Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Distinctions with a Difference

Richard Cohen asks why conservatives rejected Harriet Miers' nomination for the Supreme Court and backed Sarah Palin's vice-presidential candidacy. He gets the answer precisely wrong.

Mr. Cohen contends that conservatives back the second of two candidates he regards as incompetent solely because of the ideological purity of Gov. Palin. However, he misrepresents the reasons for Ms. Miers rejection and fails to note an important distinction with a difference. Regarding the former, Ms. Miers was not rejected for ideological reasons. In fact, President Bush assured conservatives that Ms. Miers would vote "correctly," and the sorts of conservatives that Mr. Cohen is writing about (those at National Review and The Weekly Standard) didn't care. They didn't want correct results: they wanted a credible and serious legal mind who could provide leadership on the court.

Second, Mr. Cohen ignores the different requirements of a Supreme Court justice and a political candidate or leader. The judiciary is a much more intellectually oriented enterprise. Political offices, including the vice-presidency, could always use thinkers (which are seemingly in short supply for both parties), but they are more suited for persons with other types of skills: visionary leadership, organizational skills, and so forth. Many CEO's would make lousy professors, and vice-versa. The differences in the skill sets of political and judicial leaders are roughly comparable.

Leaving aside ideology, it is no reach to be uncomfortable with Ms. Miers on the court and fully comfortable with Ms. Palin as vice-president.

The End of an Era?

CBS Sportsline writer Clark Judge is dead on when he says that the problems of the floundering Indianapolis Colts start with Payton Manning. Prior to this year, anyone watching the Colts could not help but be impressed by the incredible timing and pinpoint accuracy of the Manning run offense. Because of the number of available weapons, the accuracy of the quarterback, and the sense that everyone was precisely in sync with everyone else, the offense seemed at times unstoppable.

This year, and particularly last night, they looked very average, at best. Maybe last night the wind was an issue, but the passing game simply did not look crisp. When Mr. Manning had open receivers, he frequently just missed them. That was not the case before.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Against All Odds

As McCain advisers, Republican second-guessers, and other assorted Monday morning quarterbacks go about assessing blame for John McCain's seemingly inevitable defeat, Byron York makes an important point: given the confluence of obstacles being faced this year, it would have been virtually impossible for any Republican to win. The combination of the unpopularity of the current President and the floundering economy are simply too much to overcome.

Mr. York writes about how the McCain campaign has been aware and responded to those obstacles over the course of the race while also paying tribute to a man who has fought valiantly against the odds.

A Reason for the Generation Gap?

If John McCain fails in his bid to become the next President of the United States, it is almost certain that there will never be a U.S. President born during the Great Depression. In fact, no Presidents were born in the 22 years between 1924 (George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter were both born during that year) and 1946 (Bill Clinton and George W. Bush). Given that someone born in 1945 would be 67 in 2012, it almost certain that we will not ever elect a President within that time frame.

There is no comparable period in American history. The closest was the period from 1890 to 1908, but that is partly explained by the 4 term presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Had FDR joined all of his predecessors by bowing out after a maximum of two terms, it is almost certain that one of his successors would have come from that period.

This brings forth a question: is the absence of Presidents born during that time frame dominated by the Depression and World War II a historical anomaly, or is there some sociological significance?

I have a theory that I may put forth later. It requires some work.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Citigroup Trusted the Government when it Should Have Watched it's Back

For an excerpted article and summary of how "double dealing" by FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair created the mess wherein both Citigroup and Wells Fargo were under the impression that they were buying Wachovia, see here.

Baseball News

Last night, Philadelphia Phillies lefthander Jamie Moyer became the oldest pitcher to start a World Series game since Jericho ran out Methuselah in game 4 of the next to last series prior to the flood.

Mr. Moyer pitched well and got a no-decision in the contest. Sports scribes failed to record how Methuselah's effort turned out.

However, we do know that baseball existed back then. After all, the first verse of the Bible tells us, "In the big inning, God created...."

That will be the last of my cheesy jokes for today.

Christianity without the Christ?

Dr. Michael Horton looks across the landscape of American religion and asks whether "we are well on our way" to "Christless Christianity." He writes in a new book by that title:

I am not asking that question glibly or simply to provoke a reaction. My concern is that we are getting dangerously close to the place in everyday American church life where the Bible is mined for “relevant” quotes but is largely irrelevant on its own terms; God is used as a personal resource rather than known, worshiped, and trusted; Jesus Christ is a coach with a good game plan for our victory rather than a Savior who has already achieved it for us; salvation is more a matter of having our best life now than being saved from God’s judgment by God himself; and the Holy Spirit is an electrical outlet we can plug into for the power we need to be all that we can be.

A foreword by William Willimon and the opening chapter of the book can be found here. The book, which is set for release next week, can be ordered for half price here. I just ordered a copy, and I heartily recommend it to anyone concerned about the future of Christianity in the United States.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Voice of Wisdom

The Wall Street Journal has a wide ranging interview with Federal Express founder and CEO Fred Smith. He criticizes U.S. economic policies for favoring financial over industrial corporations and makes a number of other points regarding the economy, trade, and energy policy.

It is a great read.

What Did We Know?

A couple of years ago, the conventional wisdom was that if Iraq was a dominant issue in 2008, the Republicans would be in trouble. To the contrary, Stephen Hayes points out that the lack of interest in national security as a major issue has hurt the McCain campaign.

January 2009?

Michael Barone looks at items near the top of the Democratic wish list if Barack Obama assumes the presidency. They include:

  1. Higher taxes on high income earners;
  2. Protectionist policies on trade;
  3. The fairness doctrine; and
  4. Ending the right to secret ballots in union votes.

Because of the current state of the economy and the federal deficit, it is difficult to know how far the Democrats would go with health care reform and carbon reduction legislation.

Read the rest here.

Civics 101: a Rant

Democratic elections in free nations are, by their nature, messy affairs. Nearly everyone, on all sides, complains about the level of chaos. In many ways, that is a good thing.

Why is that a good thing? The alternative is worse. There is a way to reduce the messiness: take control. That is, allow politicians to control the political process. Remove it ever farther from the people. That is not a solution that would get much popular support when put that way, but it is precisely with what occurs with much "campaign finance" and "ethics" reform.

That thought occurred to me while reading this news article, which boggled the mind in numerous ways. For example, there's this part of the article complaining that lobbyists work with Political Action Committees:

These groups, known as PACs, are ways for businesses, lawyers, real estate agents, unions and other special interests to pool their money to give to candidates they support. They are sometimes criticized for advancing the narrow special interests in the corridors of power at the state Capitol, at the expense of the larger public interest.

They are blaming the wrong scoundrels here.

A basic, fundamental First Amendment right of Americans is the right to try to influence our government. We have the right to do that as individuals, or as groups of people with a common interest. Lobbyists represent every sector of American society: AAPPO represents old people; the Chamber of Commerce represents evil rich people; the AFL-CIO represents union thugs; the Sierra Club represents tree huggers. When I went to a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators a couple of years ago, I even met a lobbyist representing naked people (the American Association of Nude Recreation).

We all have a right to pursue what we think is important. Now, hopefully, we are individually trying to keep the public interest in mind. However, it is rather natural for most of us to think that what is important to us is in the public interest.

Who's job is it to sort through all of that and determine what is in the public interest? Legislators and other elected officials and public servants. When bad decisions are made not in the public interest, who is to blame? Legislators, elected officials, and public servants.

Here is the basic problem. The blame is being assessed toward lobbyists, who are just representing all sorts of people wanting to influence what the government does to them. The direction of the law is to reduce the ability of the public to influence their government. This is exactly backwards. The credit and blame for good and bad decisions belongs with public officials.

