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

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


How Is The Economy?
South Knox Bubba thinks the economy is in bad shape. I think otherwise. Who is right?

Here is a chart of national unemployment stats for each month for the past 10 years. Unemployment was 7.3 percent in Jan. 1993, a full 1.6 percentage points higher than January 2003.

Here is a chart of annualized unemployment rates, 1948-2002. Turns out unemployment was higher in four of those years (1992-7.5%, 1993-6.9%, 1994-6.1% and 2002-5.8%) than it is right now (5.7%).

And if you click here and then click the "TENNESSEE, seasonally adjusted" box, you'll see that on a monthly basis, unemployment was higher in every single month from January 1993 through June of 1994 than it is right now - ranging from 7% to 5.9% compared to the current rate of 5.7%. So, unemploment is lower now, during the generally-described-as-slumping Bush economy, than it was during the beginning of the Clinton-era economic boom.


UPDATE: Just ran the data on unemployment in the Knoxville metropolitan area for the last 10 years. Turns out it is much lower now - 2.8% in December - compared to January of 1993 when it was 6.2%. And for Nashville, the the rate was 3.1% in December compared to 4.8% in January 1993. So the economy is in better shape now than it was 10 years ago. And that's very good news. A decade ago, the economy was emerging from a recession (yes, it is historical fact: the recession was over and the economy already growing before Bill Clinton took office) but unemployment was still fairly high. Yet from that rough beginning, the economy built to an incredible boom. Today, the economy is growing slowly, but the recession - which started before Clinton left office - is over. And from a much healthier base, a new and larger boom will almost certainly emerge.

An Idea Whose Time Has Passed
Canadian commentator Mark Steyn on why Bush is right and the experts are wrong about the proper approach to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians:

The argument of the wise old birds and the EU and the Arab League is that a resolution of the Palestinian question is the key to a stable Middle East - that somehow creating another backward repressive sewer state on a tiny sliver of the West Bank would transform the map from Algeria to Pakistan. Some of us think Brzezinski and Scowcroft are holding the plan upside down: Transforming the Middle East is the key to a resolution of the Palestinian question. Creating a functioning multi-ethnic confederation in Iraq is the first step. Regime change in Iran and Syria and dramatic reform in Saudi Arabia will come next. Removing the state sponsors of Palestinian terrorism, cutting off the suicide bombers from the Jew-killing bounty, isolating Hamas and Islamic Jihad as islands of depravity in a sea of liberty, ending the (at best lethargic, at worst complicit in terrorism) UN administration of the "refugee" "camps," all these are necessary -- not for a Palestinian state, but to wean the Palestinian people from their present dead-end death-cultism, without which weaning any new state is bound to fail. If the Palestinian people deserve liberty, why settle for Arafat?

Yes. But what does that have to do with Derby Line, Vermont and Stansted/Rock Island, Quebec? I'll let Steyn explain the connection.

Time Warp
Some people need to update their web content.

Pro-War Bash
More than a hundred people who favor of the liberation of Iraq turned out at the "Bash a Peugeot for Peace" rally in Nashville today. Radio talk show host Steve Gill hosted the bash, had this to say:

''What does bashing a Peugeot have to do with peace? Nothing. But most of the peace rallies have nothing to do with peace either. They're just attacking America. By calling our rally this, we just wanted to underline that point.''

And tweak the Saddam-coddling always-surrender-first French.

What is war good for? "Quite a lot actually," says the proprietor of a store selling t-shirts, caps and buttons emblazoned with the slogan Give War a Chance! Among the things war is good for: defending freedom, toppling dictators, and spreading democracy. "When nothing else works, war works wonders. Just ask Japan, well behaved since 1945." [Ed. note: I receive no money from purchases made at that site. I just liked it.]

How Saddam Hides Weapons
From the London Sunday Times, via Tehran Times, an inside look at how Saddam Hussein hides weapons of mass destruction with the help of Iranians - in Iraqi bases run by Iranian members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq terrorist organization.

Since 1987 Iraq has been hosting the MKO as part of its continuing tense relations with Iran since the imposed war of 1980 to 1988. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war American and British warplanes spared the MKO camps from bombing raids and left tanks and artillery intact while they smashed the Iraqi Army. Today, the MKO maintains at least a dozen camps in Iraq. Its 3,000-strong military force is equipped with tanks, artillery and missile launchers mostly provided by Iraq. Despite the fact that it is Iraqi-based, the MKO has always vehemently denied any connection with Saddam. But the U.S. State Department accused the group of performing internal security duties for the Iraqi dictator in return for his giving it bases. It is a claim backed up by the former MKO members interviewed last week. MKO forces were used, they said, to support the Iraqi Army's bloody quelling of the ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shia in the south, who rose up following the end of the Persian Gulf war.

The MKO - leftist and anti-Western - is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and has several thousand members operating from Iraq, as well as a network of sympathizers in Europe, the United States, and Canada. MKO was added to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997 because its attacks have often killed civilians. MKO is not tied to al Qaeda, however, members of the organization are thought to have participated in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. If indeed they are helping Saddam hide WMDs, here's hoping MKO's bases and personell wind up as "collateral damage" of the coming military liberation of Iraq.

The Empire Strikes Back
The entrenched empire of bureaucratic Big Government doesn't like its spending habits criticized nor its budget reduced. Here's an amazing story out of Missouri, courtesy of Chip Taylor and PolState.com, about bureaucrats threatening to fire state employees who suggest ways to cut the state budget. The PolState story quotes a Kansas City Star report:

House Republicans, who say state agencies are refusing to help them cut next year's budget, said Thursday one department threatened to fire employees who offer ways to save money. House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, a St. Louis County Republican, called a news conference where she passed out copies of a piece of paper that she said had been given to a GOP lawmaker by a Department of Natural Resources employee. The sheet of paper was dated Feb. 20. It had a "budget" note: "WARNING: If a senator or representative asks you for ideas about how to reduce the department's budget, DO NOT DO IT. THIS IS A FIRING OFFENSE. If they make a specific proposal, you may address the potential effects."

The bureaucracy's denials are less than convincing.

The Sequel
Victor Davis Hanson surveys the world scene and says we've seen this before, and we know how it ends.

Western Europe has almost gone the way of Weimar. Amoral, disarmed, and socialist, it seeks ephemeral peace at all costs, never long-term security, much less justice. Furious that history has not ended in perpetual peace and leisure, it has woken up angry that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair disturbed its fanciful slumber with chatter about germs and genocide. In recompense, cranky Western elites, terrified of trouble, indict on the cheap the democratically elected Mr. Sharon, while the masses in the millions go to the street to protest a war against a monster like Saddam Hussein and pay fealty to the terrorist Arafat. As in the past we see ideals in the militarily weak but spiritually strong leaders of Eastern Europe, as the Czechs and Poles once more reveal themselves to be far more moral men and women than any in Germany and France - the historic duet that so often either started or lost wars.

Meanwhile an American president and a British prime minister, the target of this domestic vitriol and self-loathing, once again stand nearly alone against fascism. Because they do, we know the ending of this sad spectacle. Saddam will end up like Hitler in his bunker, with a mistress or two and a half-dozen doomed toadies. Postbellum Iraq will yield up the age-old horrors that may even be too sick for the tabloids; Anglo-Americans will once again rebuild a defeated enemy country — and a passive-aggressive France will triangulate, seeking to reclaim glory without power as it looks for profits among the flotsam and jetsam of war.

The world, not America, has gone off the deep end - just as it did some 70 years ago when faced with similar choices between cheap rhetoric and real sacrifice. And so just as the tragedy of Pearl Harbor for Americans put an end to all the nonsense of the 1930s, let us hope that the memory of September 11 and the looming showdown with Iraq will do the same for the present farce as well.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Battlefields and Baptisms
The WaPo has a rather touching story about soldiers embracing religion on the front lines of the coming Iraq war:

As war approaches, the canvas chapels in Kuwait's military camps and logistics bases are jammed with worshipers, many of whom have not crossed the threshold of a church back home in years. The sermons on placing faith in a higher power at moments of crisis seem to resonate now more strongly than ever with many Marines. "I don't know about you, but I find myself talking to God a lot more out here than I did at the rear," said the Rev. Bill Devine, chaplain for the 7th Marine Regiment, as the wind whipped up clouds of dust and billowed the white flag with a blue cross that flew above his outdoor Mass. "I couldn't be happier to see so many new faces out here."

Many troops call such "foxhole religion" critical to their preparation for war, saying it provides confidence that they will be protected if called upon to fight and faith that their mission is just. "After today, I feel more ready to cross the border," said Lance Cpl. Matthew Haugan of Hayward, Calif., one of the Marines baptized Sunday. "This is better armor than anything the Marine Corps could give me."

Haugan, 19, said he was part of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang when he first met with a Marine recruiter two years ago. A recent trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington shook his core beliefs, he said, and regular meetings with his battalion chaplain since he arrived in the desert have set him on a different path. "Being out here helped me realize how stupid that stuff was. We are all on the same side. We are all Marines," Haugan said. "I feel better about myself than I ever have, and I know God will be looking out for me."

More so than in other wars fought by Americans in modern times, religion infuses the crisis with Iraq, as some in the Muslim world see an attack against Islam, especially after the war in Afghanistan. Chaplains and troops in Kuwait are told to avoid religious references that would fuel that suspicion. The military discourages overt signs of faith outside the guarded compounds for fear any such expression might offend Kuwaitis' religious sensibilities.

At LSA-7, about 25 miles from the Iraqi border, Devine asked God to "let the decisions made in the coming weeks bring us peace without war. But, if you want to use us to further the goal of justice, then use us. We are ready."

There's no mention of any soldiers converting to Islam.

Economy Improves
The economy grew at a much faster pace in the fourth quarter of 2002 than previously thought, says the U.S. Department of Commerce:

The economy grew at a 1.4% rate in the final quarter of last year - twice as fast as the government first estimated. The revised reading on gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2002, reported by the Commerce Department Friday, is based on more complete data and marked a stronger showing than the miserable 0.7% growth rate reported a month ago.

I wonder what South Knox Bubba thinks about that...

UPDATE: I'm no longer wondering.

Taxpayers Bill of Rights UPDATE
An updated version of my research paper on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is now available online at Tennessee Tax Revolt's website. Here is the direct link to the paper, which is in a PDF file. If you have downloaded the paper before today, please discard your version and get this one. Some minor errors in the previous version have now been corrected.

New Blog
As the War on Terror advances, it's worth paying attention to what people of influence in the Middle East are thinking about bin Laden, Iraq, terrorism, Israel, the West, etc. The best site for that is Little Green Footballs, edited by Charles Johnson. I've added LGF to my Vital Blogs list.

Oak Ridge Reaction
The Oak Ridge newspaper is reporting on the Attorney General's opinion that removes a large obstacle to amending the Oak Ridge city charter to include a Taxpayers Bill of Rights that will give voters a say in future tax increases. Already, the entrenched powers in Oak Ridge are trying to say the opinion doesn't really say what it clearly says.

The opinion says:

Since Tenn. Const. Art. XI, § 9
allows a home rule municipality to amend its charter in any way that does not conflict with general law or increase its power of taxation, and since the property tax laws do not preclude a city from modifying the procedure under which they are levied, a charter amendment which mandates that the city’s voters must approve by referendum all increases in the city property tax rate would be permissible.

And later it says:
The Constitution allows a home rule municipality to address in its charter the manner in which city tax rates are to be increased. Accordingly, it is the opinion of this Office that a home rule municipality may amend its charter to provide that a proposed increase in some city tax rates will be effective only upon ratification by a majority of the city’s qualified voters at a referendum election. But such a referendum requirement cannot necessarily be applied to some important city taxes that must be levied only in conformity with express statutory mechanisms.

Yet some members of the Oak Ridge city government, including city attorney Ken Krushenki, city council member Leonard Abbatiello and Mayor David Bradshaw are saying the opposite:
Krushenski, in a Feb. 21 letter to City Council, said the opinion appears to apply to "only home rule municipalities that do not have a procedure or municipal body in place for adoption of a tax rate." He added, "I anticipate that further research into the impact of the opinion and its effects on home rule municipalities will be forthcoming from this office."

City Council member Leonard Abbatiello said Thursday that he thinks this is a "non-issue" and that it is the responsibility of council to set the tax rates.

Bradshaw said that at first glance the opinion "appears to only apply to cities that don't have a statutory direction on how to set tax rate. "I know Oak Ridge does have a statutory process it does follow, and I imagine other cities do too. My first reaction is that this may be a general opinion that may have limited applicability."

Oak Ridge residents pay the second-highest property combined city and county property taxes in the state, behind only Memphis. And some people would like to keep it that way.


New Blog
A blog called Winds of Change suddenly started sending me a lot of traffic today. I appreciate it - and after having visited them, I added them to my list of Vital Blogs. Winds of Change is written by Joe Katzman, Adil "Muslimpundit" Farooq, Armed Liberal, Celeste Bilby and Trent Telenko. Thanks guys.

UPDATE: Winds of Change is doing a good job exposing how some anti-war public school teachers in Maine and elsewhere are harassing students whose parents are in the military.

Peace For Whom?
An Iraqi native now living in the U.S. has some questions for anti-war protestors.

What if you antiwar protesters and politicians succeed in stopping a US-led war to change the regime in Baghdad? What then will you do? Will you also demonstrate and demand "peaceful" actions to cure the abysmal human rights violations of the Iraqi people under the rule of Saddam Hussein? Or, will you simply forget about us Iraqis once you discredit George W. Bush? ... No. I suspect that most of you will simply retire to your cappucino cafes to brainstorm the next hot topic to protest, and that you will simply forget about us Iraqis.

Questions the anti-liberation Left has no good answers for.

Honoring Sept. 11
I'm not wild about the design of the replacement for the World Trade Center, although the 1,776-foot tall tower is a nice touch for both its symbolism of the American Revoilution and the fact that it would make New York once again home to the world's tallest tower. But I do like the story of the architect who designed it. It's an immigrant's story - an American story. Daniel Libeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors whose first memorable sighting of the United States was the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor, is the absolutely the right person to design the replacement for the twin towers, and the memorial to those who died in a vicious attack by Islamofacist terrorists who would, if they could, rid the world of Americans and Jews.

How to Save The West Wing
I’ve been thinking about this story, first broken by the Drudge Report, that actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who appears as District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law and Order, has filmed a commercial to counter an anti-war commercial filmed by fellow NBC drama actor Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing

In an interview with a local Memphis newspaper, Thompson did not hide his disdain for what he considers West Wing's preachy liberalism. "I've been thinking about the possibility of having my character run against Martin Sheen (Bartlet) for president," muses Thompson.

Surely, Thompson was speaking off-the-cuff, but he’s accidentally hit something: the formula for the greatest “Reality TV” series yet.

First, have Branch run for an win the New York governor's race on Law & Order. Then have Branch run against Bartlet for President – with actual unscripted “campaigns” and debates conducted across America, filmed for episodes of The West Wing (and cameos within Law & Order), with viewers voting over the Internet, a la Star Search, for the winner. In-progress polls could determine how various Bartlet and Branch campaign themes and issue positions are playing with 'voters,' contributing to the horse-race angle of the shows' press coverage. And if the winner is Branch, then the current cast of liberals who write and produce The West Wing get replaced by conservative and libertarian screenwriters and producers. And the current cast of characters who are members of Bartlet's staff would leave the show too, to be replaced by an all-new cast of actors playing conservative White House staffers.

Given the decline in ratings for The West Wing,, and the high popularity of both Law & Order and “reality shows,” surely this would be a ratings winner for NBC. And, I suspect, a bigger ratings winner after Thompson defeats Sheen and takes over The West Wing.

The American Left has long defended a suspected terrorist orrganizer who has been operating right here in the United States of America for years. In fact, they defend him still.

The indictment of Sami Al-Arian is damning. It alleges that this former professor at the University of South Florida was the head of the American wing of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He also held a key position in the group’s worldwide leadership and even established a cell of the terrorist group at his university. From the looks of the indictment, he has been an active leader. Al-Arian used his professorial status, according to the indictment, to bring other members of his terrorist group into this country "under the guise of academic conferences and meetings." He helped Palestinian Islamic Jihad members "receive cover as teachers or students" at USF. He also worked to strengthen Islamic Jihad’s ties with other terrorist groups - principally Hamas and Hezbollah.

With hordes of damn-the-evidence defenders lining up behind him, Sami Al-Arian looks to be well on his way to becoming the new Alger Hiss. It didn’t matter to Hiss’s supporters how many people died miserable deaths in the Gulag their hero helped support, and it doesn’t matter to Al-Arian’s how many innocent civilians the rumpled academic’s friends have blasted to bits on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Definitely read the whole thing.

Finding Humor in Human Shields
Here's a humorous look at the anti-war activists headed to Iraq to serve as "human shields."

Christians and Persecution
Following up yesterday's posts here and at Donald Sensing's page on the topic of the effective response to religious persecution, here's news about a forthcoming film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian who openly challenged Hitler's persecution of the Jews. From the film's website: "Bonhoeffer openly challenged his church to stand with the Jews in their time of need, and eventually joined his family in the plots to kill Hitler. His books, Cost of Discipleship, Letters and Papers from Prison, Ethics, were written during the struggle and are considered classics in the world of religion and ethics."

Blog Blockage Syndrome: The strange, conflicting feeling you get when you have the urge to blog something, but also the urge to hold off awhile because you believe the last thing you blogged is a magnum opus – or at least a very important bit of news you are very proud of – and you want it to remain visible on your homepage without scrolling.

A Landmark Opinion?
The Oak Ridge Accountability Project has issued a press release analyzing an opinion issued by the state attorney general regarding whether the state constitution allows city charters to be changed to allow citizens to vote directly in local property tax rate increases. Here is the text of the release:

In an opinion that could well become a watershed for Tennessee politics, the Tennessee State Attorney General has held that citizens do have the right under the state constitution to vote directly on local property tax rate increases. The opinion was requested in connection with a proposal by an Oak Ridge citizen group (the Oak Ridge Accountability Project). In September of last year, the Accountability group proposed a first-of-its-kind-in-Tennessee Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Oak Ridge currently possesses the second highest combined (county and city) tax rate in the state, according to the Tennessee Comptroller’s office. Only the citizens of Memphis pay higher property tax rates than the residents of Oak Ridge.

"This is a huge accountability victory for the people of Tennessee," said Martin McBride, spokesperson for the Accountability Project. "As far as Oak Ridge is concerned, the impact of this decision could far exceed all the other victories the citizens won last year, including the mall referendum.

"With this decision, the state has now officially acknowledged (as far as I know, for the first time) that citizens have a fundamental right under the Tennessee State Constitution to vote directly on local tax rates. There are restrictions and caveats to be sure, but the basic right itself is now a matter of the official record. This opinion has major implications for the Tennessee political landscape - as it applies to cities throughout Tennessee. We are simply delighted."

Last September, following the defeat of the largest municipal bond in city history, the Oak Ridge Accountability Project proposed that the city council allow citizens to vote on a Taxpayers Bill of Rights for the city. The Bill of Rights included a provision to vote on all future property tax rate increases. It was the first such measure to be proposed for a Tennessee city.

The Oak Ridge city council, however, rejected the idea, citing the constitutionality of the matter as their chief reason. "They told us that we would have to change the state constitution first, before they could even consider a Taxpayer Bill of Rights for Oak Ridge. The Attorney General opinion validates our position on the matter. No constitutional change is required."

The council's refusal to consider a Bill of Rights was the second time in 2002 that they decided against allowing a citizen vote on a matter of significant tax policy. The Accountability Group’s response to the council’s decision was to launch a successful city-wide petition drive for an independent Oak Ridge City Charter Commission. Oak Ridge voters are slated to go to the polls in June to elect the members for that Commission.

When elected, it will be the Commission’s job to decide whether to send a Bill of Rights to the citizens for consideration or not. At last count, nineteen people had picked up applications from the county election office to become candidates for the City Charter Commission.

"It is important for people to understand that we have not quite cleared all the potential legal barriers for an Oak Ridge Taxpayers Bill of Rights yet," cautioned McBride. Left unresolved, are certain questions of potential conflict with existing state statues. "Those questions are matters for the Charter Commission to wrestle with. We have done our job, the next step is up to them."

The opinion opens the way for local governments across Tennessee to become fundamentally more accountable to their citizens, by confirming that citizens themselves have the inherent right under the Tennessee State Constitution to vote on tax rate increases. Beyond the question of increases, the opinion implies that citizens have the right to vote on the actual tax rates themselves (even when no increase is involved.) "That right is also becoming clear," said McBride, "and its implications are even greater than the right to vote on tax increases."

"We intentionally limited our proposal last year to tax rate increases, because we felt that was a very moderate and reasonable way to go. To those who criticized that proposal as being a bit too "radical," we would like to point out that the constitution in fact gives citizens the right (if they wish to exercise it) to go much farther. We, however, felt that government would be best served with a more-restrained proposal, one limited to tax rate increases."

"It is hard to overstate the potential importance of this opinion. People across Tennessee are going to wake up tomorrow and find out that they can actually vote on their tax rates. Heavens!” laughed McBride, "what is the world coming to?"

The Attorney General’s opinion is available on the web at here. Information on the Oak Ridge Accountability Project is available at

Martin McBride may be contacted at (865) 482-5386 or by email at accountable-at-comcast.net.

Newspapers across Tennessee need to pay more attention to this attorney general’s opinion and what is happening in Oak Ridge. In Colorado, passage by voters of a statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights, capping the growth of government spending and taxes, came one year after a local version was passed in the city of Colorado Springs.

Readers: If you see press coverage of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights issue in a Tennessee newspaper or television news show, please email me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net. If the story is available on the Internet, please email me the link.

Iraq and the War's Real Goal
Every seven years the people of Iraq are forced to go to the polls and cast a vote for president of the "Republic of Iraq." Lately, there's been only one choice on the ballot, Saddam Hussein, and he wins in a landslide with something like 99 percent of the vote. I'm not sure how he doesn't get 100 percent, given the lack of other names on the ballot, but that's sort of beside the point.

I've been thinking lately about concerns voiced in a variety of media that Iraq won't be a suitable candidate for a democracy transplant - that Middle Eastern culture, Islam, tribalism and other factors make it unlikely the people of Iraq will be able to create and sustain a successful democratic system. I'm not so sure that's true. It's just a gut feeling, but I'm guessing that whenever Iraqis go to the polls to cast a meaningless vote for a tyrant, more than a few of them secretly wish there was another choice on the ballot - and that they could vote for that person without fear of Saddam having them and their family killed.

Over the years, too, Iraqis have seen the United States change presidents every four to eight years. And they've seen U.S. legislators come to Baghdad to publicly criticize America. Surely it has occurred to more than few Iraqis that Americans get to pick new leaders, while they don't. And surely it has crossed their minds that were a member of the Iraqi parliament to fly to Washington DC, stand in front of the White House and criticize Saddam, he would return to a sure death in Baghdad.

I have a hunch that in such thoughts and lessons are the seeds of democracy. Will the transition go smoothly in Iraq? No. But democracy and the freedom to speak one's mind without fear of being killed is something that, once tasted by the people of Iraq, will leave the vast majority of them wanting more. It's already taking root and bearing fruit in northern Iraq, where the Kurds, under the protection of the No Fly Zones, have created a democratic society that protects the rights of women and religious minorities.

