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Columns

KUZMINSKI: Money Made Out Of Thin Air, But Be Sure To Repay Lenders

Column by Adrian Kuzminski on May 11, 2018

Money Made Out Of Thin Air,
But Be Sure To Repay Lenders

Adrian Kuzminski

You’ve got to have money to make money, the saying goes. If you have money, you can invest (or speculate) in something you hope will produce a profitable return. If you don’t have money, you’ll need to figure out where you can get some.
There are two basic options for most people: work and debt, and they usually go together. Earning money by working, by selling your manual or intellectual labor, is what most people do. But it’s usually not enough.
Most people also need to borrow money. You have to repay with interest as time goes on, but you can use the borrowed money right off the bat to invest in something you need or want, like a house, a car, an education, or a business.
The ability to borrow money is fundamental to modern societies, and is part of what makes them modern.
Until the invention of modern finance in early 18th century Britain, it was hard to borrow money. Banks were few and far between, and most loans were private affairs between individuals.
Money in circulation was largely limited to inelastic precious metals. What happened in England was the creation of a set of interlocking institutions: a central bank, national debt, stock and bond markets, and institutionalized lending.
Together these made it far easier for private banks to issue loans to the public. These loans, which circulated as bank notes, or currency, pumped money into the economy.
This was no small thing. It started the industrial revolution. The “English System” of credit, as Alexander Hamilton later called it, made it possible for English landowners and manufacturers to borrow large sums to improve their estates and industries. The British economy exploded.
The hitch was that borrowers still had to pay interest on their loans – a kind of private tax – even though the money which the private banks lent was created out of thin air.
When you borrow money, even today, say for a mortgage, the bank isn’t giving you money that it already has on deposit. Rather it’s giving you a line of credit backed almost entirely by the likelihood that you’ll repay it with interest.

“Charging Bull,” in New York City’s financial district, has become a symbol of our monetary system.

The effect is to concentrate wealth in the hands of creditors. It’s tolerable for debtors as long as they remain productive enough to cover their loans and interest, and still leave a profit for themselves. A loan provides a way, not otherwise available, to appropriate new assets and put them to use.
That works as long as the economy is growing as fast as the interest rate. When loans get too far ahead of productivity, however, and can’t be repaid, we have a crash.
Up to now, crashes have weeded out the less efficient investors, and allowed the rest to restart the process. That was possible as long as opportunities for economic growth remained.
For better or worse, after a long run of 250 years, the credit-based industrial revolution may be coming to an end. We have a finite planet with finite resources, weighed down by pollution and environmental degradation, struggling to support over seven billion people.
As the rate of production decreases, it gets harder and harder individuals and governments to pay off their debts. The federal government – with its $20+ trillion debt – isn’t even trying anymore. There is increasing concern that the overall debt burden is getting too big for the economy to absorb.
In the old days, not paying debts led to insolvency and bankruptcy. More recently, government bailouts have replaced bankruptcy – provided you’re too big to fail.
In 2008, only one major company – Lehman Brothers – was allowed to go under. The other big players, from AIG to General Motors to the big banks, were bailed out. Since it was politically impossible to raise taxes, this was done by increasing the federal debt.
However the debt crisis may be resolved, the need for credit will remain.
One alternative is public banking. The idea is to lend money not for profit, as private banks do, but at little or no interest, as a public service. We need to transition to a steady-state as opposed to a growth economy, and no-interest loans might help get us there while still meeting the need to invest in our future.
But that’s another column.

 

Adrian Kuzminski, former Hartwick College philosopher-in-residence and Sustainable Otsego moderator, resides in Fly Creek.

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DEAN: To Succeed, Otsego County Must Be Known

Column by James Dean, May 11, 2018

To Succeed, Otsego

County Must Be Known

Editor’s Note: James R. Dean, the Cooperstown village trustee, has been proprietor of New York Custom Curved Wood Stair Railings & Handrailings locally since 1973. In last week’s Part I, he analyzed out economic-development challenges we face. This week, Part II offers solutions.

