HobbsOnline

Steaming hot commentary on journalism, Tennessee, politics, economics, the war and more...

Name:Bill Hobbs
Location:Nashville, Tennessee, United States

12/27/2001

"One's past in America fades before the present, as ideology, degrees, parentage, and breeding mean little in the here and now - the present pulse of the market of ideas and consumption being the sole arbiter of success. No wonder most of the world fears, envies - and is dumbfounded by - us." - Victor Davis Hanson

America: Hard to Beat

Victor Davis Hanson's worthwhile essay in National Review Online marvels at how America's weaponry and special forces "reflect the fruits of secular research, the bounty of capitalism, the discipline of civic militarism, and the spirit of egalitarianism sanctified by America's real concern, both spiritual and legal, for its soldiers in the field." But even that is not sufficient to explain how America could with no advance preparation topple a hostile regime halfway around the world in just nine weeks - in a place no less, that critics said couldn't be conquered.

Hanson says America's unrivaled power is partly due to our Western heritage that reaches back through the Renaissance and European Enlightenment to the Greeks and the Romans. "Consensual government, individual freedom, secular rationalism, free markets, egalitarianism, and self-criticism and self-audit, when applied to the battlefield, result in better-disciplined, better-equipped, better-supplied, and better-spirited armies," says Hanson. No doubt, the fighters of al Qaeda and the Taliban understood this rather well as they cowered in their caves at Tora Bora.

Europe has the same heritage, but America's power has evolved beyond, a "dividend" of our nation's "radical efforts to destroy the barriers of class, race, pedigree, accent, and any other obstacle to the completely free interplay of economic, political, cultural, and military forces," Hanson says.

America was "supercharged" by September 11, not short-circuited, he says, asking "What were bin Laden, the mobs in Pakistan and the West Bank, the nuts in al Qaeda, and their opportunistic supporters in the Middle East drinking? We shall never know, but their attack on a country such as this was pure lunacy.

"Thank God we do not have to fight anyone like ourselves," he concludes.

Of course, there is no one else like us. Which, of course, is why we are under attack. And why we will win.

12/19/2001

"For all the disdain and condescension that is often leveled at small town conservative America, it's the men and women from those places who often make it possible for the rest of us to live in peace and security." - Andrew Sullivan

The Traitor and the Patriot

What do we make of John Walker, the American-kid-turned-Taliban-terrorist? Consider him in light of Johnny "Mike" Spann, the American patriot who became the first U.S. combat casualty of the war shortly after interrogating Walker at Mazar e Sharif. Andrew Sullivanís 'Johnny Walker Red' essay in the Dec. 16 London Sunday Times has it right.

ďMuch of the country knows instinctively the kind of mindset that makes a John Walker possible. Besides, the left is in a very difficult position arguing that it is wrong to blame an entire subculture for the actions of a tiny few. For years now, they have used the example of Timothy McVeigh to indict any anti-government Republican from the heartland. Yes, guilt by association is wrong and unfair. But context tells you something.

And what the story of John Walker and John Spann tells us is that for all the disdain and condescension that is often leveled at small town conservative America, it's the men and women from those places who often make it possible for the rest of us to live in peace and security.

Americans won't press the point now. The argument is far too divisive and rancorous to gain traction in the middle of a war. But my guess is that we are witnessing a deep and profound cultural shift in the United States. The post-Vietnam liberalism that swept through an entire generation, the cultural liberalism that despised Nixon and sustained Clinton, is in a profound and perhaps irreversible retreat.

And one reason is that in the story of John Spann and John Walker, an obvious truth was revealed. We all need a sense of right and wrong - from childhood onwards. And patriotism, that atavistic, powerful, but beleaguered sentiment, is a function neither of weak minds nor feeble prejudice. Sometimes, it is a surpassing virtue, and its opposite a vain and callow evil."

Also, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby brilliantly dissects why John Walker became a traitor and a Taliban, in his Dec. 13 column,
in which he notes that Walker's parents "appear never to have rebuked their son or criticized his choices," and that they provided their son with "no absolutes, no fixed truths, no mandatory behavior, no thou-shalt-nots. If they had one conviction, it was that all convictions are worthy - that nothing is intolerable except intolerance."

12/17/2001

Europe's Left Does U-Turn on War

The onset of the war on terrorism had the European Left - and its supporters in the America-hating Left in the U.S. - predicting a new Vietnam and decrying heavy civilian casualties. Weeks later, civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been remarkably low, the Taliban has collapsed, Afghanis are celebrating their liberation - and the Left is doing an about face.

The San Francisco Chronicle
reports on the Left's amazing change of heart, now that the U.S. they love to loathe is clearly triumphing in the first phase of a clearly righteous war against Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network. The latest poll published by the French newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur found that 65 percent of the French public describe themselves as pro-American, "almost twice the figure registered in a 1996 survey." Broadcast of the video tape of bin Laden confirming his role in planning and executing the Sept. 11 attacks has caused a surge in support for America on the European continent.

"America is far from perfect," says Dominique Moisi, adjunct director of the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "But without America, the history of humanity in the 20th century would have been infinitely more tragic."

Amen.

12/12/2001

Why Politicians Shouldn't Rush to Tax the Internet

Use of the Internet has yielded cost savings of $155 billion for U.S. businesses so far, and will produce another $373 billion in cost savings through 2010 - with much of those savings being realized by 2005 - says a new research study sponsored by Cisco Systems. The Net Impact study was conducted by Hal Varian of the University of California-Berkeley, Robert E. Litan of the centrist Washington DC think tank The Brookings Institution, and Austin-based Momentum Research Group.

Researchers looked at how Internet business solutions - initiatives that combine the Internet with networking, software and computing hardware technologies to enhance or improve existing business processes or create new business opportunities - would save companies money and enhance economic growth this decade.

