Far More Regard For Classified Documents Must Be Demonstrated

It goes without saying the utmost diligence should be made by our top leaders regarding the safeguarding of documents with top secret clearances.  The need to be demanding of this bottom line has nothing to do with politics or the latest partisan zeal of the moment. It has everything to do with national security, which might range from military information to human resources doing government work undercover in a nation far from our shores. Joe Biden, in his role as vice president to President Obama, had every reason to be as strict with such documents on his watch as his admonitions were to Donald Trump over such documents found at the Mar-a-Lago resort.  When it comes to the documents themselves there is no wiggle room for treating them with the sensitivity they deserve based on their classification.

While I understand the long-simmering argument that some advocate for a more transparent governing process where everything that might be a shade embarrassing or nuanced with partisan possibilities should not be marked with limitations from the general public to view, (and such arguments I have often times found myself in agreement with), the matters of which make for document headlines between Trump and Biden do not fall within that grouping.  I am quite certain the documents in question do not deal with agricultural output from China or electrical power possibilities in Afghanistan. One has to strongly suspect the papers found in the homes of Trump and Biden were related to matters of national importance.  

We know from reports, thus far, that less than 25 documents were found in locations used by Biden. More than 300 documents were located in the possession of Trump after three separate retrievals, including the search of Mar-a-Lago.  We also know from reporting that one of those documents deals with a foreign country’s military defenses and nuclear capabilities.  Other news sources have alerted the country that other documents found in Florida dealt with Iran and China and were of a highly sensitive nature.  I am certain that with some broad titling, we will also become aware of the contents of documents found at Biden’s Washington office and his home.

The significant difference in these cases is a legal one.  Not as sexy for the partisans when stacked against their opponent, but the only one that matters when it comes to the investigations underway by the Justice Department. Federal law prohibits knowing such classified documents have been improperly removed and failing “to make prompt report of such loss, theft, abstraction, or destruction to his superior officer.”  We know that lawyers for Biden reported the discovery of documents in the D.C. office at once, as well as the personal home of the President, and turned them over to the proper authorities.

I well understand that in the toxic brew of national politics, the facts and vast distinctions between Trump and Biden in relation to the classified documents will be meshed to make it seem they are one and the same.  But of course, they are not. Trump refused to hand over documents identified as missing and demanded by the National Archives and Records Administration, which then necessitated the FBI, with a search warrant, to undertake their mission where top secret material was located.  Meanwhile, Biden did not conceal documents or stand in defiance of requests to give them back to the government.  For partisans, the legal aspect will lack the spark they need to gin up the base of their followers.  For the rest of us, we deal with whether someone deliberately held onto classified documents and refused to cooperate with authorities, as opposed to voluntarily returning them.  The same ground the DOJ stands on when readying their reports.

Finally, James made a comment in our home a few days ago as we bantered about this news story.  Amazon can track millions and millions of widgets and packages, both large and small, and alert people to where they are in the purchasing and delivery process. Certainly, the federal government can have a coding process for the classified documents it maintains and knows who has what and where it should be. Given the abilities of young people to navigate with modern technology, I suspect one of them could devise such a computer program by the end of the fourth period.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee Running For CA Senate Seat, My Letter To Her Following 9/11 Terrorism

I was greeted this morning with truly good news upon learning that Californian Congresswoman Barbara Lee will be seeking the nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2024. Often over the decades, I have penned my thoughts and perspectives to elected officials, as with this letter to Lee from September 15, 2001, which I post below. It underscores my admiration and respect she creates among the citizenry. I am most proud of her record, along with her commitment to the values and ideals of our nation. My bedrock foundations regarding issues in the Middle East have long been positioned on history and reason. Lee will be a strong advocate of the same as a United States senator.

Honorable Barbara Lee
United States House of Representatives
426 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0509

September 15, 2001
Dear Representative Lee,

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your courageous vote regarding the course of action that our nation should employ regarding the horrendous events that unfolded on September 11, 2001.  Public service is a noble calling and made more so by those who are motivated by conscience, and as such, work against the prevailing winds.

As an American who watched with revulsion as our nation was besieged by terrorism, I share the national outrage and anger that we commonly feel.  I strongly want the perpetrators found and dealt with forcefully.  While I believe that this deed must be met head-on with a strong American response, I am also very concerned about the national lust for blood and the foreign policy repercussions that would result from open-ended reprisals.

