Thursday, November 30, 2017

Christmas Music and Grinchery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll keep you posted.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pettiness at the Top of the Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Hall of Fame Logjam? Bosh!

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

But I digress, slightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We just need to have the right people in there.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, November 27, 2017

All I Want for Christmas is Tax Reform

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, November 24, 2017

On Our Neighbors' Watch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, November 23, 2017

Giving Thanks Today

For surviving another year ...

For the continued health of my family ...

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

For the family who will visit soon ... enough

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

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

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

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

Bless You, Lord, for all you give us.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dancing with the Wrong Stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

RIH, Charles Manson

I was 18 when Charles Manson sent a crew of his followers to a house outside L.A. where had formerly lived a man who was a son of Doris Day.  The man had gotten Manson mad sometime previously, for not taking him seriously as a musician.  Although the man, Terry Melcher, no longer lived in the house, Manson told his crew to go there and kill all the residents.

Which they did.  They followed up a night or so later by committing a second murder spree, this time at a house next door to someone with whom Manson had a connection, and this time with Manson actually present.

Charles Milles Manson, who died this week at 83 in prison, left us seemingly with no more redeeming qualities than he had on that day in August 1969.

The Manson murders (and there were others besides the two sprees that month) remain to this day one of the memorable events in the lives of any of us over 60.  I lived in northern Virginia while the DC-area sniper was out shooting random people at gas stations and elsewhere a few years back, including at a gas station I often used.  I can tell you that we made conscious decisions not to be out, not to be too visible while that was going on, until the guys got caught.

It was eerily reminiscent of the time after the murders, but before Manson and his people were caught, even though they were in the opposite part of the country and I was in college in Boston most of that time.  You looked over your shoulder; you slept less than soundly.

I was driving around yesterday when the news on the radio mentioned that Manson was dead.  Now, if there is a TV special on the murders, you can bet that I would record and watch it, same as I would anything to do with the JFK assassination or a couple other events I can't get enough of or, for a positive example, anything on the 2004 Red Sox.  I read "Helter Skelter", the book written by the prosecutor of the Manson cases, five times if I read it once.

But when I heard the news, I thought a bit about it.  Manson was in his mid-thirties when the murders happened, and had spent much of his life behind bars before that.  Raised by an abusive aunt and uncle, he learned to trust no one, and started his criminal activities before he was ten.  He also learned how to persuade people to follow him -- it is pretty scary to see recordings of interviews with him later in life, and listen to the way he talked, and realize how he could get confused people to follow him.

The left is always trying to excuse people's actions because of their upbringing (I'll have to give some thought to why that might be the case, although it probably relates to their moral relativism).  In Manson's case, his upbringing was atrocious, and he became a criminal as a seemingly normal part of his pre-teen life.  That he was a criminal by nature is not surprising at all; it would have been surprising had he found a way to straighten out and fly right, barring a religious epiphany.

I didn't reach any conclusion in my thoughts, but I did start to wonder how you build someone from infancy as an untrusting and amoral person, fail to correct them when they steal and assault others at nine or ten, and then blame them for what they become -- in Manson's case, a career criminal and then a serial killer.  Manson himself, as I now recall, referred to himself as something that "society made."

Unlike the left, though, I understand that there are societal norms and mores; that there is an unassailable presence of a right and wrong that is to be defended.  Murder of the innocent is a wrong in any case.  No matter what execrable background Manson had, by 35 he had long since learned, just by virtue of living in American society, that what he was going to do with the victims in August 1969 was wrong, that making murderers out of those he had put under his spell was wrong, and that he would be punished for it.

It is easy for me to shake off any thought of excuses.  His upbringing led him to discard morality, but his understanding of that morality makes him guilty and allows us to regard him as the evil being he became.

Rot in Hades, Mr. Manson.  RIH.  No one will miss you.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, November 20, 2017

It's the Hypocrisy As Much As the Groping

Last week was a big week for the gropers and, to be fair, accused gropers.  Along with a whole host of Hollywood types, and the ongoing situation involving Roy Moore, the candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, we were treated to another interesting spectacle involving a sitting senator.

This one involved good old Al Franken, who is somehow a senator from the curious state of Minnesota.  Franken, as you will recall, practiced hard for years to be a senator, by having a career as a comedy writer, which seems odd given that he criticized now-Education Secretary Jeanne deVos in her hearings because she was not a teacher or principal in a public school.

Franken is the person who fat-shamed Rush Limbaugh in a 1990s book, which no one seems to have ever taken him to task for.  And now, this hero of the left has been exposed to the world for having conceded he made unwanted physical and sexual advances at two women in separate incidents (as I write this), and one can imagine that by the time this goes to press there will be more.

That is simply bad, and what Roy Moore is accused of with the 14-year-old girl is also simply bad (though as I wrote, some of what he is accused of with others is simply not).  What Harvey Weinstein did is past despicable, as is what Kevin Spacey (who referred to his hero, and apparent role model, Bill Clinton as "a shining light") did throughout his career as the accusations pile up there, too.

There is a certain feeling we get -- I don't know if it constitutes schadenfreude, but probably -- like when we find out that some pompous TV preacher has had an affair.  We feel that way not because of the affair, which happens in plenty of marriages out there, but because of the innate hypocrisy in a person standing at the altar on Sundays berating infidelity and spending the rest of the week committing it.

I remember the story about a pastor railing against infidelity, screaming and yelling and finally declaring that "If any man here has committed adultery, may his tongue cleave to the woof of his mowf!"  OK, you had to be there.

But I digress, a little.

The left is perpetually dividing us.  I'd link to previous articles where I've touched on that, but there are too many.  Their goal is obvious; the more different constituencies they can invent, well, the more aggrieved parties they can dream up with issues that only government can address.  The more suffering they can invent, the more grievance, the more there is need for a dictatorial, all-powerful government.  And they have to do that in order to destroy the one great global bastion of government of the people -- the USA.

