Category Archives: Clinton

Passion and Politics: Playing Loose with the Truth

Lincoln Cartoon “George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was “a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.” Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him “an unshapely man.” Other Northern newspapers openly called for his assassination long before John Wilkes Booth pulled the trigger. He was called a coward, “an idiot,” and “the original gorilla” by none other than the commanding general of his armies, George McClellan.” [Atlantic]

The descendents of those who passionately vilified Lincoln are with us today.   They become particularly noticeable during times when U.S. politics are polarized, polemicized, and full of more propaganda than factual content.  

Case in point: Those “30,000 missing emails” on Secretary Clinton’s server. There are, as we speak, some Internet trolls repeating the claim that Clinton ‘lost’ 30,000 emails during her tenure in the State Department. They’ve got the story bass-ackwards.

“So in 2014, Clinton’s lawyers combed through the private server and turned over about 30,000 work-related emails to the State Department and deleted the rest, which Clinton said were about personal matters.” [Politifact]

The rest of the FBI investigation?

Of the tens of thousands of emails investigators reviewed, 113 contained classified information, and three of those had classification markers. FBI Director James Comey has said Clinton should have known that some of the 113 were classified, but others she might have understandably missed.

Comey said the Justice Department shouldn’t prosecute Clinton because there isn’t enough evidence that she intentionally mishandled classified information. FBI investigators didn’t find vast quantities of exposed classified material, and they also did not turn up evidence that Clinton intended to be disloyal to the United States or that she intended to obstruct justice.  [Politifact]

So, the entire “scandal” doesn’t concern 30,000 emails, those were handed over early in the game; and, it boils down to 3 emails which can’t be shown to have been intentionally mishandled.  Anyone who has been paying attention knows that the investigations were entirely political, entirely overblown, and total malarkey but that’s not the point.  No matter how often the story is fact checked [MMA] [MMA] [Slate] [Star Telegram] [MJ] [WaPo] it is still being pumped by the passionate.

Those in that Basket of Deplorables doing the arm-work to keep the air in that story intended to cause “distrust” of Secretary Clinton are committed to their version – no matter how untrue, no matter how politicized because it’s their version.  Long advised by right wing radio hosts to distrust the media, distrust the ‘establishment,’ and to distrust anything other than the version of events as dispensed by the hosts, they will now easily slip into dismissing any explication which doesn’t fit their personal narrative.  In simpler terms, they don’t care if a statement isn’t true – they’ll find a way to make it that way.

We could add another ten links in the paragraph above to articles debunking the email story (or any other tale for that matter) and the emotional voter will dismiss all as “liberal media.”  Not that they have any idea what the ‘liberal media’ might be – it’s just that they identify as conservative, and the media isn’t enabling their narratives garnered from right wing sources.  Therefore, the media (having been described as liberal on AM radio) must be so. 

If a cavalier dismissal of conflicting information isn’t sufficient, there’s always the conspiratorial element – the ‘liberal’ media must be discredited because “they” are always “hiding something from us.”    Both the Distrust Element and the Conspiratorial Element make up a portion of that Basket of Deplorables – the racists, the misogynists, the bigots, the Islamophobes, the intolerant – which drive some of the support for Trump’s candidacy.

It doesn’t matter how many times the New York Times, or the Washington Post, or any other major news outlet debunks and fact checks Trump’s characterizations of people and events.  These people just aren’t into facts.

Another factor is the capacity of people to filter what they are hearing.  Did Donald Trump say that President Barack Obama was born in the U.S. and is therefore a legitimate president?  Well, they may say slyly, that’s what he said because he had to say it, he just doesn’t really truly mean it.  Interesting that this analysis comes from people who like Trump because “he tells it like it is.”

This isn’t of course to argue that Trump’s 40% support is coming solely from the Deplorables and the Deniers – Secretary Clinton herself acknowledged that there are those for whom our economic system isn’t working.  They’re frustrated, fearful, and in need of assistance not forthcoming from our current political systems.   They’ll vote “against the establishment” whatever that might be (such as Bush, Kasich, etc.) because they want some form of change.

Nor should we forget that there are those who will vote for anyone on the top of the ticket with an R.  There are yellow dog Republicans as well as Democrats.

Hence, this election in 2016 will come down to TURNOUT. Good old fashioned door knocking, phone calling, rides to the polls, TURNOUT.  We can be assured that the Deplorable element will be there, as they were for the mid-terms, and the disaffected will arrive.  It’s a matter of no small importance that Democrats make the same effort to GET OUT THE VOTE.

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Filed under Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Nevada politics, Politics, racism, Republicans

Clinton Speaks to Issues, Press follows Shiny Objects

Clinton with Kid Since corporate media is fascinated with every little tweet from the Trump Menagerie and every bit of its minutiae which can be hyper-analyzed, it’s left to other platforms to highlight Clinton speeches and their content.  Why am I posting this? Because on the day Clinton outlined major policy proposals on mental health services the national media was all tangled up in an NFL player’s protest and Trump’s publicity stunt trip to Mexico.

So, here’s what we’ve missed in just one subject matter  area – minority outreach.

Minority outreach speeches: July 8, 2016 Clinton Speech to the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia PA.  A bit of it:

“As we know, there is clear evidence that African-Americans are much more likely to be killed in police incidents than any other group of Americans. And we know there is too little trust in too many places between police and the communities they are sworn to protect.” Clinton said that good law enforcement officers far outnumber those who are bad and a violent response to violence is not the answer. The protest in Dallas yesterday was peaceful and police were there to monitor the crowds and ensure the protesters’ safety when they were fired upon by a sniper. Clinton spoke about her proposal to invest $1 billion in police training across the county to ensure the safety of law enforcement officers as well as the general public.”

