Monday, July 31, 2017

The Big Nothing: Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Senate

What a week it was, at least for the future of health insurance in the USA.

I followed it all, from the courageous return of a very ill John McCain to Washington, to his depressing decision not to assign the Obamacare repeal/replacement effort to a House/Senate conference committee and being the swing vote dooming that effort.  I guess it was a mixed week for the senator as well.

You know, after self-questioning my loyalty to the party that intends, and sometimes pretends, to advance conservatism, I have to question a lot more things.  First on the list is whether the Republicans in the Senate even want to govern.

That was a pretty pathetic display last week.  Right at the top is John McCain's performance on the so-called "skinny repeal" bill.

Let's try to understand this, although I'm sure you already do, at least most of it.

Obamacare was rammed through without any Republican support.  Since Ted Kennedy had died in office in late 2009, Massachusetts needed a special election for a new Senator.  When Scott Brown, a Republican, won the seat, the Democrats lost their filibuster-proof majority to pass whatever Obamacare version they wanted.

Accordingly, they turned to the arcane congressional process called "budget reconciliation" to ram through Obamacare, and shoved it through both houses.  What reconciliation hath wrought, reconciliation could fix -- its simple-majority rule allowed passage in the Senate.  But reconciliation can only be used for certain things, at least in the hands of people who, you know, follow their own rules.

So the first stage of dumping Obamacare was to put as much repeal and replace as could be done through reconciliation, and do that.  The House passed such a bill months earlier, and was waiting for the Senate to pass it and get it onto a willing President's desk.

No such luck.  The Senate was not happy with the House bill and crafted their own, which failed.  Then they put together the "skinny repeal" bill.  I have no idea what was in it, but the purpose was to pass it, send it back to the House and then work in a joint House-Senate conference committee to craft a bill that could be, you know, passed.

Of course, some Republicans did not like the skinny repeal bill, but they held their noses and voted for it because they knew it would not become law.  It was going to the House and then right to the joint committee to align with what the House had passed.  Both houses would then have a chance to work on negotiating a real bill, however long it might take.

The nose-holding Republican senators, of course, trusted that Speaker Paul Ryan would not call a vote on the skinny repeal bill; rather, he would send it right to conference, as the plan was to go.

Except for John McCain.  McCain insisted that Speaker Ryan publicly acknowledge that he would have the House go straight to conference and so there was no chance the bill would pass as it left the Senate.  Ryan shrugged and said "OK, we are not going to vote on skinny repeal, and we are not going to vote on a bill before a conference committee gets to work on it."

Or words to that effect.  I heard him, and he said what McCain wanted to hear, at least we all thought.

Except that when the vote was called in the Senate, McCain joined two other senators and voted "no", which doomed the bill and doomed any chance of getting a joint conference committee to attack the problem of a health insurance law that is strangling millions of Americans.

Bad on you, Senator McCain.  I certainly heard you the first time; you would not vote for the bill unless Speaker Ryan assured you in public that he would send it straight to committee.  He did, and you flunked your end of the bargain.

I don't know what party you belong to, Senator, but either you have left mine, or the party has left me.  If that's what honor now means to you, you may need to think about whether you want to continue in that once-august body.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, July 28, 2017

Being the Best (and Very Lucky), 1986 Style

In 1986, I was a young 35-year-old who had been singing barbershop music for a year and a half.  I was living in Marshall, Virginia, a little village in Fauquier County that was a broad postal-defined area in the rural foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, nowhere near anything.  It wasn't the end of the world, but you could see it from there.  So the group I was singing with was small and not very good on pretty much any scale.

Late in 1985, though, my consulting work had me commuting every day all the way to Alexandria, Virginia, close to Washington DC, 63 miles each way.  I was getting home too late to attend the rehearsals of the group in Fauquier County, but I was enjoying the singing and there was a group in Alexandria I could head to right after work and get there in time, a mile or so from my consulting gig.

Sure enough, I decided to change membership, but it wasn't the most altruistic thing, either.  The Alexandria group was much, much larger, and just 5-6 years earlier had been the second-ranked barbershop chorus in the world for two years.  I thought, young singer that I was, that I could learn a lot more about the art form and become a better performer with them.  Plus, quartets formed out of choruses like that, and I was really interested in the bigger pool of good performers as candidates.

When I joined, Alexandria had just qualified for the international championship contest, to be held the following July in Salt Lake City.  I would have to learn the competition songs and choreography -- oh, yeah, those guys moved, too -- and qualify individually to be part of the group.

I want to convey that I was a novice and these guys were world-class competitors though, to be accurate, the group was far more than the sum of its parts.  Not that many of the 120 performers were very good singers, you see.  The skill of the director is to make a great deal more than what the individuals bring.  But I didn't quite get that.  I was in awe of what was around me.

There was a lot of effort and practice that went into the preparation for international.  I had no idea how good we were, since I had no experience with higher-level competition and could only respond to what our coaches were telling us along the way.

The convention began on a Tuesday, and my Best Girl and I flew out to enjoy it with no idea what to expect, though we'd attended one before it was as an audience only.  The contest itself would be on Friday (the intervening days were for quartets to compete), and I was really getting nervous about it.  We rehearsed hard, and I didn't want to screw up the precision of the group.

But here is the point of all this.

On Friday, we walked -- 120 of us -- from our hotel to the convention center where we would compete an hour or so later that day.  I was anxious and really a bit unprepared for what to expect.  I knew my part and all, but it was the experience of competing that was a blank for me.

As I walked, another gentleman from the group, ten years my senior but far more experienced, must have seen something.  He strode over to where I was walking, put his arm on my shoulder (he was much taller, not that that's an accomplishment), and said, "You know, you're going to have the chance today to be the best in the world at something.  You're lucky, hardly anyone gets an opportunity to do that."

That did it for me.  I was able to smile and appreciate the opportunity and embrace it, rather than fearing it.  Those simple words put things in perspective and  helped get it together for me, a dumb ol' kid from a tiny town in Virginia.  I went out there on stage with the rest of the guys and did my thing, calm enough to get through it and without making any serious mistakes, at least as far as I recall.  It did go quickly.

Later that day, the medals were called off, from five down to one.  By the time the judging chairman had read through the second-place silver medals (they would go to a suburban Chicago group, after the bronze medals had gone to Raleigh, Toronto and Cincinnati) without our group being called, we were an emotionally wrecked bunch of guys.  Sixth place?  Seventh?  First?

Then ... "Ladies and gentlemen, your 1986 international gold-medal chorus champions, the Alexandria Harmonizers!"

Not only had I -- we -- had an opportunity to be the "best in the world at something", we had actually become it.  For decades thereafter, through many more competitions and three more world championships, I never took for granted the good fortune I had to be in the right place at the right time.

I do not take for granted the good fortune I have had, and continue to do.  I live in the USA, the best place on earth to be.  I'm free to write this and the 700 preceding essays.  Many things have happened, not all good, over the years, as these pages can attest.  But I have had opportunities to experience what much of the world cannot, and I'm a lucky, lucky guy.

Cheers for the weekend.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, July 27, 2017

#700: Revisiting Baltimore Lettuce-Pickers

It's been a couple years since Baltimore was a riot-fest, with the aftermath of the Freddie Gray incident turning, as most things with the left, into chaos in the streets, destruction and looting for no productive reason and no real end other than carting away whatever can be carted off.  And burning things down, let's not forget that.

I had an idea at the time, trying to address the jobs issue and the immigration issue all at the same time, as published here.  You see, the leftists were falling all over themselves trying not to dump on the rioters for what they actually were -- scum.  In fact, in hindsight it was curious that they wouldn't call the rioters bad people, any more than they would call Islamist terrorists "Islamist terrorists."  They rush to defend both, which must provide definition to their character flaw.

At the same time the arsonists and looters were destroying their section of the city, and being rationalized by the left for some kind of frustration because there were no jobs (well, you burn down the places of business, you're kind of not helping the jobs issue), the immigration debate was rampant.

