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January 31, 2019

Trump Turnover

-Karen Michelle

We are are all starting to hear about the new Congress and Senate And how they are settling in. But that isn’t the only new faces in government. In merely one month, John Kelly, President Trump’s Chief of Staff, General Mattis, Secretary of Defense, and Brett McGurk, Special Envoy to Syria all turned in their resignation. In the case of Mattis, his resignation wasn’t enough, After release of his official resignation letter, which included a stern opinion on the current administration’s handling of foreign matters, President Trump decided to go ahead and fire General Mattis, making him leave the White House now rather than later. So, at the moment, we do not have an official Secretary of Defense, Attorney General. Ambassador to the UN, Special Envoy to Syria, Secretary of the Interior, Environmental Protection Administrator or Chief of Staff. All we have are people filling the roles short term. When asked about his plans for a more permanent cabinet, the President stated “I sort of like acting. It gives me more flexibility. Do you understand that?" , so from that somewhat strange and somewhat disturbing quote we can assume he is in no hurry to get an official cabinet.


Can name the presidents, but can you name their chiefs of staff?  Most people can’t-and there is a good reason for this. Their average tenure in the role, since 1969, is only two and a half years.

Both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton went through four chiefs of staff each over their two terms as president. George H.W. Bush actually beat both for turn over as he had three chiefs of staff in four years.

While those may seem like a lot, contrast them with the current administration.  

Martha Kumar, a Townson University political scientist noted that In the top tier of staff, Trump’s White House has experienced the highest turnover of any modern administration


President Donald Trump rocketed to reality TV stardom for his love of two words: "You're fired!" And he seems to have brought his penchant for terminating employees to Washington. According to Brookings, the president's senior staff turnover rate during his first year in office was three-times higher than both Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton — and more than five times higher than President George W. Bush. In fact, Trump's cabinet turnover exceeds that of any other administration in the past 100 years.

The White House Transitioning Project published an in-depth analysis of the current Presidential administration staff turnover at the 18 month mark. At that time, the Trump Administration had the highest turnover of Assistant to the President level staff of the last six Presidents.


This level of disruption would be difficult for any organization to handle. But these difficulties are compounded in the unique environment of the White House

While there’s been a lot of coverage on the fact of the record-setting personnel turnover at the Trump Administration, there hasn’t been much analysis of its likely costs. To put it bluntly: we know there’s a lot of turnover at the Trump White House, but does it matter? Is it a bad thing?

The Harvard Business review gives a resounding yes-and they cite decades of organizational research to back it up.. High levels of senior executive turnover are difficult for any organization to absorb. Every senior leader has his or her own style, approach, objectives, and preferences.  When an organization gets a new leader, their productivity slows down significantly as it adapts to the disruption. Although replacing a poorly-performing organization’s leadership can help improve its performance over time, some disruption during transition is inevitable, and frequent transitions make it difficult to ever establish a “normal” and efficient routine.


Also, high turnover affects team performance. Effective teams need trust, without concerns or fear of reprisal The members of high performance teams have a high level of tacit knowledge about one another- basically they understand each other on a personal level that stretches far beyond knowledge of each other’s resumes. Trust and understanding build over time and experience-these vital team building aspects cannot exist in a constantly fluctuating team. .


Another negative aspect of senior level turnover is the impact is has on their subordinates.  A supervisory position often means creating a system and each person in the system has to know what is expected of them in order to perform their duty within the system. With each change, systems are disrupted and overall staff production and morale decreases.

Of course, turnover in the President’s senior staff is always high. These jobs are, even by the standards of the senior executives at major companies, brutal. The pressure and hours match or exceed even the most demanding private sector jobs, without the compensation of private sector pay or perks. The public scrutiny is relentless.

But even though it’s usual for turnover to be high in the White House, the problems that turnover creates tend to be worse in the West Wing. First, replacement is more difficult than in a normal organization. When the White House loses members of its senior staff, it is limited in whom it can find to replace them by the lengthy and complex security clearance process, the political ramifications, and  how their vision of the Administration meshes with that of the rest of the senior staff and that of the President.

