Steaming hot commentary on journalism, Tennessee, politics, economics, the war and more...
- Name:Bill Hobbs
- Location:Nashville, Tennessee, United States
From a report currently at CNN.com:
Contradicting coalition reports, Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri painted a different picture of the conflict Monday, saying the U.S.-led coalition is being "defeated on all fronts and [is] retreating in the face of strong strikes. If they continue to be stubborn with their aggression, we will attack them with all they have. No one will be safe except for those who surrender to us on the battlefield."
First he says we're retreating, then he says we are attacking (aggression). Which is it, Naji?
Next, Naji says the Iraqis will "attack [the allies] with all they have." With all the allies have? We have a heckuva lot, Naji, but I don't thing we're gonna let your terrorists come over and borrow some MI Abrams tanks, or A-10 Thunderbolts, or Tomahawks or "bunker busters." You're welcome to have your troops come out and try to take them from us, though.
As for your promise of safety for allied troops who surrender, well, we've seen what happens to allied soldiers who surrender to Iraqi thugs on the battlefield. They are tortutred, mutilated, executed and buried in a shallow grave. Which, come to think of it, is what some fine citizens of Baghdad may well soon do to you, Naji. And God help them to do it soon.
Naji, our troops aren't retreating, aren't defeated , and sure as shootin' ain't planning on surrendering to you and your ilk. Some are resting up, while others grind up the "feared" Republican Guard from the air before flying back to the safety of an allied base where they rest up, get a hot shower and a hot meal and prepare to do it again. Naji, you are the flack for a group of murderous thugs who deserve all the righteous fury that's about to rain down on them - and on you - if it isn't already. Bunker busters, Naji, are some of the best of Yankee ingenuity. Here's hoping you get to see one up close. As for your boss, Saddam, if he's still breathing I'm hoping God or fate intervenes and allows his death to come from a bullet fired by a Jewish soldier from New York who signed up to fight after your pals knocked down the World Trade Center. And I'm hoping, somehow, it's caught on video so we can show it on Iraqi TV. Perhaps you can hire Peter Arnett to narrate it.
NBC Fires Arnett
NBC has fired the anti-American reporter Peter Arnett after a public firestorm over anti-American comments Arnett made on Iraqi state-run TV, allowing himself once again to be used as a propaganda tool by the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. NBC deserves scorn for not firing Arnett immediately - instead, the network defended Arnett's appearance on Iraqi TV and specifically defended his statements. They fired him only after the public outcry against Arnett grew too hot to handle. As for Arnett, now that he's once again given aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States - in this case an enemy that has participated in war crimes by having its soldiers torture, mutiliate and execute captured allied troops, and by shelling civilians trying to escape Basra - I'm guessing Arnett's next career stop is al-Jazeera. He'd also be right at home "reporting" for Iraqi TV, but if he works there, he'd be a part of the regime and, therefore, a legitimate target. Unfortunately for the truth, Arnett isn't that stupid.
War Coverage: An Embedded Reporter Lashes Out
CBS news reporter John Roberts, embedded with the 1st Marine Division in Iraq, used a recent report to lash out at "armchair quarterbacking" from journalists and retired generals who aren't traveling with the troops. Good for him! Howard Kurtz, media critic for the WaPo, has the details. It's worth noting that I've been critical of the embedded journalists program, not because of the work the embedded journalists are doing, but because news viewers who rely solely on those reports and the TV networks' endless parade of "expert" and "analyst" talking heads presents a very distorted and anecdotal view of the war. For those who truly want to know not only what is going on, but how it fits into the overall military and political strategy, I've suggested supplementing your teevee news with a number of warblogs, all of which are listed in my list of "vital blogs." Among the best: Instapundit, which links to everything good; Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping, Command-Post, Blogs of War, Little Green Footballs, Andrew Sullivan, and the columns of David Warren and Mark Steyn. On Friday, the WaPo published a good guide to warblogs that lists a lot more.
A Proposal Worth Considering
Nick Denton has an interesting idea: partition Iraq into three parts - northern Iraq becomes liberated Kurdistan, southern Iraq becomes liberated Shiastan and central Iraq, including Baghdad, stays in the hands of Saddam Hussein - with Kurdistan and Shiastan under the welcome protection of allied forces. Notes Denton, if Kurdistan includes the oil-rich city of Kirkuk (and, I should add, Mosul), then virtually all of Iraq's oil resources will be in the hands of liberated Iraqis allied with the U.S., while Saddamistan (Denton calls it Saddistan) will have few resources with which to prop up the facist Baath Party regime.
I had a similar thought the other day: there's no need to invade Baghdad to defeat Saddam's regime in brutal, bloody block-by-block and house-to-house urban combat. Just encircle the city and isolate it. Cut all the roads into Baghdad. Impose a no-fly-zone over the city, including commercial traffic, by destroying Baghdad's airports. blockade the rivers that might provide routes of commerce into the city. Shut down the city's contact with the outside world - cut the phone and Internet lines and knock Iraqi state TV and radio off the air with Tomahawk missile strikes and electronic jamming as needed. Replace their broadcasts with coalition programming.
And - most important - cut off the flow of oil revenue to Saddam's regime - which should be easy given most of the oil fields would be in allied hands. Use the oil revenue to fund rapid reconstruction of the liberated areas.
With Baghdad cut off, use covert ops and aid to rebel factions inside the city to undermine the regime, and to pick off targets of opportunity - Republican Guard troops, fedayeen militia, Baath Party officials and Saddam Hussein regime officials - as opportunites present themselves. The real question is whether the right approach would be to squeeze the city - a real seige in which the inhabitants are cut off from food and other necessities from the outside world and the city's power and water are cut off - or whether we leave the lights of Baghdad on and the water flowing, and even air-drop food aid to the civilians. My suggestion would be the latter - let the inhabitants of Baghdad know we are on their side, and that our seige of Baghdad is merely about starving the regime, not the people.
Tennessee Lawmakers Threaten Internet
For years, Tennessee has taken pride in being proactive in wiring the state and its schools and libraries for Internet access, and millions of dollars of state funds have been expended for that purpose. Now, Tennessee lawmakers are putting much of that at risk with silly legislation that could render the Internet useless in Tennessee by outlawing "firewalls" and other software and hardware that are crucial to the operation of the 'Net. Several other states are also considering similar legislation, including South Carolina, Colorado, Massachusetts and Texas - and the bills - textually similar - are apparently are intended to extend the national Digital Millennium Copyright Act, explains Edward Felten:
Here is one example of the far-reaching harmful effects of these bills. Both bills would flatly ban the possession, sale, or use of technologies that "conceal from a communication service provider ... the existence or place of origin or destination of any communication." Your ISP is a communication service provider, so anything that concealed the origin or destination of any communication from your ISP would be illegal - with no exceptions. If you send or receive your email via an encrypted connection, you're in violation, because the "To" and "From" lines of the emails are concealed from your ISP by encryption. (The encryption conceals the destinations of outgoing messages, and the sources of incoming messages.)
Worse yet, Network Address Translation (NAT), a technology widely used for enterprise security, operates by translating the "from" and "to" fields of Internet packets, thereby concealing the source or destination of each packet, and hence violating these bills. Most security "firewalls" use NAT, so if you use a firewall, you're in violation. If you have a home DSL router, or if you use the "Internet Connection Sharing" feature of your favorite operating system product, you're in violation because these connection sharing technologies use NAT. Most operating system products (including every version of Windows introduced in the last five years, and virtually all versions of Linux) would also apparently be banned, because they support connection sharing via NAT. And this is just one example of the problems with these bills. Yikes.
Felten, incidentally, is not some wild-eyed conspiracy theorist. He was an expert witness in the Microsoft antitrust trial.
The legislation being pushed by Sen. Person and Rep. Briley is bad legislation pushed by politicians who don't know enough about the Internet and how it works - otherwise, they would realize that the impact of this law would be to render the Internet either illegal or inoperable in Tennessee. Go here for more information on it.
UPDATE: I found the Tennessee version of the legislation. Senate Bill 213, sponsored by Sen. Curtis Person, and House Bill 457, sponsored by Rep. Rob Briley. Both bills have been moved to their respective judiciary committees. Let's hope they die there.
Meanwhile, if you have any information on the Tennessee legislation, who is lobbying for it, and relevant campaign contribution information involving the key House and Senate sponsors, please forward it to me at bhhobbs - at - comcast.net.
Today's NYT has a good story on how Iraq must be ridded of the Baath Party and taught the ways of democracy after the war, similar to the "de-Nazification" of Germany after World War II.
Last September, a group of 32 Iraqi exiles met in Britain under the auspices of the State Department to compose a document they would title "Report on the Transition to Democracy in Iraq." The report - it is a full-size book, in a ring binder - was written in English and Arabic and submitted in December to a meeting of Iraqi exile leaders who hoped to form the new government. The exiles never did establish solid relations with the Bush administration, and their report attracted very little attention. Yet it ought to be regarded as one of the crucial documents of the present crisis. Certainly it raises one extremely important point for the future.
The report states flatly, "The practice of politics in Iraq has been dead for 35 years." There have been no political parties apart from the Arab Baath Socialist Party. There have been no organized opposition groups inside the country, no public dissenters, not even a well-known persecuted dissident. Many ordinary people have been implicated in some way with the crimes of the regime. Totalitarianism in Iraq has been, in short, of the darkest hue. Thus the report recommends that, after the fall of the Baathists, Iraq ought to undergo a process similar to the de-Nazification of Germany after World War II - a process of "de-Baathification."
De-Nazification was a vast campaign. The Allies occupied Germany in 1945 and banned the Nazi Party. They made something of an effort to restore property to people who had been pillaged by the dictatorship. Nazi Party members were brought before tribunals, which exonerated some of them, subjected others to criminal prosecutions and banned still others from future public positions.
The de-Nazification campaign imposed reforms on German education and culture. The old Nazi textbooks were withdrawn, and new ones were written. Germany's political culture was given a new shape and texture. To be sure, the success of de-Nazification depended mostly on the active enthusiasm of the Germans themselves, who turned out to be ardent in their desire for change. And the results were, all in all, splendid - even if, 58 years later, the challenges of de-Nazification have not entirely disappeared from the German landscape.
Kanan Makiya, one of the authors of that report, speaks in Nashville on April 2.
The WaPo has a good story on the war and weblogs. It mentions lots of good blogs including Nashville's own One Hand Clapping. Doesn't mention me. :-(
The list makes it clear the reporter didn't research all of the blogs he listed. One listing is for "Kanan Makiya's War Diary," which the WaPo describes as "a blog from the front lines on The New Republic web site." Makiya directs the Iraq Research and Documentation Project at Harvard University, which is attempting to make available for scholarly research three million pages of official Iraqi government documents captured by the Kurds following the Gulf War in 1991. He is a leading Iraqi exile and is heavily involved in planning for post-war Iraq. He's appearing in Nashville later this week. And his column for the The New Republic's website is not a blog. But it is excellent and informed commentary, and you still ought to read it.
Peter Arnett gave an interview to Iraqi TV in which the MSNBC correspondent slammed America. This is not the first time Arnett has shown his true anti-American colors, nor is it the first time he has allowed himself to be used by the government of Saddam Hussein to spread propaganda. In 1998, Arnett produced a documentary that accused U.S. soldiers of using Sarin gas to destroy a village in Laos. It was a lie, and later proven to be a lie, and CNN retracted the story. And, 12 years ago, Baghdad Pete unfailingly reported every bit of "collateral damage" in that city just the way Saddam's government wanted him to. A military target destroyed by allied bombs was called a "Baby Milk Factory" by Iraqi officials - they even helpfully printed up a sign in English that said "Baby Milk Factory" - and Arnett dutifully reported to the world via CNN that the U.S. had blown up Baghdad's only source of baby formula. It was a lie. He probably knew it was. 12 years later, Arnett is once again collaborating with the enemy. For more on Arnett's anti-American bias, click here and scroll down to item #4.
The Iraqi government has recently kicked out many journalists it felt were biased against it. Arnett is still there - giving sympathetic interviews to Iraqi TV.
Rev. Artillery has a mention of Arnett. The comments from readers are good, too.
Legislature Handed Historic Budget Opportunity
The Knoxville News Sentinel says the Legislature is on the verge of passing a state budget that represents a "significant and potentially long-ranging recalibration of the spending patterns of state government."
"It takes this type of circumstance to do what they're doing," said Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis. "It puts members in a position of voting for this or voting to raise taxes. It's a chain, and if any link is broken, we're out of balance. Only with that pressure could they do some of these things." Kyle pointed to previous efforts during the last three difficult budget years to take state shared taxes and road money. The efforts failed, and the Legislature finally increased taxes by $933 million last summer.
"Many of the trial balloons that have popped over the last three years are going to be in there," he said. "The administration is wise to put them all in one vote. If you don't vote for this, you'd better be ready to raise taxes, and the General Assembly has promised not to increase taxes."
Rep. Randy Rinks, D-Savannah put it another way. "What other choice is there? You see another bill like that anywhere? We've been talking about this for three years. It's not like we didn't know it could mean a property tax increase. Everybody said, 'Cut the budget.' Well, this is what it looks like when you cut the budget. There's pain everywhere, but there's really not a lot of alternatives."
During last year's fight over an income tax, the House Finance Committee laboriously put together a no-new-taxes budget called DOGS, for Downsizing Ongoing Government Services. The similarities between that effort and what Bredesen is proposing have not escaped the notice of legislators. "But last year the administration fought it tooth and toenail," Rinks said. "This year they're saying it can be managed. It makes a difference."
Sounds good to me.
We're Not Seeing the Whole Picture
Imagine, if you will, watching an entire NFL football game through a tiny camera embedded in the helmet of one offensive lineman on one of the two teams. You'd see only part of each play when that team's offense is on the field. And from that ground-level, up-close look you'd be hard-pressed to see the overall play developing. And when the lineman was out for a play, or the team's defense was on the field, you'd see nothing much going on at all and might conclude, wrongly, that the game was over.
The "embedded journalists" program is kind of like that. While it is providing Americans with a view of the Iraq war that is unprecedented in the history of warfare ... the view is unfulfilling, incomplete and often misleading. Why? Thanks to the embedded journalists, we are seeing tiny slices of the war, not the whole war, as Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld so aptly put it. But why is it that way - there are, after all, more than 700 "embedded" journalists reporting live from the hundreds of military units spread across Iraq and Kuwait.
Ah, but each is reporting for a different news service - some for the networks, some for local teevee news programs, some for big newspapers like the New York Times, and some for small newspapers like the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle. You'd have to watch all of the news shows - from all the networks and all the local news programs across the nation - and read all of the newspapers from across the country, just to see all of the coverage. And even then you'd be getting only unconnected slices. And you'd be getting no reports from within the Iraqi military - Saddam didn't embed reporters among the Republican Guard. There's no counterpart to NBC's David Bloom reporting live as the Fedayeen terrorists prepare car-bomb attacks, use Iraqi women and children as human shields, shell innocents trying to flee Basra, or fake surrender only to gun down allied soldiers from behind their white flags.
Our side fights honorably, and allows reporters in. The other side does neither.
More on Nashville's Communists
A Vanderbilt prof who chooses to remain nameless has sent me information about an anarchist organization that has ties to the Nashville Peace & Justice Center, a group recently outed for their connections to the Communist Party USA. The "Emma Center" describes itself as "an Integrative anarchist center for creativity, learning and community in urban Nashville," and according to its website, is named after Emma Goldman., which the site describes as "a dedicated anarchist and feminist in the first part of the 20th century." The Emma Center is "collectively constructed in her memory to carry on the tradition of collectivism, peace, community action and education." It meets at 1016 18th Ave So Nashville TN, which just happens to be the same address as the Nashville Peace and Justice Center. Emma Center is a member organization of the NPJC.
Birds of a feather...
As the Vandy prof writes, the Emma Center has "also been highly visible here at Vanderbilt, organizing and holding a "Peace Forum" just yesterday right here on campus! No doubt they'll continue to fill these spoiled rich young skulls full of mush with their collectivist, pacifist, and anarchist propaganda."
All the Crazies In One Spot!
According to the Jerusalem Post, members of Yasser Arafat's terrorist group Fatah are headed to Iraq to launch suicide-bomber attacks on allied troops. That's the bad news. But it's not totally bad news. Perhaps the allies will find a way to attract all the Islamocrazies to one place in Iraq - Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah, etc. - and then drop some MOAB's on them. We can dream. You can read the Jerusalem Post's story after registering for free at their website. The J-Po is a vital resource during this conflict. (Hat tip: Command Post via Instapundit.)
Here's some happy news from the Washinton Post:
U.S. covert teams have been operating in urban areas in Iraq trying to kill members of President Saddam Hussein's inner circle, including Baath Party officials and Special Republican Guard commanders, according to U.S. and other knowledgeable officials. The covert teams, from the CIA's paramilitary division and the military's special operations group, include snipers and demolition experts schooled in setting house and car bombs. They have reportedly killed more than a handful of individuals, according to one knowledgeable source. They have been in operation for at least one week.