The Washington Post provided us some amusement by critiquing the immigration and deportation plan of some of the Republican candidates.  We would have real problems in California, the paper went on, because if we deport illegals we won't have any vegetables.  Americans -- and I quote here -- "don't want to do the jobs that [illegals] do."

I couldn't reconcile all that with the numbers.  There are indeed jobs, plenty of them.  Six million, I think the Administration has been saying.  Add to that all the under-the-table, cash-paid jobs the illegals are doing in the lettuce fields in California and the fruit groves and the like, and you've got hundreds of thousands more.

I pointed out that if the rioters in Baltimore were indeed complaining about a lack of jobs, they had only to go out to the vegetable fields and show their citizenship.  There is plenty of lettuce, and not a lot of USA citizens are out there a-pickin'.  I don't know what the pay is, but it sure beats sitting on the stoop complaining about the blahs and the miseries and the lack of jobs.

It is now a couple years since, and Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  On perusing the old article, I realized that I didn't expect him to get the nomination back then, let alone to win the White House.  And the old article rang a little differently with a businessman in the Oval Office, so I thought about it.

Donald Trump has been president for six months, and this is the sort of thing that should pique his interest.  We have two problems -- joblessness in the inner cities, and illegal immigration prompted by the opportunity to work cash jobs in the lettuce fields.  It would be just like the new president to look at the two of them and put someone in charge of creating a program where inner-city unemployed in Chicago, or Baltimore, or wherever, could be set up to do the jobs -- with Social Security numbers, of course, so some of the growers may not be fans, but the law is the law -- hopping a train out to the west coast, or whatever makes sense, and having the job they say they want.

I think he would find that a curious focus for some creative thinking.  I sure hope that, whatever is logistically possible, he turns someone in his administration on to look at how those paired problems could be resolved.

Of course, the Democrats wouldn't even think it was a problem.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Getting Buzzed, and Not in the Good Way

A couple days back, a US plane -- a spy plane, I believe the news accounts said (if we can ever believe the media to get anything right at all anymore, even bland facts) -- was buzzed by a Chinese jet or two out in international waters.

Naturally, the US plane did nothing except escape, and tomorrow or the day after, we will all have forgotten the incident, if we even knew it had happened.

Sadly, the same thing has happened when Russian planes buzzed our own planes, and buzzed our Navy vessels.  This is going to continue, and more countries, including Iran and its contemptible leadership, are going to keep on doing that.  Iran pulled one of those little stunts just yesterday.

I'm sorry, but I'm buzzed out.

Now, I suppose that there is a thin argument to be made as far as what the risks are when you send a spy plane over a sovereign nation's territory and, say, get it buzzed on the way back.  I suppose that should be considered.

But as far as having our planes and ships buzzed while out in international waters, I've had it.  I am an American, and after having bailed out goodly parts of the free part of the globe in two world wars and in Korea, and having been a force for good and freedom for 200 years, the United States of America deserves the respect of the world.

And we need to show who we are.

I would like to ask the president to make a statement, an explicit statement, to the rest of the world.  We will no longer tolerate the acts of sniveling tyrants against the USA, and buzzing our planes and ships will be regarded as aggressive acts.  We should say in public that if we are buzzed, the offending planes will be obliterated.

Fair warning.  We will not take such offense from Russia, Iran, China, North Korea, whoever.  Buzzing is an affront to the role that the USA has proudly taken for the last century, without coveting the land of other sovereign nations.  We will not tolerate it.

Someone will push the challenge line, and we will act accordingly.  It will be the last time we get buzzed.  And it will show that the USA gives a new meaning to "red line", at least this administration does.

America needs a bit more of that.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Better Wages, Better Pizza

I'm going to give, for once, a shred of credit to Chuck Schumer and the Democrats.  Don't get too excited; it isn't a lot and barely deserved.

So in the past few days, they came up with a new tagline for their platform, which believe it or not, is not just "Resist until the other side screams."  I don't recall it exactly, but it was "Better wages, better jobs, ..." better something-or-other, but I forgot what.  I'm sure it wasn't "... better pizza -- Papa John's", but I feel that "old" Papa John Schnatter is doing a bit better in sales this week thanks to the Democrats.

At any rate, the credit I give them is because for the first time since November 8th, organized Democrats have been speaking about an actual issue, not that they have a solution.  So bully for Uncle Chuck, who also did say something about the fact that Democrats have to say they're for something, and asked what they did wrong in 2016 (i.e., admitting that they, in fact, did).

Words have meaning, however.

And I thought it interesting to see the line "better wages" and ask myself what manner of solution they were going to propose to get any of that done.  You see, you can't just snap your fingers and wages rise.  After all, wages are set, absent external meddling, based on the value that an employee provides to the employer.

So if you're going to promote higher wages, you have to raise the value that employees provide, because if you artificially raise them (q.v. "minimum wage"), you are tampering with the value proposition.  If you tamper with the value proposition, employers will react to realign wages with value, by doing things such as hiring only people capable of doing multiple tasks and having three people do the work of four -- so that each employee now brings the value for which they're paid.

In other words, "Better wages, better jobs, fewer people working."

So I do wonder what Uncle Chuck and his troops have in mind.  Since they're leftists, and since they're only concerned about power and winning elections (otherwise they wouldn't promote solutions that don't work, e.g., Obamacare), we can expect that they will jump right into some kind of pandering action.  Perhaps a hike in the Federal minimum wage, since the unemployment rate is too good right now.

Of course, since the typical response by the economy to a minimum wage hike is to cut jobs, and since union jobs will be at least some of those cut, the AFL/CIO may not support that too vocally.

Ooh, ooh -- training.  Yeah, that's the thing.  We'll train people so they can do better jobs.

Sure we will.  Who is this "we" of which you speak?  Who is paying for that training?  What jobs are we training people for?  Who decides that?  If the jobs are in North Dakota oil fields, where are you training the people, and will they be required to move as the price of accepting taxpayer-paid job training?

And who are we training?  I mean, I have no issue with training, although it is completely outside the scope of the Federal government.  But would a Democrat program require people trained to have a job in 90 days or lose the right to welfare or unemployment benefits?  Would it require a repayment to the Federal government for all that training -- if you're going to take the training, don't you need to pay the taxpayer back?  I'd be OK with that, call it a "student loan."

I don't expect to see that kind of discussion when the Democrats put out their plans.  But I hope the press is at least marginally critical and asks that sort of question if they are ever allowed to ask questions.

Maybe Schumer will put ropes around him to keep out the press questions.  Worked for Hillary, didn't it?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, July 24, 2017

Do I Really, Really Want It?

This week, we hear, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY) is supposed to be shepherding through the Senate yet another attempt at a change to the dreadful Obamacare law.  I say "Change", because it likely won't be a repeal and won't be a replacement; rather, it will be ... something.

This is somewhere about revision 21-A, perhaps.

I don't exactly know where to go with all this, as I believe it would be in the best interests of the country to pass a clean repeal and then, with no specific time limit, figure out what we are trying to fix and start from scratch with a new law that addresses that requirement.

And it bears noting that this bill will not become law as is, even if it is passed by the Senate, because it needs to go to the House of Representatives and presumably reconciled with the bill the House passed earlier this session.  By the time the conference committee comes up with something for the full House and Senate to vote on, it may be practically in another language, let alone similar to either of the original bills each house passed.

So what do I hope happens?  You see, you have three sets of Republicans in the Senate, at least in one way of looking at it.  There is the vast majority of the Republican caucus there -- 42-45 or so -- who believe it necessary to pass a health insurance bill and will vote for one if it is reasonable.  Then you have the two poles.

The poles are potentially irreconcilable.  The staunch conservatives see no great role for the Federal government in health insurance, and want to strip out Obamacare in total, potentially legislating a small number of elements (such as allowing interstate sales of health policies) but getting rid of the entire law and starting over.  I lean toward their view, notwithstanding political necessities.

