Sunday, August 11, 2019

Supreme Emergency

On this day (Aug 11) in 1997 President Clinton used the line-item veto for the first time to cut three measures from an expansive spending and taxation bill. At the bill's signing ceremony, Clinton declared "From now on, presidents will be able to say 'no' to wasteful spending or tax loopholes, even as they say 'yes' to vital legislation." 

Groups upset by the action immediately filed suit and on June 25, 1998 the Supreme Court overturned the Line Item Veto – pointing out that the constitution did not give authority to the Executive Branch to amend legislation. The court specifically held the line-item veto violated the principles of the "separation of powers" between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government.

On July 26, 2019 the Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the border wall spending that had been imposed by a federal district court judge in California and affirmed by a federal appeals court. The injunction blocked spending while the lawsuit challenging it remains pending at the appeals court. It allows the Trump Administration’s Emergency declaration at the border to stand and authorizes the Defense Department to move $2.5 billion from accounts such as Veteran benefits, troop training, etc. to supporting Homeland Security in expanding the wall on the southern border of the United States. The case is still going through the courts and may ultimately be decided differently, but the lifting of the injunction is a strong indicator that the majority supports allowing the Executive Branch to reallocate funding since they can now actually do it.

I’m a true fiscal conservative. I believe that you don’t spend more than you bring in. During the five years that I wrote this blog there were many entries on my personal journey to this philosophy and my own struggles with living it as well as the unending examples of hypocrisy around it in political circles. I loved the concept of a Line Item Veto – where a leader could wipe out the graft and pork that made its way into bills just to get enough approval to get them passed. When the court reiterated the unique role of each branch of government, my position evolved to support the ruling. In our system of governance, the Congress holds the purse strings. Period. Full Stop.

A dozen years later a much different Court has ruled much differently. By declaring an emergency and being able to reallocate funds that the legislative branch determined – the role of the Executive Branch changes significantly. There’s strong and passionate arguments about “the wall” – and issues of immigration. This isn’t about that underlying issue. This is about granting the President the power to spend as he/she sees fit. It's the difference between a monarchy and a democracy.  

Imagine a different president – in the not so distant future. Maybe 2 years. Maybe 6. Maybe 10. But there’ll be a different party in power. After a weekend of mass shootings where dozens of Americans are struck down a President declares an emergency and reallocates money from the Defense Department to a program to collect the guns that are killing citizens. Or a President comes into office and sees the millions of Americans who aren’t receiving health care and dying because of it. They declare an emergency and moves money from missiles into a single-payer system. Or imagine this Administration’s next emergency declaration and moving money around to implement their policy. Whatever the issue now an emergency can be declared and resources directed towards it.

Ruling by emergency is ruling by fiat. Call it imperial. Call it a dictatorship. It's not constitutional. That's true with this Administration as for the prior or the next. The Supreme Court has set the path towards a dismantling of a core tenet of the American experiment.

There’s lots of things for our hair to be on fire about today. Politicians and voters alike are responsible for an economy that is burning more than a trillion dollars a year more than it generates with a debt load that exceeds $22 trillion. The economic disparity of the haves and have nots is ever increasing. Trade wars are commonplace. Children are separated from their parents as a strategy. People are being kept in cages. We are killing each other. We talk about each other in the worst possible ways, using those things that differentiate us as weapons instead of celebrating our differences as strengths. We point fingers that the other side is worse than our side as we move further into a “my way or the highway” mentality.

The list can go one. So why does this seemingly small, esoteric and wonky item that barely made a news cycle compel me to dust off my soapbox with so many other things out there? There are many voices addressing the list above. Not much is being said about this. Granting the President the authority to bypass Congress in spending money is antithetical to our Constitution and that the Supreme Court has indicated a willingness to support that will lead to the dismantling of this core principal. To me that’s worth pointing out. To me that’s a Supreme Emergency. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Give me a break!

The idiom “give me a break” generally is used when you don’t believe something that has happened or been said. We’ve all muttered the expression a lot lately, especially around the 2016 Presidential race. I am going to use it here more literally. I started this blog in late July 2010. This is the 329th iteration. At an average of 750 words that’s nearly 250,000 words. To compare that’s about three average mystery novels (at 80,000 words each), much less than the Bible (800,000 words) and nowhere near the IRS Code (4 million words).

