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Monday, December 09, 2019

Government

President Joe Biden

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The discovery and voluntary relinquishing of classified documents at properties connected to President Joe Biden ignited a firestorm among politicos given the story's concurrence with the ongoing saga surrounding former President Donald Trump's hoarding of top-secret texts at his Mar-a-Lago golf compound in Palm Beach, Florida.

The United States Department of Justice's appointment of special counsels to investigate each case – Jack Smith for Trump and Robert Hur for Biden – signals that Attorney General Merrick Garland seeks to remain impartial in pursuit of the truth.

And although the circumstances of the two scandals lack a fundamental equivalency – with Trump's being presumed as a criminal matter and Biden's being likened to Hillary Clinton's exonerated negligence – the stories have nevertheless triggered discussions over the federal government's policies regarding sensitive materials.

On Sunday, The Washington Post editorial board expanded on that topic, opining that "the classification system for managing secrets is overwhelmed and desperately needs repair."

The paper's editors had two main points. The first was that "too much national security information is classified, and too little declassified. For years, officials have stamped documents 'secret' in a lowest-common-denominator system that did not penalize over-classification and made declassification difficult and time-consuming. For example, in November, a 2004 interview of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with the 9/11 Commission was released to the public. It should not have taken 18 years."

They cited a statement given in 2004 by then-Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who lamented the quantity of information that intelligence organizations deem unfit for public knowledge.

"There are too many secrets," Shays said. That formed the basis of the Post's second argument.

"Over-classification is counterproductive, making it harder for agencies to function, draining budgets and eroding public confidence. Agencies put their best people to work on the most urgent problems, and declassification is a low priority," the Board explained. "Now comes a 'tsunami,' as the Public Interest Declassification Board warned two years ago: an explosion of digital information. Yet management of classified materials 'largely follows established analog and paper-based models.'"

The editors then suggested a solution.

"A good start would be to simplify the classification process into two tiers, 'secret' and 'top secret,' eliminating the lower 'confidential' level, while protecting those secrets that need special handling," they said. Recall that "confidential" was the marking that plagued Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign.

The Post also alluded to a meeting held by "government experts" from the Hudson Institute in which they determined that “the growing volume of classified records already exceeds the ability of humans alone to process them.”

The editors concluded that the Hudson Institute's realization was a "wake-up call," adding that "the whole system needs to be fixed, and its dysfunction should not be ignored for another decade."

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

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A lot of smart voices seem afraid to say outright that homeless mentally ill people should be taken off the streets, forcibly if necessary. They may easily agree that the sad humans sleeping on grates and under bridges would benefit from coming indoors for medical care and other social services. But they can't concede that the public's right to use sidewalks, parks and train stations should trump a homeless person's desire to take over those spaces.

Thus, this headline in the Harvard Gazette: "N.Y. plan to involuntarily treat mentally ill homeless? Not entirely outrageous."

The piece mostly defended New York Mayor Eric Adams' plan to hospitalize mentally ill people without their consent, but the "not entirely outrageous" was wrongly apologetic. There is nothing "outrageous" about stopping people living in filth, hollering into the night and sometimes attacking bystanders from, in effect, denying others access to public amenities.

This is a good opportunity to revisit the views of economist John Kenneth Galbraith, who wrote in the 1950s about "private affluence and public squalor" in our cities and towns. He was referring to the size and comforts of American homes versus the shabbiness of our shared streets with their poor lighting and trash all around. In cities like Paris, he said, the opposite was the case. There, apartments were tiny and lacking modern appliances, but the world outside was well kept.

Galbraith was a liberal and meant "private affluence and public squalor" to reflect the ability of our rich to better limit their exposure to the broken-down public sphere. And so there is great irony in self-described progressives' insistence that the squalor of homeless encampments is acceptable in the name of affording dignity to the poor.

Some have sued the city making mostly specious arguments. New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, for example, holds that the program puts people at risk for being detained "for merely living with their illness while in a public place."

The lawsuit further complains that they could be forcibly hospitalized "solely because an NYPD officer perceives them to have a mental disability and nothing more."

But that's not how it works. When the police take someone who concerns them to a hospital, that individual then undergoes evaluation by mental health professionals. Anyone who has witnessed the growing number of disheveled souls screaming at passersby and sometimes slamming into them understands that the bar for involuntary detention is high.

And those who recall the horrifying incident in which a homeless man pushed a young woman to her death as a subway train approached would be at pains to downplay his level of insanity as a "mental disability."

Katherine Koh, a street psychiatrist in Boston, told the Gazette that the criteria for hospitalizing someone without consent are whether there is serious risk of self-harm or harm to others. A third, "inability to care for oneself to a degree that it puts the person at risk of serious harm," is less clear but an important consideration.

For a treatable population, she adds, expanding community-based mental health services and supportive housing would be the preferred outcome to long-term hospitalization. If more staff and facilities are needed, the public has a duty to build them. But the public won't have the money to build them if the homeless crisis frightens away enough business to badly hurt the local economy.

In the end, citizens should have the right to enter a subway without having to step around cardboard boxes turned into shelters. And recognize that those who can afford the private affluence of taxis don't have to endure the public squalor of the others who have to walk through it. Where is the justice there?

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Reprinted with permission from Creators.