The other small faction is politically sensitive.  Since one of Obamacare's largest taxpayer giveaways was a large expansion of Medicaid, these senators are scared that to end that expansion could cause political issues (read: "votes") in their states.  They opposed Obamacare, those of them who were in the Senate, at that time, but won't vote to repeal it because it has gotten its filthy hooks into the economy and they lack the will to stand up for the country's best interest.

So what do I really, really want as far as the bill to be introduced this week?  Remember, I've not read it, but assume it is the most recent bill but with a few sweeteners in it to attract the remaining senators.  Well, if that is indeed the description, then I would be perfectly happy if the effort fails.

Remember that as we speak, Obamacare is sinking to the bottom of the ocean.  The law having made countless concessions to insurance companies, its implementation has proved so impractical that the companies are quickly pulling out of all the markets that they can't make money in.  That number has grown so fast that in 2018 there will be hundreds of counties with no plan to buy and far more with only one company offering service.  The rates, which skyrocketed last year and surely influenced the presidential election more than any Russians did, are going to go way up again, absent competition.

I think I will be perfectly happy if no bill gets passed and Obamacare stays the law of the land for a short time longer, long enough for the country to get so fed up with it that they rise up and demand its repeal.

I have questions as to whether even then the current crop of Senate Republicans can put together a bill that is productive and essentially repeals the whole mess, but I have to go with what I want and what I think is best.

Pretty sure I'm going to want my Senators to vote "no."

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, July 21, 2017

Policy and Politics

We all know people -- actually, we have probably been those people at least at times -- who, when asked if we are Republicans, Democrats or independents, answer routinely that they are not so much party members as conservatives, or liberals, or "social conservatives" or some other non-party description.

Now way, way back almost 700 columns ago in 2014, the very first piece on this site discussed the assortment of opinions within an individual, as an explanation for why parties arise.  Please read it, at the link, but I wanted to hearken back to it as some fodder for this column.

As I watch the Republicans in the Senate show themselves to be politically incapable of doing what they were sent there to do, I was mentally exploring the options.  That's when I started to do the separation that is the title of this article.

The policy -- in this case repealing and replacing Obamacare -- is based on a fairly straightforward belief.  The topic is not health care but rather health insurance, and from a policy standpoint my baseline is that the Federal government has no business with its nose in health insurance, other than to ensure that insurance companies are behaving in a decent and non-exploitative manner in providing their service to the public.  Even that role should predominantly be the province of the States, as it is not given by the Constitution.  However, if you support companies offering plans across state lines, we are in interstate commerce-land and that is a Federal role.  So OK, that's fine. 

But Obamacare far overreaches that by mandating that citizens must be covered or pay a fine, and the rest of the law is an atrocious mishmash of things that Washington has no business being in and need to be removed from law.

Policy.  You see the point?  I agree with all the Republican senators who believe that fundamentally, Obamacare is a gross overstep by Washington and needs to be killed.  But they're not doing it.  Policy is being trumped by politics, in this case the fact that Obamacare so expanded the role of government in giveaways and subsidies that certain Republicans are afraid for their political future (i.e., don't have the integrity and courage to do what's right) and refuse to allow its complete repeal.

So what is a Republican?

Leftists are out there rioting in Berkeley, marching down streets calling for policemen to be murdered, and at the most benign, stepping far away from governing in favor of pursuing the rabbit-hole trip that is the Trump-Russia farce.  Their 2016 presidential candidate sold a quarter of USA uranium to the Russians in return for a fat paycheck to her husband for a speech.  If you are a liberal, can you say that you agree with all that and call yourself a Democrat?

I would have to say that if there ever was a "good old day" when the disagreements between liberals and conservatives were mostly limned in policy terms and carried out in politics, those days are long behind us.  The policies remain, but the politics have so separated from the policy as to leave us incapable of doing anything productive to advance the policy.  Get reelected; that's the purpose of being in Washington.

My policy support is clear.  I want low, low taxes to enable business growth and economic stability.  I want minimal regulation, enough to protect the public but not choke business.  I want our nation protected, and I want strong borders and managed immigration.  I want to advance the cause of domestic freedom.  And I want the Federal government to do only what the Constitution allows it to do and not charge the taxpayer one dime to do anything else.

That makes me a conservative, and has always prompted me to vote Republican.  But I have trouble identifying with the Republicans who are representing my values in the Senate anymore.  I feel sure we share the policy beliefs, I really do.  But I certainly have trouble being convinced that they have the courage or political will to act in accordance with those beliefs when it comes to the legislating and the politics of things.

Perhaps I am the Republican and they have left the party, much as the Democrat party long ago left the beliefs of 50 years back that characterized the party of JFK and LBJ.  Either way, though, we have a failure of politics advancing policy, and it is something that needs to be fixed now.

Because right now the one guy I can rely on to manage that difference properly is the one in the White House.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, July 20, 2017

I'm Still Not Getting It

Yesterday, on the news commentary -- I suspect that all TV news is commentary anymore -- I heard an otherwise reasonable commentator talking about the meeting that Donald Trump Jr., a private citizen, was a part of a year ago.

You know the one, set up by a business associate of one or more of the Trump organization through their Miss Universe pageants, and somehow connected to the people who commissioned the phony dossier on President Trump.  It had 7-8 people or so in it, including the younger Trump, as well as Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman and Jared Kushner, the now-President Trump's son-in-law.

I'm trying to get why this meeting is of any interest whatsoever.  The scandal, according to this commentator, was because there was misinformation -- the number of people at the meeting, the fact that the younger Trump had originally neglected to include it on disclosure documents as far as interaction with foreigners.  That was just, oh so terrible, as the details of the meeting took a while to get out.

Now, let's see.  As Donald Jr. pointed out at the time, the meeting was on fairly short notice, and was taken on the expectation of there being available adverse information regarding Hillary Clinton that would help the Trump campaign.  When the existence of the meeting broke, he quickly published the emails relating to the meeting's origin, which indicated that it was to be about adverse information and that it was coming from a Russian.  In fairness, the emails did suggest that the person (the Russian lawyer) was connected to the Russian government, although the relevance -- and ultimate accuracy -- of that is in question.

So the worst thing that we can deduce is that Donald Jr., a non-politician and private citizen helping out in his first-ever campaign, should have decided that information potentially from a foreign government was not appropriate to set up a meeting about.  Certainly after the stories in the last year, no one except Hillary Clinton would have taken that meeting (given that her people did take such a meeting with Ukrainian operatives wanting to help her campaign, and this wasn't her first rodeo, I think it's fair to say that).

So are the media simply trying to make anything they can about this story?  I mean, let's unpack it a bit.  A businessman leveraged his business acquaintanceship with the Trump organization to set a meeting up for a Russian lawyer who claimed (or was portrayed) to work with the Russian government.  She was supposed to have adverse information on Hillary.  Donald Jr. expressed his happiness at that prospect and accepted the meeting, bringing Manafort and Kushner.

The lawyer and a few other Russians were there.  No adverse information was provided, and the Russians swiftly moved the topic to fixing a law that prevented adoptions of children from Russia, whereupon Kushner and Manafort just left, and Donald Jr. shortly followed.

No information on Hillary.  No intent to provide any, and the Trump people all left.

Outcome:  Nothing happened. 

So what am I missing?  Obviously there was nothing criminal, as neither what we know happened nor what the left is trying to say happened is a crime, high or low.  If the younger Trump has parceled out information (the accusation of the left as they struggle to make something out of this), it is more likely than not that, in his mind, the meeting was so much "nothing" in the midst of a campaign full of meetings that he just initially went back to his notes and emails, none of which mentioned extra Russians.

Moreover, he is sufficiently virginal in politics -- and let's remember that he is even now not in politics -- that he failed to anticipate the aims of an opposition that will not allow itself to be proven wrong without looking for something else.  He clearly thought that releasing the emails immediately was the right thing to do (which it was).

