Friday, April 28, 2017

The Press Destroying Good News

I hope you were able to see the press conference held on Wednesday to introduce President Trump's new tax reform proposal as worked through congressional leaders and his staff of experts.  Led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Gary Cohn, the Director of the National Economic Council, the presentation consisted of  the summary of the proposal, and included a time for questions by the always-helpful press.

Or, as we often call them, the pack of dogs.

If you did listen, you would have heard the presentation by the two officials, a couple guys who were pretty high-powered financial people before coming to Washington.  In other words, they took huge pay cuts to go there and try to fix an impossibly difficult tax code.  Like the president, they are plenty rich, and also understand the code and how bad it has become.

You would have heard them describe a proposal that would have slashed the corporate rate to 15% from an absurd 35%, a big reason our products are noncompetitive abroad.  It would have had a provision that would have allowed the repatriation of trillions of cash assets stashed by companies in banks overseas, again, a provision for the betterment of the nation.

For individuals, the first $24,000 in income is to be taxed at zero, with only three rates beyond that -- 10%, 25% and 35%.  The standard deduction is doubled, a huge benefit to middle and lower-income taxpaying families and people.  And deductions are effectively eliminated except for the politically-impossible-to-remove mortgage interest and charitable contribution deductions (we assume that 401(k) and IRA accounts remain similarly tax-deferred, but that was not addressed).

I would think that it should be pretty simple to look at that and say that we should be able to see this go through the House and Senate as an actual bill.  You have to hope that the two houses' leadership will see this as vital to return growth to the country's economy, and get a bill passed.

And you might think that the press would be most interested in the details of the plan when asking each of the modest number of questions for which time was provided.  Some did.  John Roberts of Fox News tried (unsuccessfully) to get a bit of detail in regard to the marriage penalty that President Trump had vowed to eliminate, doing his job.  And since this was a framework, some details are yet to be worked out in the negotiating process.

But ... but ... but ... this is really important stuff for you and me.  If the press, representing us, has only a handful of questions allowed in this rare and vital session, do you not think that the questions would be about how the proposal affects you and me, or even how it affects normal folks like, you know, reporters?

Well, you would think that and so would I.  But apparently several of the questioners didn't.  Jonathan Karl (of ABC News, duh) actually -- I'm not making this up -- asked the Treasury Secretary if President Trump would release his tax returns so "we" could see how the plan would affect him.

I don't know what the implication was supposed to be.  Jonathan Karl couldn't decipher a tax return that complex if he had a month to try.  Shoot, he should have asked how many fewer pages President Trump's return might be under the new plan, that at least we could relate to.  But is Karl even trying to imply that the reason for fixing the byzantine tax system was so that Donald Trump could pay less in taxes?

Really?  The guy who is forgoing $1.6 million in pay (donating it all) rather than take a paycheck from the government is going to rig the tax system to help himself?

And Karl wasn't the only one.  Some other reporter asked about the alternative minimum tax, that its proposed elimination would have saved the president X number of million dollars in the leaked 2005 return.  Huh?  The Secretary of the Treasury is supposed to be privy to the hundreds of pages of Donald Trump's 2005 tax return, those that were not leaked and which would have been necessary to make any assumption on how the AMT would have affected it?  He is supposed to know that?  We're supposed to care?

This is our press corps in 2017.  A major announcement comes out on a proposal we have all been waiting for for decades, and trying to discern how it affects us, the economy and the nation.  The press cares about how it affects a president they don't like.  What utter jerks.

I'm going to go try to find details somewhere.  I should have known them from the questions and answers, but I guess the press is not out for me.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Hey, At Least She Raises Money

Why is Nancy Pelosi still the minority leader in the House of Representatives? 

Despite a challenge from a much younger Ohio representative who appeared to be able to try, at least, to explain Democrat positions, the Grand Old Biddy of the House was reelected as minority leader after the 2016 election disaster for the Democrats -- one that was very much influenced by the perception of Democrats as far, far out of touch.  That would be the perception that they are led by people like, well, Nancy Pelosi.

Mrs. Pelosi characterizes the bubble that actual America sees Democrat leaders as living in, from the mercifully no-longer-in-office Barack Obama to the out-in-the-woods Hillary Clinton to the he-can't-believe-what-he-is-saying Chuck Schumer, as living in.  They surround themselves with toadies and sycophants and people who agree with them (or won't disagree) -- including the press.

When the facts simply don't align with their version of reality, these "leaders" simply make stuff up, and have come to understand that the sycophants and toadies in the formerly-great American press will not challenge them.

And this was never more on display than in a conference call with that press, held by good old Nancy earlier this week.  She was trying somehow to claim that funding for the wall with Mexico would be provided at the expense of all nature of other wonderful things that the Federal government does, including lots of things the Federal government has no business doing, according to the Constitution.

God as my witness, Nancy Pelosi actually said this:

He [President Trump] did not promise that he would take food out of the mouths of babies and seniors and education, clean air, clean water, scientific research off the table in a significant way in order for him to pay for his immoral, ineffective, unwise proposal of a wall.”

So President Donald Trump is going to starve babies, kill seniors, pollute the water, choke off the air and drive science back to the 1840s.  Seriously, she said that, and she said that in a news conference with actual reporters.  OK, I don't know what reporters were on the call, but obviously not particularly critical ones.

What must it be like to be a Democrat now, knowing that the people speaking for what you believe in, whatever that may be (and I'm still not sure, after a long presidential campaign), come off like that?  Is there a thoughtful Democrat out there who can listen to that nonsense and still claim to be a Democrat, and be satisfied knowing that Nancy Pelosi speaks for you?

She is, as Senator Ted Cruz said yesterday, a "special kind of ..." (he politely declined to complete the sentence).

Funny thing, though.  Writing about Nancy Pelosi, you tend to hit a wall simply because she has grown into a partisan loon, more to be pitied than censured.  But it does make you ask some questions as you seek to be fair.  I thought, well, let's take her words seriously.  What does she actually mean, when you peel back all the absurd rhetoric?

That got me looking at the 2016 Democrat platform.  Since we never really heard a message from them, at least not from Hillary "Vote for me, I have a uterus" Clinton, I thought I would pick a random place in the platform to look at, and yes I am rambling.

There is a title that I got to, by a random scroll through the platform document, which is, hilariously, still online for all to see.  The title was "Making the Rich Pay Their Fair Share", if memory serves.  I actually didn't linger on the page lest they pick up my IP address and start asking for money.

"Good", I thought; now I could finally find out what "fair share" means.  Maybe I might agree.

I read every freaking word of that section, from keeping people from stashing money offshore, to a surtax on multimillionaires (like Hillary, we assume).  They didn't explain exactly how to tax multimillionaires, since we tax income, not wealth (duh).  I read about the words "fair share" more times than I can quote, vainly looking for the answer to the question I have repeatedly asked of the left.

My query?  Never once in the platform did they ever even suggest what someone's "fair share" actually was, and I still don't know.  Was it 50%?  Was it 80%?  Is there a figure that is the highest percentage that anyone should ever have to pay between Federal and state/local taxation?  And what would be the justification for that rate?

I know what that has to do with Nancy Pelosi babbling about dirty air and water and starving children.  The left is so bereft of ideas that its own platform cannot answer a basic question about its intent and cannot rationalize an actual goal or end state.  So it has to resort to waffling and vapid words.

No wonder they continue to elect equally vapid leadership, even though their own babbling long ago went past the level of baseline stupidity.  I'm told that Nancy Pelosi is still the minority leader because she raises money for candidates better than her competitors for the job.  The price to the Democrats is exposure to the public of her vapidity.

