Thursday, June 3, 2010

Going to Hell in a handbasket

     First, did you ever notice that nobody ever goes anywhere else in a handbasket? Apparently, handbaskets are an even more inefficient transportation system than Virginia's highways, which only take you from one pothole to the next.

Now, let's count the ways that the world is going to Hell this week.

  1. The BP oil spill on the Gulf Coast: As crude oil washes into Louisiana wetlands and threatens the Gulf Coast beaches of Florida, it's apparent that this is an environmental catastrophe on a scale we haven't seen before. And, so far, BP's repeated efforts plug the hole have all failed. The frustrating thing about this situation is that only the industry that caused this disaster has the know-how to fix it. The federal government does not, although they've assembled a team of experts and big thinkers including, believe it or not, "Titanic" and "Avatar" director James Cameron, to brainstorm solutions. We might profitably ask why we let a foreign company operate a well with the potentially disatrous effects of this one off our coast, at least without a better plan as to what to do should something go wrong. Because something will always go wrong. Technology isn't perfect. It's made by humans. A sound "Plan B" would have gone a long way in this situation. The answer to that is that the oil industry and the people who are supposed to be regulating the oil industry have had way to cozy a relationship for at least the last 30 years. The spill has become a political issue, with Republicans looking to make it "Barack Obama's Katrina." While there's nothing Obama, or any other president, could have done to prevent the spill, his response has been weak. He should be threatening to seize all of BP's assets to pay for clean up of the spill and to compensate those damaged by BP's failure to properly operate their well. He's continuing to be "no drama Obama" when the country could use a little fire and drama from its chief executive. Perhaps the only good thing to come out of the spill is that it has put the brakes on plans to drill off the coast of Virginia. So Virginia Beach will be spared the devastation currently going on on the Gulf Coast. I'm not all that "green." I could have been persuaded that drilling off the coast made sense. But that would have required a reasoned analysis showing that potential benefits to the Commonwealth outweighed the potential risks. In the rush to "drill, baby, drill," that analysis was simply not done. Maybe now oil industry advocates will realize that a slogan does not an energy policy make.
  2. Israel's botched raid on the "humanitarian aid" flotilla to Gaza: Israel is one of our major allies and, like the U.S., sometimes they make it hard to root for them even though you know they are the good guys.  Boarding the ships taking aid to Gaza in contravention of an Israeli blockade was an extreme reaction and probably caused more public relations damage to the Israeli cause than the negligible security benefits warranted. That said, it's important to remember that Israel is involved in a seemingly endless war with an enemy that believes using suicide bombs to blow up children and indiscriminantly firing missles into civilian settlements are legitimate means to wage war.
  3. Rand Paul: Republicans in Kentucky really just nominated a candidate for the U.S. Senate who disagrees with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically Paul, the son of former GOP presidential aspirant Rep. Ron Paul, disagrees with the portion of the law that forbids private businesses from discriminating as to who they will serve. He thinks restaurants and hotels, for instance, should have the right to refuse to serve patrons on the basis of race. He's wrong. He's not just morally wrong and logically wrong, he's legally wrong. That issue was argued thoroughly before the Supreme Court after the Civil Rights Act passed. Paul's side lost. But he's likely to win his bid for a U.S. Senate seat being vacated by senile baseball Hall of Famer Jim Bunning, because Kentucky is a very red state.
4.  Cuccinelli doesn't file suit: For a Republican, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is a litigious son of gun. He's suing the federal government over health care reform and subpoening the records of a Univeristy of Virginia climate scientist. He issued an opinion about colleges adopting anti-discrimination policies including gays and lesbians than nobody actually asked for. But this week, Cuccinelli decided to show restraint in the oddest of circumstances. He refused to have Virginia join 48 states in filing an amicus brief on behalf of Albert Snyder, who's suing the "Rev." Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church. That's the group that goes around disrupting the funerals of U.S. military personnel with signs saying "You're in Hell" and "God hates you" because they believe the United States' tolerance of gays and lesbians has damned the country. The group disrupted the funeral of Snyder's son, who was killed in Iraq. Cuccinelli said the lawsuit against Phelps endangered the right of freedom of speech. He gained an unusual ally when he was backed by the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. Cuccinelli also said that Virginia has a seperate law against disrupting funerals which is more effective than the lawsuit would be. That may be true. But if anybody in America deserves suing, it's Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church. In fact, their actions are enabled by the fact that we've all become to civilized to let the aggeived hand out a well-deserved punch in the mouth without involving the police and the courts. Because one will search in vain through America's vast history of con men, rapscallions, knaves, liars, cheats, horsethieves and politicians without finding a character more deserving of a shot in the chops than Fred Phelps.
5. What's good for the gander... Just when South Carolina is about to get rid of Gov. Mark Sanford, who made the state a laughing stock by disappearing for days to visit a mistress in Argentina, while his staff said he was "hiking the Applachian Trail," another potential adultery scandal raises its head. And this one breaks new ground, as it involves the first female politico to be involved in reputed extra-marital hanky panky. Two Republican operatives have surfaced with claims that they each had adulterous one-night stands with Nikki Haley, one of the two Republican contenders to succeed Sanford. Haley has denied both allegations. One of the men is a former employee of Haley's rival for the GOP nomination, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer who, during the time when the South Carolina legislature was considering impeaching Sanford, felt it was necessary to hold a press conference to deny repeated rumors that he's gay. Party of family values?
6. Steel Cage Senate Death Match in Connecticutt: Linda McMahon, of the World Wrestling Entertainment McMahons, became a long-shot possible winner in Connecticutt's Senate election when her Democratic opponent, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, hit himself in the head with a steel chair. Blumenthal has made repeated references to his Vietnam service over the course of his political career, but it turns out he never actually got any closer to Vietnam than running a Toys for Tots program in Washington, D.C. If McMahon has learned anything from her former ruthless employees like Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, the Undertaker and her son-in-law Triple H, she'll use this opening to "stomp a mudhole" in Blumenthal "and walk it dry." As of Thursday, she still trailing him by 23 points in the most recent polling. Connecticutt is a very blue state.
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