Monday, January 29, 2007

Bush's Health Care Proposal

Bob Krumm suggests that President Bush's health care plan has merit and that it has no chance at passage. He is correct on both counts.

One issue that rarely gets discussed publicly in health care debates is that of utilization. The Oracle saw data recently at a conference that showed that health care treatment for certain types of injuries varied greatly. The reseacher did not opine as to which treatment patterns were correct: she only contended that given the huge extent of the variation, it was impossible that all patients were receiving optimal care.

Health care policy wonks are pushing the concept of using evidence based medical treatment guidelines as a means of getting better controls on utilization. Some physicians reject the widespread use of guidelines, dismissing them as "cook book medicine." However, anyone who is aware of the extent to which health care may differ for patients with identical sets of symptoms knows that this addresses a legitimate concern related to health care quality.

A Gingrich Run for the White House?

Bill Hobbs has an extended and informative post discussing the likelihood and ramifications of a Newt Gingrich run for the White House. A.C. Kleinheider rightly suggests that Gingrich could not win -- his negatives are too high. Kleinheider emphasizes the circumstances under which Gingrich left Congress. He might have added that, fairly or unfairly, Gingrich comes across on television as arrogant and grating.

Kleinheider also suggests that while Gingrich will run, he is "intelligent" enough to know that he won't win. Kleinheider, ever the cynic, suggests that Gingrich will have lecture fees in mind. The Oracle, who is much less prone to claim to know someone else's inner workings, and who declaims cynicism in any event, would tend to disagree. Intelligence is not the same as judgment, and many people are notoriously blind to their own weaknesses. Gingrich believes that he can become President. He is wrong.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Anything Missing Here

University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino explains what college is all about:

Look, college life is not for everybody. It's for those who really want to grow emotionally, who really want to grow physically, who want the camaraderie of a team. College life is not for the guy who just wants to deal with himself. It's really about teamwork.

Someone in U of L's PR department might wish to consult with Coach Pitino. Universities like to maintain at least the illusion that "college life," including college athletics, has some connection to academics.

Representation without Taxation

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives pushed through a rules change that gives delegates from Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the District of Colombia the right to participate in votes in the House when it meets as the Committee of the Whole. The House does so for almost all business short of a final vote.

George Will argues that this is blatantly unconstitutional, given that the Constitution repeatedly refers to members of Congress being selected by "the people of the several states." The less than 60,000 people of American Samoa, who do not pay U.S. federal taxes, will have the same voting representation in the Committee of the Whole as the 700,000 people of Montana.

Why would the Democrats push this through? All of the delegates, save the one from Puerto Rico, are Democrats. Historically, the one from Puerto Rico is almost always a Democrat. Power politics trumps the Constitution for the House Democratic leadership.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Same Family, Different People

For an interesting comparison comparison/contrast between the two brothers who are the President of the United States and the governor of Florida, see Paul Mirengoff here.

Mirengoff is probably right that Jeb Bush would be considered a strong potential candidate in 2008 if not for his last name.

Religion and Politics, Right and Left, Right and Wrong

Bob Krumm posted recently that he would describe himself as "socially conservative," but that he does not think of himself as a religious conservative. That distinction reminded me of my own description of my philosophical viewpoint which I presented to a friend recently: The Oracle is a conservative, a Republican, and an evangelical. I have little use for the religious right.

In the comments to Krumm's post, Sean Braisted and John Hutcheson raised mild protests to Krumm's suggestion that there is a double standard regarding the incursion of religious principles into politics, depending on whether such incursions enter from the left or the right, giving themselves as examples of those who have been willing to criticize Democrats who they thought breached the wall of separation. Both Braisted and Hutcheson are bloggers who value political principles over political ends and gamesmanship, but they should recognize that they are in the minority of vocal pundits on that count. Krumm is a conservative who can be described in the same way. All of us who value principled debate should hope that their tribe will increase.

Ambivalent Passion

The Oracle has had very little to say in recent months about the Iraq War. While it has bothered this author to some degree that he has not had much input on one of the most important issues of the day, he has also found it difficult to opine because of his passionate ambivalece on the whole subject. One finds it difficult to be in the position of being both less than enthralled with the Administration's conduct of the war and, yet, unwilling to provide aid and comfort to the enemies of the President (including those in Congress).

Thus, it was somewhat interesting to read Diana West expressing similar thoughts.

Hat Tip: Powerline

Rejected and Embittered

John Kerry went to Switzerland and ripped American foreign policy at the Davos economic summit. Ed Morrissey correctly dissects Kerry's inflammatory remarks.

Lobbying in the Electronic Age

A proposed Maine House of Representatives rule would ban lobbyists from communicating with legislators by electronic means when the legislature is in session. For an informed discussion of this issue, see Karl Kurtz here.

Great City for Singles?

The Tennessean reports that Nashville was recently recognized as "best city in the nation for relocating singles."

In the immortal words of Austin Powers, "Yeah, baby."

By the way, I have never seen that movie, though I have been told that my verbal impersonation of that particular phrase is dead on.

Single women may send G rated pictures to the e-mail address in the sidebar!

By the way, no one should take this post terribly seriously. One would not think that an anonymous blog would be a good way to pick up women! I would have to show up for the date with a bag over my head -- though, come to think of it, that may improve my chances.

Its Saturday morning, so The Oracle is in a whimsical mood. The reader will have to trust me that there is no drinking involved.

The No-Poll Zone

The Washington Post has a breathtaking report that Hillary Clinton, who has never campaigned for herself in Iowa, is not leading in the polls there at this point in time, which is about a year prior to the 2008 Democratic caucus. The report offers The Oracle a good opportunity to remind faithful readers that barring an occurrence of actual newsworthy importance, that this website will remain a poll-free zone. The Oracle only discusses matters that are either important or of personal interest, and the endless barrage of polls released during a modern election cycle (which is to say over a never ending continuum) does not qualify on either count.

