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.

How Long Will America Remain Exceptional?

As we drove in the city Saturday night James relayed a phone call conversation with a nurse regarding one of his clients.  The nurse had a resonant and deep type of voice which James noted made him “perfect for radio”.  The medical professional was not at all sure what those words meant and said as much. He even seemed a bit miffed by the remark.  I laughed upon hearing his response as radio and the sound of announcers’ voices is often a topic at our home.  In addition, the phrase was not some obscure one, but rather what anyone should be able to grasp and further banter about.

It may seem like a most trivial matter, and by itself it certainly is, but as we talked about it further, it segued into the larger topic we often discuss. We have lost a commonality on a very wide and broad array of topics that we once had some awareness of, and equally important, an ability to converse with on a whim.  Be it a lobsterman in Maine, a truck driver in Florida, a rancher in Montana, or a dock worker in San Diego there was a time when we had more unified and common connections.

The diversity of ways to get news and information, hear very narrow types of music, dialogue with a select group of friends and acquaintances, or live in areas that are very much akin to one’s beliefs and customs has, too often, created very confined thinking and abbreviated knowledge about a host of topics. Instead of looking at our current ways of being happy be they in how we are entertained or lifestyle choices, we might ponder how limiting it has made us when considering our relationships with our fellow citizens.

I am most certain that those who read blogs are more my age than young adults. As such, the background of older readers will better recall having family dinnertime together (or supper as it was called in my Hancock home) where free-flowing conversations were held each night and where being absent was not an option. In many cases, I suspect readers might also know that the table of decades ago was often intergenerational which added another layer of background and even enhanced storytelling capability. Younger people in that grouping were exposed to topics galore, differences of views, and ways to reason and interact in a fast-paced yet convivial manner. There was no way not to come in contact with a vast array of names, places, and trivia that linked with other such dinner tables nationwide.

I often mention to James the argument that some historians and sociologists have presented in papers and talks that America’s time on the world stage is waning towards a far-off sunset. They view their theory based on international dynamics, economic power, or advances made with new innovations and life-altering concepts. While I do not subscribe to their dour conclusions, I certainly recognize the larger arguments they make and, in some respects, much agree with the current problems in need of remedies. While the comment about a radio voice from the start of this column does not seem to mesh with needing to be more potent with international commerce or foreign policy, there is a theme that does connect all this together.

During the holidays I read an older article in Foreign Affairs where Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun was discussed.  He lived in the 14th century and is probably best known to us in the 21st century for his ideas about collective action through what he termed asabiyya.  To winnow this down, a society best moves forward when there is a feeling and conviction that we are all in this together and that our united actions will allow for advances to be made.  The key, of course, is unified actions, which also blend with unified knowledge, which is my argument in these paragraphs.  The problem is that I do not see our nation as united on anything.  A pandemic struck and killed well over one million of our fellow citizens and the virus splintered us into varying parts. Perhaps the most damaging aspect of the titanic story was not medical but societal.  

Our lack of bonds of commonality ranging from what we generally should know about common phrases to how we should behave with regard to each other during a pandemic does then beg the question researchers and historians are asking. How long will America remain a city on a hill?

It Is Debt Ceiling Economic Danger Time….Again

The requirement to raise the debt ceiling is not a negotiable issue.  Setting a precedent that the most extreme members of Congress can hold hostage the financial stability and credibility of the U.S. and even the global economy is not a tactic that can be allowed. Those are two bedrock statements that are to be center stage in the weeks and months to come as one of the most dysfunctional House majorities in our lifetimes takes the reins of power in Washington.

Let us put the facts upfront about this issue. The debt limit caps the total amount of allowable outstanding U.S. federal debt.  As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress Friday, “the Treasury Department would begin taking “extraordinary measures” in order to avoid a potentially catastrophic default but urged Congress to take further action to raise or suspend the borrowing limit.” In other words, Congress, and that clearly means House Republicans, need to be adults and either raise or suspend the debt limit or the Federal government will lack the cash to pay all its obligations. That has never happened before.

The bottom line that remains is the Treasury Department issues bonds to fund spending approved by the president and Congress beyond what is covered by federal revenue. But when we reach the debt limit, the Treasury is no longer authorized to issue new bonds. At that point, Treasury must take “extraordinary measures” until the president signs a bill for a new debt limit increase. Why we have every reason to be deeply concerned, and the markets will echo that angst, is that raising the debt limit has no direct impact on the size of the national debt. It has no impact either on more spending or freezing or restricting spending. The only thing that increasing the debt limit does is pay expenses previously authorized by presidents and Congress.

What are front and center is the Republican desire to get something for their vote on the ceiling. Instead of just doing their job, the conservatives want to be bought off for their votes.  In the rhetoric of the weeks to come we need to be mindful of what conservatives are battling, namely, themselves. The facts about the growth in government, the red ink, and who carries more responsibility for its creation must be borne by Republicans, as data and facts prove. Steve Rattner proves the point in another of his powerful graphs.