National discourse on foreign policy is a rarity.  Even during national campaigns the issues that confront the United States on the world stage are relegated to a low status.  Our national foreign policy intelligence quotient is quite low.  And yet the polls show that overnight we have become a nation of “experts.”  National anger, as demonstrated by polls, and a Congress that does not have the will to demonstrate leadership apart from the prevailing mood will insure long-term effects that we will regret.

The Middle East has always been a highly contentious and volatile area.  The history and religions of the area have often blinded both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from finding common bonds.  Generations of Palestinians have lived with the knowledge that America funds Israel and supplies them with armaments that are often used against Arabs and Muslims.  The utter frustrations and anger that have festered in the Middle East have helped to radicalize many against Israel and the United States.  Even the moderate elements of the PLO along with nation-states in that region are facing a more difficult time in urging restraint against the radical elements.  And if America strikes in a fashion that only makes it more improbable for moderate voices to be heard, the future looks bleak.

I propose that you use your position to urge a double-pronged approach to the new dynamics that we confront. While we must act against those responsible for this heinous crime we also must pursue a high-level and visible diplomatic mission to the Middle East.  We must insure that even-handedness is the basis by which we act. We must be willing to act as boldly in our diplomatic resolve as we are prepared to do with our military means. Such a dual track will ensure that a just response is leveled against those who did our country harm, but also will show our desire to work for a meaningful and just resolution to the Middle East conflict.

I am reminded of a diplomatic mission that was deemed impossible in the 1970s.  President Jimmy Carter, with unshakable faith and tenaciousness held firm to his goal of a peace accord between Israel and Egypt.  When Prime Minster Begin and President Sadat wanted to leave Camp David without an accord our President relentlessly pursued the goal of our better angels.  In the end, a treaty was agreed to that still provides benefits to both parties.

That scope of vision and determination once again has to be our mission.  As the leader of the free world, we have the means and power to shape a more hopeful world.  History will severely judge us if we do not try.

An often-told story should guide you and other members of Congress in the days ahead.  On his march through France, Napoleon ordered trees to be planted along the roads his marching troops were to use.  One of his advisors replied that it would take 20 years to achieve that goal.  To that Napoleon said, “Well, then we better start planting today.”  

Our nation has been deeply wounded.  Our fears have been heightened.  But our history shows that when difficult times confront Americans we pull together and respond with unity and hope for a better tomorrow.

The vote you took, and the stand you espouse, can be the first visible step towards a better tomorrow.  We urge your continued resolve and involvement with this chapter of our nation’s life.


House Cameras Should Have Full Rein, Democracy On Parade Good For Nation

Politicos had the week of their lives as the House of Representatives slogged through a 15-ballot process to determine a Speaker, an epic-sized drama with a cast of characters and plot twists that famed author Allen Drury (Advise and Consent series) would have had a hard time creating. It was an adrenaline rush, that once concluded very late Friday night, allowing for the nation of television watchers and social media followers to lean back deep in their sofas and truly exclaim “Wow!”

There was no way for even casual viewers or the most lackadaisical of citizens not to have been aware history was being made.  The nation soon was talking about the fact it had been nearly a century that a Speaker election at the Capitol required more than a single ballot.  Tension mounted so that reporters spoke openly and even somewhat thrillingly that no one knew how the events would play out.  This was after all, why they wished to join the journalism profession. Soon those in the land who thought they were not interested in history started talking about Nathaniel Prentice Banks, who in 1855 required 133 ballots over two months to secure the gavel. It was that type of week.

As the politics were playing out with spirited nominating speeches on the chaotic House floor, while the ratings for all news channels increased, Americans realized something truly quite fascinating was occurring in front of their eyes. Gone were the stale and formalized offerings from the C-SPAN cameras that only allowed for the House member speaking to be viewed, or the chair of the Speaker to be focused upon.  Rather there was a freewheeling display for the citizens to watch, as the cameras caught every angle of the story and made sure the main players and the supporting roles in the drama had plenty of air-time. On the first day, there was lonely George Santos, who got a break in his highly troubling running narrative due to a much larger headline overshadowing him. There were animated discussions where Matt Gaetz was the focal point for viewers. Friday night there was nearly a brawl that was captured by the cameras.  Though this was not legislative sausage being made, the nation was better understanding what was happening so as to elect the main meat grinder.

Congressman Mike Rogers was physically restrained by another member while going after Matt Gaetz Friday night.

