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.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Rigged Democracy

September 17th is Constitution and Citizenship Day. Thanks to a 2004 law every educational institution in the America must provide some programming on the history of the day. Having been educated long before the law went into effect, my schools didn’t have a focus on the day that the Constitution was created in 1787, some 11 years the Declaration of Independence. It would take another 11 years to fully ratify it. The Constitution replaced the Articles of the Confederation. It’s a pretty nifty piece of thinking and writing given that it still governs the United States 229 years later. As we move into the final heat of the 2016 Presidential election, the role of the constitution is more important than ever.

Article II clearly states the qualifications for the office: “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States.”

That’s it. A candidate for the Presidency doesn’t have to be an expert in anything. He/she need not to have served in public office or done anything other than being born a citizen, be 35 years old and lived in the U.S. for 14 years of those years. That’s it.

The major party candidates seem to have made the 2016 race about why their opponent is unqualified for the office rather than what they stand for. It’s a strategy that has made cable television and internet publishers happy, nearly ruined the value of social media and it’s changed no minds of campaign loyalists.

This isn’t another lament of politics 2016 style. What’s troublesome is the recent narratives from each camp. In August during a particularly difficult time for the GOP standard bearer he announced that if he loses it’s because the system is rigged. “If the election is rigged, I would not be surprised,” he told The Washington Post in an interview.

Secretary Clinton says in speeches reported by The Washington Post that Trump is “'temperamentally unfit’ to lead the most powerful nation in the world. … Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different — they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies.” President Obama, major GOP leaders and columnists all over have echoed the narrative that Trump can’t serve in the position he seeks.

I’ve previously written that Clinton’s attempt to nullify Trump with the same tactics that 16 other GOP hopefuls tried unsuccessfully to do is a risk. I’ve previously written that Donald Trump’s elementary school tactics are an embarrassment to the political process and to the country. I think all of this is bad form, bad politics and bad for the nation. But it’s Democracy and we’ve got what we’ve got until November 8, 2016. America will survive this election cycle.

What happens in January 2017? This will continue to be a divided country. With the candidates indicating that Armageddon is around the corner if their opponent is elected – there is little hope that anything could change. Being divided is tough enough – but not having faith in the electoral system or stating that the candidate is unfit is potentially devastating. It undermines the basic tenet that make democracy possible: faith in The System.

In 2000 when the conservative Supreme Court justices ruled for George W. Bush – then Vice President Al Gore fully endorsed him and asked his followers to support the new President. Gore didn’t say the system was unfair – though he could have. He didn’t say the decision was hypocritical – though he could have. He put the nation first and his concession speech was probably his best speech ever.  He said: “Our disappointment must be overcome by our love of country. … We put country before party.”

We celebrate the 229th anniversary of the writing of the Constitution. It is what makes America great. Let’s hope that Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton put country before party to keep democracy alive, vibrant and relevant to these Divided States.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

My 9-11

I’m an early riser. I get to the gym somewhere between 4:30am and 5:00 for my exercise routine. I’ve been doing it for a long time so it’s just part of my day. Fifteen years ago I lived in Los Angeles and I had finished my workout and went back to my house – the one I had bought just a few months before. My usual practice was to jump in the shower, make breakfast and start client work. It would not be an ordinary day.

It became clear to many that “The United States is under attack” after the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I don’t remember it being that clear – there was confusion as to whether it was a second plane or whether reports from the first plane were just getting through to authorities since they were so close together. After the plane crashed into the Pentagon the reporting indicated that more planes were headed to other seats of government – the White House and Congress. A full scale panic hit the airways.

I was living thousands of miles from the attacks. I had family in New York and outside of D.C.. Systems were down and it wasn’t easy to get information. By mid-afternoon California time, however, the daisy-chain of communications passed word that we were the fortunate – we didn’t have immediate family in harms way. In the days ahead I would learn of classmates and acquaintances who did perish – and so many friends who lost people close to them.

