12 reasons Hillary Clinton’s email secrecy is a problem

As the initial furor subsides following news of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email system while serving as Secretary of State, her political supporters have begun dismissing the controversy as much ado about nothing.

The passage of time, political partisanship and limits on the average American’s attention span will no doubt aid them in that effort.

So in order to preserve an outline of the specifics, what follows are 12 distinct reasons why Secretary Clinton’s email secrecy is a problem:

1. Sec. Clinton did not use a government email address as expected of government employees, including those in her own department; at least one ambassador lost his job for this reason while Clinton was Secretary of State. (Source: CNN)

2. Sec. Clinton routed government business through a private email server, at least temporarily shielding her communications from public records requests, including those filed by the Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act; Sec. Clinton’s actions prevented news agencies and other organizations from accessing public documents. (Source: Associated Press)

3. Sec. Clinton exclusively used a private email address (or addresses), and a private email server, for official communication, subjecting potentially classified information to extra security risks. (Source: Wired)

4. Sec. Clinton claims to have used a private email system for the “convenience” of using a single (potentially unsecure) device, but she recently admitted to using multiple electronic communication devices. (Source: ABC News)

5. Sec. Clinton maintained public documents on equipment not authorized, maintained or inspected by government personnel, inviting the prospect of data loss, file corruption and other technical issues that could have damaged or destroyed them. (Source: Breitbart News)

hdr226. Sec. Clinton presumably authorized her associates to delete nearly 32,000 records, including some that may have been public documents; additionally, Sec. Clinton’s team has released conflicting information about the process by which the emails were reviewed and deleted. (Source: ABC News)

7. Sec. Clinton has to date refused to allow review of her “private” records and equipment by government personnel or neutral, third party investigators. (Source: New York Post)

8. Sec. Clinton’s use of a private email system prevented documents under subpoena from being accessed by members of Congress investigating the government’s response to a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012, in which a U.S. Ambassador, a U.S. foreign service officer and two Navy SEALs were killed. (Source: ABC News)

9. Sec. Clinton’s claim to privacy is based on the prospect of “personal communications from my husband and me” becoming public, even though her husband’s spokesman says the former President doesn’t use email. (Source: National Review)

10. Sec. Clinton did not release even a subset of her emails to the State Department until two years after leaving office, which may be in violation of her duty to turn over public documents as specified in the OF109 separation statement. (Source: Fox News)

11. Sec. Clinton has not made herself available to answer questions beyond fielding fewer than ten from reporters pre-selected by a member of her personal staff following a speech at the UN, where access was restricted. (Source: Business Insider)

12. Sec. Clinton’s public and “private” communications could shed additional light on the millions of dollars in foreign donations made to the Clinton Foundation during her time as the country’s top diplomat, in violation of the foundation’s ethics agreement, could reveal context behind any possible diplomatic favors being done for the donor countries, and could help determine how much she and her family may have personally benefited from these dual roles. (Source: Washington Post)

Bonus reason: Even if the 12 items above weren’t problematic, consider the simple fact that Hillary Clinton chose to pay for the benefits of a private email system instead of using the free, public email system available to her, as required of other federal employees. This tells us not only that Hillary Clinton understands the limitations and inconvenience that a “public option” provided by the federal government may impart, but also that she considers herself not beholden to the same set of rules that govern everyone else.

The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, by Jonah Goldberg

The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of IdeasThe Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas by Jonah Goldberg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jonah Goldberg’s second book is nothing like Liberal Fascism, his debut. While both books are concerned with correcting the historical record, challenging commonly-held assumptions and forcing the political Left to face its own ideological endowment, The Tyranny of Clichés is less focused and more rapidly paced. It also features the breezy humor of Goldberg’s syndicated column and online editorials, conspicuously absent from the first.

That’s not to say Goldberg’s follow-up lacks serious punch. But in place of the one hefty knockout blow of Liberal Fascism, the short chapters of The Tyranny of Clichés cover a wide range of subjects and deliver a combination of political jabs and hooks. In that sense, the book is closer in style to The Secret Knowledge by David Mamet, whose approving quote appears on the dust jacket.

In The Tyranny of Clichés, Goldberg exposes the ideological wolves lurking beneath a variety of common arguments (or mere catchphrases masquerading as arguments) and denies them unearned access to the moral high ground they’re accustomed to roaming, unchallenged.