Needless to say, there are news stories to be seen and told regarding the working coalitions of House members via the interactions on the floor.  Accounts that can only be presented fully to the nation if House cameras are allowed to record such moments. But all that was lost again once the House passed its rules and again abides by the most outdated and self-protecting rules in Washington.  (Other than at the Supreme Court.)

Brain Stelter, former anchor of CNN’s Reliable Sources is a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. He made a very compelling argument for the cameras to operate in an open and transparent fashion in a must-read column in the Boston Globe.

But consider what the public is usually unable to see: The joint session of Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, was not deemed deserving of independent TV coverage. So when the proceedings were adjourned due to the mob at the doors, the cameras were immediately turned off. Viewers should have been able to see the attack as it happened on the House floor — and the imagery would have made it harder for hard-right media personalities to deny the reality of that day.

But the desire to treat the House as a private workspace is superseded by the very public nature of the job. As a compromise of sorts, congressional leaders should allow a pool of journalists’ cameras for major news events and legislative debates — and the news media should determine what counts as major, not the government.

Sound journalism demands that the cameras operate for the benefit of the public’s right to know and better understand how their government functions. Or fails.  There really is no better or more sound argument to be made.  What politicos and everyone else were able to see and react to, be it with a partisan tinge, a historic perspective, or just from a ‘can not take my eyes off the crash scene’ mentality’ is that having more information is always a better route to take.

The fortunate lack of rules at the start of the year in the House allowed the cameras to give our nation insight into how a legislative body actually looks, feels, and reacts to the minute-by-minute tumult. It may not be pretty, but it is our government ‘working’. It is, for better or worse, democracy on full parade.

Historic House Speaker Battle Makes Front Pages of Nation’s Newspapers

The front pages of newspapers from coast-to-coast underscore the drama and history that is playing out as Republicans take control of the House of Representatives. There is no way not to be caught up in the moment of history we are living.

National Praise For Senator Tammy Baldwin

When a determined effort for a just cause bears fruit there is a need to praise the ones who led the way forward.

US President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Lawn of the White House, Senator Tammy Baldwin above the president’s head. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

That is the mood from the White House and across the country as Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin received sincere thanks and kind words as President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act.  Also meritorious of thanks were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Maine Senator Susan Collins. The majorities in each legislative chamber who gave their vote for passage were also part of the reason for the national uplift as the president added his name that concluded this law-making process.

It is not every bill signing in D.C. where those assembled get musical performances to highlight the significance of what was achieved by members of Congress.  Tuesday those on the South Lawn were treated to musical performances by Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith.  For those in the land who yearn for how Washington once worked when crafting legislation came the knowledge that the Marriage Act was passed with bipartisan support.  No matter from what perspective one looked at the ceremony there was something to cheer about with sincerity.

While watching the event, it struck me again how much progress has been made in this nation for gay rights.  While having been a Biden supporter since his short-lived and, yes, embarrassing presidential run in 1987, I readily admit to great displeasure with his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in the 90s.  That political mistake from Biden made his signature of the Marriage Act even more meaningful, as it demonstrated how our society and the political culture have adapted to the requirement of including gay Americans fully into the laws of the land.

But as we know there are always reasons never to relent in that work of democracy.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated this summer in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case that the same rationale the Court used to declare there was no right to abortion should also be used to overturn cases establishing rights to contraception, same-sex consensual relations, and same-sex marriage. Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” all three decisions, saying it had a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents. Then, he said, after “overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions” protected the rights they established.

Senator Baldwin has been a continuous advocate and skilled tactician within the senate so to achieve desired results with legislation. That was noted at the White House when Biden praised Baldwin by name, saying the bipartisan vote “simply would not have happened without the leadership and persistence of a real hero.” Wisconsinites could not agree more.

Those who voted against the bill and tried to thwart progress in this nation concerning civil rights will face the judgment of historians.  But first, they will undoubtedly, hear from gay relatives and members of their community.

Baldwin has always earned my admiration.  To be openly authentic in living her life and proving that a gay person can achieve continuous statewide election victories means more to me, perhaps, after having grown up as a gay teenager in a rural part of the state. I know many legal steps have been taken over the years to better secure gay rights.  But I never forget how it felt, when younger, to know there was no protection for two adults of the same sex who loved each other and only desired the same rights as others who were able to wed.  Baldwin never relented from doing her job with empathy along with an understanding of where our nation must head.