One might recall that in December 2003 (just a couple of months prior to the Iowa caucus) the overwhelming front runner in Iowa was Howard Dean. A couple of ill advised remarks and an endorsement by Al Gore later, and the Dean campaign was in free fall. The ultimate outcome was a real scream.

Polling a full year prior to an election is meaningless. Polls are campaign or media generated news events, not real news. Political spinmeisters do not adhere to scientific theories of falsifiability. Whatever the poll results, the spinners will claim them to be positive for their candidate.

The Oracle covers the horses, not the horse race. If polls are your thing, you won't find it here.

Friday, January 26, 2007

An Energy Policy that Would Work

Charles Krauthammer points out that energy policy has been a frequent subject in State of the Union addresses over the last 30 years, but that there has not been much of value to show for it:

By my count, 24 of the 34 State of the Union addresses since the oil embargo of 1973 have proposed solutions to our energy problem.

The result? In 1973 we imported 34.8 percent of our oil. Today we import 60.3 percent.

He goes on to argue that the political class will not be willing to implement measures that would actually be effective in reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and dependence on foreign oil. Those measures are:

  • Reduce demand by driving up the price of gasoline by implementing a fuel tax raising the price to $4/gallon.
  • Increase domestic production by drilling in the Arctic.
  • Increase the use of nuclear power.

Regarding all three of these potential solutions, Krauthammer is right on both counts. The measures would be effective in accomplishing their stated purposes, and they are politically inviolable.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Trouble in the Crescent City

The Oracle just returned from New Orleans, where locals are vigorously debating whether Louisiana was shortchanged by the federal government due to partisan politics or due to the ineptness of its governor. The argument was renewed by statements by former FEMA director Michael Brown, who's comments both during and since the federal response to Katrina reveal him to be one of the most incompetent men to ever hold federal office (a designation that requires a considerable level of incompetence), that Louisiana got less assistance because Bush administration officials thought that "she's a white, female Democratic governor and we have a chance to rub her nose in it." Mississippi, led by Republican governor Haley Barbour, has received more aid per capita than Louisiana.

Brown lacks the subtlety to save his own reputation, and much of the population of Louisiana isn't buying this. Local talk radio contrasted the coordinated efforts of Mississippi's Washington delegation with the disorganized and competitive efforts of various Louisiana interests. Meanwhile, Blanco's poll numbers have shrunk to levels that have caused speculation that she will change her mind about seeking re-election.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Show Me the Money -- Not Spent

Instapundit posts that porkbusters are glad that the President will include a reference to earmark reform in his State of the Union address set to begin shortly. One supposes that it is impolite to criticize the President for coming late to this party, but the words ring hollow given his six years of routinely signing inflated spending bills and otherwise exercising no real leadership on this issue. The Republicans once virtually owned the cause of fiscal restraint. Today, largely due to the excesses of Republican governance, no one who is not a partisan really believes the rhetoric any more.

The Oracle dislikes the annual grocery list that goes by the name "State of the Union," regardless of who is delivering it, and has not decided whether to turn on the television.

The Court Got It Right, but It Is Still Unfortunate

The Associated Press reports that a lawsuit filed by a couple that was kicked out of the Jehovah's Witnesses and then shunned after they made public allegations that the cult had covered up instances of child sexual abuse has been dismissed. The court ruled that it had no jurisdiction in an internal church matter.

That decision is correct, but one can still have some sympathy for the couple in question. Anyone who has ever known a person who left the Jehovah's Witnesses is aware of how cruel their practice of "shunning" is. All church members, including close friends and immediate family, are strictly ordered to have literally no communication with the excluded member.

The Writer Didn't Understand the Subject

The Tennessean ran a feature article this morning by USA Today writer Cathy Lynn Grossman suggesting that the once popular term "evangelical" is now being shunned by many Christians due to its negative associations. There is much truth to that claim, but unfortunately Grossman's piece can hardly be called coherent.

Her piece begins with an insult. After asking, "Who's an evangelical," she answers her own question: "Until last year the answer was clear: Evangelical was the label of choice of Christians with the most conservative views on politics, economics and strict biblical morality" [emphasis added].

The word "most" is a pejorative here, suggesting that until last year the name evangelical clearly identified those who were in a race to the extremes of society. Wherever the "most conservative views" were on "politics, economics, and strict biblical morality" (not content with allowing "most" to define the extremism, she adds "strict" for good measure), that would seem to be where one would find the evangelicals, according to Grossman.

The writer then proceeds to quote various spokesmen explaining why they don't like the term, but she shows no evidence of realizing that the arguments are not consistent. Some reject the term because it is associated with the narrowness of the religious right or moral failings by religious leaders. On the other hand, Nashville pastor Kevin Shrum says he dislikes the term because it is theologically overly inclusive, a view that has circulated in various circles for a half century. Adding to the incoherence, she closes the article by discussing a group of more left wing groups that she says "now take on" the evangelical label.

So, the label is being shunned, but broader groups are anxious to take it on? Oooookay?!

Shrum's views are the closest to being correct. The truth is that the term "evangelical," which once identified a group of people holding to clear theological and philosophical commitments related to scriptural authority, the gospel, and cultural engagement, now only vaguely refers to a style of worship, a certain sentimentality in religion, or a political vantage point. Grossman is correct that the word no longer is helpful in identifying a set of distinctive Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, she appears to have no idea about why that is the case.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mortgaging Our Future

As the United States heads into a presidential election cycle in which candidates appear poised to run over one another bringing forth ever more expansive proposals for new healthcare entitlements, it is sobering to read the assessment of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve regarding long range projections for social security. See commentary and links from Michael Barone here.

Well, People Are Living Longer....

John Hutchenson maliciously posted a photograph of a scoreboard advertisement created and paid for by The Oracle's former girlfriend. See it here.

Go East, or Middle, Young Man

For an informative analysis of the demographic realities behind the fall of the west in Tennessee politics, see Mark Rogers here.