So it is with interest that I read Steven den Beste's piece today on the real reason the U.S. is going to war with Iraq. den Beste quotes from an article in the Hindustan Times in which that writer says Bush administration officials such as National Security Adviser Condi Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney have long sought the opening of a "second front" in Iraq as part of the War on Terror. The writer says "the second front warriors are pushing for the occupation of Iraq as they need a model Arab democracy. Iraqis are secular and are expected to welcome ballot boxes after decades of dictatorship. It also has enough oil to pay for its own revival. Arab thinkers and Washington insiders say that another reason is that the US needs a lot of surplus petroleum handy for a showdown with the unrepentant cashbox of jihad: Saudi Arabia."

Comments den Beste:

Yes, part of why we're going to take Iraq is for its oil fields. But the reason is that we need to control them so that the House of Saud will no longer have any weapons at all against us and we won't have to pretend they're our friends any longer. One of the long term steps which is essential in this war is for the Sauds to stop financing the international spread of extremist Islam.

As den Beste notes, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program and his serial violations of UN resolutions are both a legitimate concern and a convenient excuse to open that second front. He surmises the Bush administration chose not to publicly articulate the larger goal for fear of tipping off the Saudis. Until now.

"We've reached the point where we no longer think we require the good wishes of the Sauds, and thus Bush has indeed publicly stated the real goal for this war, and the only way in the long run we can really win it: liberalization of the Arabs. And, as mentioned above, Iraq will be used to create an example in the middle East of how it's done, and most of that process will be financed by sales of Iraq's oil," says den Beste.

Indeed, President Bush has finally confirmed the real strategy, in his enormously important speech yesterday to the American Enterprise Institute.

Said Bush:
The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat. Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the middle east. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America's interest in security and America's belief in liberty both lead in the same direction. To a free and peaceful Iraq. Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state. The passing of Saddam Hussein's' regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated. Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders.

You can read the whole text of Bush's speech here, courtesy of Donald Sensing. And you should read it. Years from now, when Palestine and Israel co-exist peacefully and most of the Middle East is governed by democratic regimes that respect the rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities, the rule of law and free speech, the Bush speech to the American Enterprise Institute will be seen as a an important turning point in the history of the world.

UPDATE: David Frum thinks so too:
The speech President Bush gave last night at the American Enterprise Institute was not only one of the most important of the war – it ranks among the most important state papers of the past three decades. In front of 2000 dinner guests, the president announced that the assumptions that have governed U.S. policy in the Middle East since 1945 would govern no longer.

And James S. Robbins has an analysis of the speech, and the foreign policy strategy behind it:
One of the strong points of the current administration from the point of view of those who follow national-security strategy is that this group actually has a strategy. The previous crowd was reactive tacticians; there were no specific long-term goals, just some vague statements, and in practice they responded (or chose not to respond) to whatever global events came along. However, the Bush team is guided by bona-fide strategic thinkers. The Bush war-fighting strategy has been active, has shaped global conditions rather than been shaped by them, and has been refreshingly consistent. It has been a pleasure to watch the strategy unfold, and especially to track the befuddlement of its nearsighted critics, whose objections are based on nothing more than expediency, and whose internal contradictions mount daily.

And finally, the NYT has a very reassuring story on planning for pluralistic democracy in post-liberation Iraq.

Holy War
Donald Sensing's latest is extremely worthwhile as he contrasts the Southern and Northern way of war (think: Civil War), the Jacksonian versus Wilsonian approach to foreign policy, and why Iraq will be a war of liberation rather than a war to avenge a wrong. Added bonus: lots of insights into the new movie Gods and Generals. Too long to excerpt. Go read the whole thing.

The Military-Technology Complex
Something tells me they aren't researching stuff like this in Iraq:

The U.S. Army wants self-healing, corrosion-resistant polymers to camouflage tanks. Researchers think nanotubes will help them get there. ... In addition to self-repairing properties, the Army’s ideal smart coating must also incorporate nanoscale devices that detect corrosion at it happens - perhaps ... by sensing movement in the material.

To sense its environment, receive commands, and propagate color changes from one molecule to the next, the coatings will need wiring. At Clemson, researchers think carbon nanotubes may serve; they fill the tubes with iron to create rudimentary circuits, although it’s still unclear whether this low-power approach can create the range of colors the Army needs. Back at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, their collaborators are working to control the nanotubes with electricity, light, and laser, says Joseph Argento, deputy of the Army’s Industrial Ecology Center at Picatinny. The collaboration is investigating micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), under study elsewhere at Picatinny, though there’s doubt the microscopic machines will provide the right mix for smart coatings. “That’s still a sexy technology,” says Laura Battista, an environmental engineer at Picatinny who works on smart coatings. “But there’s nothing off the shelf right now.” MEMS could be useful, however, in “screens” that make vehicles invisible to satellites, say these researchers.

Hey. Can I get one of those radar-blocking "screens" for my car?

The Sundquist Legacy
Almost half of the current fiscal problem with TennCare is former Gov. Don Sundquist's fault, reports today's Tennessean:

Almost half of a $369 million shortfall this year in the state's TennCare program can be traced to an agreement that Gov. Don Sundquist made with the Bush administration last year to get more flexibility in running the massive health-care program, state officials and others say. The agreement set a cap on federal matching money for the managed-care organizations that run TennCare at $1.7 billion, which has been exceeded this year by just more than $170 million, according to the state's Bureau of TennCare.

I'm not sure what The Tennessean is getting at here. Is their main point 'Don't blame TennCare itself, blame the lack of sufficient federal money', Or is it 'Sundquist negotiated a lame-brained deal'? It's worth noting that the lame-brained deal with the feds wouldn't have been a problem if the state's own spending on TennCare hadn't been out of control and exceeded what the feds would match.


The Model for Post-Liberation Iraq
The leader of Kazakhstan says his country is a model for a successful post-war Iraq when it comes to religious tolerance, disarmament, and more, in a Washington Times story that also ran in Pakistan's English-language Daily Times.

Mr. Nazarbayev sees his country of some 14 million people, in which Kazakhs are a slight majority over ethnic Russians and other Slavs, as an example of how Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Jews can live in harmony.

Also, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has an interesting piece on Kazakhstan:
It's the seams between East and West, Islam and Christianity, that make Kazakhstan such a fascinating place. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country has also been moving along a hidden seam between the past and the future. Along with the new Mercedes sedans on the streets of Almaty, the streets are full of old, battered Ladas left over from the old days. International corporations and fashion brands offer their merchandise to whoever has the money, but the local market still sells old jars for a pittance to package merchandise. A middle class is slowly growing, and that's the great hope for the economy of a country blessed with all the natural resources a country could hope for: water, metals, diamonds, and a massive reserve of oil in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan is also a major hope for the West, and not only because of the oil reserves that could become an alternative to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, but also because of the moderate Islam of the region.

And this, also from Ha'aretz:
And so the world turns: While most of the world looks like it's gone crazy, with anti-Semitism breaking out everywhere, a distant Muslim republic suddenly looks like a very safe place for Jews. So safe, that the Muslim translator did not seem to be completely joking when she said, "maybe you'll send us back all the Jews who emigrated to Israel. We need people and good professionals."

Iraqi Christians
In response to my piece below on Michael Horowitz and the impotence of quiet diplomacy in the face of persecution, Donald Sensing observes that Christians in Iraq have not been singled out for extra persecution by Saddam. Here is a USA Today story on the Christian community in Baghdad. And here is a link to a piece on the history of Christianity in Iraq

Taxpayers Bill of Rights UPDATE
The Tennessee attorney general has issued an opinion that Home Rule communities can change their charter so that tax increases must first be approved by a citizen referendum. This is great news for home rule communities that want to institute a local Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Martin McBride, leader of the Oak Ridge Accountability Project, which seeks to enact a local Taxpayers Bill of Rights in the charter of the city of Oak Ridge, had sought the opinion. More later...

The Sharpest Knife
A guy scores 34 on his ACT - a 34! - and he's a football player, yet football-challenged Vanderbilt University offers him zippo money for a scholarship. They wanted him to pay them, like, $38,000 a year to go to school there just for the privilege of being part of a team destined to lose most if not all of its Southeastern Conference games. Wait, it get's better. He's from rural Tennessee, he plays quarterback, and his name is Jim Bob Cooter. He's going to play for the University of Tennessee. Or at least he's going to practice with the team and stand on the sidelines. South Knox Bubba is all over it. And here's a story from the Daily Beacon at UT.

Cooter, and for that matter anyone associated with him, still isn't sure why Vanderbilt didn't offer a red cent to an in-state student from a rural community with a 34 on his ACT. That's right, 34. "You'd think they would at least offer something," he said. "But not even a penny." That's not to say he's upset with his situation. His family has been Tennessee fans for generations, and he has been a Vol fan since he could remember understanding what his parents were saying. "This was just the best option for me, and it worked out perfectly for me that it was Tennessee," Cooter said. "I grew up with Tennessee football." Plus, UT is more conducive to his study habits than, say, Vanderbilt. "I really don't study a lot," he said. "They keep telling me I'm going to have to study in college, but I don't know. I've never taken a book home in my life, or hardly ever."

Sez here the mid-50% range ACT composite score for entering freshman at Vanderbilt for the Class of 2006 was 28-32. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but Jim Bob scored a 34, which is better. One question: where do I get my Jim Bob Cooter UT jersey? I wanna wear it to the next UT-Vandy game.

Fight Online Sales Taxes!
SayUncle is weighing in on Internet sales taxes and urging calls to legislators. You can find phone numbers and email addresses for your state representatives here and your state senators here. Scroll down to "Whackamole" or click here for more information.

Saving Kabul
Capitalists are quickly rebuilding Kabul, reports the WaPo. The anti-globo/anti-war crowd sure ain’t gonna like this: war + capitalism = a better Afghanistan.

No Faith in Quiet Diplomacy
Michael Horowitz, a Jewish writer writing for Christianity Today's online version today, has a sharp response to the view of some that quiet diplomacy is the best way to combat religious persecution by tyrant regimes in foreign countries - a view expressed in a commentary on ChristianityToday.com last October by Robert Seiple, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. Horowitz:

First is a lesson I know as a Jew - that silence doesn't work with tyrants. At root, Seiple's preferred "government-to-government" and "quiet diplomacy" approach erroneously assumes that persecuting regimes have greater power and permanency than they actually possess. It fails to understand the fragile and vulnerable character of such regimes, and it dispirits their internal opponents and crushes their victims' spirits. While engagement with persecuting regimes must often be abided as a tactical expedient, doing so on a routine basis causes their character and conduct to be masked over time, and in the process empowers and legitimizes them.

I vividly remember from my service in the Reagan administration the fear and apoplexy of senior State Department officials when President Reagan delivered his "Evil Empire" speech about the Soviet Union. (Not by accident, the speech was delivered at the annual meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals.) State Department critics of the speech labeled its truth-telling premise (and the audience before whom it was delivered) with the same "cowboy" and "machismo" pejoratives with which Seiple labels those who have raised the religious persecution issue to its current place on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Yet as we know authoritatively from senior officials of the former Soviet Union, Reagan's truth-telling was a decisive means by which the regime was brought down.

Likewise, President Bush's "Axis of Evil" designation of North Korea - viewed with equal horror by "engagement" enthusiasts like Seiple - has placed in the dock, for the first time in years, a Stalinist regime that treats possession of Bibles as a criminal offense meriting life (and as frequently death) sentences in gulags of unrivaled savagery. The regime's blustering response to the President, while raising understandable fears of a U.S.-North Korea confrontation, is in fact a clear sign of its desperation, clear evidence that it knows that the spotlight shined by the President on its conduct ensures that its days are numbered.

Who is Horowitz? He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget during the Reagan years. In recent years, he's become a leading light in the effort to combat persecution of Christians around the world, especially Christians in Third World countries run by repressive regimes.

Christianity Today says Horowitz "has had an explosive impact in motivating the church to advocacy on behalf of its persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and in pushing Congress to pass the International Religious Freedom Act," and reports that Horowitz "became concerned with Christian persecution when he and his wife hosted an Ethiopian Christian refugee, named Getaneh, in their home" and heard his story of being "beaten and hung upside down while hot oil was poured over his feet because he refused to stop preaching about Jesus."

Says Horowitz:
Throughout much of Europe's history, you could tell a country's level of democratic commitment by looking at how Jews were treated. Jews were the canaries in the coal mine, and the manner in which they were treated showed how comfortable ostensibly Christian societies were with Christian values and teachings. Too many Jews, my people, have by now been killed to be useful targets of evil, repressive regimes. But there are millions of vulnerable Third World Christians who are just right for that purpose, and they have become the scapegoats of choice for today's thugs. The manner in which Christians are treated in many parts of the world is a litmus indicator of whether freedom exists not only for them—but for all others in their societies. Christian villages and churches have become the medium on which battles for freedom in much of the Third World are waged. And, as was true with the fight against Hitler's reign of terror against Jews, appeasing the persecutors of Christians condemns millions of others to dark-age lives.

Appeasing tyrants always prolongs and extends the tyranny.

The War: A Report From the Front
Today's Christian Science Monitor has a report from the first front in the War on Islamofascist Terror: Afghanistan.

An ongoing operation northwest of Kandahar has brought US forces into contact with the largest concentrations of Taliban fighters in nearly eight months. Operation Eagle Fury involves nearly a brigade of American Special Forces and elite units of the 82nd Airborne Division, along with Afghan fighters loyal to the central government in Kabul. Spread out over the long Baghran Valley in Helmand Province, companies of US forces have spent the past two weeks moving north from village to village, searching houses for Taliban fighters and weapons caches. They've rounded up more than a dozen suspected Taliban fighters. If the US operation succeeds, American forces will have cornered Taliban forces - and perhaps some top Taliban leaders - in a high-walled valley with few opportunities of escape. Like Operation Mongoose, set in the Adi Ghar mountains southeast of Kandahar late last month, Eagle Fury started with a foiled Taliban attempt to ambush US forces. In four or five clashes that followed, the US encountered anywhere from five to a couple dozen Taliban at a time.

Until recently, contact with the enemy for many US soldiers has been limited to rocket attacks on US bases - most of which miss entirely - or the occasional homemade bomb or land mine placed near US bases. The growing aggressiveness by guerrillas is a relief for US forces, who greet the possibility of a real engagement with the Taliban as a possible turning point in the war.

"We want them to attack us, so we can engage them and destroy them," says one Special Forces soldier from the US firebase at Spin Boldak, who took part in the initial firefight that led to Operation Mongoose. "If we can draw them out of their hiding places, we can destroy them." While the Taliban seem to be regrouping, it's not clear whether their growing assertiveness is a sign of confidence or desperation. US military sources, for one, say the Taliban are entering a field of battle where US forces have a distinct advantage.

"The past two operations suggest that the level of the training and performance seems to be worse than ever," says Maj. Greg Liska, commander of the Civil Military Operations Command at the US base at Kandahar Airport. "We've had a number of people attempting to lay mines who have blown themselves up." ... Afghan commander Abdul Razzaq Achakzai, head of border security in Spin Boldak, agrees that the enemy seems to be getting weaker rather than stronger. "They can cross the border stealthily, like a thief in the night, and then escape, but they cannot come out in force so that people can see them," says Commander Achakzai. "And the people help us whenever the enemy of Afghanistan comes to disturb us. They are tired of war, and they don't want to help the enemy."

Translation: we're winning.

Technoptimist is remembering the 10th anniversary of the first World Trade Center bombing. We didn't pay enough attention back then. We're making up for it now.

The notion of charging sales taxes on all online purchases keeps coming up, and I've been asked to take another whack at it. Okay. First, the latest news: Tennessee is getting ready to tax online purchases. You can read about it in the Memphis Commercial Appeal or The Tennessean, or the Knoxville News Sentinel. Take your pick. They all repeat the same pro-tax spin, and provide less background and depth that you deserve.

I'll just demolish one excerpt from The Tennessean:

University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox told the committee the existing tax setup is costing the state $600 million in lost revenue. Ownership of computers and access to the Internet are both highly correlated to income, Fox said. About 85% of people making $75,000 or more a year have access to the Internet, while only about 25% of those making $20,000 a year or less have such access, he said.

"So we have a tax that is not fairly collected," Fox said, referring to sales taxes that more prosperous Tennesseans avoid by being able to purchase over the Internet. "It is increasingly placing a burden on low-income Tennesseans."

Absurd on two counts.

First, last year, Fox said the state was losing $300 million in sales tax revenue because of ecommerce. Now, all of the sudden, the figure for this year is $600 million. Does anyone really believe online shopping doubled in Tennessee in the last year? It hasn't doubled anywhere. In fact, online shopping remains a tiny fraction of total retail - it's growing fast, but is still only 1.6 percent of the pie. Taxing it will bring in very little revenue.

Second, Fox's argument about fairness is silly. Years of government subsidies and spending have put Internet-connected PCs in virtually every school and library across Tennessee. And more and more workers have access the the Internet at work - which is why online shopping sites see some of their biggest traffic during the typical lunch hour. If you're a Tennessean with money to spend, you can get on the Internet. And if you don't have money to spend, well, the state wasn't getting much sales tax revenue from you anyway, so it hardly matters whether you can get online to shop or not.

I don't have time to deal with all of this foolishness for the 43rd time. Just read my previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Happy reading.

UPDATE: Taxing ecommerce purchases by the jurisdiction of the seller, rather than the buyer, would not run afoul of the Commerce Clause, is much more feasible from a practical standpoint, and would be fair because the seller would be collecting tax for the state in which the seller exists and puts demands on tax-funded services. But it would create an environment in which states would race to lower taxes on online shopping, in order to attact those businesses to locate in their state and employ their people. As such, it would not be as big a revenue producer for the states - and would cost some states jobs as dot-com retailers moved to states with zero taxes on ecommerce - and that's why the states don't like it.

I wrote about that a long time ago. In fact, it was the second thing I ever posted on this blog, back on Nov. 30, 2001, the first day I published on this site. Here is the direct link. And here is an excerpt of the piece, which comments on a paper written by Aaron Lukas, trade analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies:
Lukas's essay says that even though e-commerce is a tiny component of consumer spending, "its mere existence serves to inhibit excessive taxation" because politicians "fear that if they raise tax rates too much, consumers can take advantage of low tax rates elsewhere," so online shopping free of new sales taxes will encourage state and local governments to keep overall tax rates at a more reasonable level. As Lukas points out, the states want sellers to collect online sales taxes based on the location of the buyer, which is the reverse of the way things are in the offline world, where sales taxes are collected for the jurisdiction in which the seller is located - in other words, where the sale originates.

"To truly level the playing field, states should instruct Internet-based businesses to collect the local sales tax regardless of where their customers reside," Lukas says, adding that under that type of system, retailers would have only one tax to collect and one revenue agency to deal with, lowering administrative costs. "More importantly, the de facto tax advantage for online sellers would vanish, while healthy tax competition among the states would be strengthened," he adds, commenting, "the latter, of course, is why states immediately dismiss any origin-based proposal as unworkable."

The rest of it is good, too.

Blaming TABOR
The Daily Camera, the newspaper in the ultra-liberal Colorado enclave of Boulder, is wrongly blaming that state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights for the state's budget woes. TABOR caps the growth of revenue to a reasonable level based on inflation and population growth, and requires surpluses be returned to taxpayers. TABOR does not specify how such surpluses be returned, and for the first few years of TABOR surpluses, the state used one-time rebates.

Then, a few years ago, some stupid legislators in Colorado - mostly Democrats - theorized that, with the economy humming along and TABOR surpluses mounting, they should just cut taxes permanently, so that surplus revenue wouldn't flow into the capital only to have to be sent back to the taxpayers. It was logical, except for one thing: it was based on an expectation that the economy would always produce surplus revenue.

Now, the economy is in a funk and revenue is not growing fast enough to produce a surplus. And, because of another provision of TABOR, the legislature can't raise taxes without approval by voters in a statewide referendum. Such approval is unlikely in the midst of an economic slump, of course. So some tax-loving legislators and liberal editorialists across the state are blaming TABOR.

That's silly. The tax-referendum provision of TABOR was not a secret. Legislators who chose to reduce taxes permanently based on flimsy economic projections viewed through permanent rose-tinted lenses - rather than one-time rebates that would not have lowered tax rates in future years - are to blame for the state's lack of sufficient tax revenue now.

The worrisome thing is, those who oppose TABOR on general principles (because they prefer higher taxes and bigger government) are using Colorado’s budget woes to undermine TABOR, even though TABOR is not really at fault here. There’s a lesson there for legislators and activists proposing a Tennessee version of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment to the state constitution: that amendment should include provisions that specify surplus revenue be returned through one-time rebates or temporary tax rate reductions, to prevent a fiscally myopic future legislature from responding to a one-time surplus with a permanent tax cut that would set the state for a future fiscal crisis that would undermine support for TABOR itself.

Thanks to all who have dropped some change in my tip jar in the past week.

Iraq & al Qaeda Group Linked
Here’s evidence of how Iraq is working with al Qaeda to target Americans.

In the past, Iraq's secular regime had little contact with Islamic militants, preferring to carry out operations on its own. But intelligence analysts say Iraq's bungled efforts in 1991 convinced it that terrorism wasn't its strong point, and that it's looking to use money - and Muslim solidarity - to build relationships with groups more capable of carrying out attacks.

Filipino officials stumbled onto Hussein's links to Abu Sayyaf on October 9, after a cellphone-activated bomb the group had planted at the San Roque Elementary School in Zamboanga failed to detonate. Filipino bomb experts traced the call that was to have detonated bomb back to a cellphone that made calls to Hussein, and frequent calls to the Abu Sayyaf leaders Abu Madja and Hamsiraji Sali.

"What the Iraqis and the Abu Sayyaf have in common is an enemy - the United States,'' says a Filipino intelligence official. "We think it's pretty clear that the Iraqis wanted a relationship with the Abu Sayyaf because they have the terrorist infrastructure that Iraq lacks.''

Abu Sayyaf is the Filipino franchise of the global al Qaeda Islamofascist terror network.

Why Not Listen to the Iraqis?
Amir Taheri wonders why the anti-war protestors won't listen to the opinions of ordinary Iraqis, and why the protestors don't demand Saddam disarm and stop murdering his people:

I spent part of a recent Saturday with the so-called "antiwar" marchers in London in the company of some Iraqi friends. Our aim had been to persuade the organizers to let at least one Iraqi voice to be heard. Soon, however, it became clear that the organizers were as anxious to stifle the voice of the Iraqis in exile as was Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Iraqis had come with placards reading "Freedom for Iraq" and "American rule, a hundred thousand times better than Takriti tyranny!"

But the tough guys who supervised the march would have none of that. Only official placards, manufactured in thousands and distributed among the "spontaneous" marchers, were allowed. These read "Bush and Blair, baby-killers," " Not in my name," "Freedom for Palestine," and "Indict Bush and Sharon." Not one placard demanded that Saddam should disarm to avoid war. The goons also confiscated photographs showing the tragedy of Halabja, the Kurdish town where Saddam's forces gassed 5,000 people to death in 1988.

