Friday, June 23, 2017

Dear Mr. President

MEMORANDUM – August 1, 2017
TO:        President Donald J. Trump
FROM:  The Department of Justice
RE:         Firing of Robert Mueller

Dear Mr. President:
     I acknowledge receipt of your memorandum of July 29th requesting that I fire Robert Mueller from his position as special counsel regarding the department’s investigation into the illegal involvement of Russia in the 2016 presidential election.
     First off, I’d like to say what an honor it is to receive such a memorandum from you. In my almost 35-year tenure at the department, I can say with certainty that this is the first time I have ever received a communication from a sitting president.
     I recall that my predecessor Joe Smith did receive a short note of congratulations from President Obama upon the occasion of his retirement from the department back in 2013. But I can’t recall anyone in my position receiving an official memorandum.  Believe me; I will cherish your communication for the rest of my life.
     But enough about me. As for the substantive matter at hand, let me just briefly summarize recent events. As I understand it, you want Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired but Attorney General Jeff Sessions couldn’t do it because he has recused himself from anything to do with the Russia investigation.
     Further, I understand that you then asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mr. Mueller but that he, too, recused himself on the basis that your direction to him to provide a memo recommending the firing of former FBI Director James Comey inadvertently involved him in the Russia investigation.
     Apparently you then asked the Associate Attorney General, that nice Rachel Brand from the fifth floor, to carry out your order. Last I heard, she also declined and rumor has it that you fired her.
     At this point, things get a bit unclear but I am given to understand that the Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall was then directed in early July to fire Mr. Mueller. Members of my staff have reported to me that Mr. Wall’s office has been empty for the last three weeks and I must therefore assume that he either quit or was fired.
     Since then, there has been a series of dismissals from almost every floor including the Director of Legal Policy, the Director of the Criminal Division and the head of the Office of the Inspector General. Numerous additional subordinate employees have also apparently been let go.
     I recognize the importance of your request, Mr. President, but I must point out that as you have made your way rapidly through the department’s org chart, we have lost dozens of employees over the last couple of weeks. This has necessitated a significant amount of overtime work by our maintenance and cleaning staffs and I’m sure that you, as a deficit fighter, are as concerned about the added expense as I am.
     Anyway, enough said about that. I understand that you are writing to me as next in line and directing me to fire the special counsel.
     Mr. President, rest assured that I have given your request careful consideration and have consulted with my colleagues in the maintenance and cleaning sections. Much as I would like to accommodate you, I am not able to do so.
     First, I am not convinced that the chain of command reaches as far down as my position. Second, there is the issue of my collective agreement which I believe precludes me from exercising management responsibilities in the absence of a formal acting appointment. And finally, sir, with all due respect, I must inform you that I find your direction to be of questionable legality (see United States v. Mitchell, 418 U.S. 683 (1974)).
     I hope that my refusal to carry out your order will not result in my termination. However, if it does, I respectfully request that you do not then direct my subordinate Helen Powers, the Assistant Deputy Cleaning and Maintenance Officer, to fire Mr. Mueller. She has had a very busy month cleaning out all the empty offices and does not need the added stress.

Yours truly,
Fred Jones, Chief Cleaning and Maintenance Officer 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Jim Comey, Washington's Joe Btfsplk

