Friday, November 28, 2008

Reality on health Care Reform

Health care coverage expert and blogger Joe Paduda, who has spent the entire election campaign beating the drum for Barack Obama and longer than that calling for an overhaul of our health care system (Mr. Paduda ultimately favors a single payer system), makes clear that reality must be faced before that reform happens:

None of the health care reform initiatives presently before Congress (except for the Wyden-Bennett bill), nor President-elect Obama's health reform platform address costs.

Folks, wake up! We cannot afford to cover 50 million more Americans unless and until we do something meaningful about costs!

Once people get insurance, they tend to use it.

Mr. Paduda is correct when he goes on to say that any measure designed to address costs would be DOA in Washington. However, I would add that it is reckless to have gone this far in promising reform without arguing for a meaningful program that would work in the real world.

Update. Mr. Paduda clarifies via the comment below that he does not ultimately favor a single payer system. I apologize for the error.

A Good Start in California?

Other than the election of Barack Obama, arguably the most frequently noted event of election day 2008 was the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which declared that it was illegal for two persons of the same sex to constitute a marriage. While the passage of that amendment was notable, it arguably will have less long term impact than another referendum passed by California voters, Proposition 11. That measure requires state legislative districts to be drawn by an independent commission, not by legislators choosing who they want to vote for them.

When legislators draw districts in such a way as to reduce their competitiveness, the result is more highly ideological and less accountable legislators. That is why changing that process is the most important political reform of our time.

Gerrymandering -- the name given to the practice of drawing districts in ways that protect incumbents -- has a long, disreputable history in the United States. In recent years, it erupted as a major issue in Texas politics in 2003 when Democratic senators, seeking to avoid a quorum that would allow Republicans to redraw districts, holed up in hotels in Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Thus, Republicans in the majority in Texas loved having the ability to gerrymander. Of course, they partly relished that power because they had previously been victimized by Democratic majorities engaging in it. In California, Republicans led the ballot measure to stop the practice, and they prevailed in spite of an array of Democratic establishment interest groups in opposition. That tendency of whoever is in the majority to disapprove is a reminder of a previous reform measure hotly debated in the previous decade. In the 1990's, Republicans lead efforts to impose term limits until they achieved majorities in Congress and had the power to adopt them. At that point, they decided that term limits weren't such an important reform after all. The ability to retain power trumped principle at that point.

They were wrong about that, and the political class of whichever party will be wrong to oppose gerrymandering. That is why it is important for civic minded voters of both parties to support it.

Looming Ash Heaps

Washington Post syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer warns of the certain, though unintended, consequences of the command control economy that we have moved closer to in recent weeks. He writes:

Lobbying used to be about advantages at the margin -- a regulatory break here, a subsidy there. Now lobbying is about life and death. Your lending institution or industry gets a bailout -- or it dies.

You used to go to New York for capital. Now Wall Street, broke, is coming to Washington. With unimaginably large sums of money being given out by Washington, the Obama administration, through no fault of its own, will be subject to the most intense, most frenzied lobbying in American history.

After discussing the volatility, both downward and upward, that politicization has brought to the financial markets over the last two months, Mr. Krauthammer describes the effects of turning business decisions for automakers over to the political class, a transfer of power that he says will "make the steel mills of the Soviet Union look the model of efficiency."

Indeed. We stand upon the precipice of an important moment in our history. If the momentum of recent events continues to propel us into a command control economy, we will have lost our way of life.

Making Mountains out of Molehills for the New Secretary of State

In the most over-hyped story of the week, the Associated Press warns of a "Washington power struggle" over who will provide security in the event that Hillary Clinton becomes the next Secretary of State. According to AP, the potential controversy between the Secret Service and the Department of State's Diplomatic Security will "create unprecedented logistical and jurisdictional hurdles that will require significant negotiations to resolve."

Really? It seems to me that all that is required is for President Obama and his Secretary of State to have a quick discussion and then announce that one of the entities is handling it and the other can focus on other things. Will egos be bruised? Sure, but somehow one supposes that they will survive. President Obama and Secretary Clinton will be called upon to deal with a possibly nuclear Iran. One would think that they can figure out Diplomatic Security.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Selling Papers: No News Required

In Nashville today, I stopped by a newspaper rack intending to buy a local newspaper, but I discovered that they were charging $1.75 for the rag on a day when I doubted that the content sections of the paper would have been expanded and there was little hard news to report. I put my money back in my pocket.

Of course, it is not uncommon now for dailies to market their Sunday offerings by printing at the top of page one the aggregate savings available through the enclosed coupons. However, the Thanksgiving Day price gouging is a reminder that modern newspapers regard themselves as dressed up versions of the Thrifty Nickel.

That is why most people who are consumers of NEWS increasingly make the same choice that I did.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Will IT Save Us?

Jim Voorhies is optimistic about the impact that modern communication technology can have on democratic governance:

Technology provides the means for a level of transparency and openness to the workings and deliberations in government that we have never seen. This will lead to a radical shift of how politics works (if not right away, eventually it will happen) on a national level. It has the potential to kill off much of the sordid side of politics. Neither mold nor corruption can survive the light of day. Can you visualize a budget process wiki where individual aspects of budgets are debated and analyzed? Or a site where everyone gets to vote on an issue, like closing the Guantanamo Bay prison?

Potential is all too frequently the prelude to unfulfilled hopes, and one might fear that Mr. Voorhies dreams a bit too much. Does technology create these types of possibilities? Certainly, but human nature being what it is, one can be sure that many will value the appearance of transparency more than its reality, and the fact of technology will merely force them to redouble their efforts to maintain appearances. The other danger in Mr. Voorhies' scenario is that greater transparency only will lead to paralysis on the important questions. Guantanamo Bay is easy: what will we do about problems with multi pronged and difficult aspects and solutions, such as the future of social security? Sometimes, leaders need to have the courage to get out in front of public opinion. One of the distinguishing marks of 21st century politics to date is a bipartisan lack of courage to face and lead on hard realities, and even modern technology can't impart courage.

Hat Tip: Newscoma

Like a Baptist at a Liquor Store?

SayUncle asks if owning a gun is embarrassing to Democrats. He links to an article reporting that prospective Obama appointees are asked about whether they own a gun.

The Obama Cabinet

For a listing of those we already know will be in the cabinet, as well as those who are in the running for posts not yet determined, see here.

Republicans and conservatives should be both relieved and concerned. While those being appointed are to the left of where conservatives would prefer for them to be, this is by and large not a group of far left wing ideologues. On the other hand, if Republicans were thinking that they could run against a "socialist" President and cabinet, they had better come up with a different strategy.

The nation has wondered whether President Obama would govern the nation as a hard leftist or as a center left pragmatist. The cabinet appointments would indicate the latter. Those who are to the right of center will be challenged to respond.

Sex Sells the Church: the Update

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the travesty of Grapevine Fellowship Church's "tawdry publicity stunt" of going to the local newspaper to publicize a Sunday sermon that would involve minister Ed Young parading around a platform featuring a bed as a prop and urging married congregants to have sex every day for a week.