In their dividing, they actually start with gender, specifically that we are a male-dominated society and women are repressed and have major grievances.  Hillary Clinton walked a tightrope between being the candidate of the party of the left and having to pound "women's issues", while being a utero-American herself and trying not to be "just" about her being female.  She, of course, fell off that tightrope, as we recall, and is still hollering from the safety net.

One way or the other, the Democrats became the ones touting "women's issues" (except, of course, for unborn women, same as they feel for unborn black people).  They knee-jerk jump to defend women accusing men of rape, even after, as was the case when Jackie Coakley made up the whole UVa  fraternity-party rape story, the made-up ones are debunked.  We know that's true because the Washington Post still, after so many months, refuses to print Miss Coakley's last name (it's "Coakley", or at least was before she got married).  That is even though not only is she not a rape victim, but is a pathological liar whose lies ultimately cost many people reputation and money.

The left is like that.  That's precisely why, when their own heroes like Franken are exposed as serial abusers, with pictures to prove it, there is an added element of hypocrisy to add to their sins.  Much like the pastor with the cloven tongue, the Frankens and Spaceys of the world are not just sexual predators, but hypocrites for pompously telling others what they should not do, or ignoring the sins of their heroes, while privately engaging in the same actions themselves.

Franken proactively having a picture taken of his actions is pretty contemptible itself, but to claim to speak to women's issues ever again, well, he's going to have to make some kind of speech that absolves himself, and it won't be pretty.  Imagine some Cabinet member testifying before a Senate committee he is on.  Imagine Franken asking an accusatory question about the secretary's actions or qualifications.  Imagine how one secretary with a quick tongue could verbally dissect Franken in a moment for his actions and his hypocrisy.

Maybe we're better off with him staying in the Senate and being permanently weakened until the next election.  Hopefully by that time the people of Minnesota will come to their perpetually-frozen senses.

We have enough hypocrites in Washington already.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, November 17, 2017

Politics and Thanksgiving

Ah, Thanksgiving.  On Thursday we celebrate a holiday of grace, where we stop and remember what are the things we are thankful for.  In homes around the nations, in fifty states and possibly even DC, we gather together with family we may only see a few times a year -- or once.

My best girl and I will be together, but we'll be by ourselves at home this year, just the two of us; the kids are visiting for Christmas but can't get away next week, but that's been known for a while and we'll see them in a few more weeks regardless.  Turkey together with them can wait.  The two of us are going to share an honest-to-goodness Bojangles fried turkey, and yes, since it was going to be the one time it would just be the two of us for Thanksgiving, we laughed together and said "Bojangles -- we'll never get to do it again!"

Wish us well -- but I digress.

Last Thanksgiving was a mere two-weeks-and-change after the 2016 election surprise.  Donald Trump, who was thought by the left as having no chance in the election, was the president-elect and already starting to put together his transition and leadership team.  The snowflakes of the world showed up to their family Thanksgiving in a fog, not yet resentful so much as numbed.

This year, though, it is likely not going to be pretty.  You see, of those voters under 30, only 37% voted for President Trump, while of those over 45, some 53% did.  I would happily ascribe this to the Cubbyhole Theory (which you can read about here), and that's quite an accurate assessment in my view.

But this is not psychiatry; we are not helped by identifying and naming a condition and then walking away.  We have to deal with it, and Thanksgiving, with all that family stuffed in around a turkey and stuffing, well, it's going to blow up this year.

Or not happen.

You see, Trump Derangement Syndrome is at work in colleges all over the nation.  Facilitated by social media, where people can either hide behind anonymity and vent their spleen, or communicate with only a select group of identical-thinking peer snowflakes, the facts have become subordinate to opinions.  And those differences with the thinking of others no longer are hashed out in discussion.

People no longer know how to carry on a civilized conversation, and become so convinced (q.v. the social media isolation I just mentioned) of the rightness of their positions, that they presume that anyone who argues a point is a Nazi.  Period.  That's it.

Case in point coming, and you and I know this is going to happen next week all over. 

I have a snowflake grand-niece, a doctoral student at a large university halfway across the country.  Growing up an only child, she was extremely close to her aunt (her dad's sister and his only sibling), all her life.  Then came 2016.  A Facebook post here, a tweet there, after an election loss (after a primary loss; she was a Bernie type), and she no longer speaks to her aunt.  Aunt, who is only early-forties herself, has reached out periodically in recent months, but with no response.

I'm not going to try to take sides here, not too much.  Let's just say that the generational effect is strongly at work, and our snowflake's Thanksgiving, at the home of her dad and mom, will be absent the aunt.  The aunt (and uncle by marriage) have decided that they want the niece to be able to travel back to her parents for Thanksgiving, without having their disagreement and non-communication causing problems for the rest of the family.  So aunt and uncle will stay home, even though the entire rest of the family also disagrees with my grand-niece's leftist politics as well.

But ... it's not that this happened, or will happen next week.  It is that it is going to be replicated throughout the country over and over.  Families will agree on turkey and stuffing, but even the football games will incite political arguments (thanks, NFL, for not cleaning that up before Thanksgiving).  Normally, a Detroit-Minnesota game at turkey time would be watched tolerantly as background (Detroit against anybody is never an interesting game, after all), but this year, you can count on arguments before the turkey comes out, especially if even one NFL clown kneels during the anthem.

And worse, as is the case in my family, there will be preventative no-shows.  That's going to be the sad part.  I mean, families have always argued when they come together.  Thanksgiving isn't exactly a respite from that, but it has always "come with the territory."  Brothers argue about whatever; the foodies argue over recipes for stuffing.  But when the goodbyes come around, it's all love and hugs.

This is much worse.  I am happy to come down on one side here; I believe it is the left and their self-appointed, social media-fueled snowflakes who are showing an intolerance of conservative points -- I'm a conservative, and I actually welcome the opportunity to debate factual matters with leftists and hear what they're saying. 