     If you’re under sixty, you’re probably not familiar with the character Joe Btfsplk. Created by famed satirical cartoonist Al Capp, Joe was a well-meaning fellow who was always accompanied by a dark raincloud and was the world’s worst jinx. Kind of like James Comey.
     For all his good intentions and Boy Scout-like rhetoric, the former FBI Director seems to be a walking disaster. Everyone he encounters ends up jinxed or cursed by his Dudley Do-Right actions.
     First there’s Comey himself. He repeatedly and earnestly tried to do the right thing but somehow always failed and, in the end, it cost him his job. Rather than play politics like almost every other official in Washington, Comey bent over backwards to follow some impossible ethical standard and ultimately hoisted himself on his own pure petard.
     Next up is Hillary Clinton. The Democratic presidential nominee was sailing along to an almost certain victory when she was tripped up by the modern-day Joe Btfsplk. If Mr. Comey had just followed precedent and resisted the urge to inform Congress that he was reopening the e-mail investigation, Ms. Clinton would today likely be sitting pretty in the White House with First Gentleman Bill.
     Speaking of Bill, he’s the next jinxed victim in this story. Thanks to his ill-advised visit a year ago to then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch sitting in her plane on the tarmac of a Phoenix airport, Comey suggests he wouldn’t have gone public about the investigation into Hillary’s e-mails. A lesser person might have overlooked Bill’s faux pas but not the overly-earnest FBI Director.
     Like the pins in a bowling alley on a Friday night, White House officials came crashing down in great numbers thanks to Comey. His Russia investigation has felled one after another of Donald Trump’s compatriots starting first with Mike Flynn who had to resign as Trump’s national security advisor purportedly for lying to Vice President Mike Pence.
     Then Attorney-General Jeff Sessions was found out and had to admit to Russian connections. Although he didn’t lose his job, he did have to recuse himself from any related matters.
     Son-in-law Jared Kushner’s Russian connections are now under investigation and his foray into national politics may be short-lived. And as Jared goes, so, too, likely goes Ivanka.
     Finally, there’s Donald Trump himself. In fairness to Mr. Comey, he did all he could to avoid the president but Trump persisted. Not only did he speak to Comey on the phone, he even went so far as to invite him to dinner and to insist on a private meeting.
     If only The Donald had paid attention to the metaphorical raincloud above Jim Comey’s head, he might not be in the tenuous position he’s in today. The moral of the story? When Joe Btfsplk’s around, give him a wide berth.   

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Comey Week Is Over, Thank God!

   Thank God that’s over! I’m referring, of course, to Comey Week. For seven days, Americans have been inundated with media “covfefe” of all things James Comey.
    First there was all the pre-testimony hype leading up to Thursday morning. Then there was the wall-to-wall coverage of Comey’s appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee. And finally, there was the endless analysis and parsing of every word and gesture made by the former FBI director.
     As an observer somewhat removed from all the excitement (i.e. – a Canadian), I’m at a loss to understand what all the commotion was about. One commentator said Comey’s appearance was the most important Washington testimony since Anita Hill appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings back in 1991. Really?
     I watched the more than two-and-a-half hours of testimony and came away with one burning question: Did I learn anything that I didn’t already know beforehand? The short answer is no. The long answer is no except for the additional fact that Comey passed his written memos of his interactions with Trump to a friend with instructions to pass them on to the New York Times.
     As far as I can tell, we already knew that Comey didn’t trust Trump and thought he was a liar. We had already heard about Trump’s request for Comey’s loyalty and his expressed wish that Comey make the Michael Flynn investigation go away.
     I thought that I had heard a striking piece of news when Comey revealed that Bill Clinton’s ill-advised visit to then-Attorney-General Loretta Lynch on a tarmac in Phoenix in June of last year was the deciding factor in Comey publicizing the results of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, a quick Google search revealed that this information was already of public record when Comey testified last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee. (As an aside, if the former FBI director is in need of employment, he might want to apply for the position of professional Congressional committee witness.)
     Thus, from my perspective, almost nothing of note was revealed by Mr. Comey’s testimony (most of which he had already submitted in a written statement the day before). Yet immediately following the committee’s session, the talking heads went at it on every channel as if they had discovered a new version of the Rosetta Stone.
     So why do Congress and the American media go crazy for such testimony and turn it into a national spectacle? After all, it’s not like it was a slow news day given that the U. K. was holding an election, ISIS had carried out an attack in Iran and YouTube had posted even more adorable kitten videos.
     I suspect it has something to do with an ongoing investment in the “big story.” Countless Washington politicians and journalists have been following the various investigations surrounding Russia and the Trump campaign and, like anyone with a long term investment, they’re hoping that it will eventually pay off.
     You could see it on the faces of Senate committee members. This was their big chance to perform on a national stage and who among them could resist that temptation? And journalists and political commentators looking to become the next Woodward or Bernstein created what could only be called a feeding frenzy.
     Personally, I’d prefer that whatever Congressional committee, special counsel or FBI department is looking into these matters do so in a quiet, low-profile manner. If you turn up some important new evidence then let me know. Otherwise, carry on with your work and don’t excite everyone for no good reason.
     On the other hand, I do thank the Senate Intelligence Committee for three things: (1) its humorous oxymoronic name, (2) demonstrating a seldom-seen level of non-partisan cooperation and (3) revealing that John McCain is off his medication. For those reasons alone, I guess I have to admit it was worth the price of admission.    