July 14, 2016, League of United Latin American Citizens, Washington DC.

“The choice we make will say a lot about who we are and whether we understand and celebrate the diversity of our country, which makes us all the stronger.”

July 18, 2016, address to the NAACP.

“There is, as you know so well, another hard truth at the heart of this complex matter: Many African-Americans fear the police.” Clinton vowed to work toward bridging the gap between the African American community and local police forces.”

June 4, 2016: Santa Barbara, CA community event focusing on women and families.

“The round table discussion consisted of local officials and representatives. Clinton spoke about a number of her platform points aimed at improving the lives of women and helping families. She spoke about increasing the minimum wage, ensuring that women receive equal pay for equal work, ensuring families have access to affordable childcare, and guaranteeing workers paid family leave.”

June 10, 2016: Planned Parenthood event, Washington DC.

“We know that restricting access doesn’t make women less likely to end a pregnancy. It just makes abortion less safe.  And that then threatens women’s lives.”

June 27, 2016: Rainbow PUSH Coalition event, Chicago, IL.

“Clinton’s primary focus was gun violence and introducing legislation to require background checks for the purchase of a firearm. She spoke about the importance of reducing gun violence saying, “I think saving our children and other people from gun violence is a civil rights issue right now in America.”

May 1, 2016:  Clinton is keynote speaker at the Detroit NAACP dinner.

“During her speech, she spoke about a number of platform topics including criminal justice reform, prison reform, gun control, and the refinancing of student loan debt. Clinton said that she wanted to continue to the progress of the last eight years.”

May 9, 2016: Stone Ridge, VA on women and work/life balance issues.

“She said that raising a family and having a career is harder today than it was when Chelsea was a kid. “Costs are greater, everything from commuting time to feeling like if you take that vacation day, you are going to be viewed as slacking off,” she said. Clinton went on to say that she knew that her proposals would change the current system, but it is important to realize that times have changed. She said, “We need to really start looking at these programs from the lens of what life is like today and not what it was like 50 years ago.”

May 10, 2016:  Lexington and Louisville, KY events on the economy and the family.  Follow this link to the bullet point outline of Clinton’s proposals.

May 22, 2016: Keynote address to the Circle of Mothers Restoration weekend, Fort Lauderdale, FL.

“Something is wrong when so many young people just starting their lives are dying. Something is very wrong, my friends, and this election gives us a chance to keep trying to make it right.”

Mr. Trump seems to have “discovered” minorities very recently?

And then, of course, there was the August 29, 2016 speech on mental health care issues – covered by Politico, the BBC, and PBS.  Those who missed what this was all about please follow this link to the briefing points and policy proposals from the Clinton campaign.

For those not content with beltway media blathering and who want a bit more good old fashioned CONTENT and context in their political discussions, there’s the Briefing Section/Fact Sheets portion of the Clinton Campaign.   As I’ve said before, I’ve given up on the corporate media doing much more than giving Trump free publicity and chasing after twitter streams.  Fortunately in this day and age we can do some of the heavy lifting ourselves without waiting for them to catch up.

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Filed under civil liberties, Clinton, Hillary Clinton, NAACP, Nevada politics, Women's Issues

Charity Begins At Home: Trump vs. Clinton Foundations

Clinton Foundation logo Before the discussion of the Clinton Foundation gets any more ridiculous – it’s time to do a bit of push back on the attacks.  First, there’s the mission of the charity: “We convene businesses, governments, NGOs, and individuals to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for girls and women, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity and growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change.”

The mission statement all but invites attacks from the radical right wing; What? The charity supports global health, places a focus on projects that help women, supports efforts to reduce childhood obesity?  Oh, and then there’s the “climate change” element which generally sends the Deniers into a low orbit.   We should come back to these efforts after dealing with some of the more idiotic charges leveled by the Trump Campaign.

Here’s Trump’s latest:

“It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins,” Trump said at a rally in Austin. “It is now abundantly clear that the Clinton’s set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money.” [NBC]

Hogwash.  And we know this is hogwash because, as the article continues:

“Trump cited no evidence of any quid-pro-quo between the foundation’s donors and Clinton’s State Department Tuesday night, but still described Clinton as having been “bought and sold” and characterized the foundation as “a threat to the foundation of Democracy.” [NBC] (emphasis added)

Thus, on the basis of NO evidence whatsoever, Mr. Trump has decided that a charitable organization must be Investigated! Prosecuted! because….why? Perhaps it’s because the interminable Benghazi investigations turned up exactly zilch, and the emails proved absolutely nothing, the GOP is attempting to manufacture another “outrage” for low information public consumption.

Comparing the Clinton and Trump Foundations

Clinton Foundation: The Clinton Foundation is not rated by Charity Navigator, one of the more popular check sites available online.  The rationale for non-rating is made clear:

“We had previously evaluated this organization, but have since determined that this charity’s atypical business model can not be accurately captured in our current rating methodology. Our removal of The Clinton Foundation from our site is neither a condemnation nor an endorsement of this charity. We reserve the right to reinstate a rating for The Clinton Foundation as soon as we identify a rating methodology that appropriately captures its business model.   A lack of a rating does not indicate a positive or negative assessment by Charity Navigator.”

Translation: It is NOT that the Clinton Foundation couldn’t be rated, it is not rated because CN’s rating methodology doesn’t fit the business model.   But, But, sputter the critics, the Clinton Foundation was put on the Watch List by CN… Not. So. Fast.

