Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Corn Fed Politics

In a statement that provides at least some hope that Congress might regain its sanity on at least one aspect of energy policy, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin admitted that ethanol mandates have contributed to drastic increases in food prices, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Sen. Durbin emphasizes that this admission, which runs counter to the continued claims of the ethanol deniers but is recognized by everyone else, does not mean that he is for changing the ethanol program.

That is not encouraging, but the first step toward reform is admitting that one has a problem. At least Sen. Durbin has gone that far.

Confronting Child Abuse

While the work of Texas Child Protective Services has garnered a lot of attention for its role in placing and providing for ongoing care for the 463 children from the case of the polygamous community in west Texas, Jacquielynn Floyd points out that this situation is far from typical for case workers who deal with abuse and neglect that most of us never confront first hand. She writes:

Most child-welfare cases aren't exotic or newsworthy or topics for talking-head civil-liberties debates.

They're just grueling and sad, just further evidence that a child doesn't have to be locked up behind the walls of an isolated compound to be imprisoned or tortured.

The article -- which includes disturbing statistics and recent examples of child abuse in the state --provides an important reminder of the injustices perpetrated on children. Typically, CPS only gets attention on those rare occasions when there is a child that should have been removed from a home but wasn't, or when a child was removed obviously incorrectly. Ms. Floyd is surely correct that day in and day out these caseworkers do jobs that most of us would be incapable of handling.

Monday, April 28, 2008


On a personal note, The Oracle flew to southern California this morning for a job interview. While they both wish him well, neither The Oracle's girlfriend nor his mother is terribly pleased with this development.

The Oracle has not yet bought a surf board, so the matter remains undecided.

A Pastor Scorned?

Having implored God to send America to hell, Jeremiah Wright seems to be looking for a hand basket in which to transport the Obama campaign.

Hat Tip: Althouse, who has a video of Rev. Wright's Q&A before the National Press Club.

Enviro-quote of the Day

"If it had been a different audience, you might say he threw them some red meat. But given the venue, let's just say Schwarzenegger was dishing prime tofu."

Michael Goldfarb, describing a speech by the California governor before a group of "overachieving tree-huggers."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rules Are for Little People

In trying to lure Barack Obama into what would be their 22nd debate of the campaign, Hillary Clinton offered the following: "Just the two of us going for 90 minutes asking and answering questions. We'll set whatever rules seem fair."

Given Sen. Clinton's propensity for trying to change the rules after the fact (think Michigan and Florida), Sen. Obama would be wise to beware.

Did Someone Go to Journalism School for This?

The Associated Press actually published an article critiquing the fashion sense of polygamous women.

The Dallas Morning News, making an editorial judgement as to how to best use its recently narrowed pages, added some pictures and managed to take up nearly half of a page with this story.

Economics 101

Traditionally, Republicans have been expected to know more than Democrats about the basics of economics, so it is disconcerting to see the Republican President prove, again, that he does not. Referring to the upcoming issuance of tax rebate checks, the President said, ""The money is going to help Americans offset the high prices we're seeing at the gas pump, the grocery store, and also give our economy a boost to help us pull out of this economic slowdown."

While it can be argued (though I am not convinced) that the tax rebate checks will stimulate the economy by giving consumers money to spend, no one who understands a supply and demand curve can claim that they can really "help Americans offset the high prices." Consumers spending more creates more demand, which in turn puts more upward pressure on prices. Activity that potentially raises already high prices even higher can hardly be said to be helpful.

While Democrats have frequently tried to make political hay by accsusing the President of sounding less than intelligent, in this instance the economic illiteracy is bipartisan. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi claimed that consumers "need this rebate to cope with the rising cost of gas and groceries."

The Euphemisms Should Not Stand

There will no doubt continue to be attempts to move the rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright into the mainstream. As an example, a news report this morning on radio station KRLD on the planned visit of the former pastor to a church in Dallas today explained that he had become controversial due to his "opposition to U.S. policies following 9/11."

Of course, this is nonsense. He became conroversial due to his vehement, repeated, and loud insistence that God should send America to eternal damnation in hell, his relating the United States as a whole to the Ku Klux Klan, and other hate filled remarks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Break with Bush

Peggy Noonan describes -- I think correctly -- the American disillusionment with President George W. Bush:

In Lubbock, Texas – Lubbock Comma Texas, the heart of Texas conservatism – they dislike President Bush. He has lost them. I was there and saw it. Confusion has been followed by frustration has turned into resentment, and this is huge. Everyone knows the president's poll numbers are at historic lows, but if he is over in Lubbock, there is no place in this country that likes him. I made a speech and moved around and I was tough on him and no one – not one – defended or disagreed. I did the same in North Carolina recently, and again no defenders. I did the same in Fresno, Calif., and no defenders, not one.

He has left on-the-ground conservatives – the local right-winger, the town intellectual reading Burke and Kirk, the old Reagan committeewoman – feeling undefended, unrepresented and alone.

There will eventually be a renaissance, but clearly right now there is an opportunity for the Democratic Party. The question is whether they will be able to access it, or whether they will lurch so far left to make the Republicans palatable (or the lesser of two evils) to the majority of Americans again.

Where Was the Effort?

Former Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson said that he would not accept a spot as John McCain's running mate, explaining, "The presidency is the only job in town that's worth going through what you got to go through to get it...."

Many of us wish that Mr. Thompson had acted as though it was "worth going through" at the time that he might have had the chance.

For the record, The Oracle cast his vote for Mr. Thompson in the Texas primary, in spite of the fact that he had dropped out.

Good Thing Dan Rather Wasn't on This One

The latest forged document story to originate in Texas occurred in a Tarrant County courthouse, where an attorney who had been shown what was purported to be an e-mail from State District Court Judge Elizabeth Berry containing a racial epithet asked that judge recuse herself in a case. That recusal motion was withdrawn by the attorney yesterday after evidence presented at a hearing clearly showed that the document was a fake.

Modern technology makes this sort of thing very easy to do, and responsible people should be cautious about believing everything they see. One can only hope that the perpetrator of the hoax, who would seem to have intentionally set out to libel Judge Berry, will be found and punished severely.

Perverse Incentives

It has been said that students are the only consumers that often want to get as little as possible for their money. Unfortunately, some educators are willing to give it to them.

As an example, the Grand Prairie Independent School District is requesting permission to give eight days off from school to those middle and high school students who pass the TAKS test. Some other school systems have already incorporated similar incentives, as is permitted under state law.

While the system maintains that this is necessary for them to be able to help failing students to pass, the unintended message of this proposal is clear: if a student is bright enough, we promise to teach him less.

Meanwhile, another educator quoted in the article, Dr. Larry McHaney, associate superintendent of the Duncanville ISD, has it exactly right:

"There is a philosophical problem when we say that passing TAKS is the minimum standard and yet we deprive students who have met that minimum standard from extending their learning by cutting their school year short by up to 10 days," said Dr. Larry McHaney, an associate superintendent in Duncanville. "Our goal is for all students to reach their maximum potential, not just meet the minimum standard."

Speaking of the Demise of the English Language....

An article in this morning's Dallas Morning News included use by the reporter of the word "teensy."

That would be bad enough even in the entertainment section or a gossip or advice column. This word was actually found in the business section -- in an report on per capita income in various Texas counties.

The offending sentence: "That may be a statistical curiosity, given the county's teensy population...."

That is horrible.

Democrats Need to Get It Right on Colombia

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff has an important column warning Democrats that knee jerk and isolationist opposition to President Bush with regard to the pending free trade agreement with Colombia endangers important American interests:

For seven years, Democrats have rightfully complained that President Bush has gratuitously antagonized the world, exasperating our allies and eroding America's standing and influence.

But now the Democrats are doing the same thing on trade. In Latin America, it is Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton who are seen as the go-it-alone cowboys, by opposing the United States' free-trade agreement with Colombia.

The End of Civilization

Just as I was becoming depressed over reading that 2/3 of teenagers say that they have used things like emoticons in school papers, I became more so reading that the emeritus executive director of the National Writing Project considers it simply a matter of the language evolving.

Devolving, perhaps.

Reading this gave me a nightmare of a student trying to quote from Shakespeare while writing a paper on Julius Caesar:

But Caesar was ambitious --
And these are honorable men. :p

I think I need a Valium.