“Progressives,” Goldberg writes, “hide their ideological agenda within Trojan Horse clichés and smug assertions that they are simply pragmatists, fact finders, and empiricists who are clearheaded slaves to ‘what works.'”

Goldberg saves his most succinct definition of the title for the chapter on science, more than halfway through the book: “[T]he tyranny of clichés can be understood as the use of allegedly nonideological insights to advance starkly ideological understandings of the world[.]”

While some of the clichés Goldberg targets are easily recognized and dispatched with, such as “violence never solved anything,” or “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter,” most of them are less obvious and require deeper examination.

If I have any criticism of The Tyranny of Cliches, it’s limited to the few times Goldberg resorts to clichés himself (although he admits to it immediately upon writing, “forgetting history can lead to repeating it”) and to my annoyance with the cover art. Roman Genn is a talented caricature artist, but the cover illustration does not match the mood of the book. Additionally, it gets the point wrong. If the clichés allow radicals to disguise their true intentions, the marionette should look unassuming and the puppeteer should be the pierced, shrieking, Che Guevara t-shirt wearing, cliché(!) Marxist student.

That said, readers will enjoy discovering many interesting pieces of forgotten history while watching Goldberg deconstruct, dismantle and debunk many of the popular arguments and expressions in currency today among progressives and reflexively anti-American radicals.

Novus Ordo Seclorum by Forrest McDonald

novus-ordo-seclorumNovus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution by Forrest McDonald

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I received this book as a gift and dropped in without knowing it was part three of a historical trilogy.

With Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, historian Forrest McDonald completes the series he began with We the People: The Economic Origins of the Constitution, and followed with E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic, 1776-1790.

McDonald submitted the first in the series as a corrective response to another study of the Founders, which had inappropriately interpreted the Constitution as a document “serving the economic interests of the Framers as members of the propertied class.”

In Novus Ordo Seclorum, or “new order of the ages,” McDonald completes his original argument that the Founders didn’t have a singular, shared, economic interest, while also responding to a consensus that had emerged among historians pinning the Constitution’s foundation to neoclassical republican ideology.

This consensus McDonald finds “ultimately unsatisfying” for a similar reason, because “it fails to distinguish among the several kinds of republicanism that were espoused,” reflecting regionally different social and economic norms.

While the Founders had many things in common – shared experiences, a shared reverence for republican governance, and knowledge of history and political theory – they often had different understandings of the terms, principles and preferred means.

And perhaps just as striking, the ideological reference points at their disposal were incompatible. Nothing in history or in theory had led them directly to the decisions they made in forming the Constitution, nor had they arrived at the outcome without serious deliberation, repeated compromises, and a leap of faith.

The result was a Constitution unlike any previously written, detailing a government assembled like none had ever been. There was no terminology even to describe its form, so the word “republic” was appropriated and redefined.

McDonald makes his case by offering “a reasonably comprehensive survey of the complex body of political thought (including history and law and political economy) that went into the framing of the Constitution.”

The survey is not an easy read, and it could certainly benefit from some formatting enhancements (subheadings, numbered lists, etc.). There is no captivating narrative, nor any engaging drama, just a sober presentation of facts, littered with footnotes. That’s the reason I give it a two-star rating, despite the importance of the subject, and the seriousness and reverence with which it is examined.

The serious reader will learn much about the context that shaped the Founders’ opinions, what ideas were at the ready, what kind of legal environment had been their custom, and what they had meant by key terms such as liberty, property, and equality.

McDonald also catalogs what was then understood about the relatively new economic field of study, and he identifies the camps that formed around various points during the Constitutional Convention.

What I appreciate most from Novus Ordo Seclorum is the impression of the Constitution as a delicate collage, the product of a diverse array of thinkers, compromises and considerations. The whole is stronger than the parts, and if any of them had been more or less dominant, the entire project could have fallen apart quickly, or never been completed in the first place.

Five terrible things Ronald Reagan did as President

I recently came across a post by something called Blue Nation Review titled 5 Terrible Things Ronald Reagan Did As President, by Jesse Berney. As a casual Reagan fan, I was curious to hear about these terrible things.

Conservatives like to pretend that Presidents Day is a holiday for the exclusive celebration of Ronald Reagan, their favorite president and a man they lionize as an earthbound saint crossed with the world’s manliest cowboy.

