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.

Politically Motivated Shooting Spree: Losing GOP Candidate, Trump Supporter, Election Denier Engages In Multiple Shootings Against Democrats

Solomon Pena, election denier, arrested for being involved in paying suspects to shoot up the homes of four Democratic politicians

It is not possible to write about each multiple shooting or every instance of insanity that plays out with gun owners and their crimes. Given, however, the deeply fractured nature of our politics and the attacks on our democracy that peaked with the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan 6th, the news over the MLK holiday weekend from New Mexico truly startled me. A staunch Donald Trump supporter and losing candidate for state assembly was arrested for being involved in paying suspects to shoot up the homes of four Democratic politicians.

James Patterson could not have plotted a more sinister and dangerous storyline than what Albuquerque Police stated had occurred when Solomon Pena contracted individuals to carry out at least two of the shootings.  Pena, himself, was present and fired a weapon at one of the other shootings.  Those fired upon were the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators. 

The report from NPR on Monday was, frankly put, frightening in every respect.  In one case bullets ripped into the wall of a child’s bedroom.

The first act of gun violence happened on December 4th when eight shots were sent into the home of County Commissioner Adriann Barboa. That was followed on December 11th when more than a dozen bullets were fired into the home of County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. Representative Javier Martinez’s home was also involved in a shooting incident in December while this month the home of state representative Linda Lopez was fired upon.  That is where bullets blasted into a 10-year-old’s bedroom while she slept.

While the danger of such actions on a human level is most evident, it is the undermining of our democratic foundations that also must be addressed.  The notion that violence is considered an option when losing a political race is absolutely disgusting and reprehensible.  It strikes against the very ideas of what constitutes free and fair elections in a democracy. We know that Donald Trump has taught a large percentage of his base of supporters to act recklessly and claim election fraud at every turn.  Police stated that Peña alleged his defeat was the result of election fraud.  Gosh, where did that line of horse rot originate? 

It needs to be noted that Peña lost his state assembly challenge to incumbent Democrat Miguel P. Garcia by 5,679 to 2,033, or 74% to 26%.  Or to round out those numbers Peña was defeated by roughly 50%!!   

So, what did the losing candidate do upon having voters utterly reject him?  NBC News reported that two handguns were found by police in a Nissan Maxima owned by Peña during a traffic stop on Jan. 3. One of the guns appeared to have fired shots outside the home of state Sen. Linda Lopez roughly 40 minutes before and 4 miles away, police said in a statement. A shell casing found in the Maxima matched those found at the scene of another shooting, an incident outside the home of new state House Speaker Javier Martinez on Dec. 8th.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller correctly summed up the crimes and placement of them into the larger issue at hand.  

“This was about a right-wing radical, an election denier, who was arrested today; someone who did the worst imaginable thing you can do when you have a political disagreement, which in turn that into violence.  That should never be the case”.

There is another factor needing consideration, and that is the Republican Party in New Mexico.  Voters knew Pena was previously arrested and convicted of stealing goods from multiple big box stores as part of a “smash and grab” scheme.  They knew their candidate served close to seven years in prison.  Peña was also ordered to go through alcohol/substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, 90 days in Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous, and anger management, court records show.

And yet….and yet.  The New Mexico GOP thought him the perfect name to be on the November ballot. What they offered the voters was a terrorist who was not able to grasp that every election has a winner and a loser. Peña was told over the past two years of bombast and absurdity from Trump and his ilk that election-denying is just another part of the GOP playbook.  A 10-year-old could have been a victim of this lunacy.

How many Republicans will now step up and denounce the fascism that has taken hold of their party?

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.

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.

Kevin McCarthy ‘House Speaker’ Political Cartoons

The Taliban 20 are still at work undermining the Republican Party and preventing the forwarding ability for the House of Representatives to function. This is precisely why the Donald Trump factor in our politics has been destructive and warrants our full disdain. Any Republican who thinks this is a winning formula as the nation watches, as independents and moderates across the land expect the government to work, and see who is thwarting the will of the House to even organize sends a clarion call about the dangers to the GOP moving forward.

Kevin McCarthy deserves to be undermined and never elected speaker due to his absolute sellout to Donald Trump and dangerous illiberal moves aimed at the heart of democracy, all in an effort to be the speaker. But, it is also true that the absurdity of the thumb-draggers and bizarre anti-government zealots must be treated to some harsh political realities, as they are nothing more than terrorists in nice suits. There is no better example as to why total revulsion can be and must be unleashed on this group, which includes a child sex predator (Matt Gaetz) election deniers, or the wingnut who sends out Christmas cards promoting assault weapons (Lauren Boebert).

Editorial cartoonists, meanwhile, are finding no shortage of material to use as they draw for the Op-Ed pages of newspapers nationwide. The wretched among the GOP seem intent on giving the nation pure excrement.

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.