The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages

Hillary ClintonLike The 39 Steps or The Loyal 47 Ronin, The 22 “Top Secret” Email Messages has a mythic quality to it. As you may have heard if you are a normal person, and definitely heard if you are a Fox News or hate radio devotee, the government declared 22 Clinton email messages “top secret.” And so withheld them from release. Almost immediately, the Clinton campaign demanded that the email messages be released. Why would they do that? Most people are like Max Fisher at Vox who thinks that it is because the Clinton campaign wants the world to see that there is nothing top secret about them.

I disagree.

This is definitely the reason. Good God! I would be shocked if even 0.01% of classified documents deserve to be. When very old documents are finally declassified, they are almost always the most banal things. When they are sexy, it is because they embarrassed someone, not because they would have led to the fall of our empire. Creating “top secret” documents is a way for bureaucrats to feel like they are special. The fact that their jobs are usually pretty boring probably doesn’t help matters. Everyone likes to feel like they are an insider, and what better way than to mark banal nonsense as “top secret”?

One thing I remember very fondly from the 1990s was all of the work that the Clinton administration did declassifying documents. It was amazing and refreshing. I’ve always hated the over-classification of stuff. It’s anti-democratic. But the icing on the cake of what Clinton had done was that after George W Bush was appointed president, Dick Cheney began his own program of re-classifying what Clinton had declassified. It showed that there really are two kinds of people in the world: normal and authoritarian jerks. I mean, that’s such a Stalinist move! Sure, the information has been made public, but now I’m going to stop anyone from talking about it!

Paul Krugman wrote a really good blog post about his own experience with classified documents. Here is the heart of the matter which not only goes along with everything I know about classified documents but is also pretty funny:

I received a lot of classified reports from the CIA, the State Department, etc. They had all sorts of warnings in capital letters on their covers: SECRET NOFORN NOCONTRACT PROPIN ORCON, I think, was the standard litany. And there was a security person who came through our offices at night, scooped up any classified documents we left out, put them in a safe, and issued citations. Between the number of classified documents I received and my continuing true identity as an absent-minded professor, I got a lot of citations — second only to [Council of Economic Advisers Chairman] Marty [Feldstein].

But the reason I kept forgetting to lock the things up was that none of them — literally not one, during a whole year — contained anything actually sensitive. There was nothing in any of them you couldn’t have read in newspapers, or figured out for yourself given public information.

I’m not a good prognosticator, but I’ll tell you how I think this is going to go: no one who doesn’t already care will care. The truth is that the Clinton campaign is playing this exactly right. By immediately demanding the documents’ release, they are signaling that there is nothing to see. And the vast majority of people already know that our classification system, very much including “top secret,” is a joke.

There’s another aspect to it too. People might have their questions about Hillary Clinton. Is she too secretive? Is she a political opportunist? (As if all politicians aren’t both.) But no one thinks that she is incompetent or a traitor. What’s more, it is all so boring. But if it starts a discussion about how over-classified government documents have become, it will be a great thing.

I know one thing: Bernie Sanders won’t be using the “damn emails” as an issue.

H-1B Visas and the Assault on the American Worker

VisaErik Loomis brought my attention to an article in The New York Times, Lawsuits Claim Disney Colluded to Replace US Workers With Immigrants. This is all about the H-1B visa. This is supposed to be a way for companies to get highly skilled workers that they just can’t find in the United States. It is most definitely not meant to be used to bring workers from other countries to replace existing workers. And so there are two class action lawsuits against Disney for doing just that.

I’ve written about H-1B visa a lot, because in my life, I’ve worked with a lot of people on H-1B visas. I have nothing against them — some I even counted as friends while I knew them and one I gave a guitar and instruction to. But they were neither super smart nor super knowledgeable about arcane subjects. They were just good, professional coders. There was nothing to distinguish them from the many good, professional coders here in the US except that they would work for a lot less money.

In the days of old, IBM didn’t expect to hire people with the “right skills.” They expected to hire smart young people, invest in them, and employ them for their entire careers.

What’s so annoying about the constant drum beat for more H-1B visas is that it is the same old scam. Business owners always say they can’t find qualified workers. What they actually mean is that they can’t find qualified workers for the crummy pay they offer. I remember back a few years, my father was aghast that an employer was complaining that he couldn’t find skilled workers would could do trigonometry and other things. How much was he offering? Fifteen dollars an hour with no benefits. That’s a $30,000 a year job. (As I recall, the guy was also upset that many of the workers he did get were fired because they insisted on their legal rights — things like breaks.)

