An Encryption Angle on the Clinton E-Mail Affair

An Encrypted Message?

An Encrypted Message?

Hillary Clinton’s problem with her e-mails are raising questions about judgment, honesty, and the security of her communications while Secretary of State. I’ll leave it for others to decide whether this is just a “bunch of hooey,” in a long string of ferocious “anti Clinton propaganda,” as Clinton ally and confidant, James Carville says; or if it has real substance. Regardless, all of this is now fare for the “Road to the White House, ” and puts Benghazi issues on the first page of Google searches again.

For the nerd writing this blog, the most important questions raised by Clinton E-mail Gate are around the security of electronic transmissions (generally); and especially the role and potential of Encryption, or lack thereof. (Here is a good sketch of how Encryption works).

These questions are the same, now all-too-familiar ones, raised in the NSA/Snowden affair; British intelligence agency (GCHQ) spying on news organizations; and the hacking of Sony, which almost brought that company to its knees, while making public some very embarrassing e-mails by it’s executives.

One of the first questions that should have been asked about Hillary’s private server and e-mail system, was whether her technicians used any form of Encryption, at least for e-mails in transit.  The only answer that has surfaced so far comes from a Bloomberg News report that hasn’t received much attention.  It says that Mrs. Clinton’s email-server had a “mis-configured encryption system.”

It’s not clear exactly what that means, other than her tech consultants tried installing some form of routine encryption, but botched the job. According to the Bloomberg story, “although Clinton worked hard to secure the private system, her consultants appear to have set it up with a misconfigured encryption system, something that left it vulnerable to hacking…..”

Further research reveals that building a robust, easy to use, universal, turnkey, Encryption system for all e-mail, is a lot harder than most of us realize; logistically, more than technically, if you can separate the two.

Years after British journalists were spied on by their government’s intelligence agency, The Guardian found that news organizations like the Associated Press, Le Monde, LA Times, CBS News, Forbes, Baltimore Sun, and Der Spiegel were still lax in protecting journalists and their sources from surveillance; still putting all of the people who communicate with them at risk of being spied on.

You’d think today’s tech geniuses could find a way to help us all routinely and robustly Encrypt our e-mail. But, as “Digital Trend’s,” Geoff Duncan put it: “the bottom line is that email as we know it today has never been secure, and the myriad ways we send, receive, store, and use email messages makes fully securing email a very difficult problem; at best.” This,  from an established tech company specializing in personal and custom networks and servers, like, perhaps, the consultants Hillary used.

Even many among us fixated on privacy have second thoughts about strong Encryption when they learn what it may really mean. Not only is it tedious and arduous to get there, but it’s questionable whether you could ever search your own e-mails (easily,  if at all) if they were encrypted on Google servers. That’s both good and bad. The best (and relatively understandable) explanation I’ve found as to why this is so difficult, can be found here.

Actually, the big e-mail providers, like Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft appear to be closing in on this Holy Grail.  But, one formidable obstacle is U.S. Government security agencies, which are very worried about throwing away the Encryption key, so that no one except the users in the sender-receiver diad can ever decipher the message. That of course is really the whole point of strong Encryption.  But it would mean that NSA, for example, or it’s British counterpart, couldn’t decipher messages between terrorists planning an assault on a world cup soccer game.

Here is one vivid and very recent story about obstacles Google encountered offering user selectable Encryption for their customers.

Darrell Issa’s investigators would also be frustrated if a strong form of Encryption prevented them from finding out what Hillary might have written to the White House as the tragic Benghazi events unfolded?  She may not have written anything; if she did, it likely wound up on a (relatively) secure State Department server; or on a server (like at the White House’s or CIA’s) which may claim the Issa Committee is not entitled to see it.  The treacherous road to the White House!

