Thursday, June 22, 2017

Leaks - When Warranted, When Not

The subject of leaks is very hot at the moment.   It’s easy to say that Republicans are infuriated about recent leaks because they are embarrassing and hamper their ability to govern.  But there is a larger question here.  When are leaks warranted, and when are they not?

But first, what is a “leak.”  My definition of leak is an unauthorized release of information that is not public, often it is classified.  Various dictionary definitions define it as the release of secret information or just the clandestine release of information; the point of these definitions is that the information is not public.  For a leak to be a criminal offense, it must be the unauthorized release of classified government information.

The release of the Pentagon Papers was a leak in the narrower criminal sense.  The Wikileaks release was part classified, but mostly not.  It most certainly was private.

Most of the leaks that have been talked about the past few weeks are of private information.  It has not been classified.

But does that make a difference to the question of when is a leak warranted?  I would answer, no.

A leak, whether of classified or merely non-public information, is warranted only when the public good requires that it be released.  And when does the public good require this? When the information being withheld from the public is needed for it to judge current events, often because the public has either been lied to or not told the whole truth.   If the information is classified, the bar of the public’s need to know is set much higher; it must be of critical importance.

So with that as a guideline, let’s look at recent leaks.  There have been numerous leaks about the process of the Russian investigation, most regarding specific actions by the General Counsel’s office, one regarding a memo from the Trump transition team.   

Regardless of the public interest in such information, in letting them have a feel for what is happening, such leaks are not warranted.  They should stop.  They do not move justice forward.  They do nothing but feed the public’s and cable TV’s desire for a constant flow of information.  It makes the actual investigation almost anti-climatic, which I don’t think is a healthy thing.

Many will disagree with me.  They feel that the President’s constant misstatement, if not conscious lying, about things is so outrageous that it is imperative to counter those lies with the truth.  It’s fact checking.  

While I totally agree with that, I think the information used should be public information, and there generally is plenty of that available to dispute the President, even his own statements.  But even if not, the point here is that this is all so much blather; no one is making any decisions or judgments based on this chatter.

Now, if someone with knowledge of an investigation feels that important information is being ignored because its truth is inconvenient, then I think the leak of the information is warranted.  Because it does move justice forward; the information now cannot be ignored by those leading the investigation.

What about Comey’s release of the contents of his memo to the press through a friend.  That clearly is not a leak because the release was authorized by the writer of the memo.  While it is true that the memo summarized a conversation with the President, which was privileged communication, and that the President did not authorize the memo’s release, the memo clearly is Comey’s memory of the conversation.  If it were a verbatim transcript of the conversation, that would be different and it would be a leak.

Given the polarized nature of our society, and the suspicion that many people have of mainstream media, it is of critical importance that the media not be drawn into an informational tit for tat.  That they remain scrupulously neutral until the facts are in, at which time they can editorialize.

Ah, but what about the fact that we now have countless “news” media on cable and the internet, and they do get involved in the tit for tat.  Does that leave mainstream organizations like  The New York Times seemingly irrelevant if they don’t join in the fray?  Aren’t these leaks scoops that they must also cover?

That’s a hard question that only they can answer.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Democrats' Bad Strategy

Contrary to what The New York Times stated, if Democrats are demoralized about their loss in the Georgia special election it is their own fault.  To think that this district might possibly be in play was pure illusion.  Yes, Trump did not do particularly well there.  But to anticipate that a solidly Republican district would turn on the President in a very visible election is wishful thinking.  Plus the Democratic candidate was somewhat of a light-weight.  

Thus to make the stakes so high was not in the Democrats’ best interest.  The Party would do well to not follow the demands of the most rabid elements of its base and not seriously challenge every Republican seat.  

There will be many opportunities to pick up seats in 2018 and regain control of the House, but the districts and the candidates must be chosen very carefully.  And the Party must have a clear and cohesive vision for how it would govern, what it would do for the American people.  And that vision must be articulated in a way that the people get.  See my post, "The Perennial Search for the Democrats' Mission."

Running a good campaign isn't just about raising tons of money and having a good get-out-the-vote effort.  Running a winning campaign requires having a positive message that resonates with people beyond the Democratic base.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Trump Is Lying to His Base About His Infrastructure Program

One of the main things motivating Trump’s election win was his attention to the needs of the middle class worker who was either unemployed, underemployed, or whose wages have stagnated for the past 40 years.  He promised them jobs.  During the campaign there were two main avenues through which he stated he was going to meet that promise.

The first and more direct means was through Federal financing of a massive $1 trillion infrastructure program.  It has just been revealed, however, that that plan has essentially been trashed.  Instead, the Federal government will invest only $200 billion and seek to use that to leverage the rest.  The other $800 billion will have to come from states, cities, and corporate sources.   