There is deep gratitude for Senator Baldwin and the many others in Congress who know the work of democracy continues.

Kyrsten Sinema Plays A Mighty Weak Hand With Political Stunt

This is one of those posts that in two years I will re-clipping segments of to underscore what we knew to be true at the beginning pages of the final chapter of Kyrsten Sinema’s political career.

From a strategy point of view, in that Arizona voted Democratic for every major seat in the state this year, the news today that U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema is leaving the Democratic Party, labeling herself instead as an “Arizona independent.” seems like a bad move.  The major players in Washington, while obviously having much to say out of the reach of a microphone, are acting in politeness as she keeps her committee seats and is treated to niceties for acting favorable with the large bills thus far passed in this session of the congress.

But the voices that really matter are those in her home state, where the Democratic Party which knows her best and reviles her most, is already designing the 2024 primary election season which will send a message that she will doubtless then be able to understand.  By weakening her hand with a truly baffling and artlessly played statement today she has likely ceded her role in any future political body.   In other words, her career as a senator is in its waning years.

Republicans were already licking their chops with a vision of capturing her seat and are not going to give her anything that makes her look credible in the coming session.  Democrats will play along to get along as pragmatism in governing is always the smartest way to plow ahead.  But the sleeveless woman now finds herself in the lonely world that fits best in the middle school context.

The kid who eats lunch alone at the far end of the cafeteria.  She knows she could not survive a primary in the Democratic Party but seemingly forgets that she still has to move up and down and over and around the increasing number of political dodgeballs that will plague her in what now will be a never-ending type of nerve-jarring gym class.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Congressman Ruben Gallego who is one of those ideal candidates Arizona is known for when sending people to the senate.  Famed POW John McCain or astronaut Mark Kelly. The outspoken, bilingual Marine Corps veteran has been quietly assembling a Senate campaign team, and with the bizarre news today Gallego is soon to strike the bell of his entrance as a candidate.

He struck the right tone and approach this morning.  “Whether in the Marine Corps or in Congress, I have never backed down from fighting for Arizonans. And at a time when our nation needs leadership most, Arizona deserves a voice that won’t back down in the face of struggle. Unfortunately, Senator Sinema is once again putting her own interests ahead of getting things done for Arizonans.”

What this all proves is what I have known since entering high school in 1976.  Politics is never, ever boring.

Respect for Marriage Act Moving Towards Passage, Harsh Vitriol From Right-Wing Continues

Last week, when I heard on the radio leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had added their support for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill enshrining protections for marriage equality, I said to myself ‘wwhhhaatt?’  I recall the strident opposition the Mormon Church had employed for years as gay Americans sought their civil rights in relation to marriage equality issues. I lamented on this blog how large donations from the church to anti-gay rights groups in various states were aiding in the placement of marriage amendments designed to further solidify the notion of ‘one, one woman’. But at the end of 2022 that once-hefty roadblock in Utah to social progress has relented and shortly after Thanksgiving Congress will codify marriage rights for gay couples.

I do not take such political moments lightly, or in any way assume that the blowback will not be vigorous or the outrageous comments less than numerous.  At age 60, I can vouch for the reason we work hard for our rights and know full well why hope is ever important in politics. I have praised forward-thinking pols who stood for the expansion of rights in the nation and have strongly rejected the harsh and vile rhetoric unleashed by those who wish to demonize gay people. Once again, I am heartened by champions who know the need to codify gay marriage rights, and also sad, given that this is 2022 that some in the right wing have not moved the needle whatsoever in their thinking.

It should be noted that this bill, which now heads to the Senate floor has been fashioned akin to the ones Congress could engineer with regularity before it became so constantly dysfunctional.  The bill contains plenty of exemptions for religious groups, making it the type of moderate compromise that allowed 12 Republican senators to move the measure forward with a procedural vote.  

Even with the buy-in from many senators within the GOP caucus I read the following comment about the bill and knew that for some in the nation accepting social progress has been slow and all uphill. “HR 8404 will force every state to honor and obey the insane marriage laws of any other state—even if that state allows pedophilic marriages.”