Do some lobbyists do illegal or unethical things? Yes. We believe in free speech, even though much speech is not in the public interest -- we allow flag burning and lap dancing under the banner of free speech. Not all lobbying is good either, and there should be reasonable laws protecting against the unscrupulous. However, rather than tighten the controls and make government more remote, I will gladly take a little chaos.

Fixing Baseball

World Series television ratings this year continue a downward trend, with the series between Philadelphia and Tampa on a path toward being the least watched series in terms of market share ever.

Some of this is unavoidable due to the ever expanding number of entertainment choices, including sports entertainment choices, available. However, baseball is hastening its own decline in popular viewership through shortsighted or misguided decisions. If they would be interested in restoring at least a plausible argument that baseball is the national pastime, Bud "Lite" Selig and his minions should do the following:

1) Have nationally televised games in the regular season that feature teams from places other than New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. It is understandable that you want the big markets for your national games, but your current regular season strategy is short-sighted, as it does not allow teams from other areas to be seen enough for their players to become known nationally. While many baseball fans -- this correspondent included -- love to see teams from those three cities tank, it means that you have a World Series with teams lacking much interest outside their home areas.

2) End the season earlier. First, it is obscene to be playing baseball at night in late October. Next year, because of the calendar, the World Series could extend into November. Reggie Jackson used to be known as "Mr. October." We've never had a "Mister November" before. It is too cold in most parts of the country to play baseball outdoors at night this time of the year. In addition, you push the baseball season into a time frame when basketball and hockey have gotten underway, and football is reaching the midpoint of its season. This results in increased competition for viewers. The World Series should end by around the ides of October.

3) Market your product to the cities of America again. Baseball had such an important place in the integration of America, but we have reached the place where ever fewer black kids play baseball. MLB spends millions of dollars on baseball academies in Latin America. That is cost effective, because the players are cheaper to sign if they are good enough. However, in terms of both athletes and marketing, it is short-sighted not to invest more resources into baseball in the inner cities in the United States.

DISD in Chaos

Even to an outsider, the Dallas Independent School District, which has had seven superintendants in the last 11 years, increasingly gives the impression of a system that is rudderless and completely out of control. At the start of the school year, they suddenly discovered a budget deficit of $84 million, necessitating over 600 layoffs, including 375 teachers. An additional 300+ employees voluntarily left.

This in itself created chaos. Classes had to be re-organized, and the process was especially cruel for teachers, some of whom had turned down jobs in other districts to teach in Dallas. Because the layoffs occurred after the start of the school year, many of them will be unable to find teaching jobs before next year.

Now, within a week after the layoffs, the Dallas Morning News reports that DISD is advertising for 60 teacher openings. Did they first go back to laid off teachers to let them know of the openings? No.

Does the right hand know what the left is doing?

Excessive Celebration Quote of the Day

"It's unbelievable, it's like Christmas came early."

-- Houston, Texas drunk driving attorney Tyler Houston, in response to allegations that a Department of Public Safety contractor had failed to perform inspections as required on breathalyzer equipment.

The allegations are serious, and it may be possible that some defendants were wrongly convicted. However, the contractor's apparent fraud will possibly let off many people who have been guilty of this serious crime. Those concerned about road safety will hardly think of this as an early Christmas.

Voter Records that Are Bad

Pete Olson, a Republican candidate for Congress in the Houston area, is being forced to play defense late in the campaign due to apparently phony allegations that he voted in two states in 2003. Mr. Olson says that he has no explanation for the seeming discrepancy.

I have some personal history that might help. If I were to ever run for office, someone might -- falsely -- accuse me of the same thing.

I first registered to vote at age 18 in Kentucky, moved to Memphis, Tennessee and registered to vote there in 1985, and subsequently returned back to the area of Kentucky where I had previously lived in 1991. When I went to the clerk's office to register again in Kentucky, they told me that I was already registered, and they further showed me that I had voted in the 1988 election.

I voted in that election in Tennessee. However, I did not vote in Kentucky.

In my instance, I suspect I know the explanation. When I registered in Tennessee, my Kentucky voter registration was never removed. My father has the same name as I do, except I am Jr. I suspect that when he voted, he accidentally signed the register beside my name.

However, if anyone wants to run television ads showing the documents and accusing The Oracle of voter fraud, I am sure that it would be a hassle to explain in a soundbite. Of course, its the need for dealing with nonsense like this that prevents a lot of people from having an interest in running, including me.

Falling Oil Prices Bad News?

Yesterday, oil prices continued their recent downward trend, in spite of the fact that OPEC committed to lower production levels. The financial reports are universally describing this as bad news. That is understandable, as the declining prices indicate that traders are expecting a deepening of the recession resulting in lower fuel consumption.

Of course, gas consumers see another point of view. Besides even that, though, there is another obvious upside to the sharp decline in the price of oil. The drop in the price of oil helps alleviate inflationary pressures on the larger economy. Earlier this year, those setting monetary policy were faced with divergent concerns: on the one hand, there was evidence of a slowing economy; on the other, we were seeing the highest levels of inflation that we have had in a long time. Policies that would expand the economy tend to result in price pressures, so this required the Federal Reserve to make difficult choices. For the most part, they have ignored inflationary concerns in favor of taking steps to try to slow economic decline. This was not uncontroversial, however, and the Fed had to moderate what might have been an even more aggressive approach in order not to push inflation toward double digits, which we have not seen since the end of the Carter administration.

A major pressure point producing rising prices has been energy. The alleviation of that factor should help policy makers be more aggressive in pushing for policies that would stimulate economic growth.

Friday, October 24, 2008


With the claim by a college student in Pittsburgh that she was robbed and cut on the face by a Barack Obama supporter now having been shown to be a hoax, the national news media are asking, "Why did she do it?"

Dallas radio station KRLD would seem to have uncovered an important clue: on her Myspace page, she says she enjoys telling lies. She writes, "Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths off, but its better if you do."

Deranged Conservatives

I have privately thought that those few conservatives who have come out for Barack Obama have lost their minds. While the appeal of Sen. Obama for many is understandable, for someone adhering to conservative principles, regardless of his level of contempt for the current state of the Republican Party or the candidacy of John McCain, it is difficult to understand how a vote for arguably the most left-wing candidate ever nominated by a major party could further the cause of conservatism. I have always rejected the notion of setting out to lose as a means of furthering one's cause. Frankly, that is the way of thinking of, well, losers. Some Republican conservatives were certain that Bill Clinton would be a one term President. He was not. No one should presume that Barack Obama will not stay around for two terms either. I recall that many, erroneously, thought that he would be easy to defeat in November.

Anyway, if one requires evidence that some conservatives really might have lost their minds in all of this, one need look no further than this column by conservative syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, which concludes on page two by drawing a comparison between John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin and Bill Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

You really can't make this stuff up.

The Pit Can't Be Bottomless

The first week in October, when the Dow Jones was still around the 10,000 mark, I suggested to my father that the bottom to be reached by the index might be around 7,000 in a worst case scenario. That would mark more than a 50% drop from the record high reached in October 2007.

We may be about to find out how close I was.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Blooming Bloombergs

Is anyone concerned about the increasing frequency with which the political class, on a bipartisan basis, openly and unapologetically thumbs its nose at the will of the people -- solely for the sake of its own self-promotion?

Of course, the political left, not entirely without reason, has accused the Bush administration of this for years. Looking to the other side of the aisle, last month the Tennessee Democratic Party, on the flimsiest of grounds, threw out an election result because they didn't like the way the incumbent candidate had voted in the previous legislative session.

Now, the City Council of New York City, in an exercise of raw political power, has overturned the results of a referendum of the people from the 1990's mandating term limits for the mayor. In an act of unusual arrogance even for the political class, Michael Bloomberg decreed himself to be of such great personal importance that the law must be changed to allow him to continue to lead the city through the present financial situation. Evidently, the voters are not capable of finding another individual with the expertise or the association of advisers needed to properly govern the city.