In addition to holding the above mentioned title of emeritus executive director, Richard Sterling is a professor at Cal Berkeley. However, he claims that when asked by his son for one, he could come up with no good reason for using capital letters to begin sentences.

Try clarity for the reader.

Rev. Wright in Denial

Extremists rarely recognize themselves as such, and so is the case of former Barack Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright, who told interviewer Bill Moyers that those who had quoted his remarks were "devious" and "unsettling."

For those who may have forgotten, those remarks featured Rev. Wright repeatedly and loudly commanding God to condemn America to an eternity in hell.

If that is not what Rev. Wright meant to say, then he should apologize for his careless use of language, which to the untrained ear sounds an awful lot like what is nowadays called "hate speech," instead of condemning his critics for taking his words seriously.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Do Business at Your Own Risk

While tort reform efforts have helped improve the legal climate for businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce still only ranks the state 41st nationally, according to a report in the San Antonio Business Journal.

Delaware ranks first for its legal climate for businesses; West Virginia is last.

"Funny and Infuriating"

Joe Carter, while giving a generally, though not entirely, positive review of Ben Stein's documentary "Expelled," argues that the movie is not really about Darwinism or Intelligent Design as much as it is about academic freedom:

Ben Stein's new documentary Expelled is a Rorschach test for revealing people's true feelings about intellectual freedom. Not surprising, many people--especially academic and media elites--loathe the film. While these groups often claim to value freedom of expression and thinking that challenges the status quo, they are often rigidly doctrinaire.

Edwards Backers Overwhelmingly Support Obama

While former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has not yet signalled if he will endorse either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton for the party's nomination, his former supporters are speaking clearly regarding their preference, The Hill reports.

1,093 former supporters of Mr. Edwards who had given at least $200 to his campaign have given such an amount to Sen. Obama since Mr. Edwards dropped out; only 393 such donors have contributed to Sen. Clinton. Sen. Obama's take from those supporters has been nearly $1 million, compared to only $427,000 for Sen. Clinton.

Will Africa Save United Methodism?

That is the question asked by Mark Tooley. As American Methodism has lurched far to the left and lost more than a quarter of its membership in the last 44 years, delegates from Africa have come to comprise an increasing percentage of those attending the General Conference, and they are pushing the denomination in a more conservative direction. Now that nearly a third of delegates are coming from overseas, the direction of this mainstream denomination, at least in the long term, can be expected to change considerably.

Mr. Tooley's column focuses primarily on how this will impact General Convention actions on matters of social and political concern. The Oracle is more interested in the implications for theological renewal. Can the majority of American Methodism rediscover the historic faith of Wesley?

You Can't Eat What You Put in the Gas Tank

In the face of severe increases in food prices both domestically and internationally, the editors of National Review rightly call upon the federal government to reverse laws diverting the nation's food supply into an energy source:

The federal government can do something right now to provide relief to Americans facing higher food prices: Repeal the ethanol mandate. The diversion of one-third of the American corn crop into ethanol production is a direct result of the 2005 law that required gasoline makers to buy 7.5 billion gallons of ethanol — a mandate that the 2007 energy bill President Bush signed in December increases to 36 billion gallons by 2022.

This is surely right. Whatever the correct responses of the nation should be regarding greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on foreign oil, they do not include turning farmland into a fuel resource. Proponents of that course meant well, but it is time to admit they are risking great harm.

Reforming the Wrong Things

George Will convincingly writes that increased federal spending on education and the creation of an endless array of new education programs fail to provide any meaningful results because they do not address the real social pathologies that exist outside the walls of the schools. Mr. Will writes:

In 1964, SAT scores among college-bound students peaked. In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) codified confidence in the correlation between financial inputs and cognitive outputs in education. But in 1966, the Coleman report, the result of the largest social science project in history, reached a conclusion so "seismic" -- Moynihan's description -- that the government almost refused to publish it.

Released quietly on the Fourth of July weekend, the report concluded that the qualities of the families from which children come to school matter much more than money as predictors of schools' effectiveness. The crucial common denominator of problems of race and class -- fractured families -- would have to be faced.

But it wasn't. Instead, shopworn panaceas -- larger teacher salaries, smaller class sizes -- were pursued as colleges were reduced to offering remediation to freshmen.

There's much more here worth reading. Find it here.

Pacman Jones Finds His Nirvana

A day after an article in the Dallas Morning News noted that except for Houston, "there are more strippers and adult entertainers in Dallas than in any city east of Las Vegas," the paper reports that the Dallas Cowboys have agreed to a deal with the Tennessee Titans to trade for Adam "Pacman" Jones in exchange for a 4th round pick in this year's NFL draft. If Mr. Jones manages to avoid off the field troubles, the Titans will reportedly receive a 6th round pick next year.

The Oracle is betting that 1) Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who had developed an obsessive interest in trading for his precious, Pacman, will eventually find him uncontrollable, both on and off the field, and regret making this deal; and 2) the Titans will not receive that 2009 pick.

Thursday's Random Employment Advice

When the head of your company starts talking about all of their employees being like family, it might be a good idea to ask whether he means the Partridge family or the Corleone's.

That horse's head thing still has me shaken up....

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Speaking of Legitimate State Functions

Having accomplished all of the important stuff, the Oklahoma legislature passed a resolution calling for the adoption of a state rock song. For the process by which the public will go about the process of selecting their song, see here.

While they could do something predictable like Three Dog Night's "Never Been to Spain" ("Well, I've never been to heaven, but I've been to Oklahoma"), I would recommend a Beatles' song that could be appropriate as the official rock song of any state government -- "The Taxman."

Let me tell you how it will be
There's one for you, nineteen for me
'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman

Who Is Abdicating?

Texas governor Rick Perry argues vigorously in favor of building private toll roads in the state, claiming that any refusal by the legislature to go along with his proposal amounts to an "abdication of responsibility." The governor contends that this is the only way for the state to grow its infrastructure and keep up with its burgeoning population growth.

The collection of tolls from drivers is essentially a users' fee, and, as such, is a defensible policy solution. However, they are also a form of hidden tax -- less visible than, say, an increase in the gasoline tax -- and their expanded use can also result from a lack of political courage. To his credit, the governor has criticized the legislature for using gasoline tax funds for projects that have nothing to do with road building and maintenance.

The development and maintenance of an adequate system of roads and highways is a legitimate function of state government. In fact, it is essential to the continued economic growth of the state. Faced with a scarcity of funds for necessary functions, a state typically needs to take one of two routes: 1) determine priorities and defund less important projects so that the most important needs can be met; or 2) if the nature of the priorities require it, raise additional revenue through higher taxes.

Most of the time, the solution should be found in the first of those choices. Some conservatives will always argue against the second of those solutions, and, while that knee-jerk reaction may be wrong, it is understandable why they should do so. Conservatives have rightly noted and decried the ever expanding scope of government and have rebelled against those who would forever eschew hard choices in favor of simply accessing additional revenue streams at taxpayer expense. Politicians sometimes complain that it is difficult to make an argument for a tax increase, but it ought to be a difficult argument to make. Those who would ask for more have an obligation to justify it.

Of course, nowadays most politicians don't want to make hard choices either on restraining spending or raising taxes. Rather than face those choices, they search for less visible ways of expanding revenues -- through gambling schemes or toll roads, as two examples. Frequently, these are not real solutions: they merely delay inevitable choices that will have to be made when the desire to spend once again outpaces revenues.

That being said, when politicians refuse to make a case simply because it is a difficult and unpopular one, they abdicate the responsibility of leadership. Is that is what is happening with Texas toll roads? I don't know. The Senate Transportation Committee is holding hearings today. Perhaps we will know more tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

There Might Be Less Drinking Involved

Thomas Sowell questions what might happen if college students had to pay more of their own way:

How many people would go to college if they had to pay the real cost of all the resources taken from other parts of the economy? Probably a lot fewer people. Moreover, when paying their own money, there would probably not be nearly as many people parting with hard cash to study feel-good subjects with rap sessions instead of serious study. There would probably be fewer people lingering on campus for the social scene or as a refuge from adult responsibilities in the real world.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

Bayh for VP?