If publicity was, in fact, the goal, Mr. Young is no doubt gratified that his exploits have been captured in the pages of the New York Times. However, Ann Althouse is right in characterizing the Times story as "creepy." Ms. Althouse suggests that this shtick was done more effectively by Madonna.

However, there is something worse than Rev. Young's smarmy sermonizing about sex. While most people are not terribly concerned about how much their ministers know about sex, they do expect the pastors to know something about God. The New York Times, which describes Rev. Young as an evangelical, also says that he preached that having regular sex would "bring you closer to your spouse and to God." Really? Evangelicals used to understand that closeness to God had to do with faith in Christ and the Cross, not acts of copulation. The means of grace were things like prayer and the word, as applied to us by the Holy Spirit, not acts that we perform, sexual or otherwise. While it is legalism that is pleasurable for many, Mr. Young is nothing more than a legalist, in any event.

And, he's creepy and an embarrassment to the faith. Just read the article.

The Blind Leading the Financial World

Proving that hindsight may be just as unclear as foresight, critics have blamed unregulated financial markets for the current economic travails the nation finds itself in. However, one can hardly regulate adequately what one does not understand, and Paul Jackson, partly on the basis of remarks made by Ben Bernanke in a New Yorker interview, suggests that those in charge were utterly and inexcusably clueless regarding the entities that they were regulating. Mr. Jackson writes:

The picture being painted in the rearview mirror now suggests a far worse transgression than a policy misstep: it suggests that key regulators and economists understood little about the secondary mortgage markets to begin with. The reason so few in the financial markets saw this coming is because so few actually understood either how the market was structured, or how far it really reached. And that, to me, is far more troubling than a debate over regulatory ideology and course.

Yet that’s the sort of line of questioning that’s missing from most journalistic inquiries these days, where reporters are more content to dig into how the Fed put its current policies together to respond to the crisis, and where everyone takes it at face value that regulators moved as aggressively as they knew how as part of some decisive response to the financial crisis.

What is worse is the probability that those who now will set out to regulate these markets going forward still do not understand what has happened.

Hat Tip: Kevin Funnell

Legalized Looting

The CEO's of the three major U.S. auto makers will undoubtedly return to Washington soon with their tin cups held out. Right behind them will be a whole cadre of representatives from other industries making a case for a share of what is sometimes referred to in an old fashioned sort of way as "taxpayer money."

Remember when they were talking about a $300 billion stimulus (a new technical term meaning "spending")? Well, now the number is $700 billion. One lobbyist quoted in this story says that he could "easily identify" $1.5 TRILLION in infrastructure projects that need to get done.

This seems to be an addiction worse than cocaine. Urgent memo to Congress: call Nancy Reagan.

Built on a House of Debt

Generally speaking, the financial advice given by people like Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman is basically smart: if you want to get moderately rich (even on a modest income), cut up your credit cards, don't borrow money to buy cars and other expensive toys, live on less than you make, and save like crazy. However, I have sometimes joked that if everyone followed that advice, it would wreck the economy.

While current spending and savings patterns are being driven less by wisdom than by fear, something like that may now be happening. As Robert Samuelson puts it:

As stock and home values drop, Americans are scrambling to increase savings and curb spending....Everywhere, financial commentators urge "belt tightening" and more thrift. If the swing toward saving is too sharp, consumer spending wouldn't just weaken; it would collapse. Vehicle sales have already plunged. In 2005, they totaled almost 17 million; Global Insight's 2009 projection is 12.2 million. And these problems feed on each other. Lower consumer spending depresses profits and stock prices, which corrodes confidence, further dampens spending, raises unemployment and increases loan defaults. Credit card losses could be the next big blow to financial institutions.

Perhaps we could call it "The Ramsey Effect."

Ego Investment

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback and current Fox football analyst Troy Aikman wonders why the Cowboys are offering cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones another chance when his performance on the field has been so bad:

On the field he didn't help them in the return game, which is really where he was supposed to help them, and teams targeted him in pass defense. He was confused out there on the field. So there really isn't anything he did as a player that warranted another chance by the organization or at least maybe taking another risk on him.

There is a two word answer to Mr. Aikman's question: Jerry Jones.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Patriotism that Endures

I have never engaged in those "my party is more patriotic than your party" type of debates. I find that type of rhetoric, when engaged in by the accusing party, to be malicious and irresponsible. On the other hand, some people claim that their patriotism is being challenged as a means of cutting off genuine policy debates. If I say that your plan is bad for America, I'm not calling you a bad American: I just think your ideas are wrong.

All of that being said, I find this article to be bizarre. It claims that liberals are suddenly finding the patriotic spirit now that Barack Obama has been elected and George Bush will soon be banished.

I didn't agree with President Bush half the time, and I expect to agree with the President elect even less, but love of country does not depend on agreement with a current administration or political trend. That is not to say that patriotism is an expression of the idea "my country right or wrong." Sometimes, it is the pained love of one who weeps because he believes the country is wrong, and he feels compelled to say so. However, the love remains.

I don't anticipate any further discourses on patriotism. Again, I generally find the subject beyond the pale of political debate.

Telling Metaphors

Metaphors can be nothing more than rhetorical devices, but they can also be windows into the souls of those who use them. Free market types tend to speak of the American economy as an engine to be unleashed.

On the other hand, Barack Obama economic advisor Austan Goolsbee reflected a different understanding in explaining that the administration's goal would be to "startle the thing into submission."

While that characterization is not terribly reassuring, the pending announcement of the President elect's senior economic team is. Wall Street was hoping that those leading the incoming administration would not be ideologues without real world experience. That is why the revelation on Friday that Timothy Geithner would be the next Treasury Secretary caused at least a temporary bounce in the markets, and the additional appointments being announced today should bring similar reassurances.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Auto Industry Executive Putdown Quote of the Day

"It's possible that when the CEO's make their return engagement in December, they will come via a single Toyota."

-- Notes from Washington reporter James R. Carroll, discussing the questionable PR choices of the Detroit braintrust.

Are you smarter than an elected official?

In a not too surprising but frightening report of how poorly elected officials averaged on a civics test, ISI reported an average grade of 44%, with ordinary citizens only scoring marginally higher at 49%. The reason I say it is not too surprising is because to adequately learn from mistakes in history, one must know what our history is, and to adequately manage the economic crisis in our country, we must have a basic understanding of economics. With the current state of things, I honestly do not believe many American citizens know our Constitution or our history; however, it is most disturbing that those running our country know even less than we do. Right off the bat, I would like to remove the 20% who gave this ridiculous answer:

Asked about the electoral college, 20 percent of elected officials incorrectly said it was established to "supervise the first televised presidential debates."

For those who are interested in seeing how well you fair against the rest of the country, you can take the test here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Do you agree with this?

From Newt Gingrich (via Stuart Buck):

Adolescence was invented in the 19th century to enable middle-class families to keep their children out of sweatshops. But it has degenerated into a process of enforced boredom and age segregation that has produced one of the most destructive social arrangements in human history: consigning 13-year-old males to learning from 15-year-old males.

Arguably, adolescence actually now extends frequently to 30-somethings who continue living with parents and playing video games. It seems that I read not too long ago about that being a growing trend?