British special forces are also inside Iraq for the same purpose.
Who Is Reporting on Our Troops?
Karl Zinsmeister, editor of The American Enterprise, is embedded with the 82nd Airborne in the combat zone. He writes that, for the most part, the journalists traveling with our troops in Iraq are disdainful of the troops and against the war.
I personally have not met a single journalist here who supports this intervention by our commander-in-chief. I know there are a few present, like Michael Kelly of The Atlantic, and some of those I've met could not be clearly categorized on the basis of gentle questioning. But the vast number of the reporters I've spoken to are openly scornful of this war's aims and purposes.
In the first days of battle, the only thing that got the sustained respect and attention of the fellow scribes I'm bumping into each day was the apparent death of four journalists on March 22. At a lower level, there was astonished pique that the writers traveling with the Marines in the initial ground offensive had not been been given an opportunity to sleep for two full days! Of course, the Marines who were doing the fighting were not sleeping either. And a lot more than four servicemen have been killed. But they're from another species.
Typical reporters know little about a fighting life. They show scant respect for the fighter's virtues. Precious few could ever be referred to as fighting men themselves. The journalists embedded among U.S. forces that I've crossed paths with are fish out of water here, and show their discomfort clearly as they hide together in the press tents, fantasizing about expensive restaurants at home and plush hotels in Kuwait City, fondling keyboards and satellite phones with pale fingers, clinging to their world of offices and tattle and chatter where they feel less ineffective, less testosterone deficient, more influential.
When the press covers the death of a journalist in the combat zone as if it is the most important part of the story, I change the channel. Journalists who die in the commbat zone are not worthy of more coverage than the soldiers who, along with prosecuting their mission, have the added responsibility of trying to keep the unarmed journalists from getting killed. I was especially pleased to see the other day a report from NBC's Chip Reid, who described how the soldiers he was traveling with had to dig a new trench to sleep in each night. It was hard work, he said, adding he and his crew also had to dig their own trench. Good for them. Nice to know they aren't be coddled out there.
Lance Armstrong, All-American
American cyclist extraordinaire Lance Armstrong, who has won France's signature bicycle race four times in a row now - something akin to a French football team winning the Super Bowl - has issued an intelligent statement regarding the Iraq war.
In my opinion it's not really the place of an athlete to take a position here. And I do think there should be a strong deliniation from sports, war, diplomacy, and politics. I am getting asked this question repeatedly over here because a) I'm an American like the President, b) I'm a Texan like the President, and c) I am a friend of the President's. The war seems to be very unpopular here (lots and lots of protests) and it's normal that the press tries to get a quote regarding this. What I will say, and have said many times, is that NOBODY wants a war. Not me. Not President Bush. Not Tony Blair. No one... but sometimes it may be unavoidable. I absolutely support the President and absolutely support our troops.
And to think he's going to win another Tour de France this coming July. The French cyclists will surrender in the mountain stages. Because, as you know, when the going gets tough, the French surrender.
(Hat tip: LGF)
A Journalist at War
Here's a first-person battlefield account from an embedded journalist who did the right thing.
Leading Iraqi Dissident to Speak at Vanderbilt
Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi exile and adviser for the pro-democracy Iraqi National Congress, is scheduled to speak at Vanderbilt University on April 2. Born in Baghdad, Makiya directs the Iraq Research and Documentation Project at Harvard University, which is attempting to make available for scholarly research three million pages of official Iraqi government documents captured by the Kurds following the Gulf War in 1991. Makiya is the founding director of the Washington-based nonprofit organization The Iraq Foundation, an organization that promotes public activities concerning democracy in Iraq. His paper, A Model for Post-Saddam Iraq, is influencing U.S. policy regarding the rebuilding of Iraq after the current war ends.
Makiya has been writing a series of commentaries on the Iraq war for the website of The New Republic. As the bombs started falling on Baghdad, Makiya wrote that the sound of those bombs was the sound of freedom. You can find all of Makiya's essays by going to the homepage of The New Republic and looking for the "War Diary" button. His essays are routinely quoted in the blogosphere.
Some more infor about Makiya, courtesy of Vanderbilt's press release: Makiya's book Republic of Fear, written under the pseudonym Samir al-Khalil, became a bestseller after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. His book Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising and the Arab World, published under his own name, was awarded The Lionel Gelber Prize for the best book on international relations published in English in 1993. Makiya also has collaborated on two films for television including Saddam's Killing Fields, which first exposed the 1988 campaign of mass murder in northern Iraq known as the Anfal. That film received the Edward R. Morrow Award For Best Television Documentary on Foreign Affairs in 1992.
The New York Times Magazine published a lengthy profile of Makiya and his work as part of the Future of Iraq Project, a project of the U.S. State Department that is planning Iraq's post-war transition to democracy. Makiya guided the writing of a Democratic Principles Working Group report for the Future of Iraq project. Here's a snippet of that NYT magazine profile:
There's something in it to offend everyone. The report proposes, among other radical ideas, a representative ''transitional authority'' chosen by Iraq's opposition exiles and ready to operate inside the country as the regime crumbles; the postwar demilitarization of Iraq; the dismantling of the Baath Party along the lines of German de-Nazification; war crimes trials and a truth commission; thoroughgoing secularism; a constitution in which individual and minority-group rights would be guaranteed in advance of local and then national elections, so that democracy does not lead to tyranny of the majority; a decentralized federal government in which the regions would be drawn along geographic rather than ethnic lines; and an end to ethnic identity as a basis for the state. As long as Iraq is defined as an Arab state, other ethnic groups, like Kurds and Assyrians, will continue to be second-class citizens. In Kanan Makiya's blueprint, Iraq would officially cease to be an Arab country.
Makiya will likely be prominent in the reconstruction and political reformation of liberated Iraq. If you can't attend his appearance at Vanderbilt, at least read his War Diary essays.
Al Gore Takes A Hit
If you hire someone to teach about the First Amendment, you would hope he actually knows what he is talking about. Former veep Al Gore clearly does not. Commenting on the recent flap over Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines' comments critical of President George Bush and the Iraq war, Gore said the First Amendment and democracy have "taken a hit" because of the public's reaction to Maines' comments.
After a public outcry against Maines' comments - which she made in front of a concert crowd in Britain - some country music radio stations stopped playing Dixie Chicks songs.
The Chicks "were made to feel un-American and risked economic retaliation because of what was said. Our democracy has taken a hit. Our best protection is free and open debate," Gore said in a college lecture at Middle Tennessee State University, where Gore is head of the John Seigenthaler Chair of Excellence in First Amendment Studies.
How, exactly, did democracy take a hit? Because conservatives protested something a liberal said? That's not a threat to the democracy and the First Amendment. That's the essence of democracy and the First Amendment. There is no constitutional right to be immune to verbal criticism and economic backlash if you say something controversial.
Embedded Communists Update
National Review's Dave Shiflett is turning the national spotlight on communist connections to the anti-war protests in Nashville.
Indeed, the state's most revered and self-congratulatory peace activists have been exposed, by talk radio, as being deeply in bed with the Communist party. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. The fun began when local talk-radio sensation Phil Valentine (familiar to NRO readers for leading the anti-state income-tax movement in Tennessee) decided to have a look at the Nashville Peace and Justice Center's website. The group has been sponsoring peace rallies in the area, and is also trying to send a delegation to see Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Valentine wanted to find out exactly who's who in the center's pro-peace coalition. Many of the members were hardly a surprise. What caught Valentine's eye, however, was the acronym CPUSA - the Communist party. Holy cow. What are the commies doing there? After all, about the only peace they've provided is the peace of the grave. Valentine's antennae were twitching as he went to the CPUSA's main website, scrolled down to the "contact the CPUSA" section, and found the listing for the Middle Tennessee Chapter.
"I couldn't believe it," says Valentine. "The street address for the Tennessee chapter of the CPUSA is the exact same address as the Nashville Peace and Justice Center." Sensing his readers might benefit from this information, Valentine took the story on air last Friday. Not everyone was happy he did so. "Matt Leber, the peace center's director, called in," Valentine told me. "At first he denied any affiliation with the Communist party. He said they weren't any Communists within ten miles of him. I pointed out they have the same address as his organization. There was stunned silence. Then he admitted that the CPUSA is a member organization, but said that didn't mean anything."
He says it doesn't mean anything, but the NPJC soon scrubbed its website of any mention of the local communists.
I mentioned Valentine's work exposing the communist connections of the Nashville Peace and Justice Center here on Wednesday and provided a link to the Google cache version of the organization's old website, which clearly described the Communist Party USA's Nashville chapter as a "member organization" of the NPJC. Shiflett's article includes a link to the organization's current website, from which the organization erased CPUSA from its list of member organizations. And, as it turns out, the latest version of the organization's old website has not been altered to conceal the fact that the Communist Party USA's Nashville chapter is a "member organization" of the NPJC.
Keep up the good work, Phil
The Bush administration is tightening rules governing classified government documents and giving the government more power to keep secrets that involve "vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, infrastructures, projects, plans or protection services relating to the national security, which includes defense against transnational terrorism."
The Knoxville News Sentinel doesn't like it one bit:
The White House cited concerns about national security - intelligence methods, details of weapons of mass destruction - being compromised, but these disclosures are protected by existing exemptions. The Clinton order gave the benefit of doubt to disclosure. The Bush order will have the effect of reversing that: When in doubt, keep it secret. President Bush issued an executive order, amending a 1995 order by President Clinton that automatically declassifies most government documents after 25 years. Those documents, especially those having to do with the departments of State and Defense, are of intense interest to historians, scholars and journalists. Bush delayed that effective date until the end of 2006. That means documents from the mid-point of the Carter administration will not be available for another three years. One has to wonder: Exactly what is he trying to protect?
What is Bush trying to protect? I'm guessing he's trying to protect the American people - a possibility that apparently didn't occur to the Knoxville editorialists. And I suspect Bush, who gets national security and intelligence briefings daily, knows far more about the threats America faces than do the members of the editorial board of the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
The Fog of War Journalism
UK military chief Geoffrey Hoon is spot-on with his analysis of war journalism. Hoon, Tony Blair's defense secretary, writing in the London Times, says reports from the "embedded" journalists - including 128 Brits - provide people with vignettes of the war, but not the total picture.
One commentator on television this week said that, in Iraq, we were seeing a new kind of war. I disagree. It is less a case of seeing a new kind of war, more that we are seeing war in a new way. Startling pictures of a sort which have previously been the preserve of battlefield commanders are being beamed into our homes. Journalists can report changing situations as they happen, in real time. But the understandable thirst for "exciting" images has resulted in a series of disconnected "snapshots" of the conflict. Each, in its own way, may have been informative, but combined they have failed to give the viewer a genuine understanding of "the big picture," and sometimes they have had the opposite effect.
If the most exciting images of the day are of resistance from small elements of Saddam's brutal security forces - who fear their own liberated countrymen almost as much as they fear the coalition - that leads the news bulletins. It gives an impression that that is the mood of the country, when in fact it relates solely to the tiny area in which the reporter finds himself. It may not be the journalist's fault: it is a reporter's job simply to report what he or she finds. But without being framed in a broader understanding of strategy, instant pictures can mislead. So while viewers may be "seeing" more than ever before, they may actually be "learning" less, albeit in a more spectacular way.
Those who saw the hectic pictures of a night-time infantry assault on an Iraqi-held position during the battle for Umm Qasr a few nights ago, for instance, will not easily forget them. What they may not have understood, however, is that the picture hid a more complex story. With our air superiority, we could have blown that building and other targets to pieces, but that would have run counter to our strategy of leaving the infrastructure intact for the Iraqi people, with whom we have no argument, to use after the regime falls.
Hoon's piece cuts through the fog of war journalism, and provides the overall context for what you're seeing on the TV.
For more on war journalism, check out this at Instapundit today
Saving on Paving
Today's Tennessean reports on what cutting the Tennessee Department of
Paving Transportation's budget by 9 percent will mean. It will mean fewer orange barrels, as TDOT cancels 435 miles of road resurfacing projects. The story says TDOT tries to resurface roads every 12 years and is roughly on schedule. Two thoughts: Anyone who has ever spent much time driving in Tennessee gets the impression that TDOT resurfaces many roads far more often than every 12 years. But even if we choke back our skepticism and believe TDOT only resurfaces roads every 12 years, the delay in repaving 435 miles of roads is a rather small thing.
According to TDOT's website, Tennessee has 87,259 miles of road, of which 13, 752 miles are state-maintained highways. That is 16 percent of the total highway miles within Tennessee. Do the math: 12,752 miles of roads divided by 12 means TDOT intends to resurface approximately 1,146 miles of state highway per year. That's 1.33 percent of the total miles of state highways. The 435 miles represents less than half (38 percent) of the roads that TDOT would, on average, resurface in a single year.
And those 435 miles that won’t get repaved this year are a very small portion - just one half of one percent - of Tennessee's highway system. Chances are, drivers in Tennessee won't notice the difference if TDOT has to delay those projects a year or two.
Thanks to the abundance of competing media outlets, it seems the Iraq war is becoming a full-employment program for retired military officers. A retired U.S. Navy captain living in Knoxville has landed a gig with ABC News. A mere captain. Are we running out of retired admirals and generals?
Covering the War
National Public Radio's Daniel Schorr has some good commentary on the difficult relationship between media and military, how "embedded" journalists deal with military censorship, and why "the Iraq war and a revolution in communications technology may have opened the way to reconciliation between the American military and the American news media."
Tennessee Budget Update
Kevin Raybould has an update and brief comment on the Tennessee budget battle and, over at PolState.com Says Raybould: "By successfully painting this as a choice between roads and education, Bredesen and his allies have managed to overcome one of the first obstacles to his budget proposals." Hmmm. Where have I head that before.? Oh yeah. Here, on March 11, where I said this: By taking tax increases off the table, and then putting education on one side of the debate and all of the other state programs on the other, Bredesen has neatly framed the upcoming debate as one where if you oppose cuts to one of those other programs, you must be for cutting education. We know who will win that debate.
Instapundit has some good stuff today on how Iran's official media is covering the Iraq war, why Iraqis in the southern cities aren't yet rising up against Saddam, and more evidence of a link between Saddam' regime and the al Qaeda terrorist organization - namely, al Qaeda is helping Saddam's Fedayeen militia organize attacks on coalition forces near Basra.
Quote of the Day
The quote of the day should provide comfort to the Iraqi people who are hoping the U.S. doesn't stop short of ousting Saddam. It comes from the Bush-Blair press conference. Asked how long the war would last, President Bush said:
"However long it takes to win. However long it takes to achieve our objective. However long it takes. It's not a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory."
Okay, so it doesn't quite rise to the forceful eloquence of something like "We will acccept nothing less than the unconditional surrender or total annihilation of Saddam Hussein, his regime and his armed forces," but it's a solid commitment to persevere until Saddam is gone and the people of Iraq are liberated.
Whose War Is It?
I was mesmerized by this Andrew Sullivan column exploring the roots of the Iraq conflict. His assessments of Tony Blair, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and the historical context of the Iraq war - which includes the first Gulf War, Kosovo, sanctions, Somalia and much, much more - make total sense and provide, in one essay, all the history you really need. Here's an excerpt, but you really need to read the whole thing.
Why, after sending hundreds of thousands of troops halfway around the globe, did [the first President] Bush suddenly turn modest? Because the United Nations was the rubric under which he fought the war; the terms of his enormous coalition were dictated by the U.N.; and those terms were strictly limited to the reversal of Iraq's invasion, and nothing more. In one of the loveliest paradoxes of this battle, the U.N. therefore laid the groundwork for its subsequent self-destruction twelve years later. Without the U.N.'s restrictions on American force twelve years ago, Saddam would not be around today. Any non-U.N., American-led coalition with any sense of military opportunity, would have finished off the old Stalinist more than a decade ago. 1991 was therefore, in one sense, the U.N.'s post-Cold War high-point. Too bad it guaranteed its future nadir.
So we had the sanctions regime and the inspections regime. We had abrupt clashes, long somewhat successful police work under U.N. inspections, but no real breakthrough with regard to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. Worse, precisely because Saddam remained in power - thanks to the United Nations - American troops were required to stay in the region in large numbers to maintain some sort of deterrence. Where did they stay? Saudi Arabia. Who noticed this? One religious fanatic, Osama bin Laden. What was the result? The forces of Islamist fundamentalism shifted their focus from the corrupt regimes in their own region to the super-power thousands of miles away. If you want a direct, irrefutable link between Saddam and 9/11, you have to look no further than the consequences of the first Gulf War. If there had been no U.N.-mandated half-victory, Osama would never have had his direct provocation. And in one of those perfect circles of historical irony, Osama's revenge has led just as directly to Saddam's final come-uppance.
Here's a new blog you might enjoy, offering the "View from the Back Window of my Pickup Truck."