James Dean

So what is the plan?
Almost everything that has been done so far to increase our population and business base, while very good, has not been enough to reverse our situation and we need to rethink what we need to do and how we need to do it.
As Oneonta Mayor Gary Herzig often says, “We need more people.” I fully agree. Nothing changes in Otsego County without more people.
We need more people at the same time that we know we are in an imperfect situation for an ideal promotional effort. Knowing that, we should still move ahead to try to attract more people, businesses and outside money to Otsego County. The needed improvements will follow as our promotional efforts succeed.
Rebuilding Otsego County will not happen without a laser focus on promoting the big picture of “Otsego County New York” to the outside world. “Otsego County New York” are the four most important words that the outside world needs to hear from us. We need to reach out with public and private strategic messaging designed to capture the attention of people and businesses, that previously did not know about life in Otsego County New York.
Counties and businesses up and down the Hudson Valley, and elsewhere, are putting promotional and advertising money, and other resources into attracting new people and businesses to their area, and it is working. People are moving from the Hamptons to Hudson Valley where their money buys so much more.
I do not see that in Otsego County. To see what pride and promotional efforts of an area looks like, go to the Kingston area’s Luminary Media’s Arts and Culture website www.Chronogram.com.
Chronogram also has impressive print edition that is distributed free, in over 750 locations, from Stamford to Brooklyn, on both sides of the Hudson. It serves 51 towns and 9 counties in the Hudson Valley (see distribution). They are capturing customers, in a very organized way, while we are completely off the radar. Luminary media also has a real-estate advertising website http://upstatehouse.luminarymedia.com/, with similar print editions and equal distribution, reaching the same people. We have nothing like that here. How do we compete with that? At the very least we should try to be included in their orbit.

This image from Doug Decker’s 2015 video, “Oneonta, Life Enjoyed!”, depicts youngsters fishing. People would come to Otsego County if they knew about its charms, Jim Dean asserts.

People wanting to buy homes and property in Otsego County is a major component of deep, structural, long-term, local economic development. Zillow.com is a major real-estate advertising website that shows almost every home for sale in Otsego County (search Otsego County NY in Zillow). This is a tool that should be used to showcase Otsego County homes available for purchase. Local realtors already sponsor these Zillow ads and would handle most of the sales.
The Zillow interactive website platform is also an interesting model for a possible new, very visual, map based, all inclusive, fully interactive website, solely for the promotion of living and working in Otsego County New York. This new website could become the information destination for comprehensive and organized promotional efforts.
I suggest “OtsegoCountyNewYork.com” as the name for this possible new website. I have secured this name for possible future use. This new website would have click on/off layers for the major categories of interest in Otsego County like city, towns, villages, healthcare, churches, education, recreation, parks, businesses, shopping, real estate, restaurants, transportation, arts and culture, places to visit, etc. To see a simple Google Map prototype go to https://tinyurl.com/yaw5vm2t. Each similarly formatted layer would have mouse over icons that would identify the location, clickable points of interest that would open up with information, photos, audio, videos and/or “mini tours”. The purpose of this “master website” would be as a “central destination” for many outreach efforts for the “big sell” of all that Otsego County has to offer.
This new website would allow viewers to tour all of Otsego County on their own, at any time, from anywhere. This single focus new website would be fair and equal in providing information about all of Otsego County, from Richfield Springs to Unadilla (supported by volunteers from around the county, grants and donations) and would carry no paid advertising or preferential promotions.
Ideally, it would be developed and managed by a new, neutral entity, independent of any special or competing interests.
Quality of life is one of our major assets. Many people in other places have more money, but they do not have the quality of life, and they do not know where to look to find it. We want to paint our picture, and tailor our messages, to meet that need and welcome them to join us.
First, we sell them a forever home; then they help us build out the future of Otsego County. This applies to retired people, young creatives, entrepreneurs and self-employed people with businesses and families. Creating, and then conveying, a sense of pride of community and common cause will go a long way to helping Otsego County succeed.
I can think of no other publications that so beautifully portray, in pictures and text, so much of what we enjoy, need to convey, about Otsego County New York than “Otsego County – Its Towns and Treasures”, “Cooperstown”, and “Otsego Lake”, all three books published by The Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. Also “Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York – 200 Years of Health Care in Rural America” for the rich history of the first-class healthcare that has always been available in Otsego County New York.
Our problem, in my view, is not that people do not want to come here. Our problem, in my view, is that people do not know that we exist.
It is very important, in my view, for Otsego County local governments, businesses, schools, public and private organizations and interested individuals to work together, and to invest, in this common cause.
Rebuilding Otsego County is the collective responsibility of every person, hamlet, village, town and city in our county.