What we are seeing with Disney is not at all surprising. And the truth is, it is no different than the way the H-1B visa is normally used. Other companies just aren’t as obvious about it. But does it really matter that a company has a 50-something coder who is now considered too expensive so it brings in a cheap Indian coder? How is that different from a company that pretends it can’t find qualified people in the first place? There really is no difference, and everyone in government and industry knows it. This is all “nod and wink” nonsense.

Last year I wrote, H-1B Visas Are a Scam to Keep Wages Low. In it, I talked about an actual criminal conspiracy: Steve Job’s deal with other Silicon Valley giants not to hire each other’s workers. Instead of making sure that workers were happy, the CEOs just made it impossible for a high tech professional to go from, say, Apple to Google. Employers already have the great advantage of a monopsony. They wanted to make it so that even the little wiggle room that employees had was removed. Effectively, they wanted to turn workers into serfs.

Sadly, Erik Loomis doesn’t really get what’s going on. He’s an academic and they get screwed over in a totally different way. But this isn’t about people having to train their replacements or even putting people out of work. This is about a systemic problem designed to keep wages down. The H-1B visa is just a tool in that regard.

Exactly who are these workers who have skills that the US lacks? We aren’t talking about letting Albert Einstein into the country here. In the days of old, IBM didn’t expect to hire people with the “right skills.” They expected to hire smart young people, invest in them, and employ them for their entire careers. But now we have a whole new way of thinking where having any job at all is considered some kind of privilege. So people go way into debt so that they can get those lauded “right skills.” And even if they happen to succeed in that, by their 50s, they will find that they are costing the company too much money and be replaced.

It’s disturbing. People like David Brooks and Charles Murray have spent decades talking about the decline of values in America. But they never touch the single most important area where values are lacking: the business world. If you want people to marry, have kids, and raise them properly, they first need a job they can depend upon. Well that is out of the question now because all that matters is next quarter’s profits and the bonuses of top management.

Morning Music: Sadcore and American Music Club

American Music Club CaliforniaOh, I know these bands usually hate the label, but let’s do a week of sadcore music. As AllMusic put it, “Primarily an extension of alternative/independent rock, Sadcore is slow, fragile and gut-wrenching music made by and for the depressed.” And let’s start with what I think of as the ultimate sadcore band, American Music Club.

I spent years listening to almost nothing but American Music Club. This was the last couple of years they were together. (They got back together later.) Now they say that depression is repressed anger. That very much fits American Music Club. Some of their music is unhinged like “Bad Liquor” and other of it is hilarious, even if depressing, like “The Hula Maiden.” But most of it is sad at a very deep level.

To give you an idea, we’ll listen to “Blue and Grey Shirt” off their album, California. (Generally a fan favorite.) As far as I know, it is about a friend of Mark Eitzel who had just died of AIDS. Eitzel is, after all, a gay man. And American Music Club was a San Francisco band. And it was 1988. It includes the line, “Now I just sing my songs for people that are gone.” Of course, the song is broader than that. It has the line, “I’m tired of being a spokesman for every tired thing.”

As usual, it isn’t just Eitzel’s writing. His work away from American Music Club (specifically Mark Pankler, known simply as Vudi) is never as good. Even if you couldn’t hear the lyrics of song, you would still get it. It’s heartbreakingly beautiful. And just heartbreaking.

Anniversary Post: First Yugoslav Constitution

First Yugoslav ConstitutionOn this day in 1946, the first Yugoslav Constitution came into effect. It was patterned after the Soviet Constitution. It reminds me of something a couple of years back when some idiot like Michele Bachmann stated that Obama only cared about upholding the communist constitution. Something like that. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that a lot of people think that authoritarian regimes had terrible constitutions. They rarely did.

The Soviet constitution was great. As Justice Antonin Scalia said, “The bill of rights of the former evil empire, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was much better than ours.” Those that fetishize the Constitution are idiots. It’s just a document. And it means what we collectively say it means.

This also reminds me of the Second Amendment idiots who think that it’s their guns that will stop the government from turning into a tyranny. If it gets to the point of us having to protect ourselves from the government, then we’ve already lost. Think about the people at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. A truly tyrannical government would just fly a drone over and blow it up. Problem solved!

Societies don’t stay free because of old documents and stockpiles of firearms. They stay free because the people stay engaged in the process. Every time someone opens a voter’s pamphlet, they are helping to save this republic. Every time someone listens to a political debate, they are helping to save this republic. The greatest threat to this republic and to every other free country in the world is apathy. By the time a Hitler or a Stalin or a Pol Pot comes to power, the fight has already been lost.

We all need to remember that. If Dick Cheney were dictator of the world, he would have all kinds of pieces of paper telling you how free you are, just like the Yugoslav Constitution. And he’d allow you to have your guns. Because he wouldn’t have to worry about them. His position would be solidified by something far more powerful.