I would do that every Thanksgiving if I could and twice on Sundays.  And that intolerance and unwillingness to engage to learn what the other side is saying, well, that is what is causing people to decide simply not to attend, not to want to be a flashpoint for a leftist's ranting.  And to stay home.

I know it is happening all over.  The Thanksgiving of my youth is going to be a faded memory of turkey and football, where the disputes were about whose running back was better, whose stuffing was more flavorful, and where we could argue politics in glee.  Arguments were loud but familial, knowing that no permanent rifts would form, and by the time we bid adieu and traveled home, we were only happy to have been able to be together.

If we have gotten to the point where people no longer talk, then we have to accept that it is the case, and look forward to see how we can address it.  Will our grand-niece see that her unresponsiveness to her aunt changed the dynamic for a long-awaited family holiday?  Will she feel the least bit apologetic or guilty about it?  Inquiring minds want to know.

But it's pretty sad.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, November 16, 2017

Being "For the People"

So I was half-watching the news yesterday, and the host was doing a little regular piece where he goes around the country to a diner and chats politics with the people having breakfast.  It's cute, at least as long as the diners are able to make coherent sentences, and not leave long seconds of dead air.

So the host is chatting with a very old lady about things and she was mentioning that she remembered Franklin Roosevelt.  He was a good president, the lady recalled, and got us through the War and all.  Then the host asked the same lady -- who had to be well into her 80s -- "... and what do you think about President Trump?"

The lady was pretty candid right back.  "I like him", she answered.  "Why do you like him?", the host asked back, and she was present and conversational in her reply.  "Because he is for the people."

"For the people."

I hadn't been really, really watching the segment that hard, but that answer stopped me a bit, enough even to decide to write a piece.

Donald Trump ran on a fairly straightforward platform.  Fix illegal immigration, by building the wall and activating the Border Patrol back from the Obama "Let 'em all come in" era.  Supercharge the economy by cutting personal and corporate tax rates, and simplifying the code.  Revitalize our military and put forth a stronger image befitting the leader of the free world.  Reinstate the friendships with our allies, which were destroyed during the Obama era.

Obviously, President Trump has a fairly large ego.  In that, he is no different from presidents and other leaders in my lifetime; the difference, such as it is, is a difference in style in how that ego is expressed.  The president has a substantial view of his own abilities and will let you know it.

What is different, as I see it, is in the platform.  Barack Obama was all about his "legacy", how he would be viewed after leaving office.  It mattered not if he were to lie about what his efforts would lead to, that people would be paying huge increases in health insurance, or if our allies no longer trusted us or our adversaries no longer feared us -- as long as the toady press would make it sound like Obama was a wonderful president.

Donald Trump is a massively different character.  But that old lady in Florida, who thought so much of Roosevelt, had it right about Trump.  Politically, Donald Trump is actually "for the people", in that his policies are clearly to enhance the lives, the income and the safety of American citizens -- protecting our borders, lowering our taxes, helping our servicemen and veterans, improving our access to quality, affordable health care.

There is nothing innately helpful to President Trump personally in any of that.  And those policies all are intended to make life better for the people, for the citizens of the USA.  So I suppose it is reasonable to infer that the one guy who clearly did not need the job is, for once, doing what he felt he needed to do because the people needed a better approach to governing -- to, as he so often characterizes it, drain the swamp.

I would not be so bold as to think there is not a healthy dose of ego in his altruism, but the more I consider it, the more reasonable is it that the man is, indeed, doing this "for the people."  Because he (rightly) believes he can do what needs to be done, better than the other 16 people on the primary debate dais last year, and certainly better than anyone the Democrats could trot out (or in Hillary's case, prop up).

President Trump has far less to gain by stepping away from his business empire for years as president, than he would have by continuing to run it.  He already did the nation a great service by preventing the corrupt Hillary Clinton from buying the presidency.  It really does make sense that there is a surprising proportion of altruism in his approach, and a surprisingly minimal proportion of personal gain.

"For the people."  I think the old lady was pretty much spot-on.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Tax Reform is Not Redistribution

We are all watching in rapt attention as the Congress of the United States of America tries to respond to the mandate of the 2016 presidential election as it regards tax reform.

Now, I am a huge fan of abolishing the IRS and starting over again.  I am out over $10,000 in CPA fees I'll never get back, to defend an IRS audit that ultimately was dropped by the Government without my having to pay the IRS one stinking cent.  I hold the IRS in the same esteem as I hold the left, or the Legionnaires Disease bug, or the Yankees.

But this is not exactly about the IRS.

The House of Representatives and the Senate have each gotten a bill together that they respectively will be voting on shortly.  Ostensibly they are each about tax reform, particularly the reform of the personal income tax, the abolition of the inheritance tax, and the lowering of the corporate tax rate.

They are not the same, of course, the two bills that will likely be voted on shortly.  The Senate bill is weaker, less reform-minded, sort of like 100 senators felt forced to write a bill and wrote it to do as little as possible.  Given the inertia of the Senate these days, I have to think that was probably it.  The House bill is at least "better."  That it leaves any rate over 25% for anybody is absurd; there is no reason on earth anyone should have to pay over 25% of any dollar he or she makes to the Federal government.

Either way, it is the rhetoric, both in Congress and in the press, that is the topic today.

Naturally, we are seeing all manner of analyses of how these plans would play out.  Examples abound.  A married couple earning $75,447 with two and a half children, a garter snake and a ferret would pay $466.07 less under the Senate plan, and $501.11 less under the House plan.  That sort of thing.

And, of course, we have to believe that the person creating the model that generated those numbers is actually interpreting the plan properly.  You know, like we can trust their interpretation of the bill -- they're the media, after all.  But that's not exactly the point.

