Apologies are in order, because DC Deciphered has missed the last two weeks of “What Did I Miss?” Ironic, I know. But now we get to return with a rare week in which the news wasn’t dominated by the Russia investigation. Unfortunately, that’s only because it was pushed aside by the terrifying showdown between the U.S. and North Korea, highlighted by the battle to see which country’s leader could spout the craziest bluster.
But while the news was filled with increasingly frightening threats of nuclear confrontation, there was other news this week. So what else happened this week that you might have missed?
1. Up first, just as a human interest story, and certainly not because I’m implying it’s relevant or anything: the Washington Post dug up this fascinating story from 1973, during Richard Nixon’s beleaguered presidency. An air force major named Harold Hering was in training to be a missileer, the guy who turns the key to launch a nuclear missile. After class one day, he asked his teacher, How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?”
Hering thought there had to be some sort of checks and balances on the system. But there weren’t, and apparently the powers that be didn’t even like that system was being questioned, because Hering was forced to retire. But even now, more than 40 years later, Hering says he doesn’t regret asking the question:
“It bothers me immensely that the only area there is not a check and balance is the one that could literally result in the end of the world,” he told Radio Lab [in an interview earlier this year]. “That seems strange to me.”
I hope you’ll click on the link above & read the whole article. There’s more from Hering elaborating on his concerns about this immense power being in the hands of one man, who may or may not be thinking rationally.
2. On a related note, Buzzfeed spoke to six different European diplomats to get their thoughts on Trump. They spoke anonymously, presumably so they could be candid. Interestingly, the interviews took place before any of the recent news about North Korea broke, but the comments are especially striking in light of what’s happened this week:
“Trump could send a tweet in the middle of the night pissing off Kim Jong Un. And the next morning we wake up to a world on the brink of war,” one seasoned diplomat told BuzzFeed News.
That observation came before Trump’s latest bellicose rhetoric, and the sense of alarm in European governments can only have increased in the last 24 hours . . .
Another diplomat said it had proved impossible to discuss serious international issues, such as Libya, with Trump. And seven months into his presidency, the European officials say they are still struggling to figure out who else they can engage with in the US administration.
Describing a meeting between their boss and the president as “basically useless,” they said: “He [Trump] just bombed us with questions: ‘How many people do you have? What’s your GDP? How much oil does [that country] produce? How many barrels a day? How much of it is yours?’”
Like the first article, this is another one where you’ve really got to read the whole thing. It’s a short piece, but every paragraph has something that will make you say, “ohhh my . . .”
3. Here’s an interesting report from the Washington Post. They had reporters spend a portion of every day in May at the Trump International Hotel in Washington D.C. in order to see who was coming and going. The hotel isn’t required to make public disclosures about who visits, and the public is blocked from many of the hotels meeting areas. So this was the Post’s attempt to let the public in on some of the business being done at the hotel owned by the President of the United States and which happens to be located just blocks away from the White House.
This is nothing Washington has ever seen. For the first time in presidential history, a profit-making venture touts the name of a U.S. president in its gold signage. And every cup of coffee served, every fundraiser scheduled, every filet mignon ordered feeds the revenue of the Trump family’s private business.
In conversations with The Washington Post, the hotel’s management described its strategy to capitalize on the president’s popularity. It markets the hotel to Republican and conservative groups that embrace Trump’s politics but takes care not to solicit business from fringe groups that would embarrass the president. Trump supporters in red “Make America Great Again” caps get a chance to rub elbows with White House officials against an American flag backdrop at the Benjamin Bar, where a signature concoction of winter wheat vodka, oysters and caviar goes for $100.
4. And the hotel made nearly $2 million in profit in the first four months of 2017, dramatically outpacing expectations. Before Trump took office, the hotel had actually been projected to lose more than $2 million in those first four months of the year. The hotel has an unusually low occupancy rate, but the rooms that do get booked go for an extraordinary rate: an average of $652.98 a night compared to an average of $495 a night for the city’s other renowned luxury hotels.
5. This story is actually from last week, but it was so jarring in its own quiet way, and so perfectly emblematic of Trump, I didn’t want you to miss it. The Secret Service has moved out of the space it had been using as a command center in Trump Tower in NYC because of a dispute with the Trump organization over the terms of the lease. They are now operating out of a trailer more than 50 floors below.
So, the people who are putting their lives on the line to protect the President and his family are now forced to stay in a trailer on a NYC sidewalk because the President decided to treat them just like any random people on the other side of a business deal. And we’ve seen how he treats people on the other side of business deals.
6. And Democrats on the House Oversight Committee want to know just how much money the federal government is spending at Trump businesses. They have sent letters to all cabinet secretaries requesting this information by August 25. Let’s see if they actually get any of the requested information back.