Money talks, we guess.  Certainly with Democrats.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This is Not Bigotry

I can probably write with assurance, that over 90% of those who read this -- and we have now passed 50,000 reads on this site, by the way -- have experienced the situation in the column to follow, and that 99.99% of that 90% feel precisely as I do about it.  Either way, feel free to comment below.

We all watch the TV show "The Big Bang Theory", so you probably recall this line from the Indian character Raj Koothrappali: "I'm going to be deported.  Sent home in disgrace. Exposed to the sardonic barbs of my cousin Sanjay or, as you may know him, Dave from AT&T customer service."

Everyone laughs, because customer support in large, consumer-supported firms like AT&T has been outsourced to India and the Philippines, where thousands of people staff call centers at rates far cheaper than Americans would, between the marketplace and minimum-wage laws.  We all know that; we've all talked to them in frustration.

And we have all had our heads explode, metaphorically as, after 20 minutes on hold, some 18-year-old girl with a Filipino accent addresses your problem by reading from whatever script she has been taught to read from, whether or not it even applies to your case.

My favorite example is ironic, because Monday I did a whole piece on the idiocy and customer-unfriendliness of the Major League Baseball blackout system, with its arcane rules and bizarre zip code system.  It is very, very complex.  So imagine the scripts that "Mary from DirecTV customer service" tried to read from, when I called DirecTV over a year ago because a game had been wrongly blacked out.  I knew the rules far, far better than she, but I couldn't get her to get off her #%^%^$ script and just listen to what I was saying. 

Cut to more recent days.  The little lady and I were renting a condo here recently until our new house was completed.  The condo owner provided cable service, which was through Time-Warner, which is now "Spectrum" after its merger with Charter Communications.  We needed to reach customer service with a simple question, but apparently Time-Warner had not properly instructed its India branch, which was unable to answer with the proper script -- nor transfer me to a native American-English speaker who would understand me -- and I him (or her).  Problem never solved.

So while this piece actually is about cable company customer service, the timing element is important to the story.

A couple months before our moving day, which was to be a Friday, we realized that with TV installation only on Monday, our weekend of setting up the house would be without TV or radio (except local AM, which was not good).  So, as users of SiriusXM satellite radio in our cars, we went out and picked up a home SiriusXM radio to provide the weekend's entertainment and then music for the back yard thereafter.

The radio is a flat unit about the size of a slice of bread, and the speaker box it mounts on that has the little antenna that has to get positioned to receive the signal, connected to it, is a small boom box.
We called SiriusXM customer support, which is somewhere in southeast or south Asia, to arrange for the activation of the service.  Unfortunately, though, with the radio mounted on the speaker box, while trying to get it running with the agent on the phone, there was a message that the "antenna was defective."

After trying all the fixes that the agent had in her scripts, she said she would send out a replacement.  "A replacement what", I asked, since the antenna and antenna wire were part of the speaker box, not of the actual radio that mounted on it.  "Everything", she said, meaning they would ship a new speaker box with antenna and a new radio, because -- as she said -- they "could not tell what part was defective."

A few days later, a new radio came in the mail.  No speaker box, no antenna.  Just the radio.  I plugged it into the speaker box and got the same message that the "antenna was defective."  Were we surprised?  They had not replaced the part that their own diagnostics had identified as the problem.

But now it was a week and a half from our moving date and we needed a working product now (no, we could not go to the Best Buy where we had bought it; all the documentation said not to, but rather to call SiriusXM instead).  So I called SiriusXM support again, and after a half hour on hold and trying to get my point across to 3-4 people with similar heavy accents wasting time repeating what I had just told them -- this didn't fit any of their scripts -- I got someone to say they would overnight-ship a new "everything" -- radio, speaker box and antenna.  Overnight.  They said so.

Next day was a Saturday, a normal delivery day for FedEx.  Nothing.  No delivery, no radio.  I thought, well, maybe with the weekend involved, "overnight" meant "Monday."  As long as it was received and shown to work before the coming Friday, moving day, we were good.  Of course, when it didn't arrive Monday I called Asia again, and got zero satisfaction and zero capacity to speak with an American without a script.

The package arrived, all right.  Wednesday night.  And by "it", I mean a third radio, all by itself.  No speaker box.  Nothing worked.  I simply gave up.  I now have three perfectly functioning radios that would be just fine on a speaker box with a working antenna, we assume.  And after hours on the phone with somewhere in Asia, I had just had it.

So ... back to cable.  There are two cable companies that serve our community.  One of them is Spectrum, formerly Time-Warner.  They have a perfectly decent service when it works, but their customer support comes from overseas outsourced call centers staffed by non-Americans with that frustrating accent.

The other is a small, local company that started as an all-fiber-optic service company.  Their headquarters, along with their customer support people, sits less than twenty miles away.  When I needed to make decisions on house wiring, they were able to send an actual human being from headquarters over to the construction site to explain what cabling was necessary, what to tell the contractor to install, and how we would be able to do some things we wanted to have our TV setup do.

Needless to say, we decided to go with the local company, and we have not regretted it.  I have had to call them a number of times in the intervening month, and have gotten English-speaking local Americans, most importantly without scripts.  Ask them a question, and they consider the answer and talk to you.  And answer your issue.  I even cut them slack when there is an issue, because I know it will be easy to reach someone with an answer or a clarification.

They got my business because I felt supported.  And I can imagine that the leftist types will rail at me for being some kind of bigot, or a xenophobe, or worse, because I want to deal with people I can understand and who will answer me -- and not insult my intelligence.  My business is important to me; I felt that this company felt it important enough to them.

I have no problem meeting, chatting with, and dealing with people from non-American arenas.  But I'm an American, and I understand people better when their language is the same as mine.  And when they think about what I have said before answering -- from their head and heart, not from a script.

That's not bigotry.  That is selecting with whom to do business based on how much they show they want to do business with me.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reluctantly Defending Facebook

The killer is dead.

Lest we forget too quickly, a man from Cleveland is dead, and his family heartbroken, because a nut case broke up with his girlfriend, or whoever, and decided to go out and shoot an innocent older man last week.  The case got a lot of air time on the news channels and the mainstream media, because the murderer used Facebook to post a video that he had already taken while the murder was underway.

Facebook took down the post as soon as it could, but it is facing large scrutiny now for some sense that it was, in a way, responsible for what happened.  And the case needs to go up the court system, if there is ever in fact a case, so that we can have a Supreme-Court level disposition of the liability of a media outlet -- and Facebook has certainly become one of those -- that is in some way used by a criminal to broadcast his or her deed.

Now -- I will be quite clear.  I do not use Facebook, and I do not expect to do so.  Apart from the time sink it appears to be for those who do use it, I am reluctant to have any more of my opinions out there for the world to see than those I choose to articulate, carefully, in this site.

And I definitely do not care for the very leftist types who run Facebook, at least not for their opinions and leftist leanings that I regard as failure traps.  So no, I am not a knee-jerk defender of Facebook, and if I ever say anything in its defense, you may assume that it comes from reason and not fandom.

Facebook has no liability in this case and should not be assumed to have any.

There, I said it.  And I will defend it.  I'm not a lawyer, by the way, so I can tell you that what I believe is not based so much in law and precedent, as it is based in rationality and fear of wrong precedent.

The killer in this case, by the time he even logged into Facebook, had already committed murder and filmed it.  So he went to Facebook as a murderer and posted a video he had already taken.

What is Facebook?  Well, that's a good question, and as a non-user I can't really answer it completely.  But as I do understand it, its members are granted a "site", on which they can post facts about themselves, pictures and videos, and also have a space therein where an ongoing conversation can go on about whatever the person and their friends choose to.