Friday, June 09, 2017

Welcome Back, America

Dear America:
     Hi, it’s your northern neighbor Canada again. How’s it going, eh? Actually, I can see how it’s going and it’s clearly not going well.
     I hate to be impolite but it looks like your new president is a bit of a clown and your government is in disarray. Something’s got to give and, with July 4th just around the corner, I’ve got a modest proposal that you might want to consider.
     I know you’re awfully proud of your history, especially that Revolutionary War that we think of more as the American War of Independence. You like to view it as the triumph of the common man although, truth be told, it really was more a case of the replacement of one group of elites with another, right?
     The bottom line is that I don’t think you were really all that keen on breaking free from Great Britain. After all, you were British subjects and your complaints were rather minor.
     I suspect if King George III had made you any kind of reasonable offer, your thirteen colonies would have been just as happy to remain part of the British Empire. And that might have led to a far different result, one patterned more on our experience.
     I’m guessing you could have experienced a slow, orderly path to eventual independence much like we did. I’m guessing, too, that that orderly path could have included the eventual abolition of slavery without the need for a vicious four-year civil war.
     Just as we cobbled together our various colonies in our confederation of 1867, you could have created a 19th century colonial alignment to create an American union with the power of domestic governance. Like us, you could have slowly acquired more and more self-governance eventually leading to the status of a full-fledged nation state.
     Such a slow reasonable transformation could have avoided all manner of troubles and expense. You could have avoided the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the ongoing shame of slavery both de jure and de facto.
     But never mind; what’s done is done. No use crying over spilt milk at this stage whether it’s from a supply-managed system or not. You can’t turn back the clock.
     What you can do, however, is rethink your 1776 decision and rejoin the British Commonwealth. I know that sounds a bit radical but bear with me.
     You’d still be a sovereign nation with all the rights and privileges that entails. All that would really change would be your form of government. Instead of being burdened with an unpredictable president, you’d now have a monarchical representative as your nominal head of state.
     Think of it; instead of suffering the daily travails and embarrassments of a President Trump you could be assured of a more stable and responsible government in the form of a parliamentary democracy. Instead of being stuck with a president for four or eight years, you’d now have a prime minister who could be unseated at any time.
     As an added bonus, you could appoint Donald Trump as your first monarchial representative (what we call our Governor-General). Let’s face it; all Mr. Trump really wanted was to be king anyway and this would be pretty darned close. He’d get to enjoy all the pageantry but without any real power and none of the substantive duties and responsibilities of a real executive position.
     I know all this sounds a bit scary and overwhelming but not to worry; we can help you out. All the while you were killing and enslaving one another over the last 250 years, we’ve been slowly evolving into a kinder, gentler version of you: kind of an American dopplegänger, if you will.
     We’ve got the blueprint to help you transition to a British Commonwealth member. Trust me; it’s not that hard. Heck, we can even put in a good word for you with the Queen.   
  
Your northern pal,

Canada                               


Monday, June 05, 2017

Basic Manners In Diplomatic Encounters

     The United Nations has a Manual of Protocol which serves to provide “…basic guidelines and fundamental norms and practices of protocol and administrative requirements accepted at United Nations Headquarters.” Recent events have apparently necessitated the preparation of a supplementary manual entitled Basic Manners in Diplomatic Encounters as evidenced by the following leaked draft: 