Originally Craig’s Corner was a way to keep me focused during a long stint where I was without work or income. With gainful employment it has become a welcome respite from the day-to-day tasks. I tend to focus on issues that are interesting to me but not necessarily a critical part of what I do day in and day out. My perspective isn’t unique, but I do look at the word with a different lens. I’ve tried hard not to be part of the echo chamber and been diligent about not being hyperbolic (which is easy to do with writing about issues that I care about and have inflamed passions all around).

There’s about a thousand views of various blogs each month and over 90,000 since I started. I’m incredibly grateful (and somewhat awed) by the support and interest – especially given that I’ve been woefully inadequate at promoting and sharing my own work! It’s been quite satisfying to have something that I did for myself be of interest and value to others. THANK YOU! I’ve had some wonderful communications and engagements with people along the way, and some not so great too. I particularly remember the woman who discovered the blog a few years in and was reading them in order each morning with her coffee and then wrote me an email each day with her thoughts.

I’m a pretty consistent guy so it’s probably no surprise that I haven’t missed a Thursday posting since I started. It’s been a good way to do what the blog was intended to: take a little time out of each week for me to explore things that I might not otherwise. It’s largely been fun and certainly not felt like work.

It's time to take a break. I’ll continue to opine away. It may or may not be with the same regularity. It may or may not be in the same format. I imagine sometimes I’d fire off a 200 word thought and other times it may be 2,000. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Giving the gift

The holidays are right around the corner. It’s a time of reflection, excitement and no matter one’s religious predilections a there’s a tradition of gift giving. Talking about the holidays before Halloween is usually met with revulsion and resistance. This time it’s different. While we can’t grant everybody’s #1 wish – that the 2016 U.S. Presidential election cycle be over – maybe we can do something close.  Let’s give Donald J. Trump what he’s been talking about.

I’m wary of adding to the proliferation of commentary on the Grand Old Party’s nominee. But then maybe there’s something to the Trump complaints. Instead of dismissing everything that comes out of his mouth as made up, perhaps we should be doing is more of what he worries about, not less.

The more recent complaints from the real-estate tycoon have to do with media bias. All “the media” does is lie, distort and never gives him fair coverage. This same media generated over a billion dollars of free brand and name recognition that took him from a quirky idea of a candidate who had to pay people to attend his announcement to becoming the GOP standard bearer. Why not dial back the coverage of him? In many states his poll numbers are competitive with Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson. The LP crew gets a miniscule amount of coverage. Let’s afford Donald the same. Imagine what the last few weeks would have been like if the Donald coverage had been curbed.

The media fell for a classic Trump manipulation again. He mused out loud at a rally in front of a few thousand people that the system was “rigged” and he was “worried” about having the election stolen from him. There is no evidence anywhere from any source that legitimizes this theory. The same system he now demonizes is the one that served him well during the Republican primary season. Rather than ignore the patent absurdity of the comment the media, however, fell hook, line and sinker for it. Op-eds, talking heads, etc. have all fulminated at the undermining of the American electoral system that has seen the peaceful transfer of power throughout the country’s entire history. It’s made for great coverage.

Trump’s outlandish claim got traction. He got what he wanted: attention which he interprets as support. (Just like he believes the attendance and enthusiasm at his rallies should equate to support in the electoral college.) Trump doubled down at the third debate – refusing to say that he’d accept the result of the election saying he’d “look at it at the time.” Nearly everybody in the political establishment are up in arms over this, rightfully so. That question, however, would never have been asked if the ranting had been left to the candidate and a few thousand of his supporters.

Who knows what the next 19 days will portend. It’s hard to imagine anything more outrageous that what’s been seen so far. But let’s not be surprised. Let’s conspire against crazy talk. Let’s put stories front and center about things that matter. Damon Linker wrote a powerful piece asking why there’s not been any substantive discussion the five (yes, FIVE) wars that America is currently fighting.