The charitable organization rating group placed the Foundation on its watch list after several negative reports were published in the news between February and November 2015.  After which the Foundation was removed from the watch list because:

“In accordance with our policy for removing charities from the CN Watchlist, Charity Navigator removed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation from the Watchlist in December 2015 because the charity provided publicly accessible information regarding their amended tax Forms for 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. This information, along with the public memorandum submitted addressing the other issues raised in the Watchlist entry, meets our requirements for removal.”  [CN] (emphasis added)

Now, let’s compare the Clinton Foundation, which provides “publicly accessible information,” which and The Trump Foundation, of which Charity Navigator reports:

“This organization is not eligible to be rated by Charity Navigator because it is a Private Foundation.
Private foundations receive the majority of their money from only one individual, family or corporation. This differs from the public charities that Charity Navigator evaluates. Public charities have a broad-base of support from the general public as well as variety of other funding sources. The IRS requires that private foundations file a Form 990-PF which differs from the document public charities file. This makes it impossible for us to compare the financial performance of private foundations to public charities.” [CN]

There is a whopper sized difference between not being able to rate because of data indicating a different business model, and not being able to rate because it’s impossible to evaluate the financial performance of a private foundation.  Put more simply – it’s the difference between a public charity, fully transparent, with publicly accessible information about programs and projects, and a private foundation about which practically nothing is known.

There is a way to drill down on the Trump Foundations listed but it requires more key strokes.  The portal was created by ProPublica, and from thence on to the individual 990-PF downloads in PDF.  The drilling exercise is instructive.

The Mission is the Message

One of the names appearing on the 2013 Trump Foundation 990-PF is Richard Ebers. whom Huffington Post has already noticed:

“A New York-based ticket broker named Richard Ebers has given more than $1.8 million to Trump’s foundation since 2011. When asked by phone what prompted the donations, Ebers, who’s been described as a high-end scalper, said he had “no comment.” Representatives for the Trump Organization also declined to answer any questions about the money from Ebers.”

The New York Times devoted a full piece to the Ticket Man.  Perhaps Mr. Trump believes that foundations are for “getting something” because that’s the way he has used his?  Again, the Huffington Post reports:

“…the foundation’s money has come from people and companies that do business with Trump or want something from him. In 2006, People magazine gave the foundation $150,000. Trump gave the magazine exclusive photos of his newborn son, Barron, in April of that year. NBC Universal gave the foundation $10,000 in 2007 and another $500,000 in 2012. Trump’s popular reality shows “The Apprentice” and “The Celebrity Apprentice” aired on NBC from 2004 to 2015. And in 2011, Comedy Central gave the foundation $400,000 as an appearance fee for the billionaire’s participation in The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump.”  [HuffPo]

Perhaps this is the origin for the attacks on the Clinton Foundation? A person who believes that as he acts, thus does everyone else?  Compare this to the projects associated with the Clinton Foundation, as exemplified by the following two examples:

A self help, entrepreneurial, project in Peru — “Chakipi (meaning “to your home” in Quechua, an indigenous Andean language) Acceso is a last-mile distribution enterprise that equips women in various regions in Peru with sales training and products such as nutritious foods, personal care items, pharmaceuticals, and solar lamps. The Chakipi entrepreneurs then sell these products to others within their communities – providing essential, life-changing goods that are otherwise hard or impossible to access.”

Or CHAI, Building on the work of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), a separate, affiliated entity, to scale up HIV testing and treatment for children, CHAI’s Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmission (PMTCT) program takes a comprehensive approach to stopping new pediatric infections. CHAI supports mothers and babies “across the cascade,” meaning from pregnancy and delivery through breastfeeding and into long-term care for HIV-positive mothers and children. Unlike many PMTCT efforts that focus only on one part of the cascade, CHAI’s work is demonstrating that a comprehensive, integrated system of care will be critical to reaching the ultimate goal of eliminating new pediatric HIV infections.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but I’d much prefer the operations of the Clinton Foundation which does things like help women establish home based business enterprises or seeks to prevent the transmission of HIV between mother and child, to the smaller and rather more self serving projects described in the Huffington Post article.  As one of the two Corinthians might have said to Mr. Trump:

A final word from Matthew (7:5)

Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam in thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

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Filed under Clinton, Politics, Republicans, Women's Issues

Clinton on Quarterly Capitalism

Clinton “We need an economy where companies plan for the long run and invest in their workers through increased wages and better training—leading to higher productivity, better service, and larger profits. Hillary will revamp the capital gains tax to reward farsighted investments that create jobs. She’ll address the rising influence of the kinds of so-called “activist” shareholders that focus on short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth, and she’ll reform executive compensation to better align the interests of executives with long-term value.” [Clinton]

I could happily live with this.  She had me at “… where companies plan for the long run.”  Let me start here, and then move forward into a familiar topic on this digital soap box.  I, too, have had enough of “quarterly capitalism,” and it is high time someone offered a cogent proposal to deal with the specter.

First, no one should try to argue that all short term equity and bond purchases are necessarily bad – there are some valid reasons for such trading. However, as in most other things in life it is possible to have too much “of a good thing.”  Let’s face it, high frequency traders aren’t investors – they’re traders, and shouldn’t be confused with those who are putting capital into the distribution system.    Too much short term investing (trading) in the mix and we’re asking for problems, three of which from the investment side are summarized by PragCap:

    1. A short-term view tends to result in account churning, higher fees, higher taxes and lower real, real returns.
    2. A short-term view often results in reacting to events AFTER the fact rather than knowing that  a well diversified portfolio is always going to experience some positions that perform poorly in the short-term.
    3. Short-term views are generally consistent with attempts to “beat the market” which is a goal that most people have no business trying to achieve when they allocate their savings.

