Tag Archives: Hillary Clinton

A Whiny Ex-Bureaucrat’s Take on Clinton E-Mail Gate, Sunshine Laws, and Public Disclosure

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The Sun Going Down, But Not on Government

Who can possibly be against Sunshine and Transparency in government?  Some Hillary detractors think she is.  Same is being said about Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who handled their e-mails about the same way Hillary did. They have all been burnt by the insatiable appetite for disclosure of everything a public official says or does, 24/7. Like all others in public life, they’ve been victims of a good thing, pushed too far by zealots on both the left and right who think no amount of Sunshine is enough to keep government in check. Like the words from the John Denver song, Sunshine makes the watchdogs happy and high.

No violins for the beleaguered bureaucrat class here, but a little light from a whiny ex-bureaucrat who saw from the inside what too much Sunshine has done to government. That perspective gets no airing, just like the version of SAD, which no one hears about, where too much sunshine, not too little, makes it hard to function.

The most harmful effects of ever greater Sunshine are not on the careers of politicians and public employees – no one cares about them anyway — but how it inhibits the flow of information inside government; the way it makes (good) deals between allies and rivals alike harder to achieve; and (constructive) compromise more difficult to attain.

In Honor of Sunshine Week

In Honor of Sunshine Week

Sunshine and Public Disclosure laws are of course generally good, very good. But they have side effects not clearly labeled on the kool-aid bottle; or on all the happy good government websites. (Here is one example).  In fact, we just had “Sunshine Week” (March 15-21) brought to you by Bloomberg, The Gridiron Club, and numerous press organizations. The “gridiron club”?

Sunshine and Public Disclosure laws, and their flag ship, The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and all the little FOIAs, have done their job. Public workers have been censured or fired for appalling abuses and negligence. The most heart rending are in programs like nursing home, mental health, and child protective services, where negligence, cover-ups, and under-funding are life and death matters. All manners of corruption, inefficiency, and egregious waste inside government have been disclosed and prosecuted using the FOIAs.

That said, here are some other things about Sunshine run amuck that you hear very little about:

Hacks in both major political parties, and the “non partisan” fanatics who get tax exemptions from the IRS for improving “social welfare,” bombard governments and agencies hourly with requests (legally supported “demands” under FOIAs), for paper documents, e-mails, text messages, phone records, notes scribbled on pads, recordings, reports, photographs, you name it, in search of real or imagined abuses. These items may disclose some terrible wrong doings in government, but they are also the raw materials for scandal mongering and the life blood of opposition “research.”

Too many requests (demands) for information are unabashed fishing expeditions. Some are efforts to harass public workers so they can’t get their work done; so that anti-government zealots can prove bureaucrats don’t get their work done

Then there are the cranks, trouble-makers and malcontents (working inside governments) who find the public disclosure laws highly accommodating when they want to make life miserable for a boss or a colleague they happen to despise. These include the trolls who make digging for dirt and “whiste-blowing” a hobby and fetish. (Along with those who do it for the right reasons).

These are not the worst side effects of (too much) Sunshine. The most damaging are the chilling effects on information sharing and collaboration inside government; not just across political aisles, but also among workers “on the same side,” or not on any “side,” of an issue, just seeking the right or best answer.

Too much sunshine impairs deliberation, political deals and compromise (in the best senses). It gets in the way of candor, the unfettered search for solutions, the sharing of important information up and down the chain of an organization, or laterally.  Once you fully realize that (just about) anything you put in an e-mail may wind up on the front page of the newspaper or on the nightly news, or in a law suit (with or without merit), the chilling effect is huge.

Some real and imagined anecdotes: A skittish staffer who shuns e-mail fails to tell his Boss that the draft health care bill is unclear about who’s eligible for subsidies. A signal from a political rival’s staffer looking to make a deal never get’s transmitted. A governor or mayor is unprepared for a high stakes tax negotiation because the writer of the policy brief didn’t trust her paper was non-discloseable.

Bureaucrats need some cover when they’re trying to be honest with their bosses about the risks of a proposed policy; or when they float a balloon to an adversary in a delicate negotiation.

Sunshine laws have of course been a great tool for open and good government.  But even Sunshine comes at a price. Like for some miracle medications, there are ways to mitigate the worst side-effects.  Sunshine cast on the Sunshine laws would be a good start.

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This is President Obama’s ISIS Strategy, Like it Or Not!

CLICK PHOTO to Check Out Irv Lefberg Photography

What about President Obama’s Strategy on ISIS?   Is there one?  Yes, but no one seems to know what it is. And among those who do, not many like it.  But, there are even fewer who have a (practical and comprehensible) substitute for it.  In short, , the President’s strategy for ISIS is to manage it (for now), rather than “resolve it”  (whatever that may mean).  And that isn’t satisfying for many.