Denying France a Victory
I'm all for consumer boycotts of the products of France, a country that once was a U.S. ally but now is actively working to prevent the defeat of Saddam Hussein - although I doubt the boycotts will have much impact. But there is a way to hit France a little harder. According to today's Wall Street Journal, a California congressman is "demanding that planners [of the reconstruction of post-war Iraq] choose a wireless-phone technology developed by an American company." Rep. Darrell Issa has sent letters to the Pentagon, the U.S. Agency for International Development and fellow lawmakers urging them to support the deployment of CDMA, a wireless technology developed commercially by Qualcomm Inc., which happens to be headquarted in California.
But Issa isn't merely trying to secure pork for the home state. He's got a better motive than that:
"We have learned that planners at the Department of Defense and USAID are currently envisioning using federal appropriations to deploy a European-based wireless technology known as GSM ('Groupe Speciale Mobile' - this standard was developed by the French) for this new Iraqi cellphone system," Mr. Issa wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"If European GSM technology is deployed in Iraq, much of the equipment used to build the cell-phone system will be manufactured in France by Alcatel, in Germany by Siemens, and elsewhere in Western and Northern Europe. Therefore, if our understanding of this situation is correct, because of ill-considered planning, the U.S. government will soon hand U.S. taxpayer dollars over to French, German, and other European cell-phone equipment companies to build the new Iraqi cell-phone system. This is not acceptable," reads the letter Issa is urging his colleagues to sign.
Given how France and Germany have actively aided Iraq's brutal dictator, Issa is right - using U.S. tax dollars to benefit France in this way is not acceptable.
Mr. Issa's characterization of GSM as a French-developed standard is not exactly accurate - GSM was developed by a consortium of European companies, most prominently Finland's Nokia Corp. and Sweden's L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co.. Still, going with GSM is more likely to benefit France. Going with CDMA benefits America.
Issa's not just writing letters - he's planning to introduce legislation to block the use of GSM. He's right to do so. The U.S. should actively cut out any French involvement with the reconstruction of Iraq, starting with canceling the lucrative contract that France's Total Fina Elf signed with the outlaw Hussein regime to develop Iraq's northern oil fields.
I'll try to keep you updated on Issa's battle, and related news. Here's a link to the WSJ story, although you can't access it without being a paid subscriber. Here's a Reuters story on it courtesy of Forbes.com. And here's one in RCR Wireless News.
A "Grouchy Old Cripple" thoroughly trashes an op-ed by Leon Fuerth. Fuerth was Al Gore's national security adviser. Reason #2,397 to thank the good Lord in heaven again that Al Gore isn't president. Read the whole thing, but caution: strong language ahead. Also, don't miss this. It's guaranteed to make you smile.
Instapundit is on a roll, with lots of good stuff on the war. Start here and then scroll up. If you think France is still a friend of the United States, he'll change your mind, with links to good stuff from StrategyPage, Nick Denton, Cinderella (no, not that one), Jacob T. Levy, Michael Ledeen, and Anatole Kaletsky writing in the London Times about the "reckoning" ahead for the diplomatic betrayal of America by our putative friends France, Turkey, Germany and Russia. Ledeen's piece is damning in its assessment of how the French not only betrayed us, but threatened Turkey into betraying us too. Glenn also references a piece linked to on the Volokh Conspiracy blog, but appears to have used the wrong URL. Here's the right one.
A poll by the Pew Research Center finds high and steady support for the war:
There are no indications that declining optimism about progress in the war is affecting overall support for military action or President Bush's handling of the conflict. Roughly seven-in-ten Americans say it was the right decision to use military force against Iraq, a figure that remained fairly stable during the polling period. And about the same number (71%) give the president positive marks for his handling of the war.
The American people may have wrongly believed - thanks to a lazy media that provided them too little information - that all of the armed thugs in Iraq would simply surrender, leaving Saddam standing naked in the center of Baghdad. After all, that's basically what happened in the first war with Iraq. But back in 1991, Saddam's soldiers and terrorists had far less to fight for. We were there merely to boot him out of Kuwait. But in this war there are a few tens of thousands of Iraqis who have no future once Saddam is gone. They will be hunted down by the people they helped him oppress. They have nothing to lose by fighting the Americans and the Brits - either way they are going to die. A few tough days of combat has enlightened the American public that this won't be easy. But, as the President and Rumsfeld and the generals are fond of saying, the end is not in doubt. Saddam's regime will be removed. Steady support for the war as shown in the Pew, Gallup and New York Times/CBS polls proves the American people are not averse to casualties as long as they believe in the policy - and believe the president fully intends to see things through.
Who are the Fedayeen Saddam?
Short answer: They are people who must be engaged on the battlefield and killed in large numbers if we are to win this war and truly liberate the Iraqi people. Here's the long answer, courtesy of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Will Saddam Use WMD?
Count on it, says national security analyst James Robbins. He makes a persuasive case.
WLAC radio talker Phil Valentine is doing yeoman's work outing the communist connections of the Nashville Peace & Justice Center, which has been sponsoring anti-war rallies in Tennessee's capital city in recent weeks. Now, the NPJC has altered its website to remove references to the Communist Party USA and the Democratic Socialists of America, and to remove evidence that the Nashville chapter of the Communist Party USA shares the same address as the NPJC.
Too bad the NPJC doesn't know about Google, and how it keeps past version of web pages in its "cache." You can see the old version of the incriminating page of the NPJC's website here. NPJC's listing in CitySearch whitewashes the organization's communist sympathies.
NPJC's address is 1016 18th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212. A listing of regional offices of the Communist Party USA doesn't have their address, only an email address, but the Google cached version has their address. It's 1016 18th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37212
By the way... regular readers of this site know we keep you updated on the push for an income tax in Tennessee. NPJC is a part of that effort.
It's fine to be anti-war and pro-income tax if that's what you truly believe. But now you know that, when you protest at an NPJC event, you are helping communists.
UPDATE: The Tennessean rushed to the defense of the NPJC with a story Thursday. You'll notice the story includes comments only from NPJC director Matt Leber, who makes the dangerous charge that Valentine is trying to "instill fear and mistrust." The story says Valentine could not be reached for comment - but Valentine is on the air for several hours a day, and sends an email newsletter to more than 4,000 people every day. The Tennessean had no quotes from Valentine because it didn't want to quote him.
Too Bad We Can't Bomb Al-Jazeera
The allies bombed Iraq's state-run television network's satellite service yesterday, knocking it off the air. The enemy's state-run TV is a legitimate target in a war. Somebody hacked Al-Jazeera's English-language website yesterday, knocking it offline, at least in the U.S. Good for them. Al-Jazeera is the mouthpiece of radical Islamofacism. It is not an Arab CNN, an independent news network for the Arab world. It is, as Little Green Footballs has dubbed it, "Jihad TV."
Walid Phares. a professor of Middle East studies and comparative politics at Florida Atlantic University, and author of several books on the Middle East, says this of Al-Jazeera:
The network functions essentially as a high-tech madrassa, broadcasting the ideology of jihad to millions around the world. Every development is thoroughly analyzed from a jihadist angle. One example was the Iraq campaign. Months before the U.S. engagement began, two audiotapes were aired by Al-Jazeera in which Osama bin Laden called on Muslims to fight for Baghdad as the "second capital of Islam" - not as the center of Saddam's Baath. Al-Jazeera was to use the term repeatedly, slowly building up the illusion that such a jihad would be fought for Iraq, not for Saddam. Interviews with religious fundamentalist leaders multiplied. The pressure eventually led al-Azhar, the Vatican of Sunni Islam, to call for jihad if Baghdad were to be attacked. That call, now "news," in turn was broadcasted by Al-Jazeera.
Unfortunately, Al-Jazeera is based in Qatar, which is an ally in the current war, so we can't bomb it. But if Qatar is such an ally, why do they allow Al-Jazeera to continue broadcasting?
The Houston Chronicle has posted a list of war blogs. It's a pretty good list, but incomplete - no Blogs of War, no Command Post, no Little Green Footballs, no Donald Sensing. And it includes some that seem out of place. Still, at least they tried.
More on That NYT Poll
Patrick Ruffini has some more good commentary on today's New York Times story in which the Times tried to spin poll results to deceptively show support was slipping for the war. Ruffini also notes that allied casualties have been light, not that the Times has noticed:
In light of the masochistic drumbeat now underway on West 43rd Street, is it too triumphalist to point out that things went pretty well today - in the face of the most difficult conditions the allies have faced since Wednesday? Amidst one of the worst sandstorms in memory, our troops took a key bridge crossing at Nasiriyia, captured a hornet's nest of Iraqi resistance along with 170 feyadeen Saddam, and blasted away about 200 Iraqi RG/paramilitaries in the toughest fighting of the war so far - without a single reported U.S. casualty. Our greatest loss so far has occurred among noncombat troops in a faked surrender, obviously a situation we will actively seek to avoid in the future. But besides that one incident, allied combat casualties have been surprisingly sporadic and light - with the backstory surrounding those situations usually involving hundreds of Iraqi combat losses.
Saddam, Meet Thy Doom
I think Saddam is already goo in the rubble of his bunker, but if he's still alive he's got a new threat to deal with. Heh heh heh.
More Media Criticism
Andrew Sullivan has been chronicling the pro-Saddam bias of the BBC. Today, he explains why it matters. In short, it's because Iraqis listen to the BBC, and they are being told by the BBC that the allies aren't winning.
My harping on this theme is not simply media criticism. It's war analysis. Remember one of the key elements, we're finding out, in this battle is the willingness of the Iraqi people to stand up to the Saddamite remnants. That willingness depends, in part, on their confidence that the allies are making progress. What the BBC is able to do, by broadcasting directly to these people, is to keep the Iraqi people's morale as far down as possible, thereby helping to make the war more bloody, thereby helping discredit it in retrospect. If you assume that almost all these reporters and editors are anti-war, this BBC strategy makes sense. They're a military player. And they are objectively pro-Saddam.
Sullivan is right - the Beeb's coverage has been atrociously slanted against the U.S. as even a BBC reporter in Qatar said in a leaked email Sullivan reports on here. Unfortunately, the allies can't bomb the Beeb.
Rating the Coverage
Here's a story on a poll with some not-very-surprising results: people who oppose the Iraq war tend to think coverage of the war is biased in favor of the war. That's not a shock: the media is currently filled with images of war and stories of war - images the anti-war set finds offensive. And the reportage, at least in the American media, comes from Americans who, even if they seek to report objectively, are still reporting on the actions of American troops. A bit of pro-American bias is unavoidable, I would think. It's objective to show both the successes of the American troops and the setbacks - but even video of a Americans taking fire from Iraqi guerillas, or of a wounded American soldier talking on the cellphone with his wife back home in the states, is subtly pro-American simply because that's the side of the battle the video is showing.
There are, after all, no reporters "embedded" with Iraq's Republican Guard or the Fedayeen Saddam terrorist militia. Naturally, when an embedded reporter reports on his unit's encounter with the Fedayeen near Najaf, the report tilts in favor of the Americans.
The problem with embedded reporters isn't their natural tendency to bond with, and therefore report favorably on, the units they are covering. You can hardly blame NBC's David Bloom for reporting favorably on the actions of the armored units he's traveling with - deep down Bloom knows that if the unit he is embedded with loses a battle, Bloom may well lose his life. Iraqi fighters aren't likely to know or care that Bloom is a journalist rather than a soldier. To them, he's just another target. So forgive him if he refers to the Third Infantry Division as "our column."
No, the problem with embedded reporters is they present slices of life devoid of context. And television, which obsessively follows a formula of constantly looping through the same material, fails to provide the necessary context. MSNBC, while providing some good coverage, is also an example of the report-rinse-repeat approach to war coverage, offering updates every 15 minutes. The fact is, even as fast as the U.S. military has charged across Iraq, wars do not progress in 15-minute chunks. Hours can go by with nothing new to report, but the TV maw demands fresh material, and disgorges an endless stream of repeated video, recaps and talking heads - and those talking-head expert analysts, it should be noted, have biases.
Newspapers are handicapped in the opposite way. Walking past newspaper racks Tuesday carrying the Nashville City Paper and The Tennessean, I was strike by how stale the headlines were - especially on the Tennessean, which had a bold headline stating "Several Americans die in ambushes, trickery." But that had happened the day before. It wasn't happening now. The NCP's headline, "Push toward Baghdad," at least conveyed the sense of developing story. But the copy below the headline was stale. That’s not a knock on the City Paper or the Tennessean – they’re both just working with the traditional tools of the newspaper business, covering a 24-hour-evolving story with stories printed once a day, hours before reaching readers. Your hometown paper is similarly hamstrung, though some papers are doing a better job than others using the web to provide more complete and more-regularly updated coverage. Several papers are running Jeff Jarvis’ War in Iraq news weblog on their sites, a great service to their readers.
Newspapers tell us what happened yesterday. TV can tell us what is happening now. But even in a fast war, there's not always something big and newsworthy happening right now - at least not under the teeveenews definition of "big and newsworthy," which often means "we've got video of it." The best medium for following the war in Iraq is turning out to be the Internet. By checking both news websites and war-centric weblogs, readers can access both the latest breaking news from the battlefield and a level of cogent analysis that puts the TV talking-head experts to shame. TV gives you pictures of disconnected events, then gets talking heads to comment on them. But 30-second sound bites can't fully explain the context of what you're seeing live from the battlefield. Essays like this one from Austin Bay explain the overall strategy in a way Lester Holt or Peter Jennings can't. In a mere 1,422 words, Bay provides the context for the battlefield video from the embedded reporters. Now, when David Bloom tells you of the latest exploits of the
I think this piece in Editor & Publisher today has it about right regarding TV versus web new sites (though it leaves out the importance of independent weblogs):
When an event of the magnitude of the 9/11 terror attacks or the crash of the space shuttle Columbia occurs, the initial attention will likely be on TV news - for many more years to come. The consumer instinct is to turn on the TV to find out what's going on and see the first pictures. But after those initial minutes, there's a great opportunity for online news, and we saw that with the onset of this war, says Kinsey Wilson, vice president and editor-in-chief of USAToday.com. "Viewers first turn to television in part because TV's strength is the delivery of a narrative story line. That's what people are looking for when an event like this first begins to unfold," he says.
"Eventually, though, television starts to loop back on itself and repeats the narrative over and over again. I think that's where the web gains a huge advantage. The best sites can move quickly to develop a story in multiple directions, add depth and detail, and give readers their own pathways to explore." Wilson's point is dead on. Just because TV owns the first minutes (or hours) of major breaking news doesn't mean that web news sites can't either steal back or share the attention of news consumers relatively quickly.
For more on war blogs, see Mark Glaser's column in Online Journalism review. And to fully follow the war, turn off CNN occasionally and check out the Internet. Start here, of course - but don't stay here. Over on the right, I've got a list of "Vital Blogs." For war coverage, you really ought to check out several of them, including Donald Sensing, Instapundit, Blogs of War, Little Green Footballs, Winds of Change, Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing, Outside the Beltway, Command Post and The Truth Laid Bear. Pejman Pundit is good too - Pejman provides commentary from the perspective of an Iranian American. And Andrew Sullivan is providing excellent commentary too. Follow the links to those blogs - and then follow their links to other blogs, news articles and sources you may never have seen before. If you do, I guarantee it - the next time you find yourself watching the miasma of CNNMSNBCFoxNewsABCNBCCBS you'll be wondering how so many people could spend so much time telling you so little about what is really going on.
The A-List Crazies Are Awfully Silent
The always reliably entertaining Mark Steyn assays the current state of Iraqi propaganda and concludes it indicates a lot of top Iraqi leaders are, uh, dead.
So is he dead? No, not Saddam. We'll come to him later. I'm thinking of Tariq Aziz. Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister is a Christian and, even though he's a Scud-lobbing Kurd-gassing Christian, that's what passes for pluralism in the Middle East, and Baghdad is savvy enough to use him as their chief Western media spokesperson. So why isn't Tariq on CNN and the BBC right now? Why isn't he claiming that the imperialist aggressors have slaughtered thousands of innocent women and children?.
That's what he was doing on the first weekend of the last Gulf War. Everywhere you looked he was busy accusing "the imperialist American-Atlantic-Zionist alliance and its traitor followers" of carrying out "aggressive, indiscriminate and deliberate raids" on food factories, a sports stadium, a museum, a church, a textile plant, a health centre, a passenger train, a sugar factory, a baby-milk factory and a water-purification plant. Hundreds of civilians had died, he insisted. Mr. Aziz didn't expect to get anywhere with the American-Atlantic-Zionist crowd but he'd issued a stirring call to the Non-Aligned Movement to help support Iraq in its struggle to build "a new world order." Isn't this just the sort of stuff to cheer the hearts of Svend Robinson and Harold Pinter and the other Western Saddamites marching for "peace"?
