Pettiness and Clinton

I'm going to be up front and tell you today's post is brought to you by my pettiness. Like everybody, I can be petty at times. I try not to let it influence my writing, but... yeah. That's not always going to be possible. And for today's post, I'm not going to even try.

That said, I'm not going to tell you what I'm being petty about. That's not important. What's important is I'm still ticked off about people defending the whole Donald Trump being a not-quite-rapist thing. That's going to influence my writing, and I'd rather it influence a post about a trivial point than one about something which matters (to me).

It is actually rather fitting as the topic I want to discuss involves Hilary Clinton. Or rather, Clinton's e-mail server. You know the one I'm talking about. It's the one Clinton set up separate from government networks, avoiding their oversight and control which she was conveniently able to fail to archive e-mails from. Yeah, that one.

That topic comes up because about a week ago I saw the dumbest defense/discussion of Clinton's behavior I could imagine. In fact, it's one of the dumbest things I've seen in general, at least for the last few months. Read on if you're interested.

I'm not going to cover all the background of this topic. What matters is Hillary Clinton had a personal e-mail server setup separate from the Department of State (DoS) network which she could use for communication. This was not illegal, but it was highly questionable. While many people have focused on how her server could have been hacked into, the overwhelming issue is really one of archival.

You see, government agencies are required to archive (certain types of) communication for future use, including disclosure to the public under Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. Because Clinton used a personal server for her communication, he e-mails were not archived by the Department of State. This meant when people filed an FOI request, they were told the communication they were looking for did not exist. That was obviously false. Clinton had simply not archived the communication using her personal server like she should have. A person excused this:

Had she carefully maintained her own copies of the emails (not foolishly entrusted the DOS to do this properly), she would have met all of her record keeping obligations, and not ended up as political exposed as she did.

This is incredibly stupid. It is true if Clinton had properly archived her communication, there would have been less of a scandal. That's because she was legally obligated to keep a copy of her communications and make them available to the Department of State for archiving.

That's not the stupid part. The stupid part is this person said Clinton "foolishly entrusted the DOS to do this properly." This blows my mind. The Department of State IT staff manages the Department of State network. It manages the Department of State computer servers. It does not manage the personal server Clinton stored in her house.

How exactly was the Department of State supposed to archive e-mails Clinton sent from a network they had no control over or access to? Was it supposed to reach out across the aethernet with black magic and grab them? Was the Department of State perhaps supposed to hire telepaths to tap into the noosphere and read the psychic emanations generated every time Clinton sent or received an e-mail? Has this guy been smoking crack?

I think he might have been. I mean, I'm not sure why else he would write things like:

I think the issue about the ultimate boss is a lot more complicated here than the way you described it.
Clinton is a political appointee. She occupied the the “Office of Secretariat of State”. She technically had no oversight responsibilities outside of that office.

I couldn't find any evidence "Office of Secretariat of State" is an actual thing, but I also didn't spend much time looking. While it might be true Clinton had no oversight responsibilities outside of her position, her position was (at least in common parlance) the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State is the head of the Department of State. That means Clinton's oversight responsibilities extend to the entire Department of State.

There is no complexity here. The head of the DoS is the ultimate boss within the DoS. That's true even though though the user went on to say:

The Executive Secretariat (compromised of five permanent staff) is responsible for day-to-day operations. This power sharing arrangement is similar to the arrangement in other departments of the executive branch.
The purpose of this is not to entrust the integrity of day-to-day operations at the DOS on political appointees, who arrive and leave at the discretion of the President. You wouldn’t want to give political appointees that kind of power, and they don’t.

This is where the "smoking crack" theory really starts to kick into full gear. The Executive Secretariat is not "responsible for day-to-day operations." The Executive Secretariat is just one of many offices within the DoS. It serves as an internal liaison between offices as well as a liaison with entities outside the DoS, but serving as liaison in no way means it is in charge of things.

