Angling for Trouble

A high school teacher has been suspended in Alabama for using the assassination of President Obama as a math problem.  It seems Geometry teacher Gregory Harrison of Corner High School in Jefferson Country needed some example of using angles and lines to keep his students engaged in the subject.  So he decided to create a scenario where students had to find optimal sniper positions for shooting the President.  And not just generically “the President”, as in suppose you were John Wilkes Booth or Charlie Guiteau, but let’s all pretend to shoot Obama.  Won’t that be fun?

It’s hard to see what could go wrong here.  Although when the Secret Service interrogated Mr. Harrison, they did their doggone best to ‘splain it to him.  The Secret Service did ultimately find that Harrison was not a credible threat, although they presumably at least branded him a colossal twit.  The school district was also not amused and further disciplinary action is still pending.

Fortunately, the teacher wasn’t talking about shooting Rush Limbaugh, or by now there would be a bill being introduced in Congress to require a license to carry a math degree.

Just Fix It!!

I was watching a bunch of the Sunday talk news shows this past weekend, and most had at least a segment on the BP oil well disaster in the Gulf.  Several people from both sides of the political spectrum seemed incredulous that the government or the military or someone competent didn’t just go down there and stop the leak.  Why are we letting BP continue to flail at this?

Jason Sudeikis has a recurring character on SNL known as the Fix It Guy.  (See the video here at about the 2:15 mark).  The pundits and politicians reminded me of this character with their calls to “just fix it!”

AquamanA few sane voices tried to point out that the problem at this point is not one of funding or will power, or competence.  This is a really intractable engineering problem that no one knows how to fix.  BP and the other oil companies likely have the best chance of coming up with a solution, but they are making this up as they go.  It’s not like there’s an Army Engineering Corp unit sitting around a poker table grousing that if only they’d let them at it they’d have this puppy capped by sunrise tomorrow.  There’s no crackpot scientist with a fix waiting to go.  And so far Aquaman hasn’t returned BP’s call.

With regard to capping the damaged well, it’s not clear the government has much to offer, and they haven’t taken the lead because they are not the ones with the expertise.  Yet this doesn’t mean for a second that the government should let up on the pressure for BP to get this under control.  However, there are a couple of things the government should be actively doing or planning for.

First, the Interior department needs its house cleaned.  Clearly the incestuous relationship of the extractive industries and the Interior department has resulted in a system where there is essentially no oversight.  Yes, this department was pretty much dismantled by the Bush Administration, but Obama hasn’t cleaned it up at all since he’s been there.  If ever there was a wake up call, this was it.  Secretary Salazar should be out, and a good top down flush should follow.  It would send a clear message to the oil companies that the party is over.

Second, the cleanup is coming.  The environmental and economic damage from this spill will be enormous.  And this is something the government does know how to handle and should take a lead in.  BP should still get the bill (and not capped at $75m either), but they should not be organizing clean up efforts and making decisions about who gets what aid and when.  So far, while Obama hasn’t dropped the ball on this, he’s not stepped up to the plate either.

If this disaster has a chance of becoming “Obama’s Katrina”, it will be because of a failure on the cleanup and the organizational fixes to assure there is never a repeat of this.  Not because the well isn’t capped.  The time to act is now Mr. President.

And on an ironic side note, Sarah Palin accused Obama of being in bed with the oil companies.  Aside from the obvious, it’s worth noting that husband Todd spent 18 years working for BP.  So who’s in bed with whom?

Chip off the Old Block – Bristol Goes Pro

Bristol PalinBristol Palin is now officially on the speaker’s circuit where she will command between $15k-$30k for an appearance.  This is a pittance compared to her mom Sarah, but is pretty decent butter and egg money for a girl who’s only claim to fame was getting knocked up at an inopportune moment for her family.

With no apparent sense of irony, she’s advertised as being available to speak at “conferences, fundraisers, special events and holidays, as well as women’s, youth, abstinence and “pro-life” programs.”  In fairness, perhaps she’s a great speaker.  But you’ll pardon me if I have a heavy suspicion that her major attraction is that she’s a name known in the press.  After all, the world is unfortunately not short of young people who’ve made a lousy decision or two and are now struggling to get their lives together.  But most of those kids don’t have national notoriety or a millionaire mom  to fall back on.

Tea Totaling

Rand PaulIt’s been an interesting week for Dr. Rand Paul, the new Republican candidate for Kentucky senator.  The son of popular Libertarian Presidential candidate Ron Paul, Tea Party candidate Rand is refreshingly ideological, even if it is making his opponents do victory fist pumps and his allies run for cover.

First the facts.  Paul was asked this week by Rachel Maddow if he supported the 1964 Civil Right Act.  He was asked because an earlier newspaper interview he had given suggested that perhaps he didn’t.  This was not “gotcha” journalism.  He was already on record here.  While Paul went out of his way to decry racism in any form and stated he supported most of the Civil Rights Act, he was clear that he believed that while government should not provide any public funding to any organization practicing discrimination, that he believed independent business should have maintained the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.  He said he personally wouldn’t patronize such places, but felt they shouldn’t be illegal.  He has since clarified that because he agreed with so much of the bill, that he likely would have voted for it anyway.  It is also worth noting that he has never claimed he would work to repeal the Act, as some media reports have claimed.

Fresh on the heels of this can of worms he opened on himself, he announced that BP was being unfairly treated by the Obama administration.  His position is that the government should stay out of the oil spill mess in the Gulf.  This is simply an industrial accident.  BP said they’d clean it all up.  Stuff happens.  Get over it.

In the wake of these statements, the GOP is trying desperately to get Paul at arms length.  They do not want to be aligned with allowing businesses to bring back segregated lunch counters, and they are desperately trying to position the oil spill as Obama’s Katrina based on the opinion that he’s failed to do enough.  Meanwhile, they do not want to lose the support of the Tea Party, which still seems to be standing behind Paul.  Quite a pickle.

I have to admit a certain admiration for Rand Paul.  Not that I think his positions are sane, but he is being very true to the implications of the Libertarian ideology.  He’s not trying to twist or spin his position for political advantage, or just say what people want to hear.  He’s simply laying it on the line.  At least in that regard, he may be the most refreshing politician I’ve encountered in some time.

The other thing I like about this is he is practicing, to some degree, what I’ve advocated for in previous columns.  Specifically, back testing your ideological positions to see what would be different if the government was being run by your espoused policies back in the day.  I think this is especially illustrative when applied to the anti-government Libertarian Tea Party movement.  Were this the historical philosophy of government we would not have Social Security, Civil Rights, public education, or Medicare.  You’d be able to walk on Lake Erie by now,the Chicago River would still be aflame, and the air in Los Angeles would be toxic.

The point here being that extreme positions are seldom useful.  Government isn’t inherently evil, nor are taxes, the individual desire to succeed, free market enterprise, or regulation.  It’s a balancing act.  The sweet spot is in the middle.  The irony is that most Tea Party advocates are pining for the good old days of the 50s and 60s.  A time of economic growth, prosperity, the rise of the American Middle Class.  Heady days to be sure.  But they were also a time of comparatively high taxes, lots of regulation, and lots of government investment in our collective future.

The Tea Partiers are right, there is significant dysfunction in our government.  They are right that change is needed.  But are they advocating in the right direction?  Do any of us want to live in the world Rand Paul envisions?

I don’t.