How to Take a Leak

One suspects that the majority of Americans regard leaks to the press about this or that as nothing more than favors shared amongst journalists and their friends. Actually, most leaks (both those that are accurate and those designed to deceive) are carefully generated with the intent of achieving some objective, and the experienced reader is always wise to question what agenda might be behind said disclosure of information. While those agendas are sometimes difficult to discern, understanding them frequently sheds much light on what is happening behind the scenes.

As an example, one might have noted the recent leaks regarding the potential of an offer of the Secretary of State position to Hillary Clinton. Though I considered my thoughts to be too speculative to blog about, I initially wondered if the leaks were generated by groups anxious to create pressure for her to be offered the position.

Anyway, for those interested in learning more about how to think about leaks, here is some good insight.

Hat Tip: Kleinheider

"Vitriolic anti-black rhetoric"

71% of African Americans in Florida and 69% in California supported referenda in those states banning gay marriage. For a discussion of the backlash and threats of violence against blacks as a result, see a column by Bishop Harry Jackson here.

Too Important to Fail

As only he can, P.J. O'Rourke calls for a federal bailout for print journalists. He explains why the end of print journalism would be catastrophic for the American way of life:

Remember, America, you can't wrap a fish in satellite radio or line the bottom of your birdcage with MSNBC (however appropriate that would be). It's expensive to swat flies with a pod-casting iPod. Newsboys tossing flat screen monitors onto your porch will damage the wicker furniture. And a dog that's trained to piddle on your high-speed Internet connection can cause a dangerous electrical short-circuit and burn down your house.

Worse News than the Election Results

Hard core Republicans and Democrats alike (obviously, the latter group thinks that almost anything qualifies as worse news than the election results) should be dismayed by findings such as these related in a column by Deroy Murdoch:

"Only 21 percent of respondents correctly identified Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address as the source of the words 'government of the people, by the people, for the people.' But 56 percent properly named Paula Abdul as a judge on the karaoke sensation American Idol."

While the lack of civics education is a special concern in a representative democracy, the fact is that for decades the American public has been lamenting the results of these types of surveys looking at virtually every academic subject area. Somehow, we continue to do ridiculously little about it other than lament it, as we continue to entrust our children to the same educational brain trust that got us to this point in the first place.

Won't Work

Pulling a number out of the sky, President elect Barack Obama instructed his economic team to make up a plan to create 2.5 million jobs over the next two years. This has resulted in discussion of a "stimulus package" (the phrase which has replaced "investment" as the nom de jour for when those running the federal government wish to spend more money) of $300 billion, mostly on government projects such as "building wind farms." That sounds like a lot of hot air.

Of course, the American economy is too large and has too many variables to easily control, and Mr. Obama may get lucky. If the economy has reached its bottom, jobs will likely be created regardless of what he does. However, that does not change the general principle that government does not create jobs that grow the economy: entrepreneurs do. The best thing for the government to do is get out of the way.

Mr. Obama's central planners are likely to stay in the way. Let's hope that they do less harm than good.

Remembering the Assassination

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. An excellent feature in the Dallas Morning News points out that the number of living eyewitnesses to that unfortunate event is rapidly diminishing.

For readers outside north Texas, I would recommend that any visit to the area should include a trip to the Sixth Floor Museum. While I might quibble with some of the characterizations in the exhibits, the museum is really very well done. One might be warned, however, that there is always a cadre of assorted oddballs and conspiracy theorists out on Dealey Plaza ready to chat up or sell literature to anyone willing to listen or purchase.

That is not to say that all of those with conspiracy theories related to the assassination are oddballs. For those who want to read a credible account of the assassination from the viewpoint of a researcher who does not think that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, I would recommend this work by Josiah Thompson.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Answering the Critics

I suppose President elect Barack Obama has decided he would benefit from a Secretary of State qualified to answer the phone at 3:00 a.m.

Will Environmentalists Ultimately Defeat Their Own Cause

A conversation yesterday with a key player in the energy debate in one western state included discussion of a problem that will likely become apparent in the national debate as well: many environmental groups will oppose anything.

It is probably not surprising that environmental groups oppose increased natural gas production in the state in question, though such added production would create jobs in an area that badly needs them. However, the same groups also end up vociferously opposing wind generated energy production when the need to build transmission lines to get the energy to those who use it becomes apparent.

Environmentalists have a reputation for being purists, and purists frequently will turn down good solutions while on a quest for perfect ones that don't exist in the real world. Ultimately, human beings require energy from some source, and none of those sources, including the highly touted alternative ones, are ultimately pristine.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Just Show Up

The Texas State Board of Education took a step toward allowing high school athletes to get up to 4 credits toward graduation for playing their sport. Each credit is equivalent to taking a class for a year. Supporters argue that the measure will help encourage students to stay in school.

Texans, like most other Americans, place considerable value on kids staying in school, but not much on learning.

Teen Lives Without Heart

This is an amazing story on how far medical technology has taken us. A fourteen year old girl with an enlarged heart had to have a heart transplant, but it was inefficient, so after the doctors removed donor heart, they fashioned a heart pump to keep her alive for the next four months until her next transplant. D'Zhana is doing well with her new heart and she'll be turning 15 on Saturday- a birthday I am sure her parents wondered if she would see.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Problems, but Not Scapegoats

Washington Post syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker takes a martyr's pride ("Short break as writer ties blindfold and smokes her last cigarette.") in her willingness to declare the religious right to be the enemy of the people -- or at least the Republican Party.

Of course, it would be easier to take Ms. Parker seriously if she made actual arguments instead of resorting to ad hominem attacks. Among her few substantive points is an allegation that Republicans have become too "white," but that is hardly a concern that can be laid at the feet of social conservatives. Black voters turning out for Barack Obama helped pass Proposition 8 in California, and social issues are among the few points of contact between Republicans and black and Hispanic voters over the last four decades, which is not to say that Republicans have done much to try to reach out to those voters.

Be that as it may, Ms. Parker and I actually agree on an important point: the influence of the religious right has been negative and should change. The difference is that she thinks it is bad for the Republican Party; I am more concerned that it has been bad for the church.

Granted: the excesses of the religious right have turned off some voters. However, it was not social issues that caused the Bush administration to run poorly an unpopular war. Social issues have not caused the unprecedented growth in domestic spending. They did not wreck the housing market or force a bailout of financial institutions. Religious conservatives have not driven the enormous growth under Republican leadership in earmark spending, the K Street Project, or the Abramoff scandals. Nor are religious conservatives responsible for foisting upon the nation Mark Foley, Ted Stevens, Duke Cunningham, or Larry Craig.

Ms. Parker thinks that Republicans have a "great big problem: G-O-D." Unfortunately for Republicans, the problems are bigger than that.

Texas Speaker of the House

Two years ago, a battle over who would be House Speaker nearly erupted into fistfights on the House floor, as Speaker Tom Craddick refused to allow debate on the issue. Talk of another attempted coup has been heating back up over the last month and reached fever pitch yesterday as Rep. Burt Solomons (R-Carrollton), a former Craddick ally, announced that he would join those running to lead the House.

Because of Rep. Solomon's past support for Speaker Craddick, there was speculation in Austin yesterday that his candidacy was only intended as a means of holding votes that he could deliver to Mr. Craddick once other candidates were eliminated in the early rounds. However, a well-placed Republican source in Austin told The Oracle that Mr. Solomon's would not have run if he did not intend to win.

