Open Thread: Tillerson Out

CBS and other news outlets are reporting that the White House is planning on forcing Tillerson out of State and replacing him with Mike Pompeo.

Nothing has been confirmed yet, but this fits the pattern of previous Trump ousters which always seem to come with the need to commit maximum humiliation.

Burt Likko sayeth:

If this is correct, I’ll be not particularly happy about it-Tillerson is not a particularly good secretary of state, so far as I can tell, and I neither like him or trust him, but he is at least one of the few actual grownups in the Administration.

I agree and disagree with Burt here. He seems relatively grownup but I think he is also the Trump official likely to cause the most lasting damage to the United States, our abilities as a superpower, and our reputation. By all accounts, Tillerson is running the State Department like a slash and burn CEO. Career diplomatic troops are demoralized, understaffed, and being forced to work on assignments well bellow their years of experience. Many have resigned and Tillerson was trying to force more out. If anything is more likely to please Putin and the Russians, it is an understaffed State Department without any institutional knowledge. It could take a generation for the knowledge to be rebuilt.

Seemingly he is still one of the best of a horrible lot, but that might mean he caused more damage because of his competence.

Other questions:

Will this trigger the alleged suicide pact and result in additional resignations?

Is the Trump administration going to end up with anyone left in its cabinet?

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61 thoughts on “Open Thread: Tillerson Out

  1. “the White House is planning on forcing Tillerson out of State”

    WTF does that mean?

    They are aware they can just ask for his resignation, and, if he does not give that, just fire him, right?

    Instead we’re getting, what, mind games?

    …I said, pretending to be surprised because I think it’s important to never normalize this malministration’s behavior.

    Everyone else pretend to be surprised also, act like Obama or Bush had just started leaking they didn’t like some of their cabinet so they were going to start secretly pressuring them to leave, and how completely insane that would be.

    He seems relatively grownup but I think he is also the Trump official likely to cause the most lasting damage to the United States, our abilities as a superpower, and our reputation.

    I agree with this. I have no idea what the hell Tillerson is even trying to do, but it honestly _looks like_ he is attempting to destroy the US State Department.

    It’s really weird how we were worried about entirely the wrong things with him. We assumed some sort of strong multi-national corporatist push with him, allowing foreign countries and companies to do whatever they wanted as long as it was in the best interests of US money, not to mention the pro-oil worries. We assumed it would be the Exxon Department of State.

    Instead we got…who the hell even knows? Someone who seems to be doing their best to demoralize and dismantle the entire thing?

    You’ll note that, despite me being perfectly welling to ascribe malice to pretty much anyone in the Trump malministration, I keep saying things like ‘looks like’ and ‘seems’ here, exactly because I can’t figure out any actual reason he would be doing this deliberately. Everything he is doing is rendering himself powerless!

    But also he literally cannot be this stupid and unable to run a large organization, considering his past.

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    • Tillerson acts like any CEO brought into a business he neither understands nor wants to understand.

      He’s acting like a pump-and-dump CEO. Fire the expensive folks with seniority, cut staffing to the bone, rearrange management according to the latest feng-shui principles, and then present it with glitzy powerpoint presentations full of buzzwords to shareholders. The whole edifice should hold together long enough to vest his options and sell before collapsing.

      But yeah, I’m not ascribing anything to malice — I’m sure Tillerson is of the belief that the whole State department is full of bloat and waste and overpaid senior bureaucrats. Anyone he runs out can’t be doing a critical job, or they’d have stayed despite all the crap. Ergo, he’s cutting the fat and blah-blah-blah

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      • He’s acting like a pump-and-dump CEO. Fire the expensive folks with seniority, cut staffing to the bone, rearrange management according to the latest feng-shui principles, and then present it with glitzy powerpoint presentations full of buzzwords to shareholders. The whole edifice should hold together long enough to vest his options and sell before collapsing.

