Still Learning

The sixties were fine – there was the Summer of Love and Woodstock and all the rest, and talk of changing the world. That was supposed to happen, but it didn’t. Almost simultaneously the nation elected Nixon and college ended with a degree and a handshake. Oh well. Move on. The seventies was grad school and then teaching good stuff to smart kids – but that had to end too. It was time to do, not teach, and time to move to California – and the years in aerospace were fine. Suddenly there was a computer on every desk, connected to even bigger ones. Many of us taught ourselves to code and became programmers, then systems analysts, then project managers – which was an upward spiral, or a downward one. That led to management. It was hard not to become Dilbert’s clueless pointy-haired boss. It was also hard to take any of it seriously. The folks doing the actual work were the ones who knew what was what. It was far too easy to feel useless, because that was true – and then it was all over. Everyone retires sooner or later. Move on.

Retirement is fine too, even if every day brings a sense that there’s some sort of systems failure about to happen. One begins to move slowly and carefully – but at least there’s no one to impress, no one to please, no one who will fire you – and that’s freedom. Say what you want. Nothing you say will end your career. You don’t have one anymore. That’s not a tragedy. A burden has been lifted. There’s no need to come up with likely-sounding bullshit to cover actual bullshit. Let it rip. Old age doesn’t bring wisdom. It frees it.

After all, retirement freed that fellow in Cincinnati:

Former House speaker John A. Boehner continued a streak of remarkable post-office candor during a Wednesday appearance at a Houston energy conference, telling a luncheon audience that President Trump’s term has – foreign policy aside – been a “complete disaster.”

“Everything else he’s done has been a complete disaster,” Boehner (R-Ohio) said, according to a report in Rigzone, an online energy publication. “He’s still learning how to be president.”

Boehner seems to consider Trump a slow learner, or incapable of learning:

Boehner, who resigned from Congress in October 2015, had praised Trump – a friend and golfing companion from his political years – during the presidential campaign. On Wednesday, he praised Trump’s efforts at getting serious about combating the Islamic State terror group, Rigzone reported, but ended his positive comments there.

One cruise missile strike in Syria just doesn’t cut it, and Boehner said Trump should not be allowed to tweet – for obvious reasons – which is what he can say now that he’s a free man:

Boehner has made other public comments critical of his party since leaving office. During the presidential campaign in April 2016, he called then-GOP candidate Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh.” And in February, he made a prescient prediction that a GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act was “not going to happen” and that “Republicans never, ever agree on health care” – a view he maintained on Wednesday, according to the Rigzone report.

Boehner offered other blunt opinions Wednesday, Rigzone reported. He gave an increasingly pessimistic view that congressional Republicans would pass tax reform, saying “now my odds are 60/40” and that tax reform is “a bunch of happy talk.” And he echoed an emerging piece of D.C. conventional wisdom by calling the border adjustment tax plan favored by Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), Boehner’s successor as House speaker, “deader than a doornail.”

Boehner is through with likely-sounding bullshit to cover actual bullshit, and he had this warning:

And on the various pending investigations into alleged Russian influence on the election and on Trump’s campaign, Boehner said, “they need to get to the bottom of this” but called impeachment a folly pushed by “crazy left-wing Democratic colleagues of mine.”

“Talk of impeachment is the best way to rile up Trump supporters,” he said, according to Rigzone. “Remember, impeachment is not a legal process; it’s a political process.”

Democrats should consider that – impeachment talk will make Trump more popular. Remember Bill Clinton. But it doesn’t matter:

Boehner, as he has said in the past, repeated Wednesday that he does not miss his old job: “I wake up every day, drink my morning coffee and say, ‘Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah,'” he said, according to Rigzone.

And there’s one other detail:

When asked if he has any presidential ambitions, he said, “I don’t want to be president. I drink red wine. I smoke cigarettes. I golf. I cut my own grass. I iron my own clothes. And I’m not willing to give all that up to be president.”

Retirement is fine with him. Who needs more headaches? And who needs to feel, rightly, useless? That happens in all top management jobs, and that may be happening to Donald Trump, given what he now cannot stop:

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, has asked President Trump’s political organization to gather and produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to his campaign’s launch in June 2015, according to two people briefed on the request.

The letter from the Senate arrived at Trump’s campaign committee last week and was addressed to the group’s treasurer. Since then, some former staffers have been notified and asked to cooperate, the people said. They were not authorized to speak publicly.