Is that the Dorm Fridge?

Bob Krumm has a nice post on what has changed -- and stayed the same -- since the Chicago Bears last appeared in the Super Bowl in 1986. The Oracle will add another football oriented note. The Super Bowl champions of that year featured an oddity of a defensive tackle and sometime fullback named William "the Refrigerator" Perry, who was often simply referred to as "the Fridge." As might be guessed, his name derived from either his gargantuan size or his most frequent travel destination.

However, the 320 pound Perry, huge for a defensive lineman 20 years ago, would now be considered to be of average size for that position.

Changing the Names to Protect the Offended

The Tennessean reports that "activists" are offended by the nicknames of certain sports teams.

The Oracle agrees. That football team from New Orleans definitely needs to change its name.

Seriously, this writer asked about this subject while spending a week at an Indian reservation several years ago and was told that no one cared and that, in fact, those on the reservation tended to root for teams with such names.

News that Cannot Be Shared

The Oracle today was made privy to some news of great personal import. Sadly, he was sworn to secrecy in the matter. If I told you, I would have to kill you.

I hate it when that happens.

The Truth about Obama's Religion

If any of your dingbat friends forward an e-mail suggesting that Barack Obama is a closeted radical Muslim, feel free to point them here.

The Oracle does not plan to vote for Obama, but he has a bipartisan dislike of rumormongering of this sort.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Colts Can't Win

The Oracle did not offer a prediction on the game between Chicago and New Orleans, simply because he could not make up his mind. Plus, he is flying to New Orleans this week and doesn't wish to make enemies. However, he is shocked that nearly everyone in this vicinity is picking Indianapolis in the upcoming game. Perhaps local Manning mania has melted minds in the Music City.

The last two weeks against mediocre Chiefs and Ravens teams should not deceive anyone: Indianapolis cannot stop the run. A defense this bad can't make it to the Super Bowl.

New England will, so to speak, run away with it.

Update. The Oracle is glad that he does not gamble.

Accurate Lottery Quote of the Day

"The way I see it, the lottery is a voluntary tax on those who cannot do math."

-- Mark Rose

By the way, in Tennessee, where lottery revenues are received disproportionately from the lower classes and lottery proceeds are disproportionately disbursed to college students from the middle class, the lottery is largely a redistributionist scheme that voluntarily takes money from the have nots and gives it to the haves.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Inconvenient Culpability

For the disturbing story of how the United States State Department covered up Palestine Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat's complicity in the murder of an American diplomat, see Scott Johnson here.

Protecting Free Speech

Those who are zealous to protect first amendment rights of free speech often remind the public that those guarantees only become relevant when an issue involves types of speech that are repulsive to a large percentage of the populace -- that is, the types of speech that a large percentage of people might wish to ban. Thus, they point out the importance of recognizing first amendment protections for expressive behavior such as lap dancing and flag burning. That some of those same persons, who are willing to stretch constitutional language to make "speech" include "expression," are willing to defend explicit bans on unwanted political speech boggles the mind.

Yet, that is exactly what happens with regard to defense of the McCain Feingold Act, which responded to concerns that "too much" money is spent by "special interests" on political advertising prior to elections. McCain Feingold prohibits "issue ads" produced and paid for by private groups unaffiliated with political campaigns and that mention any of the candidates by name for specified periods of time prior to an election. This is an undisguised attack on the free speech rights of Americans of all political persuasions. That some would deem it to be in the public interest to allow politicians to so regulate political speech by determining how much money is enough, and by referring to the concerns of many very real Americans as mere "special interests," only shows that the core purpose of the constitution can be lost in the fog of speech that some consider inconvenient.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases related to this ban. Those who share a special interest in first amendment protections should hope they rule it unconstitutional.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Gore Cooling the Globe

Has anyone noticed that Al Gore's global warming campaign seems to be having the same effect on U.S. temperatures lately that his endorsement of Howard Dean had on the latter's poll numbers in December 2003?

Just wondering.

In other news, since The Oracle was stranded in Houston last night due to a weather related flight cancellation, he is ready for a warm up, global or otherwise.

"Fair Share" Bills Violate Federal Law

A federal appeals court today upheld the ruling of a district court that the so-called "fair share" legislation adopted in Maryland as part of an effort by unions to use the power of government to attack Walmart violated federal ERISA law. Although only the Maryland legislature had been duped into passing the legislation -- and overriding a gubernatorial veto -- unions had pressed for its adoption in about 30 other states. Such efforts will likely die with this ruling.

The opinion of the court can be found here.

No Coverage Equals No Credibility

The Anchoress rightly observes that the lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of the press regarding the theft and/or destruction by former national security agency director Sandy Berger of various classified documents is a reason that many Americans no longer consider them to be credible. She writes:

Yooooo-hooooo Mr. and Mrs. Mainstream Mediaaaaa…if you’re wondering why your credibility is lower than congress’ once you step out of your insulated little parties and coastal enclaves, this is why, in a nutshell: because you are willing to completely overlook anything - even the blatant theft of classified documents in what appears to be some sort of cover-up conspiracy regarding something done by a Clinton or Clintonian minion - and you’re not even discreet about it. Everyone - literally everyone in the world - knows that if Berger’s name was Rove or Rice or Hughes the story would never have disappeared - it would be a front-pager for the ages; Chris Matthews would dehydrate from all the mouth-foaming, Keith Olbermann’s head would explode nightly as he demanded not just imprisonment but death, death to all Bushies! There would be investigations and hearings - lots of hearings - CSpan would be the new A&E! The story would make careers! It would keep the red-inked press rolling in the black for years!

But Sandy Berger, “uh-huh-huh, that’s just old Sandy…stuffing classified documents in his drawers, ‘losing or inadvertantly’ destroying others, folding some of ‘em up and dropping them under a trailer at a construction site in the dead of night…uh-huh-huh, we love Sandy.”