Financial Bailout This and That

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, in disagreement with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, told a congressional committee yesterday that the bailout money needs to be used "to prevent unnecessary foreclosures." Up until now, a foreclosure was "necessary" when a homeowner could not repay a loan he had taken out, even with the help of bankruptcy protection. Evidently, Ms. Bair has a different definition. Ms. Bair stands out as one bipartisan appointment that President Bush should not have made.

Meanwhile, those who took out mortgages they were able to pay are turning out not to be the only suckers in the current debate. According to the Dallas Morning News, community banks that did not make risky subprime loans are now finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage because larger banks that engaged in that hazard, moral and otherwise, have access to the bailout money, and the community banks do not.

Finally, with reports increasingly describing the leaders of the big three auto companies as beggars "pleading" to be put on the government dole, George Will makes an excellent case for why they should not be. One cannot say that the auto makers are too big to fail when they already have.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Certificates of Need, Free Market Principles, and Health Care Reform

Most health care reform proposals gaining currency in a Democratically controlled federal government address the number of people who will have medical coverage, but they do not really effectively address the issue of health care system costs. This is a mistake, as it means that costs will basically just be rearranged, with universal access providing an upward pressure on prices.

This blog post will not attempt to offer complete solutions to the question of costs -- that will require several posts -- but will only set out some important ideas to keep in mind.

In most states, before a hospital (and sometimes other kinds of health care facilities) can be built or expanded, a certificate of need must be obtained from the department of health. Sometimes, conservatives, based on the general way that market principles work, express a knee jerk opposition to these requirements based on the idea that limiting the number of available hospital beds has the effect of limiting competition, therefore driving up costs.

However, the best studies show that those conservatives are wrong. Increasing the number of hospital beds results in higher costs. The supply and demand curves do not work in the same way that one usually expects. Instead of the increase in supply lowering costs, demand rises to fill the increased number of beds.

So, does this mean that classical economics is wrong when it comes to health care? No, it just means that some conservatives have failed to account for all of the facts in looking at the situation. The reason that the usual rules for supply and demand don't work is that the consumer -- that is, the patient -- does not really direct his own health care. Health care choices are really directed by health care practitioners. And, the way that such care gets directed is influenced by the way that those practitioners get paid.

Before I go on, it is important to state that I am not alleging anything unscrupulous here. However, it is hardly controversial to suggest that the way that doctors are trained and the way that they learn to practice are influenced by how they are paid. Under both our private and public health care payment systems, doctors are paid for running tests and providing diagnoses. They are not paid for patient education and care. The result is that we get what we pay for.

Thus, we have a health care payment system that encourages medicalizing patient issues and over utilization of testing and diagnostic procedures. Even when someone is terminally ill and on the brink of death, providers will continue endlessly drawing blood, performing imaging, running tests, even when it is past time for anything plausible to be done. Again, it is not because they are unscrupulous. It is what they are trained to do.

This is not meant to be an argument for rationing care: indeed, the opposite. Rationing care, regardless of the initial intentions, invariably ends up becoming a financial calculation, not a medical one. Rather, I am making an argument for changing the way that we pay medical providers. We need to pay for patient education and care, not for running tests.

I'll build on this concept sometime down the road.

Magnetizing Souls

Yesterday MCO had announced our engagement. It truly is more than just an exciting occasion for the two of us. Daily I am amazed more by our differences than by our similarities. For those of you who know MCO, or could make a guess by his posts, he is very straight-laced and traditional, but he is also quite witty and fun. However, if I tried to explain in what sense he’s fun, many might give me a puzzling look and wonder if I have lost my mind.

While on the one hand I am quite stable with a growing career, two children, and own home, and very independent, I am also prone to flights of fancy. I have a tendency to gravitate towards unstable people and calling them my best friends. I prefer solitude to crowds, but I have been known to find myself in bizarre situations because of the people I am with, such as chasing down a group of Hare Krishnas when I was 20 (don’t ask).

I write fiction, love fantasy, and see the magic and hear the music of ordinary life. I have a tendency towards naïveté because of my idealistic nature. I love philosophy and intellectual musings. My blogging partner is also an intellectual, which is one of the many things I love about him, but he’s the realist to my idealist. He prefers politics to philosophy. However, he’s amazing in that he appreciates even that which he doesn’t understand. Together the two of us can look at the same thing and have two different experiences and reactions, but only with the other can we even see the whole picture. I am not at all surprised someone like him loves me, but I have not gotten over the shock that someone like him exists.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Campfield Principle

The Republican takeover of the Tennessee House of Representatives has raised new opportunities for GOP members of that body, but Roger Abramson's discussion of a potential committee chairmanship for Rep. Stacey Campfield got me thinking:

Isn't it a shame that Rep. Campfield isn't in the Senate? If he could have followed John Wilder's 30+ years presiding over the Senate with a couple of decades of his own, Tennessee would set a bipartisan record for eloquence and insight in leadership unrivaled in all of the history of civilization.

A Marriage Made in the Blogosphere

Well, one may hope it has been made at a little higher place than that.

This past weekend I proposed to Lanette, who frequently comments and occasionally posts on this blog. She showed a startling lack of judgement by replying, "Yes."

We have not yet set a date.

Self-Deprecating Lawyer Humor Quote of the Day

"Not that I wouldn't love to rant about the latest kerfluffles in D.C., but every five minutes I spend blogging is an hour less that I can bill."

-- Kevin Funnell of Bank Lawyer's Blog, expressing regret over the lack of time he's had recently to blog.

By the way, follow the link to see a video from the "Onion News Network" of what Mr. Funnell calls "the most intelligent discussion of the current crisis yet." It's priceless.

Don't Bail out the States, Either

Lou Cannon, writing for Statenet's weekly journal, argues in favor of a federal stimulus package that would benefit state governments. However, this is the ultimate example of a bail out that will create a moral hazard: states that squandered rainy day funds during good economic times are spared the need to tighten the belt when checkbooks get tight.

This would be doubly unfortunate, as state governments are among the few entities that are forced to live responsibly: most of them are required by their constitutions to balance their budgets. Their bailout would provide a bad precedent.

What is worse is that Mr. Cannon succumbs to the revered, but wrong, historical perspective that Franklin Roosevelt provides clear guidance on how to respond to these times of economic extremity. Unfortunately for Mr. Cannon, and all the high school history teachers who failed to read beyond their text books, President Roosevelt's policies did not end the Depression: they extended it (here's a blogger that gets it right!). The Depression did not end until the Japanese and German governments pressed American industry into war production.

While Mr. Roosevelt's policies did not bring about the end of the Depression, his oratory did help people feel better about their squalor. While President elect Obama also possesses noteworthy oratorical skills, one hopes that he does not leave us with the same legacy.

The Straw that Broke....

So, the story is now that Hillary Clinton's ascension to Secretary of State is hindered by complications related to her husbands foreign affairs?

Well, there is an obvious answer to that problem....

I'm just kidding. The Oracle is all about family values -- even with the Clintons.