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29 thoughts on “An Encryption Angle on the Clinton E-Mail Affair

  1. Russ Lehman

    Thanks again Irv. Yea, a little “nerdy”, but important nonetheless. I am actually more interested in your first para, as I imagine most (of those who care or are paying attention to this story at all) are also. Some great comments on NYTimes stories today on the matter. Everything from “boy you NYT really hate the Clintons” to “she may be a scoundrel but she is the only one we got”. The overwhelming sentiment I gathered (in the completely non-scientific review of NYT comments) is the overwhelming lack of excitement, even interest in the return to the 90″s that another Clinton would mean for us (not to mention the almost inconceivable possibility of a Bush v Clinton race). I think this is incredibly important. Sure, as a progressive (in the truest and original definition of that proud title) I am both not a fan of HRC and also lament the lack of any progressive options to oppose what is so clearly the clown car on the other side. But also as a believer in our representative democracy, I am saddened beyond belief that in a country of 320 million we are quite likely confronted with this paltry and embarrassing selection. Perhaps most noteworthy is the increase slide into apathy by the electorate.

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    1. Irv Lefberg Post author

      Thanks for comment, Russ. I am not a big Hillary fan. I thought she did a good job as Senator. Did her homework on issues, figured out how to navigate the Senate. And won respect of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. All good presidential attributes. But what came after was disappointing. I was not impressed by her 2008 campaign. Never quite figured out why she wanted to be president, other than having the ambition/desire to rise to the top. She lacked a “core,” philosophically, and, I think, still does. Her tenure as secretary of state was unremarkable. R’s are basically right that it’s hard to identify any significant Hillary accomplishments or legacy as sec’y of state. Yes, she traveled a lot and did a lot for women internationally, but she was already doing that as first lady and senator. That’s not a main reason for being sec’y of state. On the Russian “reset,” either the policy was bad to begin with (or too little too late, which would not be her fault), or she flubbed it. I think R’s have of course scandal-mongered Benghazi to death, and will continue to do so. And keep inventing other scandals, which liberal or mainstream news venues like NYT will occasionally advance (or invent themselves) just to show they are even-handed. Am not sure if that was motive of NYT in E-mail Gate, or if the reporters (and NYT) are really Warren or Sanders Dems. Yes, Russ, she is a credible, but unexciting candidate. And yes, it is astonishing and scary that in a nation as advanced and sophisticated as U.S., and one that has claimed to be the world’s paragon of democracy, that we may very well have a Bush versus Clinton race in 2016. One major recent poll indicated the public is alright with that. Oh Vey!! Just for pure fun, I would love to see a Walker versus Warren showdown in 2016. (Hard to believe the Dems let the Clintons suck all the air out of the room for last 6 years such that no other Dems candidate seems possible right now).

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  2. alex maclachlan

    I think whether Hilary’s personal server in her house used for the people’s business is secure enough is way down the road of concerns. If this was a Republican, the left would be screaming about this 24/7/365. Whole days would be dedicated on NBC on what that person needed to hide so their corruption could be concealed. Encryption? Really? That’s a given. Another member of Clinton INC wanting a different set of rules to apply to them, where THEY decide what the American people get access to? Unbelievable. So as SOS Clinton has access to a foreign government’s leader because of her government title and that leader gives millions of dollars to her personal foundation, what do you think Hilary would conclude from that gift? Oh, that’s my personal business.

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    1. Irv Lefberg Post author

      Thanks for comment, Alex. My question is:”Why haven’t Dems or Media been all over Jeb Bush and his own E-Mail Gate? . I understand he used a mostly (or exclusively) private e-mail system as Governor, and released (only some of) them after they were carefully picked-through by his folks. Citizens United, McCutheon, and other cases wherein the Roberts Court decimated reasonable campaign spending laws (that all other democracies have), allow all sorts of foreign money and influence on US campaigns which we won’t ever be able to identify, At least the foreign monies to the Clinton foundation are known.

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      1. alex maclachlan

        Irv, maybe the amount of foreign money given is mostly “known”, but in what context was it given? Quid pro quo from the Sec of State of the United States on her private server with no oversight? We’ll never see that email will we? These things are in place for one thing to protect the American people from high officials being blackmailed for wrong doing etc, are they not? I haven’t heard anything about Jeb’s emails so searched a little on Al Jazeera. Sure, the people of Florida should have demanded transparency. I’m slightly more animated considering the #4 person in succession to the POTUS who now wants to be #1 continues to see herself as someone who gets to play by a completely different set or rules and requirements. The National press is the one finding this a bit more concerning. They have got to be exhausted of the prospect of playing the DNC’s heat shield for even one more day

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  3. Norm Olson

    Alex: Your comment about a double standard is off base. The Republicans HAVE BEEN screaming 24/7. They have been trying to get the Clintons since day 1 of Bill Clinton’s administration. Issa’s witch hunt was ridiculous and in the end no one was found culpable. Benghazi was not the first American embassy to be attacked. There were numerous attacks on embassies during the Bush administration and I have not heard an outcry about those.

