• The Akron Beacon Journal, Nov. 19
Rex Tillerson has embarked on a “redesign” of the State Department. The secretary of state seeks efficiencies, a streamlined staff and, ideally, improved responsiveness. The effort has not been going well, as many news accounts indicate. Now members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, are raising concerns.
The American Foreign Service Association reports that leading career officers have been leaving at alarming levels, 42 percent at the level below ambassadors. More, the freeze has brought a dramatic drop in entry-level hires, those new foreign-service officers who start accumulating expertise and experience.
Meanwhile, nominations for undersecretaries and assistant secretaries have been slow to arrive, many positions still vacant.
The president declared about the role of the State Department, “I’m the only one that matters, because when it comes to it, that’s what the policy is going to be.”
What the president doesn’t seem to grasp is that the department is there to help in understanding and decision-making. It has performed that task for administrations of both parties, professionals first serving their country. Consider almost any current area of concern, the Middle East, China, North Korea, yes, Russia, and the department offers unique and essential skills.
Unfortunately, the diplomatic ranks are depleted. Department morale is low. Much of the problem stems from the president. Yet Tillerson has contributed, his pursuit of a redesign diminishing the diplomatic corps, as his relationship with the president suffers.
• The Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 20
The announced Republican and Democratic candidates for Ohio secretary of state both say they want state campaign-finance law changed so that the public knows exactly which companies give money to political campaigns. That’s great, but it’ll be up to voters to insist the winner of that office follows through.
In this era of election mega-spending by corporations, voters need to know where the money is coming from if they wish to judge a campaign’s message. State and federal campaign laws allow donors to hide behind limited-liability corporations (LLCs) created for the express purpose of accepting and passing on political contributions. That needs to stop.
So-called “dark money” has exploded in national politics since U.S. Supreme Court decisions loosened restrictions on corporate donation to political campaigns. Ohio saw its first use in the just-passed election, by big drug companies that opposed Issue 2, a ballot issue aimed at imposing artificial price controls on state drug purchases.
Ohio’s next secretary of state should work with the legislature to shine the light of transparency on dark money.
• The Marietta Times, Nov. 18
Suicide rates for teenagers increased substantially from 2010-15, at the same time use of social media by young people shot up. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study hints the two phenomena may be linked.
It would be foolish to suggest, based on this one study, that social media is inherently dangerous. Clearly, much more needs to be learned about how the technology affects us in many ways.
Social media in all its forms amounts only to new ways of communicating, after all. That ought to be a good thing.
Still, more needs to be known about whether there is a link between use of social media and emotional turmoil so severe it leads a young person to take his or her life. If there is a solid link, more needs to be known about specific, effective methods of counteracting any pernicious influence.
Ironically, the problem always has been failure to connect with other people. The solution is the most effective, if sometimes difficult, method of communication ever invented. It is talking, face to face, between those in emotional turmoil and others who care for them.