Employers Shouldn't Be Responsible for Immigration Enforcement

Using employers as a means of cracking down on illegal immigrants is a popular approach among some conservatives and liberal trade unionists, but there is no obvious reason why employers should be shackled with an unfunded mandate to function as an extension of law enforcement and perform a job that the federal government won't do: crack down on illegal immigration.

Employers who hire illegal workers -- even due to a clerical error -- are subject to fines of up to $3,200 per worker, in spite of the fact that the federal data base utilized for these checks is admittedly laden with errors.

This is an administrative burden that employers should not have to bear. The federal government has failed in its responsibility to secure the borders. It is not the job of the nation's employers to fix that failure.

Winners and Losers, on the Field and Off

Yesterday's football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the San Diego Chargers ended with a play that should have been called a touchdown for the Steelers, but it was not due to error on the part of the referrees. The Steelers won anyway, so it did not make any difference as to the outcome of the game. However, thousands of viewers were screaming at their television sets, because it made a difference with regard to the point spread. The non-touchdown affected millions of dollars bet on the game.

In spite of the fact that a significant number of viewers have such an interest, the announcers never mention it. As Barry Horn points out, the networks have an "informal understanding" with the NFL that they will not talk about gambling. The reasons are obvious. If gambling reaches those actually involved in the sport, the integrity of the games would threaten to destroy it. Thus, it is an unmentionable issue.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Car Buyer's Promise

If the federal government provides money to bail out General Motors and Ford, The Oracle will never purchase another vehicle made by either of those companies or their subsidiaries.

NEVER. Not for any price. Not if I live to be 100.

Texas HB 135 Deserves Consideration

The Dallas Morning News includes Texas House Bill 135, which is authored by Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), in a list of "off-the-wall" bills, but it is actually a good idea that should receive serious consideration. The bill would remove the "straight party" vote option from Texas ballots, thus requiring voters filling out their ballots to go through and select for whom they are voting for each office up for election.

Currently, voters can simply select the straight party option at the top and run the ballot through the optical machine. The practical result of this is that people frequently cast votes for numerous offices for which they know nothing about the candidates. Denying the straight party option will require voters to at least briefly consider each race individually.

The DMN may be correct that the bill has little chance of passage. If so, that is unfortunate. As public policy, it makes sense.

Remembering the Big Red Machine

I love baseball, and a big part of the reason is that I grew up watching these guys. As far as I am concerned, the 1976 Reds, who swept the New York Yankees to win the World Series, is the greatest team to have ever played.

It is hard to believe that Johnny Bench is 60 years old. That means I am getting old, too.

Socialism, Present and Future

George Will has written an outstanding column on the status of government interference in the daily lives of Americans, which concludes as follows:

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking -- bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.

As for the president-elect, he promises to change Washington. He will, by making matters worse. He will intensify rent-seeking by finding new ways -- this will not be easy -- to expand, even more than the current administration has, government's influence on spreading the wealth around.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Character in Education

The Dallas Morning News reports that the Dallas Independent School District engaged for years in a practice of assigning fake social security numbers to foreign citizens in order to streamline the hiring process for those individuals. Some of the numbers were real social security numbers used by other people -- making this a practice generally referred to as identity theft.

The district continued the practice even after the Texas Education Agency told them to stop. The false numbers were sometimes relied on by entities running criminal background checks on the school district employees.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Plan

Republicans wondering what to do next might want to think about developing some policy ideas on important issues that will resonate with people across the political spectrum.

For example: on education. It is interesting to see those on the political left beginning to entertain ideas that conservatives have been trumpeting for years. Good for them.

Sex Sells for the Church?

Christians get uptight over the way skeptics such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens demean their faith, but no one does a better job of turning wine into water than those who will do anything to put butts in seats on Sunday.

In a publicity stunt that ought to be shocking, but no longer is, Ed Young, the pastor of the gargantuan Grapevine Fellowship Church, got himself interviewed by the Dallas Morning News to make sure that everyone knows that he intends to haul a bed on to the platform on Sunday to use as a prop for a sermon in which he will encourage all of his married members to have sex every day for a week.

Just to be clear: marital sex is a gift from God and an important part of a healthy marriage. However, this kind of tawdry publicity stunt demeans the Gospel, the Church, and the marital relationship.

A Judge of Character

The man who began his tenure as owner of the Dallas Cowboys by firing Tom Landry tells reporters that he would welcome Adam "Pacman" Jones back to the team of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates him. He says that he does not think that the player will be a distraction to the team.

Yeah, right.

One suspects that Jerry Jones will get what he deserves out of all of this.

Finding Our First Amendment Rights

It remains interesting to see what the courts view as protected and not protected political speech under the First Amendment. Over the last three decades, under the guise of campaign finance reform, courts have held that restrictions can be placed on the rights of individuals and groups to fund political speech.

While that kind of freedom is suppressed, a judge in Portland, Oregon has ruled that a person has the right to ride a bicycle naked through the city as a form of political protest. Judge Jerome Labarre claimed that naked bicycle riding is a "well-established tradition" in Portland. He dismissed charges against Michael Hammond, who said that he will engage in the activity again.

Playing Craps with $700 billion?

A couple of months ago, Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke went to Congress with a plan to buy up bad mortgages. Then the plan changed and became purchasing stock in banks.

Now, Secretary Paulson is announcing an entirely different plan. The Secretary says that the facts have changed, but one can be excused for having the growing concern that he just doesn't know what the heck he's doing. Are we just rolling the dice and seeing if it comes up 7?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

More Bad News for Taxpayers

Now that GM and Ford have gained Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid's stamp of approval to become the nation's most conspicuous welfare recipients, it would be nice to know: are they at least embarrassed by this?

Since Democratic lawmakers seem to be in a race to spend our children's money to bailout every business sector that is hurting in the present economy, perhaps Mr. Reid was taking note of this story from his home state.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Quote of the Day

"a cross between a hemorrhoid and a toothache."

-- Paul Begala, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, once describing the leadership style of Barack Obama's newly appointed chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, as quoted by Peggy Noonan.

Better off in 4 Years? Probably

Irwin Stelzer makes an important point that Republicans need to heed as they plan for the future. Even if Barack Obama's policies have a stifling effect on the economy, it is almost certain that economic conditions will have improved from where they are now at the nadir of the business cycle. That means that he will most likely be able plausibly to claim that conditions have improved during his administration.

All of this means that Republicans will make a mistake if they imagine they can demonize the new President in apocalyptic terms. Lowered public expectations might be easy for the new President to exceed. Republicans will find many policy proposals that they need to vigorously oppose, but they also need to lay out clear alternatives for the American people.

Beginning the 2012 Campaign

Robert Novak reports that some Republicans are taking a look at Newt Gingrich running for President in 2012. It is not surprising that Mr. Gingrich is interested in making a run. It would also be a huge mistake.

Let's be clear: the country and the Republican Party would both be better off if the intra-party battle in the 1990's pitting Mr. Gingrich against Tom Delay had resulted in a decisive defeat for the latter. Both then and now, Mr. Gingrich brought interesting ideas and creative and organizational energy to the Party and to Congress. However, he also brought an overweening ego, enormous blind spots, and resulting huge negative ratings outside his circle of supporters.