But on the opening weekend of Gulf War II Tariq Aziz was silent. Even though perking up Svend and Co. is far more critical to Baghdad's strategy this time round, Iraq's Mister Available isn't returning his messages. He hasn't been seen since last Wednesday when some curiously timed rumours were floated that he'd either defected or been shot in the attempt. Saddam ordered him to go on TV and deny it. He did, and then left the studios to go to a meeting of the inner council. The meeting was broken up in the early hours of Thursday morning when the Pentagon dropped a bunker-buster on it. We don't know for sure who was inside and who got out. But an awful lot of Baghdad's A-list crazies seem to have cut back on their personal appearances since, oh, Thursday a.m.
As they say, read the whole thing.
The Sundquist Legacy
Tennessee is listed as one of 22 states "with little or no cyber-security activity" underway, despite federal mandates that states help ensure the protection of computer systems that hold confidential information about millions of people, according to a research firm that found an overwhelming majority of states have failed to require insurance companies to protect their computerized data from hacking and other attacks. The study "raises questions about how aggressively states are tackling cybersecurity overall," says today's Washington Post. Here's a link to the research firm's report.
"If, God forbid, something should happen, there's nothing in place that is strategic in nature" for coordinating a state response to a major computer virus or other cyber-attack, said Lee M. Zeichner, who heads the Falls Church research and consulting firm that did the study. Nor has there been an assessment of how vulnerable the systems in most states might be, as required by federal law, he said.
The Sundquist administration failed to complete that assessment, failed to follow the law - failed to protect you.
If you're shocked by American casualties in Iraq, you should be shocked by how few there have been, says the writer of a TechCentralStation piece today that provides a statistical look at combat casualties.
In this day, where every battle death becomes a three-minute drama looped endlessly through our TV screens, the American media seem preoccupied with how many casualties the American public can "take." But the fact is, we are seeing amazingly light casualties. The U.S. suffered 7,500 dead and thousands more wounded over less than three months in the battle to take Okinawa from the Japanese in 1945 (more than 100,000 Japanese troops were killed). The drive to retake Seoul from North Korean Communists in September 1950 cost the U.S. 6,000 casualties over 10 days following the Inchon Landing. The North and the South each lost over 11,000 killed and wounded in one day at Antietam, September 17, 1862. It remains the bloodiest single day in U.S. military history.
Consider these numbers:
- The 53,402 American battle deaths in World War I constituted 1.1 percent of the total U.S. military.
- The 291,557 battle deaths in War II were 1.8 percent.
- The 33,686 in Korea were six tenths of a percent.
- The 47,410 in Vietnam were a half of a percent of the total in the services.
- The 147 deaths in Gulf War combat were six one-thousandths of a percent of the total U.S. military.
- From the American Revolution to the Gulf War, the U.S. has had 650,954 soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen killed in action, 1.5 percent of the total who have served. (These figures are extrapolated from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs historical statistics.)
There is an interesting paradox, or at least a seeming one, in the relation of war casualties to the awesome lethality of modern weapons. Casualties as a percentage of the deployed combat force on both sides in wars have been declining for the past four centuries even as the killing power of weapons has increased.
Good stuff - let's hope the gloom-and-doomers on the teevee and at the New York Times read it.
NYT Sees Gloom in Baghdad
The New York Times surveys the scene in Baghdad and finds Iraqis who are afraid now that allied troops are just 50 miles away from finishing off Saddam Hussein.
Even before the war, Iraqis had begun to borrow from an imagined future, speaking out, here and there, as though new freedoms had already arrived. After the conflict started, this continued for a few days, encouraged by the fact that Mr. Hussein had disappeared from view after the American attempt to kill him with the cruise missile attack that began the war before dawn on Thursday. But then, on Monday, he reappeared with a lengthy television speech calling for Iraqi militiamen to "cut the throats" of the Americans, and the old anxieties were back in full measure, all over town. This, amid the gloom of the sandstorm and the clouds of thick black smoke, was another reason Baghdad's spirits were at a low ebb today.
One striking aspect of the city was how little government Iraq has left, at least in terms of ministries that can deliver the services people need. Mr. Hussein's Iraq has been the nearest thing in the Middle East to a totalitarian state, controlling every aspect of its citizens' lives through a network of overlapping security agencies for which Mr. Hussein found his template in Stalin's Russia. Near the end, however, if this is indeed the end, the government seems to be disappearing, leaving citizens, at their hour of crisis, to fend for themselves.
Incredible. The NYT admits that the people of Iraq are yearning to be free of the totalitarian state, then laments that the government "seems to be disappearing" leaving Iraqis to "fend for themselves."
Memo to the NYT. We've been working hard to topple the totalitarian regime. That's what the decapitation strike was all about. Heck, that's what the war is about. The disappearing of Saddam's police state from ordinary Iraqis' lives is a good thing, not a reason for gloom.
Spinning the Polls
The New York Times is opposed to the war, and it shows in the paper's relentless stream of negative coverage. Consider today's story about its latest poll on the war. The NYT hopefully headlines the story Opinions begins to shift as public weighs war costs.
The NYT spends the entire story exploring how support for the war is lower among blacks, lower among Democrats (like that's a shock) - and particularly on the decline in the percentage of Americans who think the war will be a cakewalk. But at the very end of the story, the paper is forced to admit the central and most important fact: overall support for the war "remains high."
Support for Mr. Bush and the war remains high. By 70 percent to 24 percent, Americans believe that the United States did not make a mistake getting involved in Iraq. But there has been a measurable decline in the national confidence that was on display last week.
Well, yes. After a drumbeat of NYT and other media coverage that made it sound as if the loss of one Blackhawk helicopter and the encountering of a few dozen hard-core Saddam loyalists in Nasiriyah represented a fundamental shift in war momentum, people are realizing it won't be a cakewalk. But opinions haven't shifted. At 70 percent, support for the president and the war is unchanged from polls taken last week. And news of big victories like the firefight at Najaf, where allies lost two tanks - but no soldiers were killed - and killed at least 150 of Saddam's terrorists, will soon rebuild the foundation of confidence among the public.
Meanwhile, a Gallup poll released yesterday found support for the war at 72 percent, with Bush's approval rating at 71 percent.
Instapundit is pointing to someone else who noted the same NYT poll spin.
Fired Up About the Artillery
Donald Sensing has some good stuff today about artillery, air power and the very short future of the Republican Guard. And a comment or two about newsmedia talking heads about the headless Iraqis.
As Before, Again
Sparkey, over at Sgt. Stryker's blog, has a good commentary on the allied war strategy.
This morning, while eating breakfast, CNN's Walter Rodgers with the 3rd Squadron, 7th U.S. Cavalry (3/7 Cav.) was on the tube. The 3/7 Cav. has just crossed the bridges at Nasiriya and was exploiting North towards Baghdad. It was kinda eerie to watch. CNN had a camera on the back of a M3 Bradley CAV as it advanced northward, through the sandstorm. When the column passed through a small village, the Bradley traversed its turret to the right, and the image struck me. I was taken back to a very similar picture I'd seen before. I couldn't find it on the web, but it was set on a gray misty day of one of Patton's Sherman tanks advancing through a small French village, with its turret traversed right. It struck me, what I was watching on CNN was a repeat of before. The grandsons of Patton's soldiers were once again liberating an oppressed people from an evil despotic dictator.
I thank God these guys are on our side. Think about it, they're attacking through a sandstorm!
Read it all.
Perhaps They Should've Used Dixie Chicks
Operation Kuwaiti Field Chicken was canceled after most of the chickens died.
The "Mad Arab" On Our Side
The first time I saw Lieutenant General John Abizaid on TV, at one of those CentCom briefings, I wondered if his last name was Arab. Turns out, it is. One of the leaders of our military is of Arab descent. National Review has the fascinating story, which speculates that Abizaid may have a key role in leading the reconstruction of post-war Iraq.
Abizaid, Gen. Tommy Franks' right-hand man, had some good things to say at a recent CentCom briefing:
"I would say, as a person who has studied the Arab world and loves the Arab world, that the majority of educated Arabs that I talk to know that Saddam Hussein has been a plague on the Arab world and on his own people, and they welcome his removal," Abizaid said at a briefing at Central Command on Sunday. When asked about how the Iraqis and the Muslim world will react to televised images of American prisoners of war, Abizaid said, "I think that the people of Iraq who see those images will not be heartened, they'll not be encouraged, they'll just regard it as one more brutality inflicted on people by a regime that has inflicted countless brutalities upon their people. The same goes for the rest of the Muslim world. No one has killed more Muslims than Saddam Hussein. So, the sympathies for that regime and for this brutal dictator are not served by the humiliation of our people."
There's also a Clint Eastwood connection.
The Half-Empty Glass
Instapundit is recalling another recent war where critics were too quick to say we were losing. It was written just before - and published just after - we routed the Taliban from Kabul.
Another Terrorist Pleads Guilty
Another Islamic terrorist from Buffalo, N.Y., with ties to al Qaeda pleads guilty. Score one for our side.
NYT Speaks Too Soon
The New York Times this morning in an editorial said the hope-for uprising against Saddam by Shia muslims in Basra wasn't happening. The Times said that the largely Shiite population in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, "is hostile to the Hussein regime and was expected to welcome the invading troops." But instead, Iraqi forces in Basra "are offering resistance." Bet they wish they'd waited a day to write that editorial. The BBC is reporting a Shia uprising against Saddam in Basra.
Yesterday, we lost a Blackhawk and the media started describing the war as if it was on the verge of being lost. Ahem. We lost one Blackhawk. We took over most of Iraq, and are within 50 miles of Baghdad.
Ah, Baghdad. The media will soon - if they aren't already - be talking about Bagdhad like its going to be Mogadishu all over again, only bigger, larger and much, much worse. Baloney, says retired military officer and novelist Ralph Peters in a wonderful column today:
Despite the steady progress of our troops, we continue to hear dire warnings about an impending bloodbath in Baghdad, once Saddam lures us into the streets of his ultimate fortress, his "Stalingrad" on the Euphrates. Just a minute there, Herr Professor. Calm down, Dr. Think Tank. I'm just a former career soldier, so I don't understand military operations the way academics and pundits do. Explain something to me, slowly and clearly: Why on earth would Gen. Tommy Franks do exactly what Saddam wants, and send our forces charging into the streets of Baghdad? We're not stupid - or Russian - for God's sake. We're not going to slug down a couple of bottles of vodka apiece and drive straight into Grozniy while Chechens pick off our tanks and troops at their leisure. We are going to make the rules in Baghdad, not Saddam. I simply cannot understand why anyone outside of Ba'ath Party headquarters imagines we would feel compelled to fight house-to-house in Baghdad, destroying the city, putting civilian lives at risk and throwing away our soldiers.
When the right opportunities present themselves, our forces will swoop in on pinpoint raids. And no, we're not talking about "Black Hawk Down II." Anyway, people tend to forget that, in Mogadishu, we actually won the tactical battle overwhelmingly - 20 dead Americans, a thousand dead Somali militiamen. At the end of that fight, we had thoroughly broken "General" Aideed's forces. Then President Bill Clinton, the most frightened man on earth, declared defeat. The U.S. Army's Rangers were ordered home in humiliation, after winning a tough but enormous victory. President Bush may have his faults, but he ain't going to cut and run on our men and women in uniform. Yeah, I'm being cocky today. Because I'm sick of being told how brilliant our enemies are and how our troops are going to get whupped up on by some Kmart Hitler. Might I pause in my literary endeavors to point out that, while our troops are approaching Baghdad, Iraq's Republican Guards are still quite a distance from Washington, D.C.?
Heh. And might I add, in Mogadishu, the Rangers had been denied armor by the Clinton administration. We'll have no such problem in Iraq.
Scenes From Baghdad
On the eve of war, and as the bombs start falling, New Yorker reporter John Lee Anderson gives you a front-row seat:
As war approached, most Iraqis I met seemed to be oddly neutral about the prospect. They were concerned about their families, but were not visibly hostile toward the West, or toward Americans. I had the impression that there was widespread, if privately held, support for regime change. I had a number of unmonitored conversations with Baghdadis, and several spoke to me with a candor that would have been unthinkable just a few weeks earlier. One day, as I was standing near the Tigris River with an Iraqi man, he said, "If God wills, Bush will bomb Saddam into the river. But not the people. Just Saddam. And Tikrit." Tikrit is Saddam's home town, and most of his close associates are from there. "If God wills, Tikrit will be flattened," the man said. He spat, and called Tikritis "camels' offspring" and a series of other pithy epithets in Arabic.
I was invited to dinner one night at the home of a senior government official, a man I will call Firas. There were a few other guests - educated, well-to-do Iraqi men who were friends of his. I told Firas that I hoped to stay in Baghdad during the war, and he said he thought that the rumors about the Al Rashid being a target were credible. He said he assumed that his ministry would be bombed, but he didn’t say that this was a terrible thing, or that the Americans were embarking on a criminal enterprise by going to war with his government
Firas grilled Gulf shrimp on a portable charcoal grill in the kitchen, and his guests sat in the living room drinking Lebanese arrack and eating warm pistachios, cashews, and almonds. Whenever Firas joined us, he would pick up the remote control of the TV and flip channels, following the news on CNN, Iraqi state TV, and Al Jazeera. Then he got interested in "My Best Friend’s Wedding," which was playing on a satellite movie channel. He laughed delightedly at the scene where Cameron Diaz sings badly in a karaoke bar. Throughout the evening, Firas was interruptedby phone calls, including one from his boss, who wanted to talk about the eleventh-hour invitation to Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei to return to Baghdad to discuss Iraq’s offer of "accelerated cooperation" on the issue of disarmament. When he got off the phone, Firas turned to me and shrugged, as if to say he knew that it was already too late to stop the war, but he had his official duties to perform. "What else can we do?" he said.
As we ate the shrimp, Firas began flipping channels again, and found another movie, "Six Days, Seven Nights," starring Harrison Ford and Anne Heche as two mismatched people who crash-land on a deserted South Sea island. The movie was subtitled in Arabic, and Firas kept the sound turned down, but it was pretty easy to follow. Ford and Heche feuded and fought and then, predictably, fell in love. Firas and his Iraqi guests were transfixed. I said that it seemed a little strange to be sitting here in Baghdad watching a Hollywood film a few days before the American attack, and they nodded vigorously and laughed, then turned back to the television set.
After the "decapitation" strike against Saddam early on Thursday morning, Paul McGeough and I moved back to the Palestine for good. The lobby was swarming with secret police, journalists, and some pretty eccentric-looking human shields, including one with long dreadlocks and pierced ears who wore black Kurdish pantaloons with a saggy rear end. In a new traffic island behind the hotel, next to a big statue of Saddam, one of the Korean feminist groups had hung a banner protesting sexual abuse. The second strike came on Thursday evening, and when I looked out my window I noticed that several Iraqis were sitting on lawn chairs on the sidewalk in front of the entrance to a small hotel nearby, as if nothing much were happening and they were just enjoying the fresh evening air. There were three big hits quite close to us, but across the river, and we watched the fires from our balcony. We could see a few cars driving around, even over the bridges. Dogs barked, and the river looked as calm as olive oil, with just a shimmer of motion on the surface.
Blogging from Northern Iraq
Time magazine reporter Joshua Kucera is also reporitng from the Kurdish regions of Northern Iraq via his blog, called The Other Side. Updates are infrequent, but always worth reading. Kucera's blog is mentioned in yesterday's Boston Globe story about journalists blogging the war. The Wall Street Journal also has a story on journalists and non-journalists blogging from Iraq, but you'll need a subscription to WSJ's website to read it. Here's a summary of it, with a link if you have a subscription. The WSJ also has a really nice story about how members of the 101st Airborne are keeping connected to their families at home via email and instant messaging:
Up to 300 soldiers have one colleague to thank for this service: Dustin Price, a 21-year-old private from northern Michigan. Since arriving here at Camp New York three weeks ago, he has spliced together nearly two miles of abandoned wires and modems left behind by a U.S. tank division. A crucial piece of the project: A hub-switching box -- hooked into a government network -- that he and his tent-mates originally brought so they could duel in computer games such as "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" and "Warcraft III." Pvt. Price has wired 11 tents, providing e-mail and limited Internet access, as well as follow-up service. He takes no fees, save for a supply of anti-inflammatory pills the medics gave him to curb swelling in his right knee. The tents he has wired are crammed with as many as two dozen soldiers, many sleeping on the floor. The tents, usually equipped with one or two laptops, host constant visitors, who call them "Internet cafes." Other tech-savvy soldiers have linked into Pvt. Price's lines, creating more connections.
Still, many tents aren't wired, and with winds blasting up to 50 miles per hour, service does go down. Camp New York also has an official e-mail tent, where soldiers can use computers, but waits there can stretch to 90 minutes. As battles loom, soldiers have less time to send messages home. But as more elements of the 101st head into Iraq, Pvt. Price has a plan to follow them with e-mail service, via satellite. He cautions that service may be limited, at least initially. "It all depends on how much CAT-5 I can get," he says, referring to the Ethernet cable he is trying to obtain from other units.