UNITED NATIONS – Draft Document No. 89-17 – Classification: Secret
     In response to requests from the heads of state of various member nations, the United Nations Secretariat has prepared a basic manual of good manners to help guide participants in international meetings and conferences.
     Since the formation of the United Nations, we have never had to deal with the question of what constitutes a proper handshake. Apparently, at least one head of state has made it necessary to spell out in detail how and when to engage in manual greetings.
      Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has kindly pointed out that heads of state should always shake hands when meeting and that there should be no discrimination by sex. Without naming any names, Ms. Merkel simply wishes to state that it is very rude for a president, say, to refuse to shake her hand.
     Although there is no formal guideline governing the length of a handshake, it is generally agreed within the international community that a typical handshake should last approximately five seconds with an absolute maximum of ten seconds in the event that it is part of a photo opportunity. As noted by Japan’s Prime Minister Abe, nineteen seconds is way too long and verging on uncomfortable. In such a case, an eye-roll or a finger-point is a perfectly acceptable response.
     There are various styles of acceptable handshakes but all have several characteristics in common. Two right hands clasp and intertwine in a firm grip. The hands are raised slightly up and down several times and then they are released.
     Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, former FBI head James Comey and a number of world leaders have objected to the recent violations of the generally accepted handshake protocol and, in particular, the use of the inward “pull and tug” practiced by some. The UN is surprised by such an action and condemns it outright.
     However, in order to maintain the appearance of civility and good manners, we do not wish to outlaw such an action or to censure its practitioner. Rather, we urge victims and potential victims to consider the following defensive and offensive countermeasures.
     One successful response, known as the “Trudeau”, involves the use of one’s left hand to counter the tugging motion of the assailant. Gripping the offender’s right elbow with one’s left hand usually provides enough force and leverage to counter the tugging action.
     Another effective response involves a combination of opposite tugging and extreme hand clenching action by the offended party. Known as the “Macron”, one can gauge its success by the degree of whiteness appearing on the knuckles of the right hand of the offending party.
     Although yet untested, a third viable option has been proposed in the form of a passive-aggressive faux-submissive response. When the “tugger” forcefully pulls, the “tuggee” can simply succumb to the force and fall on top of the “tugger.” If possible, one should place one’s left hand on the opposite party’s chest in order to assist his backward fall and to cushion the blow for the “tuggee.”
     As for complaints about the crude and abusive behavior of any particular world leader, the UN advises that parties should do their best to avoid direct confrontation. We sympathize with leaders such as Montenegro’s Prime Minister Dusko Markovic but would urge them to show restraint in the interests of avoiding any international incident. On the other hand, if the offender can be surreptitiously tripped without notice, we have no objection. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Mother Nature Warns The Donald

MEMORANDUM
TO:  U. S. President Donald J. Trump
FROM:  Mother Nature
     First, let me congratulate you on your huge election victory and your ascendancy to the second most powerful position in the world. To be honest, I didn’t think you had an iceberg’s chance in Florida of pulling it off but you did and I want to acknowledge your achievement.
     I held off writing to you because I figured every new president should be given a chance to do the right thing. I hoped that once you were in office, you would realize the gravity of our planet’s precarious situation and back off from some of your election promises. Sad to say, it looks like you have not.
     Despite your enormous victory, I get the sense that you were almost as surprised as me that you won and perhaps weren’t fully prepared for the ensuing responsibilities. As you recently said about health care reform: “Nobody knew that health care could be so difficult.” Well, the same applies to climate change and the environment.
     Now I know that you are not a believer in climate change but I’m here to tell you that it is real, very real. Maybe you haven’t noticed any effects while residing in the White House or Trump Tower or while golfing on one of your many courses but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
     I’m getting complaints every day from my constituency in the Arctic region. Polar bears, in particular, are telling me that premature breakups are leaving them stranded on ice floes. And my penguin pals inform me that icebergs are calving like crazy in Antarctica.
     I’ve heard that your policy positions are often based on the last thing you’ve read or seen on TV or that somebody has told you. In that case, here’s hoping this memo is the latest thing to reach your desk and that you actually read it. Maybe you could just pretend that I’m a correspondent with FOX News.
     Let’s start first with coal. You’ve lifted restrictions on coal mining and seem to be hell bent on increasing coal production. Not a good idea, in my opinion. Even the Chinese have recognized the damage burning coal does to the atmosphere and are reducing their reliance on coal-burning power plants. I strongly recommend that you do likewise.
     On a larger scale, you have promised to withdraw from the Paris Convention on climate change. Again, that’s a really bad idea. Although I’ve never put a lot of faith in you humans when it comes to making sensible choices, I did have some hope that this treaty would mark the start of a worldwide effort to avert environmental disaster. I’m hoping you’ll reconsider if not for the sake of humanity then at least to ensure that your coastal golf courses are not underwater in thirty years.
     Then there’s your country’s EPA or Environmental Protection Agency. You’re cutting funding to this crucial organization and, worse yet, you’ve appointed a climate change denier to head it up. You might want to rethink that decision while most of your drinking water is still potable.
     I’ll do what I can to mitigate the upcoming damage but we are nearing the tipping point. How about you and I make a deal? You back off on your anti-environment proposals and I’ll do my best to repair the planet. Hope to hear from you soon but don’t delay; this offer is valid for a limited time only.