Republicans like to blame Democrats for all this borrowing. But the facts show otherwise. Five of the six presidents who incurred the most debt relative to the size of the economy in the past 60 years were Republicans. While Donald Trump faced the need to counteract Covid effects, his tax cuts and spending increases also played a major part. And Barack Obama had to deal with the financial crisis. But the fact remains that of the 57 percentage point increase in the debt to GDP ratio since 1960, 52 percentage points – all but five percentage points – were incurred with a Republican in the White House. (Note that Republicans and Democrats held the White House for roughly equivalent periods over these decades.)

The point needs to be made the rhetorical steam from the current crowd of conservatives in the House must be put into context.  The GOP agreed to raise the debt ceiling three times when Donald Trump served his one term in office.  I admit to feeling somewhat guilty for writing this paragraph as it runs counter to my main point in this post. That being a bi-partisan vote of the Congress has no role other than to increase the ceiling.  While the GOP was correct with their votes in the Trump years, however, it is the hypocrisy now that must be understood.

A fanciful and truly dangerous provision is being bounced about by the far right wing in Congress that would split portions of our federal budget into sections that would then be addressed by a debt ceiling increase.  Conservatives would, under such a plan instruct the Treasury Department to prioritize debt service payments, Social Security, Medicare, veterans benefits, and military funding. Everything from meat inspectors to the FAA, federal housing authority, and a very long list of other vital parts of federal programming would not be covered. 

Economists are stunned at the ability of House Republicans to play so close to the edge of the economic cliff.  With as much composure as can be placed on those learned ones, who clearly want to scream at the severely under-educated in Congress, economists press the point that debt prioritization would not sidestep the economic consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling. While partisans will ramp this effort up ever higher it needs to be noted what true conservatives are saying about the debt ceiling increase.

Raising the debt ceiling should be – and often has been – a routine matter. It does not authorize any new spending. Rather, it gives the executive branch the borrowing capacity it needs to honor existing spending commitments. It is Congress that decides on spending levels and tax rates, and when it sets federal spending higher than federal revenue, it implicitly determines the size of the budget deficit. Raising the debt ceiling merely allows for the borrowing that is needed to meet the obligations that Congress itself has created.

“The Dow would plunge by thousands of points per day, and the credibility of the US — its trustworthiness as a country that pays its debts on time — would be substantially eroded. After a day or two of this chaos, a clean bill to increase the debt ceiling would pass both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. Republicans would have accomplished nothing.”

Adding to this chaos that is simmering and soon to grow with intensity is the chasm developing in the GOP House caucus.  As noted this past week, the Wall Street Journal reported the cutting frenzy in the GOP has pitted “Republicans who want to protect military spending against those who see such expenditures as fair game in any negotiations alongside cuts to domestic programs.” Before they start attacking the nation’s creditworthiness they should first decide what they stand for as a political party.

When it comes to the debt limit issue there has never been any doubt as to where I stand. It would still be the soundest move to pursue a deal that would permanently remove the requirement that Congress repeatedly raise the debt ceiling. That would be good news for the nation.

Wisconsin GOP Elections Commission Member Robert Spindell Said Quiet Part Out Loud

This week I reflected on advice that was offered many years ago by former Republican State Senator Robert Welch when he was lamenting the number of unwed mothers in the state.  He contended that shame was lacking in our society and pondered the value of that emotion when dealing with issues that arise from those pregnancies. My reason for thinking about the Waushara County pol and the use of shame followed hearing the news about a highly troubling email from Wisconsin Elections Commission member Robert Spindell.  If ever there was a time for shame to be observed by someone in the public eye, this would be the moment for it to be keenly felt.

Spindell sent an email to his good ‘ol boy network of fellow Republicans with a statement that underscores why conservatives have been charged in the public mind with attempting to thwart the right of voters and undermine people of color at the ballot box. 

“In the City of Milwaukee, with the 4th Congressional District Republican Party working very closely with the RPW, RNC, Republican Assembly & Senate Campaign Committees, Statewide Campaigns and RPMC in the Black and Hispanic areas, we can be especially proud of the City of Milwaukee (80.2% Dem Vote) casting 37,000 less votes than cast in the 2018 election with the major reduction happening in the overwhelming Black and Hispanic areas.”

“…this great and important decrease in Democrat votes in the City” was due to a “well thought out multi-faceted plan,”

Applauding and approving of reduced voter input in the election process is a sick and twisted way to view the most important way citizens communicate their views of candidates and policy ideas.  To send a statement gloating about “this great and important decrease” runs counter to the ideals of our Founders and the concept of fair play we should strive for in our body politic.  