Decisive Battle Looms
From today's WaPo:
The battle now beginning between U.S. forces and the Republican Guard's Medina Division to the southwest of Baghdad promises to be a decisive engagement that signals whether the new Gulf War will be over in a week or two or drag on for a month or more. Until now, U.S. forces have fought regular Iraqi units and militias in small-unit skirmishes. Now they will face the Iraqi army's best troops for the first time, not in the wide-open desert but in the heavily populated and vegetated Euphrates Valley. Perhaps 40,000 troops and aircrews all told from both sides are poised to clash just a few miles west of the ancient city of Babylon. If Iraq chooses to use chemical weapons during this war, analysts think it will be in this battle.
"This engagement will determine if this is a long or short war," an Army officer at the Pentagon predicted.
The impending battle confronts U.S. forces with a dilemma that goes to the heart of the complex mission in which they are engaged: They can maximize the advantages of their overwhelming firepower and bomb a wily adversary hiding heavy weapons in built-up areas, which would inflict civilian casualties and set back the U.S. campaign for public opinion. Or they can try to attack precisely with low-flying helicopters and ground forces, which could mean losing more U.S. troops. If the fight against the Medina Division ends in just a day or two, or if parts of the unit even surrender without a fight, that will send a powerful signal that the climactic battle for Baghdad won't be as difficult as some have predicted, or won't occur at all. But if the 10,000-man Medina division manages to undercut U.S. momentum, and especially if it inflicts heavy casualties in the process, or if it just retreats from a battlefield strewn with dead civilians, then the tone of the war probably will change. A bitter fight that takes a week might even persuade the U.S. military to alter its strategy and dig in to wait for reinforcements from the Army's tank-heavy 4th Infantry Division - which probably would take at least two or three weeks.
Iraq's goal will be to maximize civilian deaths. I expect that means chemical weapons - and such will be met with U.S. forces finally taking the gloves off.
Chin Up. We're Winning
How goes the war? We've taken some losses, and we're facing resistance is some cities of Southern Iraq, and the media is questioning whether - after five days - our strategy is a good one. It reminds me of the naysayers who, after just a few weeks of the Afghanistan campaign, were carping that we were losing and were in a quagmire, blah blah blah, and the next day Kabul fell and the Taliban were routed.
In Iraq, some of the setbacks we have faced - including harrassing attacks in Nasariyah and continuing resistance in Basra - are a direct result of the war plan's deeply moral strategy designed to minimize Iraqi civilian casualties and damage. It's no surprise that Saddam has loyalist thug militia members in southern Iraq. And yes they are using tactics like faking surrender to ambush allied troops. And we're taking some losses. That doesn't mean they have a winning strategy.
The truth is, we could obliterate the enemy forces in Basra and Nasirayah by carpet-bombing the towns with MOABs - and we probably wouldn't suffer so much as a paper cut on our side. But instead we surround, cut off and bypass cities and towns along the way, known that Baghdad is the prize and if we take Baghdad and kill Saddam and wipe out the Republican Guard, Saddam's loyalists in the hinterlands will lose the incentive to fight.
Chin up. We're 50 miles from Baghdad, our losses have been light, and this thing will be over in weeks, if not days.
David Warren makes the point better than I do in this excellent essay:
More, still, could have been achieved, in this very short time, had the Americans and their allies not been playing to the most exacting moral rules ever devised for warfare. They are restricted by, for instance, a general order not to engage any target at all - including snipers and saboteurs within towns - unless they have a clear sight of it. They allowed, for instance, a dozen Republican Guard to fire rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at Apache helicopters from the roof of a building in one location south of Baghdad, entirely unmolested, because the helicopter pilots, who could have taken them out in a few quick keystrokes, couldn't be sure of avoiding "collateral damage" to civilians who might be lurking in the building below. Giving the benefit of the doubt to surrendering soldiers cost most of the U.S. Marine casualties so far, in a single incident near Nasiriyah, as a suicide ambush was mounted under cover of white flags. But these are details, and while the media dwell dotingly upon every individual allied casualty, in furtherance of the defeatist instincts they inherited from the 'sixties generation in Vietnam, the real issue lies in the heart of Baghdad.
Saddam's remaining loyalists are in no way representative of the general population, which has greeted invading forces with wary enthusiasm wherever they have appeared, and open enthusiasm wherever they have clearly prevailed. I have now seen several accounts of Iraqi civilians, voluntarily risking their lives to help allied soldiers locate Saddamite gunmen in concealed positions. The Iraqis themselves are, alas thanks to media attitudes in the West, America's most unsung allies. In the approach to Baghdad now, what's done is done, and the prospects are discouraging only to the media. The Republican Guard seems to be mounting an ambitious defence of the southern arc around the city. This is good news, for the more of them that can be annihilated where they stand, the fewer to retreat and cause carnage within the city. I should think every casualty the allies take outside, will be repaid in lives saved in the streets of Baghdad.
As they say in the blogosphere, read the whole thing.
Meanwhile, on the Home Front
Another Yemini immigrant in Buffalo has pleaded guilty to aiding al Qaeda, and more guilty pleas are thought to be coming from other members of that Islamic terror cell the FBI busted in Buffalo. Shafal Mosed was arrested Sept. 13, along with five other Yemeni-Americans in Lackawanna, a city just south of Buffalo. He has admitted attending al Qaeda's al Farooq camp, where he received training in firing weapons including an M-16 automatic rifle, a Kalashnikov submachine gun and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. He also served as a guard at the camp. Now, he's agreed to help the U.S. government identify more al Qaeda terrorists, and testify against them if need be. Score one for our side.
Quote of the Day
"I think the deaths of Americans gives us more incentive to fight. Freeing Iraq is all fine and dandy ... but this gives us a personal motivation to fight." - Lance Cpl. Chad Borgmann, 23, of Sidney, Neb., with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force.
A Muslim Terrorist in the 101st
LGF examines the Islamic roots of the grenade attack at the 101st Airborne's Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait by an American soldier. The LA Times reports that Sgt. Asan Akbar, "made"anti-U.S. remarks" as he was led away after the attack, which killed one U.S. soldier and wounded 13. Akbar reportedly said, "You guys are coming into our countries and you're going to rape our women and kill our children." The Times goes on to report that Akbar, whose name was Mark Kools before he converted to Islam, studied at the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center, a predominantly African American mosque in South-Central Los Angeles.
Have a Danish
Add this site to your list of warblogs. It's by a Danish blogger.
Missing the Point
Paul Krugman ignores the obvious in his column about the pro-America rallies being held around the country. Krugman criticizes the events as faux grassroots because many of them sponsored by radio station conglomerate Clear Channel. Instead, he says, the rallies are signs of an emerging "oligarchy" because Clear Channel's top executives include some who are friendly with President George W. Bush.
Clear Channel isn't hiding its role in sponsoring the rallies, nor is it hiding the political ties of its top executives - and, in any case, thousands of ordinary citizens are attending those rallies. Aren't those large crows an indicator that the rallies have real grassroots support? But Krugman dismisses them as dupes of an emerging oligarchy.
I'm still trying to find that Krugman column where he dismissed anti-war protesters as dupes of the extreme Left because of the communist ties of those rallies' sponsors.
An Iraqi in Knoxville
A good story in the Knoxville News Sentinel on the horrors of life under Saddam Hussein as told by Iraqis who managed to escape.
Between the Lines
Either Michael Kelly, a columnist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, doesn't know what the First Amendment says, or he thinks it ought to be amended. Kelly, in this column about the recent furor over Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines' dissing of the president, says the incident shows the right of free speech is endangered:
We go into a country such as Iraq, for example, and remove from office a tyrannical dictator, telling the oppressed people of the country that if they will follow our democratic model, they will marvel at the ways in which their lives will improve. That's still basically true, with one caveat about the potential consequences of criticizing the country's leadership. Don't plan on being famous and being able to share your opinions, if they don't square with the majority party, without fear that your patriotism, your intelligence and your right to speak without fear of economic reprisal will be questioned.
Nowhere in the 45 words of the First Amendment is there a right to "speak without fear of economic reprisal." It's just not in there:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Excellent stuff here from the New York Post, from blogger Clayton Cramer, and from the always-excellent Victor Davis Hanson. And Amir Taheri has a list of suggestions for handling the post-war. One of the best: "Open Saddam's prisons, torture chambers, and luxury palaces to the media so that the peaceniks realize who they were supporting with those marches."
The following blogs are indispensable for following the war:
Blogs of War
Little Green Footballs
Sgt. Stryker's Daily Briefing
Outside the Beltway
Iraqis In America Ponder the Anti-War Protestors
Today's Los Angeles Times has a fascinating story about how Iraqis living in America are hearing surprising words from their friends and relatives back in Iraq. You'll need to have registered at the LAT's website to read it. There's a Nashville connection in the story:
As Iraqi Americans reach out to their relatives in Baghdad and Basra, in Kirkuk and Irbil, some are hearing words they never thought possible: Iraqis are speaking ill of Saddam Hussein. They're criticizing him out loud, on the telephone, seemingly undeterred by fear of the Iraqi intelligence service and its tactics of torture for those disloyal to the Baath Party regime. "I was shocked," said Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, a nonprofit group in Cambridge, Mass., that promotes interfaith and interethnic understanding. "It's very dangerous. All the phones are tapped. But they are so excited."
Samira Alattar, a housewife in Annandale, Va., has a similar story. A friend in northern Virginia was talking to relatives in Baghdad when one of them started badmouthing Hussein. "My friend tried to shush her, but the lady in Baghdad said, 'Let us talk, enough is enough,' " Alattar said. "They have the feeling that they are going to get rid of him; that's why they are talking."
Ridha Alattar, an ophthalmologist, has not written or talked to his brother or his sister in Baghdad since he fled Iraq in 1982, for fear that they would be questioned or even tortured to learn his whereabouts. This way, he figures, they can truthfully say that they have not heard from him for two decades. He does not know if they are alive. Five college graduates in his family were killed because they refused to enter the Iraqi intelligence services; other relatives were deported to Iran for having Persian ancestry or their sons were taken away, said Alattar's daughter, Maha.
"I am one of the 5 million Iraqis all around the world who deprived themselves of our country just to evade Saddam's persecution," the elder Alattar said. Now a U.S. citizen, he moved his family first to California, then to Nashville and finally to the Washington area to ensure his daughters would get a good education. Maha Alattar is a neurologist at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Lina Alattar is a graphic artist.
"I lost everything just to get my freedom, but I consider myself a winner," Alattar said. "Freedom is worth much more."
Alattar ran a little sandwich shop in Nashville, and served as a guest physician at Vanderbilt University. Now retired and "over 70," he enjoys reading history and literature. But "since the war broke out, I prefer looking at television," he said. If Hussein falls, Alattar may return to Iraq to advise the U.S. government about eye clinics. Until then, he's a news junkie. "I'm very excited to see the advance of our troops," he said.
So there you have it. Iraqis tend to be pro-war, while anti-war Americans who've never been there favor keeping in power a dictator and his murderous regime. How do they sleep at night?
The New York Times implies a moral equivalence between the Sept ember 11 terrorist attacks and the U.S. military attack on the power centers of Saddam Hussein's regime.
New Yorkers watching the televised bombing of Baghdad yesterday said they were riveted by the raw and uninterrupted display of American military might. But for some, the bombing brought back particularly visceral and chilling memories. They could not help thinking about Sept. 11, and how New York, too, was once under assault from the skies.
Disgusting. But par for the course for the Saddam-coddlers at the NYT. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)
Media Anti-War Bias
Instapundit has a good roundup of examples and commentary on anti-war bias in the media. One of his links goes to this from Andrew Sullivan, who reports a letter from one of his readers who says he is finished with listing to National Public Radio:
The final nail in the NPR coffin occurred last night (3/21), when they reported on the Palestinian "Peace Protests." No mention of them chanting for "Our beloved Saddam, hit Tel Aviv." Instead, it was about them protesting American aggression. What really got me apoplectic was when they referred to the sympathetic relationship between Hamas and Hussein. As NPR described it, Hussein has helped give aid to Palestinian families who have lost loved ones in the struggle with Israel. This is how they refer to Hussein paying the families of homicide bombers. I'm through with NPR.
I've heard some of NPR's coverage and indeed they do whitewash things in a pro-Saddam/pro-terrorist way. Sickening - and, even worse, your tax dollars subsidize it.
Russia vowed on Saturday to block any future moves by the United States and its allies to secure U.N. approval for the military action in Iraq and the post-war power structures they might set up there. "Attempts will undoubtedly be made in the U.N. Security Council to find ways which would help legitimise the military operations and the post-war (political) set-up in Iraq," Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told a conference outside Moscow. "We will follow this very carefully and we will not, of course, give legitimacy to this action in the Security Council," he said. Russia, which has big economic and oil interests in Iraq, aligned itself with France and China in opposing U.S.-led military action to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and disarm Iraq of banned weapons that Washington says it is holding. All three powers as permanent members of the Security Council have the right of veto.
Which is a good reason we should not bother going back to the UN for anything regarding Iraq. (To say nothing of the arrogance of Russia and France to believe that we must ask the UN for permission to administer post-war Iraq.)
Reuters also had this surprisingly quote from Ivanov:
"I don't think Iraq needs a democracy brought on the wings of Tomahawk (missiles). Iraq is a wise nation and the Iraqis can build their future themselves. Therefore Russia once again calls for a halt to the war and a return to political attempts to find a solution," he said.
Actually, democracy brought on the wings of Tomahawk missiles is exactly what Iraq needs. And to stop the war now would condemn the Iraqi people to continued misery under a regime that has brought them nothing but oppression, war and death.
An Iraqi in Nashville: Life is Better Here
Abdul Al-Timimi fought for Saddam in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, but when asked to rejoin the army for the 199 invasion of Kuwait, he fled with his family, ultimately landing in Nashville. Today's Tennessean finds Al-Timimi likes it better here.
U.S. Marines and British commandos were fighting to take Basra, and Al-Timimi was standing inside his Nashville garage, one not very different from the shop he kept in southern Iraq - the one he had, that is, before Saddam's government took it. Sure, he'd like to go back to see his hometown and his old garage, "'but only to visit." The U.S. soldiers, he predicted, would be warmly welcomed by the civilians in Iraq. "I guarantee it, 100%. No, no - 1,000%. I promise you 1,000% that the people will be happy. There are only maybe 5,000 people who need Saddam Hussein in that country - the people, you know, who are close to him." The rest of Iraq, he said, will be glad to see him go.
You have to wonder why The Tennessean wasn't publishing such stories a few months ago, when they might have influenced more people to favor military action to liberate Iraq.
This is a Bad Idea
Naturally, the French are involved.
I've been listening to CNN Radio streamed over my PC while working. Much of the coverage is canned stories repeated every half-hour or so - pretty forgettable stuff. Until this line of one story caught my ear:
"Iraq is a Republic like the United States."
Does CNN really believe Iraq is a republic?
According to Merriam-Webster, the word's etymology is from the French, république, from Middle French, republique, and from the Latin, respublica It means:
a (1) : a government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government b (1) : a government in which supreme power resides in a body of citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by elected officers and representatives responsible to them and governing according to law (2) : a political unit (as a nation) having such a form of government c : a usually specified republican government of a political unit
2 : a body of persons freely engaged in a specified activity
3 : a constituent political and territorial unit of the former nations of Czechoslovakia, the U.S.S.R., or Yugoslavia.
Only under the loose terms of definition #3 - encompassing totalitarian states like the former Soviet Union, is Saddam Hussein's Iraq a "republic."
Perhaps that's what CNN meant. Yeah.
An Inside Shot
IHT offers an inside look at how the strike on Saddam's Baghdad bunker came about.
The administration officials said they were relying on intelligence from Iraqis who had not spoken to them in the past. "People are talking to us now and telling us things now that they would never have dreamed of telling us," the senior official said. "People are sticking their necks out in all kinds of way in Iraq that they never would do before."
So there you have it. In Iraq, people are risking their lives to help us get rid of Saddam. In France and in America, anti-war protestors and politicians are risking Iraqi lives by protesting our efforts to remove Saddam.
The Power of the Press
Just like in the Gulf War, some Iraqi soldiers are surrendering to the press. Hmm. Makes me wonder what would happen if they tried to surrender to Agence France Presse. That seems to violate the laws of physics, or something.
Timing the Shock
TechCentralStation explains why it was time to drop the hammer of "Shock and Awe" on Iraq, even though the mere threat seemed to be causing cracks in the Iraqi leadership.
Even though this early strategy correctly placed U.S. political aims over standard military doctrine, it could not have been employed indefinitely. Why? Because the longer a sword hangs, the greater the risks. Among those risks was harm to Iraq's natural resources and people. Already, there have been reports of the regime setting fire to oilfields, squandering that resource for the post-Saddam nation. Worse than attacking Iraq's oil fields, of course, would be an attack by Saddam's forces on the Iraqi people. Such a risk would have been be too high a price to pay for continuing the Damoclean strategy. With this in mind, it's good that U.S. ground troops have moved to secure the oilfields and liberate the population of Southern Iraq. If the U.S. intervenes more heavily, as it now seems to be doing, it can stop any other scorched-earth tactics in their tracks.
