the education will be what everyone else gets.  They may be given drivers licenses like anyone else, but the license will have a prominent notation of being "in the program", so that non-citizenship is plainly evident.  That is important because of the identifying role that drivers licenses play; they can never be used to pretend citizenship.

- Language -- good illegals and their families are required to attend ESL classes or show basic competence in English to maintain their status.  The law/executive order will specify the required learning track, which is no longer needed as soon as a good illegal and each family member passes a basic English competence test.  I don't care what is spoken in the home, but they each need to function in American society, and that requires at least a basic ability in English.  I don't expect them to quote Shakespeare, but I do expect that they can read a stop sign and a menu.

- Classes -- they are going to become citizens, so they need to learn our history at the level we require of our naturalized citizens -- in English.  So they need to become Americans, and they need to learn the language so they can learn about our country.  And -- they have a finite period, e.g., five years, to pass that, which is more than enough time.

- Exemption from Certain Laws -- this is one I really want people to think about.  These people are being given a marvelous opportunity to be free of the specter of deportation, having come forward and signing up for this path-to-legality program.  They will not get it free; they have to learn English, and learn to be Americans, as part of the price for being allowed to stay after violating immigration law by being here.  I think there are possibly some employment laws to which they are not entitled coverage until citizenship is granted.

For example, I think there could be an argument for exempting them from protection under state minimum-wage laws.  That is actually something to discuss rationally.  Minimum-wage laws depress employment, and we are talking about people under a work-or-be-deported status.  The Federal minimum wage is high enough, even at $7.50 or whatever it is, so that if a good illegal shows him or herself to be worth it to the employer, he or she will earn it and more.  We would not want someone subject to deportation as a consequence of extended unemployment, to be forced out of a job because their limited skill is only valued at $7.50 and not the California or Seattle $15 an hour.

I've only sat down at this piece for 45 minutes or so, and I have a good structure to start with.  Surely the brilliant folks in Congress can weigh this sort of thing as a basis for an intelligent, competent and compassionate plan.

President Trump has my Twitter address.

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, March 2, 2017

The Press: "Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?"

At some point in the days of ancient Rome, in some context that is totally irrelevant to today's piece, an ancient Roman posed the curious question that will have relevance throughout time, as long as mankind dwells here by the grace of God.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It was said that way because, unlike the USA, they had a formal language back then in ancient Rome, and cared about it -- they had to, as Latin is a pretty complex language in its form.  I'm not much for Latin; to me, Caesar is a salad.  I'm not a fan of languages that have all manner of adjective declensions (English has none), lots of definite articles (English has one), and lots of indefinite articles (English has two, and no thought is needed to know which to use, except if you think "an historic event" is somehow right).

But I digress.  "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" translates, for all intents and purposes, to "Who will watch the watchman."  I think we know where this is going.

The press is a bothersome topic.  Journalism in the USA is a constitutionally-protected pursuit, and should be.  I have a lot of respect for true, fair journalism and for the people who practice it.  It means getting the story, developing sources of information, verifying their accuracy with adequate evidence, and having the literary capacity to represent what they have found fairly and without spin.  "Truth to power" is a not-insignificant part of that.

There are people with whom I may often disagree (I'm thinking Chris Wallace) whom I believe represent a true journalist.  When Wallace has a knee-jerk defensive reaction to criticism of the press, it comes of his and, for that matter, his father's, lifetime devotion to the profession.  I respect that, because I have no doubt that Chris Wallace knows what it means to be a journalist.

I do not respect those who allow their personal political view to influence their pursuit, and then create stories from unverified sources (or from thin air), claiming their rights to do so as deriving from the First Amendment.  As much damage to the evil and the too-comfortable as can be done by the proper practice of the profession, as much or more can be done to the nation by promulgating fiction under the guise of news.  When a professed journalist cries on national TV because an election doesn't go her way, well, it is a bit difficult to afford her credibility in reporting on it -- or on anything else.

For several weeks -- pretty much since the inauguration -- we have had a public battle between much of the press and the president.  The press, particularly the news departments of ABC, CBS and NBC and pretty much all of CNN and MSNBC (not sure if anyone is watching them, so I can't confirm the latter, but since we know Rachel Maddow cried when Hillary lost, someone must have recorded it), and several of the once prestigious newspapers, have been taken to task by President Trump.  He has excoriate their publishing and delivering stories without attribution that have, at least in certain cases, been shown to be completely wrong.

The president derides this as "fake news", and he has used his bully pulpit to pound that phrase to the point that most of the country has heard the term.  Much of the country has, accordingly, had whatever trust it once had in the press compromised, and certainly suspect the accuracy of almost any new story it hears.

