What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The White House Press Office. I’ve never been a public affairs officer. I haven’t even pretended to be on at the behest of our wealthy uncle. Still, in my bones I know that setting up my principle with over a dozen phone interviews with a journalist who hates his living guts is probably not going to end well even if my guy is the most articulate bastard to ever give on the record remarks. You can make what you will of the president’s recorded statements, but whatever staff puke from the press office decided an interview series with Bob Woodward was a good idea gives staff officers a bad name… and that’s saying something.

2. Questions. Look, if there’s a point of contact listed and it’s not me, there’s really absolutely nothing I’m going to be able to tell you about whatever topic is on your mind. Maybe you should just go ahead and read to the end of the message and send your question to the person who’s actually running that program. You still might not get a good answer but it will be miles better than anything I’ll send you… and even if it wasn’t, going direct to that person would have kept you from making me take the time to drop you back in the proper lane. We all win, when you read the goddamned memo.

3. Risk. People, as a group, do a really shitty job of assessing risk. The way we respond to natural disasters like fires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes seem to bear that out. For as long as I can remember, summer in the west has been “fire season.” It’s also “hurricane season” along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In the long history of humanity, fire has scorched the western sections of the North American continent. Water has always run downhill, occasionally turning normally babbling brooks in the valley bottom into torrential rivers sweeping all before them. Every time a fire or a flood or a hurricane hit, we collectively look around shocked that such a thing could happen. Except none of us should be shocked at all. We built our communities in dry areas historically prone to fire, or we built them along the coasts or in bucolic valleys that are prone to flooding. We built there because the scenery was nice or because there were local jobs – but almost never because the area represented a relatively low risk to life, health, and safety. As soon as the smoke clears or the water recedes, we’ll go right back to building up the same areas and then being “surprised” the next time the worst happens… because we do an amazingly shity job of assessing risk.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. You’re a racist. Can someone explain to me, perhaps using small and easy to understand words, why I’m a racist because I believe it’s a responsibility of the federal government to have functioning boarders for my country. My travels have carried me to England, France, Germany, Italy, and Mexico and I entered those countries using their established processes and in accordance with their laws. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to expect the same of people who want to come to the United States.

2. Oh my God the traffic! In the absence of anything even remotely newsworthy to cover, news outlets across America have spent a fair amount of time over the last 36 hours commenting on the high volume of Thanksgiving holiday traffic on the roads. The fact that large numbers of Americans take to the roads as part of their holiday tradition probably hasn’t been news since sometime immediately after World War II. Hyping it as “the worst traffic we’ve seen since… last Thanksgiving,” is just lame and not worth the time it took to script the story. Maybe we could use the free air time and column inches to report on something going on somewhere else in the world. I mean you do know that other places aren’t stuffing their faces with turkey and pie today, right?

3. Selective memory. My liberal friends are howling because of the conservatives President-elect Trump is appointing to fill his Cabinet and White House staff positions. In a grand fit of selective memory, they seem to have forgotten the howl that went up when President Obama selected his cabinet and counselors and surrounded himself with leading lights from the left. Sorry folks, that’s what happens when the party running the Executive Branch changes. It means the heroes of the opposition party have to go away for at least four years. Expecting a liberal president to appoint a deep bench of conservative advisors is stupid… and so is expecting a conservative president to surround himself with liberal lions.

It goes with the territory…

I had every intention to write tonight about the history of controversial White House staff appointments in the last few administrations, but largely due to not wanting to do the research to validate my memory, I’ve decided against it. The truth is, almost as soon as your party finds itself out of power the memory of anything they did that stirred the least bit of controversy flees from memory. Except in a few rare circumstances, we tend to remember presidential administrations for all of their virtues and none of their vices. For the time being just take my word for it that every incoming president appoints staffers that the opposition believes is the devil incarnate. It goes with the territory.

During these transitions of power we all tend to forget that the presidency is bigger than any one man. It’s bigger than any single administration. Given our seemingly insurmountable differences we rarely stop to marvel at the unbroken succession of peaceful transfers of power stretching back to George Washington. Given the number of young democracies that fall into chaos when a chief executive departs, it really is something quite remarkable that we manage to get it done with little more than yelling at each other.

That’s not to say that the process is pretty or that it’s in any way satisfying for anyone involved. No matter the results of a presidential election, no one ever gets the whole loaf. Even with one party ascendant over the executive and legislative branches, there are plenty of opportunities for policy goals to be held immobile. One of the wonders of the American system is just how difficult the Founding Fathers made it to get anything done. That wasn’t done by accident.

Anyway, everyone take a breath. In 1933 Republicans screamed that FDR was going to turn us all into socialists. He didn’t. In 2016 Democrats are screaming that Trump will turn us all into Nazis. He won’t. Relax and remember that campaigning for the next presidential primary is only about two years away.

More of the same…

The White House announced a new Heroin Response Strategy today. This new initiative will roll up initiatives already underway in five separate hot spots, including Maryland’s beloved Baltimore. Our elected officials were quick to trumpet this new program, which isn’t surprising considering how badly handled the war on drugs in this country has been in general – and let’s be perfectly realistic here for a minute – how shockingly incompetent it’s been at crushing the heroin trade in particular.