Mr. Gingrich is one of those people who simultaneously generates tremendous enthusiasm from a core group of supporters and an enormous negative reaction from the country at large. It would be a mistake for him to run.

Let's Call it Even

I always thought, even given the worst possible spinning of the events, that it should be forgivable that Sarah Palin fired the guy who wouldn't fire the trooper who abused her sister and threatened her family.

In the same vein, let's allow Barak Obama to help his aunt stay in the country, and we'll call it a wash.

Oh, and don't bother me with saying that the situations aren't the same. Of course, they're not. I'm just willing to allow the chief executive a few prerogatives.

Urging Obama to Take Pro-Choice Initiative

The daughters of Barack Obama have been attending prestigious private schools in the Chicago area, and press reports indicate that they will do the same upon their move to Washington. The Obama's should be praised for seeking to provide their children the best education available.

It is unfortunate that the President elect opposes the concept of spreading educational wealth by providing poor children stuck in bad school districts with similar opportunities. We would urge the President elect to reconsider his position on school vouchers and press for an initiative that would allow true choices for children stuck in poor inner city schools.

Obama's Election Inspiring Interest in Constitutional Rights

The election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States has already inspired the populace to a greater level of interest in understanding and exercising their constitutional rights, at least their Second Amendment rights, according to this story in the New York Times, which explains that there has been a surge in gun purchases since it became apparent that the Democratic candidate was likely to prevail. This is not the first time that concern that Democrats might chip away at the right to keep and bear arms has resulted in increased gun sales. As Accuracy Gun Shop owner Rick Gray explains, "Clinton was the best gun salesman the gun manufacturers ever had. Obama’s going to be right up there with him.”

Understanding the Republican Disaster

A.C. Kleinheider pointed me to this plan for rebuilding the Republican Party. The plan document talks a lot about making better use of technology and building party infrastructure to raise money and recruit candidates to compete all across the country. It is not a bad plan as far as it goes. The problem is that it does not go to the root of the problem.

Getting better organized is always a good idea, but the Republican repudiation has not resulted from bad organization or a failure to communicate. The country knows what Republicans say they stand for, but it has also noted the disconnect between what Party leaders say and what they actually do.

In 2006, I heard Grover Norquist, the leader of Americans for Tax Reform, participate in a panel discussion at the National Conference of State Legislatures. Mr. Norquist has long been a loud advocate for low taxes and limited government, but he also has been an active participant in former House Speaker Tom Delay's K Street Project, which is designed to use the federal coffers to fund friends of Republicans, and he was a collaborater going back to his College Republican days of corrupt Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. In addition, at the time of the panel discussion, federal spending was skyrocketing under Republican leadership.

Thus, as Mr. Norquist carried on and on about Republicans being the party of low taxes and small government, I kept waiting for someone in the room to call BS. No one did that day, but in November 2006 and 2008, the American people have called BS.

If Republicans want to get better organized, I am all for it. However, if they want to understand what has really overtaken them, they might also pay attention to Tom Coburn (HT: Instapundit):

Conservatives find the charge that they have been suddenly expelled from American political life surreal because we have been a minority within the majority, then a minority within the minority, since 1996. Conservatives have been consciously marginalized ever since the new Republican majority decided inconvenient promises like term limits were no longer necessary now that the "good guys" were in charge. And, as far back as 1997, Republican leaders initiated the Republican leadership policy of referring to conservatives as "you conservatives"--a troublesome band best kept outside of the Republican machinery that was busy doing important work like constructing the K Street Project.

While establishment Republicans find solace in complaining about the demands from the right, the record of history shows that virtually every warning and call for internal reform conservatives have offered since 1996 has been vindicated. It was conservatives who indicted the corrupting practice of pork-barrel spending long before sitting members were formally indicted. It was conservatives who warned that budget surpluses would quickly disappear in an environment of out-of-control spending and decimate the Republican brand. It was conservatives who insisted that a culture of oversight was more important to our long-term success than a culture of parochialism.

Therefore, what led the Republican Party to this day was not the application of conservative principles but the abandonment of those principles while hypocritically appealing to those tenets.

If Republican leaders decide that it is sufficient to make better use of the internet and get better organized to push the same old same old, they may have a rude awakening in 2010.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Wright Won't Go Away

Jeremiah Wright, the minister who has become famous for urging God to send America to hell, was back at it this week, blaming the media for the controversy that undermined the President elect's campaign during the Democratic primary.

Of course, Rev. Wright did not mention his news conference before the National Press Club in April, at which he gave an unfiltered performance that nearly destroyed the Obama campaign at a critical moment. It is hard to blame the media for that.

Obama's Immediate Priority

The stock market has taken a sharp lerch downward since Tuesday's elections, with the Dow Jones having lost approximately 1,000 points in the last two days. Some pundits on the right are suggesting that the sharpest post-election drop in the nation's history represents Wall Street's too late estimation of the results of the presidential election.

The economy is on shaky ground otherwise, and the stock market has been extremely volatile over the last two months, so it is not unreasonable that Democrats have suggested that the election of Barack Obama is not to blame for the downturn of the last two days. On the other hand, Wall Street is well aware that the President elect has previously promised to "bankrupt" the coal industry, which puts the coal industry in only a slightly worse position than what President elect Obama has pledged to do to the rest of the energy industry, the financial services industry, the health care industry, the import and export industries, and those making top end salaries in all industries. I am sure that there are others I am leaving out

The Obama team needs to get aggressive in response to signal where his administration is headed. Indications are that the new President does not intend to unveil his high level appointments immediately, but that is a mistake. To reassure the markets, he needs to immediately make public his intentions regarding Treasury Secretary and other key appointments. Those appointments must demonstrate that, at most, his will be a center left administration, not a radical left one. The combination of responsible appointments and policy positions that represent a more centrist position can help calm down market concerns.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Brief Advice for Republicans

Just in case any are reading....

As you go about figuring out what went wrong, who should now lead, and what it was that Ronald Reagan did right that you can emulate (everyone on the right wants to talk about Mr. Reagan these days), consider this:

It will not be enough merely to be an opposition party. While the extent to which Barack Obama's policies are "socialist" or his relationships with radicals are problematic may have importance, those items are not the keys to winning again any more than focusing on Bill Clinton's liberalism or sex life caused you to win. To get back to where you presumably want to be, you must have a compelling, broad message centered around personal and economic freedom. Within that broad vision, some coherent policies on things like health care and controlling the growth of government might help. Those ideas must be expressed positively while also opposing the expansions of government likely to be proposed by President Obama.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Breaking it Down by County

Republicans have a lot of work to do to find a message that resonates in urban areas and the suburbs, but this map breaking down victory margins by county in the presidential race show that even in a year in which pretty much everything favored the prospects of the Democrats, that notions that the Republicans are in danger of becoming a regional party are greatly exaggerated. Actually, they are just silly.

The Obama Election

There will be plenty of time in the years ahead to disagree with the policies of a Barack Obama presidency, and I expect to have much to disagree with. However, today, we should recognize that something historic has happened for which all Americans -- Republican and Democrat, conservative and liberal -- should be thankful. The race barrier has been broken, as the United States has elected a black man as the President of the United States. John McCain paid eloquent tribute to that in his concession speech last night, and all Americans can celebrate that it has occurred.