I saw one such encounter over the weekend; someone was showing the impact as they interpreted it, of each plan vs. what such a person or family would pay relative to the current law.  What did not get stressed is the simple math of taxation:

If you're paying $1,000 in taxes under the current law, you can't get a $1,001 reduction in your tax bill under tax reform.  Period.

Once we accept that reality, we can start to understand what the leftist press -- who wants everyone to pay triple because, in their view, all earnings belong to the state anyway -- will use to batter whatever bill gets passed.  The press and the Schumer/Pelosi types will kick and moan that someone making $150,000 will get a bigger tax cut than someone making $50,000.

Well, duh, Chuckles.  If the new law cuts the $150,000-earner's tax bill by $4,000, then you have to understand that he's going to do better than the other guy, if the other guy wasn't paying as much as $4,000 in the first place.  Tax cuts only cut taxes to the extent that you were paying them in the first place.  Let's remember that nearly half the country doesn't pay any income taxes at all -- you can't lower a count that was zero in the first place.

So the income tax, which is one of several methods to fund the operation of the United States government, is not a redistributionist tax; it is a decision now in the Constitution that one way in which the government will raise revenues is to tax people in proportion to their income, a distinction from the logical alternative, taxing according to their possessions and assets.  In other words, we don't tax the wealthy based on wealth, we tax all wage-earners and investors based on their earnings.

I'll digress for a moment because apparently Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and some other billionaires wrote a letter to Congress begging them not to cut their own taxes because they "make enough."  Of course they do.  They've already made their billions.  Since we tax income and not wealth, taxing huge incomes higher keeps other people from getting as rich as Gates and Buffett! It's called "preventing competition."  Duh.

I do not like the fact that there are multiple rates.  I would prefer that we exempt the first $25,000 in income (but have a mandatory minimum $100 "fee" for those under $25,000 so they have at least some contribution to the nation) and flat-rate the rest at maybe 17% (potentially a separate rate for investment income, separate column), no exemptions, no deductions, no favoring of having children or not having children, no favoring of mortgages over renting, no use of the tax law for any purpose to encourage or discourage activity -- that's social engineering.

But I detest most of all -- and it is based on the opinion in the previous paragraph -- the partisan notion that tax cuts can possibly help people any more than what they are already paying.  If you have a tax system that is structured so that the preponderance of the tax payment is by people who actually earn a lot of income, tax reform is going to align that way.  Duh again.

There are a lot of moving parts to this.  If indeed "90% of people can file on the back of a postcard", I'll be impressed enough to lean toward supporting it, as long as the reform gets rates down substantially, and the business rate drops to 20%.  That will result in huge economic gains, which should be the goal anyway.

I'll be monitoring this a lot, and writing about what I see often, as the tax reform process wends its way through the Swamp.

Congress, we're watching you.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

How to Deal with Campaign Accusations

OK, well, that's not what this is about.  I mean it is, sort of, except it's not an instruction manuals for candidates who have had unsavory accusations leveled at them a month before an election.

We are, of course, talking about the allegations against Judge Roy Moore, who is running for the Senate seat in Alabama vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became Attorney General.  The allegations consist of suggestions that he made advances toward a girl then 14, and that he asked out a couple girls who were then at least as young as 18, and maybe one was 17, when he was about 32.  today we have yet another one, and it's getting pretty hard to want to support the guy.

It is easy as heck to lump everything together as one case.  But it is really not.  The issues regarding the girls who were 18 (one of them thinks she might have been 17; it was 40 years ago and hard to be accurate) are very different -- he is supposed to have asked them out, and there is no apparent physical action at all, just that he asked them out and they each declined.  Had he been 24 it would not even have been an issue at all, because nothing happened.

I was never what we would call a "player."  Forty years ago, before starting to go out with the young lady who is now my wife, I dated (in my 20s), of course.  As I was an actor and opera singer at the time, I was not unpopular among the ladies, if only because I was (and am) straight.  And I very much recall being at least 26, 27 or so and dating at one point a young lady of 19 and another of 20.  The age difference was certainly not something I thought to be odd, nor was it ever said to me by them or anyone else that there was something unsavory.

So for a 32-year-old Roy Moore to have asked out a couple girls who were about 18 simply doesn't strike me as any issue, especially since they declined and nothing ever happened.  On their own, I don't see those as being even noteworthy.  In fact, I'd like to ask that question of ultraliberal Rob Reiner, who long ago played a teacher with an attraction to a school student on an episode the TV show "Headmaster" that was portrayed as somehow OK, as long as he waited until she graduated to go out with him.

The point there is that, had those been the only accusations, there would have been nothing at all there and we would not have been talking.  It is OK, I guess, for a 32-year-old to ask out an 18-year-old, and OK for them to say "no, thanks."  I wouldn't necessarily want my (fictional) daughter at 18 to go out with a 32-year-old either, but it would not be scandalous.

And that's kind of why the whole Moore thing doesn't seem quite what it is intended, or at least it wasn't until the more serious allegation yesterday came up.  You see, the one thing raised before today, that would be a concern, is the issue with the 14-year-old, who now, 40 years later, is saying that she was fondled by Moore back then, and he aggressively denies it, threatening now to sue the Washington Post, that paragon of journalism, for reporting the story.

If it actually happened -- and let's make sure that we say this here -- Moore should not be running for the Senate.  Given yesterday's accusation, he probably shouldn't anyway, but let's take a step two days back, with what we were presented with at that point.

First, if it did happen, he also should not have been a judge, let alone Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.  In the 40 years since, it would seem logical that the accuser herself might have raised the issue at least once, perhaps when he was pursuing the bench position, or perhaps when he was a primary candidate for the Senate seat he is currently going after.  It is a good year for the receptivity of the public to such accusations, but it has been reasonable to do so since, well, Bill Clinton was running for president.