But now we're left with ... well, that's the title of this piece: I'm still not getting it.  What is the crime?  What, other than taking the meeting in the first place without foreseeing that a year later meeting with Russians, even about adoption, would be a capital offense, did anyone do wrong?  There was no content to the meeting!

I have got to find substantive topics; this one eludes me.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When a Judge Needs to be Removed

I believe that Federal judges have the right and the obligation to act on cases before them in the course of their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States.

But boy, it gets tough when they overstep their bounds.

So last week, Judge Derrick Watson of Hawaii somehow decided that his court had jurisdiction over the application of a Supreme Court ruling in regard to President Trump's executive order suspending travel from six Middle East countries.

In case you were on Mars, the president issued an order suspending travel from those countries for six months, while DHS figured out how to protect Americans from people coming to this country, arriving without our ability to identify them or ensure that they are visiting for positive reasons.  A couple of states sued on behalf of residents whose relatives or associates were not able to come here because of the suspension.

The states took their case to the Official Circuit Court of Overturned Rulings, i.e., the Ninth Circuit, which had earlier reinvented jurisprudence and ruled that the travel suspension was unlawful -- despite Congress granting the authority to the president quite explicitly.

The Administration took the case to the Supreme Court.  In making the decision to accept the case for later decision, the Supreme Court lifted the injunction, allowing the travel suspension to proceed.  However, they did a little creative benchwork themselves, so that yes, the suspension was put back in place but SCOTUS provided certain exceptions -- people from those countries could come in, but only if they had certain close relatives here -- children, parents, spouses, siblings, if I recall.

Naturally the whining states went back to their friendly Ninth Circuit, which is where Judge Watson took on their appeal.  He responded with a ruling broadening the definition of "close relative" to include, well, more distant relatives -- cousins, grandparents, in-laws, outlaws, etc.  The Trump Administration is in the process of appealing that ruling as we speak.

So here's the thing.  We all understand what's going on; the left is doing everything possible to obstruct the Administration, we get it.  But once your superior has ruled, it is a contemptible usurpation of judicial power for a lower court to go back and reinterpret an instruction by the Supreme Court, with its ink still dry, when the Supreme Court has stayed an injunction with a temporary ruling as to how things will go until they make their final ruling.

Got it?  The Supreme Court has accepted a case to review.  It is in their court, not Watson's.  His political views have, or should have, zero impact on a case that is now in the highest court.

If I am Chief Justice Roberts -- heck, I don't care what justice I am -- I am livid that a stinking circuit court judge has decided what my Court and I have just said.  I don't know who works for whom, but I'll tell you that in business, if something like that happened -- a middle manager changing how a CEO's clear instructions are to be done -- that middle manager is out on his or her butt.  Fired.

Actions have consequences, and Judge Watson needs to be censured and then fired.  For as bad as their track record of having their rulings overturned is, the whole Circuit needs to get looked at, but somewhere in the rules of judicial responsibility, someone up the Judicial Branch needs to have the right to send this guy back to county traffic court.

I don't know if you've had it with this stuff, but I sure have.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Strange Ruling by the Gods of MLB

So I was watching a baseball game on Saturday night, that I had taped from earlier that day and scrupulously avoided letting myself hear a score about all day.  Knowing that it was the Red Sox and Yankees, I also added three hours of taping time to the already three hours scheduled for recording the game itself.  Those guys take forever to play a game.

As it turns out, even that wasn't enough, but I digress.

The game went into extra innings, tied 1-1, and dragged out to about the 11th inning, when -- OK, let's say it was the 11th for argument's sake; it matters little.  At that point there was a curious play that prompts today's piece.

[Aside -- I hate the New York Yankees with a white-hot passion that burns and churns, sort of the way I think of the left, MSNBC and members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (that one may have worn off since college, though).  I didn't grow up close to either New York or Boston, so my regard for the Red Sox and utter dislike of the Yankees makes no sense whatsoever but dates to preschool or maybe before.  Bear with me; but know my prejudices.]

It was the top of the inning, with the game played at Fenway Park, and the Yankees were batting.  They had a runner, Matt Holliday, on first and Jacoby Ellsbury was at the plate with no one out.  Ellsbury grounded a ball to the right side of the infield, fielded by the first baseman, who moved in and a bit toward the mound to field.

As soon as the ball was hit, Holliday broke for second.  He could see it was a ground ball; Ellsbury had clearly driven the ball into the ground in front of the plate, so he was forced to go to second.  The Red Sox first baseman fielded the ball and threw to the shortstop covering second to force Holliday by 40 feet.

However, after being forced at second, Holliday did not veer out of the baseline, as 99.99% of runners do when forced by that much.  Instead, Holliday stopped quickly, turned and headed back to firstHere is an article on the play, letting you start the video at the top of the piece and see for yourself.

As you can see, by returning to first, Holliday left no lane for the return throw from the shortstop, which arrived at first about the same time (A) Holliday was sliding back into the base, (B) Ellsbury was reaching first and (C) the first baseman was standing there awaiting the throw.  The ball hit Ellsbury and rolled off, whereupon Ellsbury was ruled safe at first.

The Boston manager, John Farrell, came out of the dugout to complain.  The rules forbid a runner who has been called out from interfering, intentionally or not, with an ongoing play.  The rule certainly includes the case here; where Holliday should have ducked out of the baseline, he ran back to first, interfering with the first baseman's angle to catch the return throw.  Ellsbury should have, by rule, been called out as well.

Bizarrely, however, the umpires ruled Ellsbury safe and called only one out (Holliday) on the play.  Farrell asked them to reconsider, given, you know, the rules.  So right there on the field, they called the MLB offices that handle replay reviews, but they asked not for a replay review but a review of the applicable rule.  And the reply (they're in New York, by the way) was that the call was correct, even though the rule was pretty explicit (the inning went on and the Yankees failed to score anyway).

Farrell lodged a protest formally, which can be done only when the manager disagrees with the interpretation of a rule.  There are not a lot of protests, and very few are upheld.  The sarcastic soul in me thinks that's because the outcome of a sustained protest is to replay the game from that point, a logistic headache.

The Yankees went on to win the game in the 16th inning.  Now, one could argue that since the Yankees ended up not scoring in the 11th, the protest was moot and should be dropped -- no harm, no foul.  But that's certainly not true.  Extra pitches were thrown, the batting order was affected and even if it didn't affect the Boston choice of pitchers, it shouldn't matter.  [For the record, the Ellsbury at-bat was the first for the pitcher, Robbie Scott, who had been brought in after Holliday reached base.  He only threw three more pitches to retire the side and was replaced for the next inning.  Clearly the play did not affect the Boston bullpen, though it did create a one-position change in the Yankees' lineup turn.]

However, none of that (the small amount of change) should matter.  The play was called incorrectly, as plenty of people familiar with the rule book have pointed out, and the MLB office got it wrong also.  Baseball is a game that is hyperventilatingly finicky about integrity.  It has put procedures in place to ensure that rule questions are properly resolved on the spot, and implemented protest rules that take into account that the answers from the office (in New York, did I mention that?) may be incorrect and a protest may be filed.

It will be interesting to see how they deal with it.  To many of us, the protest should be sustained; the rules are pretty clear about the fact that what Holliday did was incorrect and that the remedy is for Ellsbury to have been called out at first on interference.  For them to sustain the protest is to strike a blow for integrity in the game.

On the other hand, for them to reject the protest is frightening.  Suppose it is rejected.  What happens if you're an astute player who has reached first base in a game tomorrow, and a ground ball is hit that's an easy double play.  You realize that immediately, stop, and as the ball is thrown to second to force you, you make your outline as big as possible, and head back to first, positioning yourself directly in the line of the throw.

The ball hits you, the batter is safe at first, and when the manager of the other team protests, you take out a copy of Farrell v. Holliday and say the magic word "precedent."
                                                  _ _ _ 

I hope that most of you realize this piece was not so much about baseball as about politics and life.  The precedents set by the decisions of those with the power to decide are rock-solid when they come from the highest judicial authority.  It is an awesome responsibility, for precedents are what guide the future.

