Hillary Clinton: You’ve got Mail

Line of mail boxes

update

And then there’s this.

Earlier

There was a great deal of noise about the State Department’s release of Hillary Clinton emails yesterday, including the fact that 22 were kept back because they’re now deemed “Top Secret”.The timing couldn’t be worse because of the Iowa caucus on Monday, but in defense of the State Department, much of that is because of a schedule demanded by the Judge presiding over the FOIA request.

I find it unlikely this will have an impact on Clinton’s chances. One day later, the story has dropped from the headlines, probably because there’s been so many email releases, so many exclamations about “confidential information”, yet most of the “confidential” information has been so much ado about nothing.

As an example of that faux confidentiality, the Daily Caller posted an article yesterday about four emails that, rather than undermining Clinton’s credibility, actually provides some of the best evidence supporting Clinton’s claims that she never divulged classified or secret information. In its article, Four Sid Blumenthal Emails in Latest Clinton Release are COMPLETELY Classified, they breathlessly write.

The email is redacted in full, save for the names “Hillary” and “Sid.” The emails are classified as confidential and redacted in full because they contain foreign government information and information related to foreign relations and foreign activities.

When we look at the emails, what we find in each is that Blumenthal sent information to Clinton’s attention. Unless Blumenthal had a higher security clearance than Clinton, we can assume that Blumenthal discovered whatever information he found using either his own sources, or various publications of the day, and he then passed the information on to Clinton.

At no time, did Clinton respond with information back. In fact, other than forwarding a couple of the emails, her only response was to ask a State Department employee when a 100 meters finale was going to be.

I decided to take a look through the other released emails. What I discovered is a) Clinton doesn’t communicate much via email, and b) she really doesn’t know email etiquette. Frequently, someone would send her an email and CC Jacob Sullivan, in the State Department. Clinton would get the email, and then forward it on to Sullivan.

Even more humorous, many of the so-called “classified” emails Clinton received, were sent by the very departments who, I suspect, newly classified them in the recent releases.

In his writing for Politico Magazine, Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice official, writes:

As a former Department of Justice official who regularly dealt with classified information, I am glad a team of officials from the FBI, the intelligence community and other agencies is not currently reviewing every email I sent and received while I worked in government. If they did, they would likely find arguably classified information that was transmitted over unclassified networks—and the same thing is undoubtedly true for other senior officials at the White House, the State Department and other top national security agencies.

The same would probably be true for most, if not all, of Congress.  I suspect many of our tweets on Twitter, and posts on Facebook, would also fail the intelligence community‘s interpretation of what is classified, secret, and even top-secret.

Yesterday’s top story on the emails has died out today, because you can’t keep crying “wolf” without people demanding  to see some actual teeth, and this story is toothless.

Now, let’s get back to discussing the issues.

Photo by Sam Javanrouth, used under CC License, modified by cropping

Cato: Neither the Bundys Nor the Hammonds are Poster Children for Land Use

Montage of photos of Malheur

During a Twitter exchange with Jonathan Wood, from the Pacific Legal Foundation, Jonathan sent me a link to a Cato Institute article on the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.  The Cato article condemns the Bundy actions, even as it deplores what it views as an overly harsh penalty for the ranchers (Dwight and Steven Hammond) at the center of the dispute.

The article notes that neither the Bundys nor the Hammonds are exactly poster children for the land use movement:

Property rights advocates who want to change public views need to find ranchers more appealing than the Bundys, who want to overgraze other people’s land without paying for the right to do so, or the Hammonds, whose unauthorized fire on federal lands threatened firefighters’ lives. Without better representatives–preferably ones willing to pay their own way and not rely on taxpayer subsidies–they won’t be able to capture the hearts and minds of the American people, which means the future of ranchers who depend on federal lands is dim.

The article also mentions Section 8 of the Constitution, which property and states rights people continually use to demand that the federal government turn over land to state control.

I can agree with the author, Randal O’Toole in his assessment of the Bundys and Hammonds, but disagree with him about the severity of the punishment the Hammonds received. And I disagree with his reference to Section 8, without mentioning the Property Clause, which does give the government right to own land:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States.

However, even without mentioning the Property Clause, O’Toole does note that the only way to battle federal land ownership is via Congressional action:

The Supreme Court has heard hundreds of cases involving federal land and has never ruled that the Constitution does not allow the federal government to own land in the West. So any battle against federal ownership would have to be fought politically, not in the courts.

Supreme Court decisions have upheld the federal government’s right to own and maintain land, until and unless, Congress revokes this right. And even attempts by President Reagan to sell off all federal land failed. Why? As a Washington Post article notes, private ownership of the land didn’t suit ranchers because they would lose the free ride they’ve had from the government. In addition, environmentalists rose in one body to demand the government stop its actions. And it wasn’t just environmentalists who were alarmed: something about paving over Yellowstone, and putting McDs in the Grand Canyon just doesn’t quite suit the majority of people in this country.

Returning to O’Toole’s criticism of the sentence the Hammonds received,  was the punishment unjust?

It’s unfortunate that the law the Hammonds were charged under is named The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, because everyone focused on “terrorism” in defense of the Hammonds. The Hammonds aren’t terrorists, the critics scoffed.

Of course they aren’t terrorists. To call them terrorists is to lessen acts such as the recent shootings in California and Paris. But the Hammonds were tried and convicted, by a jury of their peers, for the following:

Whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other personal or real property in whole or in part owned or possessed by, or leased to, the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or any institution or organization receiving Federal financial assistance, shall be imprisoned for not less than 5 years and not more than 20 years, fined under this title, or both.

Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted of deliberately setting a fire on federal land in 2001 that burned 139 acres. In addition, Steven Hammond was convicted of setting fire to federal land in 2006. They both claimed to be burning invasive species, or in the latter fire, protecting a crop of winter wheat. However, it was not their call to make—not only to set fire to federal land, but to their neighbor’s land, when the fire spread; particularly when it comes to a wildlife refuge, where incorrectly set fires could prove detrimental to not individual birds, but an entire species if endangered birds are threatened.

In addition, the 2001 fire was created not to burn invasive species, as the Hammonds imply, but to cover up an illegal deer hunt, according to a relative of the Hammonds who testified against them. They also endangered a three-person fire crew during the 2006 fire, almost trapping them behind a fire line. All of the Hammond fires, not just the two related to the criminal case, ended up costing the government over $600,000. The government sued the pair after the fires, and was able to recover $200,000, but we tax payers ended up footing the bill for the rest. The Oregonian noted the Hammonds paid $200,000 in 2014, and the rest, recently. That still leaves at least $200,000, or more, firefighting costs and damages to the tax payers.

The judge who originally sentenced them claimed that the mandatory five year sentence shouldn’t apply, because the fire was a “wilderness” fire, and in his opinion, that wasn’t what Congress intended for this law. However, I think we’ve all seen enough of “wilderness” fires this last year to know they are deadly, they are dangerous, they destroy homes, pets, people…they can even destroy entire towns. The appeals courts, rightfully, dismissed the unlawful sentencing and imposed the five year minimum.

Here, we need not progress beyond the first step.
Congress has “broad authority” to determine the appropriate
sentence for a crime and may justifiably consider arson,
regardless of where it occurs, to be a serious crime. Solem v.
Helm, 463 U.S. 277, 290 (1983). Even a fire in a remote area
has the potential to spread to more populated areas, threaten
local property and residents, or endanger the firefighters
called to battle the blaze. The September 2001 fire here,
which nearly burned a teenager and damaged grazing land,
illustrates this very point.
Given the seriousness of arson, a five-year sentence is not
grossly disproportionate to the offense.

This wasn’t the Hammonds’ first act of arrogant disregard for the welfare or concerns of others, either. When FWS attempted to build a fence to keep the Hammonds’ cattle out of the Refuge land around a watering spot, Steven Hammond parked a 25-ton Caterpillar earth mover on the fence line and refused to move it. Not only refused to move it, forcibly dropped the earth mover’s shovel near one of the federal employees in an act of intimidation.

The Hammonds were arrested for their actions,  but pressure from land-use groups, and Representative Wes Cooley, most likely kept them from being prosecuted.

arrest photo of Dwight Hammond

Cooley would later testify in a budget hearing for the Fish & Wildlife Service that the Hammonds had a successful injunction against the FWS, which would then allow them access to the land, but I can find no record in PACER to corroborate this statement. However, I did find an agreement between the Hammonds and various other organizations, including FWS, related to water rights in the region. This agreement did not specify that the Hammonds had the right to drive their cattle into the FWS land, only that they may divert water during the spring to another reservoir.

The Hammonds also refused to allow federal firefighting crews access to their land so they could fight fires, and tried to get the local Sheriff to arrest the crew for doing so.

As part of the sentencing deal the Hammonds made with the government, they agreed to give FWS first rights to purchase a parcel of Hammond property, but only if the Hammonds had to sell it in order to pay their fines. The Hammonds were able to pay their fines without selling the land, so the new adherence to the minimum sentence had nothing to do with a government attempt to get the Hammond land, contrary to what the land-use fanatics are proclaiming.

Misdirection and misinformation is a hallmark of any of the activities associated with the Hammonds. It is difficult to find the truth, among all the misrepresentations. Enforcing laws against people like the Hammonds isn’t all peaches and cream, either. In the article, Peril in the West: Enforcing Environment Laws Gets Scary, the author begins with:

Someone has threatened to kill Forrest Cameron, and to harm his wife and children.

Cameron, the manager of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, knows who threatened to kill him, and why. He doesn’t know who called his home in Princeton, Ore., to harass his wife and daughters. But he assumes it’s for the same reason he says Dwight Hammond threatened to shoot him: because Cameron was enforcing the law.

At least Hammond is consistent, he also threatened refuge managers in 1986 and 1988. No, I don’t find a sentence of five years to be disproportionate, at all.

As for Bundy boys, rather than piss in their own pond, they went to Oregon to piss in someone else’s. And that’s the least negative thing I can say about them.

Photo compilation:

Photos of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Sandhill Crane: Roger Baker, USFWS
Mule Deer: Barbara Wheeler, USFWS
Prescribed Burn: Carla Burnside, USFWS
Owl: Jim Maloney, USFWS

Arrest photo of Dwight Hammond from article about the arrest in the Burns Times-Herald, August 10, 1994.

Poor, Black, and Ugly

Missouri’s Governor Nixon asked the Missouri Attorney General to file suit in court to block the Army Corps of Engineers from blowing up the Birds Point Levee.

Blowing the levee will flood farmland and about 100 homes in Missouri, but not blowing the levee could very well endanger the entire town of Cairo, Illinois. A few years back, I wrote about Cairo, Illinois the town that pulls you in, as it pushes you away.

When Time covered Cairo, Illinois last year it described the town as poor, black, and ugly. It is, indeed, very poor and predominately black, but I cannot find it ugly. Or if I do, it’s an ugliness that reflects the south and our history and the civil rights fight and all that is both good and bad about this part of the country.

I guess the best description I have of Cairo is that it is a very real town.

Of course, none of this matters to the Missouri governor who wants to protect the farmland of Missourians. Missourians who happened to know they were building farms on lands designated as spillway, and that there was a potential for the Corps to breach the levee if flood proportions matched that of the 1937 floods. Well, we’re about to pass the levels of the 1937 floods.

But then again, who wants to save a town that’s poor, black, and ugly?