Did Facebook, the overall entity, or even the killer's own site, cause or abet the murder?  Well, no.  The murder was committed and the filming done, and only then did the killer, for whatever reason, post the video.  He could have posted to YouTube, or ABC or XYZ site.   Where he posted it is irrelevant to the murder.

And that is the point.  Facebook was a tool for self-aggrandizement (or whatever) in the actions of the killer in posting the video for the world to see.  But it didn't make him do it, and it didn't help him do it.  Absent Facebook, the murder almost certainly still happens.

So Point 1 is that Facebook is absolved of blame simply by not having been a factor in the action in any part.  Its "part", such as it is, was to have been the medium by which the killer exposed himself and made it possible to be caught, which he would have been, had he not killed himself first.  That's a good thing, I suppose, in that we know who did it.

Point 2 is the precedent point; to wit, given that Facebook was a medium and not a participant, to rule against them would be to open a Pandora's box of lawsuits in any remotely comparable situation involving a Web company, whether Facebook or YouTube or Pinterest or a bunch of them that I don't use.  Those sites are simply made available for users to employ, and the users do all the work (I'm setting aside their responsibility, which I believe they have, for information they themselves provide, like selective news feeds.  Those are actions they, not their subscribers, take, and they're liable as heck for doing that).

And that is why I'd like to see this case, if there becomes one, get quickly to SCOTUS.  The Web is a relatively new thing, not contemplated by the Founding Fathers (or by those of us of a certain age, either, in our remote youth).  The Court needs to decide what the responsibility of sites is, those that provide a forum, to those who either participate in the forum or are somehow affected by the forum's content.

Their opinion is vital to the determination of responsibility; were Facebook to be found complicit, such sites would dissolve in a heap of malpractice insurance, much as rationality in medical service in the USA has been crushed, under the costs of excessive and needless testing done to avoid the .000001% outcomes that result in malpractice suits.

I'm not a lawyer, as I mentioned.  So I can be free to say that a decision against Facebook would be a strangling outcome, while a well-written, broadly-applicable decision absolving Facebook would be a marvelous interpretation of what trial lawyers should stay far away from.

I am unsure there will be a suit.  The family of the murder victim was so good, so forgiving, that it is very possible they might decide to let it go and move on with their lives.  They are very religious people who did not seem interested in making a legal statement.

But I hope someone does and, curiously, it is to exonerate an entity that has not even been legally threatened as yet.  But the precedent needs to get out there, and here is a good case to do so.

Except it means "lawyers", and that makes lunch come up.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 24, 2017

The Silliness of the Blackout

Now, I don't live in Las Vegas, and I'm quite glad that I don't.  For one, it's going through some economic ups and downs, as could be expected from a place whose primary product, tourism (read: "gambling and glitzy shows") now has competition where it never had at that level, from anyplace that has Indians who can claim "tribal land."

But to get to the point, I'm a baseball fan, and Las Vegas is the blackout king of all the zip codes in America when it comes to broadcasts of major league baseball games.

By way of background, understand the way the system works, aside from blackouts.  The major satellite and cable systems are the way that TV is generally brought to the American consumer.  In the case of the usual broadcast networks (ABC, Fox, CBS, NBC) and the "other" channels like Food Network, TLC and the like, the satellite and cable companies pay them for the right to carry those networks no their channel guide.

Sports is the same way.  For sports, you have a network (or two) in pretty much all the cities where you have teams.  In Chicago you have WGN doing Cubs and White Sox games; in New York there is the YES network (Yankees) and another I forgot, that broadcasts the Mets.  The Twins have Fox Midwest; the Red Sox have NESN, the Rockies have Root, the Orioles and Nationals share the Baltimore-Washington market and both teams are delivered with MASN/MASN2.

Those networks are called "regional sports networks" or "RSNs."  And they are delivered to cable companies just like the Food Network is -- the cable or satellite company pays the network for them.  In the case of baseball, though, it gets complex.  The customer has to buy an annual subscription for the sport to see all games, and the cable company delivers not the networks themselves, but a separate set of set-aside channels where, for a given game, the cable company gives you the feeds of one or both RSNs' broadcasts.

Now -- while there are usually 15 games per day, you will not get all of them -- your zip code will dictate that at least one team's games will be blacked out to you.  That's supposed to be, theoretically, the teams whose home games you could go to, protecting the ticket sales.

However, when all this was set up, some clown decided that every zip code, even in Great Falls, Montana, would be assigned a team whose games were "local" for them.  Amazingly, that was never cured, so even though there was no "see-all-games" package when this was done, that model of zip code locality survives today.

I'll give MLB more credit than it deserves by saying that well, maybe with the new cable packages you wouldn't go to the games, but they had to protect the RSN for the teams in your zip code by making you have to go to the RSN itself -- which would generally be part of your cable package separately -- to see the games.

Now for me, that was fine when I lived in northern Virginia and had a satellite dish with DirecTV.  The MASN channel is the RSN for the Orioles and Nationals, and DirecTV gave me MASN as part of their service because I lived in the area.  Of course, I only got the MASN broadcast for Orioles and Nats games (because the other team's broadcast was blacked out in favor of the "local" team's channel, MASN), but that was OK; I still saw the games.

It's not fine now.  We live near Myrtle Beach, SC, but our zip code says that the Orioles and Nats are our "home" team.  Fine, you would think, same deal as when you were in northern Virginia, right?  Well, no.  There are two cable companies here, and neither one delivers MASN as part of its service.  So while I do buy the "all games" package from Major League Baseball, I can see no games of either the Orioles or the Nats, which is particularly a pain for the 19 games a year the Orioles play Boston -- my team.

And I'm lucky.  I'm only blacked out of two teams' entire seasons.  In Las Vegas, you are blacked out of all games of the Giants, Athletics, Dodgers, Angels, Padres and Diamondbacks.  I almost feel that I shouldn't be writing this, because I have it good.  Most days, Las Vegans (?) are blacked out of 80% of major league baseball.

But ultimately this is, and has been, a PR disaster for the professional game, specifically because, as bad as it is, Major League baseball has not done a single thing to try to fix it, showing they simply don't care about their fans.  There is a host of solutions to this, not the least of which would be to trash the current zip code system and its associated assumption that everyone is in the ticket-buying zone for at least one team, and set a 150-mile restriction to establish blackouts.

I would also, or at least, restrict the blackouts to only areas where all cable systems available carry the RSNs.  If you have zero way to see the games, there's no point to blacking them out, is there?  You're trying to promote the sport, not hide it from view.

But like every other problem on earth, it simply needs to be a case where Baseball sits down with RSNs, cable and satellite companies and fan representatives (I'll be happy to step up for that, as a published writer on the topic) and start with "What are we trying to accomplish", such that any solution actually should fix the real problem, not the wrong one.  And it should not cause more issues than it solves.

How easy might that be?

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

On a Book I Haven't Read -- Yet

Yesterday morning, I was made aware of a book released, or to be released, this month.  It is called "Shattered", and I have no idea who the author is, because I heard the name once, didn't recognize it, and turned my attention to the content rather than the writer.

OK, there are two authors, Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen.  I figured you might want to know, and it seemed pretty silly not to look it up.  Still haven't heard of either one, but it doesn't really matter.

"Shattered" is an inside look at the disastrous campaign run by Hillary Clinton in 2016, when she blew an immensely winnable election against Donald Trump despite having polled ahead for, well, the entire campaign.  Hillary Clinton never trailed in the polls, all the way through the exit polls on the day of the election.

She arguably won all three debates, even though after the first one, it was very clear how now-President Trump conducted himself during debates.  How easily, it seemed, it would have been for her to look presidential by comparison, if only she could have looked 80% less pompous than she indeed did.

