Oh My! Oh My!

The royal/populist ”we” of Trump’s inaugural address was amazingly bettered (or worsted) the very next day at the CIA when Trump, ignoring the Women’s March, sank to an all-time low by wallowing in complaints about media reports on the size of his inauguration crowd. He touched on ISIS and barely mouthed tribute to the fallen, but his focus was on the media, which he tried to blame for his insults to the intelligence community.

The core of the meeting was Trump’s unconstrained anger at having been slighted by the (accurate!) reports of a smallish crowd at the inauguration. This bodes VERY badly!

If there had been a real a problem with the crowd reports, he should have completely left the subject to others to deal with. PRESIDENTS DO NOT DEAL WITH CROWD SIZES!

At the same time, Trump’s press secretary was making a horrible mess of the same issue in his very first official meeting with the Press in the WHITE HOUSE.

And Kellyanne Conway came up with a weird new explanation of “alternative facts” right out of 1984?

Subjects like that should be left to technicians and commentators.

Because the president is such an extreme narcissist that he simply cannot help himself from stepping into such kinds of mess, more of this behavior must be expected and protected against.

It is simply amazing that Trump could not see the damage he was doing to himself and his day-old presidency.

Trump is in office and, as the Washington Post said in its headline, IN POWER, but ours is a system founded on the basic principle of not giving ultimate, unfettered POWER to a president.

Now that he his sickness is fully revealed for the world to see, we must accept the reality that Trump cannot manage himself and BE presidential.

The moment has come for all the leaders of Congress and the Courts to begin to deliberately and carefully surround him with cordons, to protect him and ALL the American people, including those who may not fully grasp this point but will also be harmed when he goes astray.

The damage he can do to trade, military/diplomacy, and our social fabric—even with protective cordons around him—is very substantial.

“WE” the people he invoked in his inaugural address must act fast now that we can see that he has not changed on becoming president, as some of us had been hoping against hope.

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January 20, 2017 vs. January 20, 1977

I first met Jimmy Carter in the fall of 1974, at a luncheon in the Smithsonian Castle. I knew no one there, so when I saw a man sitting alone, I quickly slid in across from him.

“I’m Frank Weil,” I said.

“Jimmy Carter.”

“You were governor of Georgia,” I declared, proud of having remembered.

“No, I am governor of Georgia,” he replied.

Luckily Carter forgot or forgave me, and I found myself in Washington on the day of his inauguration, not having a clue what I was doing, but excited at the thought of what could be accomplished in the next four years. I was no worshipper of Carter, but I had a personal reason to be excited. I was not in DC for vacation, but for work. A few days earlier, I had been contacted about a position in the Commerce Department—Assistant Secretary for International Trade—and had accepted.

I had been fascinated by government ever since I was a boy and FDR had been my idol. So when I received the call to serve, I responded eagerly. The problems with American trade, I knew from my years of doing investment deals in Europe, Japan, Israel, and Central America, were numerous. Finally, I thought, I would be able to help fix them.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I was well trained and had significant experience in law and finance, but it took me about a year to even figure out where I was. I had to learn to speak the new language of government jargon, deal with the bizarre internal politics that govern personnel and budget matters, and understand who the players in our administration and foreign governments were, all while giving public addresses three to five times a week. I was still young, even spry, but my three years in government service left me exhausted, with what felt like a permanent case of jet lag.

Forty years later, I think back on my arrival in Washington, and wonder what the incoming presidential appointees must be thinking.

I have known Wilbur Ross, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Commerce, for over twenty years. Though we differ on trade policy, I reached out a few weeks back and offered to share my perspective on the department that he will soon be running. He politely deflected my offer, and I began to worry for him. Ross is a smart guy, but he is 79 and has no experience in government. He will have to do the same learning I did in my forties (or more!) and it concerns me that he seemed uninterested in hearing a known and experienced perspective on the department

In fact, I suspect that almost all of Trump’s Cabinet will be defeated by the same difficulties that stood in the way of my own attempts to make progress—the culture of incrementalism, the petty feuds between departments, and the lifetime civil servants who look at you with glazed eyes and think “This too shall pass”.

The protections for civil servants are strong. I once tried to fire one civil servant who worked under me, and eighteen months later, surrendered and never tried again. Though Trump and his appointees may want to purge the executive branch to bring in loyalists and cronies, they will likely be largely unsuccessful. The institutional memories of the Federal Triangle will survive a Trump administration, and the unelected men and women who make up the bulk of the federal government will likely do their best to keep the country on track—though they really are apolitical.

Almost all of Trump’s cabinet appointees have either displayed shocking ignorance about areas under the purview of their department (DeVoss, Carson) or openly contradicted the president-elect (Tillerson, Mattis) during the hearings of the last two weeks. It seems likely at the moment that the Trump administration will be too chaotic to be effective and too stubborn to learn.

If there is hope for preventing excessive bad stuff in the next few years, it may come more from the civil servants surrounding Trump’s appointees than anywhere else. They know their departments much better than almost any incoming secretaries and may be able to do more to steer the details of federal policy than Trump’s appointees, who will have to struggle in the sea of civil service molasses into which they are about to dive.

If you think the Republican Congress did a good job at stymying the Obama administration for eight years, keep an eye on the machinations of the cabinet, subcabinet, and the army of civil servants who will surround them during the next four years.

Trump’s Inauguration Speech – Tweet Style

[compliments of Twitter and Donald J Twumper]

  1. TO my friends, welcome—to everyone else hello. We are all still amazed I am here today—to begin Making America Great Again
  2. I promise that whatever you wished for when you voted for me for President you will get soon, regardless of how great America was before.
  3. I promise you that you will also see my tax returns as soon as I can settle my disputes with the IRS—no kidding—and no redactions
  4. I have big plans for the future—Peace Forever—Prosperity Everywhere—Jobs for Everyone—Trump Brand and royalties from all over the world
  5. Our friends, beginning with Russia, will get all they want and need because they know I will do the same for them—believe me
  6. The bad guys will all be careful with us because I will keep them guessing all the time—believe me this is the way to tame our world
  7. We will keep all strangers out of harm’s way because that is the way to stop everyone from doing bad things—out of harm’s way means OUT
  8. Health insurance for everyone is a cinch, believe me—my word is law. Too many greedy hands in the pot—will cut off fingers here and there
  9. Trade is a fool’s paradise—compared to real estate it takes no brains—as long as we are and remain #1, there can be no bad trade deals
  10. Conflicts are fake news baloney—you, the public, do not care—and why would I want to make even more money at the country’s expense?
  11. Honesty is always the best policy—I did tell the head of Boeing that it is important to see my name on Air Force One—he said SURE
  12. Mexico is our southern neighbor—I love Hispanics because they arouse so much interest—see who pays for the wall
  13. I bought the best cabinet that money could buy—they are free to do what they want as long as it is what I want—GREATEST Team EVER!
  14. Congress is important and they are in my pocket—when I tell them to produce, believe me they will—or else. Idiots all of them
  15. My success  in politics will be like my business—about half pure luck—so I will give this job about half of my time—less at risk
  16. The next four years will be the best years of our lives—especially if you will relax and trust me, like all the women in my life!

_________________________________________________________________

This Inauguration speech is the shortest in history—shorter than the Gettysburg Address – Lincoln would love me.

Sixteen sweet TWEETS strung together to give the country everything I know and that it needs to know!

Does the Obama Message Below Parse with the Trump Message?

This is the Obama White House last message to friends. These are all indisputable FACTS and FIGURES.

The BIG failure of Obama was simply that he never really got this message across to the country at large.

It is not enough in politics to be right; a President has to make those facts known and understood.

It is also too bad that the Democratic candidate this year was also unable to convey this message effectively.

Now we have to depend on moderates in both houses of Congress to avoid the traps that will spring  hard on all of us if Twitter and Twumper seek to ruin the country.

OBAMA WHITE HOUSE PRESS OFFICE

Progress — Legacy

Eight years ago, America hovered on the brink of a second Great Depression. We were losing hundreds of thousands of jobs each month — nearly 800,000 in the month President Obama took office alone.

Millions of Americans had lost their homes. Millions more saw hard-earned savings vanish. The auto industry was on the verge of collapse.

But today, the American economy has recovered from recession, American leadership in the world is stronger than ever, and we’ve made lasting strides toward a more perfect union.

We’ve come a long way:

  • The unemployment rate was on its way to ten percent.  Today, it’s at 4.7 percent.
  • We’ve seen the longest streak of job growth on record.  And wages have grown faster over the past few years than at any time in the past forty.
  • Back then, 44 million Americans were uninsured.  Today, we’ve covered more than 20 million adults who weren’t covered before.  On top of that, more than 3 million additional children have health insurance than in 2008, thanks in large part to the ACA and other actions taken by the Administration.  The nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever.
  • We’ve cut our dependence on foreign oil by more than half, doubled production of renewable energy, and enacted the most sweeping reforms since FDR to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from punishing Main Street ever again.
  • These actions didn’t stifle growth, as critics predicted.  Instead, the stock market has nearly tripled.  Since the President signed Obamacare into law, America’s businesses have added nearly 16 million new jobs.  And the economy is more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money.
  • In 2015, the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost fifty years while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record.
  • In fact, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top.
  • And we’ve done it all while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds and protecting investments that grow the middle class.
  • Since taking office, the President has protected more than 550 million acres of America’s public lands and waters, including the creation of the largest marine protected area in the world.
  • Nearly 180,000 of our brave troops were serving in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and bin Laden remained at large when the President took office.
  • Today, we’ve drawn down to just 15,000.  They took bin Laden and thousands of other terrorists off the battlefield.  And over the past eight years, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed an attack in the U.S.
  • Through diplomacy, we ensured that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon, we opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba, and we brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could save this planet for our kids.
  • And almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago.
  • By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started – a situation the President is proud to leave for his successor.  And it’s thanks to the grit and determination of the American people that we’ve come so far.

Is There a Connection Between Biological and Social Evolution?

Believe it or not, my family’s conversation, including three teen agers, over Xmas dinner was not about politics or even the snow falling heavily outside in Wyoming. Rather, we discussed evolution, mutation, and the startling degrees of change and variation of life on earth.

As all conversations about evolution inevitably do, ours turned to Darwin’s finches. Due to the selection pressures that arise from limited resources, random mutations in the finches’ genes gave rise to many different species with a surprising variety of beak size and shape. But how could such a process account for the disappearance of the human tail? It is still a question I would like answered!

Given my insatiable curiosity, our discussion of evolution led me to wonder whether there might be some connection between physical evolution and how human societies evolve.

Though social change appears to move at a glacial speed, social evolution in fact occurs at blistering speeds when compared to biological evolution.

The first hundred years of American history saw a horrific civil war fought largely on horseback. The second hundred years included two global wars, in which tanks, planes, and modern weaponry killed people on an unprecedented scale. I worry about what might occur in the next hundred years of humanity.

During our Civil War, the fickle finger of fate pointed at Abraham Lincoln as both a tough guy and savior. That same fickle finger gave us Adolf Hitler, but also Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Dwight D. Eisenhower. The seemingly random rise of human leaders surely has something to do with the course of history, but from within that history, it is often difficult to see the way forward. Are we currently simply stumbling our way into new problems, or are we marching in some inevitable way into the future?

Humans tend not to think of themselves in terms of biological evolution. Our species’ survival now appears to rest on our ability to socially evolve in a rational, well-informed way: to save the environment and avoid conflict, to be rational, temperate and wise.

Trump’s rise—during which random terror, volatility, and apparent lack of understanding have seemed to reign—may risk ushering in the next great human catastrophe.

Nature by itself might not save us.

We just may have to save ourselves.

HOW?

The People on the Front Line of a Service Economy?

About half of Americans take airplanes and trains with some regularity, see doctors or visit hospitals several times a year, and deal with hotels or rental car companies whenever we travel. One major problem is untangling the seemingly constant difficulty of dealing with the “front line” of people who are the human interface for all the services we depend on. For example, almost everyone who is reading this has encountered a problem in booking a hotel room, changing an airline reservation, or getting an appointment with a doctor.

For example, someone I know recently went into a Marriott hotel in New York City and asked to book a small suite for a two-week period. My friend was asked if they had a reservation. The answer was no, but my friend wanted to make one. The response was too bad; apparently, you can only  reserve/book online. The potential guest asked if the clerk could help with that, but the answer was simply “No”. When my friend asked to speak to the manager, the clerk initially refused, arguing that the manager would say the same thing.

Of course, when the manager finally appeared, the problem was solved  immediately. “Of course I can help you,” he said, and immediately got to work. When asked about the clerk’s obstinate refusal to help? “They are hard to train and manage; believe me, I struggle with this daily.”

(1) Why did this problem arise? (2) How did we get to this point? (3) What is the future of these service industry jobs, if current trends hold? (4) What can be done to solve the problem and improve these interactions for all?

(1) The problem seems to arise from many causes.

–Service workers are often poorly trained in the human relations aspect of service businesses;

–Workers are hamstrung with corporate rules and regulations that severely restrict their initiative or independence;

–Workers are entirely dependent on the rigid computers they use, which dictate what they are allowed to do.

(2) How did this type of thing come about?

–We have had things generally so good overall for a long time that people have gotten spoiled;

–The educational system does a poor job of preparing young people for jobs in a competitive service economy;

–The jobs are dumbed down so much that workers simply stop thinking and do not take any initiative or risk;

— There is zero incentive to make any effort to earn incremental revenue for the business;

–The clerks often think they are doing customers a favor to speak to them at all.

(3) Where is this problem headed?

–The geniuses who design the computer systems that these “front line” people use will try harder and harder to work around human deficiencies. In the process they are likely to dig the service hole deeper and wider.

–The basic problem is not within their computer systems but with the humans who are given less and less responsibility and flexibility. And, until that is addressed, the problem is likely to compound.

(4) What can be done?

–Better describe and measure the overall problem and quantify the costs that the problem imposes on individual enterprises and the economy as a whole.

–Integrate service better with the educational system to improve youngsters’ understanding of the economy at large, which needs more service employees than industrial ones.

–Help the “front line” people understand that their real job is to help increase revenues, to decrease frustration, and to ultimately overall improve service and profits.

Trying to eliminate the human involvement simply with computer solutions is likely to make the overall problem worse because many people (even young ones) have a hard time with computers.

This whole type of widespread problem surely has a real effect on the overall mood of the country as well as the political views of a large portion of our population—FRUSTRATION.

This may also be another outgrowth of the widening overall social media disease syndrome.

Modern Presidential Elections Need Fixes

Throughout history, the political process has evolved from the specific vision of the Founders. It should be clear that there is no binding tradition of resting forever on ‘original intent’.

Uncodified norms have always played a powerful role in American political life, but whenever a norm is revealed to have less force than had been believed, our system has done an excellent job of formalizing those norms into the laws of our country. Take, for example, the Twenty-Second Amendment, which made the “two-term tradition” legally binding, and was passed three years after FDR’s election to a fourth consecutive term.

Therefore, after this year’s election, we should feel good about making a few simple fixes to improve Presidential elections in the future, particularly in the cases in which shattering our political norms proved to have no consequences.

Fix 1— We must institutionalize the practice of all presidential candidates disclosing—regardless of audits, entanglements, etc.—their complete tax returns for the past 20 years. Every major-party presidential nominee since Carter has released their tax returns, but Trump’s election has proven that norm to lack force, though it serves an important purpose.

Fix 2—All candidates must submit to Congressionally approved bi- partisan groups of independent physicians for examinations physically and mentally. Much depends on a President’s ability to perform the duties of the office for four years. Recall the passage of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment (which controls Presidential succession in the case of illness) in the wake of Woodrow Wilson’s stroke. We have yet to see consequences of Trump’s decision to use a sycophant as a physician, but he is not only the oldest president ever, but one who is either quite nearly obese or well over the line. Regardless of Trump’s physical fitness, the danger his poor health poses should force us to reevaluate our decision to leave the “doctor’s note” in the realm of tradition.

Fix 3—All candidates must agree to abide by the same rules of conflicts of interest, disclosure and prohibitions, as required for all employees of the executive branch. Also, where appropriate, they must agree to divest, if elected, all interests in businesses and properties regardless of possible conflicts and have their assets managed by blind trusts. Trump has again flouted this norm, apparently claiming that he cannot have a conflict of interest and arguing that transferring his holding to his children is comparable to selling his assets and putting the proceeds into a blind trust. However, yesterday’s decision to gut the Congressional Ethics Office gives me little confidence that this will come to pass under the current administration.

Fix 4—Current nepotism laws have never been tested in the way the Trump administration might test them, and so the current legal gray area is largely governed by informal norms. It would hardly be difficult to make it illegal for a president to appoint close family members to positions of authority and we should do so. Nothing shall, however, prohibit a President from seeking advice from any person at any time.

Fix 5—In the event a candidate for President wins a majority of the Electoral College, but loses the national popular vote by more than 500,000 votes, there shall be a national runoff vote within 30 days between the two leading candidates. The winner of the electoral votes in that redone election will be the next President, thus obviating any need to seek a Constitutional amendment with respect to the Electoral College which will still determine the election. In the last 100 years, there have only been two Popular Vote-Electoral College splits, and it is vital for an incoming president to recognize that he was not favored by even a plurality of Americans. Given that there is no formal way to deny such a president the powers of a president with a less dubious election, we must make it impossible for it to occur again if we want to bridge the ever-widening political divides in this country.

Fix 6—The determination of Congressional Districts must be revised to minimize partisan gerrymandering. This requirement can be imposed by Congress because those elections are for Federal office. In this digital age, it is possible to create algorithms which can dispassionately and apolitically draw district boundaries in such a way as to ensure that each state’s populations are distributed, randomly but fairly, into districts which reasonably represent the distribution of the overall population of the respective States. The present system in which the various state parties draw lines to bunch population into tortured geographic districts is conducive to divisive politics instead of collaborative politics and creates counterproductive tensions in lawmaking.

Fix 7—Limit all formal political activities and fund raising until January First of a presidential election year. It should be a president’s job to govern, not to campaign, and the seemingly endless nature of a modern presidential campaign can lead to political fatigue and cause the populace to disengage from the political process, which is dangerous in a democracy.

These seven fixes need a reasonable amount of public political will and could almost certainly be achieved by bipartisan legislative action in relatively short order.

All citizens of all political parties will come out winners regardless of party membership.

And the underlying cornerstone of democracy—the public will—can achieve a renewed breath of life.