U.S. Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN), a declared supporter of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic presidential nomination contest, has a significant interest in the outcome of the Pennsylvania primary being held today, according to The Hill. A substantial Clinton victory in the Keystone State would heighten the importance of the Indiana primary still upcoming, and Sen. Bayh has been rumored to be a potential VP candidate for the former First Lady.

That may be, but one should not dismiss Sen. Bayh's potential place on the ticket just because it appears that Barack Obama will win the nomination. That he has supported Sen. Clinton will become irrelevant as Sen. Obama evaluates who would add the most to his hopes for winning. In contrast to the more liberal Obama, Sen. Bayh is a moderate Democrat who has been able to win statewide election as governor and as U.S. Senator in a traditionally Republican state. He also has executive department and foreign policy experience, which Sen. Obama lack. While Sen. Bayh has been accused of being charisma-challenged, that might not be such a detriment on a ticket on which Sen. Obama will clearly be the rock star. That both candidates would appear young and vigorous creates a sharp contrast with the aging John McCain.

The Oracle has no inside sources on this one, but it would not be surprising if Sen. Bayh emerges as a finalist in Barack Obama's search.

Gullible's Travels

The worst former President in American history seems to believe that he has accomplished something by eliciting a promise from Hamas to support a peace proposal with Israel if such a plan is agreed to by the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the terrorist organization refused a request by Mr. Carter to agree to a one month cease fire. They also have not backed away from a pledge to destroy Israel.

Nothing Left to Cover?

Many people have complained that the first presidential campaign in a generation with the potential to go undecided to the national convention has been "too long." Perhaps they mean that the length of the campaign has challenged the competence of mainstream media to find anything meaningful to cover.

As the latest exhibit, one might review this story. What exactly is the point? Was it actually newsworthy that former President Clinton actually used a vulgarity? While talking with a reporter?


Another Twist on Obama's "Bitter" Comments

There have been many reactions to the recently published private remarks by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama that people in small towns turn to God and guns (and vote Republican) because they are bitter over their economic situations.

Conservatives and others who hold God and/or guns dear have criticized Sen. Obama's "elitist" dismissal of their deeply held beliefs. They have been joined in that criticism by Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, elitist liberals have expressed regret or anger that the candidate is paying a price for saying something that they regard as accurate.

In contrast to that latter group, buried within this article on the role that "Reagan Republicans" will play in today's Pennsylvania primary is the suggestion that voters decide based on matters related to God and guns during GOOD economic times, and that the faltering economy is pushing them into voting Democrat based on economic, rather than social, issues.

The author of the piece doesn't seem to notice that the following statement is ironic in light of Sen. Obama's recent comments, even though he refers to trouble over those comments later in the piece:

"When the times get a little tougher and the emphasis is on the economy, on jobs, on health care, more of them tend to shift to be Democrats. When times are good, the emphasis is on abortion and guns and patriotism," said pollster G. Terry Madonna, who directs the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. "This is as good an environment for Democrats to win them as possible."

That is correct, and those liberal elites, including Sen. Obama, who think otherwise get it exactly backwards. In addition, this understanding has the merit of showing respect for those voters. It is not that people change their views on God, guns, or the economy during good or bad times. Rather, different issues take priority based on what people are experiencing.

Texas Tops States with Fortune 500 Companies

According to an Associated Press report, Texas now is home to the headquarters of more Fortune 500 companies than any other state. Fifty-eight such companies call the Lone Star State home. New York has 55; California has 52.

While many of these businesses started here, a significant number have relocated from other states. The primary reasons for moving to Texas, according to the report, include "low taxes, affordable land, and large workforce." Those factors have influenced businesses to move here from high tax, high cost-of-living states such as California and New York.

Of the 58 Fortune 500 companies in Texas, 23 have their headquarters in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area (including Irving, Grapevine, and Plano. Of the companies on the Fortune 1000 list, 113 are domiciled in Texas.

Now, if only The Oracle could convince one of those companies to hire him....

Monday, April 21, 2008

Clean Energy

The Associated Press reports that New Jersey is considering the construction of a nuclear power plant.

No new nuclear plants have opened in the United States since 1973.

Not THE Feminist Candidate

Camille Paglia has a provocative opinion piece articulating why feminists should NOT vote for Hillary Clinton. The entire column is worth the read, but here is a snippet from near the end:

Hillary's recent remarks about politics as a "boys' club" resistant to uppity women was sheer demagoguery. By progressing farther than any woman presidential candidate, she has become a role model for future aspirants. But by attaching herself so blatantly to anti-male rhetoric - particularly in view of her debt to her husband - she is espousing a retrograde brand of feminism no longer applicable to the US.

Hat Tip: Sharon Cobb

Why Thoughtful Spiritual Leadership Matters

Al Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, rightly points out the relativism inherent in language that talks about "values," as opposed to talking about morals. He is also right when he says that the acceptance of values language in churches represents an "abdication of moral leadership." However, the use of this language goes way back and initially resulted from church leaders not understanding what was at stake in the language that was used. By the early '80's, churches were talking about "Christian values," instead of talking about right and wrong, good and evil.

Fifteen years ago, I made a presentation at a church at which I discussed the notion that talking of "values" was relativistic and undermined belief in a universally applicable morality. After the service, the pastor, who was seminary trained and conservative in his beliefs, but who told me he spoke frequently of "Christian values," had to question me for sometime because he could not figure out what I meant.

The Young Shall Lead Them?

A new book by Collin Hansen suggests a resurgent interest among younger evangelicals (meaning those in their 20's) in reformed theology. This is a sharp contrast from the slick, smarmy, and saccharine worship featured in megachurches favored by baby boomers.

I hope he is correct. I will add this book to my reading list.

Hat Tip: Tom Ascol

Pennsylvania: Clinton Country

For an excellent overview of the history and demographics of Pennsylvania politics, see Michael Barone here.

Although I would not call myself an expert on Pennsylvania politics by any stretch of the imagination, I lived in the northeastern part (south of Wilkes-Barre) of the state for a couple of years back around 1990. Most of the people in this old coal mining region were descendants of east European immigrants who came to work in the coal mines. The continuing ethnic consciousness and divisions of the region made politics there interesting. However, Mr. Barone is right. The predominately elderly, largely uneducated, and white population in the areas of the state outside Philadelphia and Pittsburgh should vote heavily for Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton Discusses Cheering

Pundits seem to be declaring that Barack Obama's statement that John McCain would be an improvement over President Bush is a "slip up," but why exactly is that the case?

I suppose it is unrealistic to expect that a candidate should be able to offer any genuine analysis without being subjected to some bizarre game of "gotcha." By any reasonable standard, Sen. Obama's remarks are not so much praise of the Republican candidate as they are a criticism of the Republican President.

Of course, as Sen. Obama's opponent, Hillary Clinton is almost required to play along with this silly game. As usual, she uses the subtlety of a hatchet by accusing Sen. Obama of "cheering on" Sen. McCain.

Cheering on? These are the sorts of things said by people who really should not be taken very seriously.

Update. In a somewhat related note, James Poniewozik looks at some clips of John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama from The Colbert Report and suggests that a candidate doesn't have the luxury of being really funny until he/she has lost (Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog.)

We have an interesting election process. If you are running, you can't be honest and you can't be funny, but we say we are looking for someone who can connect with voters as a real person.

Life as Raw Material

In an opinion piece in today's Dallas Morning News, oncologist Fazlur Rahman argues in favor of expanding embryonic stem cell research. However, even while arguing that developing this research is important for increasing the public's perception of the importance of science, Dr. Rahman is guilty of sloppy scientific reasoning.

For one thing, Dr. Rahman carefully crafts his language in order to use a successful treatment using adult stem cells as a rationale for further experimentation on embryonic stem cells. These are two entirely different matters: various treatments using adult stem cells have been shown to be effective for years, while the efficacy of embryonic stem cell treatment remains entirely theoretical at this point. In spite of that latter fact, the author of the column speaks confidently as though it is already certain that these admittedly flexible, but as yet unharnessable, stem cells can be controlled in the development of treatments. In addition, he dismisses the ethical significance of experimentation using tiny human beings (the DNA, not the size of the life, is paramount here) that he says would be destroyed any way, but manages to avoid discussing what would happen should treatments be proved successful. At that point, it would become necessary to mass produce embryos to have an adequate supply of raw materials.