Taheri recounts the story of an Iraqi exile, a grandmother whose three sons were murdered by Saddam Hussein, who asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson if she could "have the microphone for one minute to tell the people about my life." Jackson refused, saying the march was "not about Saddam Hussein" but was "about Bush and Blair and the massacre they plan in Iraq." And then Jackson's goons showed up to shoo the Iraqi exiles away.

Those who favor peace with Iraq favor the continuation of a murderous regime. To their eternal shame.

Our Closest Allies
Our closest allies in the coming war in Iraq will not be the British or the Australians. It will be the people of Iraq, according to this must-read story in the Chicago Tribune:

"Only those who get money from Saddam will fight the Americans - the members of the government, the Baath Party and the intelligence - and that's not a lot of people," said a taxi driver from Kerbala who stopped for tea at a small Iraqi restaurant after dropping off his passengers. "We've had him since 1979 and we're sick of him."

Fear not, taxi driver, the forces of liberation are coming very soon.

How soon? The heretefore reticent Saudis have suddenly agreed to allow the U.S. military expanded use of its bases inside Saudi Arabia - including the use of Prince Sultan Air Base for offensive air operations against Iraq, reports the WaPo:
The agreements clarified a lengthy period of uncertainty about the extent of Saudi cooperation with the United States in event of a war with Iraq. Coupled with the approval by the Turkish government of a plan to allow U.S. ground forces to launch operations into Iraq from Turkey, they provided Pentagon war planners with another important building block in the Persian Gulf region for a possible military campaign against the government in Baghdad.

Soon. Very soon.


Rubber duckies aren't a health hazard. So says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Phew. Aren't you glad we have a government agency to tell us such things? I was worried. My daughter has two of them in her bathtub. I worried endlessly that the little duckies were going to rise up and kill her.

Get A Clooney
Actor and foreign policy expert George Clooney says American “can’t beat anyone” in a war. This from a guy whose relevant foreign policy and military experience is pretty much limited to playing a soldier in two movies. Did he learn anything from those movies? Apparently not.

In 1999's Three Kings, Clooney played U.S. Army Maj. Archie Gates. In the fictional story, Gates is one of four U.S. soldiers who plan to steal a secret stash of Kuwaiti gold (looted from Kuwait by Iraqis and then hidden). Instead, the GIs find themselves getting involved with civilians being executed by Saddam Hussein and left defenseless by the U.S. military. They make the moral choice, of course, and help the civilians to safety. And the movie makes an excellent point about how the U.S. was wrong to fail to support Iraqis who rise up to overthrow Saddam at the end of the Gulf War.

In 1997's The Peacemaker, Clooney played U.S. Army Col. Thomas Devoe, a “Special Forces Intelligence Officer” assigned to help track down a stolen Russian nuke before a Serbian terrorist detonates it at the United Nations in New York. It has one of the best car chases you’ll ever see in a movie, and the ending, where Clooney and Nicole Kidman's character are racing to stop the terrorist as he wanders through the crowded streets of New York with a nuke in his backpack, is unsettling to say the least. Being a Hollywood movie, the nuclear blast is averted at the last second and millions of New Yorkers are spared. Intentionally or not, the movie makes the point that terrorist regimes must not be allowed to come into possession of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction – and that we can’t risk waiting until they have WMDs and are working to smuggle them onto our shores.

You’d think Clooney might have learned a thing or two while making those two movies. You’d think he’d understand the very real risks the United States faces, and understand that it is our failure to liberate the people of Iraq 12 years ago that left intact a breeding ground for state-sponsored terror. You'd think that he'd believe the U.S. must take this chance to rectify its mistake of 12 years ago. But he doesn't. In the movies, Clooney's character decided to save the Iraqi civilians. In the movies, Clooney's character raced to save American civilians from a terrorist nuke. But in real life, Clooney would prefer to leave the people of Iraq to suffer and die, and leave Americans vulnerable to a terrorist strike of unimaginable horror.

Three Kings and The Peacemaker were just movies. But if we again fail to liberate the people of Iraq – the plight of the Iraqis in Three Kings writ large as awful reality – then the people of Iraq may well come to loathe us as much as they loathe Saddam. And events much like the plot of the The Peacemaker may yet come to pass.

Only without the happy Hollywood ending.

Taxpayers Bill of Rights Legislation Filed in Tennessee
Two pieces of legislation related to TELs and establishment of a real Taxpayers Bill of Rights in Tennessee have been filed, including this one sponsored by Sen. Curtis Person and this one sponsored by Sen. Jim Bryson. Of the two, I prefer Bryson's by a slim margin, though passage of either would be good.

Person's bill is a call for a constitutional convention to consider a Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Bryson's bill would put a Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment on the ballot for voters to approve, a la the lottery amendment. Bryson's bill has 10 Senate co-sponsors. Person's has eight. Either piece of legislation would need 17 votes to pass the state senate. A companion bill must also pass the state House. As of now, Bryson's bill appears not to have a companion bill filed in the House, although it was only filed 12 days ago.

My correspondent down at the state legislature informs me that neither bill is moving without a strong show of grassroots support. I suggest you read both bills, read my white paper on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, and then call your legislators and your local taxpayer-friendly radio talk show hosts, and write letters to the editor, and help get the ball rolling. And ask your local newspaper why they haven't covered this news.

Tax and Spending Limits Also Limit Deficits
Some states are facing less dire fiscal crises then others. Michael New explains why:

During the economic expansion of the late 1990s, many states behaved as if their coffers would remain perpetually flush with revenue. However, that spending surge, coupled with the economic slowdown, has resulted in budgetary shortfalls across the nation. It should be noted that the fiscal situation is better in states that were able to limit budgetary growth. However, the question remains, why were some states more disciplined than others? The lessons have little to do with partisanship and more to do with the amount of fiscal discipline that was imposed on state legislators.

Indeed, one fiscal-discipline measure that enjoyed some success in limiting the growth of government during the 1990s is that of the tax and expenditure limitation, or TEL. TELs restrain government growth by limiting the amount that expenditures or revenues can increase in any given fiscal year. Many studies argue that TELs are fairly ineffective. However, during the 1990s, two states, Washington and Colorado, enacted TELs that set especially low limits for budgetary growth. The experiences of these two states are instructive. First, in both cases, state spending was restrained. According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, Washington ranked 46th in per capita state-expenditure growth during the 1990s. Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, Colorado ranked 41st in per capita state and local expenditure growth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Second, residents in both states enjoyed a considerable amount of tax relief. Colorado's TEL was unique because it mandated immediate refunds of surplus revenues. As a result, between 1997 and 2002, Colorado residents received tax rebates every year, totaling over $3.2 billion. In Washington, the situation was similar. Since spending was kept in check, surpluses began to materialize. These surpluses were used to first lower and then abolish the car tax, saving residents more than $1.3 billion. Not surprisingly, Colorado and Washington ranked first and second in terms of aggregate tax reductions during the late 1990s.

These fiscal limitations have not been able to prevent deficits altogether. In fact, Washington's current deficit is due partly to the fact that the state legislature suspended the TEL in 2000 and spent in excess of the limit. Still, many other states, such as California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts provided far less in the way of tax relief and are currently experiencing much larger deficits. This is largely because these states were unable to keep spending in check during the 1990s.

New believes that, in many states, "the current fiscal crisis provides advocates of limited government with a unique opportunity." Because many states may turn to unpopular tax increases to balance budgets, "voters might be especially receptive to the idea of tax and spending limitations," he says.

I think that's about right - even for Tennessee, where our current governor is avoiding tax increases and using spending cuts to balance the budget. But Tennesseans are still saddled with last year's tax increase, which will cost them more than $1 billion a year every year. And the new administration's effective use of spending reductions to balance the budget is merely proving to Tennesseans that, had the prior governor done the same thing for the past four years, last year's tax increase would have been unnecessary. And, the fact is, had the weak TEL in Tennessee's constitution been adhered to over the past 20 years, Tennessee today would have a multi-billion-dollar revenue surplus. For more on that, see my "white paper" on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, available by clicking here.

Also, here's another article by Michael New on TELs.

Calling Saddam
The New York Times has a fascinating story about how the U.S. military is already using some of the tools at its disposal to dislodge Saddam Hussein. Including cell phones.

American cyber-warfare experts recently waged an e-mail assault, directed at Iraq's political, military and economic leadership, urging them to break with Saddam Hussein's government. A wave of calls has gone to the private cellphone numbers of specially selected officials inside Iraq, according to leaders at the Pentagon and in the regional Central Command. As of last week, more than eight million leaflets had been dropped over Iraq — including towns 65 miles south of Baghdad — warning Iraqi antiaircraft missile operators that their bunkers will be destroyed if they track or fire at allied warplanes. In the same way, a blunt offer has gone to Iraqi ground troops: surrender, and live. But the leaflets are old-fashioned instruments compared with some of the others that are being applied already or are likely to be used soon.

"The goal of information warfare is to win without ever firing a shot," said James R. Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Central Command in Tampa, Fla. "If action does begin, information warfare is used to make the conflict as short as possible."

Our Rush To War
Here's a timeline of the United States' "rush to war" against Iraq. Just remember: resolutions are not the same as resolve. (Link courtesy of Instapundit.)

The WaPo says war is inevitable. And the NYT says a UN Security Council vote to authorize the use of military force is "the last remote hope of getting Iraq to disarm peacefully."

While We Wait...So Do They
Imagine if you are an Iraqi who desires freedom and liberation from Saddam's murderous tyranny. Imagine if you long for the day when U.S. combat troops liberate your nation and open the door to creation of a free, democratic, capitalist Iraq. Now, imagine you dream of such things while sitting in range of Saddam's missiles .. and while the UN dithers, delays and dabbles with appeasing Saddam.

Actually, you don't have to imagine it. A UPI correspondent has written about it.

The stakes could not be higher for America's war on terrorism. The nexus between terror and weapons of mass destruction exists not only in Iraq, but also in Iran and Syria. Given the portability of both (consider the mobile biological weapons labs), one has to believe the threat of this toxic combination is regional and not isolated to a single regime. The lawyers, students, teachers, and trade unionists who seek America's freedoms for themselves in the Muslim world will be the West's vital allies in toppling a political order that exports terror and seeks an apocalyptic arsenal. America needs the region's democrats to create the transparent customs services, friendly intelligence organizations, and disciplined militaries necessary to win a war on terror of which Iraq is only one battle.

These silent democrats are watching the fate that befalls the opposition gathered now in northern Iraq. If America supports the democratic opposition in Iraq now, then it will embolden the region's silent democrats. If America casts them aside the moment Saddam falls, then the silent democrats are unlikely to risk embracing America's support and ideals in the months and years to come.

The democratic Iraqi opposition now gathered in Salahudin, within range of Iraqi missiles, has hoped to hold a conference where they will announce a free government in exile. Initially, this conference was to be held last month. But after equivocation from the National Security Council, the opposition has been told to wait.

And what of post-liberation Iraq? Who will govern it and how?

Writer James S. Robbins suggests we help Iraq craft a new constitution based on James Madison's principles of federalism:
The federal principle has had some notable successes besides the US. Germany's federal constitution owes much to ours, and has endured better than its Weimar predecessor. Likewise the Japanese constitution. (Both were the products of "regime change.") Canada has been conducting a federal experiment for many years, particularly with respect to Quebec. The 1994 South African interim constitution was a remarkable document built on realistic compromise, and contains many praiseworthy structural limitations on central power. Furthermore, it was adopted at a time when predictions of civil strife in South Africa were as alarmist as they are today concerning Iraq, and the document played an important role in preventing a political and social meltdown.

When coalition forces enter Baghdad and begin distributing material assistance, they should also hand out copies of the Dar Al Faris Arabic translation of The Federalist Papers and other books from the Arabic Book Program. We should help the Iraqi people understand that for them the era of big government is over.

A capital idea.

France's Moment
Andrew Sullivan has an excellent commentary today on why France is at a pivotal moment in its history. Plus why the U.N. Security Council's vote on a resolution for war is rather beside the point.

The second U.N. resolution is irrelevant to whether a war actually takes place. It is therefore a gamble Bush cannot completely lose (whatever diplomatic and popular damage it does would be more than undone by a successful war). But it's a resolution the Security Council (and France and Germany) can easily lose. If the resolution is defeated, but war ensues, Bush will take a small hit at home, a huge hit abroad (still, how much worse could it get?) - but, precisely because of these things, an even bigger domestic gain if the war is successful. Bush will be seen as someone who did all he could to win over the U.N., but in the end, did what he believed was right. He will emerge principled and triumphant. Ditto Blair, especially if a liberated Iraq reveals untold horrors, human rights abuses and French arms contracts.

Read the whole thing.

Then check out this sensible editorial from the Knoxville News Sentinel, saying the UN can opt for or against its own future legitimacy:
The United Nations is in peril because almost every time it faces a decision that might require it to side forcefully with humane values, it weaves and dodges. There is an enormous threat to the civilized world right now from terrorists receiving weapons of mass destruction from the likes of Saddam, a genocidal maniac who has been working steadily on building nuclear weapons.

I'm Proud to Be A Member...
... of this congregation.

Corruption in the Capital?
It looks unethical and you'd think it is criminal, but state Sen. Jerry Cooper apparently broke no laws when he abused his position of power to put hundreds of thousands of dollars in his pocket at taxpayers' expense. Cooper should resign. He won't.

Bredesen: Bush Plan Good for TennCare
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen says President Bush's plans for reforming Medicaid will be good for TennCare, reports today's Tennessean.

After meeting yesterday with President Bush, Gov. Phil Bredesen said he was optimistic that the administration's Medicaid proposal could help rein in the soaring costs of TennCare. Bredesen, a Democrat, said he was impressed by the flexibility Bush's plan would give states to operate their own health insurance programs such as TennCare for the poor and people with disabilities.

A Victory Against Religious Discrimination
Nashville's Lipscomb University and the city of Nashville have won a battle against religion-based discrimination in a court case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today's Tennessean reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal on Lipscomb University's use of tax-free bonds to build new facilities.

The case dealt with a challenge of Metro government's approval of the Church of Christ-affiliated college's use of $15 million in bonds more than 10 years ago to build a new library and several sports facilities. The school repays the bonds, but gets a better rate because of the tax-exempt status. ''It represents the end of this case, which has been going on for a long time,'' Nashville lawyer Bradley MacLean said. ''Schools like Lipscomb cannot be discriminated against solely on the basis of their religious affiliation when they seek tax-exempt bond financing to advance their educational purpose.''

The high court's decision not to hear the appeal left standing a U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Metro's action ''is not direct aid'' that would violate the principle of separation of church and state. A 2-1 decision by the appeals court reversed a 2000 ruling by U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger that found Metro's action violated the separation doctrine.

In a bizarre bit of spin The Tennessean calls the case "a victory for efforts to break down the wall between church and state," although it was in fact the opposite. The case doesn't break down the wall between church and state - it fortifies the wall by protecting a church-related organization from being subject to government discrimination because of religion. It was the right decision.

Are Weblogs Journalism?
Yes, says Dave Winer, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, and publisher of Scripting News, a weblog about online publishing.

Web logs are journalism. Have they had a big impact? Absolutely. When a big story hits, I don 't necessarily trust the professional journalists to tell me what's going on. If I can get the Web logs from the people who were actually involved, I'll take that. A really remarkable thing came out from the BBC, where they asked amateur photographers to send them pictures. So they're jumping onto the trend that's going to grow and grow and grow. With the Columbia disaster, where did the pictures come from? Not from professional journalists. The typical news article consists of quotes from interviews and a little bit of connective stuff and some facts, or whatever. Mostly it's quotes from people. If I can get the quotes with no middleman in between - what exactly did CNN add to all the pictures? Maybe they earned their salaries a little bit, but web logs have become journalism, and it's much richer. Journalism is a high calling, but it's really no more than points of view on what's taking place. I think the pros are going to use this tech, and they are doing it more and more.

Freelance journalist Glenn Fleishman has some thoughts on the question. So does journalist and blogger Jeff Walsh. Also, the topic comes up from time to time at Corante.com's blog on blogging.

For more on this, scroll down to yesterday's post "On Journalism."


The Gathering Storm
Canadian columnist David Warren says the time for war is here.

America, Britain, and the entire Western world, continue to be under the direct threat that was announced from the skies over Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein has presented itself as the immediate enemy, but is part of a nexus. Our enemy is diffused and diverse, and yet united around a single goal: the destruction of U.S. power, and through that, of the civilization it protects. Our choice was plain from that morning in September: to defend ourselves, or surrender to it. There is no "third way", and there never was one. The war in Afghanistan was only the beginning, the taking of Baghdad will be far from the end.

By now, there can be no doubt that war is upon us. After the eerie calm of 2002 - equivalent in its way to the "phony war" of 1939 and early 1940 - we have reached the point where even those who live in denial can no more deny. They may continue to dispute the cause, but not for long. War changes not only the physical but the mental landscape it has touched, and nothing remains the same. There were those who blamed the rise of Hitler and Nazism for the gathering storm of World War II, and those who preferred to blame the war-mongering rhetoric of Winston Churchill. The war itself changed all that, and people who subscribed to the latter view could not even remember that they had done so, when the war was over.

You know what they say. Read the whole thing.

Faster Please
The pro-American tilt among the people of Iran is not news in the blogosphere, but it's finally inching into the mainstream American press.

"The day Saddam Hussein is arrested, killed or exiled, Iranians will pass out sweets in the streets," said Mehdi Ansari, a newspaper vendor. His clapboard kiosk on Vali Asr, Tehran's main boulevard, does brisker business these days as Iranians follow the latest twists in the U.N. inspection effort that they expect will eventually lead to war.

Read the whole thing. And then read this.

Heh heh.

A Libertarian in Taxachusetts
Massachusetts freelancer W. James Antle looks at how the Libertarian Party is finding surprising acceptance in the Bay State thanks to its small-government/low-taxes agenda.

The biggest Massachusetts Libertarian achievement of 2002 ... was the Question 1 ballot initiative to abolish the state income tax. Pushed by the Libertarian Party but disavowed by state Republicans, Question 1 was otherwise known as the Small Government Act. Its objective was to stop taxing Massachusetts citizens' incomes and roll back state spending to where it was during Gov. Dukakis' last year in office. Supporters argued that income tax abolition would result in a $3,000 tax cut for 3 million working Bay State residents and lead to the creation of 300,000 to 500,000 new jobs. The Globe's Jacoby, one of the few pro-Question 1 voices in the major media, wrote, "Shrink state government and a hive of creative private activity will take its place. Individuals and organizations will form what Edmund Burke called the 'little platoons' of a free society - the voluntary associations that have been the wellspring of so much that is useful and humane in American life."

The conventional wisdom was that even the tax cut passed by Massachusetts voters in 2000, rolling back the state income tax rate to 5 percent, was in jeopardy and that abolition of the tax entirely had no chance. The Boston Globe showed only 34 percent planning to vote yes on Question 1; the Boston Herald found just 25 percent. Instead, Question 1 received 45.4 percent of the vote - coming within a few points of passage - and prevailed in nearly a third of the commonwealth's cities and towns.

There are lessons to be learned from this by all advocates of smaller government, not just those who work within the Libertarian Party. One is the importance of linking lower taxes and government spending to increased liberty, personal responsibility and economic prosperity. Republicans who refuse to make this case are creating a void that others must be willing to fill. Yet another lesson is that at times supporters of smaller government can bypass the old arguments about whether it is better to support the Republicans or a third-party candidate. Howell, who spent most of her own campaign promoting Question 1, did not even put a dent in Mitt Romney's vote totals. Moreover, the high vote total for Question 1 helps Romney, now that he is Republican governor of the state, maintain his pledge not to raise taxes.

He Needs Killin'
Who cares if Osama bin Laden is still alive, says Greg Buete. The top dangerous manin al Qaeda is Khalid Mohammed:

In addition to Sept. 11, Mohammed helped plan the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military facility in Saudi Arabia, the 1998 African embassy bombings, the April 2002 Tunisian synagogue blast, and the recent bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed 200 people. He is believed to have 60 aliases and scores of passports. And, of course, Mohammed personally trained three of the four pilots for Sept. 11 - the Hamburg cell - and controlled the operation's funding.

He's in every relevant event - one senior U.S. intelligence official calls him the "Forrest Gump" of terrorism. Former CIA agent Bob Baer told the UPI that Khalid Mohammed was personally behind the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl; Baer and Pearl were working together to find Mohammed. Unfortunately, Pearl found him - but not the warm and friendly version that Fouda met.

As the main contact point between al Qaeda and Southeast Asian terror groups Mohammed has his hands in every aspect of al Qaeda operations including being a personal contact to Jemaah Islamiah's operational leader, Riduan Isamuddin (Hambali). As the capture of Binalshibh was essential to learn the habits of Khalid Mohammed, the capture of Mohammed could uncover the whole bin Laden network including its SE Asian links.

We better hurry. From the Fouda interview there is indication that Mohammed is planning an attack worse than Sept. 11. The attacks on Washington D.C. and New York City were the realization of years of planning and improving the failed Bojinka plot. Mohammed learned from Bojinka's failure to detail every aspect of a major attack, patiently mulling it over a long time.

In the interview Mohammed told Fouda that the al Qaeda military committee had initially targeted nuclear plants for Sept. 11 but that the idea was dropped because the attack might "get out of hand." Fouda says that Mohammed made it clear to him that al Qaeda would target nuclear stations in the future. Perhaps too much time has been spent wondering which capital building al Qaeda will hit next. Perhaps Mohammed has broadcast the next target loud and clear.

How Will The War Unfold?
It will be "a three-dimensional fight, a synchronized ballet of lethality conducted with lightning swiftness."

And with care to protect civilians;

War planners are going to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties and to deal with potentially huge numbers of refugees, officials say. Thousands of targets are being reviewed, spearheaded by "target boards" of military officers and civilian officials who decide which ones have military value and should be included on the list. Three-dimensional computer models are created to look at each target to determine the best angle, bomb and fuse for an attack. Targets that could lead to civilian casualties require extra scrutiny and top-level civilian approval, officials say. "No military in history takes more care to prevent civilian casualties than the U.S. military," said Jim Wilkinson, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which is in charge of planning for an attack on Iraq. "However, when you're dealing with someone like Saddam Hussein, who has a history of using civilians as human shields, some civilian casualties may be inevitable." Military officers realize that large numbers of refugees could slow an allied advance, tax allied supplies and focus the world's news media on the plight of dispossessed Iraqis. The Pentagon and other U.S. agencies are stockpiling food, water and medical supplies near Iraq, and are outfitting a humanitarian crisis center in Kuwait, with the assistance of foreign governments and relief agencies.

Well, God bless the USA. Which, come to think of it, is what the people of Iraq will soon be saying.

Worth Reading
Mark Steyn’s long commentary on the state of the American newspaper industry is worth reading. And for you Nashvillians, it’s got a brief mention of the Nashville City Paper.

Frankly Speaking
Longtime Knoxville newspaper journalist and columnist Frank Cagle will soon have a daily radio show in Knoxville. Frank, may I suggest one of your first guests be Glen Reynolds, a/k/a the InstaPundit. And turn your site into a full-fledged blog.

Economic Health Debate
So, SKB thinks there's a housing bubble. Funny, because Alan Greenspan doesn’t.

Many economists see healthy demand and rising incomes underpinning the housing boom, and reject predictions of a housing bubble on the national level. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said last week in congressional testimony that housing construction is in balance with demand. "We're effectively not building up a glut of excess housing," he said.

