Thursday, May 31, 2007

Making the Argument for Conservatism, Generally

Stepping away, at least for the most part, from individual issues, George Will discusses "the case for conservatism."

I would call the column a must read.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Perspective on the Federal Budget Deficit

Friend and fellow blogger John Hutchenson, relying on an article that appeared yesterday in USA Today, gives President Bush a "thumbs down" based on the President's management of the federal budget. Using accounting methods that include incurred future liabilities, USA Today says that the federal deficit exceeded $1 trillion last year.

The President, and the previously Republican Congress, deserve criticism for their fiscal mismanagement; however, Mr. Hutchenson then errs, or at least goes too far, in contrasting the Bush record with that of President Bill Clinton.

Of course, as Mr. Hutchenson says, the federal government ran a surplus during the Clinton years, and while Mr. Hutchenson and I may disagree as to the extent to which the President or the congressional leadership of that era deserve the credit for that, it must be agreed that Mr. Clinton merits praise for those surpluses that were achieved during his years. However, it must be added that the Clinton surpluses, like those of the Bush administration, relied on excess Social Security funds, and that reliance accounts for much of the accounting "gimmickry" that Mr. Hutchenson deplores. The accounting methods used during the Clinton years were like those used in the current administation in that they did not take into account incurred future liabilities. In fact, no administration will do that, because the liabilities created under current Social Security and Medicare programs could not be sustained under any accounting that would require that current receipts be set aside in order to fund promises currently made.

While the Bush administration deserves criticism for its lack of fiscal discipline, discretionary spending does not account for the type of deficit that USA Today discusses. Those problems are structural and systemic. They desperately require attention, but one doubts that any administration will really attempt to tackle them.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Money Trail Is Sometimes a Rabbit Trail

With all of the demagoguery that is prevalent on the subject of money and politics, Karl Kurtz's informed discussion of the issue should be required reading. Mr. Kurtz is responding to a blog post by New York Times columnist David Pogue.

In response to Mr. Pogue's -- and countless others' -- assumption that a correlation between political contributions and voting records proves causality, Mr. Kurtz writes the following:

One specific example that Pogue brings up is California Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, whom he chastizes for receiving substantial contributions from labor unions and voting with them 94 percent of the time. Neither the web site that produces this information nor Pogue notes that Speaker Nunez was a labor union official before he was elected to the legislature. That was his background and experience in life. The voters in his district knew that and elected him to office, as did the members of the Assembly who selected him to be speaker. Even if there were no money in politics, we would expect someone with this background and experience to vote with labor. (I'm wondering more about the six percent of the time that he voted against the unions!)

Read the rest here.

Texas Legislative Hold 'Em

As the Texas legislature attempted to wind down this year's session, an attempt to oust House speaker Tom Craddick resulted in a walkout early this morning that left the body unable to complete action on some outstanding bills due to the lack of a quorum. Craddick, a Republican who is facing bipartisan opposition partly because of his allegedly heavy handed tactics, refused to recognize members wanting to bring the speakership to a vote. About 40 members opposed to Craddick subsequently left the House.

An acquaintance in attendance at Sunday's session told The Oracle that he saw two angry exchanges between members nearly erupt into fistfights.

Summer Movie Recommendation

If one were limited to only seeing one action adventure sequel this summer, I would recommend seeing Spider Man 3 and skipping Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Both movies include strong action sequences and outstanding special effects. However, Pirates is interminably long. There is simply not enough plot to sustain the movie for nearly 3 hours. To its credit, Pirates 3 is better than Pirates 2, but it does not come close to matching the first in the series.

Spiderman 3 is not without defects, but the plot moves along, and it is psychologically more interesting.

Original or Shallow?

Asked by The Hill to name an author she frequently references, congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) gave this curious and pretentious response: "I don’t. I’m an original thinker."

First, anyone who feels the need to pronounce himself or herself an "original thinker" is likely to possess more sizzle than substance. Second, the notion that original thoughts proceed out of empty heads is simply false. And the idea that original thinkers don't interact with or build on and reference and discuss the ideas of other trailblazers is erroneous, as well.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Entitlement Syndrome

The expansion of the state often has unintended adverse consequences. And the power of the expanded state is often used by special interests as a means for eliminating competition. For a discussion of both, as seen by regulation of the taxi cab business by various localities, see George Will here.

The Pot Speaking of the Kettle

Last week, The Tennessean columnist Larry Daughtrey mailed in a column in which he accused prospective Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson of laziness. This week, his rant refers repeatedly to "clueless Republicans."

The Oracle will freely acknowledge the superior expertise of Mr. Daughtrey in the areas of laziness and cluelessness. We are told that Mr. Daughtrey's years spent covering Tennessee politics have enabled him to develop numerous insider contacts, but he rarely writes anything that requires, or even reflects, their contributions. If he has the ability to understand the real public policy questions behind legislative debates, his writing doesn't show it.