If short term investing isn’t good on the investor’s side of the ledger, it’s not good on the corporate side either.  Generation Investment Management (UK) issued a report in 2012 on “Sustainable Capitalism,” [pdf] that emphasizes this point:

“The dominance of short-termism in the market, often facilitated and exacerbated by algorithmic trading, is correlated with stock price volatility, fosters general market instability as opposed to useful liquidity and undermines the efforts of executives seeking long-term value creation. Companies can take a proactive stance against this growing trend of short-termism by attracting long-term investors with patient capital through the issuance of loyalty-driven securities. Loyalty-driven securities offer investors financial rewards for holding a company’s shares for a certain number of years. This practice encourages long-term investment horizons among investors and facilitates stability in financial markets, therefore playing an important role in mainstreaming Sustainable Capitalism.”

Or, put more succinctly, short-term vision creates market volatility (big peaks and drops) which makes our stock markets more unstable, and undermines executives who are trying to create companies with staying power.  Instability and volatility improve the prospects for traders but not for investors, and not for the corporations and their management.

If we agree that “quarterly capitalism,” or “short-termism” isn’t a good foundational concept for our economy – from either the investors’ or the company’s perspective, then what tools are available to make long term investing more attractive, and to help corporations seeking “patient capital?”

rats rear end One tool in the box is the Capital Gains Tax. If only about 14% of Americans have individual investments in “The Market” [cnbc] why should anyone give one small rodent’s rear end about the Capital Gains Tax structure? 

Because:  The present capital gains tax structure  rewards investment transaction income more than on earned income. If we are going to allow this lop-sided approach, then there has to be some economic benefit in it for everyone?  The current system:  

“Capital gains and losses are classified as long term if the asset was held for more than one year, and short term if held for a year or less. Taxpayers in the 10 and 15 percent tax brackets pay no tax on long-term gains on most assets; taxpayers in the 25-, 28-, 33-, or 35- percent income tax brackets face a 15 percent rate on long-term capital gains. For those in the top 39.6 percent bracket for ordinary income, the rate is 20 percent.” [TPC]

Thus, if one’s income is “earned” by trading assets then the tax rate is 20% at the top of the income scale, but if the income is earned the old fashioned way – working for it – the rate could be 39.6%.  This is supposed to incentivize investment.  But note the definition of a “long term asset,” as one held for more than 12 months… that’s right: 12 months. 

Contrast that definition of a long term investment with the Clinton proposal:

Clinton Cap Gains Tax ChartNotice that in Secretary Clinton’s structure the combined rate on capital gains moves from 47.4% for those “short term” investments, down to 27.8% if the investor holds the assets for more than six years.  Five and six years fits my definition of “long term” much better than a “little over 12 months.”

Thus we have an incentive for longer term investments, which means less instability and less volatility.  This seems a much better plan to practice “Sustainable Capitalism.”

rats rear end

But, what of the executive compensation packages that are tied to short term stock prices?   Yes.  That’s a problem. [NYT] And yes, President Bill Clinton’s attempt to rein in executive pay back-fired. However, Secretary Clinton has proposed legislation to provide shareholders a vote on executive compensation, especially on benefit packages for executives when companies merge or are bought out. Her proposal would have created a three year “claw back” period during which the SEC could require CEOs and CFOs to repay bonuses, profits, or other compensation if they were found to have overseen – or been intentionally involved in misconduct or illicit activity.  Granted that doesn’t cover the entire landscape of corporate misadventure, but this could be combined with the following excellent suggestion for amending the tax code:

“Instead, Section 162(m) could be rewritten to allow a deduction for compensation paid to any employee in excess of $1 million only if the compensation is paid in cash, deferred for at least five years and unsecured (meaning that if the company goes bankrupt, the executive would not have a priority over other creditors). This approach would encourage corporate executives to act more like long-term bondholders and obsess less about short-term stock price movements.” [NYT]

Every bit of “encouragement” might help.  I’d be very happy to see CEOs thinking like long term bond holders (if long term means more than 13 months) and less like the traders/gamblers in the Wall Street Casino.

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Filed under Clinton, Economy, financial regulation, Hillary Clinton, Politics, Taxation

The Right Response

Nevada Senator Harry Reid (D) issued this statement in regard to the attacks on American consulate personnel in Libya:

I was deeply disturbed and saddened to learn of the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya. I join President Obama in condemning these senseless acts of violence. And my thoughts are with the families of those who were killed in this horrific attack.
It is too often forgotten that American diplomats risk their lives on a daily basis. Our diplomatic corps is filled with admirable and dedicated public servants. And the four Americans who lost their lives yesterday exemplified the courage and sacrifice that happens every day at diplomatic posts across the globe.

I have traveled to many of America’s embassies abroad, and I have always been impressed by and grateful for the leadership and commitment of America’s ambassadors and State Department personnel. Ambassador Stevens was a career Foreign Service officer and a former Peace Corps volunteer, who spent his life giving of his time and his talents to promote democracy and American values. I support President Obama’s directive to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the world, and to provide whatever resources necessary to keep our personnel in Libya safe. And I will continue to the monitor the situation as we learn more about these terrible events.

This is what diplomacy sounds like.   This is also what someone sounds like who has been reading the foreign policy and intelligence briefings.  Here’s why:

1. Condemnation is a strong word in the diplomatic world.  It is not used lightly.  To condemn an action is to place it beyond the realm of negotiation.  However, it must be use carefully so as to allow the party creating the injury to respond in diplomatic terms without necessarily having to resort to military action.

