The real reason Oregon isn’t the same

There are plenty of questions about the way police and the media are handling the wildlife refuge occupation in Oregon. Bernie Sanders drew an immediate comparison to police brutality issues,  and  he wasn’t the only one asking whether the militia would have been summarily executed had they been black or Muslim.

The reality is that this situation isn’t the same because, unlike terrorism or a Black Lives Matter protest gone awry, this is actually pretty funny.

There aren’t hostages. There weren’t any forest rangers beheaded on video. There’s only a rag tag bunch of rednecks with legal guns holed up in a building people rarely ever go to.

When faced with terrorism (real terrorism, that is) we tend to become resolute. When faced with injustice, we become outraged. There is nothing here to get outraged or resolute over. There are just a few Duck Dynasty wannabes, probably getting drunk off some homemade hooch in the middle of nowhere, and taking to Twitter and Facebook to beg for snacks.

Snacks! This is hilarious.

Illegal? Sure. Wrong? You bet. But this is “terrorism” like John Candy and Rhea Perlman’s invasion of Canada in 1995’s Canadian Bacon was terrorism. Opponents are mocking them as “Y’all Qaeda.”

 

Most serious observers understand that in an American West which still smarts from government overreach at Waco and Ruby Ridge, an armed standoff could go sideways right quick. Hopefully, they’ll get desperate enough to leave soon. In the meantime, we can share a chuckle at the folks who really think they’re sticking it to the man by squatting in a birdwatching shack.

 

Why Bankrupting America’s New Web Series Actually Works

This week, Bankrupting America launched “The Government,” a new web series this week parodying both government spending and The Office.  Unlike many attempts at politically themed humor, it actually works.

There are some over-the-top spots – the introduction of the (probably?) fictional Department of Every Bureaucratic Transaction comes to mind – but nothing that detracts from the main joke.  What makes the video click is its natural dialogue, solid acting, identifiable characters, and subtle jokes (such as the employees walking around in the background holding golden coffee mugs with oven mitts).

In other words, structurally, it entertains for the same reasons The Office did, which means it’s a great approach to this type of communication.  If future episodes hit these same beats (and patch up some of the rough spots), Bankrupting America will have a pretty powerful messaging device on its hands.

Obama’s Commencement Speech Revisited

Last Sunday, President Obama addressed Ohio State’s Class of 2013 thusly:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

Cool speech, wasn’t it?  Here’s a quick rundown of some of the big headlines over the last week:

  1. The Administration messed up in Benghazi – and ABC news showed they directly lied to the American people about the root cause of the attack.
  2. The IRS specifically and deliberately targeted the President’s political foes during the 2012 election cycle.
  3. The Obama Justice Department snagged phone records – both professional and personal – for AP reporters.  They didn’t say why.

 

Happy Valentine’s Day, unless that offends you…

There shall be no perforated cardstock exchanged today at Salemwood Elementary School in Malden, Massachusetts: the school has banned Valentine’s Day in the interest of cultural equality:

David DeRuosi, superintendent of Malden Public Schools, defended the principal’s decision – explaining that with new residents and new mandates “certain traditions we have to modify and adapt.”

Where's My Valentine?If you’re scoring at home, that means they are sending and receiving Valentines anyway.  That’s even more ridiculous than the idea of cancelling Valentine’s Day altogether.  They’re doing all the same stuff, just calling it something else.  It’s a lot of motion but no progress.

There are four really ridiculous points here:

1.  Cultural Equality through NO CULTURE FOR ANYONE

The administration at Salemwood has a tough task, and no doubt they try their best to deal with a diverse student body.  Still, how does one arrive at the conclusion that the best way to be multi-cultural is to be non-cultural?  The best way to include outsiders isn’t to eliminate customs; inclusion means including them.

This is an American cultural holiday, even if it has its roots in a religious celebration.  This is about large corporations influencing buying decisions through heavy media inundation, and there is nothing more American than that.  If you’re new to the nation, this is a good lesson.

In the interest of the good ol’ American melting pot, it’s also a good idea to reach out to parents and ask the ones who may be able to do so to buy an extra pack of Valentine cards in case someone in the class doesn’t have the extra scratch to buy those precious perforated cards.  And of course, such transactions need to be on the down-low.

Also with inclusion in mind, teachers aren’t out of line to send every student home with a full list of his or her classmates, so that he or she can sit there the night before and write out all their names on those cards.  This mode of torture will ensure that every child gets a card, and that every child practices their penmanship.

2. Valentine’s Day cancelled.  EDUCATION CRISIS SOLVED!

The whole episode conjures the mental image of a principal or any other educational official, struck with insomnia  staring at the ceiling of his or her bedroom.  Nationally, our school are struggling, math and science scores are through the floor, and any improvement will have to come on a shoestring budget.

Which problem to address first?  Apparently, holidays are the major impediment to learning, and must be restrained.  The answer to why our students aren’t keeping up?  They must feel uncomfortable in the classroom.

(By the way, who is more uncomfortable at school than the nerds?  And they get awesome grades.)