The potential of the alchemist could be nearly irrestible to the midieval mind, but modern researchers may ultimately find that they have taken something of great value (human life) and only produced fool's gold. In the process, we will have lost something of our humanity.

Democratic Intolerance?

The Dallas Morning News reports that black supporters supporting Hillary Clinton are feeling threatened and are otherwise facing harassment from fellow Democrats. Some female voters siding with Barack Obama are feeling the same type of pressure, though the article says that this is happening "to a lesser degree."

The report even cites the example of one Clinton supporter who left a caucus early out of fear for his safety:

"I felt like if I stood up and said I was for Hillary, there was no telling what would have happened," Mr. Elam said. "I went home early and watched the results on television."

There are a number of ways one might view these anecdotal allegations. Here are a few of the possibilities:

  • Democratic intolerance of those who don't fall into line is really this great. Black conservatives have been forced to endure this for years.
  • The story is overstated and is just another example of the willingness of Democrats to think of themselves as victims.
  • This is the natural result of the kind of identity politics that Democrats have practiced for years. For decades, Democrats have trumpeted the notion that race and gender are determinative of how people will -- or should -- think.
  • The report results from a meme being floated by Clinton supporters attempting to garner sympathy for the candidate. There is no shortage of that lately. A puff piece in yesterday's paper told readers that campaigning with daughter Chelsea had enabled Sen. Clinton to reveal her "warm and caring" side to voters.

None of the possibilities are terribly attractive for Democrats. I will let the reader decide which is (are) the most likely.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Not Focused on Actually Treating Disease"

University of Massachusetts Medical School assistant professor of pediatrics Darshak Sanghavi provocatively contends that American medical care suffers from the fact that physicians leave school lacking basic skills or orientation required to treat patients effectively. He writes:

[M]edical education today fixates on acquiring knowledge that is largely unrelated to patient care....

Of course, a general foundation is important. However, the sheer abundance crowds out an important skill that matters in treating a patient: how to critically appraise published clinical trials. Few doctors ever read them. In effect, medicine has become a priesthood of practitioners who never review or learn to interpret the Bible to minister to their flock; they instead rely on secondhand wisdom. Or, worse, on Google.

This is an important article that merits a wide audience.

A Disconcerting Moment

She's attractive, smart, and fun to spend time with. And, wonder of wonders, she likes The Oracle.

Just when life seemed perfect, a sudden and shocking revelation came forth: in the Republican primary, she was a Ron Paul supporter.

While The Oracle is happy to have found proof yet again that no one is perfect, he is happy that she is otherwise close.

Too Much Fortissimo, or Too Much Regulation?

People are used to thinking of overly loud music as occurring at concerts featuring rock, rap, hip hop, or some other type of modern music. However, the New York Times reports that stringent new European noise laws are causing orchestras playing classical music to decline to play some pieces.

If Corporations Want to Act Like Wards of the Government, Why Not Pay Their Leaders as Such

While rightly bemoaning the bipartisan urge for unprecedented government intervention in the marketplace, George Will suggests a way to perhaps suppress Wall Street's desire to scratch Congress' interventionist itch:

Republicans and Democrats promise cooperation, compromise and general niceness using other people's money. If Congress cannot suppress its itch to "do something" while markets are correcting the prices of housing and money, Congress could pass a law saying: No company benefiting from a substantial federal subvention (which would now include Morgan) may pay any executive more than the highest pay of a federal civil servant ($124,010). That would dampen Wall Street's enthusiasm for measures that socialize losses while keeping profits private.

One suspects that would dampen the fervor for corporate bailouts by the Fed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Failed News Media Quote of the Day

"Cable news is indeed taking over from network news, and merely by being competent."

Tom Shales, Washington Post media critic, in reaction to the performance of ABC News at last week's Democratic presidential candidate debate.

Will Carville Call Him Judas, Too?

Another former member of the cabinet of former President Bill Clinton, Robert Reich, yesterday endorsed Barack Obama for President.

He writes:

My avoidance of offering a formal endorsement until now has also been affected by the pull of old friendships and my reluctance as a teacher and commentator to be openly partisan.

But my conscience won't let me be silent any longer.I believe that Barack Obama should be elected President of the United States.

Hat Tip: Alan K. Henderson

Not a Psychosis

For a thoughtful overview of those research studies that purport to provide psychological explanations for conservative beliefs, see Shrinkwrapped here.

Here's a snippet:

After all, the authors of such studies typically describe their results as supporting the notion that conservatives are more rigid, close minded, and incurious. While I have not made a comprehensive study of such studies, and I doubt Kristof has either, the few that I have looked at carefully have so many methodological problems and are so slanted themselves as to render them useless for actually reaching conclusions. Social Science is notoriously fuzzy and when the authors define conservative to mean rigid and close minded, it is not that difficult to find evidence to support the contention.

"Blatant Hypocrisy"

The endlessly shameless Hillary Clinton, with a straight face, claimed yesterday that complaints from Barack Obama's campaign regarding the questioning of the candidates in their recent debate prove that Sen. Obama is not ready to handle the pressure of the presidency.

Perhaps Sen. Clinton should be reminded of a little history.

Six months ago, the junior Senator from New York was questioned in a debate about her position regarding a proposal by the Governor of New York to provide driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. Following the debate, her campaign engaged in all kinds of rhetoric in essence accusing the moderator and the other candidates of ganging up on the girl. I wrote at the time about the unseemliness of a professional woman playing the victim in this way.

So much for being able to handle the pressure.

Ms. Clinton, after quoting from Harry Truman, added yesterday, "I am very comfortable in the kitchen." That is a good thing. In a couple of months, she should have a lot of time available for baking cookies.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Will More Become Less?

For an interesting report on how the Barack Obama "bitter" remarks came to be reported, see Bill Bradley here (hat tip: Michael Barone).

The fact that Sen. Obama's comments were leaked by a supporter and blogger attending what was thought to be a private, off the record, gathering, may have significant consequences for candidates and campaigns. Mr. Bradley concludes:

Private space just got a bit smaller. That might mean that more will get a virtual backstage pass as a result. Or it may just mean that politics will become even more stage managed and less candid.

Indeed. Haven't we now reached a point at which a person, especially a public person, must assume that anything he or she says anywhere might end up on the internet? In some ways, that is a very stifling reality.

The Selection Scenario

Satirist Scott Ott helpfully concocts a couple of potential press releases through which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton could explain their respective campaigns willingness to consider the other as a vice presidential running mate:

The ‘Clinton for President’ campaign released the following statement: “Sen. Clinton would certainly have to give serious consideration to choosing an elitist, anti-God, anti-gun vice president with virtually no experience and a demonstrated propensity for attracting people who hate America, like the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Weather Underground member William Ayers and, of course, Michelle Obama. After all, he represents a significant constituency within the Democrat party.”

Likewise, the ‘Obama for President’ movement said Mrs. Clinton is on his short list of VP candidates.

“Sen. Obama realizes he can’t be all things to all people,” according to a news release from the campaign, “For example, some Democrats might be reluctant to support an inspiring, intelligent, honest and attractive candidate with powerful speaking ability. For those voters, Hillary Clinton will bring balance to the ticket.”

Two Names I Never Thought I Would Write in the Same Post

For an interview of of Ben Stein by R.C. Sproul, see here. It starts a bit slow, and Dr. Sproul is a better writer than interviewer, but it is worth watching.

Hat Tip: World Magazine Blog

Not Doing Their Jobs

I did not watch the debate the other night between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but if the various accounts provided by both traditional media outlets and bloggers are accurate, the forum focused almost entirely on personal issues about the candidates raised in recent weeks -- Sen. Clinton's dissimulations regarding Bosnian snipers; Sen. Obama's disrespecting of small town voters, etc.

This represents a dereliction of duty by ABC News.

Do these issues merit questioning? Of course, as to some degree or another they get to the character or viewpoints of the respective candidates. However, to focus almost exclusively on those types of issues while giving miniscule amounts of time to questions regarding policy issues that the candidates will address if elected shows an inability to distinguish and emphasize what is important.