I have watched the result of that very carefully, because there are "journalists", and there are people who claim to be, but are simply trying to press their view to an audience.  I will confess that, like Chris Wallace at Fox, there are a few people at places like CNN who do take their profession seriously.  Although they are quite politically at odds with President Trump, they do regard accuracy in reporting, and verification of sources, to be a near-holy obligation -- and I respect that.

Of course, if you are a senior reporter at, say, CNN, maybe in the White House pool, and you believe all that about your profession, but your own colleagues at your own network go to press with inadequately vetted, or simply made-up stories that share your politics but violate journalistic integrity, what do you do?

Right now, President Trump is rightly taking the press to task.  They are the watchmen over everything, reporting on the good and (mostly) the bad.  It is their job to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", to make sure that our leadership are properly covered so that their power is not allowed to rise above its constitutional mandate -- a responsibility they abrogated for the previous two presidential terms.

But that job, done or not done, is compromised when "fake news" is brought before their public.  And while it is not a duty of the president to oversee the press, someone has to.  President Trump is doing that, but it is the responsibility of the news media themselves to do so.  The heads of those organizations need to start setting standards and tolerance levels and enforcing them.  Trust is first reestablished when the press show that they care about accuracy in the first place.

 Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

It should not have to be the President of the United States.  But if the press won't watch over itself, someone has to.

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, March 1, 2017

Where "Fewer Jobs" Is Better

Those of you who may have watched President Trump being interviewed on Tuesday on the "Fox and Friends" show on the Fox News Channel may have missed the biggest takeaway from that interview.

There was probably not a lot "new" in the content, as much as anything because this president does a lot of communicating, is very visible, and has already given his views and his planned approaches for most of the issues of the day.  We know what he wants; we just need to know, on an ongoing basis, how he plans to do it, which he explained in Tuesday night's speech to Congress.

So there was a brief discussion in the interview that touched on some criticism he has gotten.  One such area involved the number of jobs that had not been filled yet, in senior positions in government.  President Trump noted, certainly for the first time that I had heard, that he did not plan to fill some of them at all.

That got both my best girl and I interested, enough to react immediately to it.  The president went on to say that there was as much need to evaluate whether we even needed those targeted positions, as there was to fill them -- why rush to name someone, he said, if we don't need the position filled?  That made perfect sense; any vacancy, particularly in the Senior Executive Service, and therefore an expensive use of taxpayer dollars during a debt crisis, becomes a logical time to decide if three people can do the work of five.

We need to see that as a part of an understated (recently) approach to governing.  We all had in our minds the mantra that a "businessman would run government like a business", but weren't sure how that would play out after the inauguration.  Now we begin to see it.

We see it in the executive order approving the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, when he used the opportunity to mandate the use of USA-made products (steel).  We saw it in the appointment of several Cabinet members with strictly private-sector leadership experience, although they are very new and their impact is to be seen over time, particularly in how they address the new mandate to cut their budgets.

And we see it in this decision, or at least this view, by the president.

I want this.  I voted for this, and so did most of those who cast their ballots to elect not just Donald Trump the man, but Donald Trump the businessman who does not spend for the sake of spending.  We voted for an approach that said that Washington is a swamp, stuffed with unnecessary people whose jobs were there because they had always been there, not because they were necessarily needed.

Now-President Trump clearly has not changed.  As he is absorbing the extent to which the Federal government is a bloated bureaucracy, he is doing what he can to avoid perpetuating it.  And just because the Department of This or That has always had eleven deputy secretaries of XYZ and 24 assistant secretaries of ABC, well, that doesn't mean that if you started that department from scratch, you would organize it that way.

Knowing what we know now, and operating under a substantially-deficit budget, many of those jobs do not need to be filled; the American taxpayer does not need to pay for them; we do not need to borrow from Red China to pay for positions we don't need.

The same approach needs to be taken for every vacancy, which is why President Trump has ordered his hiring freeze in all departments except Defense (and maybe Veterans Affairs).  Hiring freezes are a great time to look at vacancies and decide whether to keep the position or delete it, either by just dropping the position or by reorganizing responsibilities so fewer people do more.

It's just that his knee-jerk response is to follow the dollars and reduce the size of government, targeting the unnecessary.  We like that.  We want more of that.

What we want is that the same approach be taken to the existence of agencies in the first place.  Surely, if the Constitution does not mandate something as a Federal responsibility and thus (Tenth Amendment) is a States responsibility, we would be wise to look at whole entities (I'm looking at you, Department of Education, Consumer Finance Protection Board, etc.) to be excised in their entirety, or vastly removed along with their expensive staff.

After all, DC has a pretty generous unemployment and welfare program, right?

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.