The survey projects that increased adoption of Internet business solutions "could account for 40 percent of the U.S. productivity increase over 10 years, possibly making it the single largest private sector contribution to productivity growth over the next decade."

Why is that important? For nearly three decades after World War II, labor productivity grew at roughly 2.5 percent annually, a pace that enabled the standard of living of the average American to double about every 30 years. Productivity growth slowed to a 1.4 annual average rate from 1973 to 1995 but after that soarded to average growth of about 3 percent a year since 1995. "Virtually no one anticipated that outcome, either inside or outside the government," writes Litan of the Brookings Institution.

In a report, The Economy and the Internet: What Lies Ahead?
, Litan and former Clinton Administration economic adviser Alice Rivlin write that "Clearly, heavy investment in computer and telecommunications technology in the 1990s - accounting for as much as a half of all plant and equipment investment in recent years - played a significant role in the recent productivity surge.

"Although the computer and telecommunications revolutions began earlier, they apparently did not have enough impact on business processes, practices and organization to show up in aggregate productivity growth until the second half of the l990s. The macroeconomic conditions of the late l990s - tight labor markets, low inflation, and fierce global competition - also encouraged firms to use new technologies as a way of economizing on labor while surviving in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

But how does the Internet drive productivity growth? Ecommerce - estimated between $100 and $200 billion annually including consumer and business transactions, "is too small in relation to the overall size of the economy to have had much impact on productivity growth," say Litan and Rivlin. "But, all that could and, we believe, likely will change, especially as Internet use becomes more prevalent. Given the recent demise of many of the 'dot coms' that symbolized the Internet revolution, it is tempting to think otherwise. But the real power of the Internet will be felt in the existing, or 'old,' economy,", which Litan and Rivlin expect will "make increasing use of the Internet to deliver benefits to consumers."

"Isolating the potential impact of the Internet on productivity is important because even a few tenths of a percent impact on the growth rate could represent a significant portion of any permanent surge in productivity that is maintained in the future."

Litan and Rivlin identify several ways the Internet will transform the economy and increase productivity growth. It will:
1. Significantly reduce the cost of many transactions necessary to produce and distribute goods and services;
2. Increase management efficiency, enabling firms to manage their supply chains more effectively and communicate more easily both within the firm and with customers and partners;
3. Increase competition by making prices more transparent, and broadening markets for buyers and sellers;
4. Increase the effectiveness of marketing and pricing; and
5. Increase consumer choice, convenience and satisfaction.

Of course, a lot of politicians want to raise taxes on the Internet. Even the leading Republican contender for governor in Tennessee talks warmly about big new taxes on ecommerce. But he and others would be wise to hold off on hobbling the coming Internet boom with new taxes. Jobs and a rising standard of living are at stake.

What A Special Election Means

Former Williamson County commissioner Glen Casada, the Republican, beat musician Gene Cotton, the Democrat, in a special election to fill a vacant seat in the state House of Representatives. Both candidates claimed to be opposed to the income tax. Casada won, as expected, in heavily Republican Williamson County. Unexpectedly, he also won big in Democrat-leaning Cheatham County. The election drew light turnout. What does it mean? The answer lies in the Cheatham County portion of the results. Voters there also rejected a proposed half-cent increase in the local-option sales tax. Casada won Cheatham County because anti-tax voters outnumber those who favor higher taxes. ...

Meanwhile, over in Arkansas, the "Tax Me More Fund" established by Gov. Mike Huckabee has exposed the pure hypocrisy of the pro-higher-taxes lobby. Given the chance to put their money where their mouths are, they've donated a mere $260.

12/7/2001

Budget in Bondage to TDOT

A Nashville City Paper editorial warning against raiding the Tennessee Department of Transportation's budget to balance the state budget is both right and wrong. The editorial is right when it says the Legislature should not raid TDOT's funds for a temporary budget Band-Aid. But viewing TDOT's funding as sacred is shortsighted.

Tennessee currently pays cash for its roads. We're one of only eight states to do so. Most states issue bonds to finance roads. Tennessee should join the other 42 states that use bond financing to build roads. If we do, we can have good roads and a balanced budget.

Paying cash is stupid and short-sighted because roads last a long time and low-interest bonds paid back over 30 years allow future users of the road to help in paying for the roads (and with inflation-devalued dollars.) Most states use bonds to build roads and other long-term infrastructure because it is sensible fiscal policy.

TDOT is loaded with cash from the gasoline tax - enough to finance the bonds to keep road construction on its current pace and divert some of TDOT's funding to immediate needs. There might even be enough left to allow the state to give drivers a small cut in the gas tax.

12/2/2001

Another Way We've Fallen Behind Arkansas

Tired of hearing that Tennessee now ranks lower than states such as Arkansas and Mississippi on various quality indicator rankings? Sorry, here's another one: Arkansas has a smarter governor than we do. Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican who sticks to his principles, understands what Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist doesn't: You don't raise taxes in the middle of a recession.

According to United Press International, Arkansas's governor challenged politicians and others demanding a tax increase to cover a revenue shortfall to "lead the way by contributing to the newly created Tax Me More Fund at the state Department of Finance and Administration." Huckabee says he created the fund so people who think they don't pay enough taxes can make a voluntary contribution to the state. Says Huckabee, "All money sent to the account will go to the state's general revenue fund to help offset the current revenue shortfall. ... There's nothing in the law that prohibits those who believe they aren't paying enough in taxes from writing a check to the state of Arkansas," the governor said. "Maybe this will make them feel better."

The fund likely won't get many donations, but it will expose the hypocrisy of Arkansas' pro-tax liberals because the names of contributors to the Tax Me More Fund, and the amount they contributed, will be made public record.