To demonstrate, the Director of the Executive Secretariat holds a rank equivalent to an Assistant Secretary of State. There are over 20 actual Assistant Secretary of States. There are another dozen or so people who hold equivalent ranks. The result is there are approximately 30 different offices with roughly equivalent authority to the Executive Secretariat. The idea the Executive Secretariat "is responsible for day-to-day operations" within the DoS is just some delusional fantasy.

Things get worse though:

This power sharing arrangement is similar to the arrangement in other departments of the executive branch.
The purpose of this is not to entrust the integrity of day-to-day operations at the DOS on political appointees, who arrive and leave at the discretion of the President. You wouldn’t want to give political appointees that kind of power, and they don’t.

Remember that parenthetical where this user said the Executive Secretariat is "compromised of five permanent staff"? Yeah, I found it difficult not to make a joke about the typo there. I held off because I wanted to wait until we got here. See how this guy says the Executive Secretariat (which is supposedly in charge of day-to-day operations) is a permanent staff so as "not to entrust the integrity of day-to-day operations at the DOS on political appointees"? Yeah, that's delusional

Do you know who the Director of the Executive Secretariat was while Clinton was in office? I do. There were two: Stephen Mull and John Bass. Do you know who appointed them? Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, that's right. The "permanent staff" this user refers to as being independent of political appointees so as "not to entrust the integrity of day-to-day operations at the DOS on political appointees" is actually staff appointed by the Secretary of State. That's part of why almost none of them serve more than three years (see here for a list of directors and their tenure). And really, as an internal office created by the DoS itself, who does this user think appoints these guys anyway?

In combination, all of this leads to the wonderful gem:

The fact that the spotlight tracks Clinton rather than the DOS, where her authority was more nominal than actual, tells me everything I want to know—this isn’t about national security.

In the fantasy world this user has created where the Secretary of State doesn't actually have oversight responsibilities for the Department of State, perhaps one could feel it is wrong to focus on Clinton. In the real world though, the Secretary of State is in charge of the Department of State.

In the fantasy world, the Executive Secretariat is responsible for day-to-day operations at the Department of State with the Secretary of State having little direct authority. In the real world, the Executive Secretariat is one of approximately thirty offices within the Secretary of State, serves primarily in the role as liaison and receives all of its authority from the Secretary of State, via delegation of powers entrusted to the Secretary of State.

In the fantasy world, the Executive Secretariat is permanent staff put in place as a safeguard against political appointees like the Secretary of State. In the real world, the Secretary of State appoints the Executive Secretariat and has full authority over it.

In the fantasy world, the Department of State IT staff is responsible for archiving e-mails sent from Hillary Clinton's personal server. In the real world, e-mails sent to or from a server not connected to a network cannot be managed by the people running that network. There is no amount of black magic or telepathy which would allow the Department of State IT staff to make copies of e-mails that never pass through their network.

In the fantasy world, smoking crack is fun and joyful and provides all sorts of wondrous experiences. In the real world... do you even smoke crack? I honestly don't know. I've heard the expression plenty of times, but I can't say I've ever looked into how various drugs are used. I think you smoke it. I mean, if you're crazy you do. The point is in the real world, smoking crack is a bad idea.

Finally, in case it wasn't clear, I don't actually think this person smoked crack before writing that comment of his. If nothing else, crack isn't strong enough to create such a delusional interpretation of reality. That might sound harsh, and I'm sure some people will criticize me for how I've written this post, but the reality is... well, reality. People who wish to tell everyone their personal fantasies and delusions are in fact reality deserve to be smacked down.

I mean, seriously. How do you blame the IT staff responsible for a network for failing to archive e-mails not sent through their network? Double yew tee eff man, double yew tee eff.

16 comments

  1. As I posted at Lucia's, I asked Carrick about it repeatedly, and eventually answered with a reference to e-mail archiving issues at State. There were two systems, SMART and Capstone, and SMART, which Hillary was not on even if she didn't use her server, required people to flag messages for archiving.