Baseball can be an idiot sometimes.  I hope they look a bit more forward here.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, July 17, 2017

Masking the Dems' Solutionlessness

After eight years of the Obamists in power, the nation had a chance to decide they were quite tired of what Democrats offered, and kicked them out of office.  They had been kicking them out at various levels for several years -- let's face it, Obamacare led to most of that -- but the USA was absolutely ready for something else.

So we wonder today about the Democrats' strategy.  Having had eight years of embarrassing leadership and lots of lost elections, it would appear that their best strategy is simply not to govern for a while; in fact, to be rather invisible as far as governing is concerned, until the Republicans can be in power long enough for the nation to grow tired of them.

I suspect that, to the extent that Democratic leadership sits around figuring out how to grab power again at all, this might explain the incredible legs that the Trump-Russia thing appears to have had, despite the amazing lack of any content.  They appear to have decided that not trying to govern, by keeping scandals in the press (substantive or not), the voting public will somehow forget how vile and incompetent they actually are when they have power.

At least after enough time has gone by, I guess.

The Democrats have to be looking at 2018 curiously, after all.  If their strategy consists of blocking, not legislating, and leveraging their control of the press to keep pointless non-scandals in the news for long enough to for the nation to have forgotten how bad their policies are, I get it.  They've been successful, at least, in drowning out the positives of the current administration.

But 2018 is an odd target, which is why I think it is not a target for the Democrats at all.  That particular election cycle for the Senate is skewed against them, with hardly any vulnerable Republican seats and several Democrats up in states where Donald Trump carried the vote in 2016.  They can't win back the Senate and might lose seats there, so they have to manage the possibility that the Republicans could increase their Senate margin and have to spin that.

The point here, I believe, is that the real motivation for keeping the "zero" (scrupulously avoiding "nothingburger") that is the Russia issue in front of the public, is to keep Democrats from having to do anything.

Even this column has used the term "RussiaRussiaRussia", and I am starting to see that the "smoke" is not all the little incidents that amount to nothing, but the screen of smoke the Democrats are using to obscure what they actually want to obscure.  They are using every non-governing incident, every whiff of scandal they can come up with -- even the use of intentionally far-over-the-top words like "impeachment" and "treason" -- to drag out the time from the end of the Obama era to the next target election.

Oppose and obstruct.  Use over-the-top language.  Inflate any hint of scandal far beyond its basis in fact.  And keep all of that in the papers and the media daily, full time, non-stop.  It's so, so much easier than helping try to govern.

Do that for a really long time, long enough to where perhaps the public will forget how awful Democrats are when they are in charge.

I suppose if I were a Democrat with nothing to offer, I'd do the same.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Saturday, July 15, 2017

Here is the Video!

Last week I wrote of a wonderfully moving performance by the quartet Signature, of the Luther Vandross song, "Dance with my Father."

I'm pleased to tell you all that the performance has been put out to YouTube and I do encourage you all to check it out.  It is at:

Please enjoy!

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, July 14, 2017

Trump and Macron's Message to the Senate

The United States Senate, the "world's greatest deliberative body", if they say so themselves, is having serious issues getting anything done, which is the absolute norm when neither party has 60 reliable votes.  And even then, when one does, we end up with fecal bills like the one which gave us Obamacare.

And when they do talk, we get the imbecilic speeches associated with public congressional committee meetings, and we have Harry Reid broadcasting from the well of the Senate that he has it on good authority that Mitt Romney hadn't paid taxes since the early Carter Administration.  And we have Chuck Schumer ... which is a "nuf sed" moment all by itself.

I hear constantly that the senators are very, very friendly with each other across the aisle, although I'm sure that Elizabeth Warren isn't friendly with anyone, in or out of the Senate.  But 99 of them presumably are.

Yet nothing gets done, and by "nothing" I mean "nothing."  They go out for beers and then in the morning they talk past each other at best, and yell at each other at worst.  And still nothing gets done.  Even the Republicans, with a majority, inadequate as it is, appear to be ready to vote on a replacement to Obamacare that no one likes, that doesn't really come close to repealing it, and that leaves in place the soul-crushing taxes.

To which I say, "Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump."

President Trump was not exactly rooting for Macron in the French election not long ago.  But sure enough, Macron won and is now the president of France, or whatever the French call their head dude or dudette in charge.

They met during the G-20 meetings and discovered something very odd.  They actually seemed to like each other.  There is some fundamental disagreement about things like global warming and maybe a little globalism thrown in, but basic civility enhanced by mutual "liking" from those meetings prompted Macron to offer an invitation for the president to go to France for Bastille Day (that's today) -- and for the president to set aside whatever he was planning, ob very short notice, and actually go.

Yesterday they met at length and held a press conference, and it was pretty evident from the unstaged photo ops that they get along really well.  So, it should be said, did their wives, which could have played a non-trivial role in all this, though I've not heard that suggested.

They are pushing forward with some areas of agreement and getting things done.  How much they do get done remains to be seen, but I expect positive action to take place, and that's from someone (me) not too inclined to give the French the benefit of the doubt on anything.

I hope Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are watching.  There has to be a lesson in that somewhere, that two world leaders who are not in lockstep on several issues manage to work through the others, and at least discuss the ones they disagree on without grotesque insults.  Can not our senators consider the needs of the nation and try to work together?  Is it acceptable that Senate roll calls get no votes from Democrats on Republican initiatives and vice versa?  Can they really be that partisan (hint: "yes")?

Looking at Trump and Macron suggest that Trump and Putin might be able to get along a bit, much as Trump and China's Xi appear to have been able to.  But none of that will matter if the leaders of the Senate cannot.

We in the USA are out here drumming our fingers.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Asynchronous Scandal Response

It was an interesting thing to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the nomination of Christopher Wray to be FBI Director yesterday.  Aside from the interminable speeches (on both sides) masquerading as questioning of the candidate, there is the curious asymmetry on view for all.

Wray seems like a perfectly reasonable candidate, and I assume, since the Democrats on the committee seemed perfectly disposed to vote for him, that he has relatively unimpeachable credentials -- which we already knew.

The asymmetry, though, was what was odd, particularly given that the Republicans are the majority party of the Senate and hold the committee chairmanships, including, of course, Judiciary, chaired by Iowa's Senator Chuck Grassley.

In those interminable lead-ins and speechification, I noticed that occasionally a Republican senator would raise an issue of comparable import -- or more, in fact -- to those flying around in regard to the Trump-Russia nothingburger I discussed yesterday.   One senator (might have been Lindsey Graham, but I'm sure as heck not rewinding to see; life is too short) cited an article in the leftist medium Politico, published in January.

That article referred to a report that the DNC and Hillary campaign in 2016 had conspired with elements of the government of Ukraine -- a former Soviet nation, regardless of what they are now -- to dig up or simply create dirt on Donald Trump while the campaign was active.

The actual question to Wray was to ask whether he would investigate that which, of course, he said he would as FBI Director, assuming that Sen. Graham's office actually follows through and provides Director-to-Be Wray with the article and anything else needed.

"Did you know about the article?", Wray was asked.  No, he hadn't, but he would be willing to investigate.

Did you know about the article?  I know I follow politics, at least enough to write this column, and I had never heard of it until a passing reference -- yesterday, six months after the article appeared.

So what the heck is going on with the press?  Is there one set of rules for scandals, even fictional ones, implicating Republicans and a whole 'nother one for Democrats?  What other conclusion can you make from this?

Donald Trump, Jr., takes a meeting on the expectation of some opposition research purported to be from Russia, but which turns out to be about adoption.  I mean, we know that's what it was.  At worst, the offense was taking the meeting; since there was nothing there, nothing happened relative to any actual offense.

According to Politico, the Democrats did at least that and more -- there was this in their article from the January piece:

"Ukrainian government officials tried to help Hillary Clinton and undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office. They also disseminated documents implicating a top Trump aide in corruption and suggested they were investigating the matter, only to back away after the election. And they helped Clinton’s allies research damaging information on Trump and his advisers, a Politico investigation found."