Of course, in our market driven and celebrity obsessed mass media news culture, one fears that those now in charge are not capable of doing any better.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Patient Problems

The other day I wrote about a report that pointed to the problem of overutilization as the key driver of rising health care costs. I mentioned some of the reasons for increased overutilization, including the perverse incentive of low reimbursement rates and the practice of defensive medicine. In addressing a similar issue, Dr. Sandeep Jahaur, writing for the New York Times, mentions another one: patient expectations --

Not long ago, I visited a friend — a cardiologist in his late 30s — at his office on Long Island to ask him about imaging in private practices.

“When I started in practice, I wanted to do the right thing,” he told me matter-of-factly. “A young woman would come in with palpitations. I’d tell her she was fine. But then I realized that she’d just go down the street to another physician and he’d order all the tests anyway: echocardiogram, stress test, Holter monitor — stuff she didn’t really need. Then she’d go around and tell her friends what a great doctor — a thorough doctor — the other cardiologist was.

“I tried to practice ethical medicine, but it didn’t help. It didn’t pay, both from a financial and a reputation standpoint.”

That happens all too often.

Like Making Sausage

If you want to see how bad the legislative process can get, see The Hill here.

However, if you really care about public policy, you might want to wait and read it on an empty stomach.

Hobby Horses Can Blind to Greater Needs

Dallas investor and political activist Trammell Crow looks at the potential catastrophe of the rise of Islamic radicalism in Pakistan and arrives at the need of the day: spend more on family planning.

Of all of the needs of Pakistan, I am not sure that would even be in the top 1,000. Certain types of ideological pundits continue to try to make the connection between poverty and terrorism, even though in real life that connection is tenuous, at best. Besides, there is a significant chicken and egg issue here. Reduction in birth rates tend to result from improving economies and medical care (when parents are sure they're children will survive childhood, they tend to produce fewer of them), not from westerners hectoring them on how many kids they should have.

Counting the Cost

Richard Fisher, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, shares much wisdom in this statement in a guest column discussing the recent upheavals in the financial markets:

Looking to the future, the emerging discussion on new regulations and a new supervisory framework should proceed, but regulations by themselves cannot replace good judgment by individual investors or bankers or financiers, and certainly by policymakers. Policymakers need to remain vigilant in seeking the right balance between prudent and indiscriminate risk taking. But the elimination of risk – and the consequences of incurring risk – can never be the goal of any policymaker in a capitalist system.

One can only hope that policymakers will follow that advice.

Technology, not Morality

The Dallas Morning News today includes an editorial regarding the "unintended consequences" of expanding ethanol subsidies and use. The diversion of the nation's food supply to fuel has resulted in inconvenient and substantial increases of food prices in the United States and potentially fatal increases in undeveloped countries.

We will allow "unintended consequences;" but how could they have been unanticipated?

Al Gore and other proponents of addressing climate change have spoken of it as a "moral" issue of "crisis" proportions. Of course, when someone calls their crusade a moral cause -- whether it be prohibition of alcohol or carbon -- they are making the suggestion that those not on board with the cause are immoral and, thus, not worthy of being listened to. They also tend to put on blinders as they plunge full speed ahead with any ideas deemed to further the cause.

However, concerns regarding possible climate change caused by humans do not really raise a moral question. In fact, all of the solutions to the problem they describe are not meaningful, as they might be compared to someone spitting in the ocean to stop a drought. The questions of reducing carbon outtake is really a technological matter to be addressed, not a moral one.

Courts, Legislators, and the Death Penalty

Press reports of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Baze v. Rees, in which the Court ruled that Kentucky's lethal injection protocol does not violate 8th Amendment protections against cruel and unusual punishment, have given much attention to Justice John Paul Stevens opinion concurring in the judgement in the case. Justice Stevens argued that the manner in which the question in this case was resolved, as well as a changing societal understanding as to the value of the death penalty as a form of punishment, suggests that the entire question of the constitutionality of the death penalty needs to be revisited. In particular, the Justice concludes:

Full recognition of the diminishing force of the principal rationales for retaining the death penalty should lead this Court and legislatures to reexamine the question [of the continued use of the death penalty]. The time for a dispassionate, impartial comparison of the enormous costs that death penalty litigation imposes on society with the benefits that it produces has surely arrived.

Justice Stevens is half right. There are certainly questions relative to the death penalty that merit serious attention by legislatures. Even in Texas, which has become famous (or infamous, depending on one's viewpoint) for its, uh, liberal use of the death penalty, some former proponents of that punishment in Dallas County are beginning to question it based on a growing number of people on death row that have been exonerated by DNA evidence.

However, the questions of "enormous costs" and "benefits" are policy matters that should be determined by legislatures, not by the courts. It is the illegitimate hijacking of these types of policy matters by unelected members of the court that has resulted in the bastardization and politicization of that branch of government. The courts should rule on matters of constitutionality. They should stay on the sidelines and allow the legislative and executive branches play their respective legitimate roles.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Shut Up"

Those were the words that enfeebled U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) had for those who suggest that he should step down from his position as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, as reported by The Hill.

The chairmanship of that committee is important to Sen. Byrd, who has long been one of the worst abusers of the appropriations process. Years ago, the Senator promised to make himself a billion dollar industry for his constituents. After having endured somewhat lessened influence during the years of a Republican majority in the Senate, Sen. Byrd can be expected to want to take full advantage of the restoration of his power that recommenced last year.

Elitists, Snobs, and the Great Unwashed Masses

If the polls, both in Pennsylvania and nationally, are to be believed, Barack Obama has not been damaged among Democratic voters by his ill-advised remarks regarding the alleged psychological condition of those who value God and gun ownership in small towns. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen would seem to have the right explanation for that. Hillary Clinton, who Mr. Cohen describes as "the personification of artifice," simply has no credibility in contrasting herself as one who comes from the great unwashed masses:

The current fuss is an example. She turned Obama's statement into an affront to gun lovers everywhere, which it just might be. But since when is Hillary Clinton a gun lover, a hunter or even a weekend skeet shooter? She is apparently none of the above -- at least she will not say when she last fired a gun. The truth, if a guess is allowed, is that she does not give a damn about guns and hunting, and when she brings up her "churchgoing family" and "Our Town" values, they are expressions of treacly nostalgia and not the life of incredible affluence and situational morality she now enjoys. To paraphrase Dorothy, Clinton left Kansas a long time ago.

She may be the wife of one frequently referred to as "Bubba," but that really doesn't mean that she can be seen as the counterpart of Joe Sixpack.

Besides, has anyone paid attention to the language Sen. Clinton used in criticizing Mr. Obama? She said that his rhetoric was "elitist" and "patronizing." Of course, this is the sort of language used primarily by people who are themselves elites. That perhaps explains why Sen. Clinton's accusations might seem damning among the media, while eliciting yawns among most of the rest of us.

Most people don't accuse certain others of being "elitists." They are "snobs."

Of course, people such as Sen. Clinton would never say "snobs." It's too low class.

Whimsical Wednesday: Don't Worry Folks, It's Satire -- at Least so Far

The U.S. Senate this week took up legislation that would provide tax relief and other economic incentives to multi-million dollar Power Ball winners who are in danger of needing bankruptcy protection in the current economic downturn.

"These are people who have fallen on hard times," a Senate aide who requested anonymity explained. "Many of them suddenly found themselves with millions of dollars for the first time. No one provided them with the information they needed to manage it. They were typically taken advantage of by big corporations who offered them products and services and even luxury vacations and homes in exchange for this money."

Opponents of the bill warned of the "moral hazard" of rewarding people who had squandered large sums of money in relatively brief periods of time. However, a group of bipartisan Senate leaders argued that providing relief is an issue of basic justice.

"We are bailing out irresponsible financial institutions and home builders, as well as those who took out ill-advised loans they couldn't afford," one Senator explained. "How can we justify not helping out people who have fallen behind just because they didn't know how to handle $50-$100 million? How would you like to go from the Taj Mahal back to the trailer park you used to live in?"

The bill is expected to pass easily in the Senate, but may face more difficulty in the House, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi complains that it "does not go far enough in providing needed funds to those victimized by corporate greed."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Fulfillment of Modern Liberalism

For a reflection on the milieu that produced Barack Obama's recently published remarks that have stirred allegations of elitism, see George Will here.