In a statement impossible to caricature, Mr. Bloomberg praised the council for giving "the people of New York a fuller choice." They expanded the number of choices by one.

With the U.S President having historically low popularity numbers, and Congress being even less popular, it is remarkable in how little esteem the political class is held in by the majority of people, who stand ready to put a neophyte in the White House as a testimony to the need for change. Those now leading at other levels should not be surprised when they, too, are found to be less than indispensable by those who elect them.

How We Got in this Financial Mess

The best information I have read to date about how we got here and where we need to go is by Steve Forbes here. Mr. Forbes contends that bad monetary policy under the leadership of Alan Greenspan in 2004, as well as misguided regulation, led to the current difficulties. Nonetheless, he is, as he is prone to be, relentlessly optimistic about the future:

If sensible rescue efforts continue--and they will--the immediate crisis will quickly pass. Shell-shocked businesses and consumers won't recover rapidly from the trauma of recent months, especially as we now cope with recession. But the downturn shouldn't be prolonged: The economy here and those overseas should start to pick up no later than next spring.

That soon? Despite the crisis, the global economy still retains enormous strengths. Between the early 1980s and 2007 we lived in an economic Golden Age. Never before have so many people advanced so far economically in so short a period of time as they have during the last 25 years. Until the credit crisis, 70 million people a year were joining the middle class. The U.S. kicked off this long boom with the economic reforms of Ronald Reagan, particularly his enormous income tax cuts. We burst from the economic stagnation of the 1970s into a dynamic, innovative, high-tech-oriented economy. Even in recent years the much-maligned U.S. did well. Between year-end 2002 and year-end 2007 U.S. growth exceeded the entire size of China's economy. Obviously China's growth rates were higher, but China was coming off a much smaller base.

The world is flush with cash. It's frozen because of fear, but the cash is there. Productivity gains are burgeoning.

So, will this global boom resume next year, slowly at first and then with increasing momentum? It should. Whether that happens, however, depends on the next, highly dangerous phase: the political aftermath.

Let's hope he is right. Mr. Forbes lays out a number of policy prescriptions, some of which, such as the flat tax, are unfortunately political non-starters. Nonetheless, the article makes for a compelling read.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Palin's Smarts

Toastmaster clubs devote a portion of their meetings to "table topics," which basically involves practice in impromptu speaking. While the specific practice of different clubs or individual meetings may vary, generally a "topics master" will ask a question and call upon someone to respond to it with a 1-2 minute off the cuff speech in response.

Tonight, one of our left of center members was presented a question related to Sarah Palin. She responded with a rant along the lines of, well, Sarah Palin is so stupid, you don't want me to get started talking about this.


Todd Zywicki, reacting to and mostly agreeing with themes developed by Randall Hoven, wonders why it has become commonly supposed by many on the left and some on the right that Gov. Palin is not bright. After all, for someone who is allegedly not all that bright, she has accomplished a great deal. He writes:

The meme that has arisen that Sarah Palin isn't smart enough to be Vice-President (and potentially President) strikes me as quite implausible. Focusing on the big picture: she has been an extraordinarily successful governor with substantial policy accomplishments in a short time, she has an 85% approval rating, and she knocked off an incumbent and former governor to be elected. And, as I've previously discussed, based on my experience working with and in government, being governor of a state is an extremely difficult job, much more difficult than being a Senator (for instance). Sure there are some things that people are picking at, such as the trooper story or what really happened with the Bridge to Nowhere--but none of those things raise any doubt about her intellect or ability. With respect to the issues to which she has set herself to mastering and implementing, and the most important issues for Alaska, by all accounts she has an extremely strong understanding and mastery of the issues. It is simply not plausible to believe that she is dumb any more than it was credible that Ronald Reagan was dumb back when the establishment said the same thing about him.

Mr. Zywicki reasonably concludes that some people underestimate Gov. Palin's intelligence -- and overlook Sen. Joe Biden's impressive lack of it -- because of a confusion as to what intelligence looks like:

My sense is that Hoven is on the right track. Some thoughtful people simply have a tendency to confuse intelligence with the ability to be glib, or more precisely, to bs. And I think that is much of what it comes down to--if Palin doesn't know the answer to a question, she just isn't that good at making something up. Biden, by contrast, is a master bs'er, as his debate performance exhibited. As a general rule, the less informed he was about the answer to a question, the more assertive he was in answering it, such as his extraordinary answer about the legislative role of the Vice-President. It is clear that he had not the slightest idea what he was talking about, yet he just plowed ahead throwing out assertions with rhetorical flair. Classic bs. Even on issues that were supposedly in his area of expertise, such as the Constitution, he wasn't even in the ballpark of being correct. Hoven picks up on Biden's whopper of answer about kicking Hezbollah out of Lebanon, but it is pretty much the same thing--aggressive bs covering a complete lack of any clue what he is talking about.

I had a professor in graduate school that some of my fellow students described as being "brilliant." I always thought that he was smart enough to have earned his Ph.D, but, with all respect, I never thought of him as being in any way outstanding. To be perfectly frank, the professor wore coke bottle glasses and was boring, and I always thought that my fellow students thought that he was brilliant because he had an appearance and style that some see as being professorial in an old school sense.

Regardless of the accuracy of that judgment, anyone speaking dismissively of the Governor would seem not to have taken into account all of the facts.

The Young Should Be Angry

So says Robert Samuelson regarding the political class's abject failure to deal honestly with our looming crisis resulting from "excessive benefits for the old." Because "paying today's benefits inevitably involves much higher taxes, massive deficits or draconian cuts in other government programs," Mr. Samuelson recommends, among other things, the following reaction for the under 35 crowd:

You need to appeal to the shame and guilt of older Americans by reminding them that their present self-absorption is not a victimless exercise. Only if older Americans act on their rhetorical pledges of worrying about their children will the political climate change. If you -- the young -- don't stand up for yourselves, believe me, your elders and your politicians won't.

Ironically, while young voters should have such concerns, the candidate that the vast majority of them has chosen instead panders to the largest lobbying organization representing seniors:

Click on the Obama video. You'll see some world-class pandering. There are three basic ways of reducing the costs of Social Security and Medicare: increase eligibility ages; trim benefits; and require recipients to pay more for their Medicare benefits (higher premiums, co-payments or deductibles). In his talk, Obama effectively rejected all three.

Of course, Sen. McCain "pandered, too." Older people vote in droves, and attacking social security is a losing issue for Republicans. Still, at some point someone will have to be realistic about the impact of entitlements on our budget. If only Nixon could go to China, who will it be that can address the looming disaster of this excessive spending?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Overheard at Work

"They're bastards. They're dogs. All of them." I looked over at the young, raven-haired beauty who had made these desparaging remarks and asked if she meant men. With a mischievous glint in her eye, she happily nodded her assent.

My first thought is that with her being young, attractive, and (guessing by her low position in my company) uneducated, she probably has a tendency to attract the charming, insecure, and more unsavory of the male species. However, am I being as unfair in my biased assessment of her as she is of the entire male race? Probably; but my own introspection is not the topic of this blog, so let's go back to the more titilating question my young coleague had unwittingly asked me to ponder. Are all men dogs? One could point out that the very thing they supposedly think about every seven seconds could be irrefutable proof that they are indeed. However, is that the whole truth to the counterpart of my female breed? Men are by their very nature protectors and the good ones want to provide for, defend, and highly praise those who would honor them with their love. In other words, if he is willing to swim through shark infested waters to bring his lady a lemonaide, then he is as loyal as any Labrodor Retriever, and unless unmarried, should not be denied his every seventh-second thought.

I wonder what my co-blogger has to say on the subject, or any of our readers, for that matter.

Drug Diversion

Accidental prescription drug overdose first accounted for more deaths than deaths from cocaine and heroine in 2002, and the problem is growing, according to a report from the Coalition against Insurance Fraud.