Relax, SKB, I didn't say the economy was great. I merely pointed to an article which points out that, by many measures, it is in better shape than some past economies we considered at the time to be "boom" economies. Of course, not everyone is doing great. The old joke is true: What's the difference between a recession and a depression? A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours.

My take on the economy is it is not as bad as portrayed by some, but needs improvement. But mostly what it needs is for people to stop whining and stop worrying. I see reports that business is "worried" about war with Iraq. Why? Their troops are no match for ours, and the people of Iraq or widely reported as secretly ready to welcome the U.S. as liberators. There is no quagmire ahead. If I was a businessman, I'd be worried if we don't go to war and remove Saddam Hussein from power - worried that he'll soon give the makings of a dirty bomb to his friends in al Qaeda, and the resulting death in New York or Baltimore or DC would make the post-September 11 economic slide look like irrational exuberance.

On Journalism
What makes a journalist? Donald Sensing explores that question in this worthwhile piece of commentary today, in response to an exchange between Sensing and two Nashville radio hosts over weblogging and journalistic "accountability." I wholeheartedly agree with every word Rev. Sensing writes. Here's a few of them:

Karlen was very bothered that (heaven forfend!) non-journalists are able to go onto the internet and write whatever they want to with no accountability! Please pass the smelling salts, I might faint. Personally, I remember this thing called the First Amendment, which I don't think applies only to journalists. When other people exercise it, it doesn't offend me.

There are at least two pertinent facts here: Journalism is a job, not a profession. In fact, I have extensive formal journalism training, and I can tell you that there is no particular skill to it that is particularly difficult or unobtainable by average people. There is no "accountability" of journalists in any meaningful sense. There is no equivalent of a bar exam for journalists. There is no licensing procedure for journalists. There is no minimum education level required, nor any particular special kind of training at all. Fill out an employment application, get hired at minimum wage or better, and presto, you're a journalist. Or just take a pad and pencil, call some folks on the phone and do some interviews, and you're a journalist, too. Think not? Read on.

Sensing also explores the toothless "code of ethics" of the Society of Professional Journalists, and links to a Matt Welch column commenting on how some mainstream media are catering almost exclusively to the well-to-do in search of advertising dollars, skewing their news coverage in order to achieve reader demographics that attract high-dollar advertisers. Funny he should mention it. Today's New York Times has a story today on changes in the wind at CNN:
"No one expects "Connie Chung Tonight" to be canceled or to change much any time soon. But executives say they are not dismissing questions about its future. Ms. Chung's predicament symbolizes a shift, even in the last month, in the network's thinking about its direction in a cable news world dominated by Fox News Channel, which is owned by the News Corporation. Generally, executives are coming to accept, if reluctantly, CNN's status as the No. 2 channel and are focusing on how to attract educated, more affluent viewers who attract premium advertisers."

As for the issue of journalistic accountability and weblogging Sensing talks about, I've been on the same radio show he describes about eight times - maybe more - in recent years, including several times since the launch of this blog more than a year ago, and it has always been clear to me that the hosts don't "get" blogging. And last week, another guest brought up weblogs and not only did the hosts not seem to be clued in, a different guest - who had spent several years as a "media critic" writing for two Nashville newspapers - admitted he'd heard of the world's most popular weblog, InstaPundit, but had never read it. He, likewise, was clueless about blogs. (You can hear that discussion by listening to the archived show. If I recall correctly, it happens near the end of the first hour of the show.)

It's not surprising they don't get it. Most mainstream journalists don't - and I say that as one who holds a journalism degree, and has spent more than 15 years doing journalism in various forms - newspapers, magazines and online. We're still early in this journalistic revolution, folks. You can't expect most radio, TV or print journalists who have spent their entire career learning, doing and perfecting top-down journalism to grasp the nature of the new grassroots journalism. Even a radio show like the one Sensing was on doesn't feature the voices of the common man - just an endless parade of elites from politics, business, government and religion. Weblogs provide a journalistic outlet for anyone. Don't like what you read in The Daily Fishwrapper or heard on the local radio talkathon? Start a blog and say so, then email the link to some well-trafficked blogs and hope someone refers traffic to you. Soon, you might be talking to a thousand people. Or 100,000. This naturally scares the bejeebers out of the "professionals" who like being in control of the "free flow" of ideas.

I practice the craft of journalism on a daily basis, in a variety of forms. Ever since November 2001, I've spent a lot of time learning and doing weblog-based journalism. I started this blog Nov. 30, 2001, as a companion to a weekly newspaper column I wrote for a small start-up traditional daily in Nashville. The idea was to provide readers of that column with an online page of links to source material related to my columns, but it soon evolved into much more. I stopped writing the column almost a year ago. Today, the blog generates far more reader reaction and comment than the newspaper column ever did. I've had guest columns published in major newspapers - The Tennessean, and the Memphis Commercial-Appeal, with circulations well above 100,000, yet it is the weblog, not those columns, which have generated the most emails.

No media tool allows for more accountability and more-rapid correcting of error than weblogs. None. And blog articles - which, incidentally, tend to be commentary rather than straight news - are often better referenced than anything you'll read in your local daily. Bloggers won't just tell you what they think about something - they'll provide you links to the relevant source materials, and even links to other blogs that take a different point of view. Rev. Sensing quotes the SPJ "Code of Ethics" in its entirety - and links to it. What are the chances he would deliberately misquote it? Zero. He linked to it - you can read it for yourself. The Internet makes it easy to fact-check bloggers - which creates more pressure on bloggers to get their facts right.

Blogs most certainly correct errors faster than radio shows. Think about it - blogs by their very nature of linking to other blogs and being linked to by other blogs, have a form of built-in peer review. If Sensing's essay today stated something as a "fact" which was not, he'll be corrected on another blog. And he’ll probably note the correction on his site – or link to it. Good bloggers tend to point to other blogs that DISAGREE with them on some fact or analysis. There's a degree of openness to the exchange of ideas that enhances both the depth of the information and its credibility.

Compare that to a radio show - even a high-minded two-hour radio show dedicated to discussion of public issues. Once that radio show is in the can, it's permanent and unchangeable. Radio shows enshrine their errors and lack of knowledge forever on tape. Sure, sometimes a caller calls in and corrects an error, but not all callers get on the air, and not all errors are corrected. And on the show Sensing describes, they don't take calls - only emails and faxes, and then only some of those. I listen to the show almost every day and not a day goes by in which the show ends with some factual error made by a host or guest left uncorrected. That's not criticism - humans are imperfect beings, errors happen, and not all of them get corrected. But I haven't heard radio shows taking call-ins from other radio shows in order to dispute some fact or opinion. Blogs do that, in real-time, with extensive hyperlinks to other articles, documents and source materials they cite.

When's the last time you saw a footnote in a newspaper? When's the last time you were listening to talk radio and another talk radio host from a different show called in to correct an error? Never and never. Blogs do both.

Now, do as Sensing says: read on.


Fiscal responsibility wins the day in Knoxville
I didn't vote for Bredesen, but it seems his ideas are contagious. The Knox County School Board rejected a proposed site for a new high school in West Knoxville.

School Superintendent Charles Lindsey recommended deferring the decision until the board knew how much money it would have to spend on capital projects. This year's budget included $1.8 million for land purchases, not the $3 million needed to buy the parcel. The 2003-04 capital plan budget won't be approved by the Knox County Commission until midsummer.

"There's a lot of concern now about the impact of the state budget. There's a real possibility our capital plan will be reduced significantly," Lindsey said. What could happen, he said, is that the board could obligate itself for the $3 million and have to shift money away from another project.

Let's hope this is a sign of things to come.

Greetings from East Tennessee
My name is Rich Hailey, and I blog from Sevierville. I was invited by Bill (OK, I begged) to join his blog to add coverage from the eastern part of the state. Tennessee has long been known as a three part state, with three very distinct identities, and I hope I can share some of what makes East Tennessee special with you. If you aren't familiar with me from my blog, Shots Across the Bow, I am a fiscal conservative with social libertarian leanings. I am against an income tax, although the TABOR idea raises intriguing possibilities. I voted for Van Hilleary, but have to admit I've been impressed with Bredesen so far. I'll continue to give him the benefit of the doubt. My email address is rhailey-at-shotsacrossthebow dot com; please feel free to contact me with any questions or responses to what you read here.

The Plot Thickens
The indefatigable Phil Williams at NewsChannel5 reports on the widening probe into possible corruption in the recently-ended Sundquist administration. A federal grand jury has subpoenaed thousands of emails sent to or by Sundquist, several top officials in his administration, and a friend of the governor who magically got a very lucrative contract with the state. The Bredesen administration is said to be "cooperating fully," by providing the grand jury with everything it is asking for.

Now it gets interesting...

The Real War
Donald Sensing is linking to essays by Michael Ledeen and Victor Davis Hanson that express similar themes to each other - and to the Robert Heinlein quote below. Go to Sensing's blog to follow the links. I've read both Ledeen and Hanson's commentaries and recommend them highly.

Quote of the Day

"Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire."
- Robert Heinlein

I can't begin to adequately explain how brilliant this essay from Steven den Beste is. An excerpt:

Extremist Muslims have come to hate the US not only because our way of life and our beliefs are nearly diametrically opposite to what their religion says is a virtuous life, but also because we're drastically more successful than they are. America is a living heresy; we live lives filled with sin, and somehow or other we seem to escape the punishment of Allah (though there's always hope for tomorrow if only they pray hard enough). There can, of course, be only one explanation: we're being protected by Satan. And thus opposition to the US is a holy war, because America is blasphemy just by existing. And to orthodox Marxists, America is also blasphemy. Our capitalist system refuses to self-destruct the way Marx predicted it would. America found an answer to the problem Marx identified.

In the twentieth century, America converted the entire Proletariat into Bourgeois. America's workers are also stockholders and investors. There will be no revolution of the Proletariat in the US because America doesn't have one anymore. America's downtrodden and exploited factory workers don't seem to be interested in hearing about how bad their lives are, especially since they generally have a standard of living which is envied by most of the world.

And so it is that European Socialists hate America for the same reason the Muslim extremists do: This isn't what The Prophet said would happen. We were promised that we would win!

Just go read the whole thing.

Lashing Out at Limits
Colorado's Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, an amendment in the state constitution, limits the growth of government spending and taxes. Naturally, the governing class doesn't like it. Now, some legislators and bureaucrats are calling for amending the amendment, or repealing it. Here's a very revealing paragraph from the Aurora Sentinel's story:

Assistant House Minority Leader Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, said TABOR should be modified because it punishes lawmakers for cutting spending, ratcheting down spending in future years.

Absurd. TABOR does not "punish" lawmakers for cutting spending - in fact, TABOR never requires spending cuts at all. What TABOR does is allow government to grow spending at a responsible rate every year in which the economy generates the tax revenue to pay for it.

TABOR allows Colorado's government to increase spending at the rate of either actual revenue growth or the combined rate of population growth and inflation, whichever is smaller. In boom years, there is surplus revenue that is rebated, however, spending continues to grow. In bad years, like this one, TABOR is a non-factor because revenue is coming in slower than the formula. Given that fact, TABOR actually rewards lawmakers for good spending decisions. How? Without TABOR, all that excess revenue would have been spent, increasing the size and cost of government during the boom years to a level unsustainable during a year in which the economy is not booming. Think about it. Because of TABOR, Colorado taxpayers kept or were rebated some $3.2 billion that, without TABOR, would have been spent. Colorado's budget and government would be larger and more expensive today, and the state legislature would be facing a much-larger gap between revenue and spending.

Colorado state Sen. Ron Teck, R-Grand Junction, would like to see TABOR modified, but agrees it has been good in some respects:
"If it had not been there, we'd have dug a deeper hole. It provided the discipline we in the Legislature didn't have.

Which is precisely why we need a similar constitutional amendment in Tennessee.

Here's a link to a related story in the Denver Post.

And here's another Denver Post story with some truly twisted logic from an anti-TABOR Democrat in the Colorado legislature:
Without TABOR, Colorado government would have had a lot more fat in the budget because lawmakers would have invested more heavily in programs over the years, said Rep. Tom Plant, D-Nederland. That would have made cutting the budget easier, he said. "We could have been cutting the fat. Instead, we're cutting the meat."

He actually thinks it's good fiscal policy to waste billions of dollars during good economic times so there's spending that can be cut in the bad years. Rep. Plant is the poster child for why TABOR amendments are a good idea.

Meanwhile, a recent story in the Vail Daily story reports that popular support for TABOR is "well over 60 percent and climbing."

Are you listening, Gov. Bredesen?

Sales Job
The Nashville City Paper has a completely one-sided fair and balanced story heavily promoting the reporting on the Virtual March on Washington schedule for Feb. 26. The paper's woefully inaccurate chirpy headline says the Virtual March is designed to solicit "citizen input" on the Iraq war, but what is really intended is an Internet-enabled flooding of Congress with emails and faxes opposing the war. Let's hope the City Paper got paid for that front-page ad.

By the way, you can use the Virtual March's Internet site to send messages to your senators even if you favor the war. Just delete their insipid pre-written text and write your own note of support for militarily disarming and deposing the murderous Iraqi regime.

And the next time you want a newspaper to run a biased story favoring your organization, I suggest you email the Nashville City Paper

What Do Iraqis Think of War?
Perhaps we should ask them.

The Iraqi people are not interested in who is to carry out this task — be it an individual or individuals, one outside force or a coalition of forces. They see the issue as being essentially one of ethics and humanity, and furthermore believe that the task of freeing them of this tyranny is an obligation enjoined by every sacred code of law and supported by every secular ethical system. Anyone, therefore, who can perform this task will win their gratitude. To them it is entirely unacceptable that someone who is able to bring about — or help bring about — the collapse of this regime should, nonetheless, do nothing.

Privately, He's Crying
You know this can't be fun for Jimmy Nafieh. A year ago, the Speaker of the Tennessee House was on the verge of passing a state income tax that would have provided the state a revenue stream that would grow like kudzu, at taxpayers' expense of course. Such revenue would allow Naifeh and his big-spending friends in the Legislature to forever avoid the hard task of setting priorities and of scouring the state budget for waste and inefficiency. Today, Naifeh is saying the governor's plans for a spending reduction of 9 percent, touching virtually every department (except K-12 education, which gets a boost), will pass the Legislature:

''No one is looking toward raising any new revenue and the governor is not going to be proposing it. He is going to be proposing a cut budget without new revenue, and, therefore, most folks are looking forward to seeing it.''

Most folks 'cept Naifeh, of course. Funny thing is, last year Naifeh was among the chorus of politicos and bureaucrats who admonished anyone who suggested cutting a penny of state spending that there were no pennies that could be cut. But now we're managing to cut the state budget by 9 percent - without touching K-12 education.

Amazing what children can be made to do once an adult takes charge.

New Guest Writer
East Tennessean Rich Hailey, who has his own blog called "Shots Across the Bow," will be posting here occasionally as well, providing an East Tennessee perspective. Welcome, Rich!


Sensing the Truth
Donald Sensing's excellent op-ed for the United Methodist News Service on why war with Iraq is justified and necessary is now available online here. Sensing, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Franklin, and author of the excellent One Hand Clapping blog also invites you to read two other op-eds also penned by UM theologians and pastors, who oppose war with Iraq, and evaluate for yourself which argument is correct. Also, Sensing will be on Nashville radio for two hours Friday morning. More details and a link to streaming audio here.

Actually, the Economy Is Doing Quite Fine
How's the economy? Pretty good, especially when looked at in historical context, says Business 2.0:

Recession. Terrorism. Layoffs. What wage earner or job seeker in this economy wouldn't want a return to "Morning in America"? Remember that? The year was 1984, and Ronald Reagan was running for reelection under that slogan, declaring that the long night of Carter-era economic stagnation had ended. Americans agreed so overwhelmingly that Reagan won majorities in 49 states. Yet the very month of Reagan's landslide, the unemployment rate stood at a painful 7.2 percent.

Or how about "The Downsizing of America"? That was the title of a much-discussed collection of New York Times articles that, beginning in March 1996, poignantly depicted the lot of workers displaced in a supposedly "jobless" recovery. This 51,000-word series inspired a blizzard of copycat stories and fostered a gloom not unlike the one that hangs over the job market today. Yet the downsizing that outraged the Times was limited almost entirely to a statistically insignificant, if highly visible, population of white, middle-age managers - many of them working in corporations, like AT&T and IBM, headquartered in the newspaper's prime circulation area. Today the vast majority of Americans fondly - and accurately - remember the mid-1990s as one of the most prosperous periods in our history.

These examples illustrate how easy it is to lose perspective on the job market, particularly one in as much flux as today's. Judging from the press, today's salary and employment outlook stands somewhere between dismal and disastrous. But Business 2.0's first annual employment survey tells a different story. We examined wages and job security in almost 100 professions, with particular emphasis on five industries that played central roles in the 1990s boom: software, hardware, media, telecom, and health care. Except in the most stricken fields, like telecom, salaries have held up surprisingly well.

Nationwide, most workers who held on to their jobs have actually seen steady raises since the bubble burst, and their odds of staying employed are higher now than in the aftermath of previous recessions. Yes, the unemployment rate reached 6 percent last spring and has hovered at that level ever since. Yes, that is 2 percentage points higher than at the height of the 1990s boom. But it's still far lower than the rate during the Reagan recovery. "There was a time when we'd be going, 'Wow, unemployment is only 6 percent!'" says Patricia Anderson, a Dartmouth economics professor. If the country were in the same mood today as in 1984, President George W. Bush might well regard "Morning in America" as too downbeat to describe a brilliant, sun-drenched moment in which unemployment is near historic lows, home prices are moving up smartly, cars are selling in record numbers, interest rates are the lowest in 35 years, and inflation is negligible.

That's the state of the Bush Economy: Unemployment is near historic lows, home prices are moving up smartly, cars are selling in record numbers, interest rates are the lowest in 35 years, and inflation is negligible.

As they say, read the whole thing.

And cheer up!

Energy Weapons Stories: Real or Hype?
Here's another story on those high-tech energy pulse weapons said to be being readied for possible use in Iraq. This story's from the New York Times, and follows a series of similar stories in the press in recent days. (Scroll down for links to some of them.)

The potential for such weapons is awesome as they could be used to cripple and blind the Iraqi military without significant harm to the civilian population, but I'm beginning to wonder about the sudden spate of stories. Are these weapons really ready for use? Or is this a bit of Bush administration PR designed to scare the crapola out of Saddam and give his military the heebiejeebies?

My guess is, it's a little bit of both. Here's a snippet of the NYT's rather long and detailed story.

"If there is a war in Iraq, there is no question in my mind that we will see the use of both directed-energy and radio-frequency weaponry,'' said John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., referring to both the new sorts of weapons and traditional jamming technology. "Over the last several years, a great deal of research has been undertaken in this area both by the United States but also by other countries, not all of them allied with us." That is why, like the genie escaping its bottle, directed energy may harbor danger for the United States itself, not just for its adversaries. With its increasing reliance on digital communications and information systems, the United States is perhaps the most vulnerable potential target for directed-energy devices, military experts say.

But for the moment, most directed-energy specialists are concentrating on the possible uses of the technology against Iraq. For instance, military experts say that the United States or Britain could use cruise missiles or commando units to deliver a directed-energy weapon within a few thousand feet of an Iraqi control bunker that happened to be close to a large civilian population. If the weapon functioned properly, it would disable or destroy the electronics inside the bunker without the risks associated with a conventional missile attack or bombing. As the government works on new battlefield and continental missile-defense systems, directed-energy research is also helping to develop energy beams to be used to shoot down missiles.

And while directed-energy weapons are not generally meant to kill people, there are certainly antipersonnel applications. In addition to the anti-electronics weapons, other directed-energy systems under development are meant to use microwaves to make people feel pain in the outer layer of the skin without generally causing physical damage. That pain is intended to inspire an instinct to flee. In describing the use of such systems, which are meant to be mounted on a truck or perhaps on an all-wheel-drive Hummer vehicle, weapons experts constantly evoke "Black Hawk Down,'' the book and film that describe the chaotic 1993 United States military intervention in Somalia. In Somalia, United States soldiers had little way to disperse angry groups of civilians without firing. "I can see something like this being especially effective someplace like downtown Baghdad,'' said Christopher Hellman, a senior research analyst at the Center for Defense Information, a think tank in Washington. "If one of Saddam Hussein's tactics is going to be to flood Baghdad with civilians, this could be really nice to have.''

"I think that one is pretty close,'' to operational deployment, Mr. Hellman added. "If it's even remotely close, I'd bet they're working 24-7 to get it ready.''

Gotta admit - the mental image of thousands of "elite Republican Guard" dropping their weapons and running like startled cockroaches because their skin is crawling from some cause unknown to them makes me smile.

Power to the People
I just used this site to send a message to Tennessee's two U.S. senators favoring war with Iraq. The site was built for the opposite purpose - to spam senators with emails opposing war. But you can just scroll down and erase their pre-written text and supply your own. And feel good knowing that a website built by America-hating Hollywood leftists and Saddam-appeasers is being used in a way that would make them rather unhappy.

As the professor often says...


I just checked and found I have gained a number of new subscribers to my daily email update in the last few days. Thanks! I hope you enjoy it. For those of you who haven't yet signed up, you can receive an email update automatically from this website once per day, on days that the site is updated. Just go over to the right side of the page and look for the "Get Email Updates" box. And, I promise, I won't ever spam you or sell or share sell your email address with a third party.

Thanks also to those who dropped something in the Amazon tip jar in the past few days. Much appreciated!

The Future of Journalism
You have probably seen those Sprint commercials that describe the new Sprint cellphones that allow the user to take a digital photo and email it? Now an Irish company has developed software that will allow people to post text, images and sound files to their weblogs via wireless devices and short-message-service email.

This is going to change journalism.

The Latest Health Danger
A group of physicians is proposing to nationalize the healthcare industry. A group of professionals whose motto is "First, Do No Harm," are proposing massive harm indeed.

Under their plan, the government would purchase all hospitals, nursing homes, and physician practices; allot every hospital, nursing home, and physician practice a yearly operating budget; determine the rate of reimbursement for services; and determine the prices of drugs, medical supplies, and medical equipment. Patients would bear no direct responsibility for payment, aside from paying higher taxes - and the whole thing would be financed by a progressive tax structure, including, among other things, a "health income tax" on the wealthiest 5 percent of the population.

Sydney Smith, author of the MedPundit blog, has this to say in a column at TechCentralStation today:

All of this would be overseen by a gargantuan bureaucracy of regional and state health insurance administrators, at the head of which would be a director chosen by the secretary of Health and Human Services. The director would be assisted by an advisory panel selected by the president and made up of health-care professionals, health-care groups, and health "advocacy" groups. The potential for political meddling is unlimited. This is much more than an expansion of Medicare. It's a Socialist manifesto. It's also a sure-fire recipe for disaster. It encourages unlimited demand of healthcare services while severely limiting the ability of physicians to meet it.

Feeling sick yet?

Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
Shockingly, when it comes to 10,000 kids in foster car, the state of Tennessee still doesn't.

At Christmastime, volunteers bearing presents and armed with a list of foster children fanned out across [Davidson] County, only to discover that they could not find dozens of the children. In some cases, foster parents told the volunteers they did not have the children who were supposed to be in their care. In others, foster parents said that children had not lived with them for months.

