Thursday, April 30, 2009

Supreme Court Vacancy?

In the last year, much of the general talk about U.S. Supreme Court vacancies has centered around Justice Ginsberg (due to poor health) or Justice Stephens (due to his age). However, there is now speculation that Justice Souter is planning to retire.

If so, does that increase the likelihood we will see two vacancies?

If any of these three retire, the ideological composition of the court will remain unchanged, as President Barack Obama will replace one liberal activist with another. However, the retirement of Justice Souter would almost certainly raise the intellectual heft of the court, as he is the court's weakest link.

Just in case anyone was wondering....

I would rather rot in hell for 2 eternities than ever own another Chrysler.

Not that I have strong feelings or anything about this abominable government entanglement in the private sector.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Do Donkeys Ever Forget?

Now that U.S. Senator Arlen Specter has announced that he will switch parties and run for re-election as a Democrat, thus giving the Party a filibuster proof majority in the U.S. Senate, the Democratic Party is placing its hopes for continued expanded power in Washington in the hands of the man who torpedoed Anita Hill.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Word on Torture

For the piece that is well-written and that aligns more closely with my own views than anything else I have read or heard, see Richard Cohen here.

I previously wrote briefly in opposition to the use of waterboarding here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Psychological Study, not Brain Surgery

Proving the obvious, a recently published study found that people who self reported that their marriages were "in a rut" were more likely to be unhappy 7 years later than those who did not say that their marriages were in a rut.

You don't say.

Hat Tip: Voluntarily Conservative, who was equally incredulous at the shocking finding.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Taking Accused Felons at Their Word

According to an investigative piece in the Dallas Morning News, there is no process in the Dallas County courts for verifying claims by criminal defendants that they are indigent and require a court appointed attorney.

In 2008, 72% of felony defendants in Dallas County received a court appointed attorney. Defense costs in those cases have risen by nearly 30% since 2005.

A Texas Sized Disgrace in the Legislature

In spite of negative publicity about it in the previous legislative session, members of the Texas General Assembly are continuing the practice of having others cast votes for them when they are not in the Chamber. According to a Dallas Morning News report, in one recent incident nine members voted even though they were not in the Chamber, and evidently eight of them were not even on the capital grounds.

Technology that was purchased to deal with the issue following the negative publicity has never been installed, and legislative leaders continue to insist that it is unnecessary. On a bipartisan basis, they insist that it is just too inconvenient to actually expect them to show up for roll calls, and they are dismissive of suggestions that the practice is both open to abuse and delegitimizes the legislative process.

However, one might suggest that if members of the legislature think that it is not necessary to be present to vote, perhaps at the next election they should be offered parting gifts.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Not Up with Modern Slang Quote of the Day

“I asked my staff to interpret that, and they said it meant that you’re an independent-minded individual.”

--U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), in response to an Esquire Magazine caption describing him as "Nobody's b-----."

Like Sen. Lugar, The Oracle also would prefer "independent-minded individual" as the description.

The Education Union President

As education unions, which routinely throw their support to Democrats, have little to do with whether children actually learn anything, the decision by the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to eliminate a program providing vouchers to children in underperforming schools in the District of Colombia is sad but unsurprising. George Will explains:

Not content with seeing the program set to die after the 2009-10 school year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan (former head of Chicago's school system, which never enrolled an Obama child) gratuitously dashed even the limited hopes of another 200 children and their parents. Duncan, who has sensibly chosen to live with his wife and two children in Virginia rather than in the District, rescinded the scholarships already awarded to those children for the final year of the program, beginning in September. He was, you understand, thinking only of the children and their parents: He would spare them the turmoil of being forced by, well, Duncan and other Democrats to return to terrible public schools after a tantalizing one-year taste of something better. Call that compassionate liberalism.

Biblical Sloppiness

Dyker Neyland explained to the Irving ISD school board that the Bible forbids her daughter from complying with a dress code that requires that shirts be tucked in. Citing a verse that tells women to dress modestly, Ms. Neyland argued that a tucked in shirt unduly exposed her 7 year old's bottom.

Though she was capable of coming up with that dazzling hermeneutic, Ms. Neyland evidently can't find any verses that would compel church attendance. She explains she doesn't go because she can't afford a proper dress.

The school board accepted the argument and agreed that her daughter would not have to comply with the code.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Democratic Capitalism, RIP

Larry Kudlow suggests that the era of democratic capitalism is over in the United States, and that is most likely correct.

