Sunday Book Club: “Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?” by Alyssa Mastromonaco

Alyssa Mastromonaco is under the impression that Barack Obama did not like her very much when she interviewed for him in December 2004. Mastromonaco heard about a position in Senator Obama’s team from colleagues who she worked with on John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Lesson number one: your network is your most valuable asset. Getting a job in so many cases is about who you know as much as what you know. We are not talking nepotism, though. A diverse network of contacts is like a safety net. I had a very unpleasant work crisis last year, and it was a colleague and friend from my very first job, who lent me so much of her sanity, I did not even need a shoulder to cry on. Sure, families matter a lot, but if you want someone who just gets it about work and your specific career issues, reach out to people swimming in the same ocean.
Mastromonaco did get a job in the then-senator Obama’s office. In the decade that followed, she served as assistant to the president and director of scheduling and advance at the White House, and then as assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff for operations at the White House until 2014. She was the youngest woman to hold that position. As part of her job, she coordinated logistics and operations of two presidential campaigns and inaugurations, devised plans for recovery during natural disasters, including floods and hurricanes, oversaw Obama’s foreign travels, including his trips to Afghanistan and Iraq, and so much more. This year, Mastromonaco published a book, reflecting on her experience and lessons learned. Her main goal was to get more women interested in and excited about working in government. As she admits, there never was a woman from the White House who had written such kind of book before. The lessons Mastromonaco shares could be useful to anyone in any industry.

Lesson Two: Be always prepared to defend your choices, whether just to yourself or to your coworkers, friends or family. “The quickest way for people to lose confidence in your ability to ever make a decision is for you to pass the buck, shrug your shoulders, or otherwise wuss out.” 

Mastromonaco gave insight in what it was like having Obama as your boss. The book is generously peppered with most amazing stories. As you might have guessed, Barack Obama is not someone who makes you feel small; there is no external pressure to make you take shortcuts. He assumed his team were adults and learned their own lessons when things did not exactly go as planned. 

Lesson Three: Do as much research as you can and keep your ears open. You will learn a lot about yourself by being open to hearing feedback. 

Lesson Four: The importance of self-awareness – knowing when you are at your best, what you are like on not so good days, and how much sleep you need to function without snapping at people – will allow you to keep your contacts, reputation and sanity throughout your career. Developing self-awareness is a life long process. Just stop and listen to yourself from time to time. In return, your mind and body will give you their optimal performance. 

Lesson Five: Know when it is time to leave. Mastromonaco left the White House when she reached the level of exhaustion, nervousness and insomnia that was beyond coping. We all have different reasons to say “that’s enough.” The point is, do not overstay when you know it is hopeless. I firmly believe that as we only have one life to live, we must make the most of it. Surviving in a place you hate is never a way forward. Remember, self-awareness.

Lesson Six: Know your worth. After leaving the White House, Mastromonaco accepted a job offer from VICE, where she had to negotiate her salary. Her advice: if a potential employer asks how much you want, the best response is “I’m sure there’s a salary band for the position, and my hope would be to come in at the high end of that.” For some of us, money talk will never be easy, but this is a diplomatic way to show that, as far as you are concerned, you deserve the best in your league.

Lesson Seven: Never underestimate the importance of kindness, which extends beyond “please” and “thank you.” Mastromonaco put it brilliantly: “Working in the White House is obviously heady, but it is also humbling – you are around the most brilliant, decorated brains in the country, that do not have to do anything for you, but they often do. If you approach it with grace – and a willingness to accept that many people know much more than you – you can walk away a much better person than you were when you came in.” 

At some point in your career, you will be the youngest, the oldest, the newbie, and, if you stick around long enough, the most experienced person in the room. How exciting is this! Nothing is truer than an old adage: “love what you do, and do what you love.” 

I considered keeping this book in my personal library. However, it is too good not to be shared. Therefore, as most of my books, I will be donating it to Oxfam, so it can inspire someone else. 