As a big and small ‘l’ libertarian I am loathe to advocate any curb on freedom of speech. I’m not doing that here. I recognize that there’s a limitation on what mainstream news organizations can cover in limited time and space environment. My preferred candidate gets less coverage because he has not yet demonstrated electoral strength that would justify equal time. There’s a good chicken-egg argument here, but that’s not this issue.

This issue is in perpetuating false narratives. It also gives the media the opportunity to make Trump an honest man. Cover him in context. And don’t get sucked into crazy talk. If that had happened Trump would have given up on his claims since they weren’t getting traction. That’d be the gift that we’d all be happy to receive two months before Christmas. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016


Johnny Carson, the longtime king of late night, had an incredibly popular character Carnac the Magnificent. Carnac would put an envelope to his head and put out the answer. Ed McMahon would then repeat the answer as Carson would then open the envelope and read the clue. Mostly the audience would groan and McMahon would chortle. It was a fun way to take pot shots at pop culture. Talking heads on cable television, columnists and even traditional journalists have taken the predictive focus on the events of the day. No longer is the “who, what, where, when & why” covered in stories. Instead it’s What will happen next? What needs to happen? What does he/she need to do to …? 100 days out from the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, I have some predictions of my one.

Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the next President of the United States. This isn’t necessarily my personal choice, but all of the statistics, polls, hyperbole and indicators point towards a comfortable electoral college victory. The popular vote will be too close for comfort for many of her supporters. Despite this like Messrs. Obama, Bush (43) and even husband Bill before her the victory will be misread as a landslide. Congress will remain woefully and painfully divided – a much truer reflection of the country. The HRC administration will come out of the gate overreaching.

Before she takes the oath of office, though, there’s the lame duck session. Terrified by the prospect of a more liberal President and wanting to assert its influence into the future – the last weeks of the Congressional session will be remarkably productive. Mr. Trump’s loss will be attributed to the uniqueness of his brand and approach and not to anything deeper in the GOP conscience.

Merrick Garland will be confirmed by the Senate and become a Supreme Court justice. The Republicans will prefer to go with a known moderate than an unknown liberal the Mrs. Clinton would nominate. It will also be a deft political move to strain relations between the outgoing Obama administration and the incoming Clinton who will want to have the nomination pulled…essentially reinforcing the GOP mantra all along that the nomination was dependent on who won the election. If the nomination is pulled it’ll be a huge GOP victory.

Congress will immediately begin investigating Mrs. Clinton. Her tendency towards secrecy and a lack of transparency will only cause trouble. There may not be any smoking guns or anything substantive, but the investigations will serve as the poke and reminder of her principal weakness. She will become the second Clinton to be impeached as President of the United States though like Bill before her, the Senate won’t remove her from office.
Donald Trump will not go quietly into that good night. He will employ an army of attorneys and attempt to litigate the election for months and perhaps years after the fact. Media outlets will be sued for libel. He’ll even threaten to go after the RNC for not supporting him enough. Anybody and everybody will be to blame. The financial damage to the Trump brand will be sought as compensation in the suits.

The man himself will attempt to become Al Gore redoux. The former Vice President became a principal in a media company (Current) as a vehicle for his views. It went down in flames costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Trump TV will garner a HUUUUUUGE amount of coverage and then ultimately settle in for Glen Beck TV levels of viewership.

Viable alternatives like the Libertarians will grow their electoral base. There are 154 elected officials today, 600 are running for elective office. Most of their voices will be muffled in the greater political discourse.

The American people will continue to be frustrated and indeed angry. The 2020 election will be underway within months into 2017. Why can’t anybody get along and get anything done? Partisans will become more resolute and we’ll continue to yell at one another or, more likely, just ignore those thoughts, beliefs and ideas that are not immediately comfortable. In short, I predict MOTS – more of the same. And that stinks.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Conscientious Voting or Voting your Conscience?

I’ve voted in nearly every election I was eligible to. I’ve always viewed the act of voting as a civic obligation. I do the research on ballot measures and on the candidates up and down the ballot. I’ll skip over some contests if I can’t find enough information. One month out from Voting Day 2016 the drum beat of “vote” is ubiquitous. Perhaps it’s naiveté or a wistfulness to another time that I’d like to think those entreating citizens to vote are doing so out of what’s best overall. The reality is much more practical and cynical: when people beg others to vote – its with the expectation that they’ll vote their way.