What I actually got to thinking, after I decided that I really wanted to pick up that book sometime, was that I saw something very interesting in an inside exposé of that campaign.  It had not only failed, but it had failed spectacularly, and reading about that would be fun.

But more than that, I thought about whether or not I would have wanted to read a comparable book about the Trump campaign, which had its own issues, at least until Kellyanne Conway took over its leadership.  The more I thought about it, the more I said "Well, not really."

I mean, sure, his campaign was sort of interesting, but reading a book is a commitment, and it (his campaign) wasn't all that interesting a subject.  And that was the one I voted for.  But it struck me that I didn't expect to learn anything I really cared about.  We have known both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for decades, but how much did we really learn about Trump from the campaign that we didn't already know or suspect?

Is there much mystery about the president?  We know he was a businessman, very successful, three wives, plenty of female company over the years, outspoken and very, very New York.  If anything, we learned during the campaign that he was a marvelous father to his five kids, and they had turned out to be remarkable and successful, well-adjusted people.  What would the details of the campaign actually tell us that either we didn't already know, or cleared up a mystery enough to write a book on.

Plus, Trump won.  Whatever might have gone wrong in his campaign, the outcome was a success, and failure is much more fun to read about.  But failed campaigns are not in and of themselves interesting.  I wouldn't want to read about the presidential campaigns of the dull John Kerry, or the duller Al Gore.  John McCain?  That campaign was doomed by race (Obama's, not McCain's), and it played out.  Mitt Romney?  Well, he should have won; I'd like to know why he didn't finish crushing Obama in the last two debates, but there's not a book in that.

Hillary, on the other hand, well, that's a horse of a different color.  We knew her from her career as a senator and Secretary of State, and before that in an eventful turn as first lady.  But we didn't know her, really.  Plenty of stories floated out over the years from people like Secret Service agents, telling stories of her violent temper, ash tray throwing, vicious arguments with Bill Clinton over his philandering and the like.

And, of course, the secrecy was a problem.  Who, after all, prepares for a Cabinet position by planning to shield their official communications from FOIA inquiries, using a private, unsecured mail server?  And when the server does get subpoenaed, who bleach-bits the be-jesus out of it before the FBI can get at it?

We always knew that there was a big part of her that we were unsure of.  With a temper like that, with secrecy fanaticism like that, it was very possible that she rendered herself immune, in her close circle during the campaign, from being criticized, or perhaps even from being disagreed with.  Because there were so many stories that suggested we had been fed a line by her "people" all those years about her, it seemed reasonable that were being fed untruths about her campaign.

The run for the presidency blew up catastrophically for her in November.  Donald Trump never led until the votes were counted; memorably for Hillary, she refused to come out and talk to her dedicated supporters on the night she had to concede -- and apparently, had to be talked into making the concession call by Barack Obama.

A failure like that is fascinating.  Although she was leading the entire way in the polls, she was never able to poll high enough to suggest an actual win.  Independent voters were tracking with the Republicans far more than Hillary.  When the topic arose of "Why I'm not ahead by 50 points", as she so memorably put it, it was always that there was no message being conveyed, no case to vote for her.  She had a uterus, that was the rationale, it seemed.

And so we want to know how a campaign that should have won big over such a flawed campaigner and weak debater as Donald Trump, actually lost.  Who tried to tell her things were not as rosy as they might have seemed?  Who on her team tried to get an actual message put together for her, an argument for why she should be president that did not involve her chromosomes?

Now that is real intrigue.  And for that, I'd buy a book.  In a month or two, probably.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Why We Need the Supreme Court

I don't think anyone doubts the need for the third branch of the Federal government, i.e., the judicial branch.  Apart from the need to provide a check and a balance on the legislative and executive branches, someone has to be the ultimate authority for issues, conflicts and interpretations that simply cannot be left to the other two branches to sort out.

And sometimes the justices have to sit on a pretty thorny wool-sack indeed, as a case before them now represents.

As is described here in this piece from The Hill, the case involves a preschool playground that is part of the facility of a Lutheran church located in a small town in Missouri.  The State has a program through which playgrounds, for example, can purchase resurfacing material made from recycled tires and be reimbursed by the State to some extent for that purchase after the fact.  The goal of the program is partly to make playgrounds safer, and partly to get rid of old tire material that would otherwise pile up in unsightly places.

The State, of course, makes it extremely difficult and time-consuming to apply for the reimbursement; applicants have to file tons of paperwork to be "rated" to be approved.  There is a level of competing for those funds.

Trinity Lutheran Church filed all the needed funds to apply and were highly rated, certainly enough for a refund grant.  They were subsequently denied, though, on the grounds that as a religious organization, to have been granted the funds would constitute a violation of the Missouri constitution as regards aid to religious organizations.

Trinity sued, and the case is about to be heard by the Supreme Court.  And the deliberation may become quite interesting, especially if the leftist bloc on the Court actually allows themselves to consider facts and debate rationally.

You see, here is the thing.  Most of us regard it as something other than "aid to religious organizations" when the state provides a non-religious activity, even as part of a religious organization, with funding that it would provide a comparable secular group.  If the private school next door to the church, for example, also had a playground doing exactly the same thing, I can't imagine that the framers of the Missouri constitution saw a difference.

But that constitution exists, and it has words in it that could be interpreted accordingly.  So the first issue to wrestle with is the sanctity of a State's constitution vis-a-vis the Constitution of the USA, with its First Amendment -- where is the correct interpretation when they appear to conflict?

The second issue, then, relates to what "aid" means and when a religious institution with otherwise secular activities seeks generally available aid, specifically and solely benefiting the secular activity -- in this case, where a rubberized playground surface unrelated to the teachings and worship of Jesus Christ is contending for state funds that would be available to a hypothetical private school next door.

The third issue is the flipside of the previous one -- if indeed the State can ban providing money for a mandated purpose, to a religious institution for a State program based on its constitution, then is it equally banned to provide other government services to that institution?  If the church is set on fire, is the local fire department barred from putting out the fire?  If an armed fugitive from another area holes up in the sanctuary, are the Missouri State Police barred from offering help?

These are not weird legal interpretations; they are the examples that force the high court to use existing precedent and actual thinking to decide the case.  To uphold the State's case, for example, the Court must answer the question of the extent of the definition of "aid", and explain why it is OK for the fire department to use government funds to douse a burning church, but not allow it to apply for resurfacing of its secular playground.

The Missouri constitution banning aid to religious organizations conflicts with the Constitution's prohibition against preventing the free exercise of religions, tempered by the wording that it is a congressional constraint, not a State one.

I'd like for the Court to come out in support of the church, because I'd like to see a judicial recognition of the difference between secular activities of an otherwise religious organization -- so it could go after the majority of the activities of fake religions like Scientology.  But I don't want to see knee-jerk decisions on a case like this.  I want to see sound, thoughtful opinions that recognize the depth and nuance in the issue.

I suppose we might actually get that.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Mad Dog and Me

Actually, this is not about me at all, but "me" was alliterative and made for a reasonable title for a piece like this.

Back after President Trump was elected, and he started assembling his Cabinet, we noticed a pattern in the appointments.  The pattern, such as it could be defined, was that he was clearly not following any previous president's model in selecting many of the leaders of his administration.

Donald Trump, president-elect as he was, was looking for the absolutely best person available for at least the most important roles in the Cabinet and Cabinet-level positions.

How has that worked out, folks?

Well, I will start with one of the most unusual and unexpected picks for Secretary of State in history, that being Rex Tillerson, a man whose entire career had been at the companies that became ExxonMobil, eventually becoming the CEO of the company.  Diplomatic experience in Government?  Shoot, Tillerson had exactly zero experience getting a paycheck at any level of government.