C-Second, the learning curve for new hires is more daunting. Any new job has a learning curve. The challenges of working in the White House are unique, which makes that learning process particularly important and time-consuming. It’s not like moving from one private sector job to another.(K-you have experience with this, personally? right?)

Working in the White House is profoundly different from working anywhere else. Every time you remove someone, and particularly when you replace them with someone without senior government experience, you start that learning process all over again.

This brings us to some of the unique challenges facing the Trump White House. Essentially, half of Trump’s senior team is on their first year on the job even though he’s on his second. Compounding this problem, the number of staffers who are inexperienced in government in the Trump administration is unusually high. Rex Tillerson’s tenure at the State Department showed that even highly-skilled private sector executives can struggle with the drastically different demands of government service.

Certain characteristics of this administration make it even harder for this White House to replace the people it has been losing with people who are of traditional White House caliber. The pool of potential hires for any White House is already shallow; but this Administration’s refusal to hire many staunch Republicans who opposed Trump in the primaries limits this talent pool even more, and there are few candidates for senior staff roles with the sort of experience that previous Administrations would have considered necessary.
The humiliating manner in which staff members are fired is also likely to make it tougher for this White House to attract new talent. Tillerson found out that he was fired from Twitter. H.R. McMaster, among the most legendary soldiers of his generation, was left to drift in the wind for weeks while rumors of his impending ouster were batted about. FBI Director James Comey found out he’d been fired while on a work trip to L.A. and it was reported on television; he was then publicly attacked by the President for taking a government plane back to the East Coast. The White House has claimed that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin resigned,  while Shulkin himself said that he was fired over Twitter.
An additional wrinkle unique to this White House is that ex-senior staff have been largely unable to find the lucrative private sector positions that are normally easily available for people who used to hold their positions. Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, the discarded Press Secretary and Chief of Staff, have both failed to land the sorts of jobs their equivalents from previous administrations did. If a White House role starts to be seen as a career-limiter rather than a career-launcher, then it becomes harder to hire the best, or even adequate, talent.

Finally, the Mueller investigation and other scandals leave people joining the Administration vulnerable to the threat of astronomical legal bills, as even new hires could easily be swept up into an investigation into continuing obstruction of justice.  Service in the White House is supposed to be just that, service. But service at the price of humiliation, potential bankruptcy, or even prosecution is a lot to ask of the already tiny group of people who are both acceptable to the Administration and capable of filling these roles. Some people might well be willing to take the chance out of sheer ambition—but those are not people any Administration should want. That’s how you go from an “A team” to a C or even D team.
There’s little reason to think we’re about to see a turnaround. This president prides himself on doing things differently, and of going with his gut instead of following the advice of experts. Not only would changing his approach to talent management likely be low on his list of priorities, there’s little reason to think he could change even if he wanted to: the Presidential Personnel Office (the office tasked with, among other responsibilities, staffing the White House) is much, much smaller than previous Administrations, and the only work experience many members of its staff have is working on the Trump campaign. Two of its most senior officials have records that include being arrested for drunken driving, passing bad checks, and assault. The Trump Administration’s problems in staffing seem to be hindering the very organization responsible for fixing them.

Any President needs help, and one with no previous experience in government needs it more. Some of Trump’s appeal to his supporters was grounded in his defiant insistence on taking an approach that is radically different from that of his predecessors. “unfiltered” leaders can tend to be either enormously successful or catastrophic failures. One thing the successful ones all have in common is that they pick their spots. No leader, even the most brilliant, can perfect in all things all the time. Precisely because unfiltered leaders are often making policies that no one else would, they need to surround themselves with capable teams even more than ordinary leaders do, much as Lincoln did with his legendary “Team of Rivals.” Trump’s management of the White House made it virtually impossible for him to surround himself with a top-notch team, even though he needs one more than a conventional president would.
Whatever you may think about Trump, objectively his White House has been as dysfunctional as Hulu customer service.