Potential Republican presidential candidates are, for the most part, treading lightly on ISIS. They don’t know how to “resolve it”  either. The closest any serious “R” presidential hopefuls have come to offering a substitute are Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham. (And Graham isn’t really running, just toying with the idea).

To deal comprehensively with ISIS,  it appears Walker, Graham (and possibly Ted Cruz as well) want to put large numbers of U.S. boots on the ground again in Iraq, and also invade Syria.  They are deliberately vague, but here and here are accounts of the Walker, Graham and Cruz view from different perspectives. Walker has even less foreign/defense policy experience than Senator Obama had in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2000, and it shows.

The U.S. has of course been roped into large scale military solutions before. There is nothing that ISIS would like better to boost its recruitment than to see more Americans killing Muslims.

Otherwise, the closest thing to an alternate strategy are roads not taken — the chorus of Shouldas, Wouldas, and Couldas, from a variety of mavens, most of them trying to secure their own legacy or engage in a simple CYA exercise.  Leon Panetta, Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton,  John McCain, and many others, are certain that if the President had only listened to them, there would be no ISIS.  It’s a cheap and easy argument.  Here is a good account of the Shoulda-Coulda critics.

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CLICK PHOTO for Irv Lefberg’s Fine Art American images

OK, so what is the President’s ISIS strategy? Too bad the Explainer in Chief, Bill Clinton,  isn’t available to help out. He can’t, because he’s siding with his wife who (like Panetta) says she gave the President the right answers (earlier). But the President of course didn’t listen or understand, or maybe was busy playing too much golf.

Here is what I think are the planks of the President’s strategy on ISIS. Take a deep breath. Its long, complicated, with a lot of ambiguities. But it is a strategy; not something they just drifted into because Obama is disengaged and isolated.


Planks of the Obama ISIS Strategy, Like it Or Not

  • Right now, slow down and contain ISIS with U.S. aerial strikes. [Yes, a band aid].
  • Provide intelligence and some lethal equipment for the few available indigenous fighters presently on the ground who are trustworthy and competent: mainly the peshmerga (the military forces of Iraqi Kurdistan) and elements of Iraqi’s (mostly failed) army. 
  • Meanwhile, await the formation of a unified and viable Iraqi army [don’t hold your breath, but it’s possible] and an effective coalition of predominantly Sunni states willing to confront the ISIS threat militarily.  [The rudiments are there now; the Jordanians and Egyptians are already engaged in an anti ISIS air campaign. The White House Summit on Terrorism this past Wednesday sought to further collaboration along several lines].
  • Get a lot more creative about cutting off ISIS’ financial support and countering it’s  successful recruitment of both Arab and Western fighters. [We can assume those efforts are going full tilt behind the scenes].
  • So long as it’s contained, tolerate (suffer) the kidnappings, be-headings and sporadic attacks on civilians in the West as just another (terrible) risk of daily life in today’s world – a new normal (for awhile).
  • If (G-d forbid) a catastrophic event occurs on US soil (or against US troops or citizens abroad), then massive retaliation (many U.S. boots on the ground plus Shock and Awe 2.0) possibly kicks in.  [War on that level would not likely have public (or even Congressional) support anyway without a devastating blow to the U.S.  See Nazis, FDR, and Pearl Harbor].
  • Otherwise, be ready to commit some special U.S. forces to maintain the new normal,  and wait for Arab nations to own and address the problem (mostly) themselves. [As we speak, the President is seeking authorization from Congress to use additional force with limitations].

CLICK ON PHOTO for Irv Lefberg’s images on Etsy

This Outline was composed early in the week, before Wednesday’s Summit on Terrorism.  The Presidents words at the Summit and the Outline here of the strategy are consistent.   We may not be happy with it,  but it is a strategy.  It wasn’t just stumbled into or improvised.

Here is the bottom line: Whether you agree or not, the President doesn’t believe that massive and more aggressive, unilateral U.S. force at this time (or at the time Panetta,  Hillary,  and Gates were  competing for the President’s ear) can be effective against Islamic Jihad.  Period.

That is a strategy every bit as much as the Monroe Doctrine or the Communist Containment world view that resulted in the View Nam War.  It  just isn’t as aggressive, pro-active, or dependent on U.S. power alone, so a lot of people think it’s no strategy at all. The roots of the crisis in the middle east today are in two devastating 20th century world wars, and doctrines that seemed bold and coherent back in their day.  The Right is right.  Obama is a different kind of President.   Sooner or later, we’ll know whether that’s good or not,