        Holy shit, that explains it. I mean, he literally just gave an idiotic powerpoint. He is pumping and dumping the state department.

        And by ‘explains it’, I mean it logically explains his behavior, but is completely nonsensical. Tillerson does not, uh, have stock options in the US government.

        This is like those bank robbers who put lemon juice on their face because they think lemon juice will hide them from cameras. Putting lemon juice on your face during a bank robbery makes a lot of sense if it hides you from cameras…but, it doesn’t do that thing, so is really stupid.

        …more seriously, Tillerson isn’t a pump and dump CEO anyway, as far as I know. He didn’t try to that at Exxon…or did he?

        Are we thinking that Exxon was completely mismanaged this entire time, except, somehow, stayed afloat? This would sound crazy in any other industry, but Exxon was floating on oil.

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        • I suspect Tillerson understood the oil business fairly well, and he knew the people around him. The upper levels of business are pretty chummy and networked, but the oil and gas business makes the old boys networks of the Fortune 500 look like a true meritocracy.

          So he was in a business he understood, working with people he knew well, with subordinates he either knew well or who were vouched for by people he knew well….

          Move him to State, and he basically defaults to clueless CEO. Rearrange the chairs. Cut costs. Make wild promises, talk about how great a job you’re doing.

          The few things he’s shown interest in have related to his previous oil and gas experience. Everything else is just…flailing. I do suspect he’s certain, from his political ideology, that State is basically bloated and useless and filled with liberals willing to backstab him — conservatives go into the business world, not live off the taxpayer dime. They certainly don’t become highly ranking civil servants without being the worst sort of parasite.

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      • You’re assuming that destroying the Foreign Service is an accident of Tillerson’s appointment, rather than an administration goal. The Bush/Cheney administration had no use for diplomacy; its foreign policy was entirely based on the military. That a popular idea with the GOP base, even if it doesn’t want wars; it wants a military so powerful that when the US says jump, the rest of the world asks “How high?” They consider the Iran nuclear treaty weakness, because the US had to give something up to get something.

        The State Department is unpopular with the base because it tells them they can’t have everything they want just by acting tough. That’s why it’s being destroyed.

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    • Someone who seems to be doing their best to demoralize and dismantle the entire thing?

      Best I can figure is he is so convinced that every last body in Foggy Bottom is loyal only to the Deep Government, and will be constantly trying to find ways to subvert the will of Trump.

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      • Yeah, he seems to be spending a lot of time trying to focus all decision-making on himself and his advisors. Here’s a good article about it:

        https://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/26/tillerson-diplomats-policy-state-department-244190

        The problem is…this is a totally nonsensical thing to worry about under Trump. It might make some sense in an administration with a president that gave directives on everything to State and expected them to be followed. It is completely stupid here, where the State Department has been kept out of pretty much all foreign policy.

        Does Rex Tillerson _himself_ have some foreign policy that he wants implemented without pushback? It does not appear so.

        Does he think the President, who he thinks is a moron, needs a more top-down State Department…that the President doesn’t use anyway?

        What the hell is even going on there?

        Sudden paranoid thought: Is Tillerson building the State Department into something for _Pence_ to use when Trump is gone?

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        • I think you’re going too deep down the rabbit hole.

          Imagine a CEO going into a new business — entirely new to him. He’s not even CEO, he’s VP of a department. The CEO hired him, but doesn’t seem terribly interested in his department.

          What do you do? You take over the department. You hire loyalists, and drive anyone with conflicting loyalties out. You streamline it and rearrange it so you can tell the boss how great you’re doing.

          And you plan to use your power for….whatever, when the time comes. Maybe he’s got no plans at the moment (Russian sanctions are killing his primary goals, and he can’t reverse those even if he can foot drag on implementing them). Better to have State molded to his will in case something comes up.

          I’m pretty sure his original goals involved Russia (it seems like everyone Trump hired does), but just because those are on hold doesn’t mean he won’t try to make State into his powerbase.