The unwillingness on the part of many to cover this story reveals the reason that many observers only roll their eyes when a journalist somewhere starts getting all breathy about the sacrosanct media.

Go Preds!

The inimitable John Hutcheson has a hilarious post urging Nashvillians to patronize Predators hockey while also lamenting the prevalence of a certain vulgarity shouted frequently throughout the game by people who probably, given the price of many of the tickets, work respectable jobs during the day. The Oracle used to tell his son that the crowd was saying "socks," but he is now old enough to know better. In fact, he likely never believed it in the first place.

In spite of that and other atrocities that Hutcheson aptly describes, The Oracle also would say that if any reader has not been to a Predators game, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. Perhaps you will see me there tomorrow night -- with the new girlfriend!

Keep the "kiss cam" away, though.

Too Many Kids Go to College

Charles Murray provocatively -- and correctly -- argues that Americans put a "false premium" on a college education. Most vocations that are now often advertised as requiring a Bachelor's Degree do not in actuality need someone with four years of academic training.

While arguing that some form of enhanced vocational training should supplant university study as preparation for many careers, Murray also contends that the earning capacity of those in neglected blue collar vocations is growing due to the insufficient numbers of properly trained craftsmen entering certain fields.

A Failure to Communicate

In a move that implicitly criticizes former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, new Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is working to build a new communications strategy for senate Republicans.

Better communication is never a bad thing, but one hopes that the Republicans don't imagine that this will solve the problems that defeated them in last year's elections. While they could certainly have communicated their priorities, such as they were, better, ultimately their defeat did not result from a failure to communicate. It resulted from a failure to govern.

In fact, if there is any message that the Republicans should have taken from November 2006, it is this: superior organization and funding by themselves are not sufficient to overcome unprincipled and ineffective governance.

Managing People

Andrew Card reviews "My Life on the McJob" by Jerry Newman, who worked in various fast food restaurants in order to assess management styles.

Mr. Newman writes that the "rhythms and rituals" that make up the culture of the work environment had the strongest effect on his own job performance--a common enough phenomenon, of course, but Mr. Newman says that it is more pronounced in fast-food restaurants than in other businesses. He captures various aspects of fast-food culture in boxed vignettes, called "From Behind the Counter," sprinkled throughout the book. The anecdotes range from the innocent (cheering up an unhappy little girl by putting a "heaping mound of extra hot fudge" on her sundae) to the almost indecent (at one restaurant, a female manager gives lap dances to favored co-workers in her office, "a classic case" of hostile workplace harassment if "only one crew member feels uneasy," Mr. Newman writes). Sometimes the vignettes are downright alarming: Cleaning up outside a Wendy's near a pond in Florida, he is advised to watch out for alligators.

The Oracle has not read a management book in a while, so he may give it a shot.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Thompson Comments on Bad Duke Lacrosse Prosecution

Former prosecutor and U.S. Senator from Tennessee Fred Thompson on the prosecutor in the Duke non-rape case:

Now Nifong’s case is crumbling and the North Carolina Bar Association, as well as the North Carolina DA’s Association, is on his case. He’s facing much-deserved calls for his resignation. Maybe this will remind us just how important and powerful these prosecutor’s jobs are. People’s freedom, reputations, and very lives are in their hands. And, as one wag so aptly put it: A prosecutor could, indeed, get a ham sandwich indicted if he wanted to. My experience is that the large majority of them are dedicated public servants But when one of them gives in to self interest and public pressure no greater injustice can be imagined.

In the North Carolina case, 88 Duke professors (civil libertarians, I’m sure), praised the DA and many in the black community pressured him as he rushed to judgment against these accused students in the midst of his reelection campaign. And for the media the story had everything — sex, rich vs. poor, the racial element — everything but proof of guilt. These accused young men are forever tarnished, but at least they can afford to defend themselves. What about the less fortunate who cannot? There is a lot at stake when we go to the polls to vote for a local prosecutor. We should never forget that. They, like judges they sometime have to stand against the howling mob, not become a part of it.

Under the Category of too Much of Anything Can Be Bad for You

A woman died Friday in California, apparently of "water intoxication." Earlier in the day she had participated in a radio station contest to see who could drink the most water without requiring a bathroom break.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Two Best Teams Met Today; See the Commericals on February 4

Though neither team played particularly well, it hardly seems a stretch to suppose that the winner of this year's Super Bowl was determined today in this game.

Men and Emotions

The Anchoress posts her brother's "10 Things to Ponder for 2007," the best of which is this:

8. Men have two emotions: Horny and Hungry. If he’s not chasing you, make him a sandwich.

Senator Clinton on the War

For an interesting and fairly detailed account of Senator Hillary Clinton's votes and public statements on the war in Iraq, see Matthew Continetti here.

Though Senator Clinton has wavered from her early strong support of the war effort, she remains far more hawkish than most Democrats. That stance will likely hurt her in her party's primaries, but, should she survive that drag on her candidacy and earn the nomination, it will help her in the general election.

Ten years ago, if anyone had suggested that Hillary Clinton would go into 2008 firmly established as her party's leading moderate, most observors would have laughed openly. Yet, that now seems likely to be the case.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bad News for GOP -- or Good News for Romney?

For a sharp critique of California Governor Arnold Shwarzenegger's massive universal health care proposal, see here.

This being the first year of the General Assembly's two year session, sources in Sacramento are telling The Oracle that this polarizing and complex issue will likely carry over into 2007. Court challenges could push implementation of anything that passes still further.

That could be bad for Republicans. California issues often become national ones, and health care coverage is already on a lot of minds anyway. If 2008 is dominated by discussion of health care coverage proposals, that will mean that the predominant issue is one that has not been a strong one for Republicans -- with one exception: Mitt Romney.

