Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Secretary and the Lord

Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the sphere of private life.
— William Lamb, From G.W.E. Russell, Collections and Recollections

It is going to be a whole new State Department! Mike Pompeo, when confirmed as Secretary of State, will bring a religious zeal to that institution that it almost certainly has never before enjoyed. Indeed, it may be that his enthusiasm for Christianity will convert the Department of State into a sort of missionary society, thus giving it an additional purpose to those purposes already described in the official website of the agency. The website says that the Department: “advances the interests of the American people, their safety and economic prosperity, by leading America’s foreign policy through diplomacy, advocacy, and assistance.” With the advent of Mike Pompeo, the Department may alter its statement of purpose to add that it leads American foreign policy in order to promote Christianity throughout the world. If Mike’s tenure at CIA is a guide, evangelism and confidence in the ability of Mike’s Jesus to show the way, will almost certainly change State Department employees’ views of their roles in the world of diplomacy.

The CIA, of course, has a different mission from the Department of State. The Mission Statement of the CIA says in part: “What We Do: CIA’s primary mission is to collect, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate foreign intelligence to assist the President and senior US government policymakers in making decisions relating to national security. This is a very complex process and involves a variety of steps. . . .” There is no reference to bringing Christian beliefs into the activities of the CIA. “Foreign intelligence” as used in the mission statement, was not intended by its drafters to refer to Jesus or God. That did not, however, prevent Mike from introducing them to the Agency.

Mike invoked Christianity in expressing his views about Muslims in a speech he gave in a church in Wichita Kansas in 2014. Mike said that radical Muslims want “to wipe Christians from the face of the earth. . . . [T]hese folks are serious and will continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ, our Savior, is truly the only solution for our world.” Adherents of Islam, the second largest religious group in the world, with more than 1 million followers, would almost certainly find that a difficult proposition to accept.

After he became Director of the CIA, Mike announced plans to establish a chaplaincy on the CIA campus similar to what the military has at its installations. His speeches were reportedly infused with references to Christianity. He attends weekly prayer meetings in government buildings. According to a report, in Foreign Policy, there are concerns that his religious zeal is leaking into the CIA. Complaints from some employees are that supervisors want to hold Bible study sessions during work hours. Some of the senior people in the CIA are importuning lower ranking individuals at the agency to attend Bible study in the evenings. According to the report, veteran employees at the CIA are becoming estranged from the agency they have long enjoyed serving.

Responding to criticism of Mike’s remarks during agency speeches and other activities invoking Christianity, a spokesperson for the CIA said: “Director Pompeo is a man of faith. The idea that he should not practice his faith because he is Director of CIA is absurd.”

Those working at the State Department who lack Mike’s Christian zeal, may view his advent to the department with some trepidation. Although it is too soon to know how he will affect the overall work at the State Department, he may be able to convert some of the empty offices at the State Department that Rex Tillerson decided to leave empty, into small places of worship that Department employees can slip into during the day, in order to enjoy quiet reflection. They may even be used for employees to try to convert some non-believers in the State Department.

The Pew Research Center reported that in 2010 there were 50 Muslim-majority countries. Mike will have to spend much of his time negotiating with leaders of the Muslim-majority countries where adherents to Islam live. It will be interesting to see how he convinces the leaders of those countries that in addition to whatever else they may be discussing, it is necessary for them to understand that, as he so eloquently put it in his 2014 speech: “Jesus Christ our Savior is truly the only solution for our world.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stormy Weather

A sekret ceases tew be a sekret if it iz once confided. . . .
— Josh Billings: His Sayings

From time to time, legal issues are presented by, what in grade school, would have been referred to as “current events.” And it is current events that have given rise to a number of inquiries from readers asking me to explain “confidentiality agreements.”

A confidentiality agreement is typically entered into when people are possessed of information about a given subject that is known only to them, and they agree, for whatever reason, that the information will not be shared with any third party but will remain a secret among the parties to the agreement.

Let us assume that a friend and I have conspired together to rob a bank, and believe it is in our mutual interest to enter into a confidentiality agreement, pursuant to the terms of which each of us agrees to never disclose the terms of our plan to rob the bank nor our respective identities. Assume I agree to be the driver of the getaway vehicle. If my colleague is arrested and I am not, and my colleague gives the police my name, that is a violation of our confidentiality agreement and I will be able to sue my colleague for breach of the confidentiality agreement.
Now that my readers understand how confidentiality agreements work, here is an example of a confidentiality agreement that might fall under the heading of “current events.” The facts of my example, like my bank robbery example, are purely fictional. Our exemplars, for purposes of this discussion, are called “Tempest” and “Cassius.”

Tempest happens to be in the sex trade, and makes movies that appeal to those with prurient interests, and engages in sexual acts with fellow actors and, on occasion, people who are willing to pay for sexual relations with her. She is quite discrete which is why she is known publicly only as “Tempest.”

During her professional life she occasionally encounters people who, having seen her movies, hope to get to know her better. If the person she encounters is attractive, she may willingly accompany him to a private location where she bestows her favors on him either with, or without, compensation, depending on how much fun she had during the encounter. At the conclusion of the encounter she and her partner may enter into a confidentiality agreement in which each of them agrees not to disclose any of the details of the encounter to ANYONE at any time. They might do that because Tempest does not want it known in professional circles, that she occasionally performs with amateurs. Cassius might want the agreement because without it Tempest might comment on his performance and even disclose, to Cassius’s great embarrassment, that his hands are not the only appendage he has that is small, even when excited. Such a confidentiality agreement, if entered into, is completely enforceable by either party.