It's another sad legacy of the Sundquist administration, which had promised to fix it.

Word Bursts
This is fascinating.

Searching for sudden "bursts" in the usage of particular words could be used to rapidly identify new trends and sort information more efficiently, says a US computer scientist. Jon Kleinberg, at Cornell University in New York, has developed computer algorithms that identify bursts of word use in documents. While other popular search techniques simply count the number of words or phrases in documents, Kleinberg's approach also takes into account the rate at which the word usage increases. Kleinberg suggests that the method could be applied to weblogs to track new social trends. For example, identifying word bursts in the hundreds of thousands of personal diaries now on the web could help advertisers quickly spot an emerging craze. ... Researchers at Google, the world's most widely used internet search engine, have already shown that identifying spikes in search terms can be used to track the spread of news and rumours around the world.

In Memoriam
Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the murder of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter killed by Muslim wackos because he was an American, but primarily because he was Jewish. Pearl's father has written a powerful commentary in today's WSJ asking why so few world leaders have denounced that aspect of Pearl's murder.

In a world governed by reason and leadership, one would expect world leaders to immediately denounce such racist calls before they become an epidemic. However, President Bush was the only world leader to acknowledge the connection between Danny's murder and the rise of anti-Semitism: "We reject the ancient evil of anti-Semitism whether it is practiced by the killers of Daniel Pearl or by those who burn synagogues in France." No European head of state rose to John F. Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" with the morally equivalent statement "Today, I am a Jew."

Not surprisingly, our unguided world has seen an alarming rise of anti-Semitic activity in the past year. Tens of millions of Muslims have become unshakably convinced that Jews were responsible for the Sept. 11 attack. Egypt's state-controlled television aired a 30-part program based on the notorious anti-Semitic book "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," and Egyptians were fed another fantasy, that Jews are plotting to take over the world. Syria's defense minister, Mustafa Tlas, released the eighth edition of his book, "The Matzah of Zion," in which he accuses Jews of using the blood of Christians to bake matzah for Passover. And on the sideline, while these flames of hatred were consuming sizable chunks of the world's population, traditionally vocal champions of antiracism remained silent.

Against this tide of madness the world is about to remember Daniel Pearl - a Jew, a citizen of the world, and a dialogue maker who formed genuine connections among people of different backgrounds. In Danny's spirit, we have asked every community that plans to commemorate the anniversary of his death to invite a neighboring synagogue, mosque, church or temple of different faith to join in a prayer for a sane and humane world, a world free of the hatred that took Danny's life. Interfaith memorials will take place, starting tonight, in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, London and Jerusalem, with additional services planned world-wide.
We hope that the combination of multifaith attendance, joint statements against intolerance, and the unifying global spirit of the day will serve as catalysts for building alliances against the rising tide of fanaticism, dehumanization, and xenophobia.

I've added a link to the Daniel Pearl Foundation to my list of permanent links.

For more on the first anniversary of Pearl's murder, visit the Wiesenthal Center website.

A Little Whine With the Cold Cuts
In an ongoing effort to help the state balance its budget, the head of the state employees union is whining for more money for laid-off workers. Ironically, many of the positions being cut by state government to balance the budget are currently vacant. The most comforting part of the story is the overall sense it gives that the new administration really is looking under every rock for ways to save a few dollars here and millions there. And it's adding up to big savings for beleaguered Tennessee taxpayers.

The E-Bomb
The Wall Street Journal has a story today on the "e-bomb," a high-energy pulse bomb the U.S. military may use to disable Iraqi computers, electrical systems and electronic gear. You'll need a subscription to the WSJ's site to read it, so here's an excerpt:

In development by the Air Force for more than a decade, the e-bomb and related electromagnetic pulse weapons are part of the U.S. military's efforts to harness high-power energy sources for both disruptive and destructive purposes. Such weapons are viewed as increasingly critical because of their ability to disrupt the information and communication capabilities of U.S. enemies without causing huge civilian casualties or the destruction of property. Industry officials say that in the early stages, such weapons could be deployed in one of two ways. The first is as a bomb latched to the back of a cruise missile guided by satellites to a specific location. Another possibility: a beam from a fighter jet or an unmanned plane.

But many other high-energy weapons are under development. Lasers, for which public information is more readily available, are being tested to knock enemy missiles out of the sky, including with a basketball-width beam fired from a militarized Boeing 747. The Marine Corps is developing a Humvee-mounted device that would send civilians scurrying by hitting them with millimeter waves, similar to microwaves, that heat the skin to the point of intense pain until out of range. The Army is testing similar technology to create a kind of grenade that would stop tanks in their tracks by burning out their electric systems, while the Navy is examining how microwaves can defeat antiship missiles.

Doncha just love Yankee ingenuity?


Cutting Spending is an Art Form
Here's some good news about how some states are handling their budget problems.

Arizona is not the only state taking such a radical step. Gov. James E. McGreevey of New Jersey, who is grappling with a $5 billion deficit, has proposed cutting the entire $18 million budget of his state's Council on the Arts and canceling a planned $10 million payment to a cultural trust fund that supports small arts groups. Missouri is also planning to eliminate its entire arts budget. Other states may follow suit as they confront daunting fiscal challenges. ... With tax revenues slumping because of the weak economy, governors and state legislators are telling arts groups that they must now rely on private rather than public donors.

Technologically-Enhanced Combat
I've posted yesterday here about the digitization of the U.S. armed forces and the technological leaps made since the last Gulf War. Here's more from the San Jose Mercury News and from Scientific American.

An excerpt of the Mercury's report:

The U.S. military has embraced information technology since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991 in hopes of more efficiently targeting the enemy while avoiding ``friendly fire'' accidents. "The single most important advance that the U.S. military has made since Desert Storm has been to hugely improve the coordination of its forces,'' said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute in Virginia. "There was a time when they had no idea in a battle space where their friends were, where their enemies were and where their allies were. That has all changed courtesy of the information revolution.'' On the 21st-century battlefield, digital information is power. Computers, software and wireless communications have dramatically increased the effectiveness of high-tech weaponry like the B-2 stealth bomber, laser-guided "smart'' bombs and state-of-the-art remote-controlled aircraft such as the Predator, military officials and analysts said.

An excerpt from Scientific American:
U.S. military forces may use a surprise one-two punch of secret weapons to neutralize Iraqi chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction in the event of war. The first, a high power microwave (HPM) burst delivered via a cruise missile or other guided munition, would act like an electronic lighting bolt to disrupt computerized command facilities as well as guidance systems aboard enemy missiles. The second knockout punch would be what the military calls an agent defeat weapon (ADW) that uses an incendiary explosive to first burn any harmful chemicals and biological toxins and then further inactivate them with chlorine and acid cleansers.

The U.S. military won't comment on these weapons, but defense analysts note that high-powered microwave and agent defeat weapons have been in development for some years and it is probable that their development has been accelerated in recent months as the crisis with Iraq has intensified. Experts point to the rapid development of the bunker-busting thermobaric bombs used in Afghanistan as a precedent for using weapons still in the development stage.

Destroying the actual chemical or biological material is a task that may fall to agent defeat weapons being developed by the U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin under a program originally dubbed Vulcan Fire and now spearheaded by the secretive U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The HTI-J-1000, as it is called, would be the fill inside the penetrating warhead used on the massive 2,000-pound GBU-24 laser-guided bomb and BLU-109 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) used to attack underground bunkers. The titanium boron lithium perchlorate intermetallic fill would ignite to become a high temperature incendiary (HTI) that relies on a series of chemical reactions to increase the temperature inside the targeted bunker to 1000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing storage tanks to explode. The intense heat destroys biological and chemical agents inside the tanks. In addition, the HTI-J-1000 chemical reactions produce byproducts like chlorine, fluorine and a variety of acids that neutralize chem/bio agents much as disinfectants would. All these reactions occur at very low pressure to prevent the chem/bio agents from dispersing into the surrounding area before they can be eliminated.

Fascinating stuff.

Poor Saddam.

The Cuts Just Keep On Coming
I've posted comments at PolState.com on two Tennessean stories today dealing with state budget cuts and TennCare. Enjoy!

UPDATE: According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, University of Tennessee president John Shumaker has decided the university will not whine about its budget being cut, and will work with the Bredesen administration on reducing spending rather than "turn loose the dogs of whining."

Alluding to the dire predictions of program closings and mass layoffs that were made public last year as the state moved toward a government shutdown, Shumaker said past efforts at rallying public support by using scare tactics have fallen on deaf ears. "That's a strategy we've used for decades and it's never worked," he said. Shumaker said he instead plans to push for a streamlined administration, more private sector funding and possibly higher tuition rates to make up for the projected $37 million cut in state appropriations facing the school.

What a refreshing change. Shumaker's predecessor sent busloads of students - at taxpayers' expense - to Nashville to whine for more money and oppose budget cuts.

Do Not Miss This
Donald Sensing has written a fine response to a vacuous op-ed in yesterday's Tennessean by Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville.

American liberation theologian James Cone wrote that in opposing oppression, the choice for Christians is not between violence and non-violence because violence is already present. Christians must decide whether violence to overcome the oppression is a greater evil than the violence of the oppression itself.

And don't miss Sensing's first response to the same op-ed.


Saddam Can't Touch This
From a CNN report on the 100,000 U.S. troops in Kuwait, ready to go:

Standing in the 3rd Army's early entry command center, [Lt. Gen. David D.] McKiernan said the biggest difference between today and the 1991 Persian Gulf War is the military's advances in technology. Twelve years ago as a lieutenant colonel, McKiernan said, "I could not talk on the radio with all five divisions of the 7th Corps. The distances were too great." Now, he said, he can be in contact with all five in multiple ways using satellite imagery and real-time video conferencing.

A real feel-good story - unless you're an Iraqi planning on defending Saddam.

Iraq is Just the Beginning
From Samizdata:

Asking "Why Iraq?" and "Why not somewhere else?" is like asking "Why France?" and "Why not somewhere else?" in 1944. Lots of reasons, and meanwhile: be patient. They'll get there. Basically, Iraq is the next big step that makes the most sense. But don't confuse taking out Saddam with the endgame of this thing. Oddly enough, in Europe at any rate, it's the opponents of Bush who are now being rather more public about this than Bush's supporters. "It won't end with Iraq", said the protesters last Saturday. They're right.

And that's a good thing.

Your Land May Be Given to Costco
Ramesh Ponnuru at National Review is reporting on how Costco appears to be abusing eminent domain laws to get land on which to build its big stores.

The libertarian legal activists at the Institute for Justice say that Costco is a major beneficiary of local governments' abuse of their power to seize private property. They want to put an end to that abuse. The institute does not deny that governments have the power to seize private property "for public use," so long as they provide "just compensation" (the wording of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution). But it insists that such seizures should be limited to actual public uses. Taking someone's property to sell it to a company doesn't count.

There's no central database of beneficiaries of eminent-domain abuse. But Dana Berliner, a lawyer at the institute, has been collecting news reports and case filings about these transfers of property since the beginning of 1998. "Of the big-box retailers, Costco shows up the most," she says. In late 2001, a Costco shareholder, Susan Watson wrote to the company's headquarters expressing her concern at the company's tactics. Its chief legal officer wrote a response that conceded that "there are probably dozens" of Costco projects "where eminent domain or the threat of it has been involved in acquiring land for redevelopment."

Alex Knapp at HereticalIdeas.com says:
This is just appalling. If you want to build a store or whatever, buy your own damn land. And if you can't get it, well that's just too bad. It's disgusting that local governments have the power to kick people out of their homes, churches, and businesses just to put in some big name store. It's not like the country is suffering for lack of Home Depots, people...

Amen. And shop at Sam’s Club.

The Case For War
Dan Hailey, a member of the Denver Post editorial board, has written an excellent commentary outlining the reasons we must go to war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

At an anti-war rally last fall, it was [anti-war actress Susan] Sarandon who echoed my thoughts exactly: "I am here as a mother because I am afraid for my children," she shouted. "I'm afraid for our children. I'm afraid for the Iraqi children." So am I. I want my daughter to grow up in a world free of fear, in a world where terrorism and tyrants are the stuff of history books. In a world where liberty's light is allowed to shine everywhere.

War is bad, but I keep coming back to these questions: If not us, who? If not now, when?

Us. Now. For my children, for yours ... and for the children of Iraq.

The Second Front
Why is North Korea threatening to abandon the truce agreement that ended hostilities in the Korean War? Imagine, if you will, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, North Korea's Kim Jong Il., and China's Jiang Zemin - three unelected dictators who all view the U.S. as an adversary - devising strategy. Farfetched? No. China was North Korea's ally in the Korean War. China rebuilt Iraq's military telecommunications infrastructure after the Gulf War, installing a difficult-to-destroy underground fiber optic network. And Chinese weaponry and even some dead Chinese who fought alongside the Taliban were found in Afghanistan after the battle of Tora Bora. It's not hard to see China as the go-between helping Iraq by encouraging North Korea to ratchet up the nuclear threat, rattle sabers and make a resumption of the Korean War seem almost inevitable. Such posturing serves three strategic purposes.

1. It causes some politicians in the West - both in the U.S. and Europe - to suggest that focusing on Iraq is misguided and the North Korea is the real threat, leading to a weakened diplomatic response and the ongoing inability of the U.N. to put a little backbone into its resolutions.
2. It causes the always weak-kneed French - who have a veto on the U.N. Security Council - to become even more spineless.
3. It presents the U.S. president and the U.S. military with the need to divert some attention and resources away from Iraq in order to deter North Korea.

The scary part is, North Korea might not be bluffing. North Korea may well use the moment of a U.S. invasion of Iraq as prime time to invade South Korea, hoping to sweep to a rapid victory and present the U.S. with a fait accompli: North Korean control of the entire Korean peninsula, while U.S. forces have their hands full in Iraq. The U.S. would then have to decide whether it wants to fight a two-front war. And if it does, might North Korea's longtime ally, China, then open a third front with an assault on Taiwan?

Michael Ledeen and others have written often about how a U.S. invasion of Iraq may well be met by a counterattack by Hezbollah - which is backed by the regimes in Syria and Iran, the latter of which has close ties to China. In that scenario, Hezbollah would attack Israel and, perhaps, U.S. forces in western Iraq. Iran may get involved too - they've recently tested ballistic missiles they secured from (drum roll please) North Korea. Things may get very dicey very fast. But, then, that' s what you'd expect if you confront the Axis of Evil and its accomplices. The alternative, to do nothing, would simply invite more aggression, more threat, more danger - and a wider, tougher, bloodier war a few years down the road. The world learned that in the 1930s when it allowed Hitler to re-militarize the Rhineland, in violation of treaty agreements. Western Europe could have strangled Hitler in his crib then, but chose instead to accept his promises of peace.

The War on Terror is a global battle, we were told not long after Sept. 11. Indeed it is, and we can fight it now. Or later.

Your Ongoing Support Is Appreciated
Here's some housekeeping stuff, including a call for more writers to contribute to this site.

The free email update service appears to be functioning smoothly - go over to the right column and scroll down to subscribe to receive an emial alert each morning that this site is updated with new commentary and posts. You won't be spammed. Also, the Amazon tip jar is over on the right, for regular readers who might wish to contribute to the ongoing operation of this website. (Thanks to those readers who have already done so!) Or, if you prefer, there are commercial opportunities to support this site through purchases. Look for the "For Sale!" box - and also check out the merchandise available in the Taxpayers Bill of Rights box.

One more thing: HobbsOnline is looking for three or four people to become regular contributors to this site. Specifically, I'm seeking correspondents in Memphis, Knoxville, Chattanooga and the Tri-Cities. There's no money in it for you. Heck, there's no money in it for me - I've brought in less via the tip jar than I've spent on running the site. Key requirement: You must be libertarian or conservative in your political bent, especially on fiscal policy, and write fact-based commentary rather than ideological screeds. If you currently work for a traditional media outlet and would like to blog here under a pen name, we can arrange that. Contact me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net. And yes, I'll change the name of the site once we have some good correspondents on board.

Okay... back to regular programming.

Sales Taxes are NOT Regressive
Bruce Bartlett explains why liberals are wrong about sales taxes:

Liberals also make the mistake of assuming that a consumption-based tax system is regressive — taking more out of the pockets of the poor than the rich. In fact, over one’s lifetime, consumption is roughly proportional to income, because over a lifetime we eventually consume all our income. Thus, a tax on consumption will also be roughly proportional — taking the same percentage from all taxpayers. Furthermore, liberals make the mistake of assuming that those who are poor today will always be poor, and those who are rich will always be rich. This is really their principal justification for income- and wealth-redistribution policies. However, new data in the latest Economic Report of the President show that there is substantial mobility up and down the income ladder.

The Council of Economic Advisers looked at what rate taxpayers faced in 1987 and again in 1996. Two-thirds of those in the lowest tax bracket the first year were in a higher bracket 10 years later, and more than half of those in the top tax bracket were in a lower bracket. In other words, the bulk of those who would be considered poor in the first instance were much better off a decade later — a few even became rich, going all the way from the bottom tax bracket to the top bracket. Simultaneously, most of those who would be considered rich weren’t after a few years — 5% fell all the way from the top tax bracket to the bottom bracket.

The high degree of income mobility in American society is a key reason why many of the poor and middle class oppose high taxes on the rich — 70% of Americans favor abolishing the estate tax, for example, even though it affects just 2% of the population. Implicitly, they know that they or their children might one day be rich and have to pay this tax. They also know that poor people don’t create jobs; rich people do.

Read the whole thing.

An East Tennessee Iraqi vs. Saddam
Muwafa Salman, an Iraqi man living in Knoxville explains his feelings about Saddam Hussein, war with Iraq, and Sept. 11, in a solid feature from the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Originally from Najaf, a village about 100 miles southwest of Baghdad, Salman speaks of his home under the Hussein regime like so many Iraqi exiles: a land of overwhelming repression void of trust between citizens or honest allegiance. "Everywhere you go, there are spies. On the bus, at the coffee shop, there are spies." Salman said. "If you have a son, you cannot trust him because he might tell the government."

I'm betting Mr. Salman did not participate in the Knoxville anti-war rally.

Barbour's Chances
The Memphis Commercial Appeal's Reed Branson looks at the deft touch former RNC chairman Haley Barbour brings to the Mississippi governor's race. Barbour is going to try to unseat current tax-raising governor Ronnie Musgrove. Branson predicts a heavyweight title fight.

Given their proven strengths, it's hard to imagine a moment over the next few months when I'd count either one of these candidates out.

Screwy Logic
The Tennessean says it favors making state sales taxes deductible on federal income tax returns, but predicts it won't happen. And then the paper says that if you really want to Lower taxes, raise them. I'm not kidding. You can read it here.

What congressional delegates realistically can do is support Internet sales taxes which could help states like Tennessee lower their sales taxes over the long term. And they can resist efforts by the administration to widen the budget deficits.

Translation: Let the states have more revenue - and don't cut federal taxes - and, magically, someday, Tennessee will be able to lower its sales tax. It will never happen, of course.

The Tennessean also makes the mistake of asserting that federal deductibility for the sales tax would benefit just the eight states that have a sales tax but no income tax. But as I explained here, it would benefit taxpayers in a total of 47 states - the eight that have a sales tax but no income tax, and the 39 that have both.


Online Sales Tax: No Big Deal
For years, you've heard that a major factor in Tennessee's budget crisis is the state's inability to collect taxes on purchases made over the Internet. Well, now some of the largest retailers in the nation are voluntarily collecting those sales taxes for Tennessee and every other state that has sales taxes. And guess what: it's going to amount to mere pennies, fiscally speaking. Here it is in the New York Times:

Analysts say the online sales taxes from the recent new retail converts are likely to yield little more than $30 million in new online sales tax revenue this year — which would not amount to much as it is split up among the nation's 7,500 or so state and local tax jurisdictions.

The Times notes, however, that
the largest portion of the $51 billion total online sales that Jupiter is forecasting is expected to go to big Internet-only retailers that have shown little inclination to collect sales taxes. Holdouts like Amazon resist collecting sales taxes because they say it would be too burdensome to collect and dispense them on behalf of so many different jurisdictions. And they currently have federal law on their side. The Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that a company selling only online, or through catalogs or by telephone, is not obliged to collect local sales taxes from customers, except in states where the merchants actually have a physical presence, like a warehouse or a call center. In taxation parlance, such physical presences establishes a "nexus" between the retailer and those states.

The court ruling was a proper application of the Commerce Clause of the federal constitution, which prohibits states from levying taxes outside their borders. And with e-commerce amounting to less than 5 percent of total retail sales, it is increasingly clear that online sales taxes will not be the budgetary savior that states, ever eager to spend more money, are hoping for. Spending cuts, on the other hand, work every time.

Barbour's Back!
Former Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour is running for governor of Mississippi, saying he wants to restore a measure of fiscal sanity to the state. I suggest he consider Chris Lawrence's ideas for how to do that.

Governing magazine notes that Mississippi is in a budget crisis because of, well... overspending:

Mississippi’s budget troubles are, to some degree, a result of over-expectations for the economic boom of the 1990s. Revenue estimates unrealistically reasoned that ballooning income would indefinitely support new spending on teacher salaries, mental health and prisons. When the balloon popped, the state was caught unprepared. This artificial sense of affluence was buttressed by the state’s newest source of revenue: gambling. When casinos were first proposed in Mississippi, in the early 1990s, they were projected to generate around $10 million a year. For most of the decade, they delivered much more, eventually comprising about 5 percent of the state’s general fund. Nevertheless, growth flattened while spending didn’t.

A Badly Timed Story
From CNN:

A massive winter storm piled up to 3 feet of snow Monday in Middle Atlantic and Eastern states, halting some air and rail travel in the region and contributing to 18 storm-related deaths since Friday.

From Reuters via CNN:
Global warming is set to have a big impact on financial markets as investors revalue companies based on their exposure to climate change risk, according to a report published on Monday.

Governing Badly
John Hood dissects Governing magazine's biased ranking of states based on their tax policies - a ranking skewed toward a liberal point of view in love with big-tax-and-spend-government.

Because so many states are experiencing yet another year of fiscal distress, those advocating new rounds of tax increases, or tax “reforms” that amount to the same thing, have seized on the Governing report in their respective states to “prove” that taxpayers are keeping too much of their own money, those greedy bastards.

Looking down the list of states, it is remarkable that those with higher average tax burdens tend to be graded higher by Governing than those with lower average tax burdens. It is also remarkable, by the way, that American households and businesses seem not to share Governing’s fiscal policy preferences. The five states to which the magazine gave only one star (out of four) in both the “adequacy of revenue” and “fairness to taxpayers” – Alabama, Florida, Nevada, Tennessee, and Texas – experienced an average growth in population of 27 percent from 1990 to 2000 and an average growth in gross state product (GSP) of 93 percent. The six states that garnered either three or four stars in both categories – Delaware, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont – were hardly the barnburners of the decade, posting below-average growth rates in both population (10 percent) and GSP growth (67 percent).

Basically, the states that Governing ranked the worst in tax policy (as distinct from tax administration) grew at roughly twice the rate of the United States as a whole during the 1990s and at three times the rate of those states that Governing ranked highly. Unless you believe that people were irrationally choosing to reside and start businesses disproportionately in America’s worst-run states, the only other conclusion from these data is that the country’s premiere magazine covering state and local government has missed the boat on tax policy.