We like to say that that there is nothing new under the sun.  This is new..at least in recent history. And honestly we aren’t sure how it can get better, but we hope it somehow does.

Marley's Chains

-Karen Michelle

As we near the Christmas holiday, 2 stories always emerge as the mainstays of the season,

A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Why? Why are those two stories able to stand the test of time? What are the themes within these works that continue to grip the hearts of each new generation?


In a Christmas Carol, we find the themes of greed, isolation, blame, guilt, shame, compassion, and forgiveness, and the start of something more, reconciliation and atonement.


In “It’s a Wonderful life”, the heart of humanity is explored along with the questions society grapples with daily. What is true sacrifice?  Is loyalty real if there is expected return? Why do I feel so dissatisfied? This particular story leans heavily on the themes of perspective and expectations. And contentment.


Both stories are redemption stories, stories that inspire us to be better people.

Christmas itself is considered by many to be a redemption story in that it celebrates the birth of a Redeemer, one whose sacrifice allows us to atone for our failings.

The desire for redemption is what allows humanity to start over when it is destructive, it's what drives us towards progress, it is the soil that nurtures even the smallest seed of hope.


The questions posed and discussed in these well known works are ones we see mirrored in our governments as well as society they are bound to serve. And none of us, even the wealthiest and most powerful are immune from the quiet moments of reflection when we have only ourselves and the choices defining the life we have lived as our companions. Many times, in those moments, especially the final ones, we find ourselves almost drowning in regret. Many a politician or person in power, albeit seen as a hero or a villain,  have reflected on these regrets:


Lee Atwater, political strategist and republican strategist was many different things to different people. He was described as “brilliant” “A dear friend” and also “sinister”, “racist” and “cruel”. People are complicated and it’s likely a bit of everything would apply, as it usually does. There is no doubt that Atwater is one of the architects of some of the worst of the Republican party-the “Southern Strategy” that gave white supremacists a home within the GOP, and a delight of dirty politics that has shifted rhetoric ever since. But at 39, Atwater was diagnosed with an incredibly aggressive brain tumor and died at 40. Before his death, he spoke out often about his political regrets. It was clear he was still proud of his success in who he helped get into office, but he was ashamed of how he did it.


Nearing his death, these words reflected the shift of his heart and mind:


"My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The '80s were about acquiring — acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn't I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn't I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don't know who will lead us through the '90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul....I was wrong to follow the meanness of Conservatism. I should have been trying to help people instead of taking advantage of them. I don't hate anyone anymore. For the first time in my life I don't hate somebody. I have nothing but good feelings toward people.”

Malcolm X, hero to many, and to some, a provocateur who separated the races more than he united them:

Although he did not know his days were about to be stolen from him,at the time of his death, Malcolm was undergoing more life transition. He  had rejected the coarse version of black racial separatism he had previously assumed.. He repudiated the concept that non-whites stood on a natural spiritual high ground. He also rejected such ideas as black Americans founding their own country within the confines of the American Northwest. At this point in his life, Mal­colm expressed regrets of all kinds and in a speech shortly before his death said that Dr. King was right and attempted to unite with him in a show of brotherhood. This is not to say that Malcom X did not still maintain a fighting attitude towards injustice, but that he did express regret from some of the more militant positions he held and the further divisions they caused.


Recently, the death of Senator John Mccain made headlines Many speak of him as a hero, but some label him as traitor and warmonger. . Because he knew his time left on the earth was short, Mccain made the most of his time by openly expressing his regrets and encouraging us all to work towards better government. In his final book, Mccain discussed his biggest political regrets, not speaking out against confederate flag flying, involvement in the Keating Five scandal, not picking Lieberman as his running mate during his Presidential bid, For not speaking out more often and more clearly for pro-trade and pro-immigration stances, and for not speaking out more in support of the media. Mccain even made another shocking admission in his memoir about the Iraq war. He wrote “ It can’t be judged as anything other than a mistake, a very serious one, and I have to accept my share of the blame for it.”