    I found Carrick's sidetrack illuminating, because I wasn't aware there was an administrative branch to DoS. I read an article in 2008 complaining about Biden's destruction of a Reagan appointee to a new position where they would be responsible only for administration. In committee hearings he attacked the person as knowing nothing about foreign policy even though he was told it was not a diplomatic position.

  2. MikeN, I responded to you at lucia's place to point out your understanding was flawed. As it happens, it is probably flawed because you listened to the same person who wrote the nonsense I discuss in this post. I'll copy what I wrote there:

    I’m afraid this isn’t true on any account. First, Carrick in no way limited his comment to e-mails sent through the DoS servers. He clearly referred to Clinton’s e-mails as a whole. Moreover, none of Clinton’s e-mails were sent through the DoS servers. The only way they would have wound up on the DoS network is if they happened to be sent to or from a DoS account.* Some were, but many were not.
    Second, there were not two “separate systems” for archiving. The DoS archiving process was actually to print off e-mails and put them in filing cabinets. There was a computerized system one could store e-mails in, the SMART system, but that was an opt-in feature designed to allow people to share communication with other people. It was never designed, intended or used for meeting the department’s archival requirements.
    I’m not sure what second system you have in mind. If it is the Capstone system, I should mention the caveat Capstone isn’t really a system, but rather a philosophical approach. One could design a system based on it though, so I suspect that’s a distinction most people won’t care about. What they should care about is Capstone is a new-ish approach that was not in use during Clinton’s tenure.
    *As in, either Clinton would have to e-mail someone at the DoS or someone at the DoS would have to e-mail her. Relying on that for archival purposes would be like saying it’s okay for Clinton not to archive her e-mails because when she e-mails the White House, the White House saves those e-mails. That’s not how it works.

    It would be easier to pick one site or another to discuss this on, but the basic point is Capstone wasn't even a thing when Clinton was Secretary of State, and SMART was never intended as an archiving system insofar as legal requirements are concerned. Additionally, neither system could possibly archive e-mails on a server that wasn't part of the DoS network - a central point of this post.

    I found Carrick's sidetrack illuminating, because I wasn't aware there was an administrative branch to DoS.

    I would be careful reading anything into his comment as his discussion of the DoS infrastructure is very inaccurate. For instance, it is a rather large stretch to say the Executive Secretariat is "an administrative branch."

  3. Yea, it was from a comment of Carrick's later in the thread. I think I also pointed out they can't archive what doesn't got thru their servers.
    However, his claim is that there was a general failure to archive mails that were going thru their servers.

    I asked the question because I remembered from the DeflateGate arguments a tendency to produce evidence that was nowhere close to what was being claimed.

  4. Brandon, in defense of Carrick I think he meant the DoS IT team (like all gov it in his opinion) where not that diligent to be relied upon to archive and secure her email communications. With the lois Lerner example I suppose he is right. But my impression is that the incompetence is forced from above when needed.

    Hillary never cited lack of trust in the DoS IT as a reason for her decision, only convenience so she would not have to have two separate email accounts. I don't know if Carrick buys that last one but I did hear others defend that she did not use the 17 destroyed handheld devices concurrently, suggesting she used them one at a time. But she backed the lie/claim that she carried only one device early on.

    I like Trump's scandals better; after you listen to some vulgar adolescent locker room banter one can be pretty sure there is no deeper issue or national security involved.

  5. Whether or not the DoS failed to archive e-mails like it should have might be something wroth looking at, but it's not going to involve looking at anything like SMART or Capstone. Anyone who focuses on those when discussing it is someone who clearly doesn't know what they are talking about. Unfortunately, that seems to be the case with Carrick.

    Long story short, electronic archiving is something the Obama administration has been pushing for, but it's been a slow transition. I'm not sure exactly where they are at in it. I know some deadlines for electronic archiving were for this year. Someone else might be able to provide more information about that. (I've only looked at how things were back when Clinton was still Secretary of State.)