Mr. Will writes near the beginning:

Obama may be the fulfillment of modern liberalism. Explaining why many working-class voters are "bitter," he said they "cling" to guns, religion and "antipathy to people who aren't like them" because of "frustrations." His implication was that their primitivism, superstition and bigotry are balm for resentments they feel because of America's grinding injustice.

By so speaking, Obama does fulfill liberalism's transformation since Franklin Roosevelt. What had been under FDR a celebration of America and the values of its working people has become a doctrine of condescension toward those people and the supposedly coarse and vulgar country that pleases them.

Impact of Tennessee Case Greatly Exxagerated

A news report and analysis of a four month old decision in this morning's The Tennessean passes along fears that the rights of divorcing homemakers could be damaged as the result of the Tennessee Supreme Court's ruling in that case. However, the actual decision does not seem nearly that far reaching.

Under Tennessee law, as in other states, in dividing property in a divorce case, the court differentiates between marital and separate property (Note: this is a summary on a blog for a general audience, not a legal brief, so the following will not attempt to sort out all of the technical legal details that can come up). Separate property includes that which was owned by either party prior to them becoming married. Sometimes, when the value of separate property increases over the years of the marriage, that appreciation can be considered to be marital property. For it to be considered marital property, both spouses must have contributed directly or indirectly to the appreciation. Tennessee statutes specify that being a homemaker can be considered a contribution.

In this case, the husband had been given some stock in his parents' trucking company prior to becoming married to the wife. The husband also worked in various low to mid-level jobs for the business. The wife was a homemaker. However, the opinion in no way argues against the wife meeting the requirement for having contributed to the increase. To the contrary, the opinion took the view that the husband's employment was at a sufficiently low level that he really did nothing to impact the growth of the business. It would basically be equivalent to saying that, just because a janitor at Dell owns Dell stock, it cannot be said that because of his employment at mopping floors that he is contributing to any growth in the value of the company.

Thus, this seems to be a fact dependent case that in no way erodes the rights of a homemaker with regard to the appreciation of separate property.

Recent News?

An article in today's Tennessean discusses "a 13-page decision handed down recently by the Tennessee Supreme Court."

"Recently?" I suppose the writer used an intentionally vague term. "Recently" tells the reader less than he would know if the writer had said "yesterday," or "last week" or "last month" or "last year."

The court filed the opinion four months ago in December 2007.

If the newspaper is so understaffed that it is unable to cover the state supreme court in anything approaching a timely manner, I'm looking for a job.

Regardless of that, I will read the opinion and may comment further later today.

Health Care System Not Prepared for Boomers

An Associated Press report discusses yet another study that shows that America's health care system is not prepared to provide care for its aging population. The article summarizes the findings of a recent report published by a committee of the Institute of Medicine:

The study said Medicare may even hinder seniors from getting the best care because of its low reimbursement rates, a focus on treating short-term health problems rather than managing chronic conditions and lack of coverage for preventive services or for health care providers' time spent collaborating with a patient's other providers.

Some people may read this and wonder how Medicare reimbursement can be described as "low" when everyone knows that health care costs, including Medicare costs, are rising dramatically. The reason for this is that the cost of health care, both within and outside government programs, is driven by service utilization, not by fee per service. For various reasons -- some legitimate, some not -- utilization of various expensive medical services and treatments is on the rise, and that expanded use of services accounts for much of the growth in spending.

Why is utilization increasing? There are various reasons. New technologies frequently cost more. Our medical malpractice system encourages the practice of defensive medicine. Low reimbursement rates also incentivize physicians -- either consciously or unconsciously -- to order more services in order to increase incomes. Additionally, utilization continues to rise because Medicare -- and private insurance, which frequently follows the policies and requirements of Medicare -- pays for the wrong things. They don't pay for things like patient care or patient education, which frequently are the most important needs. Instead, they reimburse for tests and diagnoses. Thus, if you have to go to the doctor or the hospital, you will have lots of tests run. Even patients without a medical condition meriting care will need to have their complaints "medicalized." As one doctor said to me, insurers don't pay for "I don't know."

One suspects that these problems will worsen as politicians race to embrace a public interest in expanding the scope of government run health care.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Birds of a Feather

In response to an article critical of James Dobson's temperamental and ineffective leadership of his religious constituency in this year's Republican primary campaign, a spokesman for Focus on the Family resorted to the same excuse that has been used by apologists for Barack Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright: his is a "prophetic voice."

One suspects past prophets everywhere are rolling over in their graves. It seems that this has become the term of art applied to people who do or say stupid and belligerent things.

Tailor the Right Argument to the Right Audience

Thomas Sowell argues that John McCain is only the latest Republican candidate to reach out to black voters in exactly the wrong way to precisely the wrong people. All too often, Republicans try to appeal to blacks by offering some version of Democrat-lite -- everything you always wanted from a Democrat, but less of it. Instead, Mr. Sowell says that Republicans should offer -- conservatism. He argues that conservative ideas can gain an audience with many blacks, though not to the entrenched civil rights leadership, if Republicans will make the effort to argue for them effectively. For example:

A sober presentation of the facts— "straight talk," if you will— gives Senator McCain and Republicans their best shot at a larger share of the votes of blacks. There is plenty to talk straight about, including all the things that the Democrats are committed to that work to the disadvantage of blacks, beginning with Democrats' adamant support of teachers' unions in their opposition to parental choice through vouchers.

The teachers' unions are just one of the sacred cow constituencies of the Democratic Party whose agendas are very harmful to blacks.

Some Things Should Not Be Subject to Markets

Ellen Goodman writes about a disturbing trend toward the offshoring of the production of offspring. Actually, the trend toward going overseas for surrogate mothers is only one disturbing approach she describes as taken by some of those looking for "low cost" approaches to solving their infertility problems.

Those who hold to extreme libertarian views will see this as just a personal choice and have no problem with it. However, most of us should be repulsed by a trend that dehumanizes women by reducing them to nothing more than a means of production -- uh, reproduction.

Parenting Problems and Problem Parents

A dispute between parents in Commerce City, Colorado over how their 4 year old son would be raised became so heated that the father was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct, television station KMGF reports.

Of course, parenting issues can have life long consequences, so one might want to cut the parents some slack for their emotional outburst.

In this instance, the parents argued over which gang their son would join. The mother is a Crip; the father a Westside Baller.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

It's Also True Outside Academia

This article by Scott Jaschik suggests that for many college faculty, the best way to get a good pay raise is to move to another school. He argues that this is caused in part by colleges undersestimating the costs associated with faculty turnover.

Other types of employers commonly make the same shortsighted mistake.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

More Trouble than We're Worth?

Based on a research study of 10,000 women, psychology professor Daniel Kahneman says that wedding bliss lasts for most of them for about 4 years. The London Telegraph reports:

While those who stayed single were more likely to feel lonely and have less sex, they had greater freedom, more time to socialise and fewer chores, he said.

No Profiling Necessary for The Oracle

Attorney General Mukasey, while denying the appropriateness of racial or religious profiling, spoke clearly about the need to focus investigations:

"So far as focusing investigations, we investigate where the threat is coming from. The threat is coming from Islamist extremism. It's not coming from Calvinism."

I'm in the clear. As Calvin might say, what good luck!

Hat Tip: Tom Ascol

Legal Age in the NBA?

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban argues that the NBA should set a minimum age for its players of 22. His basic contention, which hardly seems contestable, is that the vast majority of 18 and 19 year olds are not mature enough to handle the sudden access to money that comes with an NBA contract. However, he is on shakier ground when he further justifies his position with admittedly "simple" logic. He writes, "If a kid is NBA ready to play at 18 or 19, he will be NBA ready at 22. They don't forget how to play basketball and they don't get worse."

That is true in most circumstances. However, Mr. Cuban fails to account for the 20 year old who would be refused a contract under this scenario and who subsequently blows out his knee playing at a college or on a sandlot.

More than just Wires Crossed Quote of the Day

"We are crossing every 'i' and dotting every 't.'"

An unnamed American Airlines official who must write in a most interesting cursive style.

Hat Tip: Doug Miller

Clinton Hopes of Carrying Popular Vote Drifting Away

Michael Barone, who previously had demonstrated that it was at least possible that Hillary Clinton could capture a majority of the popular vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses (though not a majority of the delegates), now says that polling trends have rendered his earlier analysis obsolete. Those trends show Barack Obama narrowing Sen. Clinton's lead in Pennsylvania and leading her by a commanding margin in North Carolina.