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    1. alex maclachlan

      Look at you two, already circling the wagons and claiming double standard while you employ a double standard to protect one of your own. Like they say, when good people do nothing……..

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      1. Norm Olson

        Common Alex. You were the first one to cry double standard. I just showed that the repubs were the professionals at that.

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  4. Russ Lehman

    When serious threats to the health of our Democracy are apparent and rabid partisans see fit to focus their predictable and trite wrath at the “others”, it serves to indicate only that we are truly in more danger than we realize.

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  5. alex maclachlan

    No Norm, you’ve only shown you are willing to spend a lot of time and energy analyzing critics of a public official and not one second analyzing the corruption of that official…or her husband. About trendy cliches like “clown car” you guys have been using, you may have to learn “Paddy Wagon” pretty soon to increase your vocabulary as the NYT and actual main stream media outlets finally decide they can’t afford to flush any more credibility down the toilet defending corrupt Democrats, or even worse, being completely silent. Complicity has a sharp second edge to that sword.

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  6. Norm Olson

    Corruption Alex? Repub partisanship wants to destroy any Democrat rather then working with them. Claiming corruption is an easy way out. There never has been as much discord in modern times as when the Tea Baggers and other extremists came into power. “Clown Car” is when 47 repubs think that they can derail negotiations with Iran. If that is not treason, it was at least illegal for citizens to interfere with State negotiations with a foreign power.

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  7. alex maclachlan

    Norm, you must have wiped 8 yrs of your memory bank clean the day Obama took office. To put “unprecedented” in front of anything the some Congress people are doing to show Iranians that any negotiation that shuts out the US Congress’s purview has a very short shelf life is simply educating them on our Constitution. Since Obama insists on going it alone regardless of his limited powers and Harry Reid’s Senate looked the other way just like you are doing, I can see how responsible leadership in a leadership vacuum looks like treason to you.

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    1. Norm Olson

      Alex: That is an extremely ignorant argument. It has always been the State Department who negotiates treaties. That is part of the Executive branch of our government. Yes, sometimes the legislative branch needs to sanction it but it is still the Executive branch that needs to do the initial negotiating. The subhuman 47 decided to bypass that part of our Constitution and they should be prosecuted for that according to the Logan Act. As far as “going it alone” is concerned, the repubs have decided that absolutely nothing is going to be done because it would give Obama cred. Obama has issued fewer executive orders than did George Bush but repubs call Obama’s orders anti-constitution but they have short memory about Bush’s.

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  8. alex maclachlan

    Operative word “purview” Norm. Are you seriously going to parse words again between the difference of EO or directive or any number of similar actions Obama takes by another name so that you can trot out the old “less than Bush” lame argument? Its the consequences of the action, not the number.

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  9. Norm Olson

    Alex: The facts are the facts with the executive order. The repubs say that “Obama’s directives are unconstitutional.” NO. they are not because other presidents have done the same thing and Bush had more executive orders than has Obama. Obama has had to do things on his own because the repubs don’t want to play at all. If we had an intelligent opposition that would negotiate instead of just saying NO then Obama wouldn’t need to issue executive orders.

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  10. alex maclachlan

    Broken record, Norm. When Reid was obstructing everything and anything out of the House for 6 years, you still said the same thing and ignored Reid’s actions. Typical

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    1. Irv Lefberg

      Alex, I’m about 90% sure of this, but not 100%. I think our fair city (Escondido) allows emails of all public officials to be purged every 90 days. If I’m right, and I think I am, that is awful. In WA state govt where I worked, emails on everyone’s machine in my agency were copied and stored ever night. Yes, EVery Night. And were archived for 5 years. Before I left, a serious bill was in play to make it 10 years. Don’t know if that ever passed. Russ may know.