    What I do know is during Clinton's tenure, Capstone wasn't a thing in the DoS. SMART was just a system for letting people share material with other people using SMART (or a subset of users, based on position/clearance). The actual archiving was done on paper, by printing e-mails off and storing the paper copies.

    It's an interesting situation. Actually, it's kind of remarkable. Many parts of our government use archiving that is less sophisticated than what I've used for NAACP betting pools. Or at least, that's how things were a few years ago. I suppose I should try to read up on what progress they've made in switching to electronic archiving.

  6. Ron Graf:

    Brandon, in defense of Carrick I think he meant the DoS IT team (like all gov it in his opinion) where not that diligent to be relied upon to archive and secure her email communications. With the lois Lerner example I suppose he is right. But my impression is that the incompetence is forced from above when needed.

    I'm afraid not. At one point, Carrick wrote:

    The ultimate irony here is Clinton created a private server (in my opinion) precisely because she didn’t trust the permanent staff at the DOS. But she basically entrusted her political career to them on this one issue.

    Showing he believes she setup her private e-mail server while expecting the DoS IT staff to archive her e-mails properly. The only way she could have "entrusted her political career to" the DoS IT staff is if they would be responsible for archiving her e-mails, something which was completely impossible for the IT staff to do due to them not actually having access to the e-mails.

    I like Trump's scandals better; after you listen to some vulgar adolescent locker room banter one can be pretty sure there is no deeper issue or national security involved.

    Aye. The only thing I like about Trump is I think he is too incompetent to actually get much done. He's repeatedly failed in the business world. If not for his father's money, both in an inheritance and loans (plus his father's connections), Trump would never have gotten anywhere in the real estate industry. Nowadays, the only thing he has going for him is his name.

    Trump's current financial "success" pretty much comes just from selling the license for his name to people and his appearances on things like reality television shows. Combine that with his complete failure in the real estate industry, and I'm happily reassured you won't find any complex, secretive plots from him. Illegal ones, yes. They'll just be simple and stupid ones.

  7. Business is simple and stupid; just make products and services that people want and be the most efficient at it.

    Government is complex, be continually everyone's advocate without being caught being two-faced or duplicitous.

    Perhaps our country could use a little down-sizing on complexity and re-invigoration of simplicity.

  8. I'd be all for simplifying our government. That's true on both a philosophical and practical level. On a philosophical level, I'm not big on government intrusions. The closest political group I could identify with is libertarians (though I depart from them in several key ways). Basically, the government should exist to ensure our freedoms and rights are protected while handling basic infrastructure of the nation and nothing more (on the domestic side).

    On a practical level, I've written multiples essays about we could streamline a number of government processes to cut down on redundant work and services. Strangely enough, the biggest opponents to my ideas have been people who oppose the idea of "big government." The reason is centralizing a number of processes would greatly reduce inefficiencies and redundancies.

    Basically, having 50 states means having 50 copies of many agencies, resulting in a massive duplication of effort and infrastructure. Since we're not going to reduce the number of states, the best solution for reducing that sort of waste is to centralize certain functions. The result is actually a smaller, simpler government. People will oppose the idea though because a smaller, centralized government is still "big government" to them. It's a weird situation.

    Anyway, all the country really needs is for people to quit being lazy bums and actually try to change things. That's what the democratic process is for. People don't use it though. I actually have the outline for an essay/post on this that I've never gotten around to fleshing out. The short version is:

    The primary function of the US political system is to give people scapegoats. People don't want to put the effort into changing things to fit their views, but they don't want to take responsibility for things being different than what they want. That's where politicians come in. Politicians exist to determine how much the people care about issues. If people care enough, politicians will strive for change. If people don't care enough, politicians will be there to take the blame for people's discontent.

    This allows the populace to be happy as they gain freedom from the burdens of guilt which would otherwise be created by their failure to live up to their responsibilities. By shifting the blame from themselves to politicians, people can convince themselves they are blameless victims of a system they can't hope to change.