Why might someone wait until a month before a Senate election to bring this out?  Gee, I don't know.  And why also were a couple stories about him asking out two 18-year-olds when he was 32 not relevant before?  Well, I can answer that.  It's because they weren't relevant then and aren't now either -- they were simply lumped in by the reporter to provide artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise unsubstantiated accusation, in the hopes of trying to present a pattern that would make the 14-year-old's story 40 years later seem more credible.

While with yesterday's additional accusation, this all should soon be moot, why am I willing to consider that the story about the 14-year-old might not be what it appears?  Well, I can think of three or four reasons off the top of my head.

(1)  It is the Post, which comes replete with a bias against any conservative, and whose motives can never be trusted.  These are the same people who just printed and tweeted out one single frame of a video showing President Trump with a set of foreign leaders at the ASEAN conference this week, apparently grimacing during an odd group handshake, although the entire rest of the video shows him smilingly socializing during that episode.
(2)  The UVa incident, where an entire fraternity chapter was made out to look like rapists when a student named Jackie Coakley made up a gang-rape story, and Rolling Stone magazine, with journalistic integrity rivaling the Post, ran with it.  Ever since, we have unfortunately had to treat accusations of rape with a grain of salt, since we now know that such incidents may be fictional.
(3)  The lumping in of the asking-an-18-year-old-on-a-date incident, which otherwise would have been of no interest whatever.  If the 14-year-old's story could stand on its own and be substantiated, the "reporter" wouldn't have needed to put in those other incidents that aren't otherwise concerning.
(4)  The timing.  This happened 40 years ago, assuming it happened, but only a month before an election are we first hearing of it.  Roy Moore has been a public figure and stood for elections plenty of time.  Will the accuser please point out why only now, at this specific point in an election, is she stepping forward?

If this did indeed happen, as I noted, it is contemptible and Moore should step away from the race.  But suppose that, like Jackie Coakley, the accuser made this up, or at least exaggerated the incident beyond what actually occurred into something different?  How, then, does one defend oneself against such accusations leveled a month from an election?

It's not like we can pass a law that you can't accuse a candidate of something within 90 days of an election.  It's not like we can require proof or evidence, or anything else, before smearing a candidate.  This is, after all, a free country, and people are free to speak whenever they want.  But like the Phi Kappa Psis at UVa, you are entitled to ample opportunity to defend yourself against that free speech when it is turned on you.

And it is the public's obligation, in this case the voters of the State of Alabama, to consider the source, consider the four points I make above, and decide if they want it to affect their votes.  It's just that they shouldn't have to.  This accusation should have been made a long time ago, when it might have been taken as something other than a typical Democrat smear campaign.

I don't know what Roy Moore is going to do; heck, I don't even know what actually happened.  Yesterday's additional allegations tell me that he needs an exit strategy pretty quickly.  But if he doesn't, and this influences the election, then you can bet that politicians will pull that out of their playbooks as often as possible, and we will find a lot more accusations of sexual impropriety raised a few weeks before elections.

Moore himself should step away quickly.  But this tactic on the part of his opponents is frightening to the rest of us.  Aren't we all better than that?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, November 13, 2017

E Unum, Pluribus

OK, I don't speak Latin, and I am really sure that title doesn't actually translate the way I meant it.  Maybe it should be "e unibus, plurum", but if I did that, you would have already clicked on something else and never gotten the point.

E pluribus, unum, of course, is one of the mottoes of the USA and, as we all know, means "out of many, one."  It is meant to refer not to people particularly, but to the notion of a Federalist nation of different states, each self-governed but collectively defended and with a designated few collective functions -- the military, the post, currency, interstate commerce and a small few others -- reserved by the Constitution to a Federal government.

The left, of course, does not see it that way; they do not think the states have any purpose at all, that the Federal government has all the rights, all the power, and must be manipulated to be all-powerful so that they can control the citizenry -- and merge it into their global governmental notion.

Now, whatever we may think the intent of the Latin phrase was, there is certainly general agreement that we are a nation of people from all over, descendants of those who built the nation, and those who came here for a better life and to take advantage of the freedom and promise of America -- to nurture those who will love that freedom and that nation.  The phrase does apply to people, too, to the many people who come here to form a special nation.  Out of many, one.

But that one nation is not precisely the way the left sees it.

No, the left is committed to creating the divisions among us by its fanatic desire to identify group victims of perceived or invented inequities.  We are no longer two genders, or a small number of races, or a definable age.  We can "self-identify" and then declare ourselves to be members of some oppressed group God did not put us in, and try to gain the benefit of laws made to level the playing field.  We are rife with "underrepresented minorities" and are forced to implement corrective actions to ensure that our populations of hired workers or admitted college students precisely map to proportions that may or, more likely, may not make any sense.

The left is thrilled with that.  The more subjugated groups it can invent, the more it can scream for a more powerful Federal government to prevent them from being further subjugated, because clearly the states cannot be relied upon to protect the rights of transphobic tri-racial six-toed Martian-Americans not to be exploited and trampled upon.  More groups, more separation, more division. 

Out of one, many.  That is the motto that serves their ends.  They might as well go ahead and get some Latin-speaker to translate it right, because whether they want to advertise it or not, they want more division, more groups, more perceived oppression by ... well, it's hard to imagine who is left to be the actual oppressor, once we are all divided up.

I'm embarrassed to be left-handed this morning.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, November 10, 2017

Thank You for Your Service

On this Veterans' Day weekend, with our servicemen and women deployed around the world defending our nation against those who would subvert and destroy it from outside, our message is strong to our people in uniform.

We stand up for you.

We stand up for those who keep you fed and clothed, armed and supplied.

We stand up for those who train you.

We stand up for those who support you and who love you, who protect your homes and families while you protect us.

We stand up for those who have walked in your boots where our forces are now deployed, and who walked in those same boots in previous wars, "police actions" and undeclared conflicts to defend the USA, those who never returned, who came back injured physically and psychologically, who came back unscarred but having served bravely.