Meanwhile, in the al Qaeda front in the global war against Islamofacist terror, there's some hopeful news.
Why in God's name would we want to re-empower the French in deciding the postwar settlement? Why would we want to grant them influence over the terms, the powers, the duration of an occupation bought at the price of American and British blood? France, Germany and Russia did everything they could to sabotage your policy before the war. Will they want to see it succeed after the war? The Frankfurt Allgemeine reports that on Feb. 21, Germany's U.N. ambassador, Gunter Pleuger, wrote his Foreign Ministry that the United States, blocked on a U.N. war resolution and fighting alone, would later ``remorsefully return to the council'' to seek help in rebuilding Iraq. That is their game. Why should we play into it? And why return the issue to Kofi Annan, who had the audacity to declare the war illegitimate because it is supported by only 17 U.N. resolutions and not 18?
Krauthammer is absolutely right. The French are not our allies in this fight. They're part of the active opposition - and are already plotting to use the UN to steal the victory from us.
Hope and Fear in Tennessee
After you've watched the video of the aerial "shock and awe" bombardment, it's worth remembering one of the reasons we are fighting in Iraq: to free an oppressed people. Today's Tennessean has a solid story featuring some Iraqis living in the Nashville area who are watching the war unfold with a mixture of hope and fear:
Nawzad Hawrami, another survivor of Saddam's gas attacks on Kurdish cities, said he blames only Saddam for his people's suffering. Hawrami said he survived the attack by wrapping his face with wet towels, but 25 members of his family were killed. Hawrami, 39, of Nashville, president of the Salahadeen Islamic Center of Nashville, said he worried that Saddam will launch more attacks against the Kurds as the U.S. invasion escalates. He said he has talked to family members still in Iraq, and they say they are fleeing the cities and heading for rural villages. ''Saddam Hussein is like a cancer that has to be treated, or it will just continue to grow. I hope this will be the end of the days of his life and of his time in Iraq.''
While Hawrami said he supports the U.S.-led invasion, he said he wishes that the international community had responded to the Kurds' call for help sooner.
Not every Iraqi in the story supports the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. But at least in the U.S., they can speak out against the government. Back in their homeland, they couldn't. At least not now. But soon...
Shock and Awe
Indeed. The sounds and pictures of the liberation of Iraq indeed are awe-inspiring. (You'll need a broadband connection.)
HobbsOnline is one of several weblogs mentioned in today's Knoxville News Sentinel. Thanks!
Stephen den Beste explains why he thinks we may well have bagged Saddam in that bunker. ... Meanwhile, those big tacky portraits of the homicidal Hitler wannabe are coming down in the liberated Iraqi village of Safwan, reports the Associated Press:
"Americans very good," Ali Khemy said. "Iraq wants to be free."
(Hat tip: LGF)
UPDATE: ABCNews report makes it appear more likely Saddam was injured in the bunker bombing.
Upping the Ante
Here's the latest brilliance from Victor Davis Hanson. An excerpt:
We are presently watching the last hand in a long-drawn-out poker game. All the - the EU, NATO, the U.N., European anti-Americanism, French chauvinism, domestic opposition, the future of a democratic Iraq, the very nature of the Middle East, and of the war against terror itself - are now stacked on the table, up for grabs. As some of us once argued, it would have been far better and safer to go in last autumn; but war is full of irony, and so by forcing us to wait, our opponents have only upped the ante and may well lose all that they have so recklessly wagered.
If this war is immediate, quick, and successful, and results in the destruction of the Hussein regime and the liberation of its people, the world abroad will be made anew as we call in our markers. We will see either the reform - or perhaps the de facto end - of many flawed and hypocritical trans-national institutions we have known for a half-century. Then will follow the disgrace of our critics, the embarrassment of the utopian Left, and the sudden appearance of all sorts of European allies and Arab friends eager to mount our strong horse and ride down the remaining scattered Islamic terrorists.
And if we lose this last hand? We won't, partly because the consequences - as in any failed high-stakes gambit - would be so catastrophic that we simply cannot contemplate them all. And so we watch, as the beginning of the 21st-century global order rests in the hands of thousands of brave Americans now battling in the desert. God be with them.
Read it all.
Making My Point
James Lileks blogs the war coverage and finds it lacking.
11:50 NPR is running . . . the BBC. It's interesting, listening to these guys - I'm unsure how it's possible to sneer the entire time you're speaking. I fear the announcer's face will stay that way. Perhaps you can recognize an old Beeb hand by the permanently curled lip. I've tuned in twice in half an hour; both times they were talking about the FAILURE to get Saddam, and what this FAILURE means for the war which might be hindered by this initial FAILURE. And then the reporter - a female one, with a sneerier sneer - says the question now is when the attack will come, and whether the President will give his generals permission to act with a free hand. Um ... haven't we already settled that question? I know it conflicts with the Beeb's view of Bush as a vulture with a bloody globe clutched in one claw, the other holding the leashes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but I heard hours ago that theater decisions had been left to the folks who do this for a living.
Lileks makes the point much more humorously than I did.
Blogs of War
Online Journalism Review offers a helpful guide to following the Iraq war online via news websites and "warblogs." Says OJR:
After weblogs went through the fire of Sept. 11, a subgenre of "warblogs" bloomed in the ambling preamble to this war. Now comes weblogs straight from the war front. CNN correspondent Kevin Sites has been doing triple duty, filing reports from Iraq for CNN TV, writing "behind the scenes" features for CNN.com, and running a marvelous multimedia weblog on his own site, complete with photos and audio reports.
Includes lots of useful links.
Also, here's another good warblog, by a former U.S. Army officer, who remarks in one post today regarding the so-far low number of casualties, "Any war where the Commander in Chief can personally call the grieving families and offer his condolences has to be measured as an overwhelming success. May it continue to be so."
Watch Your Email
The Iraq war could impact you directly, via your computer. So-called "war worms" are spreading across the Internet via email, infecting the PCs of people who open the messages instead of delete them. Wired reports that the war "has stirred up computer virus writers and malicious hackers, who have apparently decided to vent by defacing websites and releasing email worms that prey on people's fears and curiosity." A least three email viruses have apparently been released in response to the war, including one that purports to offer pictures from the battle front but instead carries a virus.
The Difference Between Iraq and Iran
Replacing Saddam with a democracy is welcomed by many people across the border in Iran, reports this British newspaper article.
Some analysts say that if Iraq emerges as a more open, democratic society than Iran, the conservatives will find it hard to suppress dissent or fend off calls for fundamental change to the theocratic system. The potential revival of Shia theological centres in Iraq could also provide an alternative platform for more moderate Islamic clergy in Iran who have called for limits on clerical political authority.
If Saddam Hussein's regime is overthrown, it is not just the students who will be celebrating. The 1980-88 conflict with Iraq, always referred to here as the "imposed war", left scars on just about every Iranian family. "There wasn't a week that went by without a funeral," said Leila, a housewife in west Tehran. "There were 18 boys killed just on this street." Wearing a traditional chador as she served cups of Iranian tea, Leila spoke of the terror of bombs and Scud missiles hitting her working class district. "At least with the bombs there were air raid sirens, but the Scuds came down without warning," she said. Families who lost their sons and fathers will be looking forward to Baghdad's defeat, she said. "Saddam has killed more Muslims than any western or Christian country ever has. That's something we cannot forgive."
Read the whole thing.
What if we got Saddam with the first shot? If we did, it would be the single most impactful shot ever fired in a war. It would also make the hyperventilating sort who predicted mass death and casualties look rather foolish. And it'll be tough to keep portraying President Bush as a stupid bloodthirsty imperialist cowboy if he managed to win the war on the first day with a masterstroke that speeds completion of the war with few allied or Iraqi casualties.
The Tennessee Budget
Oh yeah, that. There is other news. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is right and the state's mayors are wrong on whether surplus revenue should be used to build the state's rainy day fund or restore cuts in state funding that goes to the cities. Bredesen wants any unexpected revenue to go into replenishing the state's "rainy day" reserves. He's right - restoring the state's emergency reserves is the way to go. The reduction in "state-shared" taxes going to the cities represents a minor cut in the cities' overall budgets but one that will increase the pressure for fiscal discipline on city governments.
Gulf War, Then and Now
TechCentralStation has a perceptive essay examining the way the world has changed since the first U.S.-Iraq war 12 years ago.
For ongoing good bloggage re the war, see Instapundit and One Hand Clapping, as both the professor and the reverend have a habit of providing good commentary and links. I'm going to be blogging a lot less for the next few days or more due to a health problem - a pinched nerve in my neck. I pray you never have one.
At War With Journalists
Somebody shoot me, please, before I have to listen to more reporters unencumbered by actual brains ask stupid questions and issue inane speculation - and before I have to hear Dan Rather state the plainly obvious as if it were a revelation of God, and then report repeatedly all the things he doesn't know. And then there's the reporterette who just asked Ari Fleischer if President Bush hoped last night's attack on the Iraqi leadership would speed up the completion of the war or make it easier. No, Little Miss Stupid, he hoped it would make the war last longer and be more difficult to win.
And then there's Judy Woodruff. While other networks were explaining how the videotape of Saddam was possibly taped before the airstrike, and might even be of a Saddam lookalike, and there was no confirmation yet of who was or wasn't in that Baghdad bunker and no confirmation yet of whether Saddam was alive, dead, or sunning himself on the coast of Brazil, Woodruff at one point stated that the video showed the attack on the leadership had obviously failed.
No, Judy. It's not obvious. That tape could be one of six things:
1. The real Saddam, taped after the airstrike, and he's alive.
2. The real Saddam, taped before the airstrike, and he's alive.
3. The real Saddam, taped before the airstrike, and he's dead or injured.
4. A Saddam double, taped after the airstrike, and the real Saddam is alive.
5. A Saddam double, taped before the airstrike, and the real Saddam is alive.
6. A Saddam double, taped before the airstrike, and the real Saddam is dead or injured.
There's no way to know for sure, so the tape doesn't indicate the attack failed, succeeded or achieved some other result, like killing Saddam's sons, or top Baath Party leaders.
Not long after that bit of genius from Ms. Woodruff, she asked a retired general serving as a military "analyst" for CNN the following question regarding the launch of a few Iraqi scuds against Kuwait: Doesn't that show that, contrary what we were led to believe, Iraqi troops in southern Iraq are not demoralized and ready to surrender? The general noted that it was still too early to make that assessment and he expected there would be many who surrendered and some who decide to fight.
Not done yet, Woodruff then asked if missing Saddam in the bunker - she just assumes we missed - proves our intelligence service is a failure. The general replied no, but that intelligence is never perfect. The truth is, we could have been right that Saddam was in the bunker, hit the bunker, and he managed to survive the hit. Or he might have left just before the bombs arrived. Or maybe he was never there, but we vaporized his kids. Neither is an "intelligence failure."
Woodruff, on the other hand, appears to be facing an intelligence failure of her own.
The President Speaks
President George W. Bush has just finished speaking to the nation a few minutes ago, announcing the beginning of the liberation of Iraq. I have never been prouder to be an American, and have never been prouder of an American president than I am right now.
The President's speech:
My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.(Text courtesy of Donald Sensing)
On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign. More than 35 countries are giving crucial support - from the use of naval and air bases, to help with intelligence and logistics, to the deployment of combat units. Every nation in this coalition has chosen to bear the duty and share the honor of serving in our common defense.
To all the men and women of the United States Armed Forces now in the Middle East, the peace of a troubled world and the hopes of an oppressed people now depend on you. That trust is well placed.
The enemies you confront will come to know your skill and bravery. The people you liberate will witness the honorable and decent spirit of the American military. In this conflict, America faces an enemy who has no regard for conventions of war or rules of morality. Saddam Hussein has placed Iraqi troops and equipment in civilian areas, attempting to use innocent men, women and children as shields for his own military - a final atrocity against his people.
I want Americans and all the world to know that coalition forces will make every effort to spare innocent civilians from harm. A campaign on the harsh terrain of a nation as large as California could be longer and more difficult than some predict. And helping Iraqis achieve a united, stable and free country will require our sustained commitment.
We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq, except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.
I know that the families of our military are praying that all those who serve will return safely and soon. Millions of Americans are praying with you for the safety of your loved ones and for the protection of the innocent. For your sacrifice, you have the gratitude and respect of the American people. And you can know that our forces will be coming home as soon as their work is done.
Our nation enters this conflict reluctantly - yet, our purpose is sure. The people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder. We will meet that threat now, with our Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard and Marines, so that we do not have to meet it later with armies of fire fighters and police and doctors on the streets of our cities.
Now that conflict has come, the only way to limit its duration is to apply decisive force. And I assure you, this will not be a campaign of half measures, and we will accept no outcome but victory.
My fellow citizens, the dangers to our country and the world will be overcome. We will pass through this time of peril and carry on the work of peace. We will defend our freedom. We will bring freedom to others and we will prevail.
May God bless our country and all who defend her.
Safaa Albadran, your people's long wait for liberty is almost over.
Vanderbilt Prof Compares Bush to Hitler
A Vanderbilt University law professor compares President Bush and his doctrine of pre-emption to a defense offered by the Nazis at Nuremberg:
The doctrine of "anticipatory" self-defense supplied the justification for our 1986 bombing of Libya. This doctrine, however, was also used by the Nazis to defend their aggression in World War II and by the Japanese to justify their attack on Pearl Harbor. Just last month, North Korea announced that with American troops en route to the region, it had a right to launch a pre-emptive attack against us.
Those of us outside the Bush administration's inner circle have no way to scrutinize the administration's evidence that Iraq poses a genuine near-term threat to U.S. security. But although the public cannot scrutinize the administration's evidence, history surely will.
So writes Allison Marston Danner, in an op-ed co-written with Stanford Law school professor George Fisher and published in the San Francisco Chronicle.
It's tortured legalese that puts us - you and me - at risk. Danner and Fisher believe only a "genuine near-term threat to U.S. security is enough to justify a pre-emptive strike. But that would means leaving Saddam in power long enough to develop radiological weapons and provide them clandestinely to al Qaeda terrorists who would use them to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans - and then hoping against hope we can "pre-empt" the attack at the last second. In the age of weapons of mass destruction, such a policy is suicide.
Besides, Danner and Fisher are wrong - pre-emption is not a new doctrine but a very old and established one.
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.
All About Oil?
If you believe the war in Iraq is "all about oil," then blame the 52 who voted today to keep America dependent on foreign oil.
Answering to God?
The Pope says President Bush will have to answer to God for his decision to invade Iraq. Yes he will. But then, the Pope will have to answer to God for his support of policies aimed at keeping the homicidal dictator Saddam Hussein in power and able to continue feeding dissidents into shredding machines.
The Liberation of Iraq Has Begun
So says this report from a London newspaper.
British and American troops were involved in fierce fighting near Iraq's main port today as the war to topple Saddam Hussein began. The firefight broke out near Basra as men of the Special Boat Service targeted the strategically vital city and the oilfields in southern Iraq. At the same time allied troops were flooding into the demilitarised zone on the Iraqi border with Kuwait 40 miles away to take up positions for an all-out invasion.
Meanwhile, this report from an Aussie paper says elite U.S. commandos are pre-positioned in Bagdhad with orders to assassinate Saddam and top Iraqi leaders. No tears here if they succeed - and decapitating the Iraqi government would certainly shorten the war.
I've often wonder how I would have felt on D-Day, when the Allies began the main push to liberate France and the rest of Europe from Hitler's heavy heel. Now I know. This is the same kind of momentous day, a day that will live in glory as the start of another American-lead liberation of millions from oppression and tyranny. This is what America does best.
I feel immensely proud of my country. We're doing the right thing.
P. Casey Daley/Tennessean staff-file photo
Safaa Albadran, 4, stands outside the Nashville Convention Center under a banner held by her father Karim, an Iraqi immigrant who opposes Saddam Hussein’s government, left, proclaiming "Saddam: Out - Democracy In."
France Reaffirms It Won't Fight Evil
Previous reports indicated France had said it would join the war against Saddam Hussein if Iraqi forces used chemical weapons. Apparently, that's not quite true, as this Reuters story indicates:
France's ambassador in Washington, Jean-David Levitte, appeared to offer an olive branch to the United States on Tuesday when he told CNN that France could help the U.S.-led military coalition if Baghdad used biological or chemical arms. But French diplomats in Paris made clear this was not a change in France's refusal to join the war. "It is obvious we wouldn't sit back and not help if there was a chemical attack. But what we are talking about is medical assistance," one said.
Medical assistance to deal with a problem they wouldn't help solve. Gee, thanks guys.