    There are other points arising from that, as well as a number of nuances and details, but you should get the idea. This argument also gives rise to an explanation of why Trump has been popular. People's discontent with things have grown so much they are looking for an easy way to get the illusion of change to assuage their feelings of responsibility. Trump's absurd promises give them the justification they need to rationalize away their inactivity. They let themselves feel like they are supporting great changes by supporting Trump.

    It also helps explain why the Tea Party failed. The Tea Party was the one major, responsible attempt at changing the governing body of our nation. It failed because the effort it required would force people to face their own complacency. Many people instinctively resisted, creating an irrational backlash, and many more just grew tired and gave up because people are lazy.

    Anyway, done rambling. I really ought to write out the full case for that view. I've been putting it off for some time now. My problem is I don't now what I would do with it. It'd be way too long to warrant a blog post.

  9. So who did you have in your betting pool? Did you go pick Washington and Lee, or maybe Moorfield or Ovington?
    Marshall or the Villard Bonds?

  10. I actually didn't participate in the betting pools. I just managed a few. College sports bore me. I can't get invested in teams when players will be there for at most four years. Say what you want about professional sports, but at least their dynasties have some sense of continuity.

    By the way, I like how I somehow typed "NAACP" instead of "NCAA." I'm not sure what kind of betting pools a person might have for the NAACP, but now I can't help but imagine some sort of Hard Target scenario.

    For the record, I did not run a betting pool in which poor black people were lured into being hunted for sport with the promise of money.

  11. People will oppose the idea though because a smaller, centralized government is still "big government" to them. It's a weird situation.

    I can explain my opposition. The more you centralize power, the more powerful the guys wielding it become, and the more intrusive they can get away with being.

    If you really want to make government less intrusive, you want to decentralize and weaken it. A United States comprised of 300 states that were required to allow free trade and free movement of peoples would be much freer and less regulated and less expensive to live in than the current entity. Make it 3,000 states and you would be even freer still. At 3E6 states (1 state for 100 population) and the state would be so circumscribed that it would be struggling to survive to be capable of much abuse.

    The more decentralized and poorly integrated the political system, the more prosperous, economically robust, freer and happier the society it rules.

  12. I was about to make a similar comment to tarran's. It's true that there are efficiencies of scale, and having an agency for each state to enforce identical regulations will, in general, require more personnel than having a single federal agency. However regulations are not always identical. The added inertia of having 50 legislatures is (to my mind) a good thing; it's far too easy nowadays for a legislature (or executive agency) to promulgate regulations which cost more than the alleged benefits.

    When viewed from the perspective of a benevolent dictatorship -- how can the citizens best be served? -- it's easy to see the advantage of centralization and economies of scale. However, when viewed from a more realistic perspective -- “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made" -- one appreciates that fewer laws can be a better approach than more, efficiently-enforced, ones.

    I often wonder why a Presidential candidate hasn't emerged who campaigns on a platform of eliminating 25% (say) of the pages of IRS regulations, and a similar figure for other federal departments. There'd be a lot of dispute over *which* 25%, to be sure, and it's certainly possible to reduce page count while increasing regulation. Overall, though, I think it would be an excellent idea to revisit codes with the intent of lessening the hand of government. The limited federal government described in The Federalist Papers doesn't resemble our current arrangement at all.

  13. tarran:

    I can explain my opposition. The more you centralize power, the more powerful the guys wielding it become, and the more intrusive they can get away with being.

    If you're talking about unlawful actions, I can't say I agree. Abuses of power tend to be far greater and more frequent at more local levels than national ones. The reason is while the total amount of power increases, the amount of eyes watching increases by a far greater amount. If you look at abuses of civil rights in recent times, it very rarely involves a national, or even state, level.

    I think the real problem isn't people "can get away with being" more intrusive, but rather, that people are afraid the government will lawfully expand its power into areas they don't want. If that's your concern, all I can see is that's what democratic processes are for. They exist so people can have the government they strive for. Crippling the government and making it inefficient out of spite for losing out in the democratic process seems petty.