The Administration and State Department achieved that.  The proof is in the response of the Libyan government – what we would want to hear is precisely what the Libyan government conveyed: President Magariaf of Libya expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.”  [TDS]

The Libyan President responds with an equal measure of outrage, offers his condolences on behalf of his nation, and most importantly offers his nation’s “full cooperation.”   The modifier is also significant.  “Full” is also a meaningful word. The Libyan President could have stopped with the condolences — with all the implications that might have inferred — but he didn’t, he went that last step and offered all the services his new government can muster to resolve the issues peacefully.

The public isn’t privy to the policy and intelligence briefings concerning the new Libyan government but we can reasonably surmise they are not far from the public assessment offered by the U.S. State Department:

“Libya faces the challenges of building democratic institutions, protecting the universal rights of all Libyans, promoting accountable and honest government, rebuilding its economy, and establishing security throughout the country. The United States has a strategic interest in a stable and prosperous Libya, and is supporting Libya’s democratic transition in cooperation with the UN and other international partners.”

Note that the democratic institutions are not yet fully functional, the economy is not yet fully stabilized, and “establishing security throughout the country” is  still a work in progress.   This leads to the second reason why briefings and intelligence analysis and cool heads matter.

#2.  Attacks on American and American interests are no longer primarily a function of state actors.  They may not even be the result of client state activities such as we witnessed during the Cold War.  The term asymmetrical threat is a polite euphemism for “Who Knows Who’s Going To Do What, Much Less When?”   Senator Reid is correct — it take some courage to take a diplomatic posting these days because an incident which outrages some group in one country  could result in an attack on an American embassy anywhere.  For example, in May 1986 “The Japanese Red Army fired on the Japanese, Canadian, and U.S. embassies. The Red Army’s goals included overthrowing the Japanese government and starting a world revolution.” [IBT]  A splinter group from Al Qaeda was responsible for the September 13, 2001 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. [IBT]

Because the attacks are “asymmetrical,” because they are not state sponsored, and because they aren’t even organizationally rational, it becomes all the more important to be as fully briefed as possible with the understanding that those briefing are as informative as the host government is cooperative.

#3.   Here’s what happens when the time isn’t taken to assess a diplomatic situation carefully before speaking:

Romney: “I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi,” Romney said. “It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.” [WaPo]

The first, and obvious problem, is that the statement came out before Ambassador Stevens death was confirmed and the family was notified.  But, there are diplomatic issues as well.

Yes, indeed, the attacks were outrageous, but notice that the Romney statement fails to differentiate between official State Department statements and a release by the Cairo Embassy well in advance of the protests which sought to explain that the motion picture so offensive to some Muslims was not indicative of American attitudes toward members of the Islamic faith.  A point raised by President George Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks and maintained by his successor.  Both the Bush and Obama Departments of State repeatedly sought to sustain cooperation with Middle Eastern, African, and Asian nations by emphasizing that the American government  dislikes terrorists but does not vilify all Muslims.   The previous point should be repeated: Those briefing are as informative as the host government is cooperative.

The second is that there is no message.   Senator Reid points out that the U.S. will be stepping up mission security, and that “we” will be monitoring the situation.  That “we” could infer a wide variety of agencies.   Secretary Clinton said:

“But we must be clear-eyed, even in our grief. This was an attack by a small and savage group – not the people or Government of Libya. Everywhere Chris and his team went in Libya, in a country scarred by war and tyranny, they were hailed as friends and partners. And when the attack came yesterday, Libyans stood and fought to defend our post. Some were wounded. Libyans carried Chris’ body to the hospital, and they helped rescue and lead other Americans to safety. And last night, when I spoke with the President of Libya, he strongly condemned the violence and pledged every effort to protect our people and pursue those responsible.”

The friendship between our countries, borne out of shared struggle, will not be another casualty of this attack. A free and stable Libya is still in America’s interest and security, and we will not turn our back on that, nor will we rest until those responsible for these attacks are found and brought to justice. We are working closely with the Libyan authorities to move swiftly and surely. We are also working with partners around the world to safeguard other American embassies, consulates, and citizens.”  [emphasis added]

Secretary Clinton affirms the relationship with Libya, thanks them for their cooperation, and announces there will be further discussions of embassy security with other host nations.   Messages sent.   Unfortunately, the only initial message from Governor Romney is that he is angry and doesn’t think the President is doing a good job.  It doesn’t take diplomatic credentials to figure that out, but it also doesn’t give our friends and enemies any hints about how he might address similar issues in subsequent talks with them.

There was a message in the President’s remarks: “We’re working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats,” he said. “I’ve also directed my Administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts around the world. And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring to justice the killers who attacked our people.” (emphasis added)  The collaborative nature of the activities is on notice.  The United States has received the assurance of the Libyan government that it will “fully” cooperate, and will act in concert with the Libyan government to secure what we want — bringing the perpetrators of the attack to justice.

And, while the U.S. works with the Libyan government Americans may learn that there are 22 shabiyats or districts in Libya, and four significant political parties.  However, the most important word is “with” — we will not act on them, or independently of them, but WITH them — sending the message that we accept them as a full partner and equal on the world’s diplomatic stage.  The right responses help  send the right messages.

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Filed under 2012 election, Clinton, Foreign Policy, Obama, Reid, Romney

Chart of the Day: National Debt Increases By Presidency

Clip and share with any Faux News lovin’ Fuzzy Uncle who is convinced Democrats are the party of “Out Of Control Spending.”