It is a bit ironic that the Bush administration dealt our economic system the near fatal blows and the Obama administration has come along in the role of Jack Kevorkian.

The last three decades have produced much innovation and productivity. Much of that will be lost in the system of "corporate statism" that Mr. Kudlow briefly describes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pandering Perry

Without a doubt, the most ridiculous thing that was said by a public official yesterday in all of the Tea Party gatherings came from the lips of the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who pandered way too much in glibly in suggesting that secession might be a possibility if the federal government continues on its present course. Of course, no one believes that this will happen, and the comments have caused Mr. Perry to be appropriately pilloried on the left. Unfortunately, some on the right have defended the inane comments.

21st century Americans are not known for their precision in language, but American conservatives might learn to speak of federalism, which is clearly a constitutional doctrine involving divided sovereignty, instead of states' rights, which has in history included the notion that states have the right to secede from the Union. That states' rights doctrine was questionable to start with and, in any event, was settled by the outcome of the Civil War.

Conservatives are prone to emphasize both localism and adherence to constitutional limits in government. They should not say foolish things while imagining themselves to be defending those notions.

A Word on Tea Parties

I have not had much to say about this movement, as I have not attended. My co-blogger attended her second tea party, in Fort Worth, last night -- taking along her kids for good measure. Unfortunately, I had a conflict.

Nonetheless, I would note that those people talking about how insignificant these events are have certainly expended a considerable amount of bandwidth trying to convince the rest of us that they don't matter. If these are really overly publicized, inconsequential events appealing to fringe elements, why go to so much trouble to dismiss them?

This movement may go places, and the fun part of it is that the Republican leadership doesn't control it because they didn't start it. There certainly is a danger of populist demagoguery running amok, but if the movement stays on track, this could be the start of something that matters.

I hope to be at the next one.

Why Bother with South Dallas?

Discussing a well-researched and written feature article that appeared in last Sunday's Dallas Morning News (my comments on the article are here), an editorial in that same newspaper today argues, "For the sake of southern Dallas, the Inland Port saga should be required reading in business schools, in community leadership forums and among anyone contemplating new ventures there. Going forward, white-dominated companies must keep foremost in mind the unique history of southern Dallas."

One supposes that to be true, but the editorial fails to ask why anyone would bother. When a developer has billions of dollars to invest in a project that could create 50,000 or more jobs, there are other communities that would welcome that investor with open arms. Why deal with the mess promised by the incessantly race based politics of south Dallas' self-aggrandizing political leadership?

Don't misunderstand. South Dallas desperately needs this type of investment, and this blogger wishes the region the best. However, some claiming to represent the area are engaging in practices that benefit themselves at the expense of the region.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Distasteful but True

A federal appeals court correctly ruled that Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) had a constitutional right to defame Marines in the exercise of his office. Rep. Murtha, it should be noted, exercised his right with enthusiasm.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Shake Down Economics

The Dallas Morning News has an outstanding report on the unfortunate way that racial politics has delayed the development of a project that could eventually bring as many as 60,000 jobs to south Dallas, the neediest part of Dallas County. Richard Allen, a California developer who approached local leaders with a plan to develop an enormous inland port on unused land in south Dallas, ultimately had to apologize to a group that he accused of attempting a "shakedown." The news report doesn't take a position on the accuracy of that accusation, but readers can judge for themselves.

Mr. Allen initially approached a local leader to whom he had been recommended. The developer wished to hire him, or someone he might recommend as having an understanding of the local scene, to shepherd the project through the zoning projects and other local matters that would need to be resolved. Instead, the man,, who was black, ultimately offered Mr. Allen a group he could hire under a contract for $1.5 million and a 15% ownership stake in the project. Once Mr. Allen rejected that proposal, a group of allied black leaders began throwing one roadblock after another at the project, frequently on the basis of alleged failures to make promises regarding the hiring of minority contractors.

While this group has used racial politics to oppose the project, that is not to say that black sentiment is united against Mr. Allen. Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) has been a strong ally, and the local black contractor's association voted the company "corporate newcomer of the year" 2 years ago.

While the project has been delayed, it appears that it will eventually be completed. In the short term, the primary losers are the people of south Dallas. Even before the current recession, the region desperately needed jobs and economic development. The region has been poorly served by self-appointed leaders pursuing their own interests at the expense of those they represent.