Over 19,000 Americans died from accidental drug overdoses in 2004, making it the second leading cause of accidental death, behind only vehicular accidents. In terms of economic costs, drug diversion costs insurance companies more than $70 billion per year.

In looking for solutions to our society's most pressing drug problem, the report points to the effectiveness of state prescription monitoring programs that enable pharmacies and prescribing health care providers to access a patient's prescription records from a data base. Only half of states have such programs. The report points to additional steps that can be taken by insurers, pharmacists, doctors, and regulators to combat this form of drug abuse.

It needs to be taken seriously. Americans tend to get more concerned about illegal drug traffic, but all across the socio-economic spectrum prescription narcotic abuse is our most serious drug problem.

Backpedaling in a Circle

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) helpfully explains that he didn't mean it when he called the people who vote for him "racists."

What he meant to say was that his district used to be "really redneck" and "there's still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black."

Glad he cleared that up.

Now that Mr. Murtha has made his district out to be a population of Klansmen, how hard must it be for voters to go out and pull the lever for him?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Clarence Thomas on the Constitution

The Wall Street Journal has an excerpt worth reading in its entirety from a speech given by Clarence Thomas on interpreting the Constitution. Here is a snippet that is certainly true:

As I have traveled across the country, I have been astounded just how many of our fellow citizens feel strongly about their constitutional rights but have no idea what they are, or for that matter, what the Constitution says. I am not suggesting that they become Constitutional scholars -- whatever that means. I am suggesting, however, that if one feels strongly about his or her rights, it does make sense to know generally what the Constitution says about them. It is at least as easy to understand as a cell phone contract -- and vastly more important.

A House Divided

Until this one, I had not seen any reports about Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama that mentioned that it constitutes a split with his son Michael, who is a former FCC chairman and an adviser to the McCain campaign.

The younger Powell is another up and coming Republican who should have a bright political future.

Michael Powell had suggested previously that his father might not make an endorsement in this campaign. So much for that.

Palin's Future?

Fred Barnes correctly points out that Sarah Palin's future political prospects will be "complicated" if John McCain does not win the election. While being from a small state is not necessarily a problem -- Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas -- the remoteness of Alaska will make it a challenge to stay in the public spotlight.

In that respect, her status will be similar to that of John Edwards in 2004. Having left the Senate and lost in his candidacy for the vice-presidency, Mr. Edwards lacked a political job to keep him out in front of the public or to provide him a basis for accomplishing something significant. That disappearance undoubtedly set him back at the start of the 2008 campaign.

Of course, Mr. Edwards was arguably less qualified than Gov. Palin, though one would not expect the media to acknowledge that. He has also suffered from other failures of character which one will hope will not plague the Governor. Nonetheless, for her to play a significant role in future elections, she will need to carefully plan her path over the next four years.

Warning or the Ranting of a Politician?

Reading about an ominous speech Senator Biden made yesterday, I wonder if he is giving the American people a veiled warning of an impending totalitarian regime or if he is talking nonsense in one of the most bizarre campaign speeches I have ever read. Here is a snippit of what he said yesterday in Seattle:

"Gird your loins," Biden told the crowd. "We're gonna win with your help, God willing, we're gonna win, but this is not gonna be an easy ride. This president, the next president, is gonna be left with the most significant task. It's like cleaning the Augean stables, man. This is more than just, this is more than – think about it, literally, think about it – this is more than just a capital crisis, this is more than just markets. This is a systemic problem we have with this economy."

"There are gonna be a lot of you who want to go, 'Whoa, wait a minute, yo, whoa, whoa, I don't know about that decision'," Biden continued. "Because if you think the decision is sound when they're made, which I believe you will when they're made, they're not likely to be as popular as they are sound. Because if they're popular, they're probably not sound."

A Mystery

This AP report on a recent rise in home sales in southern California would seem to reveal the following mysterious process has occurred without any kind of action from either Washington or Sacramento:

  1. A few years ago, there was a "bubble" in housing prices, meaning that prices rose to an unsustainable level.

  2. Housing prices rose to a level where people stopped buying, and the bubble burst.

  3. Housing prices plummeted to the point at which now people are buying more houses again.

  4. Once the fallout from foreclosures settles, analysts expect prices to stabilize and begin to rise again.

What a remarkable serious of coincidences. Now, where was that article on how the market doesn't work?

The Jones Brothers: Pacman and Jerry

When Adam "Pacman" Jones got into a fight in the bathroom of a posh Dallas hotel either sometime just before or after midnight, depending on which report is accurate, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dismissed the incident as being "overblown" and nothing more than two men "literally kidding each other" and getting carried away -- note: I'm not sure what it would have meant to be figuratively kidding each other.

Nonetheless, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell found owner Jones a bit too credulous and suspended the younger Jones for a minimum of four weeks.

Today, it was announced that the player has entered alcohol rehab at an undisclosed location.

Cowboys at a Loss

Going into this NFL season, local fans believed that the Dallas Cowboys had so much talent that only underachievement of monumental proportions would prevent that team from winning a Super Bowl. Thus, with the Cowboys third loss in its last four games, the natives are restless, with at least one local sports columnist joining disgruntled fans in asking for the head of coach Wade Phillips on a platter.

It is always debated in sports whether losing breeds bad team chemistry, or vice-versa, but the current situation does raise questions about owner Jerry Jones' decision to bring in so many players of questionable character, as well as the ability of Mr. Phillips to reign them in. While football fans across the country are most aware of Pacman Jones' very public problems with law enforcement, those who follow his former team, the Tennessee Titans, are also aware of his unique ability to destroy camaraderie in the locker room. Certainly, Mr. Jones most recent fiasco hurt the Cowboys in two ways: it has deprived them of a player they were counting on at a point when another key defensive player is sidelined with an injury, and it has created a major distraction for the team.

Meanwhile, for all of Terrell Owens egomania, the wide receiver does always play hard when the game is on the line, but his complaints about not getting enough passes thrown his way in games where most are going in his direction also has proven distracting. That scenario also makes the decision to trade three draft picks to the Lions for yet another wide receiver who will make the Dallas receiving corp even more crowded seem bizarre.

There is still plenty of time to turn things around, and this team has too much ability to write off. However, it is at least possible at this early point in the season that the Cowboys will become the best team in the current era not to make the playoffs.

It couldn't happen to a better team.

"the First Amendment shouldn’t have an expiration date"

Barbara Comstock, who worked for the Justice Department early on in the Bush administration, and Lanny Davis, who served as special counsel to President Bill Clinton, join hands for this article in opposition to the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," which would put the federal government in the position of judging political speech to ensure that broadcast outlets are even-handed. The terrible idea prevailed in FCC regulations prior to being abolished by the Reagan administration. Due to conservative dominance of talk radio and liberal irritation at the existence of Fox News, some Democrats have suggested reviving this imposition on free speech. A few Republicans, full of the political class's notion that criticism of that class threatens the Republic, have expressed agreement.

As Ms. Comstock and Mr. Davis point out, there has historically been bipartisan opposition to the Fairness Doctrine -- Dan Rather and Rush Limbaugh, Ronald Reagan and Mario Cuomo, are all referenced in opposition. Furthermore, while it has never been a good idea, the need for the Fairness Doctrine could at one time be rationalized based on the scarcity of broadcast sources. With the advent of cable and the internet, that scarcity no longer exists. They quote from a LA Times editorial:

No matter what your point of view might be, you have free or inexpensive outlets available today to express it — maybe not a radio or TV station but certainly a website, a video blog, a podcast or an e-mail newsletter. At the same time, the public has unprecedented access to a diverse array of opinions. Just as the government shouldn't decide what you say on the channels you create, nor should it be able to dictate the range of opinions people hear over the air.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Turning to Important Subjects....