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KUZMINSKI: More Gas? Only If Paired With Equal-Sized Renewable Project

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, May 5, 2018

More Gas? Only If Paired With
Equal-Sized Renewable Project

Adrian Kuzminski

When fracking was proposed in New York State a decade ago, the potential benefits were jobs, economic growth, lower energy prices, and energy security.
Opponents (like me) worried not only about local degradation of the environment but about the global consequences of methane seepage and emissions for the climate as a whole.
In most places outside of New York State, the frackers won the argument, and in fact much of what they claimed has come to pass.
Vast new reserves have been opened up by fracking, perhaps even more than anticipated. The United States has moved from deep energy dependence on often unfriendly foreign sources to a greater degree of energy self-sufficiency.
The US has become a net exporter of natural gas and is now able to leverage its new energy resources in foreign policy negotiations. Fracking has sparked renewed economic activity and a sense of energy security has been restored.
But the cost of these short-terms gains may yet overwhelm us. Professor Anthony Ingraffea from Cornell has a sobering new video on YouTube: “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken.” Check it out; go to youtube.com and type “technological gamble” in the search line.
Ingraffea goes back six years and compares the climate change predictions made by a range of experts then with the latest data now available.
The new evidence shows those predictions to have been wide of the mark in the worst possible way. Global warming is happening much faster than predicted.

Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea’s conclusion in 2013 that natural gas contributes more to global warming than other fossil fuels changed the debate.

Ingraffea puts the blame for accelerating climate change squarely on the fracking revolution. As its critics have worried all along, the overall greenhouse emissions of fracked natural gas turn out to be as bad if not worse than any other fossil fuel.
Fracking has not been the “bridge fuel” the industry advocated. Ingraffea points out that fracking has extended the fossil fuel age, dramatically increased global warming, and, by providing continued low-priced gas and oil, frustrated the development of renewables.

This issue is playing out locally as well. There’s an energy crunch in Oneonta, with NYSEG interrupting gas service to some of their larger customers (SUNY, Fox, and some local businesses) because of limited supply.
In spite of the fracking boom in neighboring Pennsylvania, the infrastructure for delivering more gas in the Oneonta area right now doesn’t exist. The secondary pipeline serving the area isn’t big enough to meet demand.
The same arguments for the benefits of fracked gas used a decade ago are once again in circulation by those calling for more gas: It’ll bring jobs, stability, and economic growth.
Without a functioning economy we have social chaos, it’s true; but without environmental protections we have eco-catastrophe.
Transitioning to renewables remains the unavoidable answer in both cases. Renewables address the climate issue while providing economic relief with
jobs in the new industries we so desperately need. But it’s not happening fast enough.
That’s a political problem – one unfortunately not about to be solved.
The gas proponents now, as before, are focused on short-term benefits and seem oblivious to the bigger threat. Those who appreciate the long-term threat, on the other hand, have no immediate and practical solutions to the energy challenge.
Yes, of course, we must transition to renewables ASAP, but it’s not just a matter of effortlessly dropping one energy source and plugging in another.
There are serious technical problems (limits to electrical applications, intermittent power and inadequate electricity storage) and financial ones (funding the required large-scale infrastructure changes).
It’s time to recognize both the urgency of climate change as well as the need to buy some time to put in place technologies and financing that can transition us to renewables as quickly as possible.
It’s time to recognize both that the unintended consequences of gas may be worse than the problems it solves, and that those suffering from economic insecurity can’t afford to wait around indefinitely for promised but undelivered jobs in renewable energy.
What’s needed is restraint and prudence. Until we get to renewables, we’re clearly going to continue to overheat the planet to keep the economy going and avoid social breakdown.
How much more warming can we stand? It’s not clear, but major new pipelines and gas power plants are climate-denying projects that promise to take us over the edge.
In the meantime, we have growing local economic distress which might be relieved by delivering more gas to Oneonta by enlarging its existing pipeline.
Improving that pipeline and its capacity would clearly boost the local economy; a redone pipeline might also be more efficient.
But any expansion of gas consumption, even a small one like this, can no longer be justified unless correlated with a funded renewable energy project of at least the same scale.
Nothing less is acceptable any more.