The left, of course, was aghast.  They hate fossil fuels to begin with, for no obvious reason except that most such firms are led by Republicans.  Seriously, there has to be a reason why global warming is such a cause célèbre of the left, to the point where they made Al Gore a multimillionaire for lying about it.

More importantly, though, the left's purported worry was that, once in office, Tillerson would do what was best for ExxonMobil, regardless of what it would do for the USA.  Now, Tillerson wasn't exactly a virgin in dealing with the leadership of the world's powers.  In fact, one reason I came around on Tillerson was that his commercial dealings with Putin and Xi and those types, while at ExxonMobil, had been to get something directly done, not to go through layers of diplomatic pomposity.  That kind of "git 'er done" approach might actually get something done to the benefit of the USA, something that John Kerry had zero success at with his approach.

I assume that if you are reading this, you have seen Rex Tillerson as Secretary Tillerson already.  Are you not rather excited at the very, very obvious signs that he goes into each meeting overseas with a laser focus on goal (as opposed to the next state dinner)?  If he doesn't get what he wants for the USA at a meeting, he is right there in front of a camera pointing out the intransigence and poverty of rational thinking of the other party.

That's pretty much my thinking on Gen. James Mattis, our current Secretary of Defense.  Gen. Mattis got less pushback from the left; sure, they complained about how many generals were in President Trump's Cabinet, but they sure were not challenging this general's capabilities, they were scared to death of him. 

When President-elect Trump first announced Gen. Mattis's selection at a rally or speech of some kind, the place went nuts.

I look at Secretary Mattis and am actually surprised that he has not been as visible as one might have expected.  You remember how we always say that a well-armed USA, that shows itself prepared to use its strength where needed, is a deterrent to war around the world?  Mattis is so visibly intimidating -- with or without the stars on the shoulders -- that he scares me too, and we're on the same side!  I don't really think ISIS -- nor particularly North Korea -- is particularly pleased with the decision to put him atop the Pentagon, if you know what I mean.

There had not been a general appointed Secretary of Defense in  quite a while.  There has been a "tradition", such as it mattered, of civilian oversight of the military.  But as the position of Secretary Mattis suggests, that might be a tradition worth dissolving.  One of the many horrific tacks taken by the Obama Administration was either to ignore the advice of his flag officer corps, or to micromanage them.  Obama had zero military understanding, but he was in charge, which was why he wore out a series of Defense secretaries and drove a host of generals and admirals to retire rather than serve him by being ignored daily.

Secretary Mattis is not only clearly a phenomenal leader at a personal level, he has the flag officer's combination of well-trained military education and experience with the general's reserve about putting his troops in harm's way without a good reason and a clear objective -- something that Barack Obama still doesn't understand.

I actually think we will hear a lot from the good secretary in the next few years, and it won't be pretty for our enemies.  I saw him in a clip of a speech or conference yesterday, and it was a pretty intimidating thing when he talks, a man who so clearly detests extra flourishes.  You get the distinct feeling that he'd rather be doing something than talking about it.

We had never had a career business executive take over the State Department and a career military officer take over Defense at the same time.  The thinking that put that kind of person in the positions that they have is the kind of swamp-draining mentality that was sorely needed.  I wish them well, but I am so optimistic for our nation that a new way of looking at running the country appears not just to have prevailed, but to be succeeding.

Who in God's name would Hillary have put in those seats?  Wimpy von Wimpingham? The stomach turns.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Taxes Redux Redux Redux

I had to laugh yesterday morning.

My older son Eric was visiting over the weekend with his girlfriend, so there was not a lot of news-watching going on the past few days.  The TV was dominated with hockey, of which my son and I are both big fans.  Fortunately we cheer on the same team, which makes hockey different from the other sports, where we don't exactly agree on rooting interest.

But I digress.

Without news on TV, we were not aware that there had apparently been some street protests in various parts of the country over the weekend.  Oddly, they were not about the imminent threat from North Korea and their CFKIC, or "crazy fat kid in charge" (yes, in my column I can body-shame North Korean nut cases).

They weren't about the 50,000 black children murdered each year before being born either, or the 2,000 black people murdered in Chicago each year who had been born.  They weren't about ISIS, which continues to murder people in the Middle East, Europe and the USA.  No, those causes were apparently secondary, tertiary and quaternary in importance relative to something far more important to the protestors.

Yes, it was President Donald Trump's tax returns.

The amusing repartee of the morning was between actress (and, therefore, "expert") Debra Messing, famous for the "Will and Grace" TV show of many years back, and Morgan Radford, who talks into a microphone for MSNBC.

Miss Messing was going on and on and on and on about how important it was that the president release his tax returns just like all the other presidents and candidates had.  And I suppose there is reason to ask, at least, about them, except for about a dozen reasons, beginning with the fact that the public, led by the tax expert Debra Messing, wouldn't know what to do with a 1040 if it bit us each on our gluteus maximus.

You see, in the interview itself, she spent a lot of the time talking about President Trump's supposed ties to Russia and what a bad thing that was, although what those ties might actually be, she didn't say.  The logical inference was that those "ties" must have led the Russians to interfere with the 2016 election, although there still has not been a scintilla of evidence that anything they may have done had even one vote's worth of effect.  (Aside to Miss Messing: Hillary lost.  Get over it.)

And she then went on to assert that only by the president releasing his taxes would the public know what those ties were.  You see, he has "business interests in Russia", she said, and we desperately had to know what those are, lest ... I don't know what.  If the Russians had actually contributed to Hillary Clinton's defeat in November, we ought to be thanking them for their help in making the USA a better place.

Either way, you have to question the bona fides of someone who thinks that, by looking at Donald Trump's personal tax returns, you would have a clue as to where his ownership interests in any other country would be.  You see, Donald Trump doesn't build buildings out of his pocket; he is an owner of the Trump Organization, where all those "business interests" may reside.

The Trump Organization files its own corporate returns, so by the time his ownership stake is actually recorded in the president's own return, all you see is numbers, as in "the personal return included a $457, 223,109 taxable gain on his ownership of the Trump Organization", that sort of thing.  The corporation could have done business on Jupiter, and you wouldn't have a clue from President Trump's 1040.

I have written before that my advice to the now-president about a year ago would be this -- provide the first two pages of your Forms 1040 for the last dozen years, audit or not.  Let the dogs bark about what it all is supposed to mean and display their ignorance.  I'm sure that they will show that his income fluctuated hugely over the years between good years and bad for the company.  They will show that he paid a lot of taxes each year, more than you or I will in a lifetime.  And he can declare that since not one in 1,000 members of the press could even understand anything past page two, he was not about to have his return mischaracterized by the ignorant.

More importantly, the left will yowl like alley cats and nippy dogs about whatever is in there, even if they are as relatively innocuous and unfulfilling (to the left) as the leaked return on the Rachel Maddow show was.

So ... it does bear saying that the more intriguing and saddening aspect of the MSNBC interview was not the assumption that Debra Messing had anything to say of vital importance based on her acting career -- after all, we see conservatives like Dean Cain and Chuck Woolery as occasional commentators on Fox News as well.

No; it was the question asked by Morgan Radford on MSNBC, to wit, "Describe the threat that the current president is to our democracy ... when it comes to neutralizing that threat, do you think that activities like this ... is the way to make our [sic] voices heard?"

Are you hearing that?  A street reporter for a low-rating cable news network asked an actress to describe how the president of the United States is a threat to our democracy that needs to be "neutralized", whatever that means.  Now, if it were I, or an actual journalist with a shred of integrity, I would have phrased it thusly: "Tell me specifically how you regard the president as some kind of threat", i.e., putting the burden on the other person to justify her actions.