I wish that he had been a conservative, as well, but I suppose one can't have everything.

Inauguration day should be a spectacular celebration of America, and I hope the Obama team does it right.

Anyone remember those Republicans who wanted Mr. Obama to win because they thought he would be easier to beat in November? Well.

On a much less historic scale, I suppose the next biggest winners were the pollsters. For all of the talk about the polls being wrong and voters who no longer have land lines and Bradley effects and so forth, the polls pretty much came out dead on.

Obviously, the biggest losers were the Republicans. While there will be much finger pointing at Mr. McCain and Ms. Palin, this was an election that no Republican could have won, such is public disgust with the Republican brand. Mr. Obama is the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1964 to garner at least 51% of the vote, and while the Republican congressional losses were not as bad as some feared, they were bad enough. After the Republican congressional defeat in 2006, the repudiated Republicans celebrated their new found minority status by returning the same group to leadership. It will be interesting to see if they make the same mistake again.

Much is being made of Democratic gains in so-called "red states." Those gains need not be longstanding, but to turn the tide, the Republicans need new leadership with a new vision and ideas for the direction of the nation.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voting in Irving Texas

I voted in Irving, Texas today just before lunch. There were only two people in line in front of me at the time, which surprised me. The pollworker I spoke with said that there had been lines at times through the mornings, but that much of the morning was light.

I have not voted in this precinct before, so I don't have a point of reference from past elections. In any event, it is just one precinct among thousands across the country. However, I wonder if all of the talk about record turnout based on early voting may be misguided. Early voting, other than for truly absentee voters, is a relatively new concept, and it appears that many people are for the first time taking advantage of the opportunity. Many early voters are not new voters -- they are they same ones that always vote, but they previously waited for this day.

While that makes voting easier, it also means that election day is no longer the communal event that it once was. Modernity is quite good at tearing down communal traditions for the sake of individual convenience, so many people won't think twice about this, but I think something has been lost.

In Case McCain Wins....

There is free advice for liberals here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sound Financial Institution Thinking Quote of the Day

"Why any sane banker would forgo the opportunity to have Barney Frank and Chris Dodd micromanaging and second-guessing how you deploy your government-provided capital is beyond me, but Frost Bank must have its reasons. Perhaps they decided that they'd prefer having a hot poker shoved in their eye sockets. It would likely be a lot less painful process, and you'd die much more quickly and mercifully."

-- Kevin Funnell, on Frost Bank's decision to decline federal bailout money.

Special to the Keystone State

If you live in Pennyslvania's coal regions, either in the northeastern or western part of the state, be sure to listen to this before voting on Tuesday.

I lived two years in Schuykill County, where my son was born. Best wishes to the good folks of Shenandoah and Mahanoy City.

From the Hubble Telescope

"The heavens declare the glory of God

Hat Tip: Donald Sensing

Strange Bedfellows Quote of the Day

"The alliance of rich and poor against the middle might not be as unusual as it seems. During the Great Depression reporters joked that folks in the 'working class' were Democrats, the middle class Republicans, and the upper class Socialists."

Marvin Olasky, commenting on Michael Barone's point that high end suburbanites are joining with poor city dwellers to elect Barack Obama.

Agreeing to Disagree

Peggy Noonan's sharp criticisms of the selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate caused consternation among many conservatives, and I recall reading at least one blog that claimed that she had endorsed Barack Obama. However, her interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez suggests differently:

[Y]ou know how I feel about the inadequacies not only of the campaign but of some of McCain’s judgments....But at the end of the day the old-fashioned idea of prudence comes into play. I see three arguments for a McCain vote, the first being the runaway train — bigger Democratic majorities in Congress plus a popular new Democratic president, plus a Democratic base thirsting for innovation, may well produce something wild, and who will put on the brakes? The other is the life issues, in which Obama’s disposition is apparently to the left of Bill Clinton. Our last Democratic president yielded some good things — balanced budgets for instance — due to a Republican Congress. Divided government has its virtues. In any case these three arguments are, for me, decisive

Borrowing to the Hilt

A study reported in the Dallas Morning News concludes that 16.5% of Texas homeowners are upside down on their mortgages. While that figure is much lower than states where housing prices have declined markedly, it is still a remarkable number considering that housing prices have not dropped that much in the state.

Election Year Losers

Tomorrow is election day. Unless the polls are badly wrong (they could be somewhat wrong, but I doubt that they will be wrong enough to make a difference across the board), the Republicans will take a drubbing at every level -- federal, state, local, executive, legislative.

However, American evangelicalism has arguably taken an even greater drubbing, and it has arguably been even more deserved. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be despised, but evangelical church and parachurch leaders have allowed the name of Christ to be co-opted by political ideology, with the result that they are hated for all the wrong reasons. Michael Horton 15 years ago in an essay entitled "Beyond Culture Wars" wrote words that sadly remain true today:

We have become the rock of offense rather than Christ. The irony is we have taken the offense out of the gospel--we don't preach sin and grace anymore--and have taken it over for ourselves. We're offensive for all the wrong reasons while we leave the gospel itself devoid of its power. P eople with whom we may not agree will not give us a hearing at the end of the twentieth century. Not because we have preached the gospel and called them to repentance and they don't like that, but because we have framed our communication with them in terms of a war for social, political, and cultural control. Contrary to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus was the friend of sinners. Prostitutes turned from their prostitution because, as Jesus said, "He who is forgiven much loves much." The Holy Spirit will not convert a single soul through moral crusades. He will not convert a prostitute through Senate bill 242, or change the direction of the homosexual by prime-time denunciation from moralistic preachers. Yes, we are called to preach the good news and to call men and women to repentance, but that is not a political issue, that is not ultimate a moral issue, that is a gospel issue. Repentance can no more be coerced by the state than faith; both are the gracious gifts of God.

It is often stated that the Republican Party will need to rediscover its identity. That is true. Conservative churches in the United States face a similar crisis. How do most Americans define evangelical Christianity? Is it the politics of James Dobson? Is it the smarmy stylings of Joel Osteen? Is it adherence to a set of rules like the legalistic churches of yesteryear? Is it a worship style on caffeine and steroids?

Actually, it is centered in Christ and the Cross -- God reaching out and rescuing the utterly helpless, saving people from Himself for Himself. It is not what Christians are nowadays known for. It is a central focus that deserves rediscovery.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Passing Laws Doesn't Make it So

The Better Government Association has issued its 2008 Alper Integrity Index, which rates state governments based on their laws related to freedom of information, whistleblower protections, campaign finance, open meetings, and conflicts of interest. Tennesseans will be dismayed to note that their state finished in the bottom five.

The top five states were as follows:

New Jersey
Rhode Island

Texas finished seventh.

One cannot help but wonder about the disconnect between integrity laws and integrity in government when noticing the presence of New Jersey and Louisiana near the top of the list.

Hat Tip: Statenet

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Familiarity's Result

Roger Abramson wonders about the emotional reaction of one blogger to casting her vote for Barack Obama. It got me thinking:

I suppose that it is a function of both my age and the fact that I deal with government as part of my work, but it has been years (considerably more than a decade) since I last got genuinely excited about supporting a political candidate. I have a political philosophy that causes me to support one candidate or another, but I never really get terribly excited about the men and women I am voting for or against.