I’ve always been of the school of thought that says the moment you ban something, you make it more attractive to a certain subset of the population. You also make the banned substance more expensive. Criminal enterprises spring up to fill the newly created market niche… and then federal and state money pours into fix a problem that they created in the first place. Still, the nature and efficacy of prohibition isn’t really the point here.

My point is it’s damned near impossible to legislate yourself out of moral or medical “problems.” The 18th Amendment raised up men like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. I’m not sure why we thought alcohol was a special case. The war on drugs features a different substance, but the same approach, and has garnered much the same result. I would never dare march under the banner of outright legalization of any and all comers, but expecting the new Heroin Response Strategy to do any better than the “more of the same” that has come before it is futile at best.

Perhaps it’s time to focus on the criminal acts rather than the substances themselves. Does society care if you get high as a kite and drop dead in your bathroom with a needle in your arm? Maybe a little, but not enough to do much about it. Now if you get high and then proceed to rape, rob, or steal, well then society has a problem. We can’t have the addicts running around bothering the mostly nice, mostly law-abiding civilians. If we can’t manage to address the root cause of addiction, perhaps we can at least mitigate the symptoms society has determined are most unpleasant… because if I’m bluntly honest, I don’t much care if Jane Junky ruins her life right up to the point where my television, a laptop, and the window she broke to get in the house become collateral damage to her addiction.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. There’s no law banning heart disease (although there are some laws encouraging more healthful behaviors). If beating a heart attack were as simple as passing a law criminalizing it, well Congress would be full of heroes – and prisons would be full of middle age men who had one too many cheeseburgers. Instead of criminalizing heart attacks, we’ve build an entire medical establishment around saving people from the consequence of a high fat, high cholesterol diet.

Surely our friend Big Pharma would love to find itself with another readymade customer base. It would be good for the taxpayer, good for shareholders, and dare I say it, good to Jane Junky too. Even if that’s not true on all counts, it could hardly be worse than what we’ve been trying for the last fifty years.

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.

Just the parts you like…

I’m about to break ranks with Fox News, and you know that gives me a slightly queazy feeling on the inside. Still, I’ve made a habit of calling a spade a spade with everything else that ends up on my mind, so it’s only fair to call out your friends when they’re being asshats too. For the last six months or so, Fox News commentators have been screaming for the administration to cut government spending… except for Defense. And the FAA. And Homeland Security. And Border Patrol. Look, I’m a registered republican and draw a salary from one of the departments that you’re supporting, so I have a vested interested in being a defense sector booster but I know well and good there’s plenty of room to cut if it’s done smartly (i.e. not through an across the board cut as currently provided for by law and certainly not just by lopping off a work day every week for the next six months).

For the last two days, though, where Fox has decided to make a stand is on the subject of White House tours. Seriously? Guided tours of the White House are apparently so vital to the long term health and welfare of the republic that they should be included on the list of items to be fully funded… It’s so important that it ranks right up along with funding the troops still fighting in Afganistan. You have got to be shitting me, Fox.

Oh, you say, it only saves $75,000 a week. It’s a drop in the spending bucket. And you’re right. It’s one drop. A drop that over the six months of this years round of sequestration would save $1.65M of the $24M you say the White House must cut from their budget. That one drop is a pretty good start.

Sorry folks, but the need to cut spending isn’t about what programs you like, or I like, or the sixth grade class from East Pignuckle, Louisiana likes. It’s about reducing spending in accordance with the laws that Congress passes and the president signed into law. If it’s a bad law, it’s only bad because that’s the way some jackwagon staffer on the Hill wrote it.

I’ll be the first to tell you that the way sequestration was written, it’s just about the dumbest piece of legislation I’ve ever personally seen become law of the land. But the national consensus was that we want to reduce spending. Guess what? That means some of the things that people like just aren’t going to get done anymore. You wanted smaller government? Just remember that smaller government looks like fewer tours, fewer soldiers, slower refund processing, and generally less of everything we’ve become accustomed to over the last 60 years. If you don’t like what it looks like now that smaller government is here, push to change the law, don’t just sit around bitching about what you’ve lost. The future is about priorities and if you’re not speaking up for yours, someone else will be happy to let their voice be heard.

My Mr. Smith moment…

I did something today that I’ve never even given more than a passing thught to doing in the past. I exercised my right to call out, or rather call on, my elected representative to Congress. The nice staffer at Congressman Blackburn’s office was very polite when i explained that I was a registered voter in the Tennessee 7th, a federal employee, and that I’d very much like to go to work on Monday. She assured me that my message would make it to the congressman straight away. Yeah, I’m not sure I bought that part, but someone less jaded would have probably appreciated it as a helpful throwaway statement.

I have no idea what made me think of doing that. It just struck me that some effort needs to be made to keep the scale from being completely filled with the voices of the radicals who want to believe that Jesus hates compromise. We need serious structural changes to how the government does business. What we don’t need is 800,000 more people unemployed on Monday morning because the elected leaders of the United States of America can’t find their honorable asses with both hands and a flashlight.