And we stand for the flag under which they have served continually since the Revolutionary War.  We stand proudly and we stand ready to support and defend it against our enemies both outside and within.

God bless America.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Source of Presidential Dislike

Those among us who were passionate opponents of Barack Obama and his presidency seem to have little in common with those folks who are passionate opponents of Donald Trump and his presidency.  It just, you know, "feels" different, maybe because conservatives were not out there declaring that they wanted to "blow up the White House" like Madonna, or taking a gun and shooting up a Republican congressional softball practice (like the leftist from Illinois).

Or maybe it is the lack of parallels in the root of the dislike.

I couldn't stand Barack Obama, and still fear him, but despite the  usual knee-jerk accusations of the left about racism and all that (though a white Barack Obama wouldn't have sniffed the nomination, let alone beaten Hillary in 2008), it is not "who" he is that I couldn't stand.  It is and has always been what he stood for.

Barack Obama is a far-left socialist who would readily have turned the USA into a communist dictatorship if he thought he could get away with it.  He detested the military, believed that a dominant Federal government was necessary to shore up his power, and pushed socialist measures as far as he thought he could get away with -- which he could, at least while he had a lap-dog Congress unwilling to cross the "first [half] black president."

He "used lies" more than he was an actual liar -- Hillary, for example, was a concrete, dyed-in-the-wool liar, but Obama simply used lies ("You can keep your doctor", "It was the video") trying to advance his leftist agenda.  I hope that makes sense; it's a slight difference.  I think Obama felt justified in lying for what he still thinks is a greater cause. 

And I suppose that people generally think of Obama as an OK person, family guy, that sort of thing.  Not so much corrupt, but ideologically so far out and so rigid that only the built-in inertia of Congress kept him from doing even more damage (like closing Guantanamo).

The hatred of Donald Trump, well, that's really not as ideological as the left would like to believe.  After all, he is hardly an ideologically pure conservative; hardly has positions that are any more conservative than previous Republican presidents.  He has the socially more-liberal, fiscally conservative positions that people often contemplate forming a third party around.  In fact, his positions on taxes and spending, the position of the USA in the free world, immigration, well, those are mainstream American positions outside of Los Angeles and New York.

But the fascinating thing is that the dislike for President Trump, the things that cause Madonna to threaten to blow up the White House, and for Hollywood to go far off the rails in their interminable award shows, well, those don't really have to do with politics.  Those are personal.

Of course, leading it all is the fact that he successfully saved America from having its first utero-American president being a pathological liar, who runs a RICO disguised as a charitable foundation.  Oh, that was terrible that he didn't let Hillary win, the big bully.  But really, look at the critiques.

They're not really about policy at all.  The left calls him a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an Islamophobe.  Their hatred of Donald Trump is because of who they say he is, not what he believes he needs to do as president.  It's as if they can't really get into a policy debate because he has the upper hand -- his policies are indeed mainstream -- so they go after flaws in the man, whether invented or actual.

On top of that, one characteristic that he does have makes it all news fodder, the fact that he is a counter-puncher.  So when he is criticized for all that non-policy stuff, he fights back, which amps up the hatred and the non-policy news.  More dislike, more news. 

In the background, of course, the nation is running and the market is soaring; 401(k) accounts are at record highs.  He has attracted huge numbers of jobs back to the USA, cajoling firms to manufacture here and not elsewhere.  He is proving to be enormously successful overseas (as the current Asian trip is proving again) because his rather basic approach to the superiority of the American way of life is actually appreciated by our allies and respected by our adversaries, both of which had a lot of trouble dealing with the feckless Obama.

I'm not sure I've gotten the point across even now.  It had struck me the past few weeks that although both Obama and Trump had big parts of the USA that actively disliked them, it did not seem like the same type of venom.  Not more or less, just different.  Opponents weren't howling at the moon on the anniversary of Obama's election as they did last night a year after Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

I really think that we who detested Obama for his policies have the higher ground.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Rest in Peace, Doc

Back in September of 1998, the "year of the home run", a rookie pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays named Roy Halladay was making his second appearance in the majors, starting against the Detroit Tigers.  I have no idea why I happened to have been watching that particular game, not being a fan of either team, but it was on, it was baseball, and I watched it.

That day Halladay, who had won his first-ever appearance and first start by going five innings against Tampa Bay, set down the first twelve batters before Tiny Clark of the Tigers reached on an error.  Clark would be stranded at first, and Halladay would take a no-hitter into the ninth, getting two outs before giving up a pinch-hit home run and ending up with a no-walk one-hitter.

The one-hitter was pretty shocking for a pitcher in only his second appearance in the majors, even against a poor Tigers team, and I recall it pretty well.  Who is this guy, I wondered.

Well, "who this guy was" turned out to be a pitcher who would go on to a 203-105 career record and a lifetime 3.38 ERA.  His 131 career ERA+ (a measure of ERA adjusted for park effects, that expresses a pitcher's performance against league average) means that for well over a decade he was over 30% better than a league-average pitcher.  In nine of his 15 full seasons, he was over 40% above league average.

An intense competitor known for pitching complete games in an era when six innings is thought to be a good start, Halladay would go on to throw a regular-season perfect game against Miami and, in 2010, became only the second pitcher to throw a no-hitter in the postseason, for the Philadelphia Phillies against Cincinnati.

He won the Cy Young Award twice, once in each league, and was top-3 for the award five times.  In a year he will be eligible for the Hall of Fame, and is a very reasonable candidate by most standards; an excellent candidate by mine.

On Tuesday, Roy "Doc" Halladay died when the small plane he was piloting crashed in Florida.  Halladay was 40 years old.  He had always wanted to fly, and so we can assume he was one who died doing what he loved.

We've no idea if Halladay, whose last season was an abbreviated 2013, would have returned to baseball in any capacity or would have simply flown off into retirement.  Either way, his loss is a tragic and sad event for the world of baseball and those who follow it.