This type of outlandish bombast is not new. We can recall that in 2010 then-Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch made the stunning statement that extending domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples could lead to allowing people to marry tables and dogs.  That those words were a wildly inaccurate interpretation of the facts goes without saying.  She knew better than to say what she did.  She knew full well they were not grounded in reality.  I also know that in some parts of the country, and even in some areas of Wisconsin, rancid anti-gay slurs and outright bigotry are easily spewed. They continue to do so, in part, because of the reckless rhetoric that is used by some conservative politicians such as Senator Mike Lee of Utah, along with political activists.

Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center warned that the legislation “disrespects the religious liberties of millions of Americans who may face judicial assault if they refuse to oblige the left’s tyrannical narratives.” The Freedom Center’s Ryan Helfenbein retweeted its claim,adding, his own warning that “We are opening the door for massive religious persecution on a scale never seen before in America.”

Concerned Women for America called it an “attack” on people “who affirm Biblical morality when it comes to marriage and sexuality.”

Pundit Todd Starnes denounced the Republican senators who “just declared war on the church” by voting to allow the bill to move forward, and he claimed that the bill would “put a target on every Christian church in America.”

Even though we have been down this road many times it is concerning that the same worn-thin lingo and unreasonable fears and relentless attempts to undermine and demean gay Americans still have enough of a well of support to allow bandwidth for those who champion hate. I know the bill will pass and President Biden will sign it into law.  It will be a meaningful and needed move given the stated inclinations from the Supreme Court which were made known in the Dobbs decision and put into clear wording by Justice Clarence Thomas.

It is most clear that a continuous pressing forward by gay Americans will be required to further close the gap between the vast majority of the nation supporting gay rights, and that segment that seems determined to reject modernity.

An Uplifting American Story: Gay Immigrant Congressman

Rep.-elect Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), center, arrives at an orientation meeting Nov. 14, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Our political leaders should reflect the diversity of the nation. Our legislatures should be a mirror of the diversity of our people, and our growing ethnicity.  It is repugnant when there is open disdain for the inclusion of all within our elected class, or when rancor is churned up within the populace for the partisan aim of excluding the largest possible makeup within our legislative bodies.

This year with all the bombast and willfully created chaos in the midterm elections so as to ram through several seriously flawed Republican candidates, comes uplifting news from the other side of the political divide. Robert Garcia, the 44-year-old former Democratic mayor of Long Beach, California won his election to the House of Representatives.  That, in and of itself, would not be remarkable enough to garner a post on this site.  What makes him a real American story is that he is gay and came to these shores as an immigrant.

He came to this country at the age of 5 from Peru and will now sit in Congress.  This week I heard him speak in an interview and was most taken with this portion of the broadcast.

“Too many people think that patriotism is about individualism or about taking care of your family or this whole ‘America First’ mentality. What being a true American patriot is, is making your country a welcoming place.”

“There’s a lot of things I am: Yes, I’m gay. And, yes, I’ve been a mayor. But there’s nothing that makes me more me than being an immigrant. I’m very proud to be an immigrant, and that has defined me more than anything else in my life.”

It is most apparent that I love politics and the percolating issues of the day.  But I admit this election cycle to feeling very dismayed about the messaging from too many candidates who spoke against democracy and threatened to undermine future elections by enacting new laws and holding key offices in states that could undermine Electoral College procedures. I come from an understanding, using a rather extreme and perhaps odd example, where South Carolina’s Senator John Calhoun was terribly wrong about his theories of Black people in the 19th century, but he was a well-written and learned man about the formation of the nation and the ideas surrounding our national purpose. Contrast that with what passed for acceptable candidates within the GOP primary process this year, ones who were not only wholly wrong on the issues but dreadfully lacking in any fundamental education about the office they wished to be elected to or the basic constructs and ideals of our nation. So, yes, the election left me feeling rather uneasy about where we find ourselves in 2022.

And then, I learned of the election of Robert Garcia.

Against the grievance mindset which now makes up the GOP is this fresh and strong personality from Gracia with his sure-footed understanding of our nation, our purpose, and our ideals. I like the theme of optimism in our politics and gravitate towards that uplift. Give my sails a lift in the wind about inclusion and the greater good and the many months of anger and resentment from baffling candidates floats off and away. Our nation has always done better, much better with an array of Americans who know the real purpose and value of our nation. Travel bans and border walls are flawed concepts that are poison to the root story of our nation. This story of one man underscores why our nation needs to secure the future of young minds who arrive in our country, allowing them to become a legal part of our national fabric, and end the shameful antics of those who harbor bigotry.

The midterms did have a hopeful ending.