Rulemaking Overturned

Last April, The Oracle reported that the Jackson Clinic had filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge to decide whether the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development had violated its rulemaking authority in adopting amendments to its workers' compensation medical fee schedule rules without providing an opportunity for notice or a hearing.

The Department failed to respond to the filing, and the case ultimately ended up in Davidson County Chancery Court. With a hearing scheduled for February 9 on a motion by the plaintiffs for summary judgment, the Department filed new emergency rules last week with the Secretary of State that became effective immediately. The new rules removed the provisions in question in the lawsuit. Because the justification statement for the adoption of the emergency rules specifically cited the February 9 hearing, their adoption amounts to a tacit admission that they were on the verge of losing the case.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A Verdict on Stem Cells?

Charles Krauthammer, who did not support President Bush's stance on restricting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, nonetheless says that the President's act of "standing athwart history" may turn out to be important, as new discoveries regarding obtaining stem cells from amniotic fluid may end up providing a resource without the ethical concerns associated with destroying embryos in order to obtain them. Read his column here.

John Roberts Discusses His Role on the Court

For an interesting article on the role of the U.S. Supreme Court and its Chief Justice, based on an interview with John Roberts, see here.

Roberts emphasizes that building consensus and reducing the number of concurrent opinions and 5-4 decisions is crucial if the court is to re-establish its role and become less politicized.

Hat Tip: Orin Kerr. See also Ann Althouse

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The VA and Personal Health Information

For a troubling report on how serious Department of Veterans' Affairs Researchers are about the privacy of veterans' personal health information, see The Hill here:

“Congress is actually rather angry at the VA because we’ve been technically breaking the law for a decade,” [Deputy Chief of Research and Development Dr. Joseph] Francis said. “In 1996 legislation was passed called the Clinger-Cohen Act that really set the timing for all agencies to follow certain types of business principles in IT [information technology] procurement and IT management, including cyber security. We’ve basically ignored that; many agencies didn’t.”

American veterans deserve better.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Oracle Strikes Back

A.C. Kleinheider took the time to notice the gentle barb I aimed his way here, where I noted that he sometimes claims knowledge of people's thoughts and, therefore, freely ignores what they say or do. Kleinheider admitted doing this and graciously offered that he might do a better job in the future in differentiating his speculations from his knowledge, but otherwise defended the practice on the basis that he is a "commentator" practicing "opinion journalism," as opposed to being a "forensic" journalist.

In response, The Oracle must say that he disagrees with the notion that speculating about unexpressed thoughts and motivations is intrinsic to the practice of opinion journalism.

That is not to say that many writers of opinion don't approach their tasks in this way. Speculations of this sort are the playground of poor writers and sloppy thinkers, as they provide an easy means for expressing cynicism or casting aspersions on the actions, thoughts, or motivations of others. That is the reason that poor political bloggers and journalists do nothing else. Listen to Sean Hannity or a host of other talking heads in the Crossfire style format, and you'll wait a long time for a thought that is not attached to some attack on a person's motives. Responding to actual expressed ideas and deeds is much more challenging than simply claiming to know someone's unexpressed inner thoughts, and responding to attacks on motives is much more difficult for the other party.

In the way of illustration, suppose that instead of responding to The Oracle in a manner that acknowledged a good faith disagreement, Kleinheider had simply written that The Oracle had no interest in this subject, but only raised the issue because he surreptitiously desired for some of Volunteer Voters' traffic to come his way. Of course, Kleinheider has no way of knowing whether that is true or not, but it is a plausible theory, and it is much more easy to simply attack a motive than to respond to an argument. At that point, The Oracle would be on the defensive. He might express umbrage and deny that he ever thought such a thing, but, of course, no one can see The Oracle's thoughts, and The Oracle might just be lying.

Good opinion writers don't do this sort of thing regularly, though arguably all lapse into it from time to time. The Oracle is not arguing that Kleinheider is a poor writer or sloppy thinker -- I wouldn't waste my time if that were the case. However, Kleinheider too often engages in this kind of empty cynicism, and when he does so he wastes both his talents and his web space.

Will Ramsey Be Bipartisan?

Now that a Republican, Ron Ramsey, has risen to the position of Tennessee's Speaker of the Senate -- and Lt. Governor -- for the first time since Reconstruction, The Tennessean seems suddenly seized with fear that the senate will not be led in a bipartisan manner. No doubt, they will seek repeatedly to measure Ramsey's leadership by their perception of his ability to do so. In certain circles, bipartisanship always becomes a high priority whenever Republicans are in leadership. Unfortunately, for them bipartisanship often appears to mean capitulation to whatever it is that Democrats would like to do.

There can be no doubt also that some Republican hotheads, detached from political reality, will criticize Ramsey for deviating from party orthodoxy too much.

Anyway, The Tennessean need not be so worried. Republicans hold the slimmest of majorities in the senate, and Democrats control both the house of representatives and the governor's office. Ramsey will have no choice but to work with Democrats. Undoubtedly, over the next two years he willl repeatedly do so and be criticized for not.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Wilder Days Are Gone in Tennessee Senate

The Oracle was pessimistic about the prospects of Tennessee senate Republicans holding the line and displacing the inept John Wilder as Lt. Governor. However, they did so, after having been helped along by a brave Democrat, Rosalind Kurita. Unlike other Democrats who voted for a politician almost universally regarded as inept, she was willing to set aside ideology and party loyalty to do the right thing for the state.

A.C. Kleinheider, who sometimes dispenses with considering what people say or do because he claims to know what they think, impugns the motives of Kurita, saying that she chose to give herself visibility across the state by this move, though he offers no evidence. The Oracle, who leaves knowledge of people's thoughts to God and Bob Woodward, only knows that she saved the state from potential catastrophe and embarrassment. For that, he is grateful, as should be citizens all across the state.

The Oracle may not agree with Kurita politically and may never vote for her. However, she has forever earned his respect.