When progressives say that there’s too much at stake to let Mr. Trump become President so make sure you vote – they’re not actually encouraging people to vote how they believe, it’s a not-so-subtle way of telling people they have to vote for Hillary Clinton. Conservatives likewise see the future of the Republic at stake and entreat you to vote. They too aren’t expecting that if you see the dire circumstances they do that you’d have no choice but to vote for Donald Trump.

As a libertarian I want people to both vote their conscience and to be conscientious in their voting. I’ve had the opportunity to engage with people who support all four of the major candidates for President in the 2016 cycle. I have very strong feelings about each of them – three very negatives and one positive. I know who I’m voting for. My reasons follow. Perhaps some will be swayed or be open to my “why’s” – most won’t be. I’m fine with that. That’s what America is all about. That’s what voting is all about. That’s what being a libertarian is all about – respecting others. It’s what supporters of the other candidates  don’t seem to have. I’ll be vilified, called names, accused of putting the nation at risk for my choice rather than being acknowledged for doing what I’m entitled and I believe obligated to do: vote for what I believe in.

To nobody’s surprise who’s read any of my blogs in the past five years – I’m voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee for President. I’ve been a supporter of the party since 1993 after having previously supported Bill Clinton who then turned on the LGBT community and became the most anti-gay President in modern history. He enshrined into law Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and proposed and passed the Defense of Marriage Act to win re-election in 1996. It took nearly 20 years and untold amounts of damage to many lives and millions of dollars to undue this damage from a “friend” of the community. Neither Bill nor Hillary have apologized for their lie in 1992 or their actions during their 8 years in office and Mrs. Clinton only came to support marriage equality two years ago.

I’m not voting against Hillary, though there’s plenty to oppose. She’s a proponent of war – and I’m a pacifist. She’s for having the government regulate the economy further and I think a free enterprise capitalist system is best. And of course there’s her tendency to obfuscate rather than be direct.

I’m not voting against Donald either, though there’s even more to oppose. He’s an embarrassment to America. He believes America is broken and I don’t. I spend my life embracing and celebrating diversity and he all sorts of “ists” – racist, misogynist, homophobe, etc. More fundamentally, though, he’s failed at everything except building a brand for himself. He’s a loose cannon with a short fuse.

Gary Johnson is not just somebody I’m supporting because he’s not Hillary and he’s not Donald. He’s a two-time Governor – where he governed as a Republican in a nearly all Democratic state. He was re-elected overwhelmingly. He cut taxes. He shrunk government. He raised incomes.  

I think America needs somebody who has a proven track record of working both sides of the aisle as Johnson does. Will he be able to implement the Libertarian platform as written? Of course not. Neither would Hillary or Donald with their platforms either. Johnson has said he’d staff his government with the best people from all parties. Isn’t it time we all got along?

For a good part of the last six months Gary Johnson ran a great campaign. And then the mistakes started. He was on “Morning Joe” and was asked about Alepo. He blanked. The Syrian town has become shorthand for the war there. It was embarrassing for him and for his supporters. To his credit, and one of the personality driven reasons I support him is this: he went on “60 Minutes” and owned the error. He said he should have known. He apologized. That’s what I want in a President. I want somebody who will own their humanity and learn from their mistakes.

A local NBC affiliate had an interview with him about the debates. He chewed on his tongue in his response to the reporter. It was weird. It was odd. He was trying to make the point that even if he stood on the stage and chewed on his tongue that he’d get a huge outpouring of support because Hillary and Donald are so disliked and 70% of the public don’t even know there’s another alternative. It was a terrible way to make the point. As his poll numbers rise and his endorsements from major media increased – it was an ideal way to edit out the context and show him as crazy. That keeps the narrative easy: two person horserace. (I’m not blaming the media – Johnson was silly in how he made this point.)