The demand follows a Senate request months earlier for the campaign committee to preserve documents.

Dozens of former staffers are expected to be contacted in the coming days to make sure they are aware of what they are required to produce and how to submit those documents, the people added.

Trump is now Dilbert’s clueless pointy-haired boss, the sure-of-himself boss who is never sure of what the people under him really do all day, and is now not sure of what they’ve actually done, and now accountable for what they have done. Management really does suck, and there’s no point in whining:

The letter was signed by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the Senate committee’s chairman, and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.

This was a bipartisan demand. Richard Burr isn’t doing this because he’s embarrassed that Hillary Clinton lost so badly. He’s a Republican. He’s glad she lost – and he wants those documents too. John Boehner is drinking red wine, and smoking cigarettes, and playing golf, and cutting his own grass – and Trump has to come up with some likely-sounding bullshit to cover the actual bullshit here. There is no likely-sounding “executive privilege” bullshit that will cover this. These are campaign documents. He wasn’t the nation’s chief executive back then. John Boehner is sipping fine red wine and smiling. Trump is not learning how to be president.

Presidents, for example, don’t fire their FBI director when their FBI director is actively investigating their winning campaign and possible collusion with the Russians to assure that win, and then mention, on national television, that the guy was fired because of “that Russia thing” – and then invite the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador to the Oval Office for a bunch of laughs and good times, and then brag to the two of them that he fired the guy and there’s “no more pressure” about that now – but Trump did. Trump fired James Comey, and did all that.

Trump is not learning how to be president, and Ryan Lizza takes it from there:

President Trump’s treatment of Comey has raised serious questions about whether the President may have obstructed justice. He reportedly asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him and to drop the Flynn investigation, and then he fired him and publicly admitted it was over Comey’s handling of the Russia probe.

Obstruction of justice is the issue, but the problem may not be the boss. Sometimes it’s the subordinate, and Lizza thinks Jared Kushner should be worried:

The New York Times reported that Kushner, along with Vice-President Mike Pence and the White House counsel, Don McGahn, “generally backed dismissing Mr. Comey.” In another report, the paper noted that Kushner specifically “had urged Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Comey.” After Comey’s dismissal, when Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, appointed a special counsel to take over the case, the Times reported that Trump met with more than half a dozen senior aides to discuss how to respond.

“Most of those gathered recommended that the president adopt a conciliatory stance and release a statement accepting Mr. Rosenstein’s decision and embracing a swift investigation that would clear the cloud of suspicion hovering over the West Wing,” the paper said. But there was one dissenter: Kushner, who was “urging the president to counterattack.”

That changes things:

This reporting makes it clear that it wasn’t just Trump who had a conflict of interest when deciding on whether to fire Comey. Trump’s conflict is clear: his former national-security adviser (Flynn), former campaign manager (Paul Manafort), former foreign-policy adviser (Carter Page), and former political adviser (Roger Stone), are all reportedly being investigated by the FBI. But less has been said about Kushner’s conflict. Should Kushner, who we now know is under some level of scrutiny by the FBI, be advising his father-in-law to fire the FBI director and “counterattack” the special counsel?

Something may be up here:

We have a series of actions by people who seem to be concealing specific contacts with Russians connected to the Kremlin’s intelligence services and then acting to thwart an investigation. Flynn lied about his contacts with Kislyak. Trump tried to kill the FBI investigation of Flynn and eventually fired his FBI director. Kushner hid his contacts with Russian officials and then pressed his father-in-law to sack Comey, who was looking into the matter. “Anytime someone on the Trump campaign conceals or misleads about a contact they had with Russia at the time of Russia’s interference campaign, that’s a big red flag,” Eric Swalwell, the Democratic congressman, who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said. We still don’t have a crime in this case, but there is an awful lot of cover-up.

Jared Kushner urged all-out attack – go after the new special counsel. Everyone else in the room said that was poison and the White House finally issued a statement – they welcomed the new special counsel, who would clear everything up and end this nonsense – a good thing. Jared lost. Then he won. The next morning his father-in-law unleashed a major tweetstorm – this was “the greatest witch-hunt in political history” and all the rest. Jared talked the old man unto that. Jared must have been worried sick about something, and he knew how to manipulate a clueless boss. All of us who have been in management know all about that.

This was a mystery, and then it wasn’t, thanks to the latest Washington Post Friday night bombshell:

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.

The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance.