Now let us assume that there is no agreement and they part as friends. Some years later Tempest decides to share details of the encounter with a reporter from a muckraking publication and gives a lengthy description of the encounter in which she includes a description of Cassius’s performance during their encounter saying: “It was one position, what you would expect someone his age to do. It wasn’t bad. Don’t get me wrong.”

Many years later, events transpire that cause Cassius to regret the absence of a confidentiality agreement. He asks his lawyer to prepare what might be called an “ex post facto” confidentiality agreement in which both he and Tempest agree to keep confidential that which, by now, is known about all over the world, although perhaps a few details are missing that Tempest overlooked when being interviewed.

Cassius’s lawyer is not a very good lawyer. He once worked as a veterinarian. When Cassius asks him to prepare a confidentiality agreement, the lawyer fails to tell his client that one of the things he learned as a veterinarian, is that on the day before you plan to operate on a cat, you put the cat in a bag so that you will know where it is when it’s time to operate. If the cat gets out of the bag you may not be able to recapture it in order to perform surgery. Had Cassius’s lawyer been a good lawyer, he would have shared that information with Cassius and that would have been the end of it. Instead, Cassius’s lawyer sends Tempest a check for a great deal of money and the EXACT confidentiality agreement Tempest and Cassius should have signed 12 years earlier, and before she gave her interview and all the details of her encounter with Cassius were known all over the world. Cassius hoped that by paying Tempest money, the cat would crawl back into the bag and everyone would forget the interview she had given a few years earlier. The lawyer even went to court to try to get the court to put the cat back into the bag. What is obvious to all but the truly obtuse, is that neither the court nor anyone else can put the cat back in the bag.

Question: Why is everyone trying so hard?

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Table

And homeless near a thousand homes I stood,
And near a thousand tables pined and wanted food.
— William Wordsworth, Guilt and Sorrow

It doesn’t seem fair. And the unfairness is especially apparent when it’s put in context. It is not as though he wanted to spend thousands of dollars on a personal phone booth, or use government funds to pay for charter or first class air travel around the world. And the criticism is not directed at him because he supports cuts to HUD programs contained in the Trump budget. Nor is it because he eliminated language in the HUD Mission Statement that promised inclusive and discrimination-free communities. Nor is it because he is opposed to equal rights for the LGBTQ community. It’s just because his wife was trying to do him a favor and all she wanted was a simple dining room table befitting the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development when entertaining guests in his office. Everyone would agree that food tastes better when nicely served.

The reports about Ben Carson and his presumed profligacy, infuriated people who work in the White House. As a result, they intend to assert more control over expenses incurred by HUD when it comes to spending taxpayer money on office improvements and the like. They may, of course, have been especially sensitive about a $31,000 dining room table because they were thinking about the fact that Mr. Trump’s Fiscal Year Budget proposal, among other things, cuts the Department of Housing’s funding by $8.8 billion, or 18% of what it had been the preceding year, and cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion. In light of the size of these cuts, Ben’s dining room table seems fairly insignificant. And when it comes to other cabinet secretaries and their profligacies, Ben seems like a bit of a piker. Mr. Trump has filled his administration with people who REALLY know how to spend money. Dining room tables would be beneath them.

The most profligate is Scott Pruett. Scott, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has to get credit for being among the most creative when it comes to extravagant spending. Scott, like all people in his position, has a private office. According to reports, in addition to a private office, he has had biometric locks installed on his office doors that only permit someone to enter his office if the would-be entrant’s fingerprints are recognized by the lock. This is to prevent the person who has casually entered the secure building in which Scott’s office is located and has passed by armed guards, a metal detector, and an X-Ray machine, from casually wandering into Scott’s office by mistake. In addition to the security protections and the presence of armed guards patrolling the halls of the EPA, Scott has had a phone booth installed in his private office. The phone booth cost $24,750, almost as much as Ben’s dining room table. Whereas the dining room table was needed for gracious dining, the phone booth was installed so Scott could have privacy when talking on the phone in his private office. Scott’s greatest extravagance, however, is not wanting to talk in a phone booth in his office. It’s his flying habits.

Scott almost always charters a plane or flies first class when he flies commercially, because people in the cheap seats have on occasion been rude to him. He also takes advantage of his position to commandeer army transports. On one occasion, he and his staff took a military plane from Cincinnati to New York City so they could catch a commercial flight to Europe. The cost of the military plane was $36,068.50, $5,000 more than Ben’s dining room table. On March 1, 2018, Scott let it be known that on a podcast set to air on March 5 he would announce that “there’s a change coming” which probably means he’ll be sitting in the back of the plane with the people who have on occasion spoken rudely to him. I assume one of his many armed guards can admonish anyone who addresses him rudely. And Scott is not, of course, alone in his profligate ways. Cabinet secretaries also enjoy the perks of air travel that they plucked from the government for themselves or their spouses. Indeed, a fondness for luxurious air travel has been the hallmark of, if not a requirement of, the appointment to a position as secretary of most anything in the Trump administration.

Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary, spent more than a million dollars during his 7 ½ month tenure, for private charter and military flights, or $133,333 per month. Ryan Zinke, Interior Secretary, on one occasion spent $12,000 flying from Las Vegas to Montana. Steve Mnuchin, treasury Secretary of Wizard of Oz fame, spent $811,800 on air travel in the first 12 months he was in office or $67,650 a month.

A review of the amounts the peripatetic cabinet secretaries have spent on airfare, makes a dining room table seem like chicken feed. Poor Ben is the one taking the rap. And it wasn’t even his fault-it was Candy’s doing. She is Ben’s wife and it was she who assumed responsibility for making sure that his office was up to her standards. We should all be blessed with such a thoughtful wife.