AMA: On POTUS and Russia…

I’ve been staying away from the POTUS/Russia topic not so much because it feels unimportant as because it feels a lot like whole choruses of “yes he did” and “no he didn’t.” I don’t follow the daily news as closely as some people think – much beyond checking the traffic and weather while making my morning coffee. Beyond the sound bites, I haven’t taken much time to separate fact from fiction and am operating on the assumption that the truth lies somewhere between the extremes of a President who claims to never have talked to a Russian and a opposition party taking to the airwaves accusing the President of being the most effective deep cover agent in the world’s long history of espionage.

My best guess is what we have is a President who spent his entire adult life not studying global geopolitics, but operating in the morally and ethically gray space of construction and real estate development. By way of contrast Vladimir Putin *has* spent his life studying geopolitics. global finance, international intelligence gathering, and has built a historically unprecedented criminal enterprise disguised as a sovereign country. Given the discrepancy of experience, I can only speculate that it would have been relatively easy for a figure like Putin to find both the ways and means to exert influence, if not directly on the candidate then potentially on those around him. The Russian government would certainly have that capability.

The kicker here, of course, is that nothing that’s being reported in the media constitutes actual evidence of conspiracy, or collusion, or whatever crime of the day is being exhorted. The shrill dog whistles from both the liberal and conservative media make it particularly challenging to determine fact from fiction. Evidence isn’t what’s reported in the media. In it’s most legalistic definition evidence is facts and information laid before the court – or in limited cases laid by the House of Representatives before the Senate sitting in judgement.

For me, today, the simple fact is I’m just not following that closely because while a whole universe of things may be true, no one has demonstrated that truth outside of the media circus that has become what passes for political discourse in this country. Once we’re talking about actual evidence that’s not being presented through the filter of shouting pundits, I’ll probably give it a little more consideration. Until then, well, the Trump presidency hasn’t really been bad for me on the all important personal level – I’ve got more cash in my pocket due to the tax cut, my retirement accounts are plumping up nicely, my employer’s budget hasn’t been slashed, and a host of political issues that are a priority to me are effectively being left alone or marginally improved upon. For now, he’s the devil I know.

Note: This post was written by request as part of my ill fated July ask-me-anything. Thanks, Mike for making me think about something I probably should have been paying more attention to long before now. If anyone has a question or topic you’d like to see given the treatment, fire away and I’ll do my best.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The Obvious. Headlines screaming “America in Deep Freeze,” or “Arctic Blast Cripples East Coast,” or “The Big Chill,” seem a bit superfluous at the moment. It’s mid-December here in the northern hemisphere. We’re right up against the winter solstice. For those who need it spelled out, that means for the next three months or so, cold is perfectly normal and should, generally, be expected. If for some reason the arrival of winter and cold weather have caught you off guard and unprepared, well, you’re an idiot. The fact that so many people are idiots, however, still does not make “it’s cold in the winter” a breaking news story.

2. Election Meddling. It’s cute that we’ve collectively decided that foreign powers meddling in a US election has raised the collective hackles of the press. Anyone familiar with their history over the last 200 years will tell you that we meddle every bit as much as the Russians. Ask the Iranians who ousted the Shah. Ask the Vietnamese about the Diem brothers. Ask any number of Latin American countries about our “helpful” deployment of Marines to ensure their elections turned out the way we wanted them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as angry about Russian interference as anyone, but for us to pretend we don’t do the exact same thing everywhere else on the planet is the height of hypocrisy.

3. Competing priorities. Given the lack of guidance I currently operate under, I’m put in a position where I have to make decisions about what problems get my attention and which ones don’t. I imagine I get it right more often than not (but that’s a complete guess since feedback is also something we don’t do). So when you stop me in the hall at the end of the day and wonder why I wasn’t in some meeting I was “supposed” to be in, there’s fair chance that time got allocated to one of the competing priorities that appeared to be more pressing. I’d be more than happy to work the issues in any order leadership sees fit if they’d just bother to tell me the flavor of the day. If they are going to leave me to my own devices, I’d mostly appreciate not getting blind sided in those rare moments when they choose to care.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Fall foliage. I live in the woods… but not the deep woods. That’s a plan for the future. After a couple of days of wind and rain I’m reminded that I have neighbors. For the first time since mid-May I’m starting to see them again. Well, not “them” exactly, but certainly their houses. I’m deeply happy with my little plot of land, but at this time of year I’d be ok with another hundred yards – or maybe a few more miles – of trees between me and the next guy.

2. Rain is the new snow. It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen any rain to speak of. I know it must be a frightening and unnatural experience for everyone. I know this because for the last two days everyone has driven like there was eight inches of new-fallen snow on the roads. If nothing else, it has served to reinforce my long-held belief that most people are idiots. As usual, though, it’s probably all my fault for having even the lowest of expectations of my the average man on the street.