This is highly unlikely to work since most states and cities are just keeping their heads above water financially as it is.  And corporations will not foot the bill because it will detract from their bottom line profit, which investors will not support.  

But Trump is still deceitfully calling it a $1 trillion program and using it to rally his base.  It’s all smoke and mirrors.  Another example of Trump's mendacity.

This decision I’m sure resulted from a reality check.  Given his desire for a major tax cut for the wealthy and a major increase in defense spending, there just wasn’t money left for a big infrastructure bill, even with cutting many programs that directly help those in need, including the working poor and many of his supporters.   

The second means was by drastically renegotiating NAFTA and other trade agreements which had been a major factor in the loss of American jobs to other countries.   While he withdrew American participation in the TPP (which had not yet taken effect), he has not moved boldly on NAFTA.  He has signaled that he wants to renegotiate, but his intention as communicated to Congress amounted to no major changes. (see New York Times, “Trump Sends NAFTA Renegotiation Notice to Congress,” May 18).  All he has done is cudgel executives to bring back jobs with the promise of major tax cuts.

Thus he is reneging on his promise to create jobs through a major Federal infrastructure program.  He is cutting programs that provide a vital benefit to many of his supporters.  And he is not making major changes in NAFTA.  Plus we cannot forget the impact on his supporters if Trumpcare passes.  

This will be a huge betrayal of his supporters.  One can only hope that they will finally see him for the fraud that he is and remove their support.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trump’s Simplistic Parochialism

It’s one thing to say, “America First.”  It’s another to be simplistic in its application and have no understanding of what that phrase really means.

"America First" raises two issues regarding Trump’s action of taking the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.  The first is, even assuming for argument’s sake that our participating in the accords was in some narrow way against our economic interests, does the significance of the issue for the world, and ultimately therefore for the U.S., mean that the U.S. should do what is best for the larger community?  Is our national interest something larger than our economic interest?

There are several ways of looking at this.  If the U.S. wishes to continue to be a leader, if not the leader, on the world stage, then without question we need to do our part to insure a safe planet not just for our children and their children, but for the children of all people.

The leadership issue aside, from a moral perspective, how can a country which expounds on its exceptionalism at every opportunity as well as the centrality of its faith in God act in a way which even arguably is destructive of the planet’s environment to such an extent that it impacts the heritage we leave our children?  

It’s one thing to say that you don’t believe that climate change is man-made (although Trump’s emissaries when questioned have said they don’t know whether he believes in it or not), it’s another to say that the argument that it is has no credence.  When we’re talking about the upheaval of the climate-based order of the world and possibly the viability of Earth as a human habitat as we know it in the future, do you want to take any risk, however small?

And finally, yes, our national interest is larger than our economic, certainly our corporate, interest.  When we have lost sight of that in the past, troubles have ensued.  It is probably safe to say, although many would disagree, that the Bush administration got us into the Iraq war not because of our national interest, or even national security interest, but because of corporate interests.  Even the Vietnam War was more an expression of our corporate interests … the big corporations wanted to halt the spread of communism … than our national security interests.

The second issue is, is our commitment under the Paris accords even in a narrow way against our economic interests?  The answer from a broad cross-section of business leaders, economists, and academics is a resounding, “no!”

First, the future of the coal industry and of coal miners is being primarily impacted not by the prospect of carbon caps and other measures but by the superior cost effectiveness of natural gas and increasingly that of alternative sources of energy.  Our Paris commitments do no further harm to the coal industry.

Second, by not just taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords but also removing efforts to stimulate development of alternative energy sources, Trump is not only depriving U.S. workers a source of new and lasting jobs, but we are ceding to China and other countries the leadership in the development of this technology which will be an economic engine for decades to come.

Third, by taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords, it will hurt our export industry.  People will retaliate against the U.S. by choosing to purchase competitive products from other countries, a Renault v a Chevy, Adidas v Nike.

So Trump's action is actually contrary to the policy, "America First."  Trump makes it sound like he’s standing up for the U.S. and protecting our economy, and that is certainly what his base and, according to a recent New York Times article, small business owners think.  But the reality is that taking the U.S. out of the Paris accords will hurt our economy, which will ultimately hurt everyone, including small business owners.  And It will have a negative impact on our broader national interests.  

Thankfully, the process of leaving the Paris accords will take several years.  Before that process is over we will have a presidential election.  Unless the citizens of this country have lost all common sense, we will have a new president who will rescind Trump’s decision and keep us in the accords.