    If you really want to make government less intrusive, you want to decentralize and weaken it. A United States comprised of 300 states that were required to allow free trade and free movement of peoples would be much freer and less regulated and less expensive to live in than the current entity. Make it 3,000 states and you would be even freer still. At 3E6 states (1 state for 100 population) and the state would be so circumscribed that it would be struggling to survive to be capable of much abuse.

    I'm afraid your idea here is laughable. While it is true in your example the state would be incapable of much abuse, that's entirely because it would be so weak as to be unable to function. Any attempt at making such a redundant and inefficient system actually functional would involve so much government infrustructure as to completely choke off all economy. Your claim:

    The more decentralized and poorly integrated the political system, the more prosperous, economically robust, freer and happier the society it rules.

    Is pure fantasy. Not only is there no basis for it, we can already see how inefficient divvying power amongst 50 states can be. Not only is there the aforementioned redundancy, but there are tons of issues individuals states haven't been able to handle on their own. That's why many states partner up with neighbors in order to tackle issues.

    Just look at any water usage disputes. They are nightmarish enough when only a few states have to negotiate over how a river/reservoir can be shared by everyone. Cut those states into smaller chunks, and you'll never be able to get everyone involved in a dispute to agree to terms.

  14. HaroldW:

    I was about to make a similar comment to tarran's. It's true that there are efficiencies of scale, and having an agency for each state to enforce identical regulations will, in general, require more personnel than having a single federal agency. However regulations are not always identical.

    That is why most any federal agency would have multiple branches in different areas. You could even have a federal agency with a different branch for each state. It would still be more efficient than having 50 different agencies in 50 different states.

    In the IT world, this would be like having one central location in charge of the nation's entire network while there were many sub-networks designed to cater to the needs of individual locations. It is far more efficient than having a ton of networks each doing their own thing with no overarching control.

    When viewed from the perspective of a benevolent dictatorship -- how can the citizens best be served? -- it's easy to see the advantage of centralization and economies of scale. However, when viewed from a more realistic perspective -- “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made" -- one appreciates that fewer laws can be a better approach than more, efficiently-enforced, ones.

    I'm not sure what you're talking about when you say "more, efficiently enforced" laws. Centralizing control over more issues results in fewer, not more, laws. That's the nature of reducing redundancy. For a trivial example, right now you can be prosecuted by your state for murder, found not guilty then prosecuted for the same murder again by the federal government. Double jeopardy won't apply because states are separate sovereignties from the federal government.

    As another example, right now we have 50 different states (plus several provinces or things like that) with 50 different sets of traffic laws. Aside from a few laws, like speed limits, these differences are not advertised to anyone who travels between states. This even goes so far as to regulations on what is allowed in the design of your car. The result is you can drive from Oklahoma to Nebraska and get pulled over in Kansas for something that is not illegal in Oklahoma or Nebraska.

    As another example, you can smoke marijuana in Colorado where it is legal (or any state where it is legal for medicinal purposes), ride bus or train to another state and get pulled over for being under the influence of an illegal drug. Alternatively, you could just be picked up by any federal agent because it marijuana is illegal on the federal level. You can actually go to a doctor, get a prescription for medical marijuana, go to a government official and ask for a list of dispensaries, visit a dispensary you were directed to by a government official, buy your marijuana in full public view, pay taxes, and get arrested for it. It may be true:

    The added inertia of having 50 legislatures is (to my mind) a good thing; it's far too easy nowadays for a legislature (or executive agency) to promulgate regulations which cost more than the alleged benefits.

    But that comes down to a simple problem of the democratic process failing. It's basically saying the people cannot oversee their government well enough, so we should cripple the government to prevent this failure from leading to more significant problems. I can't say that's "wrong," but it certainly doesn't seem like a "good" reason. It seems more like a, "People suck, so this is the best way we can protect themselves from their own laziness" sort of reason.

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