If I were more in agreement with Sen. Obama's politics, I can see where I might be a bit more moved than usual because of what his candidacy represents in terms of the historic racial issues that have divided and still divide the country, but even with that, I don't think I would become terribly excited about the individual.

In some ways I envy those who can.

Economic Reading

For those who would understand economic events in the half century leading up to the present, Michael Barone has a couple of recommendations:

Robert Samuelson, The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence

David Smick, The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy

Governed out of Business

At the 2006 meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators, Federal Express founder Fred Smith noted, "The cost of government regulation is sometimes not what is, but what could have been."

British historian Paul Johnson gives a vivid illustration of what was once possible, but is no longer:

Another example is the Empire State Building, which officially opened on May 1, 1931. Masterpiece of the firm of Shreve, Lamb & Harmon, the Empire State Building was completed in only one year and 45 days, a testament to business efficiency and the determination of the dedicated workforce.

We couldn't match those time frames today, despite the advances in technology, because the advances have been outstripped by an even more rapid growth in complex and idiotic planning procedures, bureaucracy, myopic trade unionism and restrictive legislation.

Mr. Johnson argues that the current western financial crisis results partially from a liberalism that we can not afford. The regulatory state, which puts us at a severe competitive disadvantage with the burgeoning Indian and Chinese economies has had negative consequences for western society:

In August China pulled off a propaganda triumph with its staging of the Summer Olympic Games, which involved huge construction projects--all completed on time. London is currently preparing for the 2012 games. All indications, so far, are that this is going to be an embarrassing and hugely expensive fiasco.

I don't know whether this year's financial catastrophe will shock the politicians and people of the West into a new seriousness. There's certainly no sign of it yet. I had to laugh when a Chinese visitor recently said to me: "I see you're going back to the windmill in Britain. We Chinese cannot afford that."

That comment puts things in a nutshell: We are traveling along the high road to incompetence and poverty, led by a farcical coalition of fashionably liberal academics on the make, assorted eco-crackpots and media wiseacres. This strain of liberalism is highly infectious. The Indians and Chinese have yet to be infected. They're still healthy, hard at work and going places, full speed ahead.

Hat Tip: Instapundit

The Protestant Reformation and a Personal Note

October 31 -- for me Reformation Day -- is one of my favorite holidays, and normally I would have written something yesterday. Unfortunately, other commitments kept me from doing any blogging. This is what I wrote a year ago:

On this date 490 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenburg. The event began a remarkable theological and ecclesiastical battle across Europe, but it was also a culmination of a great spiritual and intellectual crisis in the heart and mind of Rev. Luther.

For years he had struggled with the concept of the righteousness of God. That was a biblical concept that terrified Luther, who realized that a God who is perfectly righteous might not be prone to look very favorably on those of us who fall far short of the same. Luther sometimes spent hours in confession and returned to his room at the monastery to flagellate himself over his sins. Eventually, however, he realized that the righteousness of God is not merely the righteousness that God demands. It is also the righteousness that God provides freely by His grace through faith alone. Luther was liberated by that realization, and so have many of us been liberated who have followed in his steps.

I once told someone who asked me why I go to church that I do so because I am a hypocrite -- those of you who don't go to church because of all the hypocrites may have me in mind. More often than I care to admit, I fall far short of what I know I am supposed to be. I don't live up to the things that I believe. Don't get me wrong: I am not a contented hypocrite. I wish that I were better than I am, and look forward to the day when I will be.

In the meantime, in Christ I find that there is hope even for people like me. God demands a righteousness that I do not have. Yet, the One who knew no sin died for mine and freely gave to me the gift of righteousness. In that alone I find hope.

Three weeks after I wrote that, I was involved in a serious car accident. I was lifeflighted to a hospital about 70 miles from the rural area where I rolled my car. I was not in that much pain, but I did fear that I might possibly bleed to death before I got to the hospital. For most of the flight, I just closed my eyes and prayed. The prayer was not a desperate plea to live, but a meditation on the fact that my only hope was not in myself or any good I could claim, but in Jesus Christ, who lived perfectly, died for my sins, and gave to me his gift of righteousness.

I was and am grateful for the strength I found during that time. I would commend to readers the comfort found in that message of grace.

Godless Trivialization of Faith

After Elizabeth Dole's (R-NC) campaign ran a controversial ad attacking her opponent for attending a fundraiser associated with the Godless Americans Political Action Committee, support for her opponent increased in the polls. Pundits are suggesting a backlash against the tone of the ad. One wonders if that backlash comes more from secularists tired of the invocation of religion in political campaigns or from Christians finally tired of the reduction of their faith to a tool for manipulation of voters. One can only hope that the latter plays at least a role.

Anyone who looks at the types of gimmickry sometimes associated with marketing Christian oriented products knows that believers are sometimes their own worst enemies (not to mention violators of the second commandment) when it comes to trivializing their faith. Even so, at some point there should be discernment that religious commitments are not being honored. They are being used.

Besides, as Martin Luther once noted, it is preferable to be governed by a competent infidel than an incompetent Christian, and whether one is godly or godless does not necessarily define suitability for public office. One aspect of Ms. Dole's ad shows a certain lack of understanding of her constituency. The ad closes by asking, "If Godless Americans threw a party in your honor, would you go?"

Well, maybe. That question actually sounds a bit like Pharisaical criticism of Jesus, who was accused of going to parties with publicans and sinners.

That is not meant to say that Christians should necessarily punish Sen. Dole by voting against her. However, Christians should protest the damage being done to our faith by the politicization of it.

Changes or Momentary Blips?

George Will provides a list of interesting states to watch on Tuesday evening:

Eleven states with 63 electoral votes have not voted Democratic in the 10 elections since 1964: Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Indiana and Virginia. On election eve, Obama is competitive in Virginia and Indiana, which Bush carried in 2004 by margins of 8.2 and 20.7 percentage points, respectively. In Nebraska, which is one of two states (Maine is the other) that allocate an electoral vote to the candidate who carries each congressional district, Obama might win the 2nd District (Omaha). In 2004, George W. Bush beat John Kerry there by 22 percentage points.

Seven states with 60 electoral votes have voted Democratic only once since 1964: North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Colorado and Arizona. It will not be startling if Obama carries two -- Colorado and North Carolina. In 2004, Bush carried them by 4.7 and 12.4 percentage points, respectively.

It will be especially interesting to see how pundits analyze Colorado if that state's voters on the same day: 1) Vote in the majority for Barack Obama; and 2) Approve a ballot measure aimed at banning racial preferences in various contexts.

Highlights and Lowlights

First, it was Joe the plumber -- well, no, he wasn't first, but he is the most recent. Now, it is Zeituni the aunt, who joins the ranks of non-political people who find themselves in an unwanted national spotlight for no real reason other than political manipulation and journalistic voyeurism.

David Broder calls this the best campaign that he has ever covered -- going back to 1960. Certainly, there have been compelling story lines and exciting stories. However, the tawdry manipulations of political hacks and their media allies who find this kind of invasiveness acceptable has been the lowlight.