Trump-a-day

This week, The Hill has drawn attention to the fact that nearly six months in the office, President Trump still does not have an official portrait. 

drawingimage.com

Typically, taking the new portrait photo that hangs in over 7,000 agencies and office buildings around the country is among the first orders of business for a new president. Once the photo is sent to the Government Printing Office, portraits are distributed via the General Services Administration, as well as a few other agencies, for hanging at entrances and lobbies, The Hill explains. The issue in the Trump administration is that the White House hasn’t sent a photo to GPO for printing. President Obama had his official photo taken a week before his inauguration, and the new portraits were released just weeks later. When he was re-elected, a new presidential photo was taken and posted around the country. Those portraits were taken down at noon on the day of Trump’s inauguration, and since then frames at federal offices around the country have remained empty.

This is just one indicator of the White House’s casual pace on ramping up the functions of a new administration. “It’s one of the very first thing’s that’s typically done, but then again, so is getting your political leaders in place,” said Max Stier, the president and CEO of Partnership for Public Service (PPS). 

According to PPS, Trump is well behind his predecessors in staffing the government, having submitted just 197 people for executive branch, civilian, non-judicial positions. Of those, only 46 have been confirmed by the Senate. Under Obama, the numbers were 323 and 183, respectively, at the same point in his administration. “This is a symptom of a group of individuals who collectively don’t have much prior experience in the executive branch, and I think as a result they haven’t fully understood the existing process,” said Stier.

While the portrait’s absence is largely symbolic, it may have practical repercussions for an administration that has gone head-to-head with career bureaucrats, portraying them as Obama-era holdovers or members of the “deep state” determined to block the president’s agenda. 

“The government’s career workforce is built to serve whoever is the political leader. It’s part of their DNA, and that presidential portrait is ubiquitous and symbolizes the existing leadership,” Stier said.

According to ABC, other offices have been happy to hang the unofficial portraits. The Pentagon mounted a Trump portrait at a special VIP entrance, while some local buildings, such as a county courthouse in Vinton, Iowa, simply printed and mounted their own. Hopefully, it was not a fake Time magazine cover, previously spotted on the walls in several Trump properties.

Trump-a-day

Yesterday, en route to a potentially fractious G20 summit in Germany, U.S. President Donald Trump met with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The two leaders exchanged an extended handshake.

Then there was this Handshake of the Year:

https://twitter.com/number10cat/status/883040234686042113
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The White House had said Trump would use the stopover in Warsaw to showcase his commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which he once called “obsolete”, bemoaning allies’ repeated failure to spend the recommended 2 percent of GDP on defense. Trump told a joint news conference with President Duda that it was “past time” for all countries in the alliance to “get going” on their financial obligations.

At the same press conference, Trump said “something” would have to be done about North Korea and called on nations to confront North Korea’s “very, very bad behavior.” He said he did not draw “red lines”, but that Washington was thinking about “severe things” in response to North Korea’s test-launch this week of an intercontinental ballistic missile with the potential to reach Alaska.

Please – please – please, don’t start the nuclear winter!


Trump also said that everyone is benefiting from a thriving U.S. economy, except for him. He bragged about recent stock market gains as he addressed a summit. He specifically said: “Personally I’ve picked up nothing. That’s all right. Everyone else is getting very rich. That’s ok, I’m very happy.”

Yet, yesterday, Walter Shaub, the leader of the federal government’s ethics office who previously criticised President Trump over the president’s business interests, submitted his resignation. Shaub told CBS News on Thursday evening that he doesn’t know whether Trump is profiting from his businesses, but that’s not the point. “I can’t know what their intention is. I know that the effect is that there’s an appearance that the businesses are profiting from his occupying the presidency. And appearance matters as much as reality, so even aside from whether or not that’s actually happening, we need to send a message to the world that the United States is going to have the gold standard for an ethics program in government, which is what we’ve always had,” Shaub said.

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The party of German leader Angela Merkel has downgraded the US from a “friend” to a “partner” in another sign that relations between the two countries are in decline. The Christian Democratic Union describes the US as “our most important non-European partner” in its manifesto, published on Monday ahead of September’s federal elections


 

Trump-a-day

Top aides to President Trump are worried what Trump will say during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin when the two leaders meet at the upcoming G-20 summit, The New York Times reported. The first official meeting between Trump and Putin comes amid swirling accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. 
There’s a fair amount of nervousness in the White House and at the State Department about this meeting and that two leaders will bond over their distrust of the media. “You don’t want to come out of there saying, ‘We’re friends, and the enemy is the deep state and the media,’” former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told the Times. “If it were somebody else other than Trump, you could imagine a tough conversation about Ukraine and election meddling, but that’s probably too optimistic,” he continued.