Hmmm.  So Donald Jr. took a meeting purporting to provide such adverse information on Hillary Clinton, but there was no such information and the meeting turned out to be about Russian adoption.  Nothing happened, and the only "bad" thing was the willingness of the younger Trump to meet with someone from a foreign country with opposition research -- of which there was none.

Hillary's campaign people actually worked with representatives of a foreign government to obtain and disseminate adverse information on her opponent, of which there was such information and it was indeed promulgated.

Yet we have three days (so far) of Trump Derangement Syndrome bellyaching in the left-controlled media about something that ended up not even being about opposition research and has not been connected to actual (Russian) government officials; the only involved Russian denied such connection.  And we are only now even hearing about the actual collusion with a foreign government to interfere in the 2016 election, by the Democrat Hillary Clinton and her team.

The silence on that one is deafening.  Go figure.  Donald Trump Jr. is accused of "treason" by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) but Kaine doesn't puff a breath about Hillary and the Ukrainians who actually worked with her.

Someone needs to explain the asymmetrical response by the media to the two events.  I do hope that, after the confirmation hearings today and the commitment to investigate the Clinton side of the collusion scandal, the FBI will open a case up about Ukraine-Clinton and actually work it.  Of course, there is probably nothing really illegal in what they did either, but any assumption of lack of illegality on that side applies in spades to the Trump Jr. meeting, where nothing actually took place.

I think I'm going to keep asking about that one in these pages.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

An Insult to Nothingburgers

Oooohhhhh, gotcha!

So apparently some devilish conspiracy zombies have dug up the fact that, in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, both of the Trump campaign's inner circle, had a meeting with a Russian lawyer.

According to those in it, and documented by the younger Trump's immediate release of the relevant emails, it was agreed to because there was some kind of indication that the lawyer had some damaging information on Hillary Clinton that would help with the campaign, which was the premise for the three men agreeing to meet.  However, the information, such as it was or wasn't, turned out to be a pretense to discuss the lifting of a Russian government ban on adoptions of Russian children by Americans.

As of this moment, we think we know that Donald Jr. was unaware of the name of the lawyer prior to the meeting, and that apparently the meeting was set up (according to the lawyer) on short notice.

And, ultimately, nothing was done.  The other two left shortly after the adoption topic took over the discussion, and Donald Jr. left soon after.  There was zero adverse information presented, since that wasn't the purpose of the meeting from the Russian lawyer's perspective.

For this, we have the New York Times, and CNN and the entire leftist media in a fever.  Now, remember that after six months of scrupulous journalism (and a lot of unscrupulous journalism) and two congressional committee investigations, a special counsel and the FBI, not a shred of evidence has emerged to suggest that the Trump campaigned collaborated with the Russian government to affect the outcome of the 2016 election.

In this incident, someone claiming to represent that government (and since denying it) obtained a meeting by lying about having adverse information on Hillary.  No content.  No adverse information.  No collusion.  No Russian government.

That's not good enough for the press, so they have expanded the definition of "Russian government" to include everyone with a Russian accent, and the definition of "conspired to affect the election" to include "met with someone with a Russian accent."  So here we have a meeting that apparently accomplished nothing, whose American members walked out when the actual intended topic arose, and that's supposed to be evidence of ... something.

Naturally, the folks who consider the collusion thing to be a big joke, made up by the crying "Wah, wah, Hillary lost" crowd, see the June meeting as a "nothingburger."  But I suspect that to be an insult to nothingburgers everywhere.

Let us go back to Occam's Razor for the moment.  Occam's Razor is the logical principle that the simplest explanation for a set of facts is the likeliest explanation for them.  So let's put this together.

The lawyer was in some way trying to advocate for an entity seeking to get the ban on adoptions from Russia (a Russian ban, not an American one) lifted, meaning that it needed to get raised in the consciousness of the potential next president.  The entity, whoever they were, had a contact, a person in the entertainment industry, who knew Donald Trump Jr. well enough through the Miss Universe pageants to secure a meeting (we know that) with a lawyer who was a native Russian. 

The pretense for the meeting was that the person (who turned out to be the lawyer) had damaging information on Hillary Clinton that would help the Trump campaign.  And so Donald Jr., who was contacted through a friend trusted enough to make him willing to take yet another meeting, went -- and brought Manafort and Kushner to hear the person out, since it was supposed to be about opposition research.  And every campaign wants dirt (q.v. Hillary's bringing up the "fat" comments about a pageant contestant on the debate floor).

We know that the "information" turned out to be vague references that were sufficiently vague that when the lawyer turned the topic to the intended one, Russian adoption, it quickly drove out Manafort and Kushner and brought the meeting to a swift end.


How all this becomes anything other than the Occam's Razor inference I make from the facts, is beyond me.  What, pray tell, was done that was different from what anyone else in the Clinton or Trump campaigns would have done?  You are offered opposition dirt -- which, by the way, campaigns pay people to dig up -- and you take a meeting with someone who purports to have some of that dirt.  It turns out not to be there, so you get up and leave.

This, friends, doesn't even rise to the level of nothingburger.  This is especially true when one realizes that there is some involvement, somewhere, with the same organization that created the phony dossier on candidate Trump for the Democrats.  What that involvement is has been poorly defined, but their name comes up regularly in the reporting, although without a "This is what they did" context.

But it will keep the press busy for a while, at least when they're not out there putting too much ketchup on their nothingburgers.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Correcting for Romney

During a fairly good part of the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney polled at a slight lead.  If memory serves, he was leading by 2-3 points much of the time.  His best polling likely came after the first presidential debate, when Barack Obama looked awful and performed worse, showing little command of the issues and incapable of defending his atrocious first term.  Never a good speaker sans prepared text anyway, he was particularly bad against the more polished former governor.

Of course, Romney's later references to the 47% of Americans who don't pay income taxes were successfully spun by the left and the press (repeating myself, of course) as some kind of insensitivity.  We can point out that the remarks were perfectly accurate and therefore reasonable, but the media were not exactly going for accuracy and fairness at that point.

I would share that Romney, gentleman that he was, was given the opportunity to end the campaign precipitously in a later debate.  He had the last summary comment of the last debate, and could simply have ripped the Obamists' lies about Benghazi, the garbage about the "video", and landed the last blow of the campaign.

Gentleman that he was, though, he did not prepare such remarks and did not deliver them.  Handed a free pass to demolish the White House's lies, he declined it.  I remember feeling at the time that if Romney didn't win, he had only himself to blame, having blown a big opportunity to put Obama where he could not recover.

But I also remember that I saw Mitt Romney as a guy who could really do some good in the nation and the world, that he was someone who had a track record of fixing things, who cared about things like budgets the way a businessman did, and who respected the taxpayer dollar.  I looked forward to a Romney administration.

As we know, Romney was not a big fan of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, saying some rather unpleasant things about him even though the governor was not running for anything then.  It was quite ironic that Romney ended up high on the list to be Secretary of State, and as much a commentary on President Trump as it was on Romney himself.

Did the USA view the Obama years as disastrous as they actually were?  I don't exactly know, but I certainly believe that while Hillary Clinton was a historically bad candidate, the Republicans, voluntarily or not, intentionally or not, ran a candidate in Donald Trump that we subconsciously realized was a version of the Mitt Romney that we should have elected four years earlier.

Romney ran as a businessman who understood the real economy (as opposed to the mythical, utopian one, envisioned by the professorial, petulant Obama).  He lost, but that was for having failed to take advantage of electoral opportunities given him, not for a rejection of his candidacy.

In other words, Donald Trump was effectively the correction for the mistake perceived by the voters that they had made in not electing Romney four years previously.  It's overlooked a bit, perhaps, by the new president's bigger-than-life persona.  But the notion of sensible approaches to economics, taxation and even foreign affairs that a deal-making businessman would bring, well, that was a 2012 theme as well.