          Unfortunately, he has no freakin’ idea what he’s doing and it’s quite possible his boss is senile, so…..yeah.

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      • If that’s what he’s doing it’s no different than what Cheney did during his presidency: replace people in key positions with “loyalists” to ensure that policy prerogatives filtering down were implemented from the bottom up. If there’s a difference between the two admins, it’s that Bush-Cheney weren’t deconstructing existing institutional structures but operating within them, while the Trump admin really is trying to reshape the US’s role in the world by deconstructing those arrangements.

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        • Except he’s not really replacing most of them. The man appears to be, basically, playing Minesweeper all day while driving morale so low people quit. The man hasn’t seemed to have an urge to do anything once Congress put their foot down on Russia. (Of course, he hasn’t felt the urge to implement those either….)

          Not to replace employees with loyalists. Just to make them quit. Like he figures that anyone really critical won’t quit, because they know it’s critical, but all the government parasites will just leave.

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          • Right, he’s not replacing them. They want a leaner State where the friction between policy position and implementation is reduced, in particular because the re-shaping would be viewed by careerists as radical. Remember when Trump said he didn’t need ambassadors/State reps since HE is the final word on foreign policy? Something like that.

            That’s how I see it, anyway.

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            • Except it’s not even targeted.

              I mean I think you’re right — both Trump and Tillerson don’t seem to understand why State exists at all.

              They’re like someone deciding to remove the motor and brakes from a car, because “the driver makes it stop and go by pushing on the pedals”. Clearing the engine is extraneous.

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              • To be honest, like many of Trump’s *claims* I’m open to slimming down a bloated State Dept. I mean, without an argument there’s no reason the current staffing conditions are optimal, right? Are there too many people, too few, too much redundancy, etc?

                The problem, which is the case with so many of Trump’s statements, is that neither he nor anyone in the admin/campaign presents an argument taking us from where we are to why it’s wrong followed by why the proposed changes would make things better. Instead we hear incoherent ramblings (when we hear any justification at all) like what Tillerson said the other day: that a smaller state department is evidence that Trump’s foreign policies are working. Huh?

                So we’re left guessing what the hell they’re up to. Lots of people – unfortunately – don’t think they’re up to anything and that the best explanation is fundamental incompetence. I disagree, obvs, but the lack of transparency means no conclusions are definitive. Which is part of their project, seems to me.

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                • Lots of people – unfortunately – don’t think they’re up to anything and that the best explanation is fundamental incompetence. I disagree, obvs, but the lack of transparency means no conclusions are definitive.

                  I would otherwise agree with you, but the problem with your theory is that the entire rest of the government has massive leaks. Hell, the State Department itself have massive leaks.

                  If Tillerson was trying to get the State Department to go in some unacceptable direction, we surely would be hearing about that.

                  I guess Tillerson could be operating a cabal with his ‘trusted advisors’, but he can’t really get anywhere with it. That is, fundamentally, not how the State Department operates. There’s very little ‘secret international diplomacy’. (And before someone says ‘What about secret backchannels and stuff?’…the fact you know about it shows it is not secret. It’s just we’re all officially pretending we aren’t doing that.)

                  I guess the cabal could be hammering out some extremely secret thing in private, ready to try to spring it on people, and trying to get the rest of the State Department has already quit so can’t object, and think everyone else will go ‘Oh, no one at State complained about the plan to sell Alaska back to Russia, so I guess that means it’s a good idea!’…but that, honestly, that plan is possibly the dumbest possible…thing…that…oh, shit, I just remembered Trump’s Razor.

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                  • If Tillerson was trying to get the State Department to go in some unacceptable direction, we surely would be hearing about that.