Truthfully, these folks may sit around for six days out of the week thinking of brilliant new ways to get kids to suck less at math, and we’d never hear about it because the national media wouldn’t cover it.  (And if they did cover it, no one would  retweet it.)  With that grain of salt taken, this is one of the ideas from a brainstorming session that ought to be swiped off the white board as quickly as possible.

And note that Valentine’s Day is not being eliminated so that the students can spend more time doing multiplication tables.  Actually, if you talk to the principal, it isn’t being eliminated at all…

3.  Wait, they aren’t using this extra time to learn more?

How is Salemwood using all the time saved by passing out Valentine’s Cards?

[Principal Carol] Keenan said they were not cancelling Valentine’s Day. Instead, the elementary school is going to celebrate a modified version.

“Every student is making a friendship card for another student,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that every single student is given the opportunity to get a card and to also give a card. I didn’t want some students feeling left out.”

So it’s just a rebranding deal?  It sounds like Salemwood is in cahoots with Carlton Cards, trying to cut into a Hallmark Holiday.

It isn’t clear how much though, effort, and study went into trading out Valentines for Friendship Cards, but it was too much.  Cancellation of classroom celebrations in favor of more time doing multiplication tables might sound less fun, but at least there would be a clear rationale.

4. Watch your language!

The most disturbing aspect of Salemwood’s reasoning?

Keenan also addressed the language barrier – noting there are 400 students in the school who don’t speak English.

She feared they “wouldn’t understand the concept of having to bring a card or get a card.”

Read that again: There are 400 kids in the school who don’t speak English.  That’s not just a big hurdle to communicating with their peers, it’s a potentially huge impediment to finding a well-paying job and establishing a successful life in this country.

Cancelling or rebranding the concept of Valentine’s Day doesn’t help these students, but devoting some time to teach them English probably would.

Christie: Palin Redux?

So far, 2016’s most buzz-generating possible Presidential candidate in Governor Chris Christie.  Every move the guy makes in recent weeks has been viewed through the lens of implications for 2016.  Was he too chummy with the President?  Was he too combative with the Speaker?  Is he moderating himself to appeal to independents?

Back in 2011, it looked like Chris Christie could have stepped into the Republican primary and carved out an immediate niche as a forceful voice opposing government largess.  At the time, some idiot even said that political memories are short, so if he wanted a shot 2012 was his time.   That might prove true now, as Christie finds himself as the most prominent nationally-recognized Republican in the public consciousness.

It’s the same spot Sarah Palin found herself in following the 2008 campaign.  Suddenly, the governor of Alaska was the standard bearer for a party in disarray, while still trying to play the role of maverick outsider.  Palin proved ill-equipped.  (After all, it’s tough to look Presidential by shutting down “lamestream media” contact to communicate through Facebook posts.  Crashing the Iowa straw poll to steal headlines wasn’t particularly helpful either.)

Christie isn’t likely to step into the same pitfalls as Palin, but he has a 2013 re-election effort that will likely be colored by the shadow of 2016.  Factor in that the national media already accepts  Christie as the GOP front runner, and it makes for a pretty big target the governor will have to lug around with him for a while.

The Googlization of Government

Rep. Tim Huelskamp has been banging the drum on a proposed Health and Human Services rule that would mandate insurance companies share patient data with the federal government.  The purpose of the program ostensibly noble – the administration wants to collect as much data on health care as possible to determine.  But Huelkamp correctly notes that data is not always secure.  Companies and governments lose personal data on customers and citizens periodically.

In a related story, Google revealed that the US government asks the search company for more user data than any other government on the planet.  In fact, there were more requests for Google data than there were wiretaps on phones last year.

While Google may look skeptically on the government requests for information, the HHS program sounds like something out of Google labs – aggregating data about users of the health care system to ensure better future outcomes.  Just as Google has multiple touch points where it meets its users (search, YouTube, Android, Gmail, etc.), so does the government.  What if they started connecting the dots?  We send tax returns in each year, so the IRS knows how much we make, where we live, whether we own or rent, what we do for a living.  On a state level, readily available voter registration data tells them how often we vote and may even give them a good idea how we would vote, based on primary voting history.  That doesn’t even get into people who participate in federal programs for medical help, student loans, social security, or public assistance.  And it doesn’t take into account the possibility of government looking elsewhere for data.  Today it’s Google, but a host of other companies are out there looking at what you but, what magazines you subscribe to, how often you gas up your car, and what TV shows you watch.

Eventually, other government agencies could follow the same model as HHS, expanding their data points on each citizen.  That’s when it could get really interesting, especially if some enterprising staffer in some agency realizes all the information that’s pouring in.  Imagine if the roadblocks between executive agencies came down, all the data was in one big pile?  The administration could be an even more voracious consumer of data, and use if to create detailed analyses of national trends, attitudes, and issues.  Here’s a video representation of how this might look:

A campaign or company wouldn’t use available data to recruit new customers or make life better for existing ones.  When I go to Amazon or Best Buy’s website, they look at what I’ve bought in the past and make recommendations; it’s simply good business.  An executive agency, which is supposed to strive for efficiency, would pick up on this trend as a way to streamline government services.  The difference, though, is that if you’re creeped out, you can always shop somewhere else.