Roy Halladay never pitched for a team I rooted for personally, spending all his career with the Blue Jays and Phillies.  But I always admired "Doc" and mourn his loss today in this column.  "R.I.P." just sounds many decades too soon.

In coelo quies est.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Is There a Hollywood Hotline?

The name of Harvey Weinstein, probably mostly unknown outside Hollywood six months ago, is now on the lips of many in the news these days.  As you are all aware, he is some kind of producer or general mogul out there, or at least was, until he was accused by a series of women of having operated a long-time casting couch approach to his business.

This was not really news out there; lately we've seen clips of the introducing presenter at one of the interminable, self-congratulatory award shows.  He was giving an award to the winner of one of the Lead Actress trophies and said that now she would no longer have to pretend to find Harvey Weinstein attractive.  None of us knew who he was, to know what the fellow meant, but the implication was there.

But here's the thing.  Allegedly he committed repeated assaults and rapes on women who wanted to succeed in Hollywood.  Now, "Hollywood" is not a business; it is a place and an industry.  There are studios that movies and TV shows are made in, and production companies that make them, and they are all independent of each other.

Because they are independent, there is no recourse for the young girl (or, I presume is the case at times, guy) who wants to get started in the business, comes out to Hollywood, screen tests or whatever they do, and is promised a part in exchange for ... well, you know.

It is a Hobson's choice, one with no good outcome.  Sleep with the mogul and get a part and hope you are so good that you'll get lots of work without having to go through the prostitution dance again.  Or decline to sleep with the mogul, don't get the part and get blacklisted by everything connected with that mogul's reach and possibly his (or her) cronies.

That, of course, is not exclusive to Hollywood.  Except, of course, that in corporate America, where there are such things as sexual harassment laws that actually get enforced, there are company hotlines and HR departments where there is recourse.  If you feel you have been harassed, you can go to an ombudsman or HR type and file a complaint, and be relatively insulated from reprisal.

In Hollywood, you are on your own.  There is no ombudsman, no company hotline, only the law.  It is still illegal to pull the casting-couch stunt, but the only place you can go to is the law, and if you go to the law to try to get that sort of thing stopped, the only thing you can be assured of is that you will never work in entertainment again.  You will be immediately a troublemaker and persona non grata.

Is it any wonder why only after numerous complaints against Weinstein were brought forth, was there a pile of additional accusations from years back?  Those women knew that had they said anything back then, they would never work again, and only because it was Weinstein, and finally public knowledge, could they come forward and say something knowing it would not hurt their careers.  In fact, perversely, the fact that they come forward ten years later, only as part of the case of dozens of others against a known abuser, might help their career now, in that they have proven themselves as ones who would keep things quiet.

I'm 66 and have no plans to return to acting.  The only connection I have to Hollywood is as executive producer of a movie a dozen years ago that showed in two or three theaters, and on which I lost enough money to get a healthy tax deduction.  Plus, I'm not exactly the type who would expect to get harassed, you know.  So you can tell this is an issue that is out of sympathy and not an iota of self-interest.

But there has to be something.  There finally has to be a way that an young actress or actor who is asked to trade favors for a part, particularly which would be a start to a career, can decline without risking losing the part to someone with less moral backbone.  And there needs to be a way that the performer can be insulated from even a silent blackballing in the industry for saying "no."

But of course, the "industry" is not an organization.  It is separate entities with their own moguls.  There are multiple Harvey Weinsteins out there, and we surely have not heard the end of all this -- in fact, we are already hearing a few complaints about others in the business.

While I don't have the answer, it is the studios and production companies themselves that have to solve the problem, and they need some kind of hotline for those who are abused -- and some type of protection for the honest producer, from the inevitable starlet who tries to get noticed by lodging baseless, University of Virginia-type allegations.

Look, Hollywood is an industry that has turned itself into a joke by its overwhelmingly leftist activity and quiet boycott of conservative-leaning actors.  I really couldn't care less what goes on out there.  But my moral sensibility is offended when people who have a career dream come face to face with the choice of having a career but compromising their integrity, or not having that career.  It is simply not right.

Who in Hollywood will take it in that context and lead the remedy?

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Monday, November 6, 2017

Japanese Forgiveness -- and George Washington

I was born less than ten years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  My father fought in the Second World War, although in the European theater and not the Pacific one, so discussions of the war in the house were far more likely to be about the German theater than the Japanese one.  Still, they were who had attacked us on December 7th, so some residual antipathy toward Japan was natural.

Maybe 20 years ago, my wife and I were in Hawaii -- me on business (a trade show), the little lady on a vacation with me, helped by the company-paid room and some frequent-flyer points.  While there, we went to Pearl Harbor, even then more than 50 years past the attacks.  If you have never been to the memorials, walked the grounds, observed the USS Arizona memorial structure, well, I can certainly recommend trying to get there as a bucket list item.

One thing we noticed during that visit struck us more than most.  There is an area of the overall memorial that is outdoors and easily accessible.  While there, we noticed a tour group of maybe twenty visitors taking pictures. 

The cameras were Japanese, and that was natural -- since so were the tour-group members.  The guide was speaking to them in Japanese, and the missus remarked that she wished she knew what the guide was saying and what the questions were.  Me, too, I told her, me too.

But here's the thing.  Our curiosity was not really tinged by anything other than just that -- curiosity.  The tour group was obviously welcome in our country and in the site; there was nothing like animosity, not a shred.  Sure, we are a forgiving people, but there was nothing left to forgive, at least regarding those people.  There were no visitors old enough to have fought in the war and, even if they had been, they'd have been too young then to have been in any decision-making position or to have had a choice.

I am 100% sure that is the opinion of our entire country.  There are a few nonagenarian Japanese WWII veterans alive today, but none remotely old enough to have had any input.  Even 20 years ago any residual antipathy toward Japan and the Japanese based on Pearl Harbor and WWII was long gone.  I have been in Japan visiting our military facilities there; they are our geopolitical friends and economic ... well, that's hard to define, but we certainly don't hate them -- in fact, our president is there as I write this working out friendly diplomatic approaches to normal international relations.