                    Tillerson, quite famously at this point (or so I thought) doesn’t communicate with permanent staff. Here’s one example of that:

                    But according to a New York Times report, Tillerson repeatedly turned down urgent State Department security staff requests to brief him. Only after Miller invoked that law was he finally given face-time with Tillerson — and even then it was just a meager five minutes. Miller’s insistence on seeing Tillerson is what led to his ouster in July, administration sources told the Times.

                    wtf Rex?

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                      • I figure he got in to ease Russian sanctions (because in this administration, it’s always about Russia and money, and the connections with Tillerson are very clear) and then when Congress put their foot down….

                        He’s just sticking around to drag his feet on that, and maybe stop the stupider Trump impulses if he can. He lives on Earth too, and Trump seems convinced fighting North Korea is a good idea — even as NK desperately proves that yes, they’re capable of MAD themselves, so please stop threatening to invade.

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                      • Could be. Or it could be that he doesn’t want WH policy decisions constrained by institutionally determined facts on the ground. As an example, consider the apparently refurbished alliance with SA to ramp up the war on Iranian terrorism, a policy which almost every analyst I’ve read finds very dangerous given facts on the ground, both geopolitically but internal to SA as well.

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          • I suspect the outcome will be similar to what happened nearly 30 years ago when a new uni president at my dad’s university aimed to get rid of the “deadwood” by offering an extra-generous early-retirement bonus:

            the people who could still have a second career were like “heck yeah” and took it and went somewhere else (my dad taught nearly another 20 years in a different state…they did have to move). The deadwood stayed.

            I dunno. I can’t tell if I’m more bugged by the sheer chaos or the hiring of some wildly inappropriate people but everything that goes on in the current admin makes me twitch.

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            • The policy of using untargeted buyouts to encourage people to leave is insane. Every place I’ve seen it done is just paying their best people to leave and concentrating the operation down to only the people too incompetent to get jobs anywhere else.

              I recently watched a critical subject matter expert leave my wife’s team when her company did that. He had nothing else lined up. He just saw that he could take 6 months’ vacation and have plenty of time to get a job somewhere else. There’s now a req open to replace him with a new person who may or may not be as good and who will need to learn all the systems that guy designed.

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        • If that’s what he’s doing it’s no different than what Cheney did during his presidency: replace people in key positions with “loyalists” to ensure that policy prerogatives filtering down were implemented from the bottom up.

          Except there’s a rather large difference in that Cheney had policy prerogatives he wanted implemented that people would have objected to. (And they did.)

          I understand behaving this way in the State Department if there is something that Tillerson considers vitally important and is receiving massive pushback on.

          But…what is it? What does he want that the existing staff are stopping? He literally doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

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          • But…what is it? What does he want that the existing staff are stopping? He literally doesn’t seem to be doing anything.

            Exactly the right question. If achieving his goals required the rest of the state dept we’d know what they were, but state (apparently) isn’t doing a damn thing other than pro-forma exercises and being downsized. That suggests, to me anyway, that if Tilly has an affirmative agenda he not only thinks it doesn’t require state to implement but needs to be kept secret from the rest of the staffers. The alternative – that he and Trump are incompetent – only makes sense relative to a conception of intentions/goals recognizable to those critics, and *not* that they are, in fact, incompetent.

            But since you’re asking the same question I am, I’ll offer my best guess: Trump’s foreign policy goals are a) much narrower than previous admins, b) are focused primarily on his personal core/pet issues: a fondness for authoritarian regimes, business interests, racism, terrorism, and so on; so c) he’s interested in creating new alliances with regimes holding centralized (authoritarian) power to leverage shared ideological interests (which for Trump are fundamentally nihilistic) and individual financial/power-based interests. I think Trump reviles politicians, democratic political institutions, and liberal pluralistic processes, and feels not only most comfortable with autocrats but, because of that, thinks American interests are best served going forward by formally allying with what we used to view as totalitarian regimes. I mean, look at the pudding: he’s praised Xi, Putin, Duterte, even Erdogan and expresses nothing but disdain for democratic leaders from Europe, Australia and NZ.