But when you have a mic-carrying leftist on both sides of the mic, who uses the term "our voices" instead of "your voices", where did objectivity in journalism go?  Why, for example, did Morgan Radford not ask something like, "In exactly what tax form filed by the president would you expect to see where he was supposed to have or not have any connections with Russia?  Would that be the 4797?  Or the 5396 or 5397?  I'm not sure, but since you think that information is in there, I'm sure you must have researched that, right?  No?"

The girl with the mic from MSNBC didn't happen to ask that, perhaps because she was too busy figuring out how to make "our" voices louder.

Or perhaps she knew Debra Messing didn't do her own taxes, so she probably wouldn't know.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 17, 2017

Gambling, Storage Units -- and Voting

A couple three years ago my best girl and I had to go to Atlantic City, New Jersey for some forgotten reason.  There was a sign there on a road that piqued my subconscious, and was the original fodder for this piece.

Now, we probably all know that at one point Nevada was the only state that allowed legalized gambling.  Then maybe 40 years back the good people of Atlantic City decided that their town had fallen into such disrepute that it needed something to perk it up again, and then almost immediately there were casinos across the boardwalk there, too.

A fellow named Donald Trump made a few bucks building casinos in Atlantic City; I'm kind of wondering what he is up to these days.  If you've heard, please let me know.

But I digress.

Until the American Indians won a court case and the right to build casinos on their tribal land (or, in the case of Connecticut, where the tribe had long since dissolved into the New England gene pool but no one could say them nay, "vaguely tribal land"), Atlantic City had the casino business east of the Mississippi.  It boomed before it went bust.

At any rate, I recall us driving to Atlantic City and taking note of the billboards as you got within  50-60 miles or so of the place.  "Casino X, voted best slots in Atlantic City."  Or "Casino Y, voted best buffet within 25 miles."  That sort of thing.

At first, I just semi-processed the information, as I didn't really care what anyone else thought; I was a big boy and could make decisions on my own.  Well, that, and I'm a little guy and don't patronize buffets and other feeding troughs.  They're a bit creepy to me.

But then, after a while, I did start thinking about it.  Atlantic City is not a place a lot of people actually live; in fact, a block or so outside the boardwalk it's a pretty seedy place.  It didn't seem like the residents of the place were the ones who would be voting on what casino had the best slots or the best food, right?  The slots and the food were patronized by people outside the area who had come there -- including busloads of little old ladies brought down to drop nickels in the machines.

Who actually, then, conducted whatever "voting" took place that decided that Casino X was best?  In order to be a reasonable and informative output, someone voting would have had to have gone to pretty much all the casinos in town -- and there are a lot -- and cast an educated vote.  Other than that, what would it even mean to have been voted "best slots"?  What was even the question they were asked?  If people loved the environment but dropped a grand, would they vote the place high or low?  I mean, you stay long enough and you're going to lose everything, it's the odds.

I assume also that if you ate at all the buffets at every casino, you may not be the exact person whose opinion, cast by vote, would be one I'd like to trust, if you know what I mean.

So interestingly, I probably mentioned that mental wandering to the missus, who probably responded with a sound that translated to "Sure, can we change topic now?".  And then I never thought of it.

Well, I never thought about it again until I was heading on a long stretch of Route Some-Number toward South Carolina, and saw a sign in front of a storage unit place that rents various sizes of lockable units, the kind of place you see on TV on "Storage Wars."  The sign said "Voted best storage unit place in XXX County."

I'm sorry, but the whole casino thing came up all over again.  I have rented a storage unit exactly one time in my life.  That was this past year while we were renting until our house was completed, and stuffed our worldly belongings in the unit, what we had not already given to Salvation Army.  I was never asked, when we emptied the unit, what we thought of the place.  No vote asked, none given.

Naturally, I said to the missus as we drove by, "So who voted on that?".  The more you think about it, the odder it gets.  I'm expected to value the opinion of the quality of a storage unit facility based on whom?  Who uses multiple storage units from different locations in XXX County, so as to have an opinion that we should value?  And when were they asked to vote?

A storage unit is a room with four walls and a sliding door.  It is either climate-controlled or not, and it is a specific size, one of maybe 3-4 size options available for various prices, proportionately.  What could possibly affect your opinion to say that storage company X is better than Y?  How easy to use the little device where you punch in your code to get in?  I mean, aren't they all pretty much the same?

I hope that all made sense.  Last week I wrote about the capacity for critical thinking, and the above, meaningless as it was, is simply an exercise in the critical thinking that so many people today, including our precious campus snowflakes, simply cannot do.

And if they don't know how to think about the trivial, like casinos, well, it's no wonder that Bernie Sanders did so well in the primaries last year.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Understand First, Write Later

Philip Bump writes for the Washington Post, which probably says everything you ever need to know about Philip Bump, and more.

Jay Sutton writes once in a while for this column, which means he has a lot more common sense than, and comparable ability to, 99% of those who write for the Washington Post.  He also occasionally points out oddities that might prompt columns for me to do and, knowing that I'm pretty religious about doing this every day, I appreciate the motivation.

So it was not a surprise last week when he pointed out to me the column written by Mr. Bump and suggested that its point was so fallacious that it needed to be laughed at.

In essence, Bump went off on the concept that because the distribution of the Senate was two votes per state, and the Electoral College was based on a combination of the population-based apportionment of the House and the state-based apportionment of the Senate, that sort of thing (I know you know what I mean), that the Senate was becoming "like the Electoral College."

In other words, laws were passed through the Senate even though the senators who voted "aye" represented less than 50% of the population of the nation.  At least that was his point and, like most points raised in the Post, it was underpinned by a fallacy.

I almost feel silly writing this.  In fact, when Jay sent it to me and I read the article, I wrote him back immediately -- "Obviously interesting, but if I do a piece it would have to be about there being an article in the first place.  The points are just such a red herring and unjustified."  Anyone who got a D or better in high-school Civics knows why.

The two-house ("bicameral") legislature was one of many compromises by the Founding Fathers to balance the concept of a democracy with the notion of the nation being a federation of states with some level of their independence.  But on top of that, the Senate was different -- the House was elected by the people directly; the Senate was appointed by the State legislatures.

In other words, the senators represented the interest of the States as directed by their legislatures, not directly by the people of the State.  One can argue that the 17th Amendment in 1913 was a tragic corruption of the Framers' intent to distinguish the two houses of Congress, and that the amendment diminished the power of the States by eliminating their legislatures' Constitutionally-granted role in the administration of the Federal government.

So back to the Bump.  You can write for days about what percentage of the voting public is thought to have been "represented" by votes for and against this or that bill, as Bump tried to do.  But even to argue that is to ignore the reason for the institution of the Senate in the first place.  The "world's greatest deliberative body" may be a screwed-up place right now (though not as bad as when under the bizarre rule of Harry Reid), but it is the States' house, the one where Wyoming is as powerful as New York.

It was designed that way.  It is a check on the otherwise unchecked power of the urban areas, and was effectively the reason that the 2016 presidential campaigns didn't spent a red cent in California.  [Side note -- the "Hillary won the election" types never note that the margin of her popular-vote lead came from five counties in California, a state where Donald Trump never campaigned]

If Philip Bump's wandering mind was making mathematical nonsense about the relative proportions of the population allegedly "represented" in votes on laws, well, it probably says a lot more about the Washington Post for putting forth such historically ignorant content in a paper that was once great enough for John Philip Sousa to name a march for it.

They're just marching off to irrelevance now.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Syria? Gas? Regime Change? Where is the UN?

It is a dangerous thing when my mind wanders and, whether age or native curiosity, it has been wandering a lot lately.