That night a production of a one-man play that I had produced was scheduled to go on at a local college. “The Versus of Ogden Nash” told the life story of the celebrated American poet and writer through his own words, letters and poems. It was performed by the plays author Peter Massey. We had received a number of wonderful reviews, had a sold out run in LA and at that time were now doing a touring version of the show. The immediate issue came up: Do we cancel?

  • The school we contracted with wanted the show to go on but gave us the option of canceling. We just had to decide quickly.
  • The students on campus had nothing to do as most other events were suspended.
  • The city of Los Angeles and the surrounding county put out suggestions that people should not travel unless absolutely necessary, but there was no outright ban.

We opted to do the show. Peter came out before the show started to speak with the audience. He said: “Thank you for being here. Thank you for letting us be here on this horrible day in our history. Why are we doing the show? This is a lighthearted look at Americana – and we are not inclined to laugh today. That’s ok. Live theatre allows us to feel and we want you to feel.” He went on to eloquently extol the necessity of live theatre in the face of terror.

The show hit its mark and nearly a quarter of the audience stayed to talk among themselves and with our team afterwards. We connected lives at a critical time and provided a way for the community to engage with each other. It gave me hope.
That optimism didn’t last.  

The surveillance state emerged in the last decade and a half to such prominence that what was once science fiction by George Orwell has become reality. Cameras capture American’s nearly every move. Our digital footprint from grocery purchases to paying tolls are all captured.

The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is an anachronism as guilt is now assessed and then defendants must prove their innocence. There’s even an entire court system that is secret that is now in place to handle terrorist related charges. Defendants are not accorded attorneys and a minute number of warrants are denied. It’s largely classified and secret.

The country has been on a war footing for fifteen years, spending trillions of dollars even though Congress never technically authorized War. President Obama in the past 7 and a half years has bombed 40 countries. He continues to maintain a personal kill list – deciding who lives or dies – while having instituted a drone program that has assassinated thousands and had a far ranging impact on civilians.

The TSA was formed shortly after 9/11 to better secure the aviation system. By their own metrics they have failed at a rate of 96% of identifying outlawed items. Today Americans virtually undress and agree to have an x-ray type image taken of their body while rude workers paw through their belongings just to have the privilege of going from point a to point b. Traveling you’re assumed to be a threat.

The melting pot that makes America strong, vibrant and interesting is dissipating.  Immigration changes from Bush 43 through Obama have now resulted in record deportations.

America is a divided country. The anger and differences between political parties is as virulent as I’ve seen and experienced in my lifetime.

It didn’t have to be this way. And, in fact, it wasn’t. For the first weeks to a month after the attacks President Bush, Congress, religious leaders, secular leaders alike all calmed the nation. Retaliation was not the primary conversation. Healing and understanding and building bridges between our differences was. We spent time and energy being with each other and not fighting. The same thing we experienced in a microcosm after our performance was becoming part of the culture.

Then the wars started, the economy crashed and polarization has become the norm. As we mark fifteen years since the attacks that took 2,977 I mourn not only their passing, but the loss of the America we could have been.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Riding Danger

The old expression “it’s like riding a bike” refers to a task or project that once learned always stays with you. If you get the balance of centering your gravity on two wheels while pedaling and not falling down then no matter how long it’s been the idea is that you revert to that balance whenever you get back on a bike. I haven’t tested the concept. The last time I was on a bike that wasn’t stationary in a gym hearkens back to the early 1990’s. Since then no matter what city I’ve lived in I have become the one bicyclists love to hate. At the risk of becoming a social pariah among many – I hereby declare my wish that bikes get banned from the roadway and remain for recreational use.

I live in Boston. Founded in 1630 it’s one of the oldest cities in the United States. Many of the sidewalks are laid with brick – and often when they become too unsteady to walk on the brick is replaced…no concrete or asphalt here. The streets are narrow. I traded in my Honda Accord when I arrived for the more compact Civic just to be able to navigate. I’d probably be better served in a Fit but I doubt I’d fit in one of them. My point is that this city is a city of narrow streets, unstable walkways and a pedestrian class who see traffic signals as suggestions. It’s no place for bikes.