I just realized that I haven't written a word about baseball during the course of the playoffs.

So, I will write two words.

Go Rays!

With my beloved Reds out of it, The Oracle will root for the newcomers, and against the dreaded Red Sox.

Addendum: Yankee fans can't stand the Red Sox. Red Sox fans despise the Yankees.

In this regard, they are both right.

Will Democrats Go Wild or Be Reigned in?

Matthew Continetti and Alex Berenson have an interesting pair of articles for reading side by side. Mr. Continetti warns that a victory by Barack Obama combined with an expanded majority in the House of Representatives and a filibuster proof majority in the Senate will result in an era of "Democrats gone wild."

In contrast, Mr. Berenson argues that those expecting drastic changes in an Obama administration will be disappointed to find that the country remains at this time more anti-Republican than anti-conservative:

But Americans are fundamentally suspicious of government in a way that Europeans are not, a cultural and political difference that stretches back centuries. Anyone expecting a major expansion of Washington's powers after November – whether under a Barack Obama or John McCain administration – may be disappointed.

Americans are certainly weary of Mr. Bush, whose approval rating has been as low as 22 percent in recent polls by CBS News, the lowest rating for any president since Harry S. Truman in 1952. But polls also show that whatever their anger at Mr. Bush and Wall Street, Americans are not necessarily ready to embrace liberal ideals such as stronger unions, significantly higher and more progressive taxes, and new trade barriers.

Many on the right hope that Mr. Berenson is correct.

Wrong (Economic) War?

Anna Schwartz, who with Milton Friedman wrote "A Monetary History of the United States," argues in this interview that Ben Bernanke is erring in his response to the current financial crisis by reacting in the same way that those directing monetary policy should have acted in the aftermath of 1929.

It is an interesting read.

The Top 10 Worst

ForeignPolicy.com has a list of Barack Obama's "10 worst ideas," as well as a list of John McCain's 10 worst.

I think Sen. Obama's 10 worst are far more problematic, but readers can compare and weigh in.

Caught Me by Surprise!

The Dallas Morning News endorses John McCain for President:

In better times, America could afford to consider entrusting the White House to an appealing newcomer like Mr. Obama and giving control of the presidency and Congress to the same party.

But in this time of great anxiety, the American people need a leader of experience guiding the ship of state. Mr. McCain offers the continuity, stability and sense of authority people want, as well as a decisive break from the Bush years.

It is a well written editorial. Actually, the case could be made that the DMN does a better job of succinctly stating the argument for Sen. McCain than the candidate's campaign has.

Inclusive and Irrelevant

George Will has a very good column today reviewing the diminishing status of the Anglican Church in the western world:

The Episcopal Church once was America's upper crust at prayer. Today it is "progressive" politics cloaked -- very thinly -- in piety. Episcopalians' discontents tell a cautionary tale for political as well as religious associations. As the church's doctrines have become more elastic, the church has contracted. It celebrates an "inclusiveness" that includes fewer and fewer members.

In England and the United States the church is in serious decline. In contrast, it is thriving and growing in Africa, where church leadership adhere more closely to the historical Christian faith.

As Mr. Will briefly notes, the Fort Worth Diocese will soon vote on whether to dissociate from the heterodox U.S. based Episcopal communion. One hopes that they will take this bold, even if unfortunate, step for biblical fidelity.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Presidential Race

As we finally turn down the home stretch toward election day 2008, Barack Obama leads in the polls and is the likely winner as of this date. However, the contest remains tighter than might be expected based on the unpopularity of the current Republican President and the precarious state of the economy. The narrow margins in the polls have lead many pundits to begin talking about the issue of race and warning of the potential "Bradley effect." While there are legitimate issues for discussion regarding the impact of race on this election, much of this punditry is overly simplistic, even recklessly so.

It is true that this election is running closer than would be expected, and there remains some possibility that John McCain could pull it out at the end. However, there are significant factors other than race that account for that reality. A little history is helpful here.

In 2000, Al Gore ran for President with the advantages of the backing of a popular incumbent and a strong economy. He lost to an opponent of inferior experience. Mr. Gore's run for the White House was hindered by perceptions that he held views that were too liberal on some issues and by a public persona that many considered to be unappealing. His campaign was badly run. He lost an election that was his to lose.

In 2004, George Bush should have lost. His poll numbers were precariously low until the Democrats nominated a candidate that Americans liked even less. It was only a favorable comparison to John Kerry, who was both too liberal and too elitist in his bearing, that made President Bush electable for another term.

That brings us to 2008. The American public is dying to vote Democrat. The Republican administration has violated principle by expanding government, gotten us in the middle of an unpopular war, and shown a pattern of incompetence. However, the Democrats have nominated a candidate who is arguably the most radical nominee of a major party in modern American history and who has a record of minimal actual achievement.

Americans want to vote Democrat. Many are on the edge as to whether in this instance they can. And, for most, that uneasiness has nothing to do with race.

My own view is that the race issue will be a wash in this election. Will some vote against Barack Obama because he is black? Yes, sadly so. However, black turn out will be huge, and there will be others who, in part, will decide to vote for him because they want our nation to overcome the racial barrier.

While that may be pollyannish, it remains true that this election is not close merely because of race. If Sen. McCain wins, it will not be simply because race lost Sen. Obama the election.

Undermining the Legitimacy of Government

It is often said that hard cases make bad law, and it is often true that those on a quest for the perfect end up with something that is worse than what they had before. Both of those notions come into play with what has become of our system of elections.

There have been occasional instances -- and frequent charges -- of fraud over the course of American electoral history, but, with the exception of the disenfranchisement of blacks in the south prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act in the 1960's, the system has for the most part worked. However, the anomaly of the 2000 election created a perceived need for perfection, and those seeking perfection always imagine that they will find it by centralizing control. Thus, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 removed control for verifying registrations from the local government to the states. This year, the legitimacy of elections may be challenged based on a combination of clearly fraudulent registrations (all members of the Dallas Cowboys were recently registered in Nevada) and politically inspired challenges to the legitimacy of registrations.

It cannot be helped that there will always be some on all sides who consider the need to win at all costs to trump honesty in elections. However, more reasonable partisans surely understand that these controversies seriously undermine our system of government. Establishing reasonable standards by which election results can be trusted should not be brain surgery. It is too late to fix these problems in 2008. It is inexcusable that these problems should persist to the midterm elections in 2010.

Regardless of how the presidential election turns out, Americans on both sides must surely hope that the results are not close enough that this wrangling will be thought to have made a difference.

Honest to a Fault Quote of the Day

"My wife dragged me out here."

Charlie Ball of Fairview, Texas, as reported in the Dallas Morning News, explaining the reason for his attendance at a Jessica Simpson concert at the Texas state fair. It is not known whether he spent the night sleeping on the couch.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

Baptist pastor Tom Ascol demonstrates unusual clarity regarding the proper role of Christians and churches in politics:

As "citizen-kings" I believe Christian Americans have a responsibility to try to direct public policy and laws toward justice and mercy. I have written on that before. But I do not think that any church should allow itself to be co-opted by any political impulse that results in the confusing of its message of Jesus Christ crucified. Yet, such confusion emanates from well-meaning but misguided political activism by churches done in the name of Jesus.

The rest of the post if very much worth the read. It is here.

Damn the Markets; Centralize Control

If put to a popular vote, the vast majority of Americans would have opposed the recent market interventions by the federal government. In contrast, I was among those who reluctantly agreed that there are unique circumstances that required dramatic action, but I lamented that it was bad for our form of government and may have fundamentally changed the world that we live in.

What I lament, some are celebrating. Here is an example of how some pundits are celebrating that this intervention provides the opening for more serious consideration of interventions in additional sectors of the American economy.