Today's column on pork spending concerns in this year's legislative session contains this golden nugget:

Spoilsports will claim that the money really is an incumbent re-election fund. That's OK with me.

I will leave it to others to decide if that statement reflects cluelessness or laziness -- or both.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Burgeoning Gas Prices Affecting Lifestyles?

Has the recent surge in fuel prices caused Americans to change their driving habits? Numerous reports are saying that they are not, but they have impacted The Oracle's decision making. In anticipation of my upcoming move to Dallas, I leased an apartment only 2 miles from my new office.

I currently drive nearly 20 miles to my work place in metropolitan Nashville. While fuel cost was not the only consideration -- I also liked the idea of cutting my commute time -- it certainly was a factor in the decision.

Also, I guess my personal commitment to conserving resources will save me the necessity of considering purchasing carbon offsets.

Banality and Blame

In April, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock was tragically killed in a late night automobile accident for which he was at fault. Subsequent tests revealed Mr. Hancock's blood alcohol level to be about twice the legal limit in Missouri. This event has led to a pair of quintessential American responses.

1. The irrelevant public relations response. The St. Louis Cardinals banned drinking in their clubhouse. Never mind that Mr. Hancock had not been drinking at the clubhouse -- he had just left a bar when he had the accident. Never mind that the Cardinals play their home games in a venue named "Busch Stadium." Never mind that all manner of vendors spend more than 3 hours aggressively hawking $8 beers to the 40,000 people in attendance at any game. The 25 players on the Cardinal team will not have access to a cold one after the game is over. Can anyone think of any substantive reason for this response?

2. The denial of personal responsibility litigation response. The father of Mr. Hancock has filed a lawsuit in the case against the owner of the establishment that served the alcohol. At the time of the accident, Mr. Hancock was intoxicated, speeding, talking on his cell phone, and not wearing a seat belt. For good measure, police also found marijuana in his vehicle. However, it is necessary to force the restaurant owner to take responsibility for Mr. Hancock's death?

Always conscious of the need for civility, The Oracle does not wish these remarks to be interpreted as criticism of the deceased or of the grieving. The particular sets of facts merely strike him as pointing to certain unfortunate maladies characterizing modern American culture.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Preparing for the Move

The Oracle flew down to what will soon be his new locale to look for a place to live. His priorities being what they are, he also went to see a baseball game. Sammy Sosa hit his 598th career home run in a losing cause. Beyond that, the Rangers mostly hit air. Twins' pitcher Johann Santana struck out 13 while pitching 7 innings.

The Parks at Arlington is a beautiful baseball stadium. In spite of my preference for the National League, I suspect that I will spend a great deal of time there. I may even get season tickets....

One additional good thing has emerged related to this move. By going to Dallas, I will still be able to see hockey.

However, Nashville will be missed.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Not that She Cares What I Think, but....

Wouldn't Kellie Pickler have been better off if she had spent some money enhancing her brain instead?

Perhaps I am in the minority, but The Oracle has never found fake breasts that look like basketballs hanging out of a dress to be particularly alluring. And women -- even good looking ones -- who either are or who pretend to be dumb annoy me.

Women who are both attractive and smart are interesting to me. Of course, they aren't the least bit interested in me -- evidence that they are smart!

I never talk about entertainment news and apologize for the diversion. The upcoming move to the Big D has created a need for a brain enhancement of my own. Will silicone work for that?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Taxing and Spending

State tax receipts ebb and flow along with the general economy. Those governing smartly realize this and exercise spending restraint during the good times so that a fiscal crisis doesn't arise when the economy takes a downturn.

That is the way smart governance is done. On the other hand, in Tennessee legislators divide excess monies into individual slush funds that they can use for whatever local project they deem worthy.

And, they make sure that it is all adopted in a mammoth bill in which no one's name is tied to any individual project. No transparency here. Cockroaches thrive better in the dark.

Inevitably, in a year or two the economy will slow, tax receipts will grow by less, and some enterprising legislator will insist that the state's tax system is not flexible enough to meet our needs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Those who write tasteless comments about the recently deceased would seem to fail to recognize that they are revealing far more about their own character than about the subject of whom they write.

May an ax strike a blow across my hands before I would type about a fallen political or philosophical opponent in such a way.

"Looking Red, Voting Blue"

For a discussion of an interesting analysis of the 2006 elections, see Matthew Continetti here.

The study suggests that voters who typically go Republican voted for the Democrats out of dissatisfaction with the conduct of the war, the President, and corrupt congressional leadership. It would tend to repudiate the notion that the country is lurching to the left.