Read it all.

Of course, this was predictable from looking at the front cover of Governing, which equates "taxing" with shaking the last penny out of your piggybank:

Governing also exposes its bias in favor of government's unfettered ability to raise taxes in this brief diatribe against allowing citizens to vote on tax increases. Not surprisingly, the magazine doesn't like Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Governing doesn't like Tennessee' tax structure either. Here's a link to the magazine's essay on Tennessee's tax structure (it has one on each of the 50 states). The Tennessee article ends with this absurd paragraph that is, without a doubt, a lie:
Tennessee is even having trouble collecting sales tax on automobiles, which shouldn’t be too difficult because each one sold carries registration data in the state of purchase. As one high-level state employee said, with assurances she wouldn’t be quoted by name: “I’m about to buy a new car in Kentucky. I’ll save about $2,400 in taxes. And though I feel a little twinge of guilt, there’s no way they’ll ever catch me.”

The notion that Tennessee is having trouble collecting sales taxes on vehicles bought outside the state is absurd in the extreme. Note, please, that Governing presents no evidence that such is the case other than one quote from an unnamed "high-level state employee," who we can't even be certain really exists. I suspect some Governing magazine reporters looking for a zingy ending to their hyper-critical article about Tennessee's tax structure either fabricated her existence and the quote, or grossly exaggerated the anecdote. But if the anecdote is real, then she's a very stupid high-level state employee - and the reporter failed to do the basic Journalism 101 job of verifying whether her assertions had any basis in fact. They don't. Here's why: When you buy a vehicle in another state, you pay sales taxes in that state. Then, when you register the car in Tennessee - and get Tennessee tags - you will be asked to fork over the difference between what you paid in the other state in sales taxes and what you would have paid in Tennessee's sales taxes if you had bought the car here. You will not be issued tags without paying that tax. And if you drive around without valid Tennessee tags for very long you will be tagged for big fines.


Governing's article on Pennsylvania notes an interesting fact about that state's constitution:
And even though the state enacted its income tax more than three decades ago, the rates have hovered between 2 and 3 percent. The rate has to be a flat one because of Pennsylvania’s “uniformity clause,” a 1923 constitutional amendment requiring that “all taxes shall be uniform, upon the same class of subjects.” This kept the state from enacting a graduated income tax or even from linking up with the federal revenue code, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared insufficiently uniform as well.

Arizona has a pretty good system, too:
Arizona’s residents haven’t been shy about using the ballot box to write their anti-tax ideology into law. When the legislature voted to raise taxes during the last recession, in the early 1990s, voters approved a ballot initiative requiring a two-thirds supermajority to pass future increases. Cutting taxes still needs only a simple majority. “It’s not a lesson lost,” says Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association. “Policy makers are diving under their desks.”

Sounds good to me.

A TABOR Wildfire?
John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina and publisher of the Carolina Journal, reports that legislators there are introducing some smart proposals to prevent or lessen future budget crises in that state.

Sen. Fern Shubert of Union County, newly installed as the Republican Whip in that chamber, filed legislation this week to change the way the governor and legislature fashion North Carolina’s state budget. Given that we are about to head into a fourth-straight year of “unforeseen” budget deficits, it would be hard to argue that the process doesn’t need fixing. In her bill, Shubert is resurrecting the old and praiseworthy idea of ditching revenue forecasting in favor of spending only as much revenue as has already come in the previous year.

By itself, this bill would eliminate the fiscal guesswork and reduce the ability of big-spenders to use budget-gap years to force tax increases on us, but it would not necessarily rein in those big-spending proclivities. After all, there are fiscal years in which state revenues can grow 7, 8, 9, or as much as 10 percent. In order to keep lawmakers from misinterpreting Shubert’s reform as an excuse to spend whatever is in the kitty, North Carolina also needs a constitutional cap on the annual growth of state spending.

States such as Colorado with similar policies have grown modestly, avoided massive deficits, and cut taxes. Fortunately, this week saw the introduction of such a spending cap by Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican. It would limit annual growth to inflation plus population – in effect holding the real cost of state government per person constant.

The Taxpayers Bill of Rights concept is spreading like wildfire.

Also, here’s a link to a Locke Foundation report on the real cause of North Carolina’s budget crisis: overspending.

Thanks to Ben Cunningham for bringing Hood's article to my attention.

Lobbyists Loopholes
Frank Cagle is praising NewsChannel5 invstigative reporter Phil Williams' work exposing how lobbyists cotninue to wine and dine Tennessee lawmakers despite rules designed to stop such shenanigans. Day in, day out, Williams is doing the best work of covering - and uncovering - state government in Tennessee. No other full-time reporter - print or TV - comes close.

Shifting the Burden
The Knoxville News Sentinel says a proposal for the state to reduce the amount of "state-shared funds" going to local governments across Tennessee is a bad idea that amounts to shifting the budget crisis from the state capital to the hinterlands, and would cause tax increases at the local level. They're right. But they're also wrong. In the short term, the stae shouldn't withhold more state-shared funding for the very reasons the Knoxville paper says. But in the long term, the state should not be in the business of collecting taxes and sharing them with local governments. the state shouldn't collect those taxes, period. Over the long-term, the state should cut taxes and let local governments and local voters make their own choices about taxing and spending. Filtering the money through the Nashville bureaucracy and dribbling a percentage of it back to the local governments makes no sense at all. Ending the practice would also mean local governments would not have their budgets at risk of Legislative Plaza decisions during tough budget times such as this.

We're Not Alone
Tennessee isn't the only state where a smart governor is cutting spending rather than raising taxes to cope with a budget crisis. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has called for all state agencies to reduce their spending by 7 percent for this fiscal year, and Perry is opposed to raising taxes to balance the state budget.

Perry said too often members of the government forget there is a taxpayer behind every tax dollar that comes in. It would be easy to raise taxes, but that is not what he said he wants to do. "Tax hikes hit Texas families and small businesses right in the wallet," he said. "If your families and business owners watch the bottom line and prioritize spending, why shouldn't the government?" The problem in government is not a lack of funds, he said. The problem is the lack of controlled spending. "The most important thing we must do now is control spending. We can live within our means," he said.

Blair-ing the Truth
Britain's Tony Blair lays out the case for war against Saddam Hussein's regime in a speech at a Labour Party conference, and explains why the anti-war protestors are wrong and their position immoral. Skip through the domestic-policy stuff but don't miss the Iraq section.

Here's a commentary on the impending death of the United Nations, from Samizdata.net

Casus Belli
Anti-war protestors say we shouldn't invade Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein because innocent civilians might be killed.

Reality check: Innocents are already being killed. By Saddam.

New Blog
Be sure to check out ChipTaylor.org, a new blog from Missourian Chip Taylor, who appears to lean libertarian - and has a sense of humor.


This post from Jan. 30 regarding a dictator-coddling United Methodist bishop who is a member of the faculty at Vanderbilt Divinity School needs updated.

I received an email from reader Tom Lee, who informed me the dictator-coddling United Methodist bishop's first name was Melvin, not John. My mistake, indeed it is Melvin. It will be corrected in the originial item Lee also said Talbert was from San Francisco, not Nashville. True, but in this case we're both right. According to this story. Talbert teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School right here in Music City. Bishop Talbert retired from his San Francisco post Sept. 1, 2000. Lee pointed me to this very interesting press release from the United Methodist News Service regarding the circumstances surrounding Talbert's resignation.


A Bailout For the States?
Tom Daschle thinks it's a good idea. Brian Riedl explains why Tom Daschle is wrong today at National Review Online.

[Daschle] proposes a $40 billion federal bailout of the states. But since the same taxpayers who fund state budgets also fund federal budgets, this would hardly help. Like a family responding to unaffordable Mastercard debt by running up the Visa instead, a federal bailout would run up the federal tax bill for families in order to reduce the state tax bill. You’ve solved nothing. Worse, Sen. Daschle’s plan does not encourage states to live within their means. When the economy fell into recession in 2001, families nationwide tightened their belts. States, meanwhile, grew their budgets by 8.3% — the largest one-year spending jump in over a decade.

Federal spending has grown 29% since 1990, but state spending has grown even faster. Had state lawmakers exercised as much restraint as the federal government, they could have balanced their 2003 budgets and had enough money left to cut taxes by $525 per household. Keeping new spending in line with the inflation rate would have increased that tax-relief fund to $1,372 per household.

Instead, states spent all of their new revenue — and then some. California exemplifies this mindset. Blessed with a 28% increase in tax revenues between 1999 and 2003, Golden State lawmakers responded by hiking spending by 36% — turning a $10 billion budget surplus into a deficit.

But not every state was so fiscally reckless.

A handful of states such as Wyoming, Michigan, and Colorado generally resisted adding extravagant programs over the past decade. As a result, their shortfalls are far smaller than those of, say, California and New York. Is it fair for California lawmakers to go on a spending binge and then send the tab to Wyoming taxpayers via Congress? Basic accountability demands that the unit of government that spends the money should have to collect the taxes. If state spending is financed by state taxes, elected officials shouldn’t be able to spend beyond their constituents’ willingness to be taxed. Yet when states can simply withdraw whatever money they need from the federal ATM, the incentive to weigh benefits against costs vanishes.

Good stuff.

Not Exactly
The Knoxville News Sentinel manages to write an editorial about proposed legislation to restore sales tax deductibility to the federal income tax without mentioning U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee Republican who is leading the push the legislation. The paper also makes an illogical assessment of the bill's chances:

One significant obstacle comes from simply doing the math: There are more than 40 states with an income tax. It is unlikely that representatives of those states will cut a break for Tennessee and its sister states without an income tax.

But wait. There's no reason that only the eight states that have a sales tax but no income tax could be convinced to support this legislation There are 43 states that have income taxes. Of those 43, 39 also have a sales tax. Legislators from those states could be convinced to support federal deductibility of the sales tax.

The Jackson Sun says Congress should pass Blackburn's legislation, to "correct a 17-year-old injustice in the federal tax system." Allowing people who pay state income tax to deduct their taxes from their federal returns while not allowing people who pay state sales taxes to deduct that is "unfair double taxation."

They're right.

No One Does It Better.
Read the latest from James Lileks. Every word is perfect. Here's a few of them, explaining why containment and deterrence based on "mutual assured destruction" won't work with Saddam:

MAD, in its awful way, was moral because it made the price of immorality too great to consider. But the Containment argument - hey, if he does nuke us, we can nuke him back - isn’t MAD, it’s just crazy. It presumes we could step back, pause, sift through the intel, then kill a few million people to make a point. We’d never do it. We’d hold televised benefits for Baltimore. We’d all remember the victims of 5/23. We’d buy the DVD compilations of news footage, archive the papers that landed on our stoops the day after. We’d find life returning to normal, eventually - but we’d never feel at ease again. The worst thing ever had happened, and to our surprise the world hadn’t ended. But the world had changed. Our better nature had prevailed - and we were certain to suffer again because of it, right up until the day we lashed out and became everything we never wanted to be.

There's more. Scroll down to the first mention of duct tape, if you must, but read the rest from there.

Powerful Stuff
An Iraqi living in London explains why he - and a half million other Iraqis living in Britain - won't be taking part in the anti-war rallies this weekend.

Some Get It, Some Don't
According to today's New York Times, some very stupid Republicans are considering raising taxes to help their states balance the budget.

Faced with rising costs in health care and education, new domestic security programs and a slow economy, at least 24 states — 13 with Republican governors — are now considering ways to raise taxes even as President Bush is pushing for permanent federal income tax cuts to stimulate the economy. And much of the talk around the states is coming from Republicans, for whom raising taxes is anathema to their political souls.

Dumb dumb dumb. Now is the chance for conservatives to CUT state spending. Use the sluggish economy as a reason to NOT raise taxes, and demand Democrats cut spending - and win a double victory. First, cutting spending is better fiscal policy than raising taxes, and better for the economy. Second, tax-raising Republicans fare poorly at the ballot box.


Patenting the PB&J
Here's a story that explains what's wrong with the U.S. patent system. I think I'm going to file for a patent on the BLT.

Root Causes
Here's a link to a Cato Institute briefing paper on the real cause of most state budget problems.

The states' mistake was to allow rapid tax revenue growth during the 1990s to fuel an unsustainable expansion in spending. Between fiscal years 1990 and 2001, state tax revenue grew 86 percent—more than the 55 percent of inflation plus population growth. If states had limited spending growth to that benchmark, budgets would have been $93 billion smaller by FY01— representing savings roughly twice the size of today's state budget gaps. If revenue growth higher than the benchmark had been given back to taxpayers in permanent tax cuts and annual rebates, rebates could have been temporarily suspended during FY02 and FY03 to provide a cushion with which to balance state budgets. States should impose tax and spending growth caps to prevent budgets from growing too quickly during the next boom. Revenue growth above a benchmark would be given back in tax cuts and tax rebates. That would prevent spending from increasing too quickly and provide the option of suspending rebates during slowdowns to close budget gaps without the damage caused by tax rate increases.

The full report is a 16-page PDF file.

In Tennessee, actual tax revenue grew 84 percent from 1990-2001, while population growth plus inflation totaled just 59 percent., if the state had returned revenue above that 59 percent growth, the average household in Tennessee would be paying $467 less in state taxes today.

In Colorado, which has a tax-and-expenditure limitation provision in its constitution of the type the Cato report recommends, actual tax revenue grew 147 percent from 1990-2001, while population growth-plus-inflation totaled 82 percent.

Yet Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights has not shackled the government. According to Cato's calculations, per capita spending from the general fund in Colorado rose 26.9 percent from 1990-2001, while in Tennessee it rose 17.9 percent. The best explanation of why is that Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights fostered a better economic climate in Colorado, and the resulting economic boom allowed the state to maximize revenue and spending even under the TABOR cap, while Tennessee's economy suffered from lower economic growth. For a fuller examination of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, click here.

Glenn Does It
I always feel funny mentioning the tip jar, but the InstaPundit does it, so I guess it's acceptable etiquette in the blogosphere. And this site does take time to produce and you know what they say: time is money. Over there on the right is an Amazon tip jar for donations to support this site. Thanks in advance if you chose to donate. And if you don't, thanks for reading. How much should one donate? I'd think around $10 to $20 per year would be fine - that's less than the cost to subscribe to a good monthly magazine, and this site publishes daily. If you don't want to just donate, there are opportunities to support this site through purchases of various items. Scroll down to find them. There you go. Back to blogging...

The National Joke
This Philadelphia Inquirer story explains the origin of the phrase "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," plus other anti-France jokes. Good stuff.

Following in Twain's footsteps comes Homer Simpson, who, in The Simpsons retelling of the Joan of Arc story, plays a soldier to daughter Lisa's Maid of Orleans. "God wants you to lead us to victory?" says Homer. "But we're French, we don't even have a word for that."

For a good laugh, read the whole thing.

Time to Exit NATO?
Victor Davis Hanson wonders whether we still need military bases in Old Europe, now that France and Germany increasingly are positioning themselves as opponents rather than allies.

Do bases in the post-Cold War really offer strategic flexibility and serve as tripwires to cement alliances — or do they multiply political and military liabilities, as both hosts and adversaries use their presence to dictate and curb American military options? Military theorists once deprecated aircraft carriers as obsolete sitting ducks; but they amount to quick-moving runways of American sovereignty, not subject to worries over rent, blackmail, compromise, and terrorism. True, carrier war is dangerous and expensive — but then so is bunking overnight in Saudi Arabia, basing thousands on the DMZ, being told by the Germans that we are "allowed" to use airspace actually already guaranteed under NATO protocols, and forgiving billions in debt to the likes of Pakistan. Personally, I'd rather spend $20 billion to have American workers build an additional 10 to 15 acres of aggregate floating American runways than pour billions annually into countries that either do not like us, resent both the protection and the rent, or are themselves inherently unstable.

This was published over a month ago, but I just got around to reading it. Excellent stuff.

The Funny Thing Is...
...this report from The Onion is sort of true.

Still, Kim's hopes for a U.S.-North Korea crisis quickly faded as Bush began to focus all of his energies on Axis of Evil member Iraq. In October 2002, Kim made yet another attempt to anger the U.S., admitting to enriching uranium in violation of a 1994 accord. The admission, however, did not produce the desired escalation in hostility. Kim said he has not given up on attracting U.S. military attention, vowing to invade South Korea if necessary. "I am by no means ready to quit, but this is very frustrating," Kim said. "I guess if your name's not Saddam, you're not worthy of America's hatred."

Quote of the Day

Neither the United States of America nor the world community of nations can tolerate deliberate deception and offensive threats on the part of any nation, large or small. We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security. … The 1930's taught us a clear lesson: aggressive conduct, if allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, ultimately leads to war. ... Our policy has been one of patience and restraint, but now further action is required — and it is under way; and these actions may only be the beginning. ... But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing." - John F. Kennedy, during the Cuban missile crisis.

For more on the age-old American doctrine of the right of preemption, go here.

Bredesen Looks Into the Black Hole
TennCare is, obviously and irrefutably, the black hole of the Tennessee budget and the cause of most of the state's budgetary woes in recent years. New Gov. Phil Bredesen is realizing just how bad a problem TennCare has become - and openly talking about ending the program or at least making drastic changes to it. Hallelujah. But first he must address the lies that continue to prop up TennCare. The Tennessean regurgitates one of them at the end of this paragraph:

Doing his own calculations, Bredesen figured that the state could save $300 million by cutting off adults in TennCare who are not on Medicaid. Martins cautioned that the state would break even or lose under that scenario, automatically losing $300 million in federal funds. He noted that a state comptroller's study had shown that had Tennessee stayed under the Medicaid program from 1994 to 2000, it would have cost $2 billion more in state and federal funds.

That state comptroller's study is based on a fallacy. It compares TennCare's spending growth with a 1994 prediction of how fast Medicaid costs would grow through the end of the decade. But in reality Medicaid costs did not grow nearly as fast as that projection and, according to the Urban Institute, a liberal Washington D.C. think tank, TennCare saved the state nothing compared to the actual cost of Medicaid during the same time period.

When Manny Martins and the TennCare bureaucracy continue trumpeting the alleged savings what you are really seing is a giant bloated pig of a program trying to maintain its place at the public trough.

MORE: Here's a link to Tom Humphrey's piece in the Knoxville paper on the same.

Blackburn's Battle
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn - it feels so good to type that - has lined up an impressive bi-partisan list of co-sponsors for legislation that would allow people to deduct sales taxes from their federal income taxes. It's going to be an uphill fight, but the legislation deserves to pass purely on the basis of fairness. Residents of Tennessee and seven other states that do not have income taxes are unable to deduct their state sales taxes from their federal income taxes, while residents of states with income taxes do have that tax-savings mechanism available to them. If Blackburn's legislation passes, it will end one of the major arguments for imposing a state income tax in Tennessee.

The measure would save more than $1,100 annually for a family of four earning $40,000 a year. The Tennessean says the legislation "is intended to help taxpayers in the eight states — Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming — that have no state income tax." Actually, that's only partially true. Sales tax deductibility will help taxpayers in every one of the 45 states that have a state sales tax. (Only Alaska, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Oregon do not have a general sales tax.)

Don't bet against Marsha on this one. Remember, she managed to kill the income tax despite having virtually the entire state bureaucracy and most of its most powerful politicians lined up on the other side of the issue.

Tuition Trends
Several states are raising tuition to help fund their higher education programs, in the face of state government revenue shortfalls.

Tuition increases have been imposed midway through this academic year by several states including Maryland, Oregon and California. Vermont, Hawaii, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, New York and Utah are among the states that have already adopted or are considering tuition hikes at public institutions for the fall semester.

The tuition increases at Oregon and elsewhere come in an academic year when tuition at four-year public institutions jumped by an average of 9.6 percent, according to the annual survey of college costs released last October by the College Board, the owner of the SAT exam. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reported in a study released Tuesday that students at public, four-year colleges in 16 states were hit with tuition hikes of more than 10 percent for this academic year.

A 10 percent increase sounds bad, but it's not. In many states, tuition for a full load of classes is around $1,000 per semester. A 10 percent increase is $100, which means the student must come up with about $6 in additional tuition per week during the typical 16-week semester. That's one hour of work at a typical retail job - or one less pizza per week.


The Nashville Scene says my obsession with the state budget "borders on psychosis."

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The weakly paper also has a profile of UT law professor Glenn Reynolds, a/k/a the Instapundit. Which puts them anywhere from three days to about a month behind the rest of the media.

Taxpayers Bill of Rights Update
A bill filed Monday by state Sen. Curtis Person and co-sponsored by state Sen. Jim Bryson, Sen. Bill Ketron, Sen. Mae Beavers, Sen. Jeff Miller, Sen. Mark Norris, and Sen. Ron Ramsey, would, if passed, call a limited constitutional convention on Article II, Sections 24 and 28 of the Tennessee constitution, in order to to consider establishment of a Tennessee taxpayer bill of rights (TN TABOR) in order to restrain growth of state revenue collections and expenditures.

Senate Bill 284 would call a convention to consider adoption of a Taxpayers Bill of Rights, or TABOR, that would then be submitted for approval by the people in a referendum.

The TABOR amendment, as proposed by Senate Bill 284, would amend:

Article II, Section 24, relative to establishment of a Tennessee taxpayer bill of rights (to be known as the Tennessee TABOR), to:

(1) Provide that the rate of growth in state tax revenue expenditures, for any fiscal year, shall not exceed the following, or a substitute, formula (to be known as the TABOR Cap): The rate of household-consumer price inflation for the prior calendar year (as determined by the consumer price index, all items, as published by the United State department of labor or its successor agency), plus the net percentage increase in state population occurring during the prior calendar year (as determined by the most recent decennial census as may be adjusted by the population estimates program of the United States bureau of census or its successor agency), appropriately adjusted to reflect any revenue increases previously approved by voters; and

(2) Require, in the absence of a declared state emergency, the return of all state tax revenue collections in excess of the TABOR Cap by means of taxpayer refunds or tax rate reductions or, alternatively, by means of an allocation or expenditure plan approved in advance by a majority of voters in a statewide referendum.

and amend:

Article II, Section 28, relative to establishment of a Tennessee taxpayer bill of rights (to be known as the Tennessee TABOR), to prohibit imposition of any new state tax or any increase in the rate or rates of any existing state tax without advance approval by a majority of voters in a statewide referendum.

Presumably, details and technicalities of the TABOR would be fleshed out in the convention. One glaring weakness: The TABOR cap would not prevent the state from engaging in an orgy of debt-financed growth.

Election of delegates to the convention would be in November 2004, with one delegate elected from each state senatorial district. (Dibs: If such a convention is ever held, I WILL be a candidate for delegate.) A similar bill has been filed in the House, HB290, sponsored by Reps. Glen Casada, Paul Stanley, and W.C. Pleasant.

My view: First: Wow! Finally! I first blogged about TABOR on March 21, 2002, so it's nice to see the TABOR movement in Tennessee has matured to the point of serious legislation being filed.

Second: SB284 and HB 290 are good first start, but the sponsors also need to file legislation to amend the constitution with a Taxpayers Bill of Rights via the direct referendum process, the way the lottery was passed. Such legislation would probably die in the House, but it would force representatives to take a position, and provide pro-TABOR activists and fiscal conservatives a rallying point and campaign fodder. A vote or perceived stance against TABOR would, I believe, be as damaging as a vote for or support of a state income tax. Remember... we're on offense now, but victory is likely to take several years.