I spent Wednesday and Thursday in southwest Florida splashing about the Gulf of Mexico and then flying home, so before this morning I had no opportunity to know of the existence of the now famous Joe the Plumber. Of course, by now left wing bloggers and their media allies have plumbed the depths of the man's existence.

Our political system has evolved. Normal people -- those who don't run for national office -- used to question why anyone would put themselves through all that they go through by running. Now, it appears that the mere act of asking a question will potentially subject an ordinary citizen to a nationally viewed colon exam. This sort of thing does not exactly encourage an open political process.

In all of his years of unclogging drains, Joe has probably never encountered anything quite like this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Real Marketers of Genius?

Regarding the beer advertisements bragging about their product's "drinkability:" what focus group thought that was ok?

Saying that a beer is "drinkable" would seem to be the beverage equivalent of saying that a food is "edible." If someone asks, "How's that sandwich," and the reply is, "Well, its edible," that's not exactly a compliment.

So, is saying that a beer has "drinkability" really effective marketing?

"How's that Bud Lite?"

"Ah, its drinkable."

Bring back the frogs.

For the record, The Oracle finds all beer to be undrinkable, unpalatable, and lacking in drinkability, so he doesn't have a beverage in this fight.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Deploring Columbus Day through Calvin?

Quoting Jim Bennett, Glenn Reynolds finds it ironic that American liberal repudiation of western culture finds its roots in the Calvinism of American Puritans. The quote from Mr. Bennett is as follows:

This is primarily an effect of the Calvinist Puritan roots of American progressivism. Just as Calvinists believed in the centrality of the depravity of man, with the exception of a miniscule contingent of the Elect of God, their secularized descendants believe in the depravity and cursedness of Western civilization, with their own enlightened selves in the role of the Elect.

That would be interesting, except it is entirely wrong. What Mr. Bennett describes here is not Calvinism, but a dualistic heresy common throughout Christian history known as Manichaeism. That belief system repudiates much of Calvinistic belief. It has had considerable influence over the history of Christianity up to the present, and, as with other forms of gnosticism, has morphed into similar secular philosophies.

Unlike the Manichaeans, Calvinists believe that depravity touches all human beings, including the elect. We agree with Alexander Solzenhitsyn (not a Calvinist, but certainly a Christian thinker), who wrote in the Gulag Archipelago that "the line that divides good from evil cuts through the heart of every human being." That belief should preclude us from the self-righteousness all too common among the stream of progressives that Mr. Reynolds has in view, not to mention more than a few conservatives.

How about a 90 Day Moratorium on Pandering and Bad Policies?

It seems that the two presidential candidates are determined not to be outdone in appealing to the small percentage of homeowners who took out mortgages that they eventually could not pay. At the debate in Nashville last week, John McCain promised to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to help delinquent borrowers negotiate different terms to their mortgages.

This week, Barack Obama raises the stakes: he wants to call for a 90 day moratorium on foreclosures.

Meanwhile, the millions of homeowners who saved their down payments and made sure that they locked in mortgages at a rate and a price that they could afford are left with the task of paying taxes to foot the bill for those who did not.

As to the presidential contest, I guess we are left to choose between the lesser of two moral hazards.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Eight (Years) Is Enough

George Will, arguing that "the political class's reaction to term limits is a powerful, indeed sufficient, argument for them," reminds us that the absence of such limits hardly results in a panacea of good government:

Two amusing arguments against term limits are that political novices are too susceptible to the wiles of lobbyists and that term-limited legislators, worrying too much about their next jobs and too little about their current ones, are constantly in campaign mode, thinking of the next election rather than the next generation. The idea that when term limits are absent, these difficulties are absent is refuted by one word: Congress.

McConnell: Vote for Me and Wasteful Spending

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell continues to explain to Kentuckians why they should support him in his shaky re-election bid next month: he delivers the pork. The Louisville Courier Journal summarizes remarks made in Russellville, Kentucky:

McConnell said he used his clout to bring back $500 million in federal funds to Kentucky last year. He cited a report indicating that the largest amount that a freshman Senate Democrat delivered for his state last year was $16 million.

I'm sure that excites the hearts and minds of fiscally conservative Republicans. Senator McConnell is now explaining that the best way to reduce this kind of spending is to vote for his opponent?

In fact, Kentucky voters face a difficult choice this year. The loss of Sen. McConnell's seat would bring the Democrats one step closer to a filibuster proof majority, meaning that they can pass anything they want along party lines.

On the other hand, Sen. McConnell represents the sort of leadership that caused the Republicans to lose their leadership majorities. It is the kind of leadership that deserves to be replaced.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

How Newspapers Degrade Their Product through Frivolous Web Content

The Tennessean, which is the newspaper of record in the state capitol of Tennessee, is by far the worst big city newspaper of any large metropolitan area that I have lived near (that would include Louisville, Philadelphia, Memphis, and Dallas, in addition to Nashville. The content of their paper edition is bad enough, but with their web content they take another step down the ladder.

As an example, they now have a feature on their home page presenting a "hair history" of Michael W. Smith.

I recognize that not everything in a newspaper is hard news, but, gee.

Art and Literature in our Culture

God’s grace passes through the Gothic cathedrals (stain glass) and is reflected in the Byzantine mosaics. With the fall of Constantinople, science, art, and literature flourished. “Don Quixote”, Michael Angelo's “David”, and “Mona Lisa” are all great examples of that age and a reflection of a society with a belief that is greater than them. Prior to the Renaissance, there was a break in the Dark Ages where such greats as "The Divine Comedy" and the "Decameron" were written. Even when much of the world did not believe in the one true God, the beliefs in their gods drove their devotion to produce great works of art; some of which are still hailed today.

Where are we now? What sorts of great works that are produced in honor of a deity of this age? We now live in an age of individualism, Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame”, and self-aggrandizing motives. While I relish my freedoms and self-expression, I also recognize that what this culture has produced is sloppy, ego-centric works where everyone is his own “grand master”.

It may seem like a bleak commentary on where we are now, and actually I think it is, but pendulums swing, and when we are all dead, it won't be the POD novels that will be hailed as the masters of our current age. Although, my fear is that it will be Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I'm not saying their books don't have their place and they're not enjoyable to read. On the contrary, but the literary has been replaced by the fast-paced read (a sign of our times) and the prolific. Much of our music, art, and movies are unfortunately in the same sad state as our books. How does an artist or writer that truly wants to celebrate that which is greater than self make his work palatable to the fast-food lit masses of those whose greatest appeal is “Twilight”? “Harry Potter” is starting to look like a great master piece.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Disconnected Punditry

Listening to talk radio and looking at conservative blogs, it is apparent that the loudest -- volume does not necessarily correlate to coherence -- voices on the right are placing great importance of the idea of the McCain campaign regaining lost ground by talking about William Ayers.

That's going to do it, huh?

Actually, it will have very little impact: here's a break down as to why.

Is a close connection with someone with Mr. Ayers past a matter of importance? Yes. However, over the last week, a great many Americans who have 401k's have lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 30% of their retirement nest eggs. Other news -- legitimate news, not media generated noise -- gives the picture of an economy in a period of free fall.

So, do those conservatives on the radio really believe that in the absence of any compelling policy response appealing to Americans with a vision of how this gets worked out that the McCain campaign is going to turn things around with William Ayers? Really? You really think that?

I don't. Conservative opinion leaders used to be better than this. They will have to get better again.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bitter Election Humor

It's making the rounds this morning that Paris Hilton, a name that I am not sure has ever appeared in this blog before, is offering advice to the McCain campaign. Noting that Sarah Palin has "got a hot bod," Ms. Hilton asks, "Why wear a pantsuit when you can wear a swimsuit?”

