Protecting The President’s House

How did a man manage to scale a fence and actually enter the White House before being apprehended?  Basically, by the government not paying sufficient attention to the need to protect the President, his family, and the White House itself from a basic physical intrusion.

Omar Gonzalez climbed the fence surrounding the White House, raced across 70 yards of lawn, and entered the building through the North Portico entrance — which, amazingly, was unlocked.  Because he did not appear to be armed, he was not shot, nor did the Secret Service release a dog trained to knock down intruders.  However, Gonzalez in fact was carrying a 3 1/2-inch knife.  Fortunately, the President and his family had left the White House minutes before.  We now are learning that Gonzalez, a former veteran, possessed lots of ammunition, as well as a machete, a hatchet, and other weapons in his car.

White House fence-jumpers are not unusual, and the Washington Post reports that a Secret Service study showed that the White House is vulnerable to attack by multiple people climbing the fence at the same time.  The Post also notes that there are “severe staffing shortages” and high turnover in the force charged with White House security.  Due to budgetary concerns the Secret Service decided not to fully staff the division in charge of White House grounds, to cancel Secret Service Academy training classes, and to not pay agents overtime.  The Post article quotes a Secret Service spokesman as saying:  “There is not an endless amount of money. We can’t do the hiring, and that’s the decision that was made.”

Seriously?  The federal government has spent money like a drunken sailor for years, running up enormous budget deficits, and we can’t afford to fully staff the agency charged with keeping the President and his family safe?  Here’s a suggestion:  take whatever money is spent producing and broadcasting useless “Click It or Ticket” commercials and use it to hire, train, and properly pay Secret Service agents.  And while you’re at it, let’s get an additional dog or two and use them the next time a guy jumps the White House fence.

The Secret Service used to be viewed as an elite agency, but its reputation has taken a beating in recent years, with people not on the guest list crashing White House dinners, scandals about liquored-up agents consorting with prostitutes, and now an inexcusable breach of security by the most low-tech attack imaginable.  Someone in the federal government needs to get our priorities straight and realize that protecting the President is of paramount importance.  Budgetary concerns shouldn’t be part of the equation.

The Unforgivable Male Flip-Flopper

Tonight I was in a hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a guy was there wearing flip-flops.  As we walked down the hall he flapped loudly along, drawing our attention down to floor level, and we all got to admire his feet.

IMG_3305Call me a crank, but I think a guy wearing flip flops in a hospital at night is unforgivably impolite.  I don’t mind people of both sexes wearing flip flops at a pool, or on the beach, or at an informal backyard barbecue on a hot summer night.  I give kids a pass, too.  But there is a time and a place for everything, and a grown man wearing flip flops in a public building when the temperature is about 56 degrees outside is just not right.  When you add in the fact that it’s a hospital it seems even more inappropriate.

I know we’ve gotten increasingly informal in our society and become accepting of things that once would have been unthinkable.  I’m old enough to remember when people actually got dressed up for airplane flights; now when you board a plane you often feel like you’ve intruded upon an over-sized sweatpants modeling convention.  We’ve become a society of appalling slobs.

I recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, a guy wearing flip-flops in a hospital at night isn’t the worst offense a person can commit — but I also believe in the “broken windows” theory that holds that little things, if left uncorrected, can lead to social disorder.  A guy wearing flip-flops is a harbinger of chaos.  This is where we need to draw the line.

Insecure About Homeland Security

The Washington Post has an interesting, and troubling, story about the problems at the Department of Homeland Security.  According to the article, the agency is faced with tremendously low morale, high employee turnover, and a toxic bureaucratic environment.

The DHS was created after 9/11 and was supposed to unite a host of separate agencies that had some security role.  Its constituent agencies include the Customs Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  Coordinating the different cultures and practices of such diverse agencies would be a challenge, and the Post piece indicates that the DHS has made a hash of it, creating a highly bureaucratic environment that frustrates employees and managers.

A dysfunctional, overly bureaucratic federal agency — who could imagine such a thing?  It may be the norm, but in the case of the DHS the constant turnover, unfilled positions, and bureaucratic gamesmanship could easily have real world consequences.  The Post article notes, for example, that recent testing has shown that the blue-uniformed TSA employees at who operate all of those scanners are increasingly missing weapons or explosives being brought through security.  What is the point of spending billions for high-tech scanners at airports if the TSA employees can’t properly interpret the scanning data?  In the modern world where so many terrorist groups are looking to launch another deadly operation, we simply cannot afford security agencies who aren’t properly performing their jobs.

The TSA is only one example of a problem agency within the DHS.  Whether it is defense against cybersecurity attacks, or securing the border, or dealing with the influx of immigrant minors, the DHS is tasked with tough assignments and is widely perceived as botching them.  The plummeting morale at the DHS isn’t helping matters, either.  A survey performed last year showed that the DHS ranked dead last among large agencies.

The DHS has an important job.  With the constant threats made against America by the likes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda, you would think that effective leaders could generate energized agencies where employees understood the significance of their roles and had high morale because of the crucial nature of their work in protecting their families and friends from attack.  Instead, the DHS is a morass of infighting and leaden bureaucratic procedures that hinder effective performance.

The Post article paints an ugly picture, one that should make us all feel less secure about the Department of Homeland Security.

Let Slip The Inner Asshole

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In my family, cards were serious business. You played to win, and if you blundered you could expect to be called on it — in spades.

Taunting was not only accepted, but viewed as a crucial part of the play-to-win process. A well-played hand that produced an unexpected loss for your opponents had to be accompanied by a well-played barb, and if you were on the losing end you were expected to respond in kind. It was all part of the game, and if you didn’t like the insult process you just shouldn’t play.

This is all well and good when card playing is confined to the family unit. It’s a bit uncomfortable when you sit down to play an innocent game of euchre with friends and realize that your inner asshole sees the deck of cards and concludes that it’s time for him to make an appearance.

P-I-B Sunrise

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The Gleeful Retiree and his lovely wife graciously invited me to join a group for a visit to their beautiful Put-In-Bay place on the shores of Lake Erie this weekend. We stayed up to the wee hours last night, talking and catching up, and I slept with the windows open, enjoying the breeze and the ever-present murmurs of the Lake in the background. I think you never sleep so well as you do around water.

Today dawned bright and clear, to the accompaniment of gull cries, surf sounds, and the whistle of a brisk wind.