 

 

RNC jumps right on the Ryan budget plan

On Friday, the RNC sent out an email calling for supporters to sign a petition in support of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.  Quick, huh?

Speed kills, and this RNC email came over a month after Ryan uploaded his YouTube video outlining the problem with continuing government spending.  That gave the Democrats a month to complain that the GOP budget proposal would strip old people of their medicine like a starving robot.  The RNC is a little bit late to the party on this one.

On the plus side, the email does direct activists back to a petition, where they can register their support and send their own brief message.  If the RNC is doing things right, that means the folks on the email list who respond to this email will be tracked and identified for the upcoming Presidential races.  If those people live in some place like Ohio, they should be on the extra-special, “we need these people to go to the polls and I bet they’d drag four people” list.

The spending issue isn’t going away, and there’s plenty of time to re-frame the debate.  For the RNC it’s better late than never.

Boeing learns there are strings attached

The National Labor Relations Board is gently suggesting that Boeing should maintain a factory in Washington state instead of South Carolina.  When the NLRB “gently suggests” something, that tends to involve filing a complaint that alleges unfair labor practices.  In this case NLRB felt that Boeing’s relocation to the Palmetto State was retaliatory against the union that represents those who would work in the Washington plant.

As one would expect, conservatives roundly criticized the NLRB for bullying Boeing.  Government, the allies of Boeing would argue, should not direct business practice, nor pick winners and losers in business matters.

But Boeing is hardly a poster child for the ideals of the free market.

In 2010, Boeing spent almost $18 million lobbying the government and over $2.6 million in campaign donations to candidates and PACs.  In return for these efforts, Boeing rakes in over $16 billion in government contracts (second only to Lockheed Martin).  That’s a pretty good return on investment.

Boeing isn’t alone – many companies, especially those in line for large defense department contracts, play the same game.  But when a sizable chunk of any company’s business relies on the playing the political system, the company can’t be surprised when politics winds up getting in the way of business.

As Former President Gerald Ford put it, “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.”

Where are they learning this stuff? Oh…

It’s a story that deals with higher taxes, government largess, and an agency that broke it’s promises.

Is it the current budget battle?  The raging debate over Obamacare?  The rallying cry for state public sector unions?  No, it’s Spring Concert at my alma mater, UMass.  This year, for the first time ever, students will have to pay to attend.

In light of the current debate over the size and scope of government spending, this tale is sort of interesting.

Some background: UMass’s annual Spring Concert dates back to at least the 1960s.  It used to be an outdoor event on the vast expanse of  space right in the middle of campus; since 1999 it has been held in the Mullins Center (which also hosts basketball, hockey, and other concerts).  The money to put on the concert comes from the student activities fund, which is charged along with tuition and other fees to each student on their bill each semester – essentially, a tax that funds student government activities.  The article points out that the fee is now $94 (it was in the $70 range when I was there) and includes a good description of the funding process and the way the Spring Concert is put together.

Controversy and disappointment are nothing new for the Spring Concert; the 1998 show (during my freshman year on campus) was scrapped because the agency in charge couldn’t scrape together enough funds after running other concerts throughout the year.  This year, the problem is that the $200,000 special fund that was set aside specifically for the concert (an outgrowth from the ’98 cancellation) isn’t enough to cover the talent and other costs.

In other words, a government agency is having trouble paying its bills, and is looking for taxpayers to make up the difference.

Especially telling is explanation offered by the advisor for University Productions and Concerts, the group in charge of the event:

“One of the problems is that we are a very spoiled campus,” said Lloyd Henley, associate director of the Center for Student Development and faculty advisor to the UPC. “We are used to such top-caliber artists, and so one of the things I said to UPC and the SGA is, ‘Something’s got to break.’”

Met with the dilemma of the high costs of talent and a budget which sounds big but probably goes quick when running an event of this size, Henley’s advice was apparently to charge more on top of what people were already paying – because the students/taxpayers are “spoiled” and the Spring Concert has to be a great show rather than a good free concert.  It’s not surprising; despite the “faculty” advisor moniker Henley’s position within the office that oversees campus activities gives him away as an administrative/bureaucratic figure.  In fact, some folks are calling for increases in student activities fees so that the shortfall doesn’t happen again in future year.  Because why shouldn’t a state school raise its fees to accommodate a really big concert?

It’s both sad and fortunate that the voice of reason comes from a student:

This past year, fees did not increase and, according to Josh Davidson, chairman of the SGA’s Ways and Mean Committee, they should stay the same until the budget process is modified.

“I really feel that we can spend the money a whole lot better,” he said. “The way that we allocate money to groups can be much more effective. I would like to see those things happen before we raise the fees.”

That’s a good philosophy, no matter what level of government you’re in.