Ms. Hilton, it should be noted, was not serious in stating this, but the advice has caused The Oracle to pause and think:

Given the desperation that the McCain campaign now finds itself in, they could make one of three choices in order to change the direction of the election: 1) Palin in a 2-piece; 2) McCain buys a surfboard and jumps a shark at a potential drilling site; or 3) Offer $300 billion to bail out everyone who took out a mortgage they couldn't pay.

Oops, Sen. McCain has already chosen. He took the most outlandish of the three.

The Banks?

This morning, the U.S. Treasury Department is indicating that it is considering taking over partial ownership of banks in order to alleviate the current financial crisis.

Well, after they complete taking over the financial services sector, one wonders what industry will be next?

It is not my nature to be alarmist, and I am willing to concede that much of what has occurred over the last two weeks may even be necessary, but still: when the dust settles from all of this, I fear that we will have lost something far more valuable than 30% of our 401k's.

With a demand for increased security, including economic security, there always comes a loss of freedom. With very little debate our way of life is fundamentally changing.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Shameless Bragging

Clinical research is a little known but extremely important field of medicine because every drug that is to be approved by the FDA and marketed to the public must undergo several years of safety and efficacy testing first on healthy subjects then on those who could potentially benefit from the drug because of an ailment. To be certified in clinical research, one must work in the field for at least two years and pass a grueling four hour test on the FDA and ICH regulations as well as the actual conducting of the trials and problem solving. After four and a half years working as a clinical research coordinator, I took the plunge by signing up for the test. After much blood, sweat, and tears I received notice yesterday...


Just Wondering

Prior to the recent news about the Federal Reserve intervening in the marketplace to alleviate a lack of availability of "commercial paper," I wonder if most Americans were aware of the extent to which major businesses rely on borrowing to manage short-term, day to day operations, including payroll.

I suspect that most people would have assumed that their employers have sufficient cash flow that they would not be operating so close to the edges.

Worthless Debates

Last night's debate between John McCain and Barack Obama served as a reminder of why these exercises are virtually useless. Since the debate ended, pundits have been asking, "Who won?"

But, how can you choose a winner when neither candidate said anything even remotely relevant to how he will govern. Neither candidate addressed the current economic situation in even a remotely realistic way. We learned something about the differing styles of pandering of the two candidates, but is that really what we need to know when choosing a President.

Of course, they never intended to address serious issues. Moderator Tom Brokaw kept reminding them that they agreed to a rule to limit responses to a minute. What a rule! How can you really develop an argument on anything of substance in 60 seconds?

No one really expects candidates in this day and age to engage in a wonkish policy debate. Sound bites sell; reality is dull. However, it is sad that even in a year in which the United States is facing serious problems both domestically and internationally, it is considered out of the realm of possibility to have a serious debate on the differing policies of the candidates standing before us.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dirty Old Men

Today, I was in a state capitol on an elevator in a professional office building with five other people. To my left was a lobbyist, a young, attractive woman in her late 20's who was dressed professionally in a navy blue suit with a skirt that fell below her knees. To my far right was a man not known by any of us, but probably in his 60's and wearing -- it is Texas -- olive toned boots.

The woman said to this man, "I like your boots."

The man quickly replied, "I like what is above your feet." Someone else in the elevator gasped.

"Uh, thanks," she replied hesitantly.

Just then, the elevator stopped, and the man and one other person got off. I said, "Well, that was what you would call the direct approach," as everyone began to laugh.

Later, as she drove me to the airport for my return to Dallas, the woman told me that she tended bar while in college, so she handles just about anything. She also said that if the guy had been younger, she would have let him have it. When they're that old, she explained, all you can do is laugh.

I wouldn't have blamed her for letting him have it at any age. However, tending bar and working with legislators has seemingly inured her to inappropriate remarks.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Calling Them the Way You See Them

Tony Woodlief provocatively argues that many Christian conservatives would have reacted to Sarah Palin differently had her name been Hillary Clinton. He writes:

There is the disastrous interview with Katie Couric, which by comparison makes Dan Quayle appear an eloquent master of policy detail. There is the fact that she is vigorously campaigning for a job that will largely remove her from her young children for the next four years. There is the fact that her teenage daughter is unmarried and pregnant.

On that last alone, it takes little imagination to conjure the sort of remarks that would have been directed Clinton’s way had her own daughter proven as careless. Because Palin is a Christian and a Republican, however, my friends view this positively, as proof of her family’s pro-life credentials. They are willing to forgive, for who among us has not made mistakes?

These are admirable inclinations, and I agree with them entirely. But I suspect that many Christian Republicans wouldn’t be as forgiving were this Hillary Clinton.

Of course, people all along the political spectrum are prone, often but not always unconsciously, to allow "tribal loyalty" to determine what we will forgive and what we will repudiate. However, this ought to be a cause for self-examination among Christians, who are called upon by their Savior to let their yea be yea and their nay be nay.

John the Baptist did not consult Herod's voting record before declaring that it was wrong for him to take his brother's wife.

Christian conservatives have been correct to be charitable toward Sarah Palin. It is unfortunate that many would have reacted differently if she had a different name.

The Spacey Senator

For a rundown of Joe Biden's numerous misstatements in his debate with the comparably erudite Sarah Palin, see here.

It has been a source of amusement that the senior Senator from Delaware has been lauded all summer as a foreign policy expert -- or as a constitutional one. One supposes that if a person speaks for long enough, others will begin to assume that he must know what he is talking about.

In fact, friends, including at least one Democrat, who have worked on Capitol Hill have told The Oracle for years that Sen. Biden is one of the dimmer bulbs in Congress -- certainly brighter than former Tennessee congressman Van Hilleary, but roughly in the same league with Barbara Boxer..

The press has spoken repeatedly since his nomination of Sen. Biden's "gaffes." But the term "gaffe" implies that the speaker has merely blurted out without thinking. Often, Sen. Biden misspeaks because he doesn't know what in the world he is talking about.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Misunderstood Figure from History

Today marks the 305th anniversary of the birth of one of history's more interesting figures, the greatest of the American Puritans, Jonathon Edwards.

Rev. Edwards is now remembered mostly for his most enduring sermon, Sinners in the Hands of Angry God, about which public high school students continue to be mistaught to this day. It is not uncommon for teachers of those students, following their curriculum guides, to ask students to imagine the famous minister shouting his vivid phrases about spiders hanging by a thread over a fire at his congregation. In fact, he did no such thing. Scholarly works on Edwards life and thought, both secular and Christian, have not been in short supply at any point in American history, but particularly since a famous biography by Yale University historian Perry Miller written in the 1930's, and so such errors in school textbooks are inexcusable. Rev. Edwards invariably read his sermons in a soft monotone, only occasionally looking up at the back wall of the church, and rarely using any gestures at all. While his use of words was vivid, most modern churchgoers would consider his pulpit style to be unforgivably dull.

More recently, George Marsden has written a brilliant biography of the Puritan divine.

Before he reached the age of 21, the young Puritan compiled a remarkable list of 70 resolutions. It is amazing that they were put together by such a young man. Here are a few.

1. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever.
6. Resolved, To live with all my might, while I do live.
13. Resolved, To be endeavouring to find out fit objects of liberality and charity.
14. Resolved, Never to do any thing out of revenge.
15. Resolved, Never to suffer the least motions of anger towards irrational beings.
16. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any one, so that it shall tend to his dishonour, more or less, upon no account except for some real good.
25. Resolved, To examine carefully and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and so direct all my forces against it.
31. Resolved, Never to say any thing at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of christian honour, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said any thing against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: Resolved, That I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Bill Heard Fails -- and Good Riddance

Pundits nationally are speculating that the closing of the Bill Heard chain of auto dealerships may be linked to the tightening credit market and changing automobile buying habits based on the price of gasoline.

That may be, but if the reputation of dealerships in other parts of the country is similar to Bill Heard's reputation in Nashville, Tennessee, that would offer an alternative explanation.

Where Did He Go?