Since the governor didn't win, history will be unable to record whether a Romney presidency in 2012 would have reached most of the same achievements that the Trump Administration will; we can't assume what the previous election results would have meant.  But we can stop and realize that the nation seemed to recognize it missed an opportunity and, however different Mr. Romney and President Trump may be as people, they both offered the nation something it now knows it was seeking.

Similarities and differences, but one particular something in common.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, July 10, 2017

When You Can't Lose, You Can't Win

You may be aware that primary schools in the United Kingdom, or at least some of them, are banning competition in their athletic activities.  They will play games and sports of some kind, whatever they do in the UK, but they will not keep score or have a "winning team" or winning individual.

To which I say "Yuk ... stupid and shortsighted."

I realize that it is not just in the USA that the left has so infiltrated the teaching profession in both the K-12 arena and, of course, in the colleges and universities.  The teachers' unions are incredibly far left, and they press this whole utopian notion that play is all rainbows and unicorns, and that competition is an ugly notion that appeals to the testosteronized male, which is, by definition, bad.

Yes, it is stupid and shortsighted.  No one likes to lose, let's face it.  I certainly don't like to lose in any aspect of life, and I'm an expert on it.  I'd been declined for dates way back when; I never got elected to a school office I ran for.  I've sung in groups that finished last in competitions.  I was a competitive golfer in high school and college, and lost as often as I won, I think.  And I remember the losses more.

Professionally, I have been turned down for jobs more times than I can count.  I write proposals for a living, and God knows how often those have lost, and that is never pleasant, especially when you have poured months into preparing them.  And I was a Red Sox fan for 50 years before they finally won a World Series in 2004.

But here's the thing.  You learn from all of that.  When you lose, you may cry for a bit, particularly (but not exclusively) when you're very young.  And if you have a parent or two who knows how to raise children, well, here is what they do.  They stop you in your tracks, comfort you and then explain that losing is a way to let you know how and where you can improve.  They might also explain that losing happens, and here is how you should respond -- by getting better, by understanding luck, by working harder.

There is no doubt about it.  Losing hurts, but losing is necessary.  Taking the option of "losing" away, by removing competition, takes away the lesson -- and the recovery.

My best girl saw the same little clip about the UK primary schools and made a fascinating analogy.  Plants, she said, that get nothing but sunshine burn up and die.  They need the things that aren't the most pleasant things for us -- like getting rained on and getting, um, pooped on.  They're not pleasant, yes, but they are the equivalent of losing, in plant world.  We all love the sunshine, but there is more to growing than unending sunshine; you need to get watered and fertilized.

And so do we.

I'm not advocating throwing our primary school students out in the rain and pooping on them.  OK, some of the ones behind me on airplanes, yeah, I wouldn't mind if they got a little rain and poop.

But I am advocating a breadth of experiences for growing children.  Let them know losing and winning, success and failures, if only so they don't grow up expecting a Utopia that does not exist.  More importantly, so they learn the biggest lesson -- to respond to failure by turning to a regimen of self-improvement.

Would that not make for a better world?  Well, at least it would make for a better set of UK primary schools.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, July 7, 2017

A Signature Moment

Not terribly long ago I did a piece in regard to the TV show "Long Lost Family", which reunites adoptees with their natural biological family members.  I wrote it in the context of my membership in the Barbershop Harmony Society.

My point was that it feels good to tap into deep emotions once in a while, even if you're a guy and even if they make you tear up a bit.  That's not, I believed then and do now, a bad thing.  It is a healthy check on one's sanity to make sure we have empathy and the capability to be moved.

I made the connection with the emotions generated by watching "Long Lost Family" to barbershop singing, precisely because the stories we sing can generate that kind of response.

As I write this, the international convention and contests of the Barbershop Harmony Society are being held in Las Vegas, Nevada, and thousands are in attendance to hear the absolute best in an art form where the best are incredible (and the worst are unlistenably atrocious).  The best, of course, are on display in Las Vegas this week.

The quartet competition, of course, features the best.  On Wednesday, 55 competitors sing two songs, after which the field is narrowed to 20, who did a second round on Thursday.  From them, ten are selected for the Finals on Saturday night, and the top five earn medals -- gold, silver and then three bronze medals for 3rd-5th.

Since champions automatically retire as competitors (the one quartet everyone knows, the Buffalo Bills from "The Music Man", were the 1950 champions), there is turnover every year in the medal ranks.  And so it was that last night my best girl and I watched the webcast broadcast of the competition at home on our TV screen.

Last year, a Florida quartet called "Signature" moved up strongly from the previous year, earning fourth-place medals and showing a marvelous capacity to deliver songs with immense heart. 
Signature, in a more benign and pleasant moment
So we were looking forward to their performance in this contest.  They had easily made the second round, we assumed (scores are not published for those who move on, so even now we don't know how they are doing in the contest except for having made the final round tomorrow), and we were settled in for their performance.

For their second song, they chose an arrangement (done for them) of the Luther Vandross song "Dance with My Father Again", an incredibly moving piece about a boy's reminiscence about his dad, that is worth seeing Vandross do on YouTube, so here goes.

Daniel Cochran (at bottom in the picture) is the lead singer, and he did what you are supposed to do as a lead, even (or especially) when in a contest -- you take us on a journey.  Well, he took us on a journey all right.  He is, let us say, a pretty big guy, and when a big guy is telling us a moving story, you go with him wherever it leads.

Of course, it led us in the audience, even 2,000 miles away, into emotional wrecks.  But I was particularly taken when, toward the end of the song, at its emotional climax, there is to be a brief pause to set up for the final few bars -- the "tag", in barbershop parlance, this one a soft, quiet tag.

The pause, though, was not brief.  As his quartet mates turned to him, this very large man who was telling us a story had stopped for the pause.  It was quite obvious that the song had gotten to him somewhere in a very important place.  Tears were running down his cheeks as he tried to compose himself for the final lines, which started with a solo from the lead.  And we waited ... and waited.

Finally, he took a deep breath and was able to sing, clearly, his line, whereupon the other three, looking at him, joined at the appropriate place and they finished their wish -- to "dance with my father again."  The audience, of course, went crazy, because this was the perfect delivery of a story.  It is why I wrote the previous piece -- we want moments when the performance of the story joins the story itself for a perfect emotional moment.

I was a wreck on the couch watching it, and loved every minute of it, for just that reason.  Two thousand miles away, but I got to take a trip.  My Dad has been gone six years now, and we never "danced" together, but we had a childhood I got to relive last night for a moment.  I can't thank them enough.

Later in the evening, Signature was interviewed about their set.  As it turned out, they had planned for the possibility that they -- and Daniel in particular -- might be so moved as to have to adjust on stage for the intensity of their emotions.  You can't practice that, of course, but you can plan  for it.  And they did.  Their plan was to "just get together and support each other" if it happened, and that's what they were able to do.  We don't know how things scored yet, but I can imagine.

At some point, that performance may show up on YouTube, and if it does, I'll link you in.  You'll be teary too.

And you will love it.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Question for the Press

We're now into the sixth month of the Trump Administration, and if there is one contentious issue that has driven the opposition, it is the notion that the Trump people "colluded" with Russian interests to affect the 2016 election in favor of President Trump and against Hillary Clinton.

We obviously know now that the Russians tried to do something, confirmed by about three of the alleged 17 intelligence agencies we have.  Who the other 14 are, and why they didn't sign up to the report on Russians trying to affect the election, we don't know, but we're quite comfortable with the fact that the Russians did try, and that they were not successful.  Stipulated.

Even this past day, the leftist press, given the opportunity to ask the president about actually important things in Poland, tried to force him to say that the Russians tried to hack the election.  This, of course, gave President Trump the opportunity to point out that Barack Obama knew about the attempt last year and didn't do squat about it, unless you regard a "stern professorial warning" to be squat.

The pomposity of the left and the press (but I repeat myself) in regard to the Russian hacking is about to be challenged by someone, and though I don't know who else, it will certainly be me and certainly in this column.