Cyclists have been killed and there are many accidents. According to the Boston Globe’s 2015 report 13 people have been killed while riding in the past five years. “Figures kept by Boston Emergency Medical Services show an average of about 520 fatal and nonfatal [bicycle] crashes annually in Boston from 2010 through 2014.”

Inevitably the blame game begins. Cyclists who are required to follow the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles often don’t. They weave and bob through traffic. They complain that drivers don’t pay attention, encroach on the bike lanes afforded to them and when parking drivers don’t look before opening their doors. As with most things there’s plenty of blame to go around. (There's also the issues that cyclists don't pay for the roads while drivers do.)

Jeff Jacoby a columnist for the Boston Globe wrote last year wrote: “Vehicles weigh thousands of pounds, operate at 300-plus horsepower, and are indispensable to the economic and social well-being of virtually every American community. Bicycles can be an enjoyable, even exhilarating, way to get around. So can horses, skis, and roller skates. Adding any of them to the flow of motorized traffic on roads that already tend to be too clogged, however, is irresponsible and dangerous.”

He continued: “According to the latest Census Bureau data, more than 122 million people commute each day by car, truck, or van. Fewer than 900,000 bike to work. Do the math: For every cyclist pedaling to or from work, there are 136 drivers. Add the passengers who commute by bus and streetcar, and that ratio is even more lopsided. When it comes to urban transportation, bike riders play a trifling role — literally less than a rounding error. Far more people walk to work.”

It’s not unique to Boston. When I was in Los Angeles this summer there was an ever increasing number of cyclists on the streets. California passed a law in 2014 requiring motorists to give bikes three feet of space.

South of LA in Long Beach they have taken a different approach. Bicycle lanes are physically separate from the road that cars used. The lanes are painted in a separate color and there are concrete barriers preventing the two from mixing. In the short time I was there it seemed to work and make sense. Old cities like Boston just don’t have the physical space to do that. Newer cities like Los Angeles are already overcrowded with vehicle traffic.

We may never forget the intuitiveness of riding a bike. But we should remember that city roads are for cars.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

What Ailes Us

My niece recently had her theatrical debut in a children’s production of “Oz.” And everything that just crossed your mind about what that production would be is absolutely true. She was, of course, brilliant and perfect and I’m proud that she’s continuing the family tradition of experiencing and thriving in the arts. The community theatre production’s tone was set when minutes into the show Toto escaped from the basket on stage and bolted for the door through the audience. It happened a couple of times much to the merriment of the cast and the audience. One of the show’s signature songs “Ding-Dong the witch is dead, the wicked witch” reminded me of what’s happened in the Summer of 2016 at Fox News.

Brian Seltzer of CNN reported: “Roger Ailes has resigned from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations -- an ignoble end to his legendary, controversial twenty-year tenure running the country's dominant cable news channel.” He has now been replaced by a new management structure that largely keeps the editorial focus consistent. Some call is conservative, I call it anti-progressive. However you describe it – there is no doubt about its impact on the bottom line.

“The Pew Research Center's latest State of the News Media report issued in June 2016 estimated Fox News' 2015 profit at $1.5 billion, well ahead its closest rival Time Warner's (TWX) CNN, which Pew estimated to earn $381 million, and Comcast's (CMCSA) MSNBC, which Pew projected to earn $227 million.”

Fox News generates the lion’s share of profit for 21 Century Fox, the parent company. It is no surprise, then, that the company moved swiftly to isolate the allegations of sexual harassment and protect the golden egg. Equally as important in the month following the resignation Rupert Murdoch, patriarch of the Fox empire, himself “ran” the division.

Fox News has had more than a financial impact. It has changed U.S. politics and by extension America itself. The National Bureau of Economic Research (a private, non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to conducting economic research and to disseminating research findings among academics, public policy makers, and business professionals) did an analysis of Fox News. It looked at the impact from the founding of the channel in 1996 through 2000. They did so in 2006 – ten years ago.  The summary concluded: “Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its viewers to vote Republican. We interpret the results in light of a simple model of voter learning about media bias and about politician quality. The Fox News effect could be a temporary learning effect for rational voters, or a permanent effect for voters subject to non-rational persuasion.”
It’s no surprise then that in its twenty years on the air that every major Republican candidate for President has some relationship with the channel. summarized another half dozen studies: “Fox News has had a significant effect on the political process and electoral outcomes in America.”