From Hemophiliac Liberal to Small Government Conservative

John Fund writes of Ronald Reagan's conversion to conservatism while working for General Electric. He concludes:

It was in these forgotten GE years, brought to life so vividly by Mr. Evans, that Reagan developed into "The Great Communicator"--someone not only with an engaging speaking style but with something principled to say. A gifted popularizer of liberty had thus found the perfect partner in a business leader who believed in aggressively defending the free-market system. Would that more such business leaders existed today.

Read the rest of the interesting story here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Naked Quote of the Day

"You're allowed to give everyone a quick once-over as you say, 'Hey, what's up?', but after that, you've got to maintain pretty good eye contact."

-- Mollie Farber, explaining proper etiquette for "naked parties," which according to this report are a growing fad at Ivy League schools.

A Contest that Someone from Nashville Should Win

According to the Washington Times, William Bennett is offering $1,000 to the songwriter who comes up with the best Sandy Berger themed parody of a popular song. The deadline for entry is 1/19/07.

Hat Tip: Powerline

What the States Will Do This Year

With state legislators beginning to wander back into their state capitols for this year's sessions, the National Conference of State Legislatures predicts and elaborates on the biggest issues to be faced on the state level this year. Those issues are:

  1. Immigration
  2. Homeland security and standardized ID cards
  3. Budget pressures
  4. Health insurance
  5. Sexual offenders and predators
  6. Energy and environment
  7. Minimum wage
  8. Higher education reform
  9. Privacy
  10. Obesity

Just Keep Current on the Exchange Rates

Nativists who complain about the increasing numbers of public signs in both English and Spanish will be driven out of their minds by this story.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Zinger of the Day

"He is the Paris Hilton of NFL quarterbacks."

Boomer Esiason, speaking on The NFL Today about Rex Grossman, the Chicago Bears quarterback who stated publicly that he had not prepared hard to play the final regular season game on New Years' Eve.

Hope and Opportunity

David Broder writes that the elevation of Nancy Pelosi to Speaker of the House and the inauguration of Deval Patrick as governor of Massachusetts are signs of "a growing sense of inclusiveness and opportunity in this society."

That is probably true, but it will be nice when race and sex become irrelevant in conversations as to who is rising to what position. It was nice yesterday to watch an NFL playoff game in which both teams were lead by black head coaches and to realize that no one in The Oracle's hearing had felt a need to comment on it. It was just another day at the game.

The Oracle is not commenting on it. He is merely commenting on the lack of comment, and he is thankful for it.

Credit Where Credit Due

Dwight Lewis opines that Martin Luther King Day is an American holiday that should be celebrated by all citizens, including whites. He is correct. As tumultuous as the 50's and 60's were on civil rights issues, it is difficult to measure how much more so they would have been if not for the leadership of King.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wacky Warning Labels

For this year's winners of M-Law's Wacky Warning Label Contest, see here.

First place: "Do not put any person in this washer.”

The organization runs this contest in order publicize the problems created by frivolous lawsuits.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Policy Disagreement, Not Moral Superiority

In a spirit of seemingly unrestrained arrogance, state senator Doug Jackson lectures Tennesseans this morning, beginning his guest editorial in this morning's The Tennessean by telling them that raising the minimum wage is "a moral issue." Never mind the nuanced arguments for and against such a proposal: Jackson simply dismisses those who disagree with him as immoral -- or at least in opposition, or perhaps indifferent -- to morality.

Of course, The Oracle is generous, so he recognizes that it is possible that Jackson is not really arrogant (note "seemingly" above). It is possible that the senator is simply incapable of nuanced thought. That being the case, I will try to make it simple. Providing assistance to the disadvantaged, including the poor, is a moral issue. Those who disagree that the poor should be helped may be described as immoral. Particular positions as to how to accomplish such aid -- such as raising the minimum wage -- are debatable as matters of policy. On matters of policy, equally moral -- or immoral -- people may disagree.

Yesterday, I referenced statistics from a George Will column suggesting that increases in the minimum wage result in modest increases in school dropout rates. That is a consideration in the debate. It is not a reason for suggesting that Jackson is immoral for wanting to encourage kids to drop out of school via his policy proposal.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bad Test, but It Scored Me Pretty Accurately

I took this test designed to calculate the extent of one's political conservatism or liberalism and scored 32 on a scale of 1-40, with 40 being the most conservative. The test was created in the early 1990's and is somewhat dated, and it has numerous other defects, as is pointed out by Eugene Volokh.

Democratic Drug Reform Insufficient

Robert Laszewski says that the Democrats' plan to reform the drug benefits available under Medicare Part D is nothing more than a "hollow...charade." He suggests that campaign promises have turned out not to cohere with reality:

The problem is that when they got back to Washington they couldn't figure out a way to make their pledge work! It became clear that there weren't the savings in drug negotiation they had hoped for--so forget eliminating the gap.

More, they found out that the way you get real savings from negotiation is that you tell the drug companies if they don't give the Part D plans a great price they will be excluded from being offered--they won't be on the formulary.

All last year Democrats were critical of the Republican Part D plan for limiting benefits in one way or another. Now Democrats find out that if you really want to cut costs you have to limit benefits to do it. Yikes!!!

Read the substance of the analysis here.

Hat Tip: Joe Paduda

Legislative Leadership Wars Abound

Legislative leadership battles are being waged in several states in addition to Tennessee, including Alabama, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas, though not all of those scrums are bipartisan in nature. For a quick synopsis and links, see Karl Kurtz here.

None of those states are considering putting in leadership anyone as inept as Tennessean John Wilder.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Myth Exposed

The Oracle had never thought much about the notion that Eskimos have a higher number of words for snow than those who dwell farther south, but on a superficial level, it seemed to make sense. However, it turns out to be untrue.