So it’s a good idea to remember Reagan’s real legacy: a bad president surrounded by bad people who did bad things. Here are five of the worst things Reagan did as president to remind you exactly the kind of leader he was.

Straw man introduced? Check.

Now let’s entertain the compelling reasons why President Reagan was a Really Bad Man™.

5. Reagan Stole Money from the Social Security Trust Fund

Remember those Saturday Night Live sketches in 2000 where Al Gore promised to put Social Security in a lockbox? (If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, Al Gore is the man who invented the Internet and came up with the global warming hoax.)

The reason Gore was so committed to protecting Social Security is that Ronald Reagan used the funds as his personal piggy bank. After his tax cuts devastated the federal treasury, ushering in the era of giant deficits we’re still mired in today, Reagan raised Social Security taxes, ostensibly to protect Social Security for future generations. Instead, he dumped that money into the general treasury fund to reduce the deficits he had created. Speaking of corruption…

Do a Google search for Social Security general fund.

The first result is a page on the Social Security Administration’s website, headline: Debunking Some Internet Myths- Part 2.

Here’s the first item:

Q1. Which political party took Social Security from the independent trust fund and put it into the general fund so that Congress could spend it?

A1: There has never been any change in the way the Social Security program is financed or the way that Social Security payroll taxes are used by the federal government. The Social Security Trust Fund was created in 1939 as part of the Amendments enacted in that year. From its inception, the Trust Fund has always worked the same way. The Social Security Trust Fund has never been “put into the general fund of the government.

The whole thing is worth reading, but I’ll leave it at that. Claim disproved with one Google search and one click.

Verdict: false.


4. Reagan Filled His Administration With Corrupt People

No administration was as corrupt as Ronald Reagan’s, not even Nixon’s. His attorney general resigned after he was involved with a company that received illegal no-bid contracts. His secretary of the interior, who thought his job was to sell off federal lands to defense contractors, was indicted on multiple counts of perjury.

Reagan’s vice president and successor, George Bush, pardoned six separate people for their roles in the Iran-Contra affair, including Reagan’s National Security adviser and his secretary of defense. Speaking of Iran-Contra…

Example 1: “His attorney general resigned after he was involved with a company that received illegal no-bid contracts.”

Response: Reagan’s second attorney general was Ed Meese. A special prosecutor appointed to investigate Meese’s involvement in the Wedtech Scandal ultimately found no grounds for legal action against him. Meese later resigned with a clear name, saying he had been “completely vindicated.”

Meanwhile, two members of Congress, both Democrats, resigned due to the scandal. Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-NY) was “convicted of 15 counts of obstruction of justice and accepting illegal gratuities” and was sentenced to eight years. The other was Robert Garcia (D-NY). Two Maryland state senators connected to the scandal also resigned and did jail time, both Democrats.

Example 2: “His secretary of the interior, who thought his job was to sell off federal lands to defense contractors, was indicted on multiple counts of perjury.”

Response: James Watt served as Secretary of the Interior from 1981 to 1983. Thirteen years later, Watt was “charged with felony counts of perjury and making false statements to cover up his work as a consultant seeking Federal aid from HUD after he left the Government in 1983.” Watt pled guilty to a single misdemeanor that did not occur while he was a member of Reagan’s cabinet, that concerned a department other than the one he had led, and that resulted in a fine and probation.

Example 3 is repeated below, and you don’t get to count it twice.

Verdict: false.


3. Reagan Presided Over the Iran-Contra Affair

In 1985 and 1986, Ronald Reagan sold arms to Iran, locked in a horrific war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for cash and the release of U.S. hostages. The sales to Iran violated sanctions against Iran.

But much of the money that came from the sales was diverted to fund the Contras, right-wing rebels fighting the left-wing Sandinista government of Nicaragua. That was in violation of laws against helping the Contras.

As noted above, George Bush had to pardon several Reagan aides in the wake of the scandal. Speaking of aides…

Reagan-can-he-recoverIt’s interesting. President Reagan’s worst moment in office was his (somewhat successful) attempt to free American hostages being held by radical Islamic terrorists, by allowing a deal between Israel and (supposed) moderates in Iran, while rogue members of his administration directed funds to democratic allies fighting for freedom in Central America, and were fired or resigned.