H/T to Think For Yourself, and Treasury Direct.

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Filed under 2012 election, Bush, Bush Administration, Clinton, national debt, Obama

>Two Senators, Three Women, and a Delicate Diplomatic Situation: North Korea, the Terrorist State List, and Two Reporters


Before considering the two votes in the Senate today concerning North Korea, remember please that two reporters, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, of Current TV, were sentenced to 12 years “hard labor” after they were accused of trespassing into North Korea and committing unspecified ‘hostile acts.’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Friday that the U.S. was seeking “amnesty” for the two journalists. [NYT] Now, back to what happened in the Senate.

The Senate is considering S. 1390, the FY 2010 appropriations bill for the Department of Defense, military construction, and defense activities of the Department of Energy; and two amendments came to the floor. One from Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the other from Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS).

The ‘North Korea’ Amendments

Senator Kerry’s amendment (S.Amdt 1761) expressed the sense of the Senate that the United States should fully enforce existing sanctions, and should explore additional sanctions, with respect to North Korea and to require a review to determine whether North Korea should be re-listed as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Senator Brownback’s amendment (S. Amdt. 1597) said simply: “To express the sense of the Senate that the Secretary of State should redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism.”

North Korea was placed on the state sponsor of terrorism list in 1988. The Bush Administration removed the country from that list in October, 2008 announcing “based upon the cooperation agreement North Korea has recently provided…the Secretary of State this morning rescinded the designation of the DPRK as a state sponsor of terrorism, and that was effective as of her signature.” [CNN]

The Debate

Senator Brownback spoke to his amendment on July 21, 2009 summarizing a litany of abuses foreign and domestic committed by the North Korean regime. This amendment, he said, “would place the Senate on record as standing for the proposition that North Korea’s hostile and provocative actions will not be ignored. Indeed, they will have meaningful consequences under law. […] expressing “the sense of the Senate that the Secretary of State should redesignate North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism based on it nuclear and missile proliferation,m abductions, and material support for terrorist groups.” There’s likely no one, outside the strange regime in North Korea, who doubts for a moment that the totalitarian state is abusive, belligerent, and downright hostile.

Senator Kerry responded: “I know the Senator from Kansas cares, obviously, enormously about the underlying issue here. But I have to say this amendment, while well intentioned, simply does not do what it is supposed to do. It has no impact other than the sense of the Senate; sending a message which at this particular moment, frankly works counterproductively to other efforts that are underway.” Senator Kerry went on to explain what some of those efforts entail: “Right now, the Secretary of State is meeting at ASEAN. Right now, the various countries involved in this delicate process are working to determine how to proceed forward with respect to getting back to talks and defusing these tensions. For the Senate just to pop on an amendment like this at this moment in time not only sends a signal that complicates the process, but I think it also, frankly, will make it more difficult to secure the return of two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee.” (emphasis added)

The ‘whereas’ section of Senator Brownback’s amendment took note of the plight of Ling and Lee, treating their imprisonment as a cause of action for which redesignation as a state sponsor of terrorism would be an appropriate course of immediate action. Senator Kerry’s concern was that the Brownback amendment would, indeed, send a message – the wrong one – and could derail efforts to secure the release of the two American reporters. Their amendments stood in stark contrast: Brownback’s to immediately play a trump card; Kerry’s to require a re-evaluation of the situation with North Korea, resulting in a report to the Senate within 30 days, and hold a potential trump card in abeyance until the Secretary of State believes it is appropriate to play it.

The Result

Common sense and an understanding of the intricate and delicate situation faced by Secretary Clinton prevailed; Kerry’s Amendment passed 66-31. [roll call 238] Republicans Gregg (R-NH), Grassley (R-IA), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Snowe (R-ME), Collins (R-ME), and Voinovich (R-OH) joining the Democrats. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) voted with the majority; Senator John Ensign (R-NV) voted with the Brownback contingent in opposition.

Senator Brownback’s amendment was rejected on a 43-54 vote. [roll call 239] Understanding how a Senator could vote “yes” on both amendments is difficult. Kerry’s amendment called for the possibility of a redesignation upon review by the State Department, while Brownback’s amendment requested an immediate redesignation. Nevertheless, several Solons tried it, including Senator Bayh (D-IN), Senator Grassley (R-IA), Senator Gregg (R-NH), Senator Lincoln (D-AR), Senator Nelson (D-FL), Senator Nelson (D-NE), Senator Collins (R-ME), Senator Lieberman (I-CT), and Senator Snowe (R-ME). Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) voted to reject the amendment; Senator John Ensign (R-NV) voted to adopt it.

Meanwhile Back in Laguna Phuket

As the Senate was voting on these two disparate versions of American foreign policy, the Secretary of State was taking questions at a press conference in Laguna Phuket, Thailand. One response to a general question about dealing with North Korea hit an optimistic note: “First, let me emphasize that the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea are all united on our approach. We share a common goal of ending the nuclear weapons program and the nuclear program in North Korea so that we can have a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. We have made it very clear to the North Koreans that if they will agree to irreversible denuclearization, that the United States, as well as our partners, will move forward on a package of incentives and opportunities, including normalizing relations that will give the people of North Korea a better future. It is tragic to look at what happens to the people in North Korea. They, as you know so well, don’t have enough to eat, they don’t have the opportunities that they deserve to have. So we are very clear that we are willing to discuss the future with North Korea, but only if they agree to the denuclearization. Our policies among the five of us are aimed at avoiding conflict and instability in the region, and I think we are pursuing, in this united front, a very positive approach that we hope the North Koreans will respond to.

