Archive for July, 2016

Can the Clinton email issue be put behind us?

July 31, 2016

The Clinton email issue has been described as a “scandal” and a “criminal offense”, and has led to full-throated cries of “Lock her up!”.  These terms reflect the discussion of the issue that has occurred among her political opponents with Donald Trump leading the way!  There is probably little that can be done to prevent Republicans, or persons opposed to Hillary Clinton, from carrying on in this way through November, and maybe even beyond then.

The FBI Director,  James Comey, apparently did not find a sufficient basis in all of Clinton’s  actions to mount a legal case against her.  But he was unwilling to stop there in his own discussion of the email issue.  He found it needful to characterize her actions as “reckless” and “careless”.  This only led Republicans to cry even louder: “How can actions on the part of a government official be “reckless” and “careless” without being found to be criminal?  I personally believe that Comey’s comments were responsible for setting up the specific focus on this issue at the Republican Convention.  What is sad about this is that these are not legal terms.  Rather, they are terms used by Comey  to express what may have been a professional, yet, nevertheless, a personal judgment on the issue.

Clinton on the other hand, has done nothing to help her cause.  She has  traded on whatever ambiguity there may have been in State Department policies regarding the use of personal servers to justify her decision to make exclusive use of a personal server in conducting her business as Secretary of State.  She used the same server for her personal email which she eliminated prior to turning over the contents of her server to federal officials.  So she turned over 55,000 emails that were related to official state department business, and eliminated 31,000 emails which she identified as personal.  The problem?  She was the sole judge of what was official and what was personal, and once the emails were eliminated she had no basis on which to defend her judgment.

The problem facing ordinary citizens when thinking about this issue is that most of us are relatively clueless as to something so rudimentary to this issue as what a “server”, private or otherwise, is.  To get a clue I would encourage checking the internet.  It is a computer that is used to receive or transmit emails.   In the case of most emails that one sends, it is quite possible that the email passes through more than one server.  Ordinary email users rely on servers that are outside of their home and owned and operated by such agencies as gmail, google, aol, hotmail, etc.etc.  Many businesses because of the volume of their email have their own servers.  Federal agencies, like businesses have their own servers.

What is important about the servers used by federal agencies for email reception and transmission?  Three things.  Security, Record-keeping, and transparency.  Federal government systems have been hacked.  So they are not totally secure.  But Federal agency servers meet whatever standard of security that the federal government has put in place at any given time.  There is no assurance that personal servers will meet that same level of security. All emails sent and received on federal agency computers are preserved as official records of the actions of those who sent or received them, and of the agencies which they represent.  So federal agency servers are a vital means to keeping records.  And because that is so, they also provide a form of transparency to the actions of those who send or receive them and of the agencies which they represent.  If you have a question about who said what and when, the stored emails provide ready access to the answer to such questions.

So there can be little doubt that to say the least, to use the language of Secretary Clinton herself, her decision to use a personal server was a “mistake.”   My personal opinion is that that word is mild to say the least.  The issue is more serious than that language reflects.  But if we are to put the issue behind us, as Bernie Sanders so graciously did, we have to focus on a few facts.  First, there are far greater issues that should be discussed as this presidential election campaign goes forward than the email issue.  Second, however grave a mistake Secretary Clinton may have made, and howver this mistake may influence ones evaluation of her judgment, there is nothing that she can do about it now.
What is done is done.  Third, up to this point in time, as bad a mistake as this may have been, there are no apparent consequences from it that affect the security of this country, or undermine the national interest.  While there is evidence that government servers have been hacked, there is no credible evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal server was hacked.

So putting this issue behind us, in the last analysis, is, as Bernie Sanders so wisely recognized, a matter of personal choice.  We can get ourselves all wrapped up in this “damned email” business, or we can move on.  The gravity of this coming election and of the issues that the parties and candidates have been framing suggest the wisdom of this latter choice.





Does Business prepare one to be President?

July 23, 2016

Mr. Trump is not the first candidate to point to his business background as a key qualification to become President of the U.S.  George W. Bush also stood on his  business background.  Right at the top let me say that business can be as good a background of experience for a President as many other fields.  There are, however, two qualifications that must be made.

First, “business” is an accordion word.  There are many and diverse activities over which the word “business” can be stretched.  It can extend to being a real estate developer or owning a baseball club.  From my perspective the key question to ask of any business man seeking the Presidency is: “How much management experience have you had?  How many resources did you both acquire and manage?  How many people did you supervise?  What processes were required to produce the service or goods for which you agency was responsible, including skyscrapers and casinos?  How successful were you?  How did you relate to all of the people that were in some way involved in your enterprise?  How did people feel that you affected along the way in your career? What were your contributions to the community both through and beyond your career?

Trump’s daughter, when introducing him on the last night of the convention, spoke to some of these things.  But Trump himself has done little but claim that he has been successful, and the primary evidence that he has presented is that he got very, very rich. If one has had any acquaintance with Peter Drucker, then it is clear that there is a lot more to being a successful manager than getting rich.  If Trump himself does not elaborate on what his experience has done for him in preparing him to be President, the media should take this upon themselves.  The press, especially,  USA TODAY, has done this.  Sadly, what has been uncovered are some pretty dark dealings.  Cable TV should begin to join the exploration of Trump’s business career.

The second qualification of the statement that business can be a good background for becoming President is that business by itself is not politics.  Within most managerial structures there are elements of authority that increase as one moves up the management ladder.  Trump sat at the top.  He knows what it is to have authority.  But does he know what it is to be political.  You can’t order the American people to behave as you wish them to.  You can not tell the Senate, the House, or the judiciary what they must do.  Politics requires some measures of self-effacement, a considerable amount of other directedness, and quite a lot of compromise, not only of take, but also, of give.  To this point, there has been little evidence not only of Mr. Trump’s political prowess, but of any desire on his part to function as a politician.  In fact in his acceptance address all that he had to say about politicians was a series of negative accusations against them.

So a career in business can prepare one to become President.  But in Mr. Trump’s case, it is not at all evident that his career has prepared him for this very overwhelming task.




Will Trump “lead from behind?”

July 18, 2016

Last night on 60 Minutes Trump reiterated his position that ISIS must be wiped out.  Leslie Stahl asked if he would send in American troops to accomplish this.  Trump immediately responded that he would not.  He insisted that NATO and other countries adjacent to Syria and Iraq would be engaged to accomplish this.

In an article in the New Yorker, April 26, 2011 Ryan Lizza first suggested that the phrase “leading from behind” might describe the policy being followed by President Obama, particularly in the Libyan situation.  Based on some statements of Nelson Mandela, Lizza described the heart of the idea as “empowerment of other actors to do your bidding, especially, when other nations would withhold their cooperation if the United States acted unilaterally.

Once Lizza linked this phrase to President Obama’s foreign policy, Republican conservatives jumped all over this phrase not only because for them it summed up the weakness of Obama in the foreign policy arena, but also suggested that Obama himself perceived the United States to be operating from a position of weakness.  To this day, the phrase is enthusiastically used by Obama’s critics.

But in suggesting that American troops should not be used to wipe out ISIS,  but that NATO and other countries should take on the major task of accomplishing this, is Trump not suggesting that the United States should “lead from behind?”  Will Republican critics be as quick to criticize Trump for this stance as they were to criticize President Obama?  And, by the way, “Who will pay for the wall between the US and Mexico?”  In this case, too, it appears that Trump is ready to lead from behind.