Ted Kennedy is a champion for liberals and an easy target for the ire of conservatives who quickly brand him “alcoholic”, “womanizer” and “murderer”.

Yet, in his final memoir, the Senator dedicated five pages to voicing his regret over the event that defined him to the right.  Kennedy said his actions on Chappaquiddick on July 18, 1969, were "inexcusable." He said he was afraid and "made terrible decisions" and had to live with the guilt for more than four decades. He regretted excessive drinking and bad behavior with women, and not being forthcoming on the infamous rape charges involving his nephew William Smith,  and purposely derailing Jimmy Carter’s bid on universal healthcare.


Billy Graham:-Reflecting on his friendships with several of America’s presidents, Graham acknowledged the nearly insatiable pull of partisan politics. Although he didn’t regret ministering to leaders of both political parties, he expressed remorse for allowing himself to be drawn too close to President Richard Nixon, who was later caught up in the Watergate scandal and resigned.“Looking back I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now,” Graham said in 2011.Although widely credited for his commitment to integrating the largely segregated Christian church in the South in the 1960s, Graham told The Associated Press in 2005 that he regretted not participating in civil rights marches with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.“I think I made a mistake when I didn’t go to Selma,”Graham said. “I would like to have done more.”

Robert Byrd is another example.  He was a member of the KKK. Voted against the Civil Rights Act and as he grew older, openly regretted it.  He owned who he had been, what he had done and changed. “I shall never fight in the armed forces with a Negro by my side. … Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
Later in life, when discussing Mr. Luther King, he said "With the passage of time, we have come to learn that his Dream was the American Dream, and few ever expressed it more eloquently.” Upon news of his death, the NAACP released a statement praising Byrd, saying that he "became a champion for civil rights and liberties" and "came to consistently support the NAACP civil rights agenda". About his time in the KKK he said “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can't erase what happened … it has emerged throughout my life to haunt and embarrass me and has taught me in a very graphic way what one major mistake can do to one’s life, career, and reputation.”


Authentic apologies can be healing, and science backs this up-but science also tells us that apologies can create even more angst in the in one who was hurt and can inspire an even greater thirst for justice or revenge.  Greater healing comes from apologies that are backed up with repentant behavior, a literal turning from the wrongdoing towards active pursuit of the right thing.

One example of someone who owned their behavior and turned from it was Britain’s John Profumo, who by most accounts lived the rest of his life trying to make amends from an affair he had with a spy.

Societal Response


Here is the thing, as we read these, it is very likely, dependent on your perspective, that you  believe these people just wanted to clear their conscience or found an apology to be the most expedient political course, and it is possible that you are right, but you don’t know for sure.. and is an important distinction. The fact we often lack the ability to make that distinction is a symptom of a society getting so cynical it can’t even appreciate the possibility or value of redemption.

It is easy for all of us to judge harshly and not give grace, but the thing about grace that makes it so unfathomable is that it is undeserved. There will be some people mentioned on this episode that you may decide are not worthy of grace and that is ok- we aren’t asking you to.

We ARE however, asking you to consider the implications of a society that cannot give grace. Are we so focused on shaming that we can’t even give room for redemption?

One of the big issues driving American society today is that we are finding ourselves more and shame driven rather guilt driven.

Guilt culture is built on knowing if you are “good” or “bad” by what your conscience feels, but shame culture defines your fitness by what your community says about you and whether is honors or excludes you. Right now social media is the largest source of community most of us have, and we are rapidly turning to shame as our catalyst for change.

Guilt in and of itself is not a bad thing.

Research suggests that guilt is a more adaptive emotion than shame and can prompt a more positive, sustained response than shame.

Shame and guilt lead to contrasting motivations or action tendencies. Shame is typically associated with a desire to deny, hide, or escape; guilt is typically associated with a desire to repair. In this way, guilt is apt to orient people in a constructive, proactive, future-oriented direction, whereas shame is apt to move people toward separation, distancing, and defense.