MSNBC’s “Hardball” host Chris Matthews asked Johnson to name his favorite foreign leader. He couldn’t. Yikes. The media (social and traditional) pounced. How could anybody running for President who wants to be taken seriously not be able to name any foreign leader? Well, that wasn’t the question – but it made for a nice sound byte. Despite Trump’s omnipresence – interviews aren’t game shows.  Johnson didn’t articulate why he wasn’t naming anybody: that as an anti-government guy he didn’t see anybody in his tradition around the world to emulate. A lost opportunity which he again owned.

I list these three “gaffes” because Johnson himself talks about them. Both Hillary and Donald have made many mistakes on the trail as well – but it takes days, weeks or for Trump never – to remedy their errors. I also note them because it’s “buyer aware.” I’m aware my candidate isn’t perfect.

There’s the rub. I won’t be swayed. I know his strengths and his weaknesses as a candidate. Just as Hillary supporters and Donald supporters won’t be swayed either. I’ve carefully evaluated the platforms and the people and found the most alignment with Johnson. Others have with others. I support them though I disagree with them. That’s both conscientious voting and voting my conscience. I hope you do the same. There’s too much at stake. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Legally Bald

Legally Blonde is a fun movie and the stage musical version is a hoot. I’ve been in enough legal tangles, however, to know that being in litigation is not all fun and games. As an entrepreneur I had to utilize the system more time than I would have preferred to have contracts fulfilled. Put plainly: I’ve sued a bunch of people. I’ve been sued. I’ve won most but I’ve lost as well. Regardless of the outcome the process is not for the weary. The American civil legal system is something to behold: it’s big, it’s cumbersome, it’s lengthy and it embodies the fundamental philosophy that we’re all equal. A good friend who’s an attorney always reminds me: “It’s America. You can sue anybody for anything.” Thanks to Congress that’s more true than ever before.

Congress did something extraordinary this year. It passed legislation during one of the most unproductive sessions in American history. And it did so unanimously. Victims families of 9/11 championed the bill that gives them permission to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for damages for the terrorist attacks their citizen perpetrated on 9/11.

America’s civil legal system allows for financial penalties to be assessed even when the criminal side of the system can’t assess blame. OJ Simpson is a high profile example. He was found not-guilty of the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman criminally, but he was held responsible on the civil side and the victim’s families were awarded $33.5 million in damages (of which less than $500K was ever paid).

The victims of 9/11 want to do the same thing. They say: all of the hijackers were Saudi nationals, so the Saudi government should pay damages. The attacks of September 11th were horrible. Terrible. Inexcusable. Nothing written here negates that. But perhaps there’s some context. Victim’s families have been compensated. From the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund overseen by Ken Feinberg “$7 billion was awarded to 97% of the families; the average payout was $1.8 million.” The similarly named but separate September 11th Fund distributed $538 million. World Trade Center Captive Insurance Company spent an additional $1 billion. Nearly $9 billion has been paid in direct compensation. No amount of money can ever replace a lost loved one. Victims of 9/11, however, have been given a lot more than other victims of many other crimes have.

What happens when the Afghan’s, the Pakistanis, the Iraqi’s all decide that the U.S. drones that have killed thousands and thousands of civilians?  American citizens, legislators and soldiers will all be open to being sued.

The law the Congress passed President Obama vetoed because it repealed the long-standing legal principal of sovereign immunity. On September 28, 2016 Congress by huge majorities overrode the veto.  The measure amends the 1974 law that “granted other countries broad immunity from American lawsuits.” Passage occurred without debate, no committee hearings. (That’s the Congress we know and love.) There wasn’t even public outcry – just a small group of September 11th families. We can all understand their pain but putting the U.S. and its citizens at legal culpability for its many acts and intrusions around the world is too high a price. 

If we’re going to be suing let’s have a class action lawsuit again the Republicans in the Senate for abandoning their constitutionally mandated responsibility for refusing to advise and consent on a Supreme Court nominee.

If we’re going to be suing let’s go after the DNC for rigging the primary system against Bernie or go after the RNC for rigging the system for Donald.  

If we’re going to be suing let’s go after the police who are killing unarmed, innocent civilians.