However, according to reports, one person in the White House isn’t worried at all: Trump himself. He reportedly has told aides he isn’t worried about the meeting and is more concerned about the optics of being scolded by German Chancellor Angela Merkel over his decision to exit the Paris climate agreement.

“I expect an Olympian level of macho posturing between Trump and Putin, who both understand the power of symbolism,” Derek Chollet, Executive Vice President for security and defence policy at The German Marshall Fund of the United States told the Times. “Putin will be very prepared for this meeting. He’s someone who is a master at manipulation.”

As Trump can’t be relied on to handle the official government business and adequately represent his nation, senior Trump administration officials have pressed for Fiona Hill — the National Security Council’s senior director for Europe and Russia — to be in the room during the highly anticipated meeting. If Hill is there, these officials believe, it will help avoid the perception that the president is too eager to cosy up to the Kremlin. The hope is to avoid a repeat of Trump’s last meeting with top Russian officials, during which he disclosed classified intelligence to two of the country’s top diplomats. Hill, who came to the White House from the Brookings Institution, previously served as the National Intelligence Council’s top intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia. Her 2013 biography, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, portrayed a corrupt and Machiavellian leader attempting to balance his various public personas in an effort to hang on to power. While Trump has repeatedly hailed the “strong” and “brilliant” Russian leader, Hill said she expected little change in longstanding U.S.-Russia tensions. “I think it will come down to what it’s always been,” she told The Atlantic in November, “where the Russians will get all giddy with expectations, and then they’ll be dashed, like, five minutes into the relationship because the U.S. and Russia just have a very hard time… being on the same page.”


Image – courtesy of Daily Beast

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In the meantime, Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak said that his country’s work with President Trump’s administration is “unfolding uneasily.” “There are always opportunities for positive turnarounds,” Kislyak told a Russian news outlet earlier this week. “What is needed is the resolve not to miss such opportunities. Let’s see what the U.S. will do for the meeting.” Kislyak described a new set of sanctions against Russia imposed by the U.S. last month for its interference in the 2016 election as “another headache.” “Sometimes, you are surprised at the ease with which the American establishment is ready to sacrifice normalcy in our relations,” Kislyak said.

Mr Ambassador, normalcy has largely been absent since 9 November 2016.


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President Trump’s donation of his first-quarter salary will go toward a pair of projects at a preserved Civil War battlefield in Maryland. Trump’s $78,333.32 check accounted for his after-tax income between 20 January and the end of March. He asked specifically that it is used to maintain historic battlefields. Money will go toward restoring the exterior of Antietam’s Newcomer House and replacing a fence at the battlefield, 70 miles northwest of Washington, D.C. The battle was the bloodiest day in American military history, with more than 22,700 dead, wounded or missing after the fight, with Union soldiers making up the bulk of the casualties. The battle was regarded as a draw, but gave President Abraham Lincoln a strategic win that led days later to the Emancipation Proclamation. This donation aside, Trump is proposing a crippling $1.6 billion budget cut to US national parks, battlefields and other public lands.

Trump-a-day

 As US is celebrating the Independence Day (from Britain), today’s Trump-a-day selection is just a handful of reasons why the upcoming 1984 film should be renamed into 2017.


President Trump took to Twitter in the early hours of Tuesday to hit North Korea over conducting another ballistic missile test.

North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017

….and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017

The missile test and Trump’s tweets come shortly before Trump is expected to meet with Xi and other world leaders (including Putin) at the upcoming Group of 20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, next week.

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Trump again sent the media into a fury over the weekend when he tweeted a doctored video showing him at a fake wrestling match body-slamming the CNN logo superimposed over the face of WWE president Vince McMahon from a few years ago during a Trump cameo. Reporters accused Trump of encouraging violence against the press. According to a running tally maintained by the Upshot, the president has insulted CNN more than 100 times on Twitter alone.