Cutting The "Uncut-able" Budget
Gov. Phil Bredesen is doing what his predecessor said couldn't be done. He's cutting the budget. Did you know you paid 9.25% sales tax on your groceries in part to support state archaelogy offices?

The Nashville City Paper has a nice editorial on Bredesen and the budget today:

Bredesen has been questioning his new agency heads carefully, making them defend every dollar. It’s a breath of fresh air. Sen. Roy Herron noted that it’s the “the difference between daylight and dark.” Two years ago, when he proposed budget cuts under the Sundquist administration, “that administration lined up commissioners who came and gave all the reasons why none of those cuts could be made. This governor’s got these commissioners coming in and saying here’s how we can make these cuts in ways least injurious to the people … and quite frankly cuts that should be made.”

Funny. Don Sundquist said it couldn't be done, and there was nothing that could be cut.

This Will Be Futile
A Tennessee legislator wants to ban the use of credit cards to purchase lottery tickets in the new Tennessee lottery, in order to prevent people from going into debt to finance a gambling habit. Nice sentiment, but it won't work. Anyone who wants to max out the MasterCard to buy lottery tickets merely has to get a cash advance on their card from a bank or an ATM.


Dueling Economists
South Knox Bubba is touting the news that a group of ten prominent economists have signed a statement opposing the latest tax cut proposals from the Bush administration. The statement was produced by the liberal Economic Policy Institute, and has been signed by 400 economists. Impressive, right? Bubba probably thinks so. But it isn't impressive at all.

Poor Bubba's been spun and he doesn't even know it. Fact is, the economists who signed that statement represent only a tiny fraction of all of the economists in America. Donald Luskin has more on that:

what does it really mean that 400 economists would sign this statement? For one thing, it means that at least 21,600 economists did not sign the statement. There are 22,000 members in the American Economic Association -- that should be a conservative estimate of the number of economists in the United States. 400 is only 1.8% of them. Even Paul Krugman didn't sign it! So how about this for a headline: "98.2% of Economists Don't Sign Statement Opposing Tax-cuts!"

Statements like this -- basically petitions -- don't just organize themselves. These things should never be assumed to represent groundswells of public sentiment -- "the economist street," as it were. All that's going on here is: some PR firm hired to generate some headlines went around and gathered as many signatures as they could. Anyone can do that. In fact, for the last week the US Treasury has been circulating a statement for economists to sign supporting the Bush tax-cuts; I know that because I was asked to sign it -- and I gladly did. It's just a matter of days until that statement grabs its share of the headlines. And once again -- "experts agree!"

Incidentally, the following Tennessee economists signed the statement opposing the Bush tax cut:

Stephen Buckles, Vanderbilt University
Andrea Maneschi, Vanderbilt University
Teresa Meyer Waters, University of Tennessee
Fred M. Westfield, Vanderbilt University
Shelley I. White-Means, University of Memphis

Have you heard any of them? Not one of them is on the A-list of economists routinely quoted in Tennessee media, a list that includes liberals like UT's Dr. Bill Fox and conservatives like MTSU's Dr. William Ford, and others at UT, the University of Memphis, MTSU, Vanderbilt and elsewhere. MTSU economist Albert E. DePrince, who advises the state on economic issues, was not a signatory. Neither was MTSU economist Reuben Kyle, who for years produced quarltery economic indicators reports for Middle Tennessee. Economist J.R. Clark, holder of the Probasco Chair of Free Enterprise at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, did not sign. Neither did economist Coldwell Daniel III, Professor of Economics at the University of Memphis. Both, incidentally, are among 53 economists across the nation who last fall endorsed a proposal by South Carolina gubernatorial candidate (and eventual winner) Mark Sanford to to phase out that state's income tax. The point?

Just because some economists agree, doesn't meant they're right.

Maybe It's A Giant Swiss Watch
4,000-year-old remains found at Stonehenge suggest it may have been built by ancient Swiss. Or maybe ancient Germans. I used to think Stonehenge was pretty cool. Until I found out it had a gift shop. I'd always pictured Stonehenge as being way out on some distant foggy mist-shrouded moor, not surrounded by the usual tourist-industry accoutrements. Then, someone went there and brought me a "Stonehenge coffee mug," and what had seemed distant and mysterious and cool no longer was.

SKB on Bredesen
South Knox Bubba weighs in on Gov. Phil Bredesen's budget-cutting moves, and his analysis is spot-on.

Notice he isn't punishing taxpayers by closing parks and eliminating auto registration renewal centers in malls. He's going after fraud and waste and abuse first. That's not to say there won't be cutbacks in state programs, but as he said before, he's going to have the best state government people are willing to pay for. And that's fine by me. And as I've said before, if you want to get to the bottom of what's really going on, follow the money. Don't waste time reviewing budgets and operating statements. Look at bank statements. Look at every check if you have to, and see who it was written to, who signed it, and what it was for. You'd probably be amazed, as I'm sure Bredesen has been for the past few weeks.

New Kid on the Blog
His name is Mason Wilson. His blog is Blogwash.com. He's a Tennessean. He's a new contributor to PolState.com. And now he's on my list of fine blogs. Wilson says he's a former newspaper journalist who "recently succumbed to the lure of easy money and fast women that are the end-product of attending law school." He's in his second year. Politically, he considers himself a "conservative independent" more than anything else.

Welcome to the fray, Mason.

Textbook Terrorism
Textbooks used on some American public school classrooms are overly solicitious of Islam.

That's the sobering conclusion of the American Textbook Council, which Friday releases a report on how our schools' most popular world-history books fail to grapple honestly with the problem of militant Islamism. "History textbooks accommodate Islam on terms that Islamists demand," writes Gilbert T. Sewall in his 35-page analysis. "On controversial subjects, world history textbooks make an effort to circumvent unsavory facts that might cast Islam past or present in anything but a positive light. Islamic achievements are reported with robust enthusiasm. When any dark side surfaces, textbooks run and hide."

Textbook content is especially important because the Muslim world is so alien to many Americans. "Few teachers have at their disposal anything more than a faint knowledge of Islam," writes Sewall. "But state mandates expect or require them to teach something about Islam." Teachers need books they can trust; unfortunately, many of their textbooks are not trustworthy on the subject of Islam.

Take the concept of jihad, which Bernard Lewis, our most gifted interpreter of Arab culture, defines this way: "The object of jihad is to bring the whole world under Islamic law." Throughout history, of course, many Muslims have sought to achieve this goal with swords, guns, and bombs. Students reading Across the Centuries, a seventh-grade textbook published by Houghton Mifflin, however, receive a sanitized version of this reality. Jihad, according to this book, is merely a struggle "to do one's best to resist temptation and overcome evil." There's an element of truth in this definition, insofar as militant Islamists think anybody or anything not subscribing to their strict theology is "evil." But the book gives students no way of appreciating this larger context. To them, jihad must seem like a useful tool to suppress their urges to pass notes in class, run in the hallways, and stick chewing gum under their desks.

Don't Miss This
Sen. John McCain's speech is one for the ages.

Just as some Arab governments fuel anti-American sentiment among their people to divert them from problems at home, so a distinct minority of Western European leaders appears to engage in America-bashing to rally their people and other European elites to the call of European unity. Some European politicians speak of pressure from their "street" for peaceful solutions to international conflict and for resisting American power regardless of its purpose. But statements emanating from Europe that seem to endorse pacifism in the face of evil, and anti-Semitic recidivism in some quarters, provoke an equal and opposite reaction in America.

There is an American "street," too, and it strongly supports disarming Iraq, accepts the necessity of an expansive American role in the world to ensure we never wake up to another September 11th, is perplexed that nations with whom we have long enjoyed common cause do not share our urgency and sense of threat in time of war, and that considers reflexive hostility toward Israel as the root of all problems in the Middle East as irrational as it is morally offensive.

Our regional allies who oppose using force against Saddam Hussein warn of uncontrollable popular hostility to an allied attack on Iraq. But what would really be the effect on Arab populations of seeing other Arabs liberated from oppression? Far from fighting to the last Iraqi, the people of that tortured society will surely dance on the regime's grave. Perhaps that is what truly concerns some of our Arab allies: that among the consequences of regime change in Iraq might be a stronger demand for self-determination from their own people.

At the end of the day, we will not wage this war alone. It is revealing that shortly after Secretary Powell finished his presentation before the Security Council, ten new allies in Central and Eastern Europe declared that Saddam Hussein's regime requires a united response from the community of democracies. Many nations are threatened by Saddam Hussein's rule; few have rejected Hans Blix's contention that Iraq has not made a strategic decision to disarm; and many nations have a stake in the new order that will be built atop the ruins of Saddam Hussein's fascist state. Together with our allies, we should help the liberated Iraqi people embrace universal political values that NATO was organized to defend, which would constitute real progress toward a new Middle East, in which Israel and a Palestinian democracy enjoy the peace of free people, and citizens across the region have a genuine voice in the way they are governed.

Real the whole thing. And remember, McCain spent years in a box in Hanoi, defending the values and freedoms we'll soon be bringing to the people of Iraq.

War Updates
James Robbins on the geopolitical realities of the debate over war with Iraq:

Two international organizations, the United Nations and NATO, are being shaken by blocs of member states pursuing divergent national interests. In the process, they are demonstrating that organizations of these types are not supra-national entities with corporate interests and goals, but simply alternate arenas in which countries pursue politics by other means. Inside or outside the U.N., with or without NATO, countries still behave the same self-seeking way they always have and always will. It is so blatant it's refreshing. The Franco-German-Russian Bloc find themselves facing the equally determined American-British-Spanish-Portuguese-Italian-Plus-a-Bunch-of-Others Coalition.

Lee Harris on Arab cultural failure and why self criticism has helped make America so strong.:

We blame ourselves, and at our best universities there are professors who are paid quite nicely to find as much fault with our society as it is humanly possible to do. An insane policy by any standard you might wish to chose, except that of pure pragmatic success—the most self-critical nation in human history is also the first nation to achieve absolute superiority over all the other nations of the world; and perhaps, by some dialectic irony, it is more through the efforts of men like Noam Chomsky than Rush Limbaugh that we possess supreme military might. Can you really fear a society in which men like Chomsky and Gore Vidal are lionized, as opposed to being shot in the middle of the night in a remote forest? A society so absurdly tolerant has to be trusted; and it is precisely this trust that has kept other nations from arming themselves to the teeth against us. Talk is cheap—and, with the USA as the dominant power, quite safe as well.

Read them both.

A Bleaker Spin
The Tennessean puts a much bleaker spin on the revenue numbers, but at least is fair enough to admit that the state's budget gap is "mostly because of TennCare overruns."

Yesterday I wrote this: "I predict the above-expected-growth in sales tax revenue will be a minor point in stories that will focus major attention on the overall revenue 'shortfall.' And they won't spend much time explaining in plain English that four of the state's five main funds are in surplus."

Bingo on both counts. The paper doesn't get around to mentioning the respectable growth of sales tax revenue - given the state of the economy - until the very end of the story, and fails to put the data in context. And it doesn't mention at all the fact that four of the state's five funds are in surplus.

The paper's confusing story makes it seem as if the administration is using this year's revenue numbers to forecast next year's shortfall: The shortfall in the 2003-04 budget could top out at $610 million instead of an earlier projection of $510 million because of weaker-than-expected tax collections, state Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz said.

The paper doesn't explain how sales tax collections in the first six months of fiscal year 2003-03 have anything to do with the 2003-2004 budget, which will be funded by revenue collected starting in August 2003, six months from now.

The truth is, the $610 million figure is pulled from thin air. It represents the wish-list of what the bureaucracy would like to spend versus the expected revenue as projected for next fiscal year by the State Funding Board. That's all.

That's also sad, given the past inability of the State Funding Board to accurately forecast the state's economy and revenue. And the Funding Board and the new Bredesen administration are so far is continuing to rely on the unreliable UT economist Bill Fox, who in the 1990s predicted multiple economic slumps that never came to pass.

The AP story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal and other papers around the state carries a similar bleak if not-completely-accurate spin, but does a better job of explaining the source of the $610 million budget shortfall prediction for FY 2003-04. The shortfall projection is based on revenue estimates for the 2003-04 fiscal year by the the State Funding Board, which met Monday. The $610 shortfall is expected "if tax collections remain sluggish," the story says.

Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel does the best job of explaining the $610 million figure:

As the state's projected budget problem grew bigger on Monday, Gov. Phil Bredesen said he wants to seek savings in such areas as improper billing of phone calls to taxpayers and allocation of state cars. At a meeting of the State Funding Board on Monday morning, the tentative estimate for basic state revenue growth for the next fiscal year was reduced from an earlier projection of $250 million to $180 million. With $70 million less expected to come into the system, the projected shortfall for the next year is increased by that amount. The previous estimate had been for a $510 million shortfall, prompting Bredesen to ask heads of most state government agencies to propose areas where spending could be cut by 7.5 percent.

In other words, revenue is growing and the state will have more money to spend next year, but the bureaucracy wanted even more money. At least the Funding Board is projecting very low revenue growth. If Bredesen gets a budget that lives within that revenue, and the economy improves, the state could find itself a year from now talking about the Bredesen Budget Surplus.

Wouldn't that be a nice change?


Sales Tax Revenue Looks Fairly Good
The January revenue data is out and the numbers are good in some cases, not so good in others. Sales tax revenue is beating estimates - even after the sales tax rate increase is factored out. And over all collections are below estimates by a manageable amount.

On an accrual basis January is the sixth month in the 2002-20003 fiscal year. The Department of Revenue collected $807.6 million in tax revenue, which was $32 million less than the budgeted estimates.

Sales tax collections were $4.6 million more than had been estimated would be collected in January and, adusted for the sales tax rate increase and the raising of the single-article cap on sales taxes, the sales tax showed real growth of 1.75 percent in January, raising the average growth rate for the first half of the fiscal year (August through January) to 1.59 percent. That's fairly good for a sluggish economy and indicates that as the economy revives, sales tax revenue growth will resume its historic growth rate in the 5-7 percent range, enough to cover normal increased costs for operating government due to inflation and population growth.

In January, franchise and excise tax collections were $115.2 million, which is $26.8 million less than the budgeted estimate (although the six-month shortfall in F&E taxes is just $24 million. F&E taxes are paid quarterly by most businesses in Tennessee.

Overall, Tennessee has undercollected revenue compared to its budgeted estimate by $26.1 million, with the general fund collections down $41.3 million and the four other funds over-collected by $15.2 million. In other words, the state has a surplus in four of its five funds (including the TDOT road-paving program), and a deficit that, if it doubles in the next six months, will still be less than half of the total in the state's "rainy day" reserve fund.

The fiscal crisis currently faced by Tennessee is caused by TennCare, which is in the process of overspending its budget by nearly $300 million. (As Gov. Phil Bredesen so eloquently put it in this story Sunday, making cuts to other programs while in the shaddow of the extravagantly expensive TennCare program "makes you feel like you're in a Third World country with somebody lighting his cigar with $20 bills."

Watch your daily newspaper in Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga, the Tri-Cities, Nashville and elsewhere across Tennessee tomorrow: I predict the above-expected-growth in sales tax revenue will be a minor point in stories that will focus major attention on the overall revenue "shortfall." And they won't spend much time explaining in plain English that four of the state's five main funds are in surplus.

Babblin' Bubba
Bill Quick takes apart a South Knox babble.

So what are we to make of this farrago of nonsense, lies, hysteria, and frantic exaggeration? Only that if the first paragraph is garbage, it probably isn't necessary to delve deeper into the mass of rancid Donk table scraps that fills the rest of this particular bin.

Actually, though, if you take the time to read South Knox Bubba's bloviatorical bleat, Quick's piece is all the more fun. Extra bonus: It's not offten you find the words "flaccidity" and "farrago" in the same piece.

Full disclosure: I like SKB. And we agree on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights thingie - and he was nice enough to turn a paper I wrote on TABOR into a PDF file and make it available online. But even though I recommend his blog in my blogroll, he's wrong many a day. Today is one of those days.

A Bad Bet
Frank Cagle explains how the Tennessee lottery is likely to go very, very badly.

One suggstion: because tuition pays for only 60 percent of the real cost to Tennessee providing a public-university education, taxpayers have to pick up the remaining 40 percent of the tab. Every student armed with a lottery scholarship with put more pressure on the already-tight state budget. So ... why not structure lottery scholarships to cover the whole cost, a number larger than just tuition? Each lottery scholarship student would arrive at MTSU or ETSU or UT fully funded, so taxpayers wouldn't be on the hook for the increased costs. It would also reduce the number of lottery scholarship students, so the schools wouldn't be faced with as large an overcrowding program because of the lottery-funded influx of students. Plus, with fewer scholarships available, the legislature would have more incentive to craft meaningful restrictions based on both need and academic merit.

Cutting the Fat in NY
New York's budget gap (planned spending in excess of revenue) is being partially addressed by cutting the fat.

Faced with tough fiscal times, Gov. George Pataki has proposed abandoning a study of obesity in New York that he had personally championed. Pataki said his proposals, which include other health initiatives, would save the state $1 million. “Although these are laudable public health initiatives, none are essential to health and safety,” Pataki’s proposed budget states, “and the limited resources available to DOH (the state Department of Health) at this time must be dedicated to higher priority programs."

Pataki signed the Obesity Prevention Act last year, directing the Health Department to find ways to battle the bulge and reduce health care costs associated with excessive weight. Health experts were supposed to report their findings this June, but officials said the $500,000 program stalled amid the state’s continuing fiscal woes.

Smart move. The cause of obesity is really quite simple, in most cases: too many calories, too little exercise. Spending a million dollars to "study" that is silly, regardless of the whether revenue was plentiful or not.

Reasons for War
Peggy Noonan lays them out clearly.

President Bush's foes warn of body bags. There will be body bags. But the question does not seem to be "invade and get body bags" versus "don't invade and no body bags." If that were so we'd all say fine, no invasion. The question is: "invasion body bags or noninvasion body bags?" Removing Saddam and taking losses, or not removing Saddam and waiting for the losses that will no doubt follow.

Read the whole thing.

Trench Warfare
Steven den Beste has an, uh, trenchant analysis of Iraqi ground strategy in the upcoming mother of all battles.

The solution to trenches is cluster bombs or thermobaric weapons. Cluster bombs burst relatively high and distributes what amounts to hundreds of hand grenades over a wide area. They fall into anything, including trenches and foxholes, and then explode and kill anyone nearby. They can be dropped by heavy bombers or fighter-bombers or be delivered by MLRS. And everyone now knows about thermobaric weapons (sometimes called "Fuel-Air Explosives") which generate an immense concussion in a huge area, and not incidentally consume all the oxygen there. Anyone not blown apart by the shock, or incinerated by the flame, has a good chance of smothering afterwards. And a trench is no defense. (Or, if you want to fight on the cheap, you use napalm.) Nor is any of this kind of prepared defense going to be any surprise. We'll have spotted any defenses like that long since with photo-recon, and the ground pounders will know exactly where they are long before they get near. They'll stand well back, use a bullhorn to give the defenders one (count 'em, one) chance to surrender, and if they don't take it, then the bombs start falling.

In the 21st century, a trench is nothing more than a pre-dug grave.

There's much more.

UPDATE: Now bin Laden is said to be urging Iraqis to employ trench warfare. Idiot. Trenches won't stop the American military. Heck, they won't even slow it.

Unilateralism Redefined
The United States is accused of preparing to act "unilaterally" in Iraq if the United Nations doesn't give us its blessing. France and Germany are opposed to U.S. military action in Iraq. France is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. So is China, also opposed to U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

So, we're acting unilaterally if we go in, right?


The unpersuaded are beside the point now. The president has met every one of their demands. Yet few have endorsed deposing Saddam - columnist Mary McGrory of the Washington Post is the exception - and many more have come up with new demands. Their first requirement for Bush was to seek a congressional resolution approving war with Iraq. He got one. Next was repudiating unilateral military action. Of course the United States was never going to act alone, if only because Prime Minister Tony Blair ensured Great Britain would stick with us on Iraq. But consider the alliance of countries that now supports Bush in one form or another. It's global: Albania, Angola, Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Guinea, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Oman, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Yemen. That's 34 countries, and no doubt more are to come. - from The Weekly Standard.

As Donald Sensing asks, "What makes a coalition? Three nations? Ten? Forty? What gets the administration's opponents' goat is not the lack of a coalition, because there is a coalition. It's that the coalition is made up of the wrong people in their view."

Incidentally, among the "coalition of the willing," Angola, Britain, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Spain and the United States are voting members of the U.N. Security Council. That's 8 of 15 nations - a majority - supporting the use of force in Iraq.

Fair-Weather French
France, Germany and Belgium: Fair-Weather Friends.

Well, France is not really our friend anymore. The nation we saved from the Nazis is actually proposing the U.N. send 1,000 blue-helmeted troops to bodyguard Saddam.

Bredesen's Budget II
Tom Humprey of the Knoxville News Sentinel says that if Bredesen is successful as a state money miser, he "will be well on his way to concentrating more authority in the governor's office than any of his predecessors since the Legislature shook off its rubber-stamp role back in the 1960s."

He announced a budget-cutting goal - one that would have sent much of the Legislature and all of the government bureaucracy into fearful cries and pitiful moaning last year - and has set out methodically to meet it. He is doing so in public meetings with each and every department head, courteous but consistent in declaring he wants cuts, not commentary. No wailing, no gnashing of teeth. Folks just sigh and say OK. The upshot is an extraordinary legislative acquiescence to a Bredesen budget as yet unseen. After four years of tax and spending wars under a governor who often gave little guidance, legislators stand ready on a bipartisan basis to have someone tell them what to do - so long as it's not a tax increase.

Like Larry Daughtrey (see below), the also-pro-income tax Humphrey leaves out of his column the common boilerplate assertion in the past that the budget couldn't be cut.

English is Important
Think immigrants shouldn't be pressed to learn English as rapidly as possible? Think again.

The Internet is facilitating rapid spread of knowledge and high-speed communication. The global communication network is replacing local mass markets and vertically-integrated firms with international targeted markets and complex, external supply chains. For these purposes, the dominant language, particularly for cross-border Internet activities, is English. ... The Internet revolution is boosting the economic prospects of the English speakers of the world. This includes the countries where English is the native language, as well as the people in other countries who happen to be educated in English. People who never learn English may be destined to spend their lives on the wrong side of the language barrier.

Another worth-your-time essay from Arnold Kling.

Bredesen's Budget
Larry Daughtrey's column in the Sunday Tennessean about new Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen's approach to state budget hearings is enlightening.

What is remarkable is that he is doing it all in the open for all to see. Never before has this stage of Tennessee's complicated, tedious budget-making process been on public display. It has been conducted in private by a few individuals, with special interests groups competing in the shadows for portions of the $20 billion that passes through state accounts each year. As mayor of Nashville, Bredesen participated in the city's longstanding open budget process and found that the roof doesn't fall in when citizens see how their tax money is spent. It didn't compromise his effectiveness.He has gone further in his first three weeks as governor. He has opened up his first two cabinet meetings, gatherings that have been held in the past behind the guarded gates of the governor's Curtiswood Lane mansion. Closed meetings allowed a candid exchange of views, some bureaucrats argued. Baloney. It allowed deals to be cut in a way that no one seemed accountable.