Congress’ override of President Obama’s veto lays America bare and open for like lawsuits. We’re now legally bald.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Debates posturing

I remember the genteel Presidential debates of the 1980’s and 90’s where the most drama was when a candidate came up with a snappy response that captured the zeitgeist of the moment. “There you go again…” said Ronald Reagan to President Carter, effectively nullifying the issues that his opponent kept bringing up while framing an opinion and judgement. Reagan also used humor in 1984 when he said: “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," referring to Vice President Mondale. The gipper was brilliant at negating an issue without being unpleasant. The Debate Commission has made the 2016 upcoming sessions irrelevant, however.

Wikipedia informs: “The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) sponsors and produces debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and undertakes research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit corporation controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties, has run each of the presidential debates held since 1988.”

The organization is equally controlled by longstanding prominent members of the established parties.  It’s partisan by its nature and its makeup. “In 2008, the Center for Public Integrity labeled the CPD a ‘secretive tax-exempt organization.’ CPI analyzed the 2004 financials of the CPD, and found that 93 percent of the contributions to the non-profit CPD came from just six donors, the names of all of which were blacked out on the donor list provided to the CPI.” It hasn’t improved with time.

The Presidential debates are when most voters focus on the candidates and the issues. It is absolutely appropriate that there be an established criteria for inclusion. You wouldn’t want 16 people on the stage (the way the GOP did during their primaries). The CPD in 2000 established a 15% threshold in the polls as the entry point. Seems fair. But it isn’t.

Candidates who do not receive major media coverage will find it very difficult to hit the legitimacy of 15%. More than that – their name should be on the polls that are used. Polls themselves would need to include every candidate. The Libertarian candidate in 2016, Gov. Gary Johnson who is on all 50 state ballots in November and has raised millions of dollars – was not listed on many of the polls or was a secondary question. The final five polls the CPD chose to use an average of did include Johnson, but hadn’t included him all along. CNN’s poll excluded all “millennials” – described by them as voters under 35. Not so fair.

According to Gallup a majority of voters identify not as Republican or Democrat, but as Independent. A majority of the polls used by the CPD over sampled Republicans and Democrats and under sampled Independents. To adequately poll requires time, resources and a balance that most organizations don’t have.

Beyond just popularity six major newspapers and dozens of elected leaders called for Johnson’s inclusion. It was not to be.

What would happen if a third-party candidate was on in the debates? We need to look no further back than 1992. Ross Perot was polling at 8%. Then President Bush (41) was assailing Bill Clinton about his lack of patriotism. The media was agog about the idea of flag burnings and the elder Bush was proclaiming what he’d do as leader of the free world to protect it.  The Democratic nominee went from talk show to talk show talking about his underwear preferences and playing saxophone. 

At the first debate Perot focused the nation on the issues he cared about: debt, deficit and the economy. The next six weeks the campaign changed to become a substantive comparison of three approaches to the economic challenges of the times. Perot’s poll numbers soared into the 30’s and then settled at about 19% for the election itself. The debates were good for discourse, good for policy and ultimately good for democracy as the President who was elected went by the mantra: “it’s the economy stupid.”

What is the CPD afraid of? Their mission states that they were founded to: “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners” around Presidential elections. Clearly it’s not about fairness and its not about furthering the substantive discussion of issues facing the electorate.

Gary Johnson is a two-term Governor. He served as a Republican in a Democratic state. He was re-elected overwhelmingly. He previously ran for President in 2012 and was on 48 of the 50 state ballots. He and his running mate Bill Weld (another two-term Governor who as a Republican was re-elected in a Democratic state) have raised millions of dollars. The Libertarian Party has been an established political party for 45 years. Thousands of candidates stand for offices at every level of government and there are hundreds of elected officials.

Voters deserve to hear from Johnson. Has he run a perfect campaign? No. Has he misstated some things, forgotten some things, stumbled over some things? Yup. He’s owned every one of those mistakes (unlike other candidates). The bottom line is that he’s a serious candidate and the views that he represents will not be on the stage. That’s bad for America and bad for the world.

All is not lost. In today’s social media and high tech world it’s possible to remedy the CDP’s decision. Put Johnson in a soundproof studio – have him hear the questions and responses and then give him the same time to respond. The networks should then edit in his response for viewers. The debates are important - and not just for posturing.