Their request seeks documents about any payments the departments made to the Trump Organization or any business in which the Trump organization has an ownership stake.
7. David Fahrenthold, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his series of articles during the Presidential campaign exposing Trump’s charity scams, has a little expose on another Trump scam. It’s not news that Trump’s businesses hire foreign workers, despite his routine complaints about how foreign workers hurt U.S. workers. But now Fahrenthold shows how Trump’s businesses pull that off, as a legal matter.
The law requires that businesses requesting permission from the government to hire foreign workers must first try to hire U.S. workers. Among other things, this means they must place two ads for the job in a newspaper. So in order to technically comply with this requirement for this season, Trump’s Mar-A-Lago Club placed an ad deep inside the Palm Beach Post. The ad was full of tiny print, gave no email address or phone number, and requested that applicants apply by fax. The ad ran twice – and twice only.
Oh, also – Mar-a-Lago asked the Department of Labor for permission to hire 70 foreign workers about a week before the ads ran. You can tell Mar-a-Lago was really trying hard to find available U.S. workers before they had to reluctantly turn to foreign workers as a last resort, right?
8. Remember a couple weeks ago, the White House held “Made in America” week to tout products made in the U.S.? Trump held a special ceremony as part of that week to announce that Taiwanese company Foxconn would be opening a new factory in Wisconsin (in Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, to be specific).
Trump applauded the investment in a White House ceremony with Foxconn chairman Terry Gou calling it “a great day for American workers and American manufacturing” and taking credit for the company’s decision to build the factory in the U.S.
“If I didn’t get elected, he definitely would not be spending $10 billion,” Trump said, turning toward Gou.
Well, it turns out that the incentive package being paid to Foxconn by the state is so enormous ($3 billion) that non-partisan analysts expect it will take 25 years before Wisconsin will even break even on the project. And that’s assuming Foxconn meets all its promised commitments on job numbers, salary, etc.
9. On Thursday afternoon, Trump took some questions from the press during a break in his “working vacation” at Bedminster. I wouldn’t count it as an actual press conference, since it was spur of the moment, so only the pool press (i.e. the press who’s on location with him) had the opportunity to ask questions. But it was the first time in months that the press even had an opportunity to ask Trump questions.
Just a few days ago, CNN’s media correspondent Brian Stelter had pointed out that – 200 days into his presidency – Trump has had only one solo press conference. That one was on February 16, when his presidency was less than a month old.
And though Trump has granted some high-profile interviews with outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal recently, he has done relatively few overall, which means journalists are rarely able to ask him questions on behalf of the public.
If you’re wondering how unusual this is, here are the stats for past Presidents:
10. In the 6/9 edition of “What Did I Miss?” I told you about a disturbing Buzzfeed report which showed that Trump’s election was inspiring a new form & volume of bullying at schools around the country. Well, apparently it’s not just school kids’ behavior that’s being influenced by Trump’s example.
Human resources experts and others in the field have said that bad behavior in the workplace has spiked since Trump’s election:
HR and leadership experts say a “Trump effect” has made a new norm of bad behavior, from dropping f-bombs to fudging details on resumes to spreading false rumors about co-workers . . .
Career coaches report an increased willingness to engage in unethical behavior, like lying about past experience or performance in a job interview, or making a promise with no intention of keeping it . . .
Social cognitive theory could be the mechanism driving this dynamic, according to Seth Spain, an assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the John Molson School of Business at Concordia University.
“Trump is serving as a negative kind of role model. They see his behavior, they see that it worked, it was effective, and use that as a model,” he said. This mirroring might not even be conscious, he added.
“People might have been more self-controlled before because of social norms, [but] the demonstration of breaking those norms and not suffering obvious consequences for it may empower people to act worse than they otherwise would,” Spain said.
11. And lastly, here’s a very random but fascinating story about the trek bananas go through before arriving for sale at a local NYC grocery store or bodega. The bananas are shipped to the U.S. while still green so that they don’t get damaged in transport. Once they arrive in New York, the bananas go to ripening rooms:
Banana boxes were stacked from floor to ceiling, and a medical-looking device stuck out from one, trailing a cord. “A pulp thermometer,” he said.
The ripening rooms are filled with ethylene, a synthetic version of the hormone that naturally sets off ripening.
The thermometer tracks the banana’s internal temperature, or its pulp level, which tells the ripeners how to adjust the ethylene, humidity and temperature in the room.
This art of ripening took time to perfect. And there were some accidents along the way. Ethylene is combustible, and in 1936, the Pittsburgh Banana Company building exploded, causing it to rain bananas in the city’s Strip District.
Today ripening can be slowed or sped up by tapping a touch-screen. “If sales are up, we increase the temperature,” Mr. Serafino said. “If sales are down, we decrease the temperature.” The range was three degrees up or down, he said.
“You don’t want to stress the bananas.”