Monday, March 9, 2015

The Difference It Makes

"Tell people that there's an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure."

George Carlin

Unless your lifestyle is a reclusive one, like that of the Unabomber — and, if it is, then you most likely aren't reading this, anyway — you're bound to have seen the TV commercial in which the deejay is posing as a financial advisor. He got his hair cut. He put on a nice suit, and he threw around some impressive–sounding financial terms. Then he asked some unsuspecting dupes if they would trust him to handle their retirement planning. They all said they would. Then he revealed the truth about himself. "I have no financial experience at all," he confessed.

The unsuspecting dupes really shouldn't have been all that unsuspecting, though. It's the kind of sleight–of–hand that magicians have been pulling for generations. Sometimes people really should be hesitant based on what they know — and what they don't know. Nevertheless, there are always people who fall for scams.

And there are those who make up their minds and won't change, come hell or high water. In the words of Simon and Garfunkel, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.

In my experience, people — particularly Americans — are too quick to give a second chance — and a third one and a fourth one and, well, you get the picture — to those of whom we have ample reason to be skeptical. Most of us have been guilty of it at one time or another. For some, it's just the way they roll — all the time.

Sometimes we are rewarded for giving a second chance; but just as often, if not more, we are disappointed.

Now, in the case of one Hillary Rodham Clinton ...

Most Americans think they have spent a lot of time observing the Clintons, but I've got them beat. I lived in Arkansas before Bill ever won an election. I wasn't familiar with Hillary when she was a legal adviser to the House Judiciary Committee during its impeachment inquiry; it was after that that she agreed to marry Clinton and move to Arkansas. They were both in Little Rock by 1977; Bill was elected the state's attorney general in 1976. And that is when I — and, I suspect, most of the people in Arkansas — first became acquainted with Hillary.

From that point on, Bill was a fixture in Arkansas politics, and Hillary was often seen with him — not so much in his attorney general days but after that when he ran for governor. Statewide officials were elected to two–year terms in those days, and governors sort of lived with the fact that, unless they were stepping down voluntarily in the next election cycle, they pretty much had to spend half of each term running for office. There was no season for raising money for those campaigns, either; fundraising was — and, I expect, still is — an ongoing process.

Arkansas changed that law in the mid–1980s. Statewide officers are elected to four–year terms today, but Bill and Hillary Clinton cut their political teeth on the old arrangement.

Anyway, having observed the Clintons for more than half my life, I've kind of gone beyond the point of being disappointed by anything they say or do.

Since we are all, to a great extent, the products of our experiences, it seems fair to assume that experience plays a significant role in the mindsets of both Clintons. Indeed, given their behavior in their political lives, it seems to be — to most reasonable people — a sight more than an assumption.
Hillary Clinton: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans.

Sen. Ron Johnson: I understand.

Clinton: Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they'd go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make?

In the matter of the Clinton emails, Mrs. Clinton and her supporters want the country to focus on the fact that her people have already gone through the emails and decided which ones to release.

Is that sufficient?

As I recall, it wasn't sufficient 40 years ago when the subject of the congressional investigation in which Mrs. Clinton took part — you know, the one involving President Richard Nixon — offered to release certain White House tapes after they had been screened or edited transcripts of the tapes themselves. I can't say that I know what Hillary Rodham said or thought about that, but I do know what just about every Democrat — and some Republicans — said when Nixon tried to pull that one. They didn't go for it. Nixon went ahead and released edited transcripts, anyway, but they were ridiculed to such an extent that no one really gave them any credibility.

As I recall, when the subject of edited transcripts was first brought up by the White House, special prosecutor Archibald Cox rejected it, saying that transcripts "lack the evidenciary value of the tapes themselves."

(There was something Nixonian in the way Barack Obama insisted he had learned of Hillary's private email through news reports. That, of course, is how Nixon claimed he had learned of the Watergate break–in.)

And now Hillary Clinton reaches into Nixon's playbook. But summaries of her email correspondences — or release of certain emails that were selected by Hillary and/or her staff — lack the evidenciary value of the emails themselves.

Of course, there is more to this than merely the resemblance to a long–ago scandal. There is the question of cyber security. In recent years, we have seen how easily the computer files of huge retail outfits can be hacked and private information can be compromised.

Doesn't that make it even more important that Americans be completely assured that the communications of the secretary of state — whose email correspondence may very well have contained sensitive classified information — cannot be intercepted?

What assurance can they have from a privately run server that sufficient security is in place?

We live in perilous times. It shouldn't be necessary to remind people of that, with all the grisly images we have seen on our TV screens — beheadings, people being burned alive and tossed from buildings — but, nevertheless, there are people who will ignore the facts.

Those are the people who will tell you that ISIS and its allies there in the Middle East are savages, primitive, medieval at best. And I will concede that they follow medieval texts and dress in medieval ways — and, most importantly, they think medieval thoughts. But that does not mean that they turn a blind eye to modern technology. They don't like the modern world, but they know that they must use the tools of the modern world if they are to defeat it. Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants turned modern technology against America in 2001, hijacking airplanes and using computers for all sorts of purposes — communicating with each other, financial transactions, reserving seats on the doomed airplanes.

Why should we think that modern jihadists would behave any differently?

We've heard the stories of their active efforts to recruit people from the West. Doesn't it make sense that they would be looking for people who know how to hack computer systems? It wouldn't surprise me if they already have recruited such people.

It wouldn't really matter where they were, either — although I am quite sure there are already sleeper cells across this country waiting for their orders. Computer hackers can be anywhere. As long as they can connect to the internet, they can go about their business.

What guarantee do we have that Mrs. Clinton's emails, which were not under the protection of the government, were not hacked while she was in office? Oh, I know, there are no guarantees anymore. But it still seems — to me — to be an inexcusable temptation of fate to obsessively control one's email records instead of doing as the law requires.

Fact is, under the law, Mrs. Clinton's email correspondence while secretary of state does not belong to her. Regardless of what it was — a highly sensitive official email to a foreign ally or a personal email to an old friend — it is the property of the U.S. government.

Upon entering office, a president swears to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. That means following the laws of the land.

Mrs. Clinton asks her audiences these days, "Don't you want to see a woman president of the United States?"

My answer to that is — yes. But I want it to be the right woman for the job. Not just any woman.

And the right woman for the job will not have a history of playing by the rules of her choosing, thoughtlessly putting others at risk. It is the same standard I apply to any man seeking the presidency.

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