Let's look at Syria, and think about the last couple weeks.  Bashar Al-Assad has been murdering large numbers of his citizens.  When he flipped over to using poison gas last week on children, it was enough to get the current president, Donald Trump, to politely remind Assad that gassing children was unacceptable during this administration, a reminder delivered by obliterating 20% or so of the Syrian air force.

Assad has been being defended by Vladimir Putin, because Putin needed someone with whom he could get naval access in the Mediterranean and a foothold in the Middle East.  Russia's defense has been provided by aiding and abetting Assad's bombing of his own people, even to the extent of claiming that the gassing of little children was done by Assad's enemies, the rebel forces, to make Assad look bad, or look even worse.

Obvious or not, we in the USA are not inclined to push Assad out of office violently, if for no other reason than the "rebels" in Syria who are fighting him are not assumed to be any bigger bargain than Assad is.  We're talking radical Islamists in there, and there's no gain in putting them in charge of an actual country.

Of course, that's only some of the opposition -- you have Iran heavily involved, who within a few years will have functioning nuclear weapons thanks to the previous president (who shall not be named, but his initials are Barack Obama).  We don't actually know what Iran wants with Syria, except that it is an opportunity to spread its own power along with the Russians.

Syria is mostly a Sunni country, and ISIS is made up of Sunnis.  Iran is Shi'ite, but they're willing to prop up Assad as well, even though he is whatever he is -- and it's not Shi'ite.

So with all that, you have a murderous dictator running things, propped up by Russia and Iran.  He is being fought by rebels who are at least partly aligned with ISIS and Al Qaeda, which makes them completely unsuitable for the USA to support, let alone allow them to be a force in a post-Assad Syrian government.

We have no real objective, save the humanitarian aim of keeping Assad from gassing his people; in fact, that's about the only thing we can do.  "Stopping Russia" is a nice, but inadequate motivation for doing anything in Syria.  If our true interest is somehow achieving a peace in Syria so its refugees can return, well, it won't happen under Assad and it certainly can't be done relying on ISISish rebels to run the country -- you think the refugees want to come back to that?

That's where my mind was wandering when I listened to some of the talking heads after President Trump bombed the air base last week.  The biggest problem is that there is no one left who is decent and reliable enough for the USA to want to have run Syria!  If Assad goes, we're talking regime change, and you have to change "to" something.

Gee, wouldn't it be nice if there were a world body of all nations that could provide a peacekeeping force to protect the citizens of a country like Syria, and provide an interim government that could be transitioned over to the Syrian people in, say, 3-5 years?

Oh, wait.  There is one.  It's called the "United Nations", assembled after WWII to try to make sure that we forestalled disasters such as those in Syria now.

Unfortunately, they appear more interested in developing a sex ring in Haiti and condemning Israel at every opportunity than in following the charter of their creation.  If ever there were a time when the UN could actually, finally, do something geo-politically that was productive, well, this would be the time and place.

Ahhhh, not a peep from the UN.  The one time they could do something productive, and they turn tails and run, run far.

You know what's worse?  Not a peep from the mainstream media about where the one organization capable of -- heck, formed for -- fixing problems like this, has gone.  They're as AWOL as the UN itself.  But those globalist types in the media will reflexively jump on the UN bandwagon next time the subject comes up.

And more kids will die from its inaction.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Divided as a Nation? We've ALWAYS Been!

Juan Williams, the left-leaning Fox News commentator (they do have them), was on the air on Friday talking about the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch and the parliamentary gyrations that had to get executed in order for the vote to proceed.  Predictably, since neither he nor anyone else could fault the new justice's impeccable credentials, he had to make a different kind of comment.

It was, Williams explained, evidence of how divided we are as a nation.  He did not elaborate, but he did not have to, either.  We knew what he meant; and, beyond that, it was said by Williams to press the implication that we are divided because of the partisanship rampant in the nation, as if it were a new thing.

Now, I have explained in the past that the partisanship in Congress, as opposed to in the country at large, is, as mentioned inside this piece, forced on us by judicial overreach in the name of the sad and bigoted notion that only a black representative can represent a district with a high black population.  The resulting redistricting made safe districts for both parties (the outlying areas were far more conservative, and thus equally safe) and thus more leftist and more conservative the safer they were made.

The problem is that Williams' statement makes us think that because Congress is so newly hyper-partisan, it means that America is newly hyper-partisan.  And that part is not true, at least the "newly" part of it.  We have always been that way.

What is different now is simply the number of outlets we have, both for seeing the news (all-day cable news stations, where 50 years back the news was an hour at night), and for commenting on it (Facebook, Twitter, comment sections like the one below here).

With all that extra communication, we focus on the news a whole lot more.  Fifty years back, we had the start of the protests over the Vietnam War, and I don't think it is a stretch to say that the era was hyper-partisan.  The Democrats had the White House and Congress, and got the brunt of the protesting through 1969, until Richard Nixon was elected and the protesting shifted to him.  Youth is nothing if not flexible, especially when their cowardice is showing, mixed with youthful idealism, altruism and arrogance.

It just seems that humans appear to have an argumentative streak that shows up at the slightest provocation.  Compound that with the fact that we now have an absurdly large number of media available to us to vent on, and the quality of venting has declined as its quantity has increased.

As the quality has declined, so has the associated civility.  If you disagree with my published point, you must be a jerk, or a moron, or a contemptible offspring of the town drunk and village prostitute.  Civil discussion online is rare as hen's teeth.

That incivility has spread to Congress, in the form of the kind of partisanship that forbids Democrats from supporting even a good idea (or, in Justice Gorsuch's case, a good nominee) that comes from the Republicans, and certainly not from Donald Trump.  In fact, you could argue that Trump's election was a victory for anti-partisanship, in the sense that to an extent he was rejected by both parties but embraced by the electorate.  Yet it has exacerbated the partisanship on the Hill.

We disagree for the same reasons we always did.  As W. S. Gilbert wrote, and Private Willis of the Grenadier Guards sang, as he observed the comings and goings in Parliament in Iolanthe in 1882,

"... that every boy and every gal
That's born into the world alive
Is either a little liberal
Or else a little conservative"

We are not going to try to blame anyone for what seems to be excessive divide in our nation.  We are innately that way, excessively divided and hyper-partisan, whether in Gilbert's Victorian England, or in Chuck Schumer's head.

It ain't getting better.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bad Girls and Critical Thinking.

Before we begin, I want to define "critical thinking."  We all know what it is, but your view of it may or not be the same as mine, and it's my column, so we're going to use mine.  Critical thinking is simply the act of absorbing information and making a decision on its credibility, based on a reasonable combination of our own experience, the reliability of the data source, research from independent sources and other areas not of our own creation.  In other words, it is the capacity not to believe something just because it's in the Washington Post.

I also want to say that the piece is not exactly about "bad girls" per se; it's not about girls at all, but it does make for a racy title that will get more people to read it, and boost my numbers so that even more advertisers will decide to sponsor the column.

The "bad girls" are actually only a way to refer to the girls in middle school and high school that are sufficiently alpha that the other girls want to follow them and to be like them.  It is all, of course, about being popular, and if you are a girl in school, nothing is assumed to make you popular any faster than hanging out with the most popular girl's posse.

We all know that those in the posse are there not because it will make them better, but being in the posse will make them "in" and not "out."  My point here is that not only does it not make them better, it makes them worse.

A day ago there was another in the interminable series of videos on some college campus or other with a bunch of lefty students chanting about something or other.  My best girl asked me thoughtfully if there was a reason these snowflakes couldn't think for themselves, as their views were fairly inane and senseless on their own merit.