It's the Legislators, Not the Lobbyists

In discussing the proposal of House Democrats regarding ethics reform, this Wall Street Journal editorial gets it exactly right:

As for the bad, most of the rest of these "reforms" are about controlling the lobbyists, not the Members, which gets it exactly backward. Putting restrictions on the right of citizens to petition government is a strange way of handling ethically challenged politicians. If a Member can be bought with a free lunch or skybox ticket from a lobbyist, he shouldn't be in Congress anyway. And even as they're forgoing lunch, the Members will still be telling corporate lobbyists they'd better ante up that PAC money, or else.

The word "lobbyist" has become a red herring, but, in fact, there is nothing wrong with a lobbyist representing someone, or many people, who is trying to get his way on an issue that impacts him. It is not surprising that people will try to achieve what is in their interest. The real villains in the story, to the extent there are any, are legislators who make poor choices in what they legislate. The problem is not that citizens petition their government; the problem is that those who have been elected to make legislative choices sometimes choose wrongly and for the wrong reasons.

The Minimum Wage and Dropout Rates

In the process of making several well reasoned arguments in opposition to the minimum wage, George Will provides the following tidbit:

Raising the minimum wage predictably makes work more attractive relative to school for some teenagers and raises the dropout rate. Two scholars report that in states that allow people to leave school before 18, a 10 percent increase in the state minimum wage caused teenage school enrollment to drop 2 percent.

Republican U.S. Senate Blogger

The Hill reports that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has hired a blogger. Jon Henke of will serve as the "new media director" for all Republican members of the Senate.

The U.N. Not Worthy of Much Confidence

An editorial in this morning's The Tennessean argues that the importance of the United Nations demands that the new Secretary General restore its credibility, with United States' support. With their enthusiasm overwhelming their syntax, the editors argue, "There is no other organization with the capacity to bring positive change around the world than the United Nations. Its formation following World War II was a defining moment in modern times, and has done more to promote peace and end disease — through its affiliated agencies — than any other agency."

The paper goes on to say that the U.N. has enabled U.S. foreign aid "to be distributed fairly and effectively" and that the U.S. requires the U.N if we are to have "greater international legitimacy as a peacemaker...." They reach the apex of their argument with this:

Perhaps more importantly, the U.N. is necessary because it is not tied to any single nation. This function has also been bent or manipulated over the years by one superpower or another, but there will always be a need for an autonomous agent that can bring nations together in a forum for discussion toward a mission of peace or disaster relief.

In fact, the greatest weakness of the United Nations has been that it is not tied to any single nation or, more importantly, any significant set of shared values. The same western hubris in the early 20th century that imagined that lines could be drawn on maps to create nations irrespective of cultural, ethnic, and historical divides, also dreamed that consensus and progress could be built absent any unifying factors other than bureaucracy. Indicative of the power of this fantasy is the use by intelligent people with straight faces of the phrase "international community," an oxymoron used to delineate people who share neither geography nor values.

Many decisions of the United Nations result from compromises with totalitarian regimes with no respect for basic human freedoms. Arguably, it has accomplished little in terms of diplomacy, peacekeeping, or humanitarian aid, as its inefficient operations and slowness to act have impeded, not streamlined, needed processes. Little has been accomplished with the U.N. that would not also have happened without it.

Does that mean that the U.N. should be done away with? No, it retains some importance as a symbol of international cooperation, and symbolism, even absent substance, can sometimes be of value. However, not much hope should be invested in the organization.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Its Not Just Tennessee Republicans

If misery loves company, Tennessee Republicans should go get a drink with Pennsylvania Democrats. Republicans gained a majority in the state senate last year, but a Democrat was able to retain the Lt. Governor's seat. They may make the same mistake again this year.

Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives have done the same thing.

Don't Go Cynical on Character

For an outstanding post on "the tabloidesque nature of national politics," see Ed Morrissey here. It really merits reading by partisans of all stripes.

Like Morrissey, The Oracle will not vote for Barack Obama in 2008. However, The Oracle also does not care what Obama or any other Republican or Democrat did in their student years, and any blogger, pundit, or journalist who claims that such matters have relevance to a political race in 2008 is a waste of time.

What Is a Library?

Is it all right for a library to throw out novels by Hemingway and Hardy that nobody reads to make room for those by Grisham that will be checked out?

John Miller responds in this way:

Library officials explain, not unreasonably, that their shelf space is limited and that they want to satisfy the demands of the public. Every unpopular book that's removed from circulation, after all, creates room for a new page-turner by John Grisham, David Baldacci, or James Patterson--the authors of the three most checked-out books in Fairfax County last month.

But this raises a fundamental question: What are libraries for? Are they cultural storehouses that contain the best that has been thought and said? Or are they more like actual stores, responding to whatever fickle taste or Mitch Albom tearjerker is all the rage at this very moment?

Miller goes on to argue that libraries reduced to free bookstores lose their reason for being before offering an alternative that would allow libraries to remain relevant in the age of modern technology. Read it here.

Technology to Evil Use

Since November 14, Al Qaeda has been operating a 24 hour television station called Al-Zawraa broadcasting its message of hate across the Middle East and northern Africa:

Al-Zawraa's content is heavy with insurgent propaganda, including audio messages from Islamic Army of Iraq spokesman Dr. Ali al-Na'ami and footage of the group's operations. The station calls for violence against both Shia Iraqis and the Iraqi government. According to Marwan Soliman, the station's anchors appear in military fatigues to rail against the Iraqi government while news crawls urge viewers to support the Islamic Army of Iraq and "help liberate Iraq from the occupying U.S. and Iranian forces."

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Counting Noses; Counting Votes

For an interesting discussion of the political ramifications of the latest U.S. Census population estimates, see Michael Barone here.

No one dissects this type of information better than Barone.

Democratic Self-Preservation?

Bob Krumm has a take on Joe Haynes' looming challenge of John Wilder for the Lt. Governor's post that had not occurred to me, but it would seem dead on.

Regardless, it seems unconscionable for members of either party to continue to place Wilder one heartbeat away from the governor's mansion.