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      1. alex maclachlan

        Yes, Irv, I believe you are right. I did a public info request last year and got it in on the 89th day. With facebook and various privacy techniques you can get around just about anything if your intent is to do so. It just shouldn’t be allowed to be so easy to get away with if you are in a position of public trust

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  11. Norm Olson

    Alex: This is typical of subhuman repbubs to change the subject. Talking about Reid and Obama are two totally different things. We have Boehner doing the same thing. I am tired of dealing with uneducated conservatives. You are wasting my time. Go back to washing your dishes.

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  12. alex maclachlan

    Now you are really getting comical, Norm. “Talking about Reid and Obama are two totally different things”. Yes Mabel, we found the most naive man in the World. Get him a cookie

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  13. Russ Lehman

    Irv, this has been an interesting experience, this commenting on your blog. Your pieces seem to be used, at least by a few of us, as more of a launching point than for a direct response to your posts. I’m sorry for that because, well, it is your blog and, I would assume, not intended as a public forum to spout whatever.
    It’s also interesting, and obviously not at all a scientifically meaningful representation, but interesting nonetheless because it seems to have attracted a very similar dynamic to one on many web-based comments areas, and the country at-large.
    I don’t know about any others but I never met and have no personal knowledge of any of the posters here. All I know is what words have been written and then made available for public consumption (at least those signed up for the Irv blog). From what’s here (really just the last two posts), if I may be so bold, I have drawn a few conclusions: 1) The original post, from you, is politically neutral, policy oriented, raises interesting questions about complex issues of today – usually from a bit of a “nerdy” perspective, and while maybe a little too (for me) seemingly purposefully avoiding of the most controversial components of the issue(s) does in fact at least raise the question(s). 2) the original comment often picks up on your “neutrality”, by not reciting the all-too predictable partisan dogma and advances the question. 3) next is the introduction of the partisan pablum, by Alex in at least these last two posts, which raises boogeymen, draws off of alleged quotes, and worse assumes intentions which are simply not there and then launches the offensive against the “Left” or the “…corruption of that (Hillary)…or her husband”. 4) next comes the predictable pointing out of political hypocrisy, raised first by others (in at least one case, me) because the writer seems to be either wilfully ignorant or purposefully blind to the sins of those he apparently believes in, then by the writer who uses that very same claim as if simply the best defense is a good offense. 5) the dialogue now somewhat debased, sometimes irrespective of your valiant efforts to answer each one with a dignified trans-partisan perspective, degrades when (in this case) Alex answers legitimate questions about political opponents (presumably those who Alex supports) in terms of consistency, fairness and equality (i.e. Jeb Bush in Florida) while at the same time, nowhere I can read does anyone make excuse for Clinton, and in fact voices serious doubts, it’s answered with”Florida voters should have demanded transparency”. You see if the R does it it’s the voters fault. If the D does it they are “corrupt”. 6) the very persistent theme here appears to be what Jon Stewart so smartly identified as the (current) GOP strategy – the world is divided by them as those who share their views and all others who are simply wrong.
    In my mind the tragedy in the HRC email case is certainly not “corruption” (Alex. maybe a deep breath and a waiting period before you write?) or even legal or policy violations, which no one but the Fox news crowd even raises with a straight face, it’s the institutional problems we have with transparency of our government leaders (and all staff for that matter). Sure she f%&ked up, and so did Jeb, Powell and a wide range of others on BOTH sides. Problem is, like campaign finance issues generally, it’s not what’s illegal, it’s the actual legal stuff that’s killing Democracy.
    Alex, maybe your writings here could be, well, a bit more substantive, less apparently paranoid and other than your seemingly hegemony POV?

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    1. Irv Lefberg Post author

      Russ, I appreciate thoughtful and substantive responses to my blog posts, even if they (sometimes) take it in directions I hadn’t expected or intended. When I first started the blog – now about 80 posts and 18 months old (not bad ) , I said I hoped to have a few commentors turn into semi-regular bloggers. No one has really taken me up on that, though I’ve had a few (you and Alex included) who have posted comments that could have been articles.

      When I began this venture I also said my goal was to feature stories that were “buried” or aspects of stories that (I thought) needed amplification, At times I’ve engaged in some partisan shouting (though of course I don’t necessarily view it as partisan while in the heat of expression). But I’ve tried mostly to take an “analytic” approach, which I don’t view as “superior,” but just (simply) reflecting the (mostly) non partisan role I played in my 40 year career. That’s a lot of years of habit that are hard to kick. (Of course , when you work for a particular governor you’re drawn into some of those battles, whether you want to or not).