Meanwhile, some in France are thinking maybe they went too far in opposing American policy. (Hat tip: Instapundit)
Another Lefty Gets It
Australian newspaper editor Pamela Bone doesn't like George W. Bush and thinks the war is being sold for hypocritcal reasons by people who ignore ongoing war in the Congo and don't propose to topple every homicidal dictator. But that doesn't make it wrong, she writes:
I know the liberation of the people of Iraq is not the reason America and its allies are going to war. But nor is the war "all about oil", or about George Bush's "daddy". It is not even a crusade to impose American values and culture on the rest of the world - they don't need to have a war to do that. It is overwhelmingly about saving Americans. It's about trying to ensure the next September 11 does not involve millions, rather than thousands, of deaths. It seems to me this is a legitimate goal too.
Because we are in a new stage in history, facing dangers we have never faced before. One is the fact that the ability to make weapons of mass destruction is no longer limited to big, powerful states. Weak states, failed states, states ruled by madmen, can all make them, if they are not prevented.
The other is the rise of terrorism, and in particular, the suicide bomber. The world has no deterrent against people who want to die. There may be no link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. But on the one hand, there are al-Qaeda terrorists who have said their ambition is to get weapons of mass destruction. On the other hand, there is Saddam, who has such weapons. There is demand and there is supply, and the rules of capitalism say they usually meet.
Some might say it is no worse for Iraq or North Korea to have nuclear weapons than it is for Britain, France, the United States and several others to have them. It is. It may go against egalitarian principles to say so, but not all countries are as nice as each other. Sweden is nicer than Saudi Arabia, for example. And while I am certainly no fan of the Bush Administration, it is plain silly to say the US is just as bad as the regime in Iraq.
The most wicked thing is not the action the US and its allies have to take now. More wicked is the neglect and hypocrisy of the past - in which we have all colluded. But should the people of Iraq not be freed now because those who would free them are hypocrites?
As they say, read the whole thing.
"Utter, Complete and Prompt Destruction"
Donald Sensing's comments on Lt. Gen. David R. McKiernan's promise of "dramatic" reaction if Iraqi forces use weapons of mass destruction come from a position of knowledge - Sensing once worked for McKiernan, now commanding general of Third US Army, in charge of allied land forces deployed along the Kuwaiti border for the Iraq war. McKiernan was a major when Sensing served with him in 3d Armored Division in Germany. So, when McKiernan told an Associated Press reporter: "It would be a hugely bad choice on the part of any Iraqi leader or commander to employ chemical weapons,' and replied "dramatic," when asked what the response would be to such an attack, Sensing has an idea what he means:
That means utter, complete and prompt destruction. As I wrote last November, if the Iraqis do use WMDs, they will suffer terribly for using them. The vengeful fury of combat soldiers, Marines and airmen will be prodigious in the extreme; they will attack and kill Iraqi forces without relent or remorse. Nothing in American military history will compare.
The president has notified Congress. The coming war is now legal and authorized under all applicable laws.
Basra and Iran
The southern Iraqi port city of Basra, hard by the Kuwaiti and Iranian borders, may be more key in the war and post-war than Bagdhad. That's my gut feeling. Today's London Times does a good job exploring the Iranian connection to the success of post-war efforts to rebuild Iraq. Basra's Shia Muslim majority is key to understanding Iranian concerns:
In the past few weeks Basra has, apparently, been left with only a token guard, with the strongest Iraqi troops pulled back around Baghdad, although British and American military commanders say they are well aware that this could be a trap. After all, Ali Hassan Majid, known as "Chemical Ali", the commander responsible for the 1991 reprisals, is in charge of Basra's defence.
But if the battle goes to plan and there is a quick victory, relations with Tehran may determine whether peace holds in the south of Iraq. So far, all Tehran has indicated is that it wants Shias - a majority in Iraq - to have a role in any new government. That should be easy to grant; it is compatible with any of the plans for peace, such as they are, now bandied about in Washington.
Iran also wants Kurdish ambitions in the north kept on a tight rein and, again, that is entirely compatible with Washington's thinking. Even more than Turkey or Syria, Iraq's other neighbours with a stake in the shape of the peace, Iran is in a strong position to influence the outcome and has every intention of doing so. It would be wrong to say that British troops were given their role in Basra because of Britain’s growing relations with Iran; it owes more to their expertise in rapidly securing territory after battle. But the relationship will prove useful as they try to carry out that task.
And success in Basra - both in liberating the Shia population and in integrating them into a more tolerant Iraqi democratic state - may well embolden those in Iran who favor democractic reforms and ousting their own tyranical leaders.
Saddam Shoots First?
He may have done so already, according to this report.
Ha'aretz Daily has a report on Jordan's difficulty in chosing sides in the conflict with Iraq. Seems Iraq is Jordan's largest trading partner, and war with Iraq will disrupt that. Well, yeah. But it appears they've chosen to side, quietly, with the eventual winners:
"We are facing a serious dilemma," says the editor of a Jordanian newspaper. "On the one hand, we understand the immense economic damage that the war will cause us, but on the other hand we cannot prevent it; in other words, we are at the crossroads of a decision, of whether to support the U.S. and enable it to operate from our territory in the hope that America will assist us after the war, or join the Arab line that is vehemently opposed to the war, and to see what happens."
The Jordanian dilemma has been partially alleviated by the American administration, which is not pushing the Jordanian administration to publicly declare its support for the war, and is not demanding that Jordan allow American forces to operate from its territory. In accordance with an agreement reached with the American administration, Jordan has received Patriot batteries that are manned by American crews. U.S. Air Force warplanes can use Jordanian airspace, but the ground is off limits.
Now Jordan is left to wait and see what sort of Iraq is established after the war, and what economic spoils it can claim for itself. Direct monetary aid from the U.S. is no longer on the table. "Who is going to pay attention to us after the war? They're going to need a fortune to fill Iraq's food warehouses, rehabilitate the oil facilities, support the American occupation, give aid to Israel, the Palestinians and everyone else," says the Jordanian government official. "We won't even be needed anymore to transport goods to Iraq. Iraq will be open to everyone."
Stick with US, Jordan. For as that guy in Baghdad said yesterday, in the future, "dollars will be very useful."
Surrender Now, Beat the Rush!
The NYT is reporting on the surrender of some Iraqi soldiers along the Kuwaiti border, before the shooting officially starts. It's a trickle that's sure to become a flood, once the liberation invasion starts. (The NYT story and many others make it clear, while the invasion has not begun, the war has. The liberation of Iraq is at hand.) The NYT also has a report on the delicate operations that will commence soon to find, secure and destroy Iraq's large caches of chemical, biological and possibly nuclear or radiological weaponry.
I've posted a commentary on the latest TennCare news over at PolState.com. No need to repro it here - go there!
Hostage Rescue Meme
N.Z. Bear also thinks the Iraq war is a hostage-rescue scenario:
The lunatic has holed up, armed to the teeth and surrounded by innocent bystanders who were unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ... The lunatic continues ranting and raving, threatening to wreak havok if his own worldview is not confirmed as the only true one; if his demands are not met and his whims are not indulged. The question is not whether the lunatic wins; it never is. The question is how many innocents die when the law finally comes to take him down. ... PS - To those of you who are about to add a comment saying that my description applies better to George Bush: don't bother. You're just embarassing yourselves.
Blogs of War
The Los Angeles Times has a very good piece today examining the role of weblogs in the run-up to war.
Marty Kaplan, associate dean of USC's Annenberg School for Communication and director of its Norman Lear Center, thinks the blogs have played a largely unappreciated and focused role in the months leading up to war. "Cable television still reaches a relatively small audience," he said, "and the number of people who read blogs is even smaller. But, in both cases, it's an awfully influential audience, and the blogs in particular have helped set the tone for that influential group's response to what's been going on.
"One of the most significant things the bloggers do is a kind of meta-analysis. They've constructed what you might call a taxonomy of opinion that's been particularly useful during this period. On the better blogs, you'll get an outline of, say, the seven camps that opinion leaders have fallen into regarding the war. Over here are the 'reluctant hawks' and over here the 'Tom Friedmanites,' etc. By creating an anatomy of current opinion in this way, the bloggers give a certain clarity that you just don't get from print media or television."
If anything, according to Kaplan, the changes that cable news networks have undergone since the first Gulf War have created an important opening for the bloggers. "Nowadays, people need help getting their intellectual bearings because cable has become a torrent of ideology, dueling experts and data smog." The bloggers, with their passion for opinion and contention -- and willingness to link to other bloggers and online news to further debate - help cut through the fog of war reporting.
Blogs help cut through the fog of all kinds of reporting, not just war.
UPDATE: Rev. Artillery blasts the LA Times' piece, and he's right - it's not as nice to Bloggerville as I portrayed it:
Glenn Reynolds, the most influential blogger there is bar none, is an afterthought. [LA Times writer Tim] Rutten spends almost all the rest of the article praising Sullivan, Kaus and Marshall. Those three gents are all fine bloggers with great writing. But that's not their real appeal to Rutten, I think. Rutten went gaga over them because they are also professional or corporate journalists. So what Rutten is doing, really, is dismissing everyone who isn't. Frankly, I am surprised that Glenn and Bill didn't pick up on that.
No return fire on that - he's dead right.
Fortune examines the interplay of Iraq, war and oil:
We're not saying this is a war for oil, as the tired antiwar slogans would have it. Trust us: There are easier and cheaper ways to get all the crude we need without touching a hair on Saddam's mustache. But the future of Iraq's reserves and their impact on world oil prices and U.S. economic expansion are among the most crucial elements of the present conflict. "The objective is not oil, but in the broad equation you cannot ignore oil," says Nader Sultan, the British-educated CEO of the national Kuwait Petroleum Corp. (KPC). No, you cannot ignore oil. Each $10 increase in the price of a barrel of oil is like a $100 billion tax hike, slowing U.S. economic growth by more than half a percent over the course of a year. The $12 or so increase per barrel since November--insiders call it the "war premium"--threatens to tip the U.S. into recession. Conversely, a sharp decline in oil prices from their current $36 a barrel--close to a 12-year high--could help reignite the economy and spur war-wary consumers to start buying again. For example, if oil prices return to the low 20s after the war, that could inject $150 billion into the economy, far more than the rebates from President Bush's 2001 tax cut.
Because of the madness of Saddam and 20 years of conflict--first with Iran, then with the U.S.--Iraq has been on the sidelines of the oil world. What hasn't changed is Iraq's oil reserves - which will become even more important in the future as older fields in the U.S. and the North Sea wind down. Remember those 1,000-barrel-a-day wells in Kuwait's Burgan field we mentioned earlier? Some Iraqi wells can produce twice that. In West Texas, by contrast, a 100-barrel-a-day find is a gusher.
Dixie Chicks Update
If you're down on the Dixie Chicks for their inane political commentary, but still like that song Travelin' Soldier, here's some useful information. Texas singer-songwriter Bruce Robison - who wrote the song - recorded it on his 1999 album Long Way Home From Anywhere.It's on Sony/Lucky Dog records - you can hear a 30-second clip here in RealAudio format. My Music Row source tells me a Houston radio station has dropped the Chicks' version and started playing Robison's. Which is the way it should be.
Email on the Battlefield
A CNN reported "embedded" with the 101st Airborne's 3rd Brigade reports on how the Screaming Eagles will use email and other digital tracking technologies to keep track of the battlefield:
The Blue Force Tracker is a new digital tracking system, which shares information with hundreds of other commanders. The system can keep track of both friendly forces and the enemy, and allows troops to communicate by email - a feature that could come in handy if units have radio failures or move out of transmission range. "I can put combat messages in the report and send that in burst format to everyone in my unit and everyone in the adjacent units. I can do situation reports, I can request med-evac, I can do NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) reports to mark contaminated areas, even request fire missions, check fire missions, or send ... my higher commander a situation report," [Col. Mike] Linnington said. The Blue Force Tracker uses satellite signals from friendly forces in the field to map their positions - reducing the risk of so-called "friendly fire" incidents. That's no small matter - friendly fire accounted for almost a quarter of the U.S. fatalities in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Talk about "high-tech GI Joes." Email barely existed a decade ago. Now we're using it to defeat Saddam Hussein.
Not All Protests Are Created Equal
I'm all in favor of peaceful protests and political dissent. But anti-war protestors who cross the line from merely voicing dissent to actually attempting to interfere with military operations will have crossed the line from objecting to U.S. policy to objectively widing with and working on behalf of the enemy. In other words, they will have become enemy collaborators - and should be treated as such.
One Lefty Who Gets It
How could a guy could be this smart about the war and still be proud he voted for Nader... Mystifying. (Hat tip: Instapundit).
"The Largest Hostage Crisis in History"
David Warren suggests how the war might proceed, and explains why Saddam's defense strategy is to make "the peace demonstrators, in their acute and often willful naivete, ... Saddam's only effective frontline troops [and] his single waning hope to keep Iraq enslaved."
Warren's commentary is a good counterpart to the Amir Taheri column I mentioned below. Here's an excerpt of Warren's piece:
The war to come is likely to resemble the resolution of the largest hostage crisis in history. The task of the allies is to remove Saddam, and his fellow monsters, while sparing every possible innocent human life that he is holding for his protection. Saddam's strategy, for the battle ahead, as revealed in everything from satellite imagery, to reports from special forces ensconced on the ground, to what is now a flood of information from defectors and even Iraqi general staff, hoping to preserve their own lives through the conflict, is to maximize the carnage and suffering, in the earnest expectation that the world's America-haters will blame it all on Washington, not Baghdad.
Perhaps his most subtle tactic is to array his IV Army Corps (the so-called "Saladin"), not in the obvious path of the allies, but with seeming irrelevance against the Iranian frontier. Their job is to seal it, so that refugees and deserters are unable to flee towards Iran, and a tide of some hundreds of thousands of them can be driven into the path of the advancing columns of U.S. and British armour, slowing these down. In order to assist in spreading panic, this IV Army comes equipped with chemical weapons suiting; and may well have the weapons, too. Moreover, by having them hugged against the border, Saddam increases the risk that allied air sorties will stray over Iran. The Americans have, however, anticipated this tide of miserable and terrified humanity. Their ground strike forces will do their best to avoid and ignore them, rolling through; large relief convoys will bring up the rear, with food, drink, and medicine.
Meanwhile, says Warren, Basra is "being offered as a baited trap, the target possibly of chemical or biological weaponry, once it has been occupied by allied troops."
Hey. I think I heard that somewhere before.
Just go read this from Nick Denton. (Hat tip: Instapundit)
A Basra Trap?
A few posts below I wondered aloud if Saddam is preparing to use chemical weapons against his own citizens, specifically the Shia muslims of Basra, in hopes of blaming their deaths on invading coalition forces. Donald Sensing, who knows a heckuva lot more about the intricacies of war than I know, has a lengthy post examining that possibility and something called "intelligence preparation of the battlefield." I don't pretend to be expert enough to pick out the good stuff, so go read the whole thing.
Sensing's essay points to a column by Amir Taheri in the New York Post that includes this tidbit:
Because Turkey has refused to allow U.S. and allied forces rights of passage through its territory, Saddam does not expect any major attack from the north. This is why most of the Iraqi elite units, including the Adnan Division of the Republican Guards, have just been withdrawn from Kirkuk and ordered to move south to Baghdad.
Just a passing thought, but what if Turkey's official dissent has been a show designed to fool the Iraqis into think there would be no major attack from the North, while secretly one has been prepared, perhaps combining U.S. Special Forces and Kurdish rebels the way we effectively worked with the Northern Alliance to rout the Taliban in Afghanistan?. Hmm... I'm not betting on it, but if it happens, you read it here first.
Blogcritics has a report on the Chicks singer who dissed the president, and Toby Keith, a stand-up guy who's willing to take her on. Seems the apologetic Maines once slammed Keith for his pro-America anti-terrorist anthem Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue. Perhaps she wasn't paying attention on Sept. 11, 2001.
France Scrambles After Bandwagon
Now that 30 nations are publicly backing the U.S. in the coming war to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and Iraq is prepping to use chemical weapons against allied troops ... France might be changing its mind:
"If the war starts and if (President) Saddam Hussein uses chemical or biological weapons, it would change completely the situation for the French president and for the French government, and President (Jacques) Chirac will have to decide what we will do to help the American troops to confront this new situation. But I confirm it would change completely the perception and the situation for us," said Jean-David Levitte, who told CNN he hoped that biological and chemical weapons would not be used. In Paris, officials emphasized Tuesday that Levitte's remarks were based on what a spokesman in the foreign minister's office called a "strictly hypothetical question."
Bush should ignore them. Too late, guys. You knifed us in the back at the UN. Enjoy sitting on the sidelines while your global power ebbs.
UDPATE: Donald Sensing has more on the French trying to kiss up to us. Would it be a faux pas to tell them where to plant that kiss?
Tom Daschle's Aid and Comfort...
