What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I left the house a little later than usual. Where the street I live on dumps out into the local county road parents and their SUVs were stacked up like cord wood. There they sat, engines running, more or less blocking the road, and making sure their little princelings had enough heat while they waited for the school bus. It was just below freezing, not exactly polar explorer weather. Basically a decent coat and a good pair of socks would have been enough to make it tolerable for a few minutes. I can’t help but remember my own childhood where if you didn’t walk to school you at least walked to the bus stop – and that’s back at a time and place where temperatures below freezing weren’t cause for any particular alarm, being part and parcel as they are of the winter weather season. These kids have never been allowed to run through the woods throwing rocks at each other and it shows.

2. ISIS brides. The last few weeks have been thick with reports of women and girls who ran off from western civilization for the fun and adventure of becoming ISIS brides. Now, with the dream of an Islamic caliphate collapsing around their ears, they come out of the woodwork claiming to have learned the error of their ways. Here they come crawling “home” after years of providing aid and comfort to the enemy. I’m not a scholar of international law nor does my heart bleed for their reaping the results of traitorous decisions. They wanted the wonder of life in the belly of the beast, the best thing that we can do now is let them have it.

3. Fentanyl. I keep seeing news stories wherein a drug ring has been busted in possession of enough  Fentanyl to kill 375,000,000 people. Look, I know we can’t really aerosolize the stuff and indiscriminately launch it from a mortar tube, but maybe we hold back on making these arrests for a hot second. I mean, look, people are basically awful so with enough of this floating around in the underground economy it seems to me the problem with those who habitually associate with a culture of heavy drug use could significantly reduce the demand side of the market by simply dropping dead. If a subset of the population is committed to continuing  to inject a substance they know full well may kill them more or less instantly, I don’t feel any moral force compelling me to intervene between them and and their apparent desired end state. I’d rather spend a much reduced budget on saving the small minority whose exposure to fentanyl or other high powered narcotics is accidental or that happens in the line of duty. Don’t tell me I never see the bright side, damnit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Superfluous email. I’ve been keeping a rough track of emails I receive – specifically those in my inbox at the start of the day or after I’ve been away from my desk for a few hours. Though not purely scientific, I’ve found that only one out of every four emails is something I actually need to see. One in six are messages resulting in my needing to actually do something. Might I recommend not cc-ing everyone who you’ve ever tangentially met on your email messages? If feels like it would save us all hours every year of time we currently spend reading and then deleting email that has absolutely nothing to do with us.

2. Being a watched pot. I’ve got the assignment. I’ve told you when I’ll have it finished. I’ve gotten awfully good at estimating things like this over the last fourteen years. What I don’t need you to do is call and email me every 7 minutes asking if it’s finished. All that serves to do is 1) annoy me and 2) slow down the process making final delivery later than it would be otherwise. I do good work and good work takes time. Believe me when I tell you know one wants a project off my desk more than I do.

3. Syria. Two or three years ago, I actively advocated for putting American troops in harm’s way to try to bring order to that chaos. The Syrian war in 2017 is a far cry from what it was in 2015, though. Back then there was still a fighting chance for the sides opposing Assad to win the day without the direct assistance of an overwhelming number of American and allied personnel. Back then a nudge – in the form of material support and “advisory” personnel – could have made the difference and toppled a tyrant who was busy killing his own populace. The battlespace has changed and it increasingly looking like Syrian government forces will be the “last man standing” after a long and bloody fight. Landing American troops, on a mission with no clear objective and even less prospect of an exit strategy, would be a mistake – and those calling loudest for it today would be among the very first to denounce it as “Mr. Trump’s War” and a “foreign policy disaster” when the butcher’s bill came due.

Tear jerker…

Ok friends, first off, let me say up front that this post is likely going to offend approximately 50% of people who read it. That’s fine. It might even be good if that offense turns into anything like a discussion or even a moment to think through the issue at hand.

One of the meme’s I’ve seen online over the last few days really leaves me with a head scratching moment every time it comes along.  I’m a reasonably well educated man, but I stand utterly agape when I see someone post that “We have to let everyone into the country because the Statue of Liberty says so.”

Now I have no ill feeling for Lady Liberty. She’s a fine monument. I think that back in the mid-1980s our elementary school even had a fundraiser to help her along through a renovation.