Naturally, I try to give a reasonable answer when it is my wife asking the question, so I thought about it.  Why, I repeated back to them, did they seem so incapable of thinking critically about a topic?  In this case, for example, they were claiming to be protesting about police violence against black people.  Now, even including the overwhelmingly predominant situation (e.g., the Michael Brown type), where the offender rushed, attacked or otherwise threatened the policeman and got what he or she was asking for, we're talking about a couple hundred cases a year.

That got the protesters' attention.  But 40-50,000 black Americans were intentionally killed last year by another class of people, i.e., not by policemen.  That did not seem to be a priority to the snowflake protesters, however.  It is one class of morality when the killer is a cop, generally defending themselves.  It is apparently a different class of morality when the killer is taking a black life in an abortion clinic.  Not a snowflake peep, even though two or three hundred times as many deaths are involved.

That the protesting college student cannot discern the difference would be shocking, until you realize this -- they don't want to discern the difference.

This is the lesson from their posse days in middle school and high school.  It is not at all important to think critically, because unless the view you decide to take on is the same as the most popular girl in the class, you will not be able to be part of the posse and be "in."  So why bother to think?  Just take on the same opinions, such as they may be, as the right girl says, and you're good.

God forbid that you actually think about things.  Galileo suffered for holding a universe-view that didn't align with the most popular girl of his day (Pope Urban VIII), but he had the courage to say that if you're going to stomp your feet about a couple hundred black (mostly) criminals getting killed by police, you ought to be screaming louder about a few thousand being killed by each other in Chicago, and bellowing about 40,000 innocent black children being killed in abortion clinics.

OK, Galileo was talking about the earth revolving around the sun and not vice versa.  But you get the message.

Humans are curious beasts, as I once wrote here, who, being driven to replicate themselves and preserve the species, do what they can to stand out to the most attractive of the opposite sex.  If that means hanging out with the most popular, well, we do it.  If it means taking on views we don't subscribe to, well, we do it.

Unfortunately only the sensible amongst us regard the ability to think critically as an especially attractive attribute.  But they will succeed, no matter what they look like.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, April 10, 2017

Credibility is Earned -- and Lost

I suppose that you might have heard the Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), talking here and there (i.e., anywhere a camera can be found) about the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be a justice of the Supreme Court.

Needless to say, as the good justice is sworn in today, he was not a fan.  As you might have heard 4,667 times, the good senator has been out there often amidst the folderol opposing Judge Gorsuch's nomination, frequently if never compellingly.  He is fighting a losing battle, of course; the Senate Republicans implemented the "nuclear option" such that the nomination of Supreme Court justices could not be filibustered, and therefore needed only a majority of senators to cut off debate and therefore go to a vote.

Schumer kept pointing out that since there were enough Democrats partisan enough to oppose any nominee of President Trump, it would be better to have sat down and come up with a nominee acceptable to Chuck Schumer, as if the country actually wanted to be run with him anywhere near the wheels of power.  As old Chuck would repeatedly say, instead of changing the rules, you should "change the nominee."

What he conveniently forgot, or at least set aside in his pathetic, politics-first mentality, is that there has not been a judge nominated by a Democrat who has been voted down by enough Republicans through either a filibuster or a straight vote.  When Barack Obama nominated judges like Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, who are certainly more leftist than Gorsuch was conservative, enough Republican senators decided that a president is entitled to appoint a qualified judge with whom they disagree, to where the judge was confirmed easily.

The Democrats have not been so kind over the years, engaging at times in some pretty nasty politics (see Thomas, Clarence).  With Judge Gorsuch, it has been ridiculous.  Gorsuch is immensely well-qualified and as highly regarded by neutral observers as you could ever expect a judge to be.  You listen to him in the hearings and you wish all the justices were as good as he.  The arguments against him have been without substance.

Now, this whole mess has come down to us from -- you guessed it, the Democrats and their rejection of the brilliant Robert Bork decades ago, setting a precedent that politics had a role in selections to the Supreme Court.  Well, the Democrats have set a precedent here that will come and bite them in the rear nether regions this administration, when an even more conservative judge is nominated to replace a retiring or deceased justice, and the Senate has only to use its majority status to pass him or her through.

All that said, the point of this piece is quite different.

The stupid things said by Democrat senators in this nomination and hearings are out there for all to hear.  Schumer looked like a moron; Al Franken and Dianne Feinstein as bad or worse.  YouTube has it all, if you have a high tolerance for horses' backsides.

Now what?  The Democrat leadership in the Senate has shown itself totally without credibility whatsoever in this.  Having spewed political tripe through a Senate hearing for days, how is it any  longer possible for them to speak on any topic and be believable?  The presumption they have left for us themselves is that they are completely political beings with no interest in the success of the country, just an interest in getting elected and raising scads of political donations.

Credibility is earned by sustained honesty and trustworthiness over time.  It is trashed far more quickly.  After these hearings, not a word from a Democrat senator, with few exceptions, can be taken as a true opinion, let alone a valid one.

They have lost their capital, and when you lose your capital, your respect, as well as your bankroll, is gone.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, April 7, 2017

Not Tipping One's Hand

So first -- happy to be back moved in and settled, mostly unpacked and all.  Thanks for all the well-wishes and inquiries from readers.

As I wrote this first as a draft a few days back, President Trump was doing a joint news conference with King Abdullah of Jordan, a reliable friend in a Middle East where "friend" frequently means "not a sworn enemy this week", or "the enemy of my enemy."

One reporter asked a perfectly reasonable question about how the president intended to respond to the horrific gassing of innocent citizens in Syria that day.  It was not a particular "What are your tactics" kind of question, but it reminded me that he has indeed been asked, and his representatives have been asked since his inauguration or before, how he would carry out certain military operations.

Those questions have always been asked, because reporters keep pushing the envelope until either they get an answer or the respondent tells them they will not get an answer.  To the everlasting discredit of Barack Obama, he was so willing to appease the press, so anxious to show that he knew something about military strategy and tactics that he hated in the first place, that he showed his hand at the slightest provocation.  Ask the citizens of Mosul, Iraq how that worked out.

I think some may call it "refreshing" that President Trump is repeatedly answering such questions as he did in the debates, to wit, that military strategy does not involve telling your enemy what you are going to do before you do it, and that the element of surprise is, in fact, part of that strategy.

I don't the word is "refreshing", particularly.  I think a better word is "sensible", or rational", or at the very least "non-idiotic."  The president, who campaigned on the idea that winning was actually a good thing (his predecessor had no idea the meaning of the word outside the campaign arena), intends that when we commit our nation's military, we intend to win.  And passing out your approach in nice memos to the people you are trying to kill, well, that is not a reasonable way to carry out military operations.

The good news is twofold.

First, I believe strongly that this is a core belief of this president that will not be shaken.  After all, Obama was the exception; tipping your hand to your enemy is a particularly moronic approach that appears specific to Obama and his ilk, and we can hope that they never ilk the White House again.

Second, we need some winning.  We don't need to go willy-nilly into war to prove our points, but at the moment we are facing a maniacal, fanatical enemy whose deformed culture appears impossible to cure short of the extermination of its adherents.  They need to be wiped out and the military option appears the only way.

I did not hope to see military engagement during this or any administration, but if we do, and if we keep our tactics and strategy to ourselves and our powder dry, it will provide a winning lesson that future presidents will be able, if they choose, to recognize.

So it was with a bit of relish that President Trump must have leaned over at dinner last night with Chinese President Xi, and said something like, "You know, Xi, our mighty naval air forces just leveled a Syrian air base a moment ago.  In case that crazy fat kid you're propping up in Pyongyang tests another missile, he might want to watch, or you may want to have a chat with him.  Would you like more duck sauce with your egg roll?"

Deep breath.

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