Whose Team?

Driving to church this morning, I couldn't help noticing the glistening dome of the soon-to-be home of the Dallas Cowboys just east of Highway 360 in Arlington. For football fans all over the country, the most immediately noticable change from the former Texas Stadium is that the new home has a retractable roof. The Cowboys former home famously had a small hole in the roof, and fans claimed that it was left so that God could watch His team.

Of course, the Cowboys ceased to be God's team 20 years ago with the change in ownership, so a hole in the roof has not been necessary for quite some time.

Rumors that the new stadium has a hole through the ground have never been substantiated.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The 1960's: a reflection

One wishing to identify on which side of the fence someone resides in the American cultural divide needs only to get a reaction to the decade of the 1960's. Talk to a conservative, and that person will likely describe the decade as one of moral and political ruin. On the other hand, liberal attitudes toward the trends and events of that decade range from ambivalence to celebration.

However, there are interesting exceptions to these divergent attitudes among a minority of evangelicals who wrote about the period. These writers lament that baby boomers coming of age in that decade arrived at the wrong solutions, but they acknowledge that their rebellion arose from a correct diagnosis of the problems. Thus, evangelical philosopher and theologian Carl F.H. Henry, in volume one of his massive God, Revelation, and Authority, praised the 60's generation for challenging a "scientism" that suggested that human life could be understood and valued purely in empirical and technological terms.

Francis Schaeffer, writing in How Should We Then Live, offered an even more interesting critique, suggesting that the 60's generation was right to reject their parents' "horrible values" of "personal peace and affluence" as defining the meaning of life. Schaeffer, in this video lecture outlining the arguments of that section of the book, contends that these were the values left for those who had been taught that reason only led to despair. That generation's pursuit of drug use, not as a means of pleasure but as ideology, and leftist political causes eventually fizzled out, and Schaeffer says that he "wept" at the apathy among young adults that was left when the movement effectively reached its end.

Indeed, those baby boomers eventually made peace with finding life's meaning in personal peace and affluence while retaining (with some restraint due to the AIDS epidemic) loosened sexual values. Because personal peace and affluence, even with more sex, are not sufficient to fill the human soul, boomers have needed help in filling those holes, and so Americans now turn to Prozac rather than LSD in order to fill themselves.

The 60's generation also produced an interesting religious movement. Derided by both secularists and many Christians who didn't like their long hair and style of dress as "Jesus freaks," the Jesus movement, while generally conservative doctrinally, challenged conventional churches that they considered too cozy with mainstream American culture, including those values of personal peace and affluence. While the Jesus movement provided energy to the church while metaphorically turning over the tables in the temple, it eventually fizzled out as well due to the lack of a clear doctrinal response to the problems in the church that it had correctly diagnosed. Churches catering primarily to baby boomer Christians have largely made peace with the values of the wider culture, teaching their members how to live well and be successful within it. The other worldly, not to mention countercultural, aspects of Christianity have largely been lost in the process. Boomer churches are identified by their style, not their substance. They have guitars and drums instead of organs, but there is really not anything terribly interesting about their message.

This has created a sad irony. The current severe downturn in the economy has created anxiety for people who have grown accustomed to their comfortable existences. If they are looking for alternative meanings to life, sadly, the contemporary church has little to say to them. Churches that have grown fat by providing a spiritual rubberstamp to cultural values really have nothing to say when the values they have been rubberstamping are shaken.

Modern church marketing reveals this. Many churches, having accepted the values of the wider culture, no longer believe in the things that make them unique. Driving around Fort Worth this week, I passed a church with a huge sign advertising its 1,500 Easter egg hunt on Sunday. Is there anything wrong with a church having an Easter egg hunt for the children? No. However, a church confident in its resurrection message wouldn't lead with something about hunting eggs on its sign. Why advertise plastic eggs when your real message is that The Savior is risen from the dead and that because He rose we also can live forever.

For those who know that The Savior lives, and that we shall reign with Him, personal peace and affluence are not ultimate values. Indeed, while comforts are appreciated and enjoyed, Easter is a celebration of what has been given us that cannot be taken away.

Easter Song

I think I could put this on a loop and listen to it all day:

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Market Analysis

I must say that the analysis I read of the stock market really boggles the mind a bit. One wonders if those making investment decisions are really as short-sighted as this supposedly expert analysis implies.