The thing I really want to know from those who would see the spigot cranked wide open, though, is how many of the “huddled masses” are they personally willing to stand surety? For how many will they personally provide food, clothing, and ensure prompt medical care? For how many are they personally willing to assume responsibility? How many can come over and crash in their spare bedroom? Will they let them use the family car or make them catch the bus?

If the answer is “none,” or “the government should do that,” I’m afraid I find your support for the tear jerker of the moment less than convincing. It’s awfully easy to say “oh dear, someone should help those poor people,” but if you feel so strongly that we should take all comers regardless of cost and regardless of risk, this is probably going to be one of those cases where your actions speak louder than your words.

Or just go ahead and post another meme with Liberty in the background. Either way.

Where do I start…

The usual answer to that question, logically, is “at the beginning.” If time was an unlimited resource that might be the right answer here too. As it is not, the best I can manage in one sitting is to try racking and stacking the approximately 87,241 things that are banging around my head this evening.

At various points today I’ve pondered the issues of securing the boarder, the virtue of allowing 100,000 Syrians to take refuge here in the states, the war in the 21st century, national responsibility and imperial power, how much more “presidential” Mr. Hollande sounded this afternoon than did our own president, and how many of my countrymen wish to remain willfully blind to the real dangers abounding in the world in which we live. Any one of those could fill a volume – a blog hardly gives space to lay out the thesis.

Then there’s the other thing. The one that we usually leave unsaid. The one where just about anything we say out loud is bound to devolve into a shouting match between people who have diametrically opposing points of view on any subject that even sniffs of controversial. More importantly, before I delve into those waters, I have to ask the question of whether or not I have the energy to even endure being a third party to the argument.

You’ve caught me here on a Monday night, so the answer is an overwhelming no I do not. If push comes to shove, I’m not even going to try convincing you that my points of view are valid and worthy of consideration. I can only trust that you know your own mind as well as I know my own and that you’ve made whatever decisions you feel are best for you.

I’m never quite sure if anything that’s on my mind is worth saying out loud – or if any of it cuts through the rest of the electronic noise that assaults us each day. As you might have guessed, I’ve certainly got my opinions. Perhaps, on a night when my head isn’t particularly addled I’ll spell out some of the specifics and see if we can get a proper argument going.

Open door policy…

The news channels are abuzz this weekend with the decision to allow as many as 10,000 Syrian nationals into the United States. Aside from the logistical issues of bring them a third of the away around the world. Aside from the national security implications of allowing 10,000 lightly vetted people into the country from a part of the world who still seems to think we’re the great Satan. Aside from the issues of international law, common sense, and domestic politics. Aside from all those things I think the whole idea stinks to high heaven.

For the last thirty years, the world has loved to take a swing at America the Punching Bag. We’re everyone’s favorite bad neighbor. We’re the country they absolutely love to hate. And they do hate us… right up to the point where the shit hits the fan and they need someone big enough and strong enough to save the world one more time. We’ll do everything they ask and more and when the crisis has passed we’ll be collectively criticized for not doing enough or not doing it right or not doing it faster. There’s never a nod of thanks or a word of appreciation. With the turning of the news cycle everyone will be right back to cheering “death to America.”

Before we announce an open door policy for tens or hundreds of thousands of people, I think ought to ask a simple question: How many of the countries demanding that America do “something” would let a hundred thousand American citizens just show up in their country with the expectation that they would then be responsible for these people’s health and welfare? How many of these wanna-be great powers would lift a hand to help if our house were on fire? I can think of one or maybe two, but even their offer would certainly have strings attached. I shudder to think what price countries who aren’t our closest allies would demand if suddenly America were on her knees.

