Selfies With Hillary

Recently I saw some footage of Hillary Clinton campaigning, and it seemed like she was spending most of her time with a plastic smile on her face, stopping for “selfies” with people in the crowd.  The candidate would pose with an admirer who wanted a picture, walk a few paces, pose as another person manipulated their handheld to get their face and Clinton’s face in the shot, and that silly process continued, again and again and again.

If I were Hillary Clinton, this kind of  stop-and-go, photo-centric approach to campaigning would drive me nuts.  I also wonder what the Secret Service has to say about the physical security of selfies.  It’s one thing to have candidates walk the rope line, doing the grip and nod as they move steadily along before or after a speech, but the stop every few feet, cheek-to-cheek nature of constant selfies would seem to pose greater security risks.

I think the apparent obsession some people seem to have about taking “selfies” whereever they are, whatever they are doing, is curious — and, at times, off-putting.  In my view, the cell phone camera/selfie stick world has wrecked the experience at some art museums like the Louvre.  (I’m not alone in this; some art museums have banned selfie sticks because of their irritating, disruptive, view-obstructing tendencies.)

But I also guess I don’t understand why people want to take, and have, so many pictures of themselves. Is it simple Narcissism?  Is it a desire to have photographic proof that you were where you claimed to be?  Is it a desire to perfect your very best selfie pose?

The last time I was at the Louvre I watched a young man taking individual selfies of himself standing in front of every one of the dozens of paintings along one wall in a gallery.  What in the world was he going to do with them?  Was every one of those selfies posted to the guy’s Facebook page so that his friends could see dozens of nearly identical pictures of his smiling mug in front of a painting on their news feeds?  Was he going to have a mind-numbing slide show upon his return home?

Hillary Clinton, and no doubt other candidates who have to do the selfie stops, probably will end up being among the most selfie-photographed people in the history of the human race.  It would be interesting to get her unvarnished views about how she feels about it.

An Old-Fashioned Honorable Resignation

Today the director of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson, submitted her resignation.  She did so after being ripped by Congressmen of both parties for a series of appalling security lapses by the agency charged with protecting the President, including most recently the disclosure that the Secret Service had somehow — astonishingly — allowed the President to get on the elevator with an armed man.

Pierson said she resigned because it was obvious that Congress had lost confidence in her ability to run the agency — and she was right.  I can’t defend her management of the Secret Service, but I can applaud her decision to do the honorable thing and resign.

Pierson’s candor and approach is refreshing and, unfortunately, all too rare in Washington, D.C. these days, where embattled agency heads seem to routinely try to batten down the hatches and blame somebody else for the failings of their agencies.  Kathleen Sebelius presided over one of the worst, most expensive debacles in federal government history during the rollout of the healthcare.gov website, and she hung around for months afterward.  Who has resigned to atone for the obvious failings in security along the Mexican border, for allowing a whistleblower to spirit away a huge cache of top-secret government documents, for allowing the IRS to target groups because of their political orientation, or for countless other disasters?  Has anyone?

Pierson’s resignation reminds us that the people serving in government used to serve at the pleasure of the President and Congress and were decent enough to take the blame and submit their resignations when screw-ups occur on their watch.  Julia Pierson, at least, understood her proper role and had the class to do the right thing — but such an act of personal accountability is incredibly rare.  What does that tell you about the people who now serve in our government and don’t seem to be accountable to anyone?

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.

Time To Rely On Character, Not Guidelines

The Secret Service’s response to its embarrassing Colombian prostitute scandal — like the GSA response to its infuriating Las Vegas spend-a-thon — says a lot about the bureaucratic mindset.

In an effort to prevent agents from engaging in future drunken romps with hookers, the Secret Service has tightened guidelines.  Agents working overseas now are “banned from drinking on duty, visiting ‘disreputable establishments’ and bringing foreigners into hotel rooms.”  These are viewed as “common-sense enhancements” of existing rules, and will be accompanied by more “ethics sessions” for staff.  In short, the Secret Service, like the GSA before it, is relying on more regulation and more bureaucracy to solve its problem.

Does anyone really think, however, that the wording of regulations is what caused this scandal?  Does the Secret Service really believe that the agents who got drunk in a strip club and took Colombian streetwalkers back to their hotel rooms consulted the employee guidelines before they guzzled their first shot of vodka?

The problem is not with regulations, but with people.  If the Secret Service has hired agents who thought their behavior in Colombia was acceptable, then the problem runs a lot deeper than tweaking the terms of Regulation 12.3(b)(iii).  The processes that led to the hiring of the agents failed, and the training that helped to shape their behavior also failed.  The Secret Service needs to take a comprehensive look at how it selects and schools the people who protect our President.  It needs to figure out how to identify, hire, and promote individuals with qualities like responsibility, dedication, and judgment — because the agents involved in the Colombia scandal sorely lacked those crucial qualities.

It’s time our government understood that we must put our faith in people, not regulations.  You can’t regulate reckless people into responsible people.

Not-So-Secret

The embarrassing scandal involving U.S. Secret Service agents and Colombian prostitutes should make everyone question the quality, training, and capabilities of the people who hold some of the most important jobs in the federal government.

For those who missed it, 11 Secret Service agents were put on leave pending an investigation of their behavior in Colombia.  They were there to help prepare for President Obama’s arrival for the Summit of the Americas.  Amazingly, the agents took advantage of Colombia’s laws, which permit legal prostitution in certain areas, and enjoyed trysts with some of the ladies of the night.  Their risky behavior blew up when one agent refused to pay his prostitute, a police report was filed, and the assignations were uncovered.  Apparently, the hooker hook-ups are now the talk of the summit meeting.

None of the agents was involved in actually guarding the President, and the Secret Service says the President’s security was not compromised.  But how can we be sure?  If agents who are responsible for planning presidential security don’t even recognize the obvious risks involved in consorting with prostitutes in a foreign country, are they really qualified to be handling that crucially important job?  And how do we know that this appalling lapse in judgment — one that apparently included almost a dozen agents — hasn’t happened before?

This incident is shocking and deeply concerning.  Regardless of our political inclinations, we can all agree that nothing is more important than providing the best possible security for our President, who is an obvious target in a world filled with enemies.   This scandal suggests that we may need to take a very careful look at the culture and personnel of the Secret Service, to make sure that they understand just how crucial their job is — and how the proper performance of that job requires that they keep their pants zipped and resist the temptation of sex workers, booze, drugs, and other vices that might impair their judgment.

Gatecrashers

The developing story about a Virginia couple that apparently “gatecrashed” the White House state dinner for the Prime Minister of India is pretty disturbing.  According to the new reports, the couple did not have an invitation but showed up at the event in their formal wear, went through screening, and had their pictures taken with President Obama and Vice President Biden.  Of course, this being modern America, we now learn that the woman in the couple has dreams of being on some kind of reality show about wealthy housewives in D.C.

Fortunately, nothing bad happened, other than a bit of embarrassment.  Still, this is not just a weird story about a mischievous prank.  If I were chief of staff for the President I would make sure that some heads rolled.  The Secret Service has one of the most important jobs in the federal government, and the notion that individuals without an invitation could crash a scheduled event — where the security undoubtedly was planned and set up far in advance — is just unacceptable.  It suggests lapses in procedure and general incompetence that can only encourage other people, with different potential goals, to try similar stunts. President Obama has a tough enough job without having to worry about whether security screenings are being done properly and strangers are roaming the White House.