Kuzminski, a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor and moderator of Sustainable Otsego, lives in Fly Creek.

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ZAGATA: Christians Told: Help The Poor, But Resist Continental Pipeline

Column by Mike Zagata, April 27, 2018

Christians Told: Help The Poor,

But Resist Continental Pipeline

Mike Zagata

Each week while attending church, a member of the clergy reminds us of our responsibility to assist the poor. Doing so is important and something engrained in us by our parents.
It is especially important in this area because we are part of Appalachia, a region known for its poverty. Indeed, according to Catholic Charity’s definition of poverty, 30 percent, or three out of 10 of Otsego, Delaware and Schoharie counties’ residents live in poverty.
What is interesting about this is that, when the issue of exploring for natural gas in New York was being debated, Oneonta’s churches inserted a flyer opposing fracking for natural gas in their weekly bulletins. The direct result was the loss of the jobs that would have come to the area and thus help lift people out of poverty.
That includes jobs for the BOCES graduates trained as welders, heavy-equipment operators and surveyors.

At the time, there was valid concern that this misunderstood process might contaminate our water and air. Those concerns have not been realized in Pennsylvania and that economy has prospered – more people have jobs as a result.
However, it just seemed inconsistent with what I was hearing about helping the poor to oppose something that could have helped lift them out of poverty.
The real impact on the poor wasn’t fully understood at the time. However, it is now crystal clear.

Otsego Now director Tom Armao alerts Assistant USDA Secretary Anne Hazlett to NYSEG’s failure to provide sufficient natural gas or electricity to Otsego County. With him at the Rural Development Forum at Hartwick College Friday, April 20, was Brooks’ BBQ President Ryan Brooks.

New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG), now owned by a company headquartered in Spain, was counting on the new source of natural gas and the Constitution Pipeline to enable it to provide Oneonta with the gas it needs.
That means not just gas needed for us to grow, but enough gas (and electricity in the form of three-phase power) to be able to supply the needs of the businesses, institutions and residences that are here now.
NYSEG brings gas to Oneonta via a pipeline from DeRuyter. That pipeline is in a state of disrepair after decades of neglect, and Iberdrola, NYSEG’s Spanish owner, isn’t interested in spending the money it would take to repair the pipeline to the degree that it could deliver enough gas to meet existing demand, no less improve it to the point that it could meet demand from projected growth.
They look at Oneonta as being stagnant and thus not a good place to invest capital. Some are questioning whether or not they are living up to their franchise agreement to provide an adequate gas supply.

You might not know this, but our some of our educational institutions and the hospital are on what is known as “curtailment” with regards to their natural gas supply. That means, if it gets too hot or too cold and the overall demand for natural gas increases beyond NYSEG’s ability to supply it, those institutions must replace their use of natural gas for heating with oil-fired generators.

That is more expensive and increases air pollution.
Things are so bad that Lutz Feed bought a new gas-fired dryer to reduce the moisture content of stored corn and NYSEG told them not to hook it up. Why? because there wasn’t enough natural gas. What does that tell us about the likelihood of Oneonta being able to attract new businesses and manufacturers that could provide jobs to those who need jobs and to the young people who might like to remain here?
The next time the basket is passed in church, put in a little extra to help the poor. You see, we helped keep them that way.

Mike Zagata, former DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and environmental executive for Fortune 500 companies, lives in West Davenport.

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KUZMINSKI: Nation’s Two-Party System Guarantees ‘The Iron Law Of Oligarchy’

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, April 20, 2018

Nation’s Two-Party

System Guarantees

‘The Iron Law Of Oligarchy’

ADRIAN KUZMINSKI

Most voters enroll in one or the other major party, though the number of non-party enrollees has grown in recent years. In our area, and nationally, it’s very roughly one third Democrat, one third Republican, and one third non-partisan, or independent (small “i”).
The two-party system goes back to the battles between Alexander
Hamilton’s Federalists and Thomas
Jefferson’s Republicans. The
Jeffersonian Republicans have since morphed into the Democrats,
and the Federalists into the
Republicans.
Unfortunately, these parties have become a big part of what’s wrong, rather than what’s right, with American politics.
The two political parties – they are not mentioned in the Constitution – have a strangle-hold on the electoral process. It’s difficult, though not impossible, to get on the ballot without the approval of one or the other party.
In the current race in the 19th CD, for instance, party enrollees need to collect only 1,250 signatures to get on the primary ballot. But if you run as an independent, you need 3,500 signatures.
Party candidates have other advantages. They can go to their county party committees to pitch for support and recruit volunteers to circulate their petitions. The parties are also a source of money for candidates.

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ZAGATA: Audubon Now Says: Young Forest Desireable

Column by Mike Zagata, April 13, 2018

Audubon Now Says:

Young Forest Desireable

 

Mike Zagata

You’ve just read the Spring 2018 issue of “Living Bird” magazine published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and were startled, and excited, to read: “Overall, specialists say a healthy forested landscape should include roughly 10 percent of young woodlands.” (Right now, that number for our forestland hovers around
2 percent.)
That’s a dramatic shift from just a few years ago when Audubon was adamantly protecting mature forests at the expense of young forests. In other words a few years back, it wasn’t OK to cut a few trees, even clear-cut five or 10 acres, but it is now.
Why the shift in policy – you already know the answer having read the previous articles in this series. Now the questions become what to do about it and how?
You own 50 or so acres and you’d like to harvest it to generate some cash, and you also want to benefit those wildlife species, including many songbirds, American Woodcock, ruffed grouse and deer, which rely on young forest (grasslands and brush) for their habitat.

Basswood Pond in Burlington Flats is one of Otsego County’s state forests.

To whom do you turn for help? You’re now aware of the risk associated with trying to manage the timber sale yourself: risk of not getting what you should for your trees; risk of not knowing which trees to cut and which ones to leave; and the risk of not knowing how to manage the logger so that he or she does what you want done.

There are some places to turn to for advice.
Your regional office for the DEC (ours is located in Stamford) has a regional forester on staff who can walk you through the process and maybe even put you in touch with the consulting foresters who service this area.
The National Resource Conservation Service (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) has an office on Route 33 just south of Cooperstown and can assist you.
Cornell’s Cooperative Extension Program offers forest-related workshops and has a Master Forest Owner Program (MFO), providing forest landowners with a free visit by a MFO who listens to what you want to accomplish and then explains how to go about doing it.
Another good source of information is the state Forest Owners Association. (www.NYFOA.org). They have 10 chapters located around the state that host “Woods Walks” to help explain how to manage a forest and many of their members participate in the MFO Program and volunteer as MFOs.

What do you do if you forest has been logged repeatedly using the high-grading approach where they took “the best” and now you’re left with “the rest”?
There traditionally has not been a strong market for low-grade wood (“the rest”) in New York. Landowners who wanted to re-invigorate their forest or manage it for wildlife via techniques that allow light to reach the

forest floor again have had to bear the burden of the cost.
However, with Governor Cuomo’s stated goal of having 50 percent of our electricity come from “renewable” (like trees) by 2030, the future market for low-grade wood or “biomass” seems much brighter.
If my memory serves me right, Oneonta had an opportunity to capitalize on that trend, but it, along with so many other options, was rejected. Colgate University, on the other hand, chose to take advantage of the opportunity and heats with biomass.

Mike Zagata, DEC commissioner in the Pataki Administration and a former environmental executive with Fortune 500 companies, resides in West Davenport.

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KUZMINSKI: Are Democratic Challengers Connecting?

Column by Adrian Kuzminski, April 6, 2018

Are Democratic

Challengers Connecting?

Adrian Kuzminski

As of this writing, seven Democrats and two independents are running for Congress from the 19th District, hoping to replace Republican incumbent John Faso.
In his first term Faso raised the ire of many constituents with his proposal to eliminate local tax support for Medicaid and related social services. He made no provision for anyone else to pick up the tab, putting the local healthcare industry needlessly at risk. At the same time, a lot of voters, shocked by Trump’s election and behavior in office, are looking for candidates to oppose Trump in Congress.
Little wonder that nine candidates have emerged for Faso’s job.
The seven Democrats running against Faso are, in alphabetical order, Jeff Beals, David Clegg, Erin Collier, Antonio Delgado, Brian Flynn, Gareth Rhodes and Patrick Ryan. The independents are Diane Neal and Luisa Parker.

The Democrats and independents share more or less the same progressive agenda. As a group, they are pro-choice, pro-equal pay, pro-renewable energy, pro-environment, pro-union, pro-gun control, pro-health care, pro-minority, pro-immigrant, pro-education, and pro-jobs.
Democrats see the independents as a problem, dividing the anti-Faso vote. But who’s to say how far the independents’ appeal will go with voters disaffected with traditional party politics?
The devil, as usual, is in the details. Important as the issues raised by progressives are to many voters, too often they are abstractly presented as a wish-list with few concrete steps to realization.
The candidates all bemoan our broken political system, but it’s not clear how any of them can make it work again. The progressives’ answer to most problems – more regulation and more government – is no longer convincing to half the population, while their conservative opponents cling to a vision of individual freedom which leaves most people in the dust.
As a result, most minds remain unchanged.

Congressman Faso fields questions from Ace Hardward’s Jeff Haggerty, center, and Country Club Auto’s Tom Armao last November at Otsego Now’s offices in Oneonta. LEAF’s Julie Dostal has her back to camera.

To break this impasse, we need politicians with more imagination and less canned rhetoric.
The main issue of concern to non-polarized swing voters – economic
security – continues to be glossed over. Locally, we need to promote decentralized economic development: easier credit for small businesses, broadband for all, more assisted living, a tech-oriented community college, small-scale renewable energy, food hubs, enhanced cultural attractions, and value-added enterprises built on local resources (agriculture, forestry, scenic beauty).
We need to get away from monopolistic financial, telecommunications, and energy corporations blocking these changes, as well as the pro-corporate government policies their lobbyists and paid politicians have put in place.
On the national level, we need a carbon tax and dividend to wean us off fossil fuels. We need debt forgiveness, especially for students, and a public banking system that challenges the private banking monopoly over credit.
And we need to rethink the distorted policies – supported by both Republican and Democratic party establishments – of deregulation, military spending, and globalization that have hollowed out the American working class while lining the pockets of the super-wealthy.
Without a revived economy, there is little hope for economic security. Trump won the 2016 election on a populist wave of outrage over economic insecurity. Frustrated voters, given the chance to vote against the pro-corporate policies of both the Republican and Democratic establishments, cast their protest votes for Trump.
That voice of protest has remained largely unsatisfied, however, and anti-Faso candidates should take note. They might do well to abandon the progressive (“big government”) label and moderate their almost exclusive concern with national issues by reintegrating national with local concerns.
That would go a long way towards overcoming the widespread distrust of top-down big government which narrows their base to pro-government, left-leaning voters. They need to capture the center to win.
They need to become real populists.

 

Adrian Kuzminski,

Sustainable Otsego moderator, is a retired Hartwick College philosophy professor.

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Hillary E-Mail Scandal: Were Mistakes Made?
TOM MORGAN’S MONEY TALK

Hillary E-Mail Scandal:

Were Mistakes Made? 

Editor’s Note:  The column, Money Talk, by Tom Morgan of Franklin, the retired Oneonta investment counselor, is syndicated nationally.  Here is this week’s column.

tom morgan logoRandom thoughts on the Hillary email scandal:

Imagine if you could suck all the political gas from this. You would be left with a pure impartial situation. Suppose you then asked: Did this senior government executive break a bunch of laws? Of course she did. Should the President be devastated that this happened? Sure. Should he sack his Attorney General for her behavior in this? Of course.

Should alarm bells go off in the White House and State Department? For sure. A senior executive handled top secret stuff as casually as she would comic books. She rolled out red carpets for spies. She endangered all of us with her recklessness.

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