Speedy Justice

SaysUncle points out that Iraq's execution of its former dictator proves that they are a long way from understanding democracy:

"Don’t you know that after conviction, there has to be at least two full decades of appeals."


A Different Take on 2006

Dave Barry has his own unique take on 2006:

Decades from now, our grandchildren will come to us and say, "Tell us, Grandpa (or Grandma as the case may be), what it was like to be alive in the year that Angelina Jolie, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Britney Spears and Katie whatshername all had babies, although not necessarily in those combinations." And we will smile wisely and emit a streamer of drool, because we will be very old and unable to hear them. And that will be a good thing, because there are many things about 2006 that we will not want to remember.

This was the year in which the members of the United States Congress, who do not bother to read the actual bills they pass, spent weeks poring over instant messages sent by a pervert. This was the year in which the vice president of the United States shot a lawyer, which turned out to be totally legal in Texas.

For the rest of the discussion of events, real and imagined, that occurred throughout the year, see here.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

Will Manning Ever Win It All?

Allen Barra asks if Payton Manning might one day end his career as the best quarterback never to win the Super Bowl. Manning's statistics place him among the sport's best at that position, but he has never managed to reach the Super Bowl.

While Barra argues that the failure may have more to do with the Colts' defense than with anything Manning has done, he also points out that Manning's window of opportunity may be closing if he doesn't win this year. The salary cap and aging stars (Marvin Harrison is 34, which is old for a wide receiver), as well as the age of Manning (31, which probably puts him now at his peak), may conspire to limit future opportunities.

Monday, January 01, 2007

2006: New Detour or New Destination?

Only time will tell whether the events of 2006 portend a new national direction in U.S. politics or a temporary detour. Broadly speaking, there have been three distinct eras in presidential politics since the Civil War: the Republican Party dominated in the years 1860 – 1932; the Democrats held sway from 1932 through 1968; and Republicans have had most control in the years since.

While 2006 was not a presidential election year, the off year elections had significant implications for the next election in 2008. Voters, angry over the Iraq War and a political culture perceived as out of control, repudiated Republican leadership. Congressional Republicans, who returned those responsible for the current morass to congressional Republican leadership positions, seemed not to have noticed. Trent Lott complained that people concerned about earmarks are “troublemakers.” The alleged party of limited government made him Senate minority whip. Perhaps they like minority status? In the meantime, Democrats expressed glee to have won on the issue of the war – an issue on which they lack a coherent position.

Those who thought that Republicans and Democrats could agree on nothing were disappointed: Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi expressed bipartisan shock that members of Congress were subject to normal law enforcement after the FBI searched the office of a Democratic member with thousands of dollars of cold, hard cash stuffed into his freezer.

In fact, political corruption was much in the news. It should be difficult for a person to seek to dress as an orthodox Jew and be confused as looking like a Mafioso, but Jack Abramoff pulled it off. House Majority Leader Tom Delay resigned his position and seat in Congress in the wake of the Abramoff scandal. Ohio Congressman Robert Ney pleaded guilty to related charges and resigned. In Tennessee, the General Assembly responded to the arrest of several legislators by passing complicated laws targeting lobbyists. Republicans ignored information that the congressman responsible for leading the House internship program was sending inappropriate e-mails to interns. Democratic staffers stole the identity of Maryland Republican senate candidate Michael Steele. Nancy Pelosi attempted to put a man previously impeached for accepting a bribe in charge of the House Intelligence Committee. Meanwhile, both parties looked for ways to “use” the ethics issue.

Major League Baseball courageously announced a steroids investigation that would only cover the period of time since 2002. The home run era of Bonds, McGuire, and Sosa would be ignored. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series because Detroit pitchers could not throw the baseball properly after fielding it. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. Fans argued the appropriate draft order of quarterbacks named Cutler, Leinart, and Young. One expects that this argument may continue for much of the next decade. Super pitchman Payton Manning suggested that fans might want alternatives to watching the Colts blow out the Titans. The Titans proceeded in December to beat the Colts.

In legal news, Sam Alito was confirmed as a justice on the Supreme Court of the United States. The 9th U.S. Circuit, with a reputation for being overturned unanimously, did nothing to undermine that reputation. A California attorney sued the dating website for refusing to allow him to post an ad. He is married.

Congress argued about immigration, but accomplished nothing. Social security moved one year closer to insolvency. When gas prices flew past $3.00 per gallon, the public demanded that the government do something. The government did nothing and gas prices fell back to previous levels.

In science, Pluto ceased to be a planet. Al Gore inconveniently made a movie arguing that hurricane Katrina proved that concerns about global warming are serious – in a year that saw no major hurricanes hit the United States. Undeterred, Gore’s allies explained that the lack of hurricanes had to do with global warming.

The Pope criticized Islam for spreading violence in propagating its religion. Muslims rioted in several cities, killing a Catholic nurse and vandalizing numerous churches. The New York Times called on the Pope to apologize. Senator Harry Reid did a good Spiro Agnew imitation in threatening the licensure of television stations showing a docudrama on the lead up to 9/11. Representative Lincoln Davis, either seriously or not, took to the House floor to urge the banning of divorce and adultery.

New York, having mastered all of its serious problems, banned trans fats in restaurants. The 25th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS in the U.S. passed. HIV continued to devastate sub-Sahara Africa, though most of the world seems not to have noticed.

In education, Hamilton College refused to accept a gift establishing a center for the study of the thought of Hamilton. A report on state world history standards gave D’s or F’s to 33 U.S. states.

Milton Friedman, to the last half century what Keynes was to economics for most of the 50 years before, passed away, as did Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the first woman to serve as the United States’ ambassador to the U.N. Gerald Ford ceased to be the country’s oldest ex-President.

Saddam Hussein, having murdered millions, met his maker. One suspects it did not go well.

A wide array of Republicans and Democrats visited Iowa and New Hampshire. In 2008 we will begin to learn if 2006 was a new direction or a detour.