3. Draftees. As the American Army, the most decisive fighting force ever fielded in history, is drawing itself down to the pre-World War II levels, the Russian president is drafting an extra 150,000 of his citizens into military service. Let that sink in for a minute. In terms of troops in active service, that will put Russia within spitting distance of parity in manpower. Figure in their increased pace of modernization and the simple fact that they don’t have to move their personnel across an ocean to get at many of the world’s current “areas of interest,” and in my humble opinion, this brave new world of our is going to look very familiar… almost like the one we left in the early 1990s. Talk about back to the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Business Hours. If your posted hours of operation are 10AM-5PM and I pull into your parking lot at 4:30 on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon and find your lights off and door locked, there’s a fair chance that I’m going to drive down the street to the next best alternative and give them my money. I totally understand that you’re a small business and sometimes things come up, but at least once in every four stops, I pull in to find you’re not open. I like you. I like doing business in the community when I can. But my ability to do that depends largely on it being convenient. No matter how much I like you, I’m not making three trips to your shop when I can order from a major online retailer and just have the damned item sitting on my doorstep tomorrow. You might be the only game in this two stoplight town, but you’re not the only game on the planet. You’d have at least one more satisfied customer if you behaved accordingly.

2. Imaginary Saturday. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off this morning. In the fog between being asleep and being awake, I managed to convince myself that today was actually Saturday. As many of you may have notice, it wasn’t. Now that I think back on it that didn’t so much annoy me as it pissed me off beyond the level that could be strictly considered reasonable.

3. Heroes of Labour. This week, the president of the Russian Federation handed out Soviet era awards during a revived May Day rally in Red Square. I’m as big a fan of the “good old days” as anyone, but I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the wheelhouse is paying any damned attention to what’s actually happening in Russia. Look, I know raising a generation of Middle East experts has left us a little thin on Cold War know how, but surely there are a few crusty old guys in the belly of the Pentagon who we can dust off to give us a read on the situation. I’m not saying it’s time to re-garrison Germany, but I do wish we were paying just a bit more attention to what’s banging around that part of the world.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Warning the USSR… errr… Russia. I’ve lost count of the number of times in the last six months that the US has “warned” Russia that its bad behavior will have really bad consequences. As far as I can tell, our national warning is roughly equivalent to an exasperated mother warning the child who’s trying to set the curtains on fire that they’ll “be in trouble when dad gets home.” Except dad isn’t coming home. Ever. We warn and nothing happens. We warn and the UN tries to just talk it out. We warn and the world ignores us. Historically speaking the only influence we’ve ever had on that part of the world, is when we spoke out from a position of military and economic strength and with the voice of a leader who demonstrated his willingness to back up his words with deeds. Now that we as a country seem to be resolved to back up our words with only more words, well, maybe we should just keep our national mouth shut instead of repeatedly sounding like the neighborhood wimp begging “come on guys, stop it.” Better to stay silent than to make a display our current flaccidity on the international stage.

2. Peeing in Portland. Having spent some time in Portland and having enjoyed many, many of their fine micro brews while I was there, I can understand the overwhelming need to pee at inopportune moments. Apparently yesterday someone else had the same experience, but instead of finding the nearest available tree they followed the altogether more dramatic option of taking a leak in one of the city’s reservoirs. And while that’s bad, I think maybe the city overreacted in their response of dumping 38 million gallons of water literally down the drain. I know the vast majority of us don’t want urine spiked drinking water, but it seems to me that anyone who’s ever used a swimming pool are probably exposed to a much higher concentration of the stuff than the good people of Portland were as a result of this incident. And that doesn’t even take into account the number of non-human critters who have used Portland’s open air reservoirs as an all access restroom. All I’m saying is that sometimes overkill really isn’t the answer… except when something is caught on film and a local water authority wants to show that it’s going the extra mile. My guess, if it hadn’t happened within range of a security camera, no one would have a clue it even happened. Sometimes, we’re all better off that way.

3. Rush Hour. Calling it rush hour might be a little extreme, especially for a guy who use to grind it out on the DC beltway and 95 every morning and afternoon, but lately the flight away from the office here has started taking on that flavor. They’re doing some kind of seemingly random construction outside the fence and the Jersey barriers are apparently just enough to make every driver trying to leave a 4PM forget everything they ever knew about operating a motor vehicle. Where I use to be to the car, out the gate, and pointed the right direction on the highway in under 10 minutes, now 20-25 is the norm. Sure, in the grand scheme, and extra ten or fifteen minutes doesn’t make that much difference, but it’s happening at the end of the day, when I want to be anywhere other than where I am. Really, at that point, anything standing between me and the house is considered a hostile target to be put down, gone around, over, or through. I doubt I’m alone in this feeling, but it’s one of those unnecessarily annoying things that could be alleviated by, oh, I don’t know, opening another gate and a few additional outbound lanes of traffic. Or we can just let departing personnel build themselves into a mile long backup in their daily effort to get away. Apparently that’s fine too.

A matter of priorities…

So Russia is back on the road towards rebuilding the old Soviet Empire. That’s bad, but it’s not what’s dominating my thoughts today. I’m my head I’m already projecting forward to Monday morning and wondering if the projected “winter weather event” will be enough to buy me just one more day of weekend. Maybe I’ve got my priorities all sorts of jacked up on that one, but Monday is the closest problem to me. Statistically, its arrival (and the ruination of the weekend) is an absolute certainty, making its bad results guaranteed to happen. Ukraine, on the other hand may or may not dissolve into civil war through the prodding of the Russians… and even if it does, that badness is less of a direct impact on me. Sure, it probably makes me a bad person to be more worried about Monday than another potentially catastrophic war starting in Eastern Europe, but if the rest of the world isn’t bothered that it’s on the fast track to hell in a handbag, I’m not going to waste a lot of time worrying either.