Pew Research in 2014 outlined the power the network has amassed. “It dominates the cable news ratings and wields substantial power in the world of conservative politics.”

The meshing of “news” and “opinion” is the signature achievement of the channel and what drives its popularity. Events are reported through a filter that presumes the conservative position is correct. Questions are framed to guests with that opinion integrated into them. Its so pervasive that its easy to miss it. That’s the legacy of the house that Roger built. And its what ails the country because it is far from fair and balanced.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Extreme Hiring

I’ve hired a lot of people in my career. I’ve made some whopper mistakes along the way. I’ve also given people the ability to grow and thrive in new situations. Accurately representing skills, experience and interests is really important when seeking new opportunities. It’s startling how lazy people are when seeking a new position. Whether it’s grammatical errors or addressing the cover note to the wrong company or citing a different position than was advertised – there’s a lot of room for improvement. Many of today’s applicants are not short of confidence, however. Resumes have become thesaurus-like with the wide range of kudos that people give themselves. The slapping of oneself on the back is very much in line with the Presidential election 2016.

Donald J. Trump is the obvious example of hubris. Whether it’s congratulating himself on his ratings, his crowds, his triumphs or his plans – they are framed around his own exceptionalism. So much so that it’s easy to dismiss everything he says.

Hilary Clinton is less obvious because the Trump shadow is so significant. Her campaign surrogates have taken the boasting to a new and different level. President Obama during the Democratic National Convention echoed what many others have said throughout the campaign and has been a social media meme: “There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton.”

Really? How do you determine who is the most qualified? Is it based on actual experience? Then maybe somebody like Richard Nixon who served for eight years as VP would top the list? Perhaps the determination can be made by number of years in public service. James Buchanan would win that with 30 ¼ years in public office before he became President. By that same measure Theodore Roosevelt would have to be low on the list with only 4 ½ years of service before taking the Presidency.

An independent analysis by Electoral-Vote has been done comparing the efficacy of Presidents based on their experience prior to winning the Oval Office. There is no correlation between the greatness or effectiveness of a President and the years of experience before taking office.

Vox a progressive policy and politics site investigated the claim. It comes to the same conclusion as the independent analysis: “Qualifications are a fine thing to have. But history suggests they’re far from the most important thing when it comes to effective presidential leadership.”

No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any Person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States. 
ARTICLE II, SECTION 1, CLAUSE 5 of the U.S. Constitution.

Both Donald J. Trump and Hilary Clinton meet the minimum standards of eligibility to hold the Office of the President. Then again, so do I and probably lots of you readers.

Secretary Clinton is absolutely qualified to be President. She has an impressive resume from her service as First Lady of Arkansas to her role in Healthcare in the 1990’s to representing New York as a Senator and then serving one term as Secretary of State. Compared to The Donald her experience in public office overshadows his tremendously. Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for President, has eight years as New Mexico’s Governor – more governing experience than either Clinton or Trump.

Having a diverse resume doesn’t make her “the most qualified person” to ever seek the office. It’s just not true. It’s not true on so many levels – not the least of which is that “qualified” hasn’t been defined. More importantly – it doesn’t need to be true. It’s like those hyped up resumes that fly across my desk – she doesn’t have to be “the most qualified person to ever seek the office” in order to hawk her credentials and compare them against Trump. 

It’s this type of exaggeration – the one that’s silly and not needed – that makes some people suspect of her honesty. Just like when I review a resume. If somebody is going to take liberties on that – what else are they hiding that’s more serious? For somebody like Secretary Clinton who has a trust deficiency in the public mind – you’d think the campaign would be very diligent in not overstating anything.

It used to be that some humility went a long way towards the public choosing a President. The 2016 campaign of Extreme Hiring has changed that, and we’re all the worse for it.