The relationship between the White House and the media is in shambles, with the daily press briefings devolving into shouting matches and airing of grievances. Both sides engage in stunts, grandstanding and political theatre meant to undermine or embarrass the other. The nasty turn has also been a boon to the media and the individual reporters who register acts of protest against the administration. “Ratings are part of it, but the media’s open contempt for this administration is part of it, too,” said Tim Graham, the director of media analysis at the conservative Media Research Center. “I imagine it will continue as long as the ratings keep going up.”

Trump isn’t changing. This is how he’s going to act in his spare time and he’ll attack the media at least a few times per week for the rest of his time in office. From Friday morning until Sunday night, eight of Trump’s 14 tweets were about the Fourth Estate.

Does Trump’s anti-CNN tweet violate Twitter’s terms? This is the “hateful conduct” policy https://t.co/1oCoXPNNulhttps://t.co/AhEu7Hwn12

— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) July 2, 2017

 


Twitter not surprisingly said it didn’t.

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The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — formed by President Trump to investigate his widely debunked claim that millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote in November’s election — sent letters last week to the 50 secretaries of state across the country requesting information about voters. The letter asked for names, addresses, birth dates and party affiliations of registered voters in each state. It also sought felony convictions, military statuses, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting records dating back to 2006. Scary what they can do with this information…

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Multiple FBI staffers reportedly sported T-shirts that read “Comey is my homey” to a Family Day event on Monday, offering support for ousted FBI Director James Comey, whom President Trump fired earlier this year. The back of the shirts featured a quote attributed to Comey: “We choose to do good for a living.”

An FBI spokesperson said the annual Family Day event can showcase divisions in the agency, as well as giving families of agency employees a chance to visit the bureau.

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A top Justice Department official who serves as a corporate compliance watchdog has left her job, saying she felt she could no longer force companies to comply with the government’s ethics laws when members of the administration she works for have conducted themselves in a manner that she claims would not be not tolerated.

Hui Chen had served in the department’s compliance counsel office from November 2015 until she resigned in June, breaking her silence in a LinkedIn post last week highlighted by The International Business Times, which points to the Trump administration’s behaviour as the reason for her job change. “To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic,” Chen wrote.

Before her resignation, Chen had posted tweets or retweeted articles that were considered critical of Trump. ”For those who truly care about ‪#ethics, ignoring our current ‪#conductatthetop requires abandonment of conscience,” she tweeted last month.

Chen said management in her office tried to silence her from publicly speaking out against the White House.

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The purge of government employees that have scientific expertise continues. Last Friday, the last three members of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) closed the door to their office for the final time. “Science division out. Mic drop,” one of the employees tweeted. All three staff members were holdovers from the Obama administration. Under his leadership, the OSTP had nine employees that were the executive branch’s brain trust on issues like STEM education, biotechnology, and crisis response. According to CBS News, there is no one working in that division of the OSTP now and no clear indication that replacements will be chosen. One hallmark of this administration’s term has been to leave thousands of federal government positions empty. Areas that Trump isn’t particularly interested in have been left to atrophy. He has no interest in getting along with other countries or using soft power, so the State Department is languishing. He has no interest in science or protecting the environment so the EPA is avoiding staffing and eliminating over 1,200 jobs. The EPAs Board of Scientific Counsellors will be down to 11 members by 1 September. Just a few months ago there were 68 members on the board.

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Iran is holding a weeklong “Trumpism” cartoon contest and exhibition to mock the U.S. president.


The first-prize winner, who received a $1,500 award, depicted President Trump drooling on books while sporting a jacket made of dollar bills, The Associated Press reported Monday. Hadi Asad said he wanted his cartoon to point out the “money-mindedness and war monger nature” of the president. “I wanted to show Trump while trampling symbols of culture,” Asadi told the AP.


Individuals from 74 countries participated in the exhibit that opened on Monday, including 1,614 Iranian cartoons and four American works. That is a lot of Trumpisms. Hopefully, they will publish a book and buying it will not be a sanctions violation.