There was glee in the words of Spindell about decreased voter turnout.  We have witnessed in many places around the nation, especially after the November 2020 elections, that among the first items on their agendas were bills to reduce the ability of voters to cast a ballot. Many of the proposals placed a harder burden on minorities to vote and have their feelings made known at the ballot box.  

It troubles me that limiting voter participation continues to be an accepted trait among conservatives.  As Americans, this practice should alarm us greatly. I would like to think that more Republicans…somewhere… might understand the larger more noble calling at making sure elections are open and accessible to all voters. The perverse partisan joy at blocking voting or limiting a citizen’s ability to participate fully in our democracy is truly sickening, and disheartening.

Is there any doubt as to why more of the general public is coming to understand that Republicans feel they cannot win elections unless they suppress votes? Or rig district boundaries with gerrymandering?  As such, we all need to care more about the condition of our electoral processes and the faith people must have in them so to buttress the foundations of our democracy.  Whatever political stripe we label ourselves it is essential that at the end of the day, in that quiet space that is all our own, we recognize the harm and outrageousness of Spindell’s comment.

And then demand his resignation from the Elections Commission. His conduct in the fake elector scheme was more than enough reason for his ouster, but now his continued untoward behavior is a reminder that there are far better people who can serve on the commission.

House Republicans Not Serious At Governing

During 2022 many political observers were commenting that Republican efforts to win seats in campaigns around the nation were not being conducted in a serious fashion. Rather than running on issues and policy platforms with specified ideas for governing, GOP resentments and anger with conspiracy theories were far more often the offerings to voters. There was a continuing need from the GOP to placate Donald Trump, play to election deniers, stoke racism, and churn up angst about transgendered people.

When the Republican Party did talk about an issue, they only desired to foment fear concerning it, and never offered reasoned discourse as to possible remedies. For instance, in the months leading up to their own predicted ‘red wave’ at the balloting boxes, reports about violence in America reached a fevered pitch. Those who watch Fox News were presented with stories galore about mayhem. Some might have thought those news anchors would breathlessly break into song with “ya got trouble folks, right here in River City, Trouble with a capital T, and that rhymes with P and that stands for pool”.

What these candidates and their network wished to impart was that violent crime was surging, cities were out of control, and worse, Democrats were responsible. With such dire consequences for the nation, it would only make sense for the health and well-being of the populace, that once these Republicans had power, they would use it for the safety of the nation. After all, that is what being elected, and governing are all about. Late last week the speaker’s gavel was finally being held by Kevin McCarthy and the governing process could being.  Crime would surely start to feel the wrath of the law-and-order party.

But then something odd occurred. 

Crime was no longer the nemesis that it was purported to be, and the very slim majority of Republicans in the House decided that playing to the base of angry Republicans was far easier to do than govern.  So with no sense of shame, the GOP voted to launch a wide-ranging investigation into federal law enforcement and national security agencies.  (This is but the first sign of the tail wagging the dog, as Speaker McCarthy does the bidding of the ‘Taliban 20’ within his fractured caucus.) The fragile conservative Republicans were more concerned about their perceived slights and snubs than what the nation might be talking about and wishing to have addressed.  The idea that angry white men within the GOP need to have their grievances given a special committee is not lost on a national electorate that has been turning away from that party for years.

Forget climate change or addressing worker shortages or strengthening health care coverage! All of those issues and many others fell to the chamber floor as the first measures to be considered so that grievance politics could make national headlines.

The lack of seriousness from the Republicans in their first hours of governing aligns with their sad attempt at campaigning.  Within days of the ‘red wave’ turning to a pink trickle following the balloting it was noticed Fox News was no longer interested in all the violence in the nation. That channel simply decreased its coverage of violent crime by 50% compared with the pre-election average.

The lack of journalistic standards by Fox News is only rivaled by the lack of credibility from the new GOP House majority. We now have Congressman Jim Jordan, who was front and center with his support of the insurrection on January 6th, now being put in charge of a committee to investigate the investigation.  This is more suited to a Martin Cruz Smith novel than how our American government should operate.

I well understand that some conservative voters support this behavior and are pleased. But I know full well that the majority of the nation watching and being concerned about governing are aware of how they knew all along the real intentions of the GOP 2022 campaigns.

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.

Sincerely,

Top Aide To Kevin McCarthy Gets Noticed For Professionalism

UPDATE

I have watched the coverage for two days from the all-news networks of the battle for House speaker. There is one continuous calm in the storm–the man who is a top aide to Kevin McCarthy. He is John Leganski, the Deputy Chief of Staff for House Floor Operations. His composure and focus on the task at hand are not missed. Government employees too often get unfairly smeared by anti-government types, but this man is often walking about prior to votes and connecting with those who need to hear what must be said, and his poker face is exactly what the job demands. Hours of coverage throughout the week have proven he has mastered the professional cool. Two thumbs up.

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.