NYTimes misses Trump story, finds “shiny object”…

The New York Times nailed it and then went on to another tale of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (and Presidents).” Tell me when presidents and rich people didn’t meet.  From the New York Times article here on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club: (italics mine)

Mar-a-Lago has never been snooty in the manner of some private clubs in Palm Beach; under Mr. Trump, it has long welcomed Jews, gay couples, Republicans and Democrats. (So long as they could afford the entry fee, that is: Mar-a-Lago doubled that fee to $200,000 shortly after Mr. Trump was elected; members also pay $14,000 annual dues.) Mr. Trump spent years populating his club with people rejected by rival clubs, while also urging his friends to join.

@realDonaldTrump wasn’t, no matter how successful he became, “good enough” to be admitted to the best social circles, most exclusive clubs, “he don’t get no respect.” He attacks elites for failing to recognize his value.

He’s shown them!

Are you surprised that he decided the best way to “beat the system” was to vault over it into the presidency where he would have to be taken seriously?

Are you surprised that many decent hard-working blue- and white-collar American families found his disdain for “elites” described their own sense of having found “the system” rigged to deny them the fruits of their compliance only to see others, unlike them in opportunity and metier, enjoy them?

Are you surprised that they are enjoying his “sticking it to the elites?” Has he done things they don’t like? Sure they disagree on some specifics but the large argument of “smacking down” the “superior” types is deeply satisfying to them, just as it is to him.

Hillary Clinton went to Wellesley and Yale Law School, Bill to Georgetown, Yale Law School, and Oxford. The Obamas to Columbia, Princeton, and Harvard Law School. Had they chosen business or a profession, they would be the well-compensated types a Donald Trump might hire to help him build a billion-dollar-plus business. He’d be the brains and boss at the top, taking or rejecting their advice.

It’s understood that Trump appeals to a “rage” among his supporters. At a much higher economic and visible level of success than they’ve achieved, he understands what it is to find that some other group is enjoying the benefits he expected and earned.

But no one can ignore the POTUS, president of the United States, not even those elites who’ve treated him arrogantly and condescended to him. (Before you say that he “inherited” his success, ask how many others have done as well with what they were given.)

This is, of course, speculation. It’s been a long time since I knew anything about the hierarchy of clubs in Palm Beach and New York, and I do not know Trump’s memberships. Still, even if he broke through old bounds, his sense of his victimhood (they took forever to invite him to apply?) and lashing out at those he perceives to be enemies makes me think there is more to this than I’ve seen explored.

Donald Trump is the kid from Queens who couldn’t gain acceptance to the real estate royalty of Manhattan. He is the successful deal-maker who wasn’t invited into the top New York clubs.

He is the “white knight rescuer” of “Mar-a-Lago.” It became a “white elephant” after the National Park Service and the Town of Palm Beach found they had no use for it and could not afford to keep it. He got a good deal and made a club out of it for, among others, social outcasts like himself.

He probably wasn’t invited to join the Bath & Tennis Club, Everglades Club, or the Palm Beach Country Club (membership there may still require a review of the applicant’s record of philanthropy).

(If I’m right, he’s enjoying the discomfort at the Bath & Tennis which is across the curve from Mar-a-Lago to the south. All that traffic, security, and hoopla created by his being president can’t go down well at the B&T.)

Does understanding all this make anything any better? Only if those who cannot imagine his presidency become more strategic in dealing with him. Only if his opposition recognizes that racist bigots are not a big enough group to have elected him. Some of their neighbors did too. Only if the media becomes more adroit in determining which tweets to cover seriously.

Only if, the biggest “if” of all, the opposition takes stock of its relationship to all those people it has been dismissing lightly for a long time.

I’m not optimistic about that.

And, I’m not optimistic that his smackdown of the elites will bring him the satisfaction he seeks.

Executive Orders and Directives Trump Might Modify or Rescind, based on his comments (Reference documents from Lawfareblog.com)

Since the election Lawfareblog co-founder Bobby Chesney has posted two articles under the heading “Annals of the Trump Administration” that are handy references -or checklists if you wish- for executive orders and presidential directives that President Trump might change or rescind, based on his campaign statements.  I thought you might find them as valuable as I do.

The first deals with interrogation:

“…given candidate Trump’s repeated endorsements of waterboarding or worse, it seems very likely that sometime next January we’ll see action repealing President Obama’s executive order 13491 (“Ensuring Lawful Interrogation“), accompanied by renewed talk of taking the gloves off when it comes to interrogation.”

The second includes interrogation, Guantanamo, signals intelligence, and policy on terrorist targeting.  Here is an example of the kinds of questions raised:

“Section 3(c) of 13491 bars reliance on Bush-era Justice Department interpretations of interrogation-related federal statutes and treaties (you know the ones).  Will a revocation order from Trump explicitly reinstate the authority of those memos?”

I cannot commend Lawfareblog to you highly enough.  National Security and the issues surrounding it lead me to read it daily.  Along with reading Just Security, my other “go-to” site for similar issues, it is as routine for me to read it as to drink my coffee while doing so.

While it is “lawyerly” and scholarly, it is only rarely inaccessible to a lay person.  It has won my interest because it takes a more thoughtful approach to my issues.  My biases run much more toward civil liberties and retaining “speed bumps” for the government in its dealings with individuals but I’ve found most of the civil liberties sites to be more “hair on fire” commentary and less scholarly than I can take regularly without spilling coffee on my computer.

I impose my civil liberties skepticism on articles from time to time while I enjoy them all the time.  You might enjoy the site; it contains a growing array of subject fields related to national security, understood broadly.

I thank Ben Wittes, editor, for permission to make these available through this blog.

Romney as Secretary of State = Colin Powell as Secretary of State?

With Flynn as National Security Advisor and Pompeo as CIA Director, Romney would be neutralized quickly, it would be an appoint made “for show”.

How can Romney, were he to agree to becoming Secretary of State, avoid, either from the outset or soon thereafter, the fate of Colin Powell in the same position?

I hope, if the offer is made and Romney is interested, he waits to see who the Secretary of Defense is to be along with other members of the new national security apparatus.

I’m a Democrat and did not vote for Romney; that said, I do think he’s sane and decent.  I’m not so sure about the group he may be joining.  He should preserve his reputation as a public servant.

So You Want to Wear a Safety Pin

Are you really ready to wear a safety pin?

What a Witch


Great. This is a necessary behavior in the face of the election of the most overtly racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti- gender and sexual minority candidate in the history of the modern United States. You know the rhetoric of his campaign was wrong. It was the very worst thing about America and you want to do what you can to combat the result. Good. Do that.

But don’t do it without a plan. Because the very last thing a tense situation needs is someone full of good intentions but with no knowledge of de-escalation tactics or self-defense. Your intentions are not a tangible shield. If you don’t make a plan, you will get yourself or the person you are trying to defend very killed.

Let’s avoid that.

So make a plan.

Some of you can stop reading now. You have, or know how to make a plan and you don’t need…

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US Intelligence Community as campaign fact-checker…Not a good idea

“A senior U.S. intelligence official assured NBC News that cybersecurity and the Russian government’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 election have been briefed to, and discussed extensively with, both parties’ candidates, surrogates and leadership, since mid-August. “To profess not to know at this point is willful misrepresentation,” said the official. “The intelligence community has walked a very thin line in not taking sides, but both candidates have all the information they need to be crystal clear.”

Trump Told Russia To Blame for Hacks Long Before Debate – NBC News

For all my grumbles about the US Intelligence Community, I take for granted that it has matchless sources for the information it produces.  In addition to the sources that are secret, it has access to all public information.  That means that what it says it knows is likely to be true, subject only to some very sophisticated states or people who know how to deceive it.  I suspect there are few who can.

I take what it reports, even when it falls short of a full-throated assertion, to be as close to the truth as I am going to find.

Why not use the IC to check facts and correct the record of campaign statements?

Sounds attractive.  None of the fact-checking sites and sources can compete with it.  So why not, at last, know as much of the story behind any campaign statements as we can know to make an informed choice?

This is a bad leak and, as it reads, likely a high-level leak, designed to defend its briefings against any charge that they were insufficient, untimely, or lacking authority.  That’s not an acceptable position for a largely secret community to take.  I understand it, maybe better in this election than I would have in past ones which weren’t as “fact-free” as this one seems to be.  But we can’t have it.

The IC is not there for domestic political use, however useful it might be.  Its purposes are governmental.  We have an interest in truthful campaign assertions; we have an even greater interest in governmental organizations not charged with electoral responsibilities staying out of them.  Preserving their independence of electoral politics is absolutely essential to preserving their value to us no matter who holds public office.

The role of the IC is a part of the government’s role in defense (external and internal) of the nation; neither it nor we are well-served when it publicly defends itself.


Raisins, Regret and Inderol 

If you believe, as I do, that fact should be the basis for who gets your vote, read this blog and, by all means, watch all of this John Oliver video before watching the debate tonight.

The Confluence

Tonight’s the big night. Is everyone ready? You could be forgiven for thinking this is the fight of the century between Frazier and Ali. The pre-game show starts at 4PM on CNN. That’s four hours before the debate. Yes, it is overkill.

I’m having a debate watching party at my house. So, there probably isn’t going to be a live blog. We’ll see.

The bar is set so low for Trump that all he has to do is show up dressed nicely and not do his hyperactive, “policeman between brain and mouth at donut shop” routine and he should come out looking Presidential. Oh please.

If I were Kellyanne Conway, I would have gotten him a prescription for inderol, a beta blocker that can help with performance anxiety. Keeps your heart rate niiiiice and steady. That may be what keeps him from flying off the handle.

Someone in the media…

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Please, media and public, give me a break! Let’s abandon a bad standard…no, make that two bad standards…”Bad optics,” “Caesar’s Wife,” “Above suspicion,” “Conflicts of Interest”… and then there’s “buying access.”


What we don’t know:

1.    Whether there was any “pay to play” issue. Did Hillary Clinton act officially to change or keep any policy or practice under her purview because of a gift to the Clinton Foundation?

2.    Assuming something changed (or didn’t change but otherwise would have), did it result from the gift or prospect of a gift.

3.    Is anything that occurred, within the range of current political debate, a change that is in or contrary to the public interest.

The rest is confetti.  The rest is about how people “feel” about Hillary Clinton.*  Nothing about the standards above provides information about whether those feelings ought to change because of any action or inaction on her part.

“Bad optics” of the issue don’t matter as a sign of how a candidate might behave in office.  In the contested judgements about what is in “the public interest” there is nothing “definitive” of the truth. There simply are no “final truths” about any public policy, only clues about future behavior in office.

A confession:  Sometimes when looking at a picture of a dead rat, I just can’t shift perspectives to see the red rose in the middle, even when I’ve been told it is there.

“Optics” summarizes the problem; optics are only optics.  Optical illusions fascinate us all but they are illusions.

If “Caesar’s Wife” didn’t do anything outside the standards for a Roman “happy marriage,” he shouldn’t have divorced her.  (Note that the historical authority from this well-known phrase has a misogynistic character.  Nobody asks if Caesar should be “above suspicion.”)

“Above suspicion” isn’t even possible if an official does nothing.  Inaction is action in behalf of the status quo. There are always voices opposed to the status quo and suspicious of those who, by inaction or action, preserve it.

“Conflict of interests” is no standard either.  Many relationships appearing to be conflicts are actually congruencies of interests.  Not all agreements between people holding different interests in a topic are in conflict.

There is, despite protests from outside parties, no necessary conflict between appointing public representatives to a regulatory board and representatives of the interests regulated.  Indeed, if public representatives are not thoroughly versed in the details, large and small, of what they are regulating, representatives of that interest are essential to understanding the regulatory impact.

An example:  I really don’t want my credit card to be “cloned” when I use it in an ATM when I’m getting cash or on one of those devices on a merchant’s counter to make it easy to charge my purchases.  If it is, I’ll likely “scream bloody murder” while saying “somebody do something about this!”

I’ll add my voice to others wanting to see these devices made more secure and those who use them required to take security steps.  A board set up to determine what to do might rightly ask me to serve.  Given what I don’t know about technology and the ins-and-outs of banking electronically, it might rightly include a vendor of security products and a technology expert at a bank.  The one might be seeking business (probably is) and the bank might be seeking to limit costs and liabilities (probably is).  Without them, there is not likely to be any sensible solution reached.

Ideally, each side of the subject will learn from the other and together they will find ways to accommodate each other in a constructive result.  If the ideal is not met and the two sides find themselves at loggerheads there may be no result.  Sometime in the future, some group will find a workable solution if the problem persists.

An example of potential vs. perceived “conflict of interest” may be in order:  If a publicly supported charity has a building project and buys the supplies from a board member exclusively and without bidding, a first reaction may be that there is a conflict between the interests of the board member and the good of the organization.

Yet it is often the case that the board member has offered to provide the supplies to the charity at his cost, a gift of the profit that would be made by the lowest bidder if bids were taken.  That is a “congruency of interests,” although you won’t hear the term often (if ever, before reading this).  If a lawyer, accountant or other professional offers his or her free services to a charity, that is a gift and his retention represents no conflict.  Charitable organizations often seek out “congruencies of interests.”  They’re helpful.
“Networking,” something every career self-help book recommends as basic to success in any common endeavor and every politician knows is vital to his or her success, is the aggressive seeking of potential “conflicts of interest.”  Reaching out to those whose interests in a topic are congruent with one’s own may involve the discovery of other interests in conflict; people weigh their interests and perspectives as they decide whether to support or oppose any given request.  The old book How Yellow is Your Parachute points out that most jobs come through personal connections, not want-ads.

Just think:  How desirable is the “no-brainer?”  It is the chance to do a favor that costs one nothing but ingratiates the person requesting it.  Faced with a request, most of us are inclined to say “yes” if we can.

“Buying access,” the second standard to abandon:  What bothers us is the sense of “privileged access.”

It is a commonplace that “access” to officials and organizations can be “bought,” at least one way or another. The “currency” used to buy access is often the real “secret.”  There are many currencies in use; sometimes currencies are combined to fortify their appeal.

1.     Cash:  Straightforward gift of cash to an official, usually considered to be a matter of “corruption” in the law, does happen.  Cash to a re-election campaign fund is regulated “lightly,” to say the least, as is use of those funds.  Cash used to set up a fund to advertise for or against a candidate is another use of cash for access.
2.    Opportunities:  Investment opportunities, loans, stock tips (to be legal, these could not be “insider” tips but may come from very well-informed sources).
3.    Influence: “I’ll get X to do Y for you by putting in a good word.”  If X wouldn’t do what you want otherwise, and what you want is really important to you, this will likely buy the promisor and X future access.
4.    Friendship or at least familiarity:  An official has known someone favorably, or at least not unfavorably, for some time and knows of a connection to his or her cause that could be helpful.  A simple request for help is all that’s required.  If the request is granted, a sense of obligation to help the friend in the future, even if it is unspoken, is created.  Access was and remains a “given” of the relationship.  Note too that even the best funded of “cash” influence groups recruit former members of congress to lobby congress; they play upon friendships already established and interests already known to add value to “cash.”

5.    Common interest:  An official knows that another person shares his or her interest in a subject.  A request for help is made.  It is granted or not as the situation dictates.  Access in the future is likely to be easier.

None of these are different from transactions all of us make from time to time.

1.    We pay for things we want that are legal for us to want.  If we are caught paying for things that are illegal we will be punished, formally or informally.

2.    We find opportunities opened up for us by relationships we have.  Our trusted brother-in-law (not the other one) is close to a car dealer who will give us a good deal.

3.    A teacher offers to write us a recommendation to graduate school at a place where his old college roommate is dean.  A fellow student on the student council offers to put your name in nomination for an award.

4.    A friend or the guy whose locker is next to yours at the gym knows the manager of the gym and will put in a word for your son to be a life-guard this summer.

All of these create new paths of access.

From the moment they happen we know someone better and know whether or not we can go back to them; we also know we will take a call from them and, if we can, grant them a favor.

The real complaint with “access” to officials is our sense that “we, the people,” don’t have it because others have “bought” it.  

We are strangers to those who presume to serve us.  That’s often true; there are more people seeking access than can get it.  Public officials can’t meet with everyone who would like to meet with them.  Just try to meet with your congressperson if they don’t know you.  Or, consider the salesman who must make “cold calls.”  An intermediary or a gift would make the call “warmer” even if it were ultimately unsuccessful.

You may, by this time, think that my message is “move along here, nothing to see here.” I’m only saying one of those things: “move along” and look for more revealing standards than the ones mentioned here.

You cannot rely on those at the front of the crowd yelling “fire,” the media.  You cannot rely on politicians to “give it to you straight” even when they say they are.  You cannot expect that people will not choose the familiar over the unfamiliar, the old friend over the stranger approaching on the street.

“It’s on us!”  You (we) must really look – I would say that as a citizen we are obliged to look – to see if there is, in fact, a fire, not just smoke.  “Bad optics,” “Caesar’s Wife,” “Above suspicion,” “Conflicts of Interest”… and “buying access,” are almost always smoke. You may get burned or miss out on something good that could have happened if you had not run from the fire if you use these standards.

What you won’t get is the truth of the matter.

*BTW:  I don’t expect to change any minds about Hillary Clinton here.  Vote as you will.  I do hope I challenge people to look more carefully at the standards we use to evaluate people for high office as I think many of them are deceptive.