We know, or at least can assume by the utter lack of evidence, that there was no speck of collusion between the Trump people and Russian hackers.   Six months into the presidency with a desperate press, you would have seen at least something, and there has been nothing.

But the press is still singing the hacking ditty over and over, which leads to this column.

The Russians tried.  We know that.  They didn't change a vote, and we know that, too.  They have tried to hack pretty much every election since the czar tried to stop George Washington's second term, and we have always known that.  And the press is incensed that they tried to hack the 2016 election, not because it was the Russians but because it robbed them of their sainted Hillary Clinton.

Since they can't admit that last line, they have to claim the high road and say that they're so upset "because the sanctity of our election process is so suspect."

OK, the sanctity is suspect.  But does that mean that, as sensitive as they are about the sanctity of our elections, that they would be equally outraged at domestic attempts to rig the election?

Apparently not.

President Trump has formed a commission to investigate the security of elections in this country, specifically as relates to voter fraud.  This commission has asked each state and the District of Columbia for publicly available voter rolls and registration information -- data that the states give to the party organizations already.

So far, though, 14 states and the DC government have refused to comply.  And CNN has opined that the Commission on Election Integrity is a "sham" designed to suppress Democrat voters.

Let's get this straight.  It is perfectly awful if the Russians try to influence our elections by doing whatever they were trying to do (and failed).  That is terrible, and CNN can go on a months-long rant about it.

But if the president -- this president -- then tries to investigate voter fraud that we know has happened, by examining the voter registration rolls to start looking for duplication, dead voters and non-citizen registration, well, somehow that is not a good thing to do.

It is OK for the Democrat machine in Chicago and Philadelphia and wherever else to gin up phony voters all day without being investigated, and it's OK for the states to decline to give public information to the Federal government to help fix the problem.  It's OK for non-citizens to vote for our leadership.  But it's not OK to investigate.

So here are a couple questions for CNN and the rest of the press.

1.  Dear CNN -- after six months or so of investigating, including the hiring of a special counsel to explore the actions of the president in regard to Russian hacking, zero evidence of any such collusion has appeared.  Yet you continue to support an investigation to "see where it leads."  There is evidence of voter fraud, but you regard the commission set up by the president to investigate it as a "sham."  Why does zero evidence of collusion warrant an investigation, but demonstrable voter fraud does not?

2. Dear CNN and, by extension, the rest of the press -- you are so, so concerned about the integrity of the voting process in this country, to the point that you would repeatedly cry about our elections being suspect due to Russian hacking.  Yet you defend the states -- the only time you ever claim states' rights, we should note -- for holding back information that would help the Federal government identify potentially thousands upon thousands of fraudulent ballots by ineligible, fictitious or dead voters.  So do you actually care about the integrity of the American election system, or are you just being partisan because it was initiated by President Trump?

Let's ask those questions, shall we?

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, July 5, 2017

To My Russian Friends

As I've noted a few times, because I have had to, this column is an interesting read in Russia.  Periodically, and for no particular reason, the report of IP address sources of those who read me starts getting heavy on Russian readers.  That would be until I would point it out in an article, after which time the Russian reading would simply stop.  For a while.

This week, it went nuts.  Aside to vendors of borscht and vodka -- if you want to reach a receptive audience, definitely start advertising here.  At one point, the majority of readers in the preceding 24 hours were Russians.

So this time, using the relatively primitive analytics and simplistic results available via the Blogger capability, I thought I would try to match the readers with the pieces and see what I came up with.  And this is what I saw.

You would have thought that the Russians were interested in one or perhaps two pieces that I had done in which Russians were mentioned, or which were about a topic of great interest in Moscow or Dnepopetrovsk.  I certainly would have thought that, myself.

But no, actually, it wasn't that way at all.

The Russians were reading all of the recent month or so worth of articles, without any apparent preference for one or the other or any specific piece.  There was no one piece that was so specifically highly read by the Russians, as to think it was the specific content of a piece or anything I had written that encouraged their interest.

So what we are dealing with at this point is that, for reasons which escape me, the Russians really like the stuff I write.  And so this piece is to celebrate my newly-minted Russian friends and tell them "hello."

Let's face it, I have not a shred of animosity against Russians simply for being Russian.  As even Nancy Pelosi would have to agree, I'm not an anti-Russian bigot.  My favorite hockey team for some reason is the Washington Capitals, and they are led by Russian Alexander Ovechkin, and their roster is led by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dimitry Orlov, both Russians.

I'm not a real fan of their government, of course, but I am rooting for more global warming so that more of Russia will be able to be farmed for longer periods, to help feed the hungry around the world.  I seem to be alone on that.

So to the Russians out there who are reading me, hearts and flowers to you all, but I sure wish that if you like my writing so much, that you would help keep this column alive by advertising in its pages.  There over 680 pieces here and they're all really good essays that your Russian friends would surely love, even if they're all in English and I don't speak Russian.

After all, if they are reading not just one piece they deem inflammatory, but actually a whole month or two worth, it must mean that they like me, they really, really like me, and who couldn't be happy with that?

Hoping that they won't get scared off by being referred to yet once again.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Fourth

Take a deep breath, everyone.

Take the day off.  Jump in a pool.  Watch fireworks.  Play golf.  Call your relatives.  Watch a baseball game, and definitely grill something outdoors.

And somewhere during the day, remember that when people are in trouble around the world, the one flag they want to see coming over the ridge to help them out is the one that flies outside the houses of people all across this great country.

Celebrate that, and take a break from all the rest of the nonsense today.

Be Americans.  Be proud.

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.

Monday, July 3, 2017

What is a "National Debate"?

A day or three back I was watching the news, when one commentator or guest pundit was addressing some topical issue.  Maybe it was immigration, maybe defunding Planned Parenthood.  Maybe it was Russia, or abortion, or Red Sox vs. Yankees.

The guest ended his remarks by saying that we "needed to have a national debate" on the issue.  And boom, another column.

I have heard that term, "national debate", tossed around more times than I can imagine.  But never, not even once, can I recall there having ever been a national debate on anything.  Certainly I cannot recall anyone saying "Well, we had a national debate on that issue, and we decided X."

Let's say that President Trump responded to the call from that pundit by saying, "OK, cool, I agree.  I call for and direct that there shall be a national debate on that topic."  Then what?  Follow what I'm saying?  What is a national debate?

Well, obviously there has not been one, there never will be one, and we should probably stop talking as if that sort of thing is a possibility.  Let's purge the term.

A "debate", in pretty much every acceptable meaning, consists of two sides with opposing views on the issue in question, making their cases to each other or two a third entity.  In competitive debates, the third party is a judging entity that decides not who is "right" but who made the better case.

That's why a "national debate" doesn't match that at all.  I don't care if tax policy or abortion advocates or their opponents make the better case; I care that we determine what is "right."  Which, of course, we never will in the latter case, because abortion is a moral issue with half the USA on each side.

In a national debate on a non-moral issue, like tax reform, who makes the case for each side?  And who votes?  I mean, Congress can't be the forum, since the members are so completely unwilling to tolerate the arguments of those of the opposite party that we have Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren literally playing the "children will die" card on the health insurance issue when they know it to be total elk dung.

What if someone like Steve Mnuchin or, better, Mick Mulvaney took the side that tax cuts are inherently positive, and Schumer took the other side.  Suppose Mulvaney gets 20 minutes to go through the historical precedents and show that Federal tax cuts invariable increase revenue and stimulate the economy.  Then Schumer gets up for his 20 and says Schumer stuff, like "fairness" and "tax the rich" and "children will die."

Who then decides who won and, therefore, what legislation should reach the President's desk accordingly?

See what I mean?  The next guy or lady who calls for a national debate needs to get called on it, and to say exactly what that means, the terms, the participants, the outcome, the jurisdiction and jurisprudence, and the outcome when one side is declared the winner.

Yeah, that'll do it.

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.