            But you know, just guessing here.

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            • Oh, lord, it’s like an invitation to pull out my conspiracy theory hat…

              So, here’s the Trump plan. Divide the Northern Hemisphere into four regional hegemonies: US/Canada, Europe, Russia, and China. Free travel for the rich between the cities of all of those. The rest of the world, with some modest exceptions, are to be penned up in their own places. Modest conventional wars are a good way to keep them from becoming too developed; besides, weapons sales are nicely profitable. Too late to keep India and Pakistan from getting nukes, so keep that conflict simmering, but somewhere below an actual nuclear exchange. North Korea seems to be unbalanced so mustn’t get nukes — that’s China’s corner, so somehow China has to be prodded into taking care of that problem. A nuclear-armed Japan, OTOH, isn’t crazy and might be a nice reminder to China that people have whipped their butts before.

              Trump doesn’t care about authoritarian vs democracy; he has a problem with governments unwilling to conform to this view of the world. His problem with Europe isn’t so much “Europe”, but with the moderates currently running things. He seems to be fine with Le Pen, and the Brexiteers, who are on board with the “penning up” part of the scheme.

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              • Man, I like it. His agenda is being subversively promoted by powerful people comprising the secretive Quadlateral Commission. Yikes.

                Trump doesn’t care about authoritarian vs democracy; he has a problem with governments unwilling to conform to this view of the world.

                Which is inherently authoritarian, seems to me.

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  2. I’ll believe Tillerson is out when I see it; not before.

    Also Mccain has endorsed the Senate Tax plan. I’d always assumed the GOP would manage to pass their tax bill no matter how grotesque it was but there’d been that faint hope. I’d say with the ‘maverick’ folding that we can presume it’ll pass.

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      • Well certainly makes the ‘death spiral’ threat a lot more likely. Though the annoying part of this is that if the ACA is repaired by subsequent negotiations, as the Dems should strive to do on account of, y’know, good governance principles, then this particular gambit will pay off well for the GOP. They get the write off for their tax cut then don’t have to deal with the consequences because it gets added back in through a bipartisan bill later. I definitely hope Dems are writing that one down for remembering next time they have a 50-59 vote majority in the Senate.

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    • I would normally agree with you but the Tillerson story fits all the patterns we have seen so far.

      I suspect the Tax Cut for Billionaires is going to pass despite all logic saying that it should not. There are aspects of the bill bordering on hack movie villainy like keeping exemptions for private jets but getting rid of them for school teachers buying supplies.

      What are they thinking? Who came up from this and why does the GOP think they are immune for electoral backlash?

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      • What are they thinking? Who came up from this and why does the GOP think they are immune for electoral backlash?

        IMO, they’re thinking two things: conservatives have shown there’s no limit to the bullshit they’ll swallow to keep a Dem out of office, and that keeping the donor-class cash flowing is the top priority for their personal political fortunes. The two things are related, of course: lots of money means they can sell their base the idea that even tho the tax bill sucks conservatives are *still* better than Democrats. And they’re probably right. :)

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        • Important to remember that despite the narrative, Hillary did better among the lower economic classes than Trump. Trump did win the white working class but won among wealthier whites at a higher clip.

          Wealthy white folks put Trump in office. This tax cut primarily helps wealthy folks.

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          • There still is that connection between middle class conservatives who see themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” and race.

            Like Joe the Plumber, they are convinced they are kin to Jamie Dimon, if it weren’t for those brown people who sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

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  3. I’m with Burt.

    It may be curious that the DCI is being picked as SecState, or may just be that Pompeo is an opportunistic kind of guy. Hopefully it doesn’t signal that a decision to strike North Korea has already been made.

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  4. I think he is also the Trump official likely to cause the most lasting damage to the United States, our abilities as a superpower, and our reputation.

    John Bolton: “Hold my beer!”