These days, things are a little different. President Obama releases radical Islamic terrorists who return to the battlefield in exchange for a deserter, and the CIA sets up camp in Libya to monitor an arms deal when an American ambassador and three others are killed by radical Islamic terrorists, and members of his administration blame it on a protest over a Youtube video, and are promoted.

Verdict: true enough, but give me Iran-Contra over Gitmo-Bergdahl every day of the week.

Gosh, if #3 is Iran-Contra, there must be some really terrible things ahead. Right?

2. Reagan Refused to Mention AIDS, Then Cut Funding for Research

In the early 80s, a horrific new epidemic ravaged America’s gay population. Because so many of the victims of AIDS were gay, the right-wing viewed the disease as a kind of divine retribution for their sins.

Reagan didn’t mention AIDS in public until September 1985, after more than 10,000 people had died from the disease. In 1986, Reagan called for a report on AIDS but also proposed cutting federal funds for research and patient care as treatments were just starting to make it to market. Speaking of inhumanity towards his fellow man…

If Reagan “refused to mention AIDS,” why did he instruct the surgeon general to prepare a “major report” on the disease in 1986, and why did he form the President’s Commission on the HIV Epidemic in 1987?

As for “cutting federal funds,” Reagan initially budgeted $85 million for AIDS research in 1986, later increased that to $126 million, and then again to $196 million. For his 1987 budget, he increased the request to $213 million.

Verdict: false.

1. Reagan Opposed Sanctions on Apartheid Era-South Africa

When Congress looked likely to pass sanctions on South Africa to battle apartheid in 1985, Reagan vigorously opposed any action. In order to stop moderate Republicans from defecting, he issued a half-assed executive order imposing some sanctions.

The next year, when Congress realized Reagan’s sanctions didn’t have teeth, it overwhelmingly passed a bill imposing real sanctions on the racist regime. Reagan vetoed the bill. Happily there were enough votes to override his veto, and the sanctions became a key part of the eventual end of apartheid.

Ronald Reagan and Congress both put sanctions on South Africa over apartheid. Reagan through executive order in 1985, Congress through legislation in 1986. Reagan vetoed the set of sanctions drafted by Congress, arguing that they would hurt the very people they were intended to help. The disagreement was over the tactics, not the goal.

Is there a similar debate happening today? Actually, yes.

President Obama recently announced a change in relations with Cuba, and called for an end to sanctions, despite saying he was “under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.” Obama argues the sanctions have hurt the Cuban people but haven’t done much to change its leadership in the five decades they’ve been in force.

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and many others in Congress believe the sanctions should remain until Cuba’s leadership makes more concessions. Obama disagrees. Does that mean the President opposes freedom for Cubans, or simply that he disagrees on the effectiveness of the sanctions in bringing about the desired result?

Verdict: false.

Final tally: 4 false, 1 true, but true in the “let’s free U.S. prisoners instead of terrorists” kind of way.

Knowing is Harf the battle: fighting ISIS at the root

What is root cause of terrorism, and what can be done about it?

These were the central questions being discussed in America this week, although much of the media attention was focused more specifically on the answers provided by State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf.

“We cannot kill our way out of this war,” Harf told Chris Matthews in an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball. “We need… to go after the root causes that leads people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs…”

When an incredulous Matthews responded that Muslim poverty couldn’t be stopped “in our lifetime, or 50 lifetimes,” Harf continued:

“We can work with countries around the world to help improve their governance, we can help them build their economies, so they can have job opportunities for these people. You’re right, there is no easy solution in the long-term to preventing and combating violent extremism, but if we can help countries work at the root causes of this, what makes these 17-year-old kids pick up an AK-47, instead of try to start a business? Maybe we can try– try to chip away at this problem, while at the same time going after the threat, taking on ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, and helping our partners around the world.”

Critics pointed to Harf’s “jobs for terrorists” line as evidence of the administration’s refusal to clearly identify the enemy and of the president’s lack of urgency in providing a military response. For some, it also illustrated the administration’s new doctrine of “strategic patience,” released this month as the official national security strategy.

Conservative cartoonist Michael Ramirez mocked Harf with his usual flair:

The controversy reminded me of the frequent criticism against President George W. Bush, that a country can’t “impose democracy” on another. The Bush strategy, as presented in his second inaugural address, had called for the spread of freedom and democratic rule around the world as a counter to terrorist recruiting efforts.