Of course they did, perhaps because they didn’t know what was really going on, but someone else did:

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate – a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

This was dangerous for both sides and the Russians many not be spoofing us here with nonsense to make Trump look bad:

Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.

Logic says this actually happened, and it’s a bit absurd:

Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.

To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naiveté.

The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.

Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.

“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”

And this is not how things are done:

It is common for senior advisers of a newly elected president to be in contact with foreign leaders and officials. But new administrations are generally cautious in their handling of interactions with Moscow, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of waging an unprecedented campaign to interfere in last year’s presidential race and help elect Trump.

Obama administration officials say members of the Trump transition team never approached them about arranging a secure communications channel with their Russian contacts, possibly because of concerns about leaks.

The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.

Sure, but it could be done, if necessary, but that’s not how Kushner and Flynn operate:

Trump’s advisers were similarly secretive about meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The Obama White House only learned that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was flying to New York in December to see Kushner, Flynn and Stephen K. Bannon, another top Trump adviser, because U.S. border agents in the UAE spotted the Emirate leader’s name on a flight manifest.

This has the feel of some sort of vast conspiracy, but even the Russians wouldn’t sign up for this:

Russia would also have had reasons of its own to reject such an overture from Kushner. Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities – which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds – to an American.

What the hell was Jared thinking? On the right, Steve Berman suggests this:

For a man with Kushner’s background, a senior person in Trump’s inner circle during the campaign, and now an official government employee with (likely) a Top Secret SCI clearance, to have suggested this is beyond naïve. Kushner had to know what it meant, asking the Russians if their own secure diplomatic communications network could be used for “unofficial” back-channel discussions with Kremlin officials…

I hate to side with anything Democrats – who are prone to blow up even the most innocuous situations into Constitutional crises – advocate. But in this case, if there’s any truth to the Washington Post’s story, I have to agree. If Kushner suggested using Russian secure crypto gear – presumably to mask communications from prying American ears – he deserves to lose his clearance. He deserves to lose his job, actually.

Trump isn’t going to fire his son-in-law, the young real estate heir, his chief advisor, the only person in the White House he seems to trust, now in charge of everything from fixing things with Mexico and China to ending all the nonsense between the Israelis and Palestinians, finally, once and for all, and completely overhauling the entire federal government in his spare time. Jared may have been playing footsie with the Russians, but he can’t fire him. Ivanka would cry. Ivanka would never forgive him.

Steve Berman, however, wants the leakers fired:

Without hyperbole, intercepts of Russian diplomatic communications between its U.S. ambassador and the Kremlin are the holy grail of classified. There’s nothing the Russians would love more than for the American press to go leaking details of what the U.S. intelligence community does and does not glean from their secure communications.

The fact that (a) whoever within the IC leaked this information to reporters didn’t think it could be a red herring (pardon the pun) to mess with our government and our citizens’ confidence in it, and (b) the reporters getting the information didn’t hesitate to expose it is extremely disconcerting to me.

The “leak problem” that has plagued Trump since he took office has really hit new lows with this one. Maybe it’s revenge for Trump’s imprudent comments to Kislyak and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov that exposed some Israeli intelligence on ISIS. Maybe it’s part of the “deep state” and efforts to effect what the conspiracy fringe calls a “silent coup” on Trump.

But it’s more likely simply that some people in the IC, or at various levels of government with access to bits and pieces of information being reviewed by the FBI and the Department of Justice, have friends in the media, and love to be Mark Felt (Deep Throat) for a day.

No one was thinking. The Russians will now know their secure line between their embassy in Washington and Moscow has been compromised, and probably exactly how it was compromised. They’ll close that door. That’s why Steve Berman is pissed at the Washington Post. Everyone else wonders what the hell Jared was thinking.

Josh Marshall is wondering about that:

I’m still forming my opinions about what this means. But it makes all the most ominous reads about what is at the heart of Trump/Russia story considerably more plausible. What exactly did the Trump team need so urgently to discuss with the Russian government? Why the need for such absolute security? After all the transition would be the US government in little more than a month.

Who knows? Donald Trump is still learning how to be president, and that makes Jared Kushner an apprentice to the classic clueless boss, who is never sure of what the people under him really do all day, having been removed from that long ago, and is now not sure of what they’ve actually done, but is now accountable for what they have done. John Boehner is sipping fine red wine and smiling of course. He can finally “tell it like it ls” – and then leave it to the rest of us to fix this. That’s of no use at all. But this is our problem, not his. Retirement is like that.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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