      Yes, the relatively few commentors on my blog (from among an average of about 50-75 viewers for each post and 560 subscribers) do often respond in a partisan or ideological fashion to the posts. I’m totally OK with that until/unless it becomes really uncivil. I think the paucity of “analytic” responses is due largely to the fact that most of the subscribers are still working (in jobs) or in positions where they are concerned about having ANY views expressed on line. There are a few, like you , Alex, Kurt, Norm who are either not in that position or are not afraid of putting their views out there.

      I do totally agree that a very large part of our universe has hunkered down with one side or another and live in echo chambers. I wait for the masses to get tired of this, but they don’t seem to because too many are hunkered down and subject to forces (including monied interests) that want to keep them in that state. That is very very worrisome and scary and has already been very harmful on the country. I like to think my blog moves us by a few millimeters in the other direction. I’ve been told so, by two or three folks, which makes it worth it for me.

      Thanks for your willingness to hang in here with us.

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  14. alex maclachlan

    Russ, what IS sad is your total lack of intellectual curiosity for the truth. I know that’s a relative term in your world and you think my high standard of the truth equates to paranoia. I guess that’s your defense mechanism for wearing partisan rose colored glasses. The extent of your critical eye with HRC is “I’m not a fan” and she’s not a pure progressive. Well hot damn Russ, if that’s the extent of your litmus test, someone claiming to be Progressive enough to earn your praise, maybe you need to step back a few spots and demand honesty, integrity, and forthrightness. Perhaps that’s the problem, while you’ve been analyzing me as part of some imaginary group you’ve attached some stereotype to, it relieves you of actually examining your theories on what makes an effective and honorable leader to which children should emulate. You’re so caught up in what type of person can beat his political opponent, that smears, lies, obfuscation, and secret government communications is a totally justifiable means to an end if it keeps your team in power. Yes, this has been very illustrative, because all I really had to do was make arguments for honesty, integrity, consistency, and adherence to the Constitution and traditional order of US Government and you immediately moved to the other side as if those things are anathema to you. That’s your problem, not mine. You can’t find a candidate to relate to and I’m only looking for the basic requirements at this point.

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    1. Irv Lefberg Post author

      I continue to believe that if the three of us in this case (maybe four including Norm) were in same room at same idea sharing pizza and a beverage, we would make progress toward identifying the “truth.” The prevalence of electronic communication has not only contributed mighily to our very sad state of affairs, but also makes it harder (if sometimes feels “impossible”) to make things better.

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  15. Russ Lehman

    It does feel a little like continuing to attempt to reason with the dog that incessantly barks…even when it only sees itself in the mirror. While asserting, quite incredibly, that “high standards of truth” are the modus operandi and at the same time using the tried and true slogans of the opposition (I.e., “corruption, lies, smears and secret government communication”) with absolutely zero evidence is simply a sign of what is now called ODS (obama derangement syndrome) or in this case Democratic derangement syndrome. There have been numerous points made by virtually all who have responded to the silly and almost sophomoric hyperbole raised about the President and HRC usually not in by with an unqualified defense of the accused but instead raising questions about similar opposition leaders. The response is, invariably, to bark louder. Bush’s pre emptive war built on lies? Obama weakly failed to finish the job. Jeb Bush’s failure to use public email for all official business? Other than blaming Fla. voters the answer seems to be get ready for the paddy wagon. Perhaps the most laughable, and frankly revealing is the penultimate recitation of the writers alleged real purpose- just “honesty, integrity, consistency and adherence to the Constitution”. While other writers have called for increased transparency regardless of political party, peaceful resolution in the Middle East, and a general restoration and nourishment of our Democracy- all we get from the writer is the vacuous charges of “weakness” and “corruption”, of The President, HRC and Sen. Reid, but interestingly never any one on the other side of the aisle. In an effort to preserve Irv’s blog and opportunity to comment, I think the writer should stick to the countless ranting websites which offer plenty of echo chamber space to accuse your favorite D target of, well whatever is the rant du jour.