But if it’s an intolerable imposition to give oppressed nations the opportunity for self-governance, isn’t it much more invasive and presumptuous to restructure a foreign country’s economy?

I wasn’t the only one reminded of Bush. The following afternoon, Harf took to Twitter and defended her comments by citing the former president.

Harf’s posts represented a shocking reversal for an administration that came to power by running hard against the Bush foreign policy and has been hell-bent on grinding his legacy into the ground.

But Harf wasn’t done yet. Later that evening, she appeared on CNN’s The Situation Room, where Wolf Blitzer repeatedly asked her to explain.

After the third iteration, a frustrated Harf said her comments “might be too nuanced of an argument for some like I’ve seen over the past 24 hours, some of the commentary out there…”

Harf may actually have a point, but part of the disconnect is created by the administration’s unwillingness to correctly identify the source of terrorism, or to even use the terms “Islamic extremism” or “Islamic terrorism,” as Blitzer’s first two questions revealed. Harf says the administration and the State Department “don’t want to give them religious credibility.”

This refusal prevents Harf from making a distinction between the terrorist leaders motivated by radical Islam and the wider population of young Muslims who might not fall under their influence as easily under better conditions — a democratic government, a functioning market economy, etc.

What Harf was trying to say is spelled out clearly in a New York Times news analysis by Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis:

In promoting democracy and freedom as part of the solution to terrorism, Mr. Obama is returning to a theme he has advanced episodically in the past, and one that his predecessor, President George W. Bush, made the centerpiece of his second inaugural address in 2005. Mr. Obama, like Mr. Bush, argues that oppression, corruption and injustice create openings for extremists to exploit disgruntled young people.

…Yet, as he embraced a message similar to his predecessor’s, Mr. Obama offered less emphasis on force than Mr. Bush was known for. Mr. Obama condemned recent terrorist attacks but did not present terrorism as an existential threat like Mr. Bush did, nor did he use some of the phrases Mr. Bush used to refer to Islamic radicalism.

violent-extremismInstead of radical Islam, the administration has decided to combat “violent extremism” and “violent extremists,” phrases used by Harf in these two interviews seven times, and appearing in the brief fact sheet for the White House “Summit on Countering Violent Extremism” a total of 32 times.

The New York Post quotes President Obama as saying, “No religion is responsible for terrorism — people are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

Mr. President, the NRA called; they want their (accurate) cliché back.

The refusal by Obama and Harf to identify and label the enemy contrasts sharply with a lengthy feature article by Graeme Wood in the March issue of The Atlantic, What ISIS really wants.

Wood reveals how ISIS is motivated by radical Islam to establish a caliphate and launch an apocalyptic war.

Defeating ISIS might very well depend on the United States advocating better governance and economic development, to minimize the terrorists’ ability to recruit, in addition to coordinated, armed resistance by a coalition of nations.

But it also requires knowledge of the enemy’s identity, recognition that the political ideology of radical Islam is the main source of the problem among its leadership.

At least some in the previous administration got it right, as did former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in this landmark Foreign Affairs article:

The first challenge is the global ideology of violent Islamist extremism, as embodied by groups, such as al Qaeda, that thoroughly reject the basic tenets of modern politics, seeking instead to topple sovereign states, erase national borders, and restore the imperial structure of the ancient caliphate. To resist this threat, the United States will need friends and allies in the region who are willing and able to take action against the terrorists among them. Ultimately, however, this is more than just a struggle of arms; it is a contest of ideas. Al Qaeda’s theory of victory is to hijack the legitimate local and national grievances of Muslim societies and twist them into an ideological narrative of endless struggle against Western, especially U.S., oppression. The good news is that al Qaeda’s intolerant ideology can be enforced only through brutality and violence. When people are free to choose, as we have seen in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq’s Anbar Province, they reject al Qaeda’s ideology and rebel against its control. Our theory of victory, therefore, must be to offer people a democratic path to advance their interests peacefully — to develop their talents, to redress injustices, and to live in freedom and dignity. In this sense, the fight against terrorism is a kind of global counterinsurgency: the center of gravity is not the enemies we fight but the societies they are trying to radicalize.

How can we win a war of ideas if we refuse to acknowledge the enemy’s ideology?