Of course, because candidates are not running a race based on the popular vote, the significance of such a victory would have been pyrrhic in any event.

Why Neither Obama nor Clinton Should Become President

Democrats have not always been isolationists opposing free trade, and it is odd that they have become so now, at a point in history when modern transportation and communications render such a position hopelessly obsolete. It is also strange that they have been forced into obeisance against free trade by their trade union constituents. Unions represent only about 7% of the private workforce. They only hold dominant numbers among government employees, whose jobs typically are not susceptible to outsourcing. Be that as it may, Nathan Moore speaks strongly and accurately about these economic Luddites:

I don’t think anyone who opposes free trade is fit to be president. The economic reality is that free trade is good for the nation. As critics accurately point out, inefficient and soon-to-obsolete industries suffer, and workers are displaced. Through the wonders of capitalism, the process of creative destruction soon provide livelihoods to those who once worked repairing the economic equivalent of wagon wheels and telegraph machines. NAFTA shouldn’t be strategically redeployed - it should be extended to the tip of Chile.

Once Divided; Still Wrong

For an interesting overview of religious right confusion and division over the course of the Republican presidential primaries, see World Magazine here.

World reports that activist Paul Weyrich expressed regret at a recent meeting over his support of Mitt Romney. While that might be good hindsight, the article further insinuates that leaders of the religious right now wish that they had gone to bat for Mike Huckabee early on. The rest of us should be glad that they did not.

Pelosi Playing Politics on Colombia Deal

A Democratic Party majority in the U.S. House of Representatives could certainly vote down a proposed trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. However, the existence of that possibility is not sufficient for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose goal in changing House rules in order to avoid a vote seems to be either to avoid having Democrats go on record on the issue in an election year or to stick a finger in the eye of President Bush.

Either way, the maneuver is not merely unethical, nor is it merely an embarrassment to the President. Democrats, who frequently claim concern over respect for the United States abroad, are playing politics in a way that will compromise the ability of any future President to conduct good faith negotiations with other nations.

If Democrats have the votes to reject the treaty, that is their constitutional prerogative. However, the proposed treaty, negotiated in good faith with the Colombian government and with Democratic congressional input, should be voted on.

The Worst Former President

With terrorist sycophant and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter now travelling to Syria to meet with the leader of Hamas, I am trying to remember if Mr. Carter has ever criticized a terrorist organization or state hostile to American interests? I'm sure that he has, but none come to mind.

Minimal Oversight

Washington Post columnist Robert Novak points out that members of the Senate Banking Committee failed to press witnesses on even the most basic issues at a hearing on the Bear Stearns bailout. Novak wonders why the Senators failed to demand clear answers on how the initial buying price of $2/share was arrived at and how J.P. Morgan was chosen as the buyer.

He also notes that the failure to raise serious questions was bipartisan:

A fraternal mood prevailed on both sides of the table, as if Wall Street had moved to Washington. While conservatives inside the administration are unhappy about the intervention in markets, President Bush seems content with how the Federal Reserve and the Treasury cooked up the deal with erstwhile colleagues on Wall Street. There is little that's conservative or Republican about the administration's approach to the fiscal crisis.

Uncritical Democratic senators were not even inquisitive.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

"There's No Such Thing as an Ultra-liberal; the NYT Wouldn't Allow It"

For a very funny clip featuring the late William F. Buckley on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, see here.

Hat Tip: Alan K. Henderson

The Demise of the Religious Right

Alisa Harris contends that the religious right has not been able to influence John McCain's run for the White House, in part, due to their inability to "pull it together and make up their minds."

For her brief damning summary of religious right involvement and flip flops in this year's presidential election, see here. Her post was partially inspired by this full page ad decrying a potential VP slot for Mitt Romney. It is difficult to avoid terming the ad as bizarre.

The World's Oldest Profession Is Local

Late last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act by a vote of 405-2. The legislation, which would create an office within the Department of Justice that would have responsibility for supporting efforts against the sex trade both within the United States and overseas, was supported by the lobbying arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Now, however, The Hill reports that the bill faces strong opposition in the Senate, where it is being opposed by the Bush administration, conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, and law enforcement entities such as the Fraternal Order of Police. These various constituencies argue that enforcement against these crimes is appropriately a function of local law enforcement, not the federal government.

That would seem to be correct. Over the last several decades there has been a trend toward federalizing a whole array of crimes previously handled by the states. Except for crimes that require federal involvement, local enforcement would be preferable.

Two Countries Separated by a Common Language?

NRO columnist Jay Nordlinger, who regularly writes regarding language usage, shares a letter from a reader:

In the British Isles, what we call an eraser, they call a rubber. Well . . .

In 1988 I was working as an undergrad lab assistant at Penn State. The lab had a scientist visiting from Ireland for the semester. One afternoon as I was in the administrative office picking up my paycheck, the Irish researcher ducked into the office and asked, in the quaintest brogue, “Pardon me, but does anyone have a rubber?”

I guessed at his meaning and had a short chuckle, but the Pennsylvania Dutch matrons who ran the office were aghast! Open-mouthed, wide-eyed, speechless. Seeing their stunned faces, and having no clue what he had done wrong, the Irishman quickly said (I swear), “I’ll bring it right back as soon as I’m done with it.”

Nice Try Governor, but Wrong Sport

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredeson seems to think that the comeback of Kansas in the NCAA men's basketball final provides a rationale for Hillary Clinton to remain in the race, but the analogy is a bad one. Because the political race involves a finite number of delegates, it is more like bowling than basketball.

While Barack Obama showed himself recently in Pennsylvania to be an inept bowler, the principles of the sport work in his favor. Ms. Clinton has already thrown enough balls in the gutter to make it impossible for her to catch up.

Division over Rev. Wright

Linking the story to divergent reactions by black and white people to the O.J. Simpson trial verdict more than a decade ago, Dallas Morning News writer Jeffrey Weiss writes that the controversy surrounding Chicago pastor and Barack Obama mentor Jeremiah Wright reveals a continuing, deep divide between the races. That is true, but it is doubly discouraging to see the hateful, conspiracy laced screeds of Rev. Wright defended by so many black church leaders. White Christian fundamentalists on the fringes sometimes display abominable excesses in their rhetoric, but rarely are they defended by academic and cultural leaders.

As in most controversies, some allies of Rev. Wright resort to ambiguity -- for example, speaking of him as "prophetic." However, pointed fingers and screams of condemnation do not by themselves a prophet make, and, as one might expect those on the left to understand, not all forms of judgementalism are created equal. In the above referenced article, Mr. Weiss attempts to soften the radicalism of the reverend by noting that some of his statements are either true or partially true. However, a fact check fails to account for the impact or intentions of rhetoric. If words mean anything, then Rev. Wright has appealed to God to send America to Hell. He has trafficked in disreputable and discredited conspiracy theories. For those hateful excesses, any portion of the Christian world that knows him and believes other aspects of his ministry to have value should not be defending him; they should be calling him to repentance.

One wonders why people such as Rev. Wright resort to ridiculous claims when the universally accepted truth is bad enough. If the pastor had sought to highlight and condemn bigotry, goodness knows that there is sufficient material to fill volumes of sermons. By instead taking a more radical route and more hateful tone, he has harmed his own cause and given aid to those who practice real forms of racism that merit condemnation by all decent people.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Clinton Channels Carter

Last month, referring to Hillary Clinton's admission that she does not inspire people, I suggested that the candidate was "Jimmy Carter in a pants suit." I had no idea how prescient that was. Yesterday, Ms. Clinton called for President Bush to boycott the Olympics.

Of course, she was only referring to the opening ceremonies. Perhaps that makes her Carter-lite.

For It before She Was Against It

George Will writes that Hillary Clinton strategist Mark Penn's downfall resulted from him "doing something sensible, surreptitiously." The public silliness of national Democrats on free trade explains, but only partly, the contortions of Mr. Penn's former boss on the issue. Mr. Will explains:

Penn's actual beliefs about free trade, whatever they are, pro or con, certainly accord either with those that Clinton holds now or with those that she held back in the 1990s, when she was in the White House's East Wing acquiring the semi-demi-quasi-presidential experience that makes her just the person to answer the red telephone that, judging by her campaign ads, rings constantly in the West Wing.