I’ll never win humanitarian prizes for my foreign policy. That’s ok. Want to bring in 10,000 people? That’s fine too, but can someone please promise me that these people won’t be free to roam about the country until we’re sure someone over there isn’t smart enough to use a humanitarian crisis as an convenient cover for getting as many terrorists into the country as possible. There are potentially millions of people on the move. If you think our enemies aren’t pondering on ways to use that to their advantage you’ve clearly underestimated them. If we’re bringing people here, we owe it to ourselves to get it 100% right, because the bad guys only have to get it right one time to exact a terribly price for our hospitality.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pay at the pump. Look, I did the B-school thing. I get the business model you’re using. I know that the average convenience store doesn’t make jack squat from selling gasoline… you make your money when people come in and buy a slurpee or a hotdog or a case of beer. If I’m paying at the pump, though, that’s probably because I don’t want to come in to the damned store. Can you knock it off with playing twenty questions before letting me buy a little gas? No, I don’t want a car wash. Why they actual eff do you need to know what my zip code is? I don’t care one way or another if you print a recipe… except when I say yes and then your little printer-in-the-pump is out of paper or ink or isn’t working for whatever reason. I just want to swipe my card, fill up the tank, and move on. I don’t come in and ask your employees their home address, what exactly goes in the chicken salad or if they can just put my beer in a paper sack instead of plastic. Please can we just complete our transaction and go our separate ways? I’d be willing to pay a few cents more a gallon just for that small mercy.

2. Working late. It’s hard to believe I ever sought out jobs where 12 hour days were the standard. Now I’m older, wiser, and my overtime rate isn’t worth a damn. I admit it, I’m a jealous guard of my personal time, but the other side of that coin is that I do my level best not to drag my personal life into the office. It doesn’t matter to me if its five minutes, fifty, or five hours. It’s not about the money. Time, once spent, is irrecoverable – money, by contrast, flies off the presses all day every day. What’s even more noxious is the assumption that I can just stick around as if there’s not another thing in the world to do. If you’re going to burn up my time, I’d appreciate at least an acknowledgement that it’s an inconvenience that’s been noted. Don’t worry, though, I’ll make sure the scales balance, but it will be balanced at the time of my choosing, regardless of what’s convenient for anyone else.

3. Palmyra. One of the greatest archeological treasures in the world has fallen to lunatic Islamic forces in Syria. It’s gotten some coverage. It will get a little more when the looting and destruction start in ernest. It’s the kind of place that’s worth defending, but mostly the world with shrug and wring its collective hands when millennia of history are smashed, bulldozed, or sold off onto the black market. I don’t have much use for radicals of any stripe, but for the ones who destroy history just for the joy of seeing it burn, slow death is too good for their ilk.

Civis Americanus…

I’ve just started seeing reports of a second American citizen, a journalist covering the war in Syria, being beheaded by Islamic extremists.

Two Americans are dead at the hands of these thugs and still there is a deafening silence from the White House. We don’t have a strategy. The American president has so much as said he doesn’t want to engage and that his administration doesn’t have courage to lead this great Republic in a war of retribution against those who would do harm to our countrymen.

I’m reminded of a first season episode of The West Wing, when President Bartlett notes how Rome responded when a citizen was killed. He said, “Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the Earth unharmed, cloaked only in the protection of the words civis Romanus — I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens… Where was the retribution for the families, and where is the warning to the rest of the world that Americans shall walk this Earth unharmed, lest the clenched fist of the most mighty military force in the history of mankind comes crashing down on your house?!”

I’m sick of hearing that the United States doesn’t have the stomach to be an occupying power. We’ve been occupying Germany and Japan since 1945. We’ve been occupying Puerto Rico since 1898. Our warships patrol every seaway across the globe. We’re already an occupying power in fact if not in word. It’s time we get over the self-denial and self flagellation about that. A hundred years from now keeping the lid on a batshit crazy world will be someone else’s problem, but today it’s ours.

As such, if I were President this afternoon my statement of strategy would be simple: I have directed the Secretary of Defense to begin offensive military operations using overwhelming force against Islamic radical elements in Syria and Iraq and in any other location where they harm or threaten to harm the interests or citizens of the United States. I have directed my Secretary of the Treasury to seize all assets and freeze all accounts held by or known to support terrorist elements. I have directed my Secretary of Commerce to place an immediate trade embargo on all countries known to support terrorism or those doing business with countries known to support terrorism. I am invoking Article 5 of the NATO Charter and calling on our allies to take immediate steps to place themselves on a similar war footing. Those countries who shirk their long standing treaty obligations are no longer considered strategic allies of the United States. I am calling on Congress to vote an immediate declaration of war and directing every resource of the United States government towards eradicating the threat of radical trans-national terrorism by stem and root. There are no terms except unconditional surrender.

To do anything other than rise to this challenge is an act of cowardice and wholly unworthy of the United States of America.