Given the tone of this response it’s evident why Senator Kerry was so intent on pushing back the Brownback unilateralist approach. Secretary Clinton began her reply listing the five nations collaborating on the non-proliferation issue; a group not always known for effective cooperation. This first response was the carrot; the next revealed the stick.

Secretary Clinton took a second question on North Korea, saying “our goal is to have what we call irreversible denuclearization. So the points you just made are part of achieving that goal. We know that North Korea made commitments in 2006 which they did not fully comply with. We do not want to be in another negotiation that doesn’t move us toward the goal of denuclearization. So we want verifiable, irreversible steps taken. And the technical experts will provide us with the details as to everything that must be done. But the net result is that North Korea will commit itself and eliminate its capacity to do anything other than have a denuclearized future. We know that this is difficult, and we understand the challenges we face. But I think it’s remarkable that the five of us are not only committed to the goal, but talking very specifically about what needs to be presented to achieve that goal. And the United Nations Security Council resolution, which was unanimously supported by all of us, is being implemented vigorously by all of us. So I think we are on a very strong position in dealing with the North Koreans, and now we wait to hear whether they are willing to respond positively.” (emphasis added) Signal to the DPRK: You cannot play the U.S., Russia, and China off against each other at this point in time. “We” are waiting for “you” to respond “positively, “ or “if you don’t want to talk about how you are going to denuclearize, then we aren’t talking.”

And what of the two reporters? No questions were raised at Secretary Clinton’s brief press conference in Thailand, but something may be quietly in the works. The Sacramento Courts Examiner reported on July 20, 2009 that some signals on July 11 indicating the North Koreans were open to negotiations on behalf of Ling and Lee may have yielded some actual progress in which terms and conditions of their release might be discussed. Details, of course, have not been announced, and an important part of the deal may be “hammering out the language of an official U.S. apology, tricky business given the current overall political climate.”

Thankfully, Senator Kerry’s amendment was adopted, and Senator Brownback’s rejected – or those negotiations (if indeed they have commenced) could have become so very much trickier.

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Filed under Brownback, Clinton, Kerry, North Korea

>Secretary Clinton Carves a Turkey on C-SPAN


Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton seems to remember the major historical events and trends during her lifetime. Would that Congressman Mike Pence (R-IN) could do the same. Steve Benen notes that Pence may have thought he was being profound, but Pence only appeared to be profoundly wrong; and, after Secretary Clinton was through with him during the hearing – Pence’s posturing was significantly slackened. Watch a good woman handle a sadly misinformed man, and how it takes her only 4:41 minutes to carve this turkey.

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>Senator No Strikes Again; Overnight Express News Roundup


Senator John Ensign (R-NV) was one of only 23 members of the U.S. Senate to vote against the confirmation of Christopher Hill to be the next ambassador to Iraq. [roll call 159] Ensign was included in an even smaller group of 17 members who voted against terminating debate before the confirmation vote. [roll call 158] The Nevada junior Senator was following the lead of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) who accused Hill of overstepping his authority and failing to emphasize North Korea’s human rights abuses. Hill’s nomination was supported by Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, as well as the U.S.’s previous ambassadors to Iraq. [CQP] Senator John Kerry (D-MA) questioned how Hill might have been responsible for not highlighting North Korea’s human rights abuses since Hill was acting on instructions from the Bush White House. [NYT]

Speaking of diplomacy, Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton met with the Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen on April 20th and stated: “…we will work on clarifying the legal authorities that exist. There will be, at our request, a meeting of the international piracy contact group in New York City in early May, in addition to the meeting that will be held shortly in Brussels. We’re going to have to determine the best way to bring pirates to justice after they’re captured. And there will have to be additional discussion about this at NATO as well.” [full text] Refreshing, isn’t it, to have a Secretary of State who speaks of “legal authority,” “international groups,” and “bring (them) to justice,” all in one sentence.

And, speaking of Cabinet Officials, seems like a few are getting into blogging – Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s picked out a good name for his – “The Fast Lane.” And, who but a Transportation Secretary would write of a “sunny and warm start for the paving season.” Secretary of the Department of the Interior is calling his efforts “Guest Editorials.” Probably the least inventive name for a blog comes from Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, who’s writing at Blog. But, hey, at least he’s doing one. The Department of Homeland Security posts a “Leadership Journal” which has just about all the elements of a good blog, just not the title. Secretary Clinton’s “DipNote” earns DB’s ‘second place’ prize for a title, and even offers a Twitter section. As for the rest of the Cabinet, they seem to be content with the press release notes – but how much more fun would it be if the Treasury Department posted on “Money Talks,” or the Commerce Secretary was posting to “BusyNess” with ‘Nessie’ coming out of the Loch Ness mist in the banner?

So, while we’re speaking of Cabinet officials, where were the cable news networks today (or just about any day this week for that matter) when the following officials made some news? The Secretary of Commerce, Gary Locke, was addressing the Second Biennial Industry Summit of the Motion Picture Association of America on April 21, talking about how to address the impact of counterfeiting and piracy on the industry. He publicized a new web site, “Stopfakes.Gov” to assist the industry and to keep members of the public better informed on the subject.