Bredesen's budget process is a slap in the face to House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who preferred to cut budget deals in secret with special-interest lobbyists. And even Daughtrey appears to be coming around to the notion that there may actually be waste and fat in the budget. Nowhere in the column does he make the ridiculous assertion that the budget is lean and uncuttable. And revelations about such things as the state spending your money to give away millions of 'free' trees each year indicate that there are, indeed, numerous items in the budget worthy of consideration for chopping.

The Tennessean says anti-war protestors will great President Bush in Nashville today. No mention in the story of whether the paper bothered to try to determine if Bush will also be greeted by demonstrators in favor of his Iraq policies. Last time the president was here, he was also greated by Iraqi nationals like these:

P. Casey Daley/Tennessean staff
Hoping to see President Bush, Safaa Albadran, 4, stands outside the downtown convention center under a banner held by her father, Karim, left, proclaiming "Saddam: Out - Democracy In."


The Cure is Spreading
Mississippi blogger Chris Lawrence is running for the state legislature - and a Taxpayers Bill of Rights is going to be a big part of his agenda. Read more about it - and stand ready to help him with donations! (And no, I don't have plans to run. I'm ably represented in the Tennessee legislature by Sen. Jim Bryson and Rep. Glen Casada.)

Editor's Note
If you had subscribed to receive email updates from this site and haven't been receiving them, I apologize. I believe I have fixed the problem. We'll find out in the morning. - Bill

What's More Important?
Unlike’ yesterday’s muddled mush of an editorial from The Tennessean, reflecting on Colin Powell’s UN speech, the Nashville City Paper actually takes a strong stand.

The Tennessean said the overwhelming evidence of Iraq’s treachery and danger is reason enough to … seriously consider doing something tougher, though in the end they leave the door open to what exactly that might be. War? More inspectors? Increasing the fines on Saddam’s overdue parking tickets, perhaps? The NCP, by contrast, starts its clear-headed and serious-minded editorial today this way:

“The proof is on the table. It’s time to go to war.”

And the little paper correctly assays the UN’s predicament: “So now the United Nations faces a dilemma. It can either sign on to come along and live up to the responsibility the world has given it. Or it can sit on the sidelines. But either way, we’re going to war.”

The Tennessean, by contrast, thinks highly of France’s suggestion for tougher inspections, though the evidence of 12 years is that the UN’s inspections have failed.

The NCP rightly notes that timing is of the essence: “We shouldn’t wait to discover that the next piece of evidence that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction is a mushroom cloud.”

The Tennessean's unserious editorial puts broad international coalitions and the U.N. Security Council on a higher priority level than preventing that mushroom cloud. They should reconsider, and decide: Is the future of Tel Aviv - or an American city - not more important than the future of the UN?

The Country Store
I just added a new blog to my list of fine blogs. The Country Store. Check it out. Strong, opinionated stuff with biting humor.

Cha Ching!
The London Telegraph is reporting on an interesting bit of data from China:

The puzzling nature of Chinese economics has been highlighted by a study showing that all 31 provinces beat the national average growth rate last year.

It's Lake Woebegonomics.

Lack of Income Tax Praised
Tennessee's most distinguished economist says Tennessee's lack of a sales tax is the reason the state's budget deficit isn't as bad as many other states, reports the Knoxville News Sentinel.

Dr. William Ford, an economist at Middle Tennessee State University, told the Tennessee Press Association that the state's tax system makes Tennessee better off than places like California.

"Under Gov. (Gray) Davis, California has a $35 billion deficit thanks to an income tax," said Ford, former chief executive of the Federal Reserve bank. Ford said he dislikes state income taxes because when the economy's good, they make government even bigger than it should be, and when it's bad, they don't produce. For example, he said that when the economy turned sour in California, collections on taxes from capital gains, dividends and interests went down. That's not true with a sales tax, he says.

During the 4 years of the Sundquist administration’s battle to create a state income tax, the administration avoided calling Dr. Ford to testify, preferring University of Tennessee economist Dr. Bill Fox, who favors higher taxes, the income tax and uncontrolled growth of government spending.

Update From Legislative Plaza
Ben Cunningham, a friend of HobbsOnline, sends the following message from the budget hearings underway at Legislative Plaza in Nashville.

Just wanted to let ya'll know that I have been attending ALL of the state budget hearings and will continue to do so. I give Bredesen gets high marks for the way he is handling it. He has told virtually every department head that they are cutting their baseline, i.e., they should not expect the cut funding to be restored next year.

It is also amazing at how painlessly the cutting is being done. I remember the sham hearings in the General Assembly last year where everyone who testified said the world as we know it would come to an end if one dime was cut from their budget. This year is night and day difference. They know they are there to cut their budgets, not to lobby against cuts. They simply present their cuts, have a little chit-chat and move on. Will give more details later on.

When he does, I'll pass them on to you. Ben operates the TNTaxRevolt website.


"Going to war without the French is like
going deerhunting without an accordion."
Amen! The fabulous quote is part of an excellent essay by Canadian David Warren essay- although I'm not sure I agree with his perspective on Powell's speech. Warren thinks Powell's speech - indeed the whole path that led the Bush administration to seek United Nations support for a war on Iraq - was misguided from the start. As Warren puts it, "it is the final failure of the course of action Colin Powell himself recommended within the Bush administration. As we now know, it was he who successfully argued, over strong objections from Donald Rumsfeld, and others, that the UN route was worth taking. President Bush decided on balance that it was worth giving "collective security" a chance." Warren says it failed because "the people demanding proof were not going to change their positions after it was supplied."

That much I agree with - but that's not failure, it's sublime success. The UN is being rapidly and very publicly unmasked on the world stage as an illegitimate body of homicidal-tyrant-coddling appeasniks. The head of the UN Commission on Human Rights is Libya which, as fellow Canadian Mark Steyn so eloquently put it, leaves "the leading international body on human rights being headed by a one-man police state that practises torture and assassination and has committed mass murder" within Europe. [Think Lockerbie, for starters.] And in May, the presidency of the UN Conference on Disarmament will pass to Iraq. Chew on that delicious irony.

Warren suggests the UN path was a wrong choice, but Steyn suggests that what is happening now is all set to rectify the mistake the first President George Bush made in going through the UN for "authorization" to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. That very authorization then hamstrung the elder Bush from doing what needed to be done in 1991: taking Baghdad and destroying Saddam Hussein's wicked regime.

The U.S. doesn't need the permission as James Lileks explains so well of the UN - "a dim hive of self-interested parties engaged in endless parliamentary mummery, united by a consensual delusion that all nations are equal" - to use military force in defense of national security and to liberate the oppressed. Never has.

Now, the younger Bush, by putting the U.N. on the spot again, has brought the "world body" to the edge of instant atrophy. If it backs down to Saddam now - after 17 resolutions and a dozen years of one-more-chances, and in the face of overwhelming and undeniable evidence of Saddam's treachery, growing menace and links with international terrorism - the United Nations will have rendered itself worthless, and done so publicly.

Warren even seems to realize this:

The appeasers of Saddam have used the same arguments and the same language as the appeasers of Hitler. They have relied on the same fundamental reasoning -- that there is no price too high, if we can win "peace in our time" - and under the same inspiration, a pant-wetting fear. They want to believe, in the face of any evidence that is presented to them, that security can be obtained by some kind of negotiation. They chant all the old 'thirties mantras about "collective security", and invoke the United Nations as their grandfathers invoked the League of Nations.

That's the point. And George W. Bush made them do it, by challenging them to put up or shut up. I guess the only real debate is, was that by mistake or intentional? When it comes to shoving the UN over the cliff, it hardly matters.

Humor Break
Check out this item from blogger Dave Barry. Yes, that Dave Barry.

State Senate: Will GOP Make A Real Effort?
Frank Cagle has an on-target analysis of the meaning of an upcoming special election to fill a vacant seat in the Tennessee state Senate. The race is to fill the seat of former state Sen. Lincoln Davis, who was elected to Congress with two years remaining on his state senate term. A special election April 15 is important because the Democrats hold a two-seat majority in the state senate.

If the Republicans capture the Davis seat that puts the Republicans within striking distance of gaining control of the state senate in next year's senate elections. The conservative rural nature of the Davis district would seem ripe for a pick-up by the Republicans, though the district is a mixture of Republican and Democrat voters. It's the kind of area that elected Democrat Davis to the state senate, but voted heavily for Republican Van Hilleary when he was in Congress. ... It is a bellweather for whether the state Republican Party will make a serious effort in the next general election to try and make gains in the General Assembly. Or are the big contributors too heavily invested in Bredesen and the status quo in the General Assembly? Are their lobbyists too beholden to Speaker Jimmy Naifeh for their legislation?

Read the whole thing.

The Unconvincables
Don't miss Donald Sensing's nicely done dissection of lefty Katrina vanden Heuvel's claim that Powell's speech didn't provide casus belli. No excerpts here. Just go read it. And, I think, Sensing is set to appear on the Teddy Bart's Rond Table radio show in Nashville Friday morning. The show airs 7-9 a.m. CST at 1160-AM. You can also listen online by going to ThePublicForum.org, clicking the Roundtable link, and then the "live streaming audio" link to fire up Windows Media and hear the show.

Pay More For What?
I'm not against teachers being paid well. I'm not against teachers being paid more. But kudos to the Nashville City Paper for mentioning that, despite all the current political maneuvering in Tennessee over a court order requiring the state to "equalize" teacher pay statewide, which will result in rural teachers getting big raises over time, it has little to do with providing a quality education.

Many experts say teacher pay isn’t a direct correlation to student performance. “Achieving equality in opportunity for students and not necessarily the sameness in teacher compensation [is what the court called for],” said State Board of Education Director Douglas Wood. “Every school system in the state … has got to have the opportunity relative to salary to be able to attract the same quality teacher. It’s very difficult to meet that challenge because it assumes there’s a correlation or relationship between teacher salary and the quality of the teacher. … The research doesn’t necessarily point that out.”

Just remember, as the battle plays out in the Tennessee legislature, it's just a fight over money. Serious efforts to actually reform education will again be put on the back burner.

What Does 'Unilateral' Mean?
Unilateral, adj., involving only one group or country - Cambridge International Dictionary of English

Nations that are supporting or backing the United States in its plan to use military force to disarm Saddam Hussein and liberate Iraq:

Albania, Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Spain, Turkey, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia and Latvia.

If you know of more, please inform me at bhhobbs -at- comcast.net.

Powell's speech has put the United Nations in a box, says Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration:

The most significant aspect of Powell's address was what it did not contain. Powell never asked the U.N. to do anything. He asked for no Security Council determination that Iraq was in "material breach" of U.N. resolutions. He simply declared it to be the case. He asked for no resolution authorizing military action. He asked for — nothing. It was left to the British to explain. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said that Iraq has no intention of disarming. Straw said that though Britain does not want war, the U.N. now stands — as the League of Nations did in the 1930s — looking on, doing nothing as a small evil grows large. Straw is right, and in his remarks he should be speaking for America as well as Britain. With his evidence, Powell cornered the Security Council. It must act to enforce its resolution, or dissolve into irrelevance. Unless the U.N. resolves to disarm Iraq by force, and does so in the next few weeks, no American president should ever again bring before it any issue of importance.

Good stuff.

A Wider War
Michael Ledeen believes the U.S. and its many allies will find themselves in a regional war involving Iran, Syria and the Iran-backed terror organization Hezbollah as soon as we attack Iraq. That's a good thing, by the way. We have to destroy those terror regimes eventually. Might as well get all the marbles on the table now, lest we be forced to go back the UN and the Congress and get the approval of the anti-war Left for each stage of this vital battle.

Bird Brains
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the state's budget crunch has resulted in the University of Tennessee canceling plans to hire a lobbyist.

Faced with outlining new budget cuts to Gov. Phil Bredesen, the University of Tennessee has abandoned a plan to hire a lobbyist for this year's session of the state Legislature.

Reader Ben Cunningham, who brought the story to my attention, writes to say: "Yes!!! This is what you call two birds with one stone!!!!!"

I think that's about right. There's something very unseemly about UT - or any state-funded organization or agency - spending taxpayer dollars to pay a professional lobbyist to lobby the legislature to give it more taxpayer dollars. Until there are taxpayer funds allocated to pay for full-time lobbyists to represent the interest of taxpayers, there should be a law preventing state-funded organizations and agencies from lobbying the legislature. Period.

Appeasement Pap
Today's Tennessean newspaper in Nashville is impressed by Colin Powell's speech to the UN and says it just might be a reason for ... more inspections!

Let's take it apart line by pap-filled line, shall we?

With the world's eyes on him, Secretary of State Colin Powell made a compelling case yesterday that Iraq has much to hide and has been doing just that.

Yes. That would be evidence the paper has been calling for to justify war.

Using evidence that included satellite intelligence photographs, audio tapes of conversations between Iraqi military officers and data from informants, Powell made a strong argument that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat and that the United Nations must deal decisively with him. The secretary was an authoritative representative of the Bush administration's position.

Ooh. You think you can hear it coming. The paper's going to endorse going to war!

The presentation puts the ball in the court of the U.N. Security Council. As persuasive as Powell's presentation was, the United States should allow the issue to play out before the international body. Both in any military conflict and in dealing with its aftermath, an international effort is needed.

No! The paper says the Iraq issue must continue to rattle 'round the U.N., and the U.S. should not try to force the issue but rather let it "play out." The U.N., it's worth noting, has been playing with Iraq for 12 years.

There were signs yesterday that Powell made progress among other Security Council members, where misgivings about U.S. intentions have been substantial. After Powell's remarks, the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, said the use of force should be only the last resort, but de Villepin also called for ''a new stage'' of the issue and called for strengthening U.N. inspections. That is a far cry from endorsing military action, but it is also a different tone than France had offered prior to Powell's appearance.

A different tone? Non! It is the same French appeasement stance wrapped in a different fallacy. First, the European surrender experts said inspections were working, and Iraq was "contained," therefore we need more inspections. Now, the Europeans Voted Most Likely To Roll Over For a Homicidal Dictator say inspections might not be working, so we need more inspections.

President Bush has repeatedly expressed his willingness and the nation's ability to go to war against Iraq alone: No one doubts either contention. But having come so far with the backing of the international community, the goal of unity shouldn't be abandoned. Powell's presentation may have created an opening — even headway — with allies that has not existed before.

The following countries, which include the vast majority of the European population, have endorsed the use of military force against Iraq and volunteered to be a part of the military coalition:

Albania, Britain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Greece, Slovakia, Slovenia and Latvia.

Eight of them announced it before Powell's speech in this letter.

Please note that many of them formerly rested uneasily under the Soviet heel and know all too well what it is like to yearn for liberation. Some of them even used force to get rid of their homicidal dictator.

Yesterday, the United States backed up its rhetoric with evidence. Saddam Hussein is a menace. The danger he poses to much of the world, including the United States, is real. Continued inspections may contain him, but they will not disarm him.

The paper admits "danger ... to ... the United States is real," and says Saddam can not be disarmed by inspections. Here comes the war endorsement, right? Non! Don't be silly!

But if Saddam's menace can only be destroyed through war, let that war be brought by the community of nations, not the United States alone. Only with a broad coalition would the United States have the global support it needs for a war in this precarious part of the world. And only with a coalition would a post-Saddam Iraq have the chance it needs to rebuild and find its way as a nation.

The Tennessean says we should not go it alone. Despite the fact that virtually all of Europe is with us, the paper would have you believe George Bush is preparing to act "unilaterally" in Iraq, without a broad coalition. They pretend those 19 countries - plus Australia, Canada, Israel, Qatar, Bahrain, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait and others - don't count. Only with Germany and France is it a global coalition, you see. Why would the paper make such a nonsensical statement, one not based in the facts? Because, like the French and the Germans, they are for ... more inspections!

...To really understand how illogical The Tennessean's position is, see Eugene Volokh's blog for his succinct summary of William Saletan's essay in Slate.

If the Security Council members had just said that the evidence against Iraq was weak, and therefore no military action is needed to enforce the Council's resolutions, that would have been (if Powell is right, as I think he is) grossly irresponsible, but at least those who believed the Council's factual assertions would see the Council as acting sensibly given those facts. But if the Council members say that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, is obstructing the inspectors, is materially violating the Council's Resolutions, but the only response is more of what has clearly utterly failed, then the Council has shown that its actions have no practical meaning.


War. Now.
The time for talking is over. The inspections won't work. They haven't worked, they aren't working, they never will. Colin Powell's presentation to the United Nations provides the "smoking gun" the French, the Democrats and the rest of the Appeasement Now! crowd has been smirkingly demanding. Well, they have it now. Proof of Saddam's "material breach" of UN Resulution 1441. Proof of his continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction. Proof of his working with al Qaeda. The United Nations has but two choices: It can immediately pass a resolution calling for all-out war to disarm Saddam and deposit his regime on the ash heap of history (and his body in an umarked grave) ... or it can call for more resolutions and more inspections (the French option) and prove itself worthless. There you have it: You can put your trust in the French, who roll over for genocidal dictators as a matter of national habit, and in the UN, which stoodly idly by and watched the massacre at Srebrenica and did nothing to stop to. Or you can trust George Bush, who has at his hands all of the intelligence data and information, who knows what the threat is.

I feel safer - and I know my children will in the long run be safer - if we chose the latter.

Sundquist's Parting Gift
From the not-exactly-a-surprise department: The Sundquist administration overestimated how much its TennCare reforms would save, reports today's Tennessean.

Projected savings when the state began taking people off the TennCare rolls last year do not appear to be living up to expectations, a state official told lawmakers yesterday.

Of course they aren't. The Sundquist administration, may it rest in peace, had a terrible track record on budget estimates and forecasts. Does anyone think they didn't tinker with the numbers a bit just to make their last TennCare budget look better, at least until they were out of office and didn't have to fool with it anymore?

Why the War Won't Last Long
Here's a report on the technological advances that mean the U.S. military that Saddam Faces this year is light years ahead of the U.S. military that crushed his army 12 years ago.

"Fully digitized" M-1A2 Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles "equipped with computerized-mapping systems that permit their crews to see the whole terrain, coordinate their targets and control fire distribution. ... Laptop computers, satellite phones and global-positioning devices have become the tools of soldiers, along with rifles and mortars. ... Tomahawk cruise missiles ... can now be retargeted in midflight by satellite signals."

"The American military was the most capable in the world in 1991," said Loren B. Thompson, a military analyst at the nonprofit Lexington Institute in Washington. "But its capability has grown by leaps and bounds since then. It is more precise, more lethal, more survivable, more discriminating . . . than it was a mere decade ago."

Saddam's forces, by contrast, are stuck in the 1980s, at best, technologically. If the American military could be described as a DVD playing "Spiderman," the Iraqi military would be an analog cassette spooling out the Bee Gees.

It's the feel-good story of the day.


Numbers Crunching
Here's a report on the fiscal situations in 11 midwestern states - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin - from the Council of State Governments/Midwestern Office. I haven't read it but I'm guessing they blame the tax code rather than spending for their budget problems. It is, after all, a report from an organization whose mission is to "improve" state government, and government bureaucrats tend to define "improve" as "spend more money."

Here's an excerp from the report's introduction:

Although the states posted a cumulative year-end budget surplus of more than $30 billion for a fifth straight year in fiscal year 2001, the $37.8 billion total represented a sharp decline from the record high of the previous year. And as a percent of total state spending, the aggregate year-end fund balance fell from 10.4 percent in fiscal year 2000 to less than 8 percent in fiscal year 2001.

Well boo hoo. Where did the surplus go? Oh, you spent it. You didn't save it for a rainy day. Now it's raining and you're wishing you could raise taxes to buy a new umbrella. Sorry, fellas, we bought you the umbrella in 2001 and you didn't hang on to it.

What's For Lunch?
After I read this piece of liberal touchy-feely nonsensical garbage, I decided to go get a Big Mac. Or maybe a "Big 'N Tasty."

Now You Know He Means It
It appears Gov. Phil Bredesen really does intend for the state to live within its means. He's putting the state's road slush fund on the table in the ongoing search for ways to balance the budget. The AP reports today:

As the legislature returns to Nashville after a two-week recess, officials are talking about dipping into two of the state's most politically sacred funds — the $670 million in state tax dollars dedicated to road construction and the $741 million in ''state-shared taxes'' distributed to city and county governments.

''I told the road builders in the campaign, if I ever got into the situation where the choice was money for roads or cut the money for K-12 education, I know what I'd do,'' Bredesen said in an interview with The Knoxville News-Sentinel.

That's good news. For too long, Tennessee's road program has been operated on a pay-cash-as-we-go basis when it would make more sense fiscally and economically to fund roads through long-term debt, and use today's revenue for things that can't be put off until tomorrow - things like educating children. Roads can be built with bond revenue, and paid off over 30 years with revenue in part generated by those children as they grow into adults and start paying sales taxes and gasoline taxes. But we can't wait 30 years to educate them.

If Bredesen decides to push to change the way we fund roads to primarily long-term bonds, he has my total support.


"Riding Fire in the Sky"
Peggy Noonan's elegy for the astronauts deserves your time.


Casus Belli
In case you don't know Latin, that means "cause for war."

UPDATE: Here's the smoking gun. Here's another one. And another.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that support for the President and his likely war with Iraq is growing.

UPDATE: If more people read things like this, support for taking out Saddam would be sky-high.

Soon, They'll Stop Cheering
Very soon. Then we'll see who is celebrating in Baghdad.

Columbia. Thank You
I urge you to check out InstaPundit for a host of coverage of the Columbia space shuttle loss. Also, check out Glenn Reynolds' excellent essay on MSNBC.com. I've got nothing to add except this: he's right. The only right thing to do is bury our dead and move on. To Mars.

Ignoring Facts, Constitution
Online shopping makes up less than 1.5 percent of total retail shopping. It is miniscule. But The Tennessean is hot to have it taxed. Their editorial on the subject is a mishmash of half-truths and shouldn't be taken seriously. For one, the main problem with taxing online sales is the Commerce Clause of the federal constitution, and Congress can't legislate around that. The Commerce Clause forbids states from levying taxes outside their borders. Under that clause, Tennessee may not force a merchant in Kentucky to collect Tennessee's sales tax if the Kentucky merchant does not have a physical presence in the state of Tennessee at the time of the transaction. Online merchants in other states that do not have a warehouse or other physical presence in Tennessee can not be required to collect the Tennessee sales tax when they sell something to a Tennessee resident and ship it to them. (They would have to charge the tax if they delivered the item.)

For example, over in the permanent column to the right is an offer of sale of vitamins. The vitamins are sold exclusively online by a business based in Virginia. I use the product, and recommend it to others because I like it - and because the company pays me a commission on sales to others who I refer to them. (Click here and use referral number 101758 if you're interested.) The company has no physical presence in Tennessee. Thus, it does not charge sales taxes. This is fair - the company puts absolutely zero strain on any Tennessee government-provided service.

More later.

The Golfing Governor
Our slimy ex-governor gave himself free golf for life just hours before he left office. Well, actually, it's not free. You are paying for it, dear taxpayers, and there no cap on how much it will cost you. But Don Sundquist doesn't care about you. He cares about golf. Thank God he's gone.