Peggy Noonan remarks upon the practical disappearance of President George W. Bush:

After the first bailout failed, Mr. Bush spoke like a man who was a mere commentator, not the leader in a crisis.

We witness here a great political lesson. When you are president, it matters—it really matters—that a majority of the people support and respect you. When you squander that affection, you lose more than mere popularity. You lose the ability to lead when your country is in crisis. This is a terrible loss, and a dangerous one, for the whole world is watching.

Young aides to Reagan used to grouse, late in his second term, that he had high popularity levels, that popularity was capital, and that he should spend it more freely on potential breakthroughs of this kind or that. But Reagan and the men around him were wiser. They spent when they had to and were otherwise prudent. (Is there a larger lesson here?) They were not daring when they didn't have to be. They knew presidential popularity is a jewel to be protected, and to be burnished when possible, because without it you can do nothing. Without the support and trust of the people you cannot move, cannot command. You are left, like Mr. Bush, talking to an empty room.

A Staff Poorly Serving Palin

David Broder, while acknowledging Alaska governor Sarah Palin's strong performance at the vice-presidential debate last night, has a valid question for the McCain campaign. He asks, "Why in the world has the McCain campaign kept Palin under wraps from her debut at the Republican National Convention until this debate? What were they afraid of?"

It is stated frequently that vice-presidential candidates rarely have an ultimate impact on the presidential election, and this one may have been no different regardless of what the McCain campaign had done. Still, one can be excused for wondering. Gov. Palin's nomination and speech at the RNC brought an unprecedented level of energy for a vice-presidential pick. The failure of the campaign to capitalize on that energy, and the limited interviews they made her accessible for, gave the public the impression that she was likely not up to the task.

Gov. Palin is not a perfect candidate, and no one will ever accuse her of being a policy wonk on issues outside of energy and other matters of particular importance to Alaska. However, hardly any candidates for national office are really conversant to any level of detail on a wide range of issues, and Gov. Palin certainly has strengths that she brings to the table.

Agree or disagree with her: she is not incompetent. It is unfortunate that her limited availability along with the Gibson and Couric interviews caused the public to question her competence.

Gov. Palin was mismanaged by a staff who injected her too infrequently in the campaign with a strategy that didn't suit her strengths. Did that cost John McCain the election? No. Assuming he loses, it will be the state of the economy that ultimately sapped his brief surge of momentum. However, the mishandling of Gov. Palin certainly did not help.

The Bailout and Elections to Come

A public already angry at Congress over legislation authorizing a $700 billion bailout of the American financial services industry won't be comforted by Rep. Barney Frank's statements following the vote: "No one can be certain about this. We are sure it will make improvements. It may work better or worse, or differently than we think."

Thus, a chief proponent of this enormously expensive and expansive measure affirms that he has no idea if it will have much of an impact or not.

To be fair to Rep. Frank, lawmakers had to respond to a legitimate fear that doing nothing would risk a collapse of the American economy to an extent not seen since the Hoover/Roosevelt administrations. Those fears were significant enough to motivate legislators to cast aside the vast unpopularity of the measure and risk public disdain by voting for it.

And, for many of them, it is likely to cost them their positions in Congress. It also makes it likely that whoever is elected President will be in that position for only one term.

The United States, regardless of this action by Congress or anything else they might do, is likely headed into a recession. It may turn out to be the most severe recession since the early 1980's. With a significant economic downturn, Americans are going to want to know how Congress could spend this amount of money bailing out Wall Street fatcats while doing nothing to keep the nation's economy from going in the toilet.

That is arguably unfair: a strong case can be made that the bailout will help prevent a bad economy from getting even worse. But that is only a hypothetical. Americans will not ever know how bad it might have been: they will only see how bad it actually gets.

The election is too close to make much difference on this year's races, as most voters have already decided which direction they are going and, in any event, gerrymandered districts protect many incumbents. Nonetheless, if the recession persists, it could be enough to cause significant turnover in 2010, and re-election for President in 2012 will be an iffy proposition.

And, last year, at band camp....

The University of Wisconsin marching band will not perform at today's home game against Ohio State University, having been suspended due to "allegations of hazing, alcohol abuse and sexual misconduct.

Who did they think they were, the football team?

Friday, October 03, 2008

No Law Professor Left Behind

Sen. Joseph Biden was teaching a course in "Selected Topics in Constitutional Law" at Widener University School of Law at the time of his selection as Barack Obama's running mate. Evidently, his "selected topics" did not include material from Article I or Article II of the U.S. Constitution, judging from the mistakes he made -- and made vehemently -- yesterday evening.

Given the current state of civics education in the United States, one suspects that this will go largely unnoticed, but this is hardly trivial pursuit for someone who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee while also teaching courses in Constitutional Law.

It is no wonder that Sen. Biden has so vociferously opposed the notion of originalism. If that theory were to gain credence, constitutional law professors might have to resort to knowing something about the text of the Constitution.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Is this what conservatism has come to?

Regarding the bailout package that passed the Senate yesterday evening:

The package supposedly brings new appeal to conservatives through its inclusion of various tax breaks. I am all for tax cuts and keeping taxes low. I also understand that cutting taxes must often occur pre-emtively. Waiting for lawmakers to reduce spending would mean that taxes would forever go up. Frequently, at least in the past, the best way to slow the growth of government spending is to take the money out of government's hands.


Is it really conservative to continue the ever growing disconnect between federal revenue and federal spending by approving tax breaks along with up to $700 billion worth of new spending?

One does not have to be a deficit hawk to be concerned about the disconcerting irony of such a disconnect in legislation designed to remedy a problem created by subprime debt.

Update. The current economic crisis presents a quandary to those who believe in limited government. This massive intrusion by the federal government into the private sector represents a disaster for our country, yet to oppose what my blogging partner referred to as a "welfare system for the rich and incompetent" runs the risk of an economic collapse of historic proportions. The inability of those providing leadership in Washington to rise up and find a serious solution is extraordinarily disconcerting.

Even so, after further reading the details of the pork laden albatross passed by the Senate last night, I don't see how anyone in good conscience can support it. As bad as Monday's House bill was, it was considerably better than this.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Where Next?

While one should not underestimate the ability of the current Congress to manage to do nothing, even in the face of what appears to be a looming and serious economic crisis, it would seem safe to assume that they will do something to bail out America's financial services sector bythe end of the week. To fail to do so runs the risk of this Congress becoming historically remembered as the legislative equivalent of the Buchanon and Hoover administrations. Be that as it may, one might wish to ask, "What next?"

Once Congress throws a lot of money at remedying the immediate problem, what should be done in response to what can only be acknowledged as a systemic failure?

American political leaders are more adroit at casting blame than at finding correct solutions, and one fears that this situation will prove no different. Nonetheless, in order to solve a problem, one must identify it, and the following culprits have been fingered by this or that interest group:

  • Consumers overweighted with debt taking on bad mortgages in order to maximize the amount of house they could buy.
  • Banks offering risky subprime loans and various mortgage products to those consumers.
  • Securities firms bundling bad loans into products that resulted in an amplified risk of failure.
  • A Republican emphasis on deregulation that allowed much of this to go on.
  • A Democratic willingness to give free reign to GSE's run by their friends and to promote banking practices to encourage home ownership among populations that could not afford it.

How about: all of the above? These choices are not mutually exclusive.

Conservatives should remember that conservatism is not the absence of all regulation, any more than liberalism requires that everything become state run. Certainly, conservatives tend to defer to free markets, to understand that eliminating risk also eliminates innovation and growth, and to recognize that regulation tends to have unexpected and unwanted consequences. Still, conservatives understand that roadways require speed limits, and the nation's financial system requires at least some regulatory structure sufficient to prevent its leaders from committing economic suicide. They have shown no ability to avoid that on their own.

It will be interesting to see if anything constructive comes out in the aftermath of this.