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  16. alex maclachlan

    Oh yes, Russ, your others “general restoration and nourishment of our Democracy” includes homosexual epithets, 8 yrs of no blood for oil chants, and charges of our soldiers are raping and killing women, and providing a withdrawal timetable for our enemies, but its a few congress people insisting they are part of the oversight process of Obama’s reported sanctioning of Iran’s nuclear weapons program that has your pulse elevated to chants of “Treason!” Talk about selective outrage. While you’re up there on your high horse lamenting all the “legal things killing our Democracy”, while defending so much appearance of impropriety, why don’t you actually list some of those things. Let me guess, your brand of fixing those legal things would appropriately muzzle the voice of opposition to what YOU BELIEVE. Oh yes, the monopoly of opinion for only your minority view philosophy to be heard, but more importantly, establishing the illegality of voicing an opposing view to yours without offering you equal time to respond. I guess that is one way to attempt to raise your minority view above the “bark in the mirror” status you ascribe to everyone else.

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  17. Russ Lehman

    Perhaps the most foreseeable yet regrettable result of this type of antiquated American exceptionalism, the unique right wing version which is “we would be just fine if those damn cynics would just shut up”, is that it successfully not only discourages debate and dialogue it also insures apathy. Evidence I see here is that other interesting and thoughtful posters seem to have disappeared. Thanks Alex. BTW, “homosexual epithets…” as evidence somehow of general restoration of our Democracy? The pot has not only called the kettle black, it has in fact become the pot.

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  18. Russ Lehman

    Dante said, essentially, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who stand by during times of moral crises. I think a variation (admittedly my stretch, not his) of that is the tendency of some to appear agnostic when actually quite fervent. Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually believe there can be great value to stridency. It’s just when one refuses to stand up and be responsible for the manifestations of such strongly held views, whether because they are journalists and believe they are supposed to be institutionally neutral, or a bureaucrat within a system where they fear for their future, or a business owner who fears losing a good portion of his customers if his views are well known, they add little to reasoned debate as they hide behind feigned neutrality while at the same time a not so difficult analysis of their words indicate that they of course hold certain views. They use the shield of faux neutrality conspicuously when asked to support obtuse claims with facts, and somehow find refuge behind it when throwing rhetorical bombs and spewing regurgitated rhetoric.
    Ok, I admit to a short spell of boredom, but it has resulted in a little web research. What I learned is that a writer here who uses the typical code words and phrases of the disgruntled right but at the same time pleads his is the reasoned position, and ridicules the others as the ones who are somehow vacuous and misguided. As I spend some time in So Cal and am forced to “read” the San Diego U-T before it serves some value on the fish I bought, I see that after the President’s SOU speech a few years ago a writer here wrote:” Well, one thing is for sure, Barack loves himself some Barack” in response to the economic gains the President claimed (and in fact actually were understated in retrospect). In very typical fashion, this simplified and succinct statement in response to a very large and nuanced issue is a perfect manifestation of the desire to say nothing – and everything at the same time. Other writings from this commenter are absolutely consistent for actually saying nothing while at the same time making clear to anyone the disdain held for Obama, or whoever is the democratic target du jour.
    This blog, hell, the society at-large would gain tremendously from candor, fact-based arguments and the civil but clear recitation of the points made.
    Irv is somewhat excused because he spent so much time in the chronically passive/aggressive Northwest where the lack of clear intention is an art form. But even Irv is at his best when he writes from the heart and articulates what he truly believes. Of course this in no way minimizes the many times that one is seeking data and opinion in order to more fully understand an issue and therefore restraint and openness are exactly what’s called for. But then neutrality would not be feigned.

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    1. alex maclachlan

      Russ, you are easier to play than two sticks and an overturned bucket. Your self important diatribes are so predictable, I’ll just start calling you Pavlov’s Progressive. Pretty funny Pavlov’s Progressive feels it slipping away so badly he must do research to try and find an advantage that is not present and cannot accurately state the context of his research. State of the Union speech was two months ago, not “a few years ago”. As usual, it contained so much self aggrandizing and jaw dropping narcissism that the experts had to go back 15 yrs to find lower tv ratings back to hopeful future First Husband. I could open a multi plex movie theater with the amount of PROJECTION Russ exhibited in this one post, but that only goes to continually prove that RUSS LOVES HIMSELF SOME RUSS. Got to go polish my bell now Pavlov’s Progressive.

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