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  5. Is the Trump administration going to end up with anyone left in its cabinet?

    I have a bet with a friend that come Jan 1, 2018, there will be four open Cabinet-level vacancies.

    The whole Tillerson-Pompeo-Cotton sequence looks to me like putting people in place who are much more in favor of one or more shooting wars. Nikki Haley and Lindsey Graham both seem to be talking up a shooting war with North Korea.

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    • The American public seems really, really eager to get into another foreign war.

      (In case it’s not clear, that’s sarcasm. While a segment remains as gung-ho to spill other’s blood as usual, the Americans who sent a message in 2006 and 2008 about being done with that have not exactly recovered their desire to spend blood and treasure overseas. If anything, given Trump’s own election, American’s have gotten even more isolationist)

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      • Just watch — the lesson that will have been learned from 2006-8 is “no boots on the ground.” Look for WWII and/or Viet Nam level bombing campaigns. They’re warming up in Afghanistan as we speak, including hundreds of old, dumb, unguided bombs dropped from B-52s.

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            • Well yeah….but those are policy details and actual effects. Those are out of fashion nowadays. It’s not like anybody has cared about that for years so i’m not sure why it’s gonna start now. And it’s definitely not like Trump’s foreign policy wasn’t going to be aggressive and militaristic which will only bring more of it on. But there just doesn’t seem to be much attention to a few SF deaths or the over arching issue.

              Just to be clear O and his generals were guilty of this.

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    • Trump will use “temporary” (scare quotes!) appointments to replace those positions, so functionally they would be filled. What he wouldn’t do, seems to me, is go through the nomination/confirmation process to fill them permanently. So his cabinet will be filled with lots of “acting” Xs. :)

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      • There are statutory time limits on how long advice-and-consent positions can go without the President making a nomination, and in some cases who can fill the role temporarily. When one of those limits is reached, anyone “acting” is no longer able to exercise authority. That becomes a serious problem when there are statutory instructions that read, “…the Secretary may…” or “…the Chairman may…” regarding regulations. The authority to regulate (ie, write the details of the laws) in those cases is conferred by Congress to particular persons in the executive branch, but not to the President.

        I assume that in the event President Trump “acts” to shut down major portions of the federal government by delaying nominations excessively, Congress will impeach him.

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        • I assume that in the event President Trump “acts” to shut down major portions of the federal government by delaying nominations excessively, Congress will impeach him.

          I have a feeling we’re going to find out both things. I have reasonably high confidence Trump will do it. I have exceedingly low confidence that a Ryan/McConnell led Congress will do more than furrow their brows. (This sort of thing is right up McConnell’s alley, seems to me.)

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  6. My hot take on Tillerson’s State Dept decimation – it’s Actually Good.

    Accelerating the boomer retirements and clearing of burnt out dead wood will create the space for a wave of hirings in the next administration that in turn will be a young motivated cadre serving the American Project more capably for the next thirty to forty years.

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    • That’s a hot take alright!

      I can kind of see what you are getting at but I don’t agree. There is still a need for institutional knowledge and I think the next admin is going to spend too much time figuring out what they don’t know.

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      • There is still a need for institutional knowledge

        You know, forgetting the incredible value of institutional knowledge is probably one of the most common business mistakes, at least in large businesses.

        “Let’s just fire everyone, then in three years we can start up exactly where we where!”.

        Or outsource. Or fire the old farts and replace them with cheap 20-somethings
        who are clearly experts in the history of this thing they just heard about.

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      • It led to an interesting question: Which counts as the oldest baseball team?

        The Braves have been around continuously since 1871, but in three different cities: Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta. You can also argue that the 1871 Bostons were the same team as the famous 1869 Cincinnati Reds.

        The Cubs have been in Chicago since 1871, but didn’t field a team for a couple of years right after the fire.

        (Cue Richard Hershberger to correct anything I got wrong there.)

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