A South Dakota blogger examines Tom Daschle's statements on the war and finds them, well, a tad unpatriotic. Read this one and scroll down from there.
Read this first... and then tell me again that you're still against this war. More importantly, tell me why you believe we should abandon 24 million Iraqis to such depredations. And tell me how you sleep at night.
See men shredded, then say you don't back war
By Ann Clwyd
"There was a machine designed for shredding plastic. Men were dropped into it and we were again made to watch. Sometimes they went in head first and died quickly. Sometimes they went in feet first and died screaming. It was horrible. I saw 30 people die like this. Their remains would be placed in plastic bags and we were told they would be used as fish food . . . on one occasion, I saw Qusay [President Saddam Hussein’s youngest son] personally supervise these murders."
This is one of the many witness statements that were taken by researchers from Indict - the organisation I chair - to provide evidence for legal cases against specific Iraqi individuals for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. This account was taken in the past two weeks.
Another witness told us about practices of the security services towards women: "Women were suspended by their hair as their families watched; men were forced to watch as their wives were raped . . . women were suspended by their legs while they were menstruating until their periods were over, a procedure designed to cause humiliation."
The accounts Indict has heard over the past six years are disgusting and horrifying. Our task is not merely passively to record what we are told but to challenge it as well, so that the evidence we produce is of the highest quality. All witnesses swear that their statements are true and sign them.
For these humanitarian reasons alone, it is essential to liberate the people of Iraq from the regime of Saddam. The 17 UN resolutions passed since 1991 on Iraq include Resolution 688, which calls for an end to repression of Iraqi civilians. It has been ignored. Torture, execution and ethnic-cleansing are everyday life in Saddam’s Iraq.
Were it not for the no-fly zones in the south and north of Iraq - which some people still claim are illegal - the Kurds and the Shia would no doubt still be attacked by Iraqi helicopter gunships.
For more than 20 years, senior Iraqi officials have committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This list includes far more than the gassing of 5,000 in Halabja and other villages in 1988. It includes serial war crimes during the Iran-Iraq war; the genocidal Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds in 1987-88; the invasion of Kuwait and the killing of more than 1,000 Kuwaiti civilians; the violent suppression, which I witnessed, of the 1991 Kurdish uprising that led to 30,000 or more civilian deaths; the draining of the Southern Marshes during the 1990s, which ethnically cleansed thousands of Shias; and the summary executions of thousands of political opponents.
Many Iraqis wonder why the world applauded the military intervention that eventually rescued the Cambodians from Pol Pot and the Ugandans from Idi Amin when these took place without UN help. They ask why the world has ignored the crimes against them?
All these crimes have been recorded in detail by the UN, the US, Kuwaiti, British, Iranian and other Governments and groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty and Indict. Yet the Security Council has failed to set up a war crimes tribunal on Iraq because of opposition from France, China and Russia. As a result, no Iraqi official has ever been indicted for some of the worst crimes of the 20th century. I have said incessantly that I would have preferred such a tribunal to war. But the time for offering Saddam incentives and more time is over.
I do not have a monopoly on wisdom or morality. But I know one thing. This evil, fascist regime must come to an end. With or without the help of the Security Council, and with or without the backing of the Labour Party in the House of Commons tonight.
The author is Labour MP for Cynon Valley.
It ran in the London Times. Read it and tell me again how you can sleep at night while opposing the liberation of Iraq. On second thought, don't try to explain it to me. There is no moral case for inaction. Morality rests with those who favor making life better for the Iraqi people.
The Truth Is...
Most of Europe is with us
Tritt Blasts Chicks
Country singer Travis Tritt has some unkind words for the Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines:
"I think the comments were made primarily because it was in front of an audience that agreed with them," Tritt told Fox News on Tuesday. "But I think if you make those statements over there versus over here it is sort of cowardly and I think it was a cheap shot."
My shopping list:
"We Hate Saddam"
The Kurds prepare for liberation.
Iraq and 9/11
There appears to be solid evidence of a real link between the terror attacks of Sept. 11 and the regime of Saddam Hussein.
An alleged terrorist accused of helping the 11 September conspirators was invited to a party by the Iraqi ambassador to Spain under his al-Qaeda nom de guerre, according to documents seized by Spanish investigators. Yusuf Galan, who was photographed being trained at a camp run by Osama bin Laden, is now in jail, awaiting trial in Madrid. The indictment against him, drawn up by investigating judge Baltasar Garzon, claims he was 'directly involved with the preparation and carrying out of the attacks ... by the suicide pilots on 11 September'. Evidence of Galan's links with Iraqi government officials came to light only recently, as investigators pored through more than 40,000 pages of documents seized in raids at the homes of Galan and seven alleged co-conspirators. The Spanish authorities have supplied copies to lawyers in America, and this week the documents will form part of a dossier to be filed in a federal court in Washington, claiming damages of approximately $100 billion on behalf of more than 2,500 11 September victims. The lawsuit lists Saddam's government in Iraq as one of its principal defendants, claiming it provided 'material support' to the al-Qaeda terrorists. Under US law, the victims' families do not have to prove active direction or involvement in the details of the 9/11 conspiracy by Iraq, only that Saddam's regime gave al-Qaeda more general assistance in the knowledge that it was planning to attack American targets.
Edward Boyd has some good commentary on it over at the Zonitics blog. Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.
A Report From the Front
A soldier blogs the pre-war live from the front. Don't miss the writing of "Lt. Smash."
The situation in Baghdad is said to be tense as residents scurry to prepare for war, and, the WaPo repots, some residents are converting their Iraqi dinar currency into ...U.S. dollars:
Jewelers fearful of robbery have been emptying their shops of gold and selling it to frightened residents who want to convert Iraqi banknotes, which feature a large visage of Hussein, into a medium they believe will hold its value if he is toppled. People with similar goals besieged currency exchange dealers, lugging in satchels of worn Iraqi dinars and leaving with small wads of $100 bills. Fears about a war sent the dinar sinking from about 2,500 to 2,800 to the dollar. "It's much easier to keep your money in dollars," said a man who heaved a burlap sack stuffed with 4 million dinars into the Beneficial Exchange office. He left with 15 $100 bills, neatly folded and tucked into the front pocket of his pants.
In the future, he said, "dollars will be very useful."
The NYT has a nice story on last-minute training in the Kuwaiti desert, featuring the 101st Airborne. Go get 'em, guys. The vast majority of us are behind you.
Oak Ridge to Cut Taxes?
Amid all the war talk, there's still a battle on the homefront against higher taxes. Here's a press release from the Oak Ridge Accountability Project:
In a major development, the Oak Ridge city council bucked its historic trend and voted last night to take an important step towards cutting city property tax rates. The council voted in the first reading of the city budget for 2004 to cut taxes next year by $0.12. "This is an important and much needed step for the economy," said David Crowe, spokesperson for the Oak Ridge Accountability Steering Committee. "We really appreciate their action."
"I am left a bit stunned, but very gratified by their actions," said Martin McBride, former leader of the original Oak Ridge Accountability Group. "When we began the Accountability activities last year, we felt that tax control was essential if our city economy was to improve. The Oak Ridge property tax rate is so much higher than surrounding communities, it is smothering our economy. It stands like a large detour sign in front of our city, causing new businesses and residents to avoid this great city."
Oak Ridge has the second highest combined (city and county) property tax rates in the State of Tennessee. Only Memphis has higher rates than Oak Ridge. Last year, the Citizens for Oak Ridge Accountability organized a door-to-door petition drive to secure the right to have a referendum on the largest municipal bond (the "Mall Referendum") in city history. Over 120 volunteers stepped forward to carry petitions throughout the city and over 5,500 citizens rushed to sign them within twenty days. Following a victory in the Mall Referendum, the accountability group sponsored a second successful petition drive to force the creation of a city charter commission. There are currently 21 candidates running for seats on that commission.
"I think what you are seeing here is a payoff to all the citizen volunteer efforts of last year," said McBride. "They contributed many thousands of hours of their time, walking the city streets in petition drives and talking about government accountability. The Council is now listening to that input."
"When we brought forward the idea that Oak Ridge’s high tax rates were an economic problem, it was initially rejected. When we emphasized that the city needed to look at its total (city and county) property tax rate and its competitiveness relative to neighboring communities, that idea was also dismissed. Yet, you saw last evening a city council that now recognizes and emphasizes both concepts. Last year, government was still talking about automatic 7% to 9% annual tax increases. This year, it's ready to consider tax cuts. Clearly, progress has been made."
"Despite last night’s action, we are not out of the woods yet," cautioned Crowe. "It took an incredible effort by hundreds of city residents and two major city petition drives last year to achieve this state of events. Government needs to be much more attuned to the citizens than that. People also need to remember that this is an election year and that the Council is staring down the barrel of a Charter Commission. Last night was an important first step but it could be reversed in a heart-beat."
"We need to press forward with accountability reforms to Oak Ridge city government. Petition drives are meant to be last-ditch checks on government; they cannot be relied upon. We must make the fundamental government process serve citizen needs better so that petition drives are not needed. Accountability improvement is the way to get that change accomplished."
The five accountability reforms recommended for Oak Ridge city government are listed on the group's website. David Crowe can be reached at (865) 482-4416. Martin McBride can be reached at
Incidentally, there's a drive underway to write a Taxpayers Bill of Rights into the Mount Juliet city charter as well. The Tennessean continues to ignore this growing grassroots tax revolt and a recent opinion from the state attorney general's office that gives it momentum.
Will France Be Next?
Turkey may be having second thoughts about not helping the U.S. affect regime change in Iraq. Probably can't stand the thought of being on the loser's side. Can France be far behind?
Right Man, Right Time
Mark Steyn says we've got the right military leader at the right time: Rumsfeld:
For those who think world affairs can use a bracing shot of candour, Rumsfeld is the star of this war. At one Pentagon briefing on Afghanistan, some showboating reporter noted that human rights groups had objected to the dropping of cluster bombs and demanded to know why the U.S. was using them. "They're being used on frontline al-Qaeda and Taliban troops to try to kill them," replied Rumsfeld. It was a small indicator of a large cultural shift when NBC's Saturday Night Live introduced a weekly parody of his press conferences, mercilessly mocking not the politician but the dopey journalists.
As always with Mark Steyn's columns, read the whole thing.
For everything there is a fixed time, and a time for every business under the sun. A time for birth and a time for death; a time for planting and a time for uprooting; A time to put to death and a time to make well; a time for pulling down and a time for building up; A time for weeping and a time for laughing; a time for sorrow and a time for dancing; A time to take stones away and a time to get stones together; a time for kissing and a time to keep from kissing; A time for search and a time for loss; a time to keep and a time to give away; A time for undoing and a time for stitching; a time for keeping quiet and a time for talk; A time for love and a time for hate; a time for war and a time for peace. What profit has the worker in the work which he does? I saw the work which God has put on the sons of man.
Bush War Stance Popular
President Bush's stance on Iraq is popular with a majority of Americans, a majority of Brits, and even a majority of American women. Glenn Reynolds says I told you so.
Free Speech Isn't Free
R. Alex Whitlock has posed a perceptive essay on the Dixie Chicks imbroglio and the public reaction to Chicks singer Natalie Maines' anti-Bush rant and her subsequent PR-crafted apology:
If a celebrity espouses conservative opinions, there may or may not be a cost to pay, depending on the truthfulness of conservative celebrity complaints. One thing is for sure, though, that they can be almost as loudly liberal as they want this side of Jane Fonda without any repercussions whatsoever. If there is a price to be paid for offending everyone between New York and Los Angeles, that's not an offense to freedom of speech. ... Free speech does not necessitate silence on my part when I'm angered or offended. That's as stifling to free speech as any radio station pulling Dixie Chicks off their playlist.
Read the whole thing.
Who Is Behind the 'Anti-War' Protests? Anti-Americans
Fox News examines the anti-American organizations that organize many of the big "anti-war" protests:
Officially, protest organizers are groups such as Not in Our Name and International A.N.S.W.E.R., but the demonstration's sponsors have long histories of backing anti-government causes. Not in Our Name is financed by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization. IFCO is a million-dollar-a-year non-profit that supports Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and once sponsored a group headed by Sami Al-Arian - the University of South Florida professor being charged with fundraising for terrorist organizations Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. ANSWER is an offshoot of the International Action Center, which intelligence officials say is a front for the Worker's World Party. ANSWER canceled a scheduled interview with Fox News but a worker in the Seattle field office acknowledged there are ties. "There are some Workers World Party members in ANSWER," said ANSWER coordinator Jim McMahan. The International Action Center was founded by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who is a longtime public face of the anti-war movement. The Workers World Party supports North Korea's brutal regime and IFCO defied U.N. sanctions when it made a trip to Iraq in the mid-1990s. Now, both are sugar daddies to the anti-war movement.
Lovely company if you're protesting a war to liberate 24 million people from a brutal dictator.
When Will The War Start?
Donald Sensing has an answer, maybe. ABC News (and others) are reporting that Saddam says he won't go, so if Sensing is right, it may be a short 48 hours.
Meanwhile, the NYT doesn't know when it will start, but says it will start in Basra, where the Allies hope the majority Shiite Muslim population will welcome allied troops as liberators (having suffered years of oppression and death at the hands of Saddam, a Sunni Muslim). The downside: Saddam has put charge of the defense of Basra a family relative who was responsible for gassing thousands of Kurdish civilians to death. Saddam could be planning to use chemical weapons against the allies at Basra - and welcome the "collateral damage" of Shia Muslims dying too. (one, too, could imagine Saddam blaming the chemical attacks on the allies. After all, our troops will be going in wearing protective gear. Imagine the pictures of Basra civilians dying in the streets while allied troops march through unharmed. The "Arab street" (and a lot of French people) who believe 9/11 was an Israeli plot may well believe the allies, not Saddam, used chemical weapons against Basra. One could imagine Saddam preparing such a public relations-minded attack.
Incidentally, if Saddam did chose exile, U.S. forces will still enter Iraq. And the NYT has a good piece examining the future of post-war Iraq.
Dixie Twits' Airplay Drops
The Tennessean reports that airplay of the Dippy Chicks' Travelin' Soldier is down 15 percent in the wake of singer Natalie Maines' inane comments bashing Bush before a London audience and her ham-handed "apology" that had to be followed by a clearly PR-spun apology hours later. It apparently will cost their song a second week at No. 1 on the charts. It's falling ... with a bullet.
For more on how the Chicks fileted themselves, click here and then scroll up to read this and this.
For months, the news has told you that fears of an Iraq war were keeping the markets down. So, yesterday, as President Bush abandoned the appeasement-oriented United Nations and prepared to deliver an ultimatum to Saddam Husseen - leave Iraq or the "coalition of the willing" will oust him militarily - stocks cratered, right? No, they soared. Why? Because it was never "fear of war" that kept stocks down. It was uncertainty - fear that Bush wouldn't back his tough talk with tough action and that a homicidal dictator arming with weapons of mass destruction would soon threaten global peace. Now the uncertainty is behind is. Soon the war will be too. Your change to buy low may be almost gone.
Hurtling over hostile, unfamiliar landscapes at speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour, today's combat pilots have just seconds to identify their targets. "When you're going a mile every six seconds you don't really have a lot of time. You need to rapidly figure out: That's where the target area is, that's where the friendlies are, and that's where I'm going to put my weapon. That's all the time you have," said Joe, a U.S. Marine Corps aviator preparing for conflict with Iraq. The last time the United States waged a major military campaign in the Persian Gulf region, pilots prepared for missions by studying detailed photos and maps. But in the 12 years since Desert Storm, the Pentagon has invested tens of millions of dollars in new technologies that let pilots actually "pre-fly" combat missions in a three-dimensional environment. One of these systems is Topscene, developed by the U.S. Navy using technology from Mountain View, Calif.-based Silicon Graphics Inc. Pilots use Topscene to explore vast computer models of enemy environments to familiarize themselves with the quirks of the landscape - training that can help undermine the enemy's home-field advantage.
One of the coolest stories you'll read today. Unless you're in the Iraqi military.
On the Brink of 'Regime Change'
We've never done this before, right? Never interevened "unilaterally" (never mind that some three dozen countries are providing assistance) And regime change is doomed to fail in Iraq, right? No, says Arnold Kling. In fact, "based on our track record, regime change instigated by the United States is one of the greatest success stories of the past half-century," says Kling in this good essay today at TechCentralStation.
It's About Time
God, Bless George W. Bush. The liberation of Iraq is at hand. And bless the people of Iraq, deliver them from decades of oppression, torture and murder at the hands of their "leader," so that years from now, the Iraqi people will celebrate what we are about to do for them. Amen.
Cue the soundtrack...
Lots of good war updates over ad Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping. Donald's celebrating the one-year anniversary of his blog - and One Hand Clapping has rapidly joined the ranks of the top blogs.
Sorry for the non-existent blog posts today - I'm suffering a pinched nerve in my shoulder and having trouble typing. Painkillers and Prednisone are working and I should be back in action tomorrow, