Keystone Kops in the White House


THE KEYSTONE KOPS IN THE WHITE HOUSE

“My fellow-Americans,” Donald Trump said in his weekly address on Friday, “It’s an exciting time for our country. Our new Administration has so much change under way— change that is going to strengthen our Union and improve so many people’s lives.”

It’s exciting, all right; in fact, it is hard to look away. Just when you think things can’t get worse for the Trump Administration, it drops another clanger on itself.

Three weeks ago, the White House unveiled its revised anti-Muslim travel ban, which the federal courts immediately froze, on constitutional grounds, just as they had blocked its predecessor. Last week, there was the ignominious failure of the G.O.P. health-care bill, which Trump had personally endorsed, although he seemed blissfully unaware of some of its contents. And this week there was the still-developing saga of Devin Nunes, the bumbling head of the House Intelligence Committee, who unwisely tried to do the President a favor and ended up being publicly humiliated.

It is now perfectly evident that Nunes, in claiming he had evidence that Trump and his aides had been caught up in “incidental surveillance” during the transition, was doing the White House’s bidding and trying to create a diversion from James Comey’s confirmation that the F.B.I. is investigating whether Trump’s campaign coördinated with Russia.

According to a Times report, Nunes obtained access to intelligence information from at least two Administration aides when he visited the White House on the night of March 21st, though he initially denied coördinating with anybody who works there. One of the White House staffers was reportedly a member of the National Security Council, and the other was a lawyer in the office of the White House counsel who used to work for Nunes’s committee on Capitol Hill.

So far, Nunes has managed to cling to his committee post, but he has about as much credibility left as a thief caught inside a bank vault. At Friday’s White House press briefing, Glenn Thrush, of the Times, asked Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, whether it was normal for the head of an investigatory committee to roam the White House complex at night and meet two mid-level staffers to see sensitive information. Spicer didn’t have much of an answer, of course. But the larger story here goes beyond Nunes and his nocturnal wanderings.

It concerns the White House’s competence—or lack thereof. Ten weeks ago, when Trump stormed into office attacking the media and promising a blitzkrieg of new policies and initiatives during his first hundred days, the dominant emotion among people who hadn’t voted for him was fear. Many commentators, myself included, warned about the dangers of democratic erosion, and sales of George Orwell’s “1984” soared.

Today, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned about Trump and his illiberalism. The White House’s recent decision to dismantle President Obama’s clean-air regulations offers fresh testament to the malevolence of the Trump Administration’s agenda, and next week’s meeting between Trump and Xi Jinping, China’s President, will be a reminder of the enormous responsibilities that rest on a President’s shoulders. But, even among ardent Trumpophobes, fear and foreboding have been supplemented by wonderment at the White House’s string of gaffes. These days, instead of Big Brother, it often looks like the Keystone Kops are in charge.

In an interview with Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, a couple of weeks ago, Trump hinted that the White House had some information about possible surveillance by the Obama Administration that it would like the public to see. “We will be submitting certain things, and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week,” he said. The surprise wasn’t that the White House would subsequently use a political ally (Nunes) as a conduit. It was that the operation was handled so clumsily that it backfired almost immediately. “It’s hard to know who is dumber: the Trump White House for giving Nunes the info or Nunes for accepting it. Pure Amateur hour,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former director of communications in the Obama White House, tweeted on Thursday.

Pfeiffer isn’t a neutral player, of course. But the Nunes fiasco is hardly an isolated incident. Consider the fallout from the health-care debacle. Since the moment that Paul Ryan pulled his Obamacare-replacement bill from consideration in the House, Trump’s options for pursuing other elements of his domestic agenda, and perhaps even resuscitating health-care reform, have been clear. He can move even further to the right, to placate the members of the recalcitrant Freedom Caucus, or he can abandon them and try to win over some moderate Democrats.

Last weekend, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, indicated that the White House would follow the second strategy, and other Administration officials floated the idea of reaching a deal with congressional Democrats on tax reform and infrastructure spending. But Trump himself didn’t appear to have been let in on the plan—he continued to bait and berate the opposition party.

“The Democrats will make a deal with me on healthcare as soon as ObamaCare folds – not long,” he tweeted on Monday. “Do not worry, we are in very good shape!” On the same day, in a pair of tweets, the President also went after his favorite Democratic target, Hillary Clinton. “Why isn’t the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech . . . money to Bill, the Hillary Russian ‘reset,’ praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company. Trump Russia story is a hoax. #maga!”

On Thursday, Trump directed his fire at the Freedom Caucus. In a tweet, he said that they would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” This lumping together of the Freedom Caucus and the Democrats came the morning after a group of conservative activists visited the White House for what was billed as friendly policy session. If Trump had decided to declare war on the right, he evidently hadn’t informed the members of his staff who arranged that session.

Mixed signals are nothing new from the Trump Administration. On Thursday, a reporter form Axios, the news site, sat in on a strategy session attended by Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner. The session was “on background,” which meant the reporter couldn’t identify who said what. But, on Friday morning, Mike Allen, Axios’s editor-in-chief, reported that one of the officials in the meeting “views the Trump White House in terms that could be applied to the iterative process of designing software. It’s a beta White House.”

Allen went on, “The senior official . . . said the White House was operating on similar principles to the Trump campaign: ‘We rode something until it didn’t work any more,’ the official said. ‘We recognized it didn’t work, we changed it, we adjusted it and then we kind of got better . . . [T]his was much more entrepreneurial.’ In the White House, he said, ‘we’re going to keep adjusting until we get it right.’ ”

No word on how long this adjustment process might take, or what role the man with the itchy Twitter finger might play in it.

Why It Matters that Pence won’t have dinner with a woman not his wife


Why It Matters That Pence Won’t Have Dinner With A Woman Who Isn’t His Wife

In Pence’s worldview, men have no self-control, and women are either temptresses or guardians of virtue.

GETTY/TWITTER

A recent Washington Post profile of Second Lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, uncovered an interesting detail about their extremely close relationship. Pence reportedly told The Hill in 2002 that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side.”

This tidbit caused a small uproar on Twitter, with some praising Pence for respecting his wife and his marriage…

If you laugh at Pence for respecting his marriage, it’s probably because you’ve never been in a healthy one

…and others pointing out that, perhaps there are reasons outside of a sexually or emotionally untoward encounter to go out to dinner with someone. Maybe you have a friend who isn’t the same gender as you! Or maybe you work with people of different genders, and you sometimes attend professional dinners with them!

A whole swath of America thinks men and women don’t work together and can’t be friends. https://twitter.com/strandleper/status/847437292717318144 

The way Mike Pence and his wife mutually define a respectful marriage is up to them. But there are two reasons that this revelation about the Pences’ relationship set off such a firestorm online. First, the religious guidelines that govern what “respect” means to the Pences are part of a system that works to prop up male power and keep women subordinate. And second, VP Pence is not just a man with a wife, he’s the second most powerful person governing the nation ― which means that the way he views women in his personal life could have bearing on the way he sees American women writ large.

The no-eating-with-another-woman rule was first made popular by evangelical pastor Billy Graham in 1948, as part of the “Modesto Manifesto.” According to the Christian History Institute:

The most famous provision of the manifesto called for each man on the Graham team never to be alone with a woman other than his wife. Graham, from that day forward, pledged not to eat, travel, or meet with a woman other than Ruth unless other people were present. This pledge guaranteed Graham’s sexual probity and enabled him to dodge accusations that have waylaid evangelists before and since.

The provision, which came to be known as The Billy Graham Rule, allowed Graham to use his dashing looks to his advantage without cultivating an over-sexualized persona that other evangelicals might not have taken kindly to. (There are some Muslims who adhere to a similar only-dine-with-wives-and-relatives guideline, though one can assume such a disclosure would not elicit such a strong defense from the right.)

PICTORIAL PARADE VIA GETTY IMAGES
American evangelist Billy Graham and his wife Ruth. New York, New York, May 18, 1966.

This history makes it all-the-more clear that this do-not-dine-with-women rule is predicated on the idea that the company of women is always first and foremost about sex.

There is nothing disrespectful about a committed person having a meal with a friend or colleague who is not the same gender as they are ― unless one is to assume that any interaction not under the watchful eye of a spouse would inevitably lead to infidelity. In this worldview, men have no self-control, and women are either temptresses or guardians of virtue.

The underpinnings of this belief system are what allow men to view women as “other” rather than equal. They allow some to rationalize that female victims of sexual violence “asked for it” because they wore “provocative” clothing, and others (including our president) to believe that assault is a natural outcome of putting men and women together in a high-pressure environment like the military. These belief systems are what create male-dominated work environments where women are viewed as sexualized distractions or cut out of the office culture altogether.

Is the Vice President of the United States able to see any woman as his contemporary, rather than a potential threat to his marriage?

The ability to refuse to be alone with someone who is not the same gender as you and still climb the professional ladder is a privilege that is simply not afforded to women. Imagine if Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris or Nancy Pelosi refused to attend political functions where alcohol was served without their husbands in tow to supervise them. Imagine if they never took one-on-one meetings with potential campaign managers or fellow lawmakers who happened to be men. These women’s careers would have been over before they started.

To be a successful woman in an industry where men still make up the majority of power brokers means working with men. It means fighting for a spot at the table, and accepting that, sometimes, you may be the only woman there.

Is there a single successful female politician who could say she refuses to have have dinner with men alone? Lol no. She couldn’t.

Perhaps VP Pence has made exceptions to his 2002 marital rule in the intervening years. But as Mother Jones Editor-in-Chief Clara Jeffery pointed out on Twitter, following this rule to its logical conclusion would mean that Pence’s ability to meet with and work with women would be severely limited.

Can he have a professional lunch with Kellyanne Conway or Nikki Haley or Ivanka Trump without viewing it as a marital betrayal? Is he open to hiring women into positions of power on his staff ― specifically positions that require consistent contact? Is the Vice President of the United States able to see any woman as his contemporary, rather than a potential threat to his marriage?

I don’t doubt that Pence has a deep regard for his wife. What is worrisome is the idea that the principles that govern his marriage could be used to govern the country.

Muslims at the Pentagon Brace for Trump Administration


The uncertainty that settled upon many of the citizens in America since the election has not bypassed a lot of these federal workers.  This is what they are fearing.
bjwordpressdivider-1

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LYNE LUCIEN/THE DAILY BEAST

‘ANTICIPATORY FREAKOUT’

Muslims at the Pentagon Brace for Trump Administration

For Muslims inside the national-security apparatus whom the Obama administration welcomed with open arms, fear of Trump is already pervasive, U.S. officials tell The Daily Beast.

NANCY A. YOUSSEF

11.22.16 1:13 AM ET

Donald Trump’s inauguration may be 58 days away, but for the Muslim officials once welcomed into the U.S. government’s war on terrorism, the change already has begun.

Four U.S. officials who spoke to The Daily Beast said fear is pervasive among Muslims inside the halls of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Department of Homeland Security in anticipation of a Trump administration. Already, the officials said, they are seeing colleagues who are less willing to share their thoughts about national security. They fear they will no longer be seen as an asset to confronting terrorism but rather suspect members of the government they serve.

It is, one U.S. official explained, a climate of “anticipatory freakout.”

Muslim employees at the Pentagon, both civilian and military, were reticent to talk about their fears, even in a building where there are Muslim services every Friday.

“I am scared to speak,” one civilian told The Daily Beast. “We don’t know what it is going to mean for us.”

Will Muslim CIA agents be asked to register? Will the next commander in chief ban the family of Muslim troops from visiting this country? Will Muslim members of the Department of Homeland Security face increased scrutiny based on their faith?

“It’s one thing to attack your argument. It’s another to attack your person. And that is what people fear: that if they speak up too much, they will be attacked,” the U.S. official continued.

“You are less likely to speak up if you are against the prevailing view. Before, that was not a consideration.”

Managers throughout the departments already are trying to calm staffers, reassuring them they will not be treated differently by those around them.

It is not just Muslims who are worried. Gays and lesbians, African Americans, Hispanics, and women all have expressed some level of concern. After all, the national-security community has historically lagged behind other government agencies when it comes to embracing diversity.

It was not until a 1995 executive order that gays and lesbians could serve openly in national-security jobs and get clearances. At the same time, women climbed the ranks of the agencies, most notably in 1997, when Madeleine Albright became the first female secretary of State, the highest national-security position ever held by a woman. Post-9/11, two presidents publicly spoke on behalf of Muslims and said they are a part of the American fabric, not a segment of the population that should be equated with extremists.

According to the White House, minorities now make up 20 percent of senior diplomats and 15 percent of senior military officers and intelligence officials.

Despite that, the fear these days among Muslims especially is born out of both the rhetoric of the election and, more recently, Trump’s picks so far for his national-security team. Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, has called fear of Muslims “rational.” On Sunday, Reince Priebus said on Meet the Press that while there was no plan for a Muslim registry, “I’m not going to rule out anything.”

Also Sunday, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach met with Trump and was photographed carrying a document spelling out a 100-day plan for the Department of Homeland Security that included a proposal to question “high-risk” immigrants over support for Sharia law and belief in the U.S. Constitution.

Perhaps the most searing interaction between Muslims and Trump, for Muslims who serve in national security, was Trump’s treatment of a Muslim Gold Star family during the presidential campaign. After Khizr Khan—whose son, Capt. Humayun Khan, was killed in Iraq in 2004—spoke at the Democratic National Convention, Trump attacked him and his wife, and insisted that he too had “made a lot of sacrifices.”

The result is a president-elect not welcome in the nation’s mosques.

For some, there already is a litmus test for incoming members of the Trump administration: Will agency heads and Cabinet secretaries let the mistreatment of Muslims or any other minority be tolerated? Some said they hope Congress poses such questions to Flynn during the confirmation hearings.

Either way, the new administration is a marked change. For the Obama administration, diversity within the administration was not just about politics but a means to better secure the country. And officials advocated it aggressively. Departments now are filled with younger staffers, many of whom never anticipated anything other than a government that embraced diversity.

Where minority staffers once were in lower-level jobs, now it is no longer uncommon to see a Muslim in hijab at the table of a high-level meeting.

“I truly believe that the business case for diversity is stronger for CIA than it is for any organization in the U.S. government,” CIA Director John Brennan told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June. “Diversity not only gives us the cultural understanding we need to operate in any corner of the globe, it also helps us avoid groupthink, ensuring we bring to bear a range of perspectives on the complex challenges that are inherent to intelligence work.”

Just last month, President Obama issued a memorandum about “Promoting Diversity and Inclusion in the National-Security Workforce” that called for better data about the makeup of national-security employees and to help expand diversity within the national-security community.

There is nothing that binds the incoming president from adhering to any part of the memorandum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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