She favored the North American Free Trade Agreement until she opposed it: She favored it back when she was a Cub fan, before she imagined being senator from New York and discovered, or remembered, that she had always been a Yankee fan. She opposes NAFTA and the Colombia agreement now that she is a presidential candidate, but her views might change again in a few weeks, when her status does.

The columnist also points out that Mr. Obama's free trade pronouncements are, alas, no better.

Stupid Teacher Story of the Day

From the Dallas Morning News:

A Frisco High School math teacher has been suspended after she allegedly helped one of her students get a tattoo.

She reportedly acted as a guardian for the 17-year-old male student and took him to a home in Little Elm where he got the tattoo.

Congress in Search of Another Creative Scheme to Borrow Money

Freshman U.S. Representative John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) has proposed the creation of a new "federal bank" in order to "leverage money" from private sources for the purpose of financing road projects. In a report in the Louisville Courier Journal, Rep. Yarmuth states:

We have the potential to make a historic investment in the long-term economic growth of this country by establishing a federal bank to accelerate billions of dollars in long-overdue infrastructure projects.

The report describes other Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as favoring this type of project. However, once one sorts through the rhetoric, this is nothing more than a needlessly complicated scheme for borrowing money to build roads, bridges, and whatever else Congress decides to rename "infrastructure."

The collapse of an interstate bridge in Minneapolis last year highlighted the need for prioritizing federal highway maintenance. However, the term "prioritizing" implies a weighing of choices in order to make difficult choices. Absent any evidence of such a process, Congress, which lards "transportation bills" with all sorts of local projects that have little to do with national transportation needs, should not be given a new revenue stream with which to increase the national debt.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Lawsuit Alleges UT Discriminates Based on Race in Admissions Practices

The Lone Star Times reports that Abigail Noel Fisher, a high school senior from Sugar Land, Texas, has filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Texas (Austin) alleging that she was unjustly denied admission to the university because of racial discrimination. Ms. Fisher is white.

For a press release announcing the filing of the suit, see here.

The Right to Be Left Alone?

David Boaz learns that Starbucks doesn't like the phrase "laissez faire."

Perhaps drinking coffee is a communal activity?

The Path to the Right Kind of Health Care Reform

An important new study by the Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences of the Dartmouth Medical School shows that treatment for terminally ill Medicare patients varies widely based on geographic location and individual hospitals. Patients receiving more expensive care utilizing more services did NOT have better outcomes than those that received fewer services at a lower cost.

Differences in cost were almost entirely attributable to higher utilization of services, not differences in fees for service.

If patients across the country had received care consistent with practice patterns in lower cost areas, it would have resulted in savings of up to $40 billion.

While numerous reports on this study are appearing in newspapers today, the best account I have seen is in the Senior Journal. According to that report:

The care of people with chronic illness accounts for more than 75 percent of all U.S. health care expenditures, indicating that overuse and overspending is not just a Medicare problem - the health care system as a whole has not developed efficient, effective ways of caring for people with severe chronic illnesses.

The study paints a picture of the health care system in disarray over the treatment of chronic illness. There are no recognized evidence-based guidelines for when to hospitalize, admit to intensive care, refer to medical specialists or, for most conditions, when to order diagnostic or imaging tests, for patients at given stages of a chronic illness.

As that account states, these problems are not unique to the Medicare system. I have seen studies of workers' compensation patients showing similar, enormous variations in utilization of services in different geographic areas.

From Ashes to Ashes

The number of cremations in Kentucky has increased by 80% since 2003, the Courier Journal reports. This follows a national trend.

In part, people are opting for cremation purely for economic reasons: it is less expensive than traditional burial. However, the changing practice also reflects a decrease in the influence of Christianity on the personal choices of individuals. The implications of Christian belief are less widely understood across the culture than at past points in American history, and they are rarely taught even in many churches.

This does not imply that traditional burial is mandatory for Christians. Certainly, a faithful, practicing Christian can choose to be cremated. An omnipotent God can gather scattered ashes and reconstitute them at the time of the resurrection. However, traditional burial has for millenia reflected the values of those who believe in a resurrection of the body.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Looking at the Veeps

Politico weighs the prospects of a variety of Democratic vice-presidential candidates. It is interesting that he identifies Indiana Senator Evan Bayh as a prospective VP for Hillary Clinton, but not for Barack Obama.

It has been clear for some time that Obama will win the Democratic nomination. However, one should not rule out Sen. Bayh as a dark horse candidate. He is a Democrat who has been able to win statewide election in a predominately Republican state. And, he carries a family name that holds weight with old line liberals in the party.

Ben Smith suggests that Tennessee governor Phil Bredeson, who is not on Politico's list, would be a VP candidate who would create problems for the Republicans. He is correct in part, but the lack of foreign policy experience on an Obama/Bredeson ticket probably rules out that combination.

Personal Irony

The New York Times reported that 81% of Americans believe that the country is economically headed in the wrong direction, even though many of those say their personal finances are on solid ground.

On the other hand, The Oracle has been arguing that the overall economic situation is tenuous, but not as of now that bad. And, I am unemployed.

Go figure.

Who Gets the Gay Democrat Vote?

Based on a breakdown of results from the Massachusetts primary, Michael Barone asks, "Do gay men tend to support Clinton and gay women tend to support Obama?"

More than Just Texas Tea

An annual report produced by the American Wind Energy Association lists Texas as the number one state in the nation in wind power development.

Hat Tip: Texas Insider

Bad for Democracy

Adam Groves reports that over 40% of state representatives in Tennessee are running unopposed for re-election. As the primary form of accountability for elected officials comes in the form of elections, this cannot be considered a good thing.

Of course, this partly comes about because Tennessee legislators, like those in other states, have taken an increasingly aggressive role in selecting their own voters through gerrymandering. Because Democrats and Republicans conspire to draw "safe" districts, there are fewer competitive elections, even at a time when voters across the political spectrum are fed up and inclined to "throw the bums [incumbents] out."

Arbitration Legislation

Legislation sponsored by Democratic Senator Russ Feingold and Democratic Representative Hank Johnson would prohibit mandatory binding arbitration agreements in future contracts and would even invalidate existing ones. The Wall Street Journal points out that in addition to being bad public policy, this type of proposal does not command popular support.

Character Education

The Dallas Morning News reports that charter schools that operate, or once operated, in the state owe the government $26 million they improperly received because they provided the state with inflated attendance figures.

Given that the rationale for the existence of charter schools includes the idea that they provide accountability for the system, any charter school officials who condone intentionally inflating figures should be prosecuted. Any schools that engage in such conduct should be reformed or closed.

Clinton's Specious Arguments

Jeffrey Anderson successfully demolishes Hillary Clinton's arguments for why the super-delegates should throw her the Democratic nomination. As those arguments constitute the only rationale for her remaining in the race, it is telling that they are so weak.

Sen. Clinton is not the first candidate in American politics who has had difficulty facing reality. Nor is she the first who has stayed in a race longer than she should have. However, it is difficult to think of any candidate who has engaged in such a sustained and prolonged attempt to change the rules of the game after the fact.

The Associated Press began a report on her efforts by stating that she had "strengthened" her pitch to count primary votes cast in Michigan and Florida. She argues that the fact that those vote results were certified by the Secretaries of State of those respective states somehow authenticates them, ignoring the fact that the Democratic Party had invalidated the primaries beforehand and that the other candidates, consistent with the decisions of the party, had not campaigned there. While the AP might mean that she was attempting to strengthen her argument, in fact, she is doing nothing more than exposing its speciousness.

In Opposition to Market Intervention

For common sense wisdom that seems all too rare among the political class and its pundits, see George Will's column regarding the housing market correction here. A snippet:

The market, which bewilders and annoys liberals by correcting excesses without the supervision of liberals, is doing that as housing prices fall far enough to stimulate demand. Witness this recent Financial Times headline:

"Property sales pick up as prices plummet."

The story began: "Sales of previously owned homes in the U.S. rose for the first time in seven months in February, while sale prices fell by their most in at least 40 years." By golly, the Gershwins were right: The age of miracles hasn't passed.