Guilt becomes a powerful motivator when we either see the effects of our bad behavior (like in the Christmas Carol) or when other people’s good behavior naturally exposes our own lack thereof.

Shame motivates behavior, but on a very shallow way. Perhaps so many of the apologies we hear from power players today don’t ring true because we are increasingly turning into a shaming culture rather than a guilt driven one. Remember, it was a shaming culture that defined much of t colonial America, do we really want to go back to that same philosophy, just with different standards of what constitutes being shameful?


As we have become increasingly relative in terms of what is ok and what isn’t, we really haven’t freed ourselves of anything, we have just replaced it with new standards of measurements. Perhaps we should all focus more on being people that inspire those around us to change for the better. We can criticize a policy wholeheartedly without shaming a person.


Literature and entertainment prove we love a redemption story. Most of us, even in the smallest sense, desire to live one. But the only way we can do that is to give grace. We can accept an apology with a heavy dose of skepticism, but we can also allow for the possibility of truth. We can try a little harder to want truth and goodness to win rather than expect and delight in destruction.

As this season inspires many emotions, as we just said, a big part of that is inventory. We review what and who we have in our lives, we grieve what we lost. We are quiet for a moment and we reflect on things bigger than ourselves, and often, we find regret.

Huffington Post ran an article a few years ago listing the top five regrets voiced by hospice patients.This was the list

I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

I wish I had the courage to express my feelings

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends and family.

I wish I had let myself be happier.


If we are breathing, we have the chance to right the ship so that we won’t find ourselves with a bunch of I wishes, but instead, I haves.

We leave you with this quote from “It’s a Wonderful Life”…

Now, we can get through this thing all right. We've got to stick together, though. We've got to have faith in each other.

February 3, 2019


Reviewing the Current State of the Special Prosecutor’s Investigation.

-Karen Michelle

So far 34 people have been been charged in the Mueller investigation. Some of those people were part of the President’s inner circle. However, no one has been officially accused of conspiring with Russia in order to hurt Hillary Clinton’s bid for the White House.

The Special Prosecutor's Office is not only investigating collusion with Russia, but also obstruction of justice. 


Road map to how we got here:


 1. DOJ memo directing an investigation. Note section ii.



 2. Timeline of events/developments

Detailed Timeline


Development Timeline


 3 .Current Trump legal team and strategy

Newest Team

Feb 2, 2019

Nuclear Arms Treaty Ends

-Karen Michelle

President Trump is pulling the plug on a nuclear arms treaty with Russia, accusing Moscow of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Moscow denies any violation.  Friday’s move to dissolve the treaty sets the stage for fragile talks with U.S. allies over potential new American missile deployments.  Democrats in Congress and arms control advocates criticized this decision as allowing for the possibility of a new arms race. 

Road map to how we got here:

1. Initial Action

Official Treaty

2. Noncompliance/Corrective Action

2013 Report

Correction Strategy

2017 Report

Current Violations

3. Moscow’s Response

Charge against US

Missile Denials

4. Current Strategies

Trump Admin 2018 Strategy

2019 Reactions



Yearbook Photo May Lead to Ouster of Virginia Governor.

-Chuck Walters

A 1984 yearbook photo has emerged showing two men, one in blackface, the other in a Klan outfit. One of those men is Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D). This has caused immediate calls for him to step down, that so far the Governor has resisted. He has rapidly lost support of the Democratic power base in Virginia. A statement released by Virginia Legislative Black Caucus read in part “given what was revealed today, it is clear that he can no longer effectively serve as governor. It is time for him to resign, so that Virginia can begin the process of healing.” This comes on the heels of the resignation last week of the Florida Secretary of State State Michael Ertel (R) being forced to resign after photos emerged showing him at a Halloween party dressed in blackface, fake breasts and a T-shirt reading “Katrina Victim”