Did we hear anything about the former military official who pleaded guilty to participating in a bribery conspiracy involving a $206 million telecommunications contract in Korea? Probably not. Perhaps the best way to keep informed on what the Justice Department is doing besides the Cable News Obsession Du Jour is to hit their “Other News” at the web site. Earth Day’s coming up, and the Department of Defense released its story of efforts on board the USS Abraham Lincoln to recycle waste, and the Navy’s Operation Change Out – replacing 12,358 incandescent bulbs with Energy Star fluorescents. [DoD] This was a nice little piece, too bad the corporate media didn’t pick it up. If you didn’t click on the USDA’s webpage you probably missed the story about the Department’s celebration of Earth Day by awarding $144.3 million for rural infrastructure projects. Nor, would you have known about the upgrade and refitting of the Coast Guard’s fleet of 12 “high endurance” cutters unless you hit the Department of Homeland Security’s news section. Did the corporate press make much note of Secretary Clinton’s six hour visit with the President of Haiti? Or, the joint news conference that followed the session – for more than what was visible on the TV screen see the DipNote report. This paragraph ought to answer the question: Why do more people seem to be getting their news from the Internet?

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Filed under Clinton, Defense Department, Ensign, Interior Department

>In Shock and Awe: Obama Administration, State Department, Congressional Tours Launch Diplomatic Barrage?


The Congressional Break Time Traveling Road Show is in full swing, and some of the destinations are interesting, but become even more intriguing taken with a wider view. The Obama Administration promised a diplomatic full court press during its tenure, and it appears as though team Obama-Clinton are availing themselves of traditional congressional willingness to grab their passports and head to various and sundry climes. Consider for a moment who’s where.

The President made the traditional foray to Canada, including in his discussions with Prime Minister Harper such topics as Afghanistan, global climate issues, ecological concerns, and trade. [MSNBC] Trade will be a continuing sticking point given the necessity of our interconnected economies, and the necessity for each country to maintain its own industrial base without impinging on international agreements like NAFTA and individual efforts to sustain jobs in both countries.

While the President did the ‘North American’ junket, his Secretary of State, Hillary R. Clinton, headed out for a major tour of Asian nations. She included Japan, South Korea, and China (all crucial U.S. trading partners), and extended the trip to include Indonesia. [Blmbrg] Secretary Clinton appointed Stephen Bosworth, former Ambassador to South Korea, as a special envoy to North Korea, tasked to work with South Korea, Japan, and China to get the North Korean government back to the negotiating table. [YahNews]

Perhaps to keep the situation in balance, Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley of the Taiwanese Caucus in Congress headed out to the island outpost to mark the 30th anniversary of formalized U.S.-Taiwan trade relations. [LVRJ] Just in case anyone in the region might be feeling left out, a delegation led by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, went to Guam, South Korea, and Japan, laying at wreath at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, but focusing on the current ‘down plan’ of Marines at Finegayan and Andersen Air Force bases. [Guam]

What about India, another important U.S. trade partner? There were rumblings that the Administration had considered including the country in original plans, and grumbling when the final itinerary didn’t include a trip to New Delhi. [Hindu] Enter the Congress?

Lo, and behold, the Department of State released a statement on February 12th in the presence of the Indian Ambassador to the U.S., announcing that Congressman John Lewis, Senator Max Baucus, along with former Ambassador Andrew Young and former Senator Wofford Harris would be traveling to India to celebrate Black History Month by commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s meeting with Mahatma Gandhi. [USDoS]

With the Asian trade connections covered, the next obvious target for the Break Time Diplomatic Road Show would be the hot spots. No sooner said than done. The U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem announced two days ago that Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) would be conducting a visit to Gaza and holding meetings with United Nations officials. [AP] Sending Ellison, the only Muslim member of Congress to Gaza, was seen as a ‘positive’ response by at least one Hamas leader, although the delegation had no direct talks with Hamas leadership. Former Senator George Mitchell, Clinton’s special envoy to the Middle East, will be making his second visit since his appointment to the region with stops tentatively scheduled for Turkey, Israel, and the Palestinian Territories. Other possible visits include Saudi Arabia and some European capitals. [ABC]

The State Department previously credentialed Richard C. Holbrooke as a Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he launched his efforts in the region on February 12, 2009 arriving in Kabul after a session in Lahore to do a ‘ground up review’ of the situation. [NYT]

The U.S. is going to need a few stops in European capitals to keep efforts going in the Middle East and Afghanistan/Pakistan. One of slightly more problematic relationships with our European allies has been with Italy, [AJN] little wonder then that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) met with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on February 17, a session that yielded a joint statement about Italy “cooperating ever more closely with the United States” with regard to NATO, Afghanistan, and “in areas like Africa.” [AGI] Given the tense situation with Somalian pirates, and the abduction of two Italian nuns in Kenya who were then transported to Somalia before their release on February 19th, [IHT] a person could assume that the conditions in the ‘Horn of Africa’ arose during the meeting? The Italian Senate approved funds on February 18th for missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia to carry out humanitarian and reconstruction programs. [AGI] Coordinating “ever more closely” with U.S. efforts would be a welcome bonus.

Looking at the destinations listed above appears to indicate that when then-candidate Obama said “that by being more open to the world, and more credible as a negotiating partner, the United States can achieve greater safety and security” [BG] during the campaign – he meant it. And when Secretary Clinton said, “ power relies on smart people, and we have an abundance of them in this building and at USAID. But I’ve also told my teammates in the State family that we’re going to have to be smarter about how we do what we must for our country. There are many ways that we can improve on what we do on a daily basis. And I want to work with my friends in Congress on behalf of our Administration to really look for those efficiencies and those changes that will make what we do more effective, more cost-effective, so that we can be out there around the world delivering America’s message, certainly doing all we must to protect and defend our security, but also advancing our interests and furthering our values.” [USDoS] during her swearing in ceremony she wasn’t kidding either.

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Filed under Clinton, Foreign Policy, Obama, State Department