Today, the Dow, as of the time of this writing, has dropped almost 3%. This article explains that this drop is explained by anxiety over upcoming first quarter earning reports. However, this calls for answers to certain questions. Over the last four weeks, as stocks have risen nicely, did it not occur to investors that we would start getting first quarter earning reports in April, as April, strangely enough, comes just after the end of the first quarter? And, when one was contemplating the possible surprise of first quarter earning reports following the conclusion of the first quarter, did anyone really expect those to be good based on all of the other economic news we have had over the last several months?

All of this might cause a reasonable observer to ask: if all of these observant people were aware that first quarter earnings reports follow soon after the conclusion of the first quarter, and if they were aware that earnings were not likely to be good, why are they experiencing such anxiety about the coming release of those reports that they caused the market to drop 3% this morning.

The one who explains that in rational terms might deserve a Nobel prize.

Government Health Care

The headline is unfair, but it is the sort of ridiculous ad hominem argument that was used against a position I was advocating at a hearing last week, so I thought I would try it.

But, to a more serious point, these mistakes evidently made at VA hospitals are inexcusable. Equipment that was not properly sterilized was used in colonoscopies performed on thousands of American veterans. So far, at least 16 now have hepatitis -- and one has tested positive for HIV.

This is no mere medical mistake. If there is not a law that would put those responsible for this in prison, there ought to be.

Voter ID

Of all of the political and policy arguments that have taken place in recent years, the one that makes the least sense to me is the debate over voter ID. Problems in recent elections -- think of the 2000 presidential election and the as yet unresolved election of a U.S. Senator from Minnesota --reveal the prospect of a total breakdown of confidence in our election process. Voter ID is not the only solution to those problems, but it is a reasonable part of the need to make sure that every legal vote counts -- and that ineligible ones do not.

The apocalyptic claims of opponents of Voter ID seem to me to be debaters points with little or no connection to real life. How many people really have no form of photo identification? If some do not, is it really that much of a burden to get one, especially when options for a free ID are being included? Could not all of these efforts at opposing this law be just as easily exercised in behalf of helping people obtain identifications? Is there not value in this common sense approach to preventing voter fraud?

People who want to compare this to Jim Crow laws can't really be serious, can they? These over the top claims are emotional and not based in reality. The legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud clearly outweighs the insignificant -- and for the most part nonexistent -- burden it imposes.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Stories only Fools Would Believe

This being April Fools Day, I thought I would try to come up with something satirical and untrue to write about. However, because I value my credibility and would not want to appear to be passing on incorrect information, I wanted the stories to be so absurd that it would be quite apparent to everyone that I was just making stuff up. Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with anything. My ideas were too far fetched to qualify as good satire. Here are some of the "out there" story lines I thought about before rejecting as too far fetched.

1. President Barack Obama, without any congressional authorization, announced that the federal government would pay for vehicle repairs covered under warranties from GM and Chrysler. The President claimed that the program was authorized by a congressional appropriation that was designed to purchase "toxic assets" from banks.

2. Explaining that it was a compromise budget requiring "hard choices," President Barack Obama announced a spending plan that included a budget deficit in the coming year higher than the entire budget in the final year of the Clinton administration only 8 years ago. No reporters asked how much the deficit would have been if no hard choices had been required.

3. U.S. Senator Charles Grassley advised AIG executives accepting contractual bonuses to resign and kill themselves. Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), evidently finding the notion of suicide to be unacceptable, listened to a series of death threats against those individuals and renewed his demand for their names while declining to promise any confidential treatment for the requested information.

4. Although elections were held last November, the winner of the election for one of Minnesota's U.S. Senate seats has still not been officially finalized, and no Senator has yet been seated as of April Fool's Day, though seating comedian Al Franken today might be fitting. No major election reforms have been announced, though various liberal groups remain staunchly opposed to restrictions that would require voters to somehow prove they are who they say they are. Texas Democrats, most of whom were born after the LBJ presidency, claim that there has never been a problem with voter fraud in the state.

5. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine pointed out that most health care measures from past generations, including Medicare, would have never passed if projections about their costs had been accurate at the time. As such, the article urged policymakers to ignore or be dishonest about future costs in order to gain passage of a universal health care plan.

See? All of these are too absurd. There is no point in expanding any of them.