The Japanese are our friends.  We have long since "forgiven" the nation for what happened in the 1940s, and if we meet a Japanese or Japanese-American now, well, WWII is pretty much the last thing on our mind.  And they bombed freaking Pearl Harbor.  Keep that in mind.

The left is now on a merciless march to tear down memorials to our Founding Fathers, particularly those who were slaveowners, as was pretty much the rule for any landowner-farmer at the time.  Simply having owned slaves at the time appears to be, to the left, sufficient to have your name wiped from the pages of history.

Now, in the 18th Century, farmers in Virginia owned slaves.  It wasn't nice, mind you, but it was a practice that was worldwide.  It was certainly a point of contention even at the time, and one of discussion during the beginnings of our nation.  George Washington certainly wasn't a big fan, as recorded (I believe Martha was a bit less opposed, but history knows better).

Still -- here is the thing.  The left is all over the Founding Fathers and trying to rip their plaques down and knock over their monuments.  For all the amazing good they did in the creation of the greatest nation on earth; for the Declaration of Independence, for their bravery in the Revolution, for the incredible Constitution, for the writings of the day, for the tricameral government they created ... for all of that, the left believes that their having owned slaves voids their memorial.

They can't forgive the Founders for what was ethically acceptable and commonplace at the time, not only in Revolutionary America but around the world.  They can't tolerate the nation, of course, can't abide that there is a USA leading the world as a beacon of freedom, so they have to try to decertify its status by seizing on what is barely relevant, not even a heroic flaw, because it was a contemporary custom.

The problem is this.  Why can the left not simply exercise one-tenth of the forgiveness that all Americans long since granted to Japan after the war?  Decades ago, Americans ceased looking at Japan as a recent enemy who sucker-bombed Hawaii and killed thousands of Americans, and we accepted the fact that Japan's imperial desires were vaporized in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  We also accepted that the post-war nation that Japan became -- with our help, of course -- had become an ally.

We forgave.

More importantly, we forgave those who had nothing to do with the war; those born afterward, even those who fought in the war but who were soldiers under orders.  It's over.  We got past it.  We won the war and then won the peace by being a friend and ally, not the conquering empire.  And within a few decades, we could have a tour group of Japanese visitors walking through memorials to what their predecessors had done, and wonder musingly what they were talking about.

So why can't the left forgive what the slaveholders among our Founding Fathers did, that was normal at the time and in the ethics of the 18th Century, and why do they feel the need to destroy their memories and to crush what they accomplished?

There is an answer, of course.  It's because it's not about slavery.  It's about destroying America.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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Friday, November 3, 2017

Subsidizing for What?

The late Jack Kemp, before he was the Republican candidate for vice president in 1996, and after he was an NFL quarterback, was in Congress and a fiscal hawk.  Among his famous statements in the area of governmental finance was this, which may be an original Kempism but it really doesn't matter:

"If you tax something you get less of it.  If you subsidize something you get more of it,"

He went on to note that we taxed investment, work, property ownership and the like, while we subsidized unemployment, reproduction and the like.  His message was clear -- there are unintended consequences to tax policy, and his subtle message was that they might not have been so unintended as Democrats would have you believe.

We think of that as the Republican 2017 tax plan has now been rolled out for consideration by the House, and one particular element of it appears to have gotten a lot of attention.

That would be the deduction for state and local income taxes, which under the proposed plan would be severely limited.  Under current tax law, such taxes are deductible if you itemize your expenses on the old 1040.

Now, let's consider the impact of any deduction.  If you start with a set of rates -- first X dollars are free of tax, the next Y dollars are at one rate, the next Z dollars at a higher rate and so forth, then no matter who you are, you will pay the same tax if you make the same amount.  What deductions do are to say that we will tax you as if you earned (say) $1,000 less, if you spend that $1,000 on things that we in Congress, in our infinite wisdom, decide are appropriate to be granted the deduction.

In the popular example, homeowners with a mortgage get a deduction for mortgage interest, while tenants who pay the same for their home but pay it in rent, well, they do not get the deduction.  Congress is saying quite clearly, "Go buy a home and mortgage it."  They're not subsidizing home ownership; they're actually subsidizing home financing.  Either way, they're subsidizing something.

When it comes to state and local income taxes, the principle is the same.  Texas, Florida and some other states have no income tax.  New York, New Jersey, California, well, those states have very high state income taxes.  In California, you can be paying more than half your income in Federal, state and local income taxes.

Those taxes are all deductible under current law.  It is common for a Texan to pay zero state income tax on an income that a Californian would pay $10,000 in state taxes.  So -- regardless of what the Democrats would say is the intent of the program, the consequences of such taxes being Federally deductible are that wage-earners in Texas pay higher Federal taxes than those in California.

Moreover, the legislature in California, being subsidized by taxpayer dollars from the other 49 states, can blithely raise state taxes to absurd rates, knowing that through its deductibility, the state rate can be hiked as high as they feel.  And they can take that money and spend it on whatever they feel like, that state whose government is trying to be a "sanctuary state", to refuse to cooperate with the Federal authorities who are subsidizing them through others' tax dollars because their state tax rates are so high.

I'm not a fan.  Those taxpayers subsidizing the profligacy of the legislature of the State of California include nurses in Dallas, farmers in Iowa, store clerks in Tennessee and retirees living off their now-taxable 401(k) plans in Florida and Arizona.  And, by the way, independent proposal writers in North Carolina.  None of us is happy about it, and most people would be considerably less happy if they truly understood the impact of the tax code.

All I want is to pay less.  But I sure don't want to pay more just because California has a stupidly high income tax.

Copyright 2017 by Robert Sutton
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