On Grams and Damns

I have had several conversations recently that coalesce around a common theme:
  • A health care provider tells me that would be patients call or walk into her office on a daily basis complaining of chronic pain and asking for various opiates by name. She never complies with these requests. One can only suspect that those who do comply gain a reputation that brings them even more visitors.
  • A kindergarten teacher says that a third of the students in her current class are taking medication for attention deficit disorder.
  • A friend who is dealing with several stressful issues at once says that family members suggested she take an anti-depressant. The friend admits to being tired and irritable lately, but has no history of mental illness.

The first of those items concerns pain medication and probably results from addiction. In many instances, patients who are prescribed opiates by physicians for chronic pain for extended periods of time end up being addicted to those narcotics. All too often their lives end up in ruin. The other two items relate to the use of psychotropic drugs designed to alter moods and behavior. While both pain medications and psychotropic ones can have valid uses, their ever growing usage indicates an increased tendency to medicalize normal life experience.

That is not a good thing. For some, especially as we age, chronic pain is a normal experience that can be mitigated, but not removed. Children are expected to be energetic. It is the job of adults to decide what level of rambunctiousness is appropriate and to set boundaries around it. Stress and depression sometimes are nature's (or God's, depending on your philosophical viewpoint) way of telling us that we are taking too much on or going about life the wrong way. One may not ever get better if they try to address psychological/spiritual needs physically. Medicine that merely masks will not cure.

It is sadly ironic that many who consider a swat on the rear to be a form of child abuse have no problem with drugging children into submission. If Ritalin helps your child, please don't assume that I am talking about you. I can not diagnose the individual, but I am concerned when I hear that 30% of a group of children are taking these medicines.

Again, none of this is to say that these medications don't have appropriate uses. They do, and, in any event, I am not a physician and am not qualified to render medical opinions on individual patients. The only argument here is that widespread usage indicates that in at least some cases these medicines are being overly prescribed. That a seeming majority of those taking such medications are doing so for extended periods of time with little or no psychological or spiritual counselling is disturbing.

In his chilling novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes the universal usage, in civilization, of a psychotropic drug called soma, which is designed to help people mask the banality of their pleasure filled, but ultimately meaningless, lives. Years of brainwashing conditioned these people to accept the use of this drug. "A gram is better than a damn," they were taught to say.

"A gram is better than a damn." It took years of brainwashing to convince the inhabitants of the brave new world to believe that. Many of those in our society seem to have become convinced far more easily.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Debase the Base

David Frum has an interesting column today that begins with this compelling anecdote:

Walking on a beach shortly after leaving the White House, former Bush aide Karen Hughes looked up and spotted a little plane towing an advertising banner. The banner said, approximately: “Jill, please come back. I am nothing without you. Jack.” She thought: “Wrong message. It’s too much about you, not enough about her.”

A shrewd observation, and one that sums up pretty much everything that is going wrong with the 2008 Republican presidential candidates. Republicans are talking about what excites them. But what about the rest of the country?

Frum proceeds to show how this advice might be utilized by the current major Republican candidates.

Over the last decade, pundits have repeatedly declared how important it is that political candidates "excite the base." Such myopia can, at best, only succeed in garnering a larger slice of an ever-diminishing pie. What is actually needed -- even during the primary season -- is a candidate who can broaden the base. This can be done by effectively communicating core political principles in a way that has a wider appeal.

The myopic -- mostly political consultants and those who have spent too much time drinking their kool-aid -- will inevitably reply that the candidate must "excite the base" in order to win the primary or to excite enthusiasm for raising money and contributing time. What they fail to comprehend is that a candidate of sound principles who excites a broad audience will excite those who are prone to agree with him, as well.

If I were a political consultant -- and I am not: I am much too principled for that -- I would tell my candidate to forget the base. Put out a message built on conservative principles designed to excite the interest of the broader public. If the candidate does that successfully, the so-called base will get on board.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mediocrity Empathizing with the Mediocre

The editorial page of The Tennessean opines in favor of lowering the GPA requirements for college students to retain their lottery scholarships. Given the quality of the writing, that position does not come as a surprise.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Music City's No More

The Oracle, who has lived in Tennessee for the last 11 years, is following in the footsteps of many famous Tennesseans from days gone by and moving to the Lone Star State. My particular future locale is noted for stars, both on the sides of helmets on the gridiron and on the ice.

I am sure that I will resume blogging once life settles down, but am unsure how I will transition it given the geographical reference in the name of this blog.

I like Nashville and wish I were staying. However, sometimes life provides an offer that is too good to refuse. Happily, this is one of those times.

I have been reminded this week, however, that good-byes are no fun.

Update. Thanks, everyone, for your kind remarks and your suggestions on Texas blogging. Since I wrote this post, I have clarified the logistics of my move with my new employer. I am starting with my new company in the middle of May, but will be working from home in Tennessee until the first of July. As such, over the next month and a half I may occasionally post on Tennessee issues as time permits.