Elephants, Adieu

Today the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that their circus will phase out the elephant acts from The Greatest Show on Earth.  The last 13 performing elephants will retire as of 2018.  As far as I’m concerned, it can’t come soon enough.

I loved the circus as a kid — who wouldn’t love the Death-Defying Trapeze Acts, the three rings, the Big Top, the tumblers and jugglers, the tightrope walkers, the clowns in their little cars, the smell of sawdust and peanuts and mustard, and the bright, piping sound of the calliope? — but I never liked the elephant acts and tiger acts.  While I marveled at the colossal size of the pachyderms, I felt sorry for them as they raised up to put their forelegs on each others backs, fell to the ground with an earth-shaking thud, and were put through the rest of their little routines at the crack of a whip.  Elephant faces always looking intelligent to me, and their eyes seemed sad.  I always thought they didn’t like what they were doing.

The circus officials said they came to this decision on their own.  Animal rights advocates say it is the product of years of protesting and lobbying their part.  I don’t care who is responsible for the decision, really, and I doubt that the elephants do, either.  I’m just glad the elephants won’t be a circus act any more.


About Hillary’s E-Mail

Should we care about Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email address when she served as Secretary of State?

On Monday the New York Times broke the story that, during her four years as Secretary of State, Clinton never had an official State Department email address and instead exclusively used a personal address to conduct official business.  As a result, her emails were not maintained on governmental servers, which may have violated the Federal Records Act.  The Times reported that her aides later went through her emails and decided which ones to give to the State Department.

Following up on the story, yesterday the Associated Press reported that Clinton’s private email address traced back to a personal computer server at her home in New York.  The House Committee investigating the attacks on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya has now subpoenaed her emails, and Clinton said last night that she has asked the State Department to review the emails that her aides provided to the department and release them to the public.  Clinton’s defenders say there is no evidence that she acted with ill intent, and note that other politicians have used personal email accounts.

So, should we care about this incident?  I think we should, for three reasons.  First, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for us to expect high-ranking public officials like the U.S. Secretary of State to comply with federal law.  I don’t buy the “other people did it too” defense, and saying Clinton wasn’t a conscious lawbreaker is about as lame a justification as you can concoct.  Is the fact that the senior member of the President’s Cabinet apparently was unaware of basic rules of federal record-keeping really helpful to her?  Was she ignorant of and non-compliant with other rules set by federal law, too?

Second, where were Clinton’s aides and other State Department officials and federal officials in all of this?  When they started to get email from her personal email address, didn’t they raise the issue of her non-compliance with federal law — or all they all blissfully ignorant of the Federal Records Act, too?  Are federal employees simply not trained in straightforward administrative requirements of federal law, or were they afraid to raise the issue of Clinton’s non-compliance because they worried about the reaction?

Third, the rules set by the Federal Records Act are important, and aren’t just another set of inexplicable red-tape requirements in the byzantine mass of federal regulations.  Storage of all communications by federal employees in federal departments means that records of those communications will be archived and readily available in the event the activities of the employee are investigated.  The employee won’t get to pick and choose which records will be accessible and thereby tailor the story to make themselves look good.

More importantly, in this world of constant data breaches, storage of official email on personal servers is asking for trouble.  Perhaps the Clintons have the most well-staffed, advanced IT section in the world constantly safeguarding their personal server from attack, but I’d rather trust the federal government to keep the Secretary of State’s confidential communications with the President and foreign leaders secure from the hackers.  Are we really confident that malignant foreign governments didn’t plant malware in the Clinton server and obtain real-time access to her communications?  Clinton’s decision to conduct official business on a personal email account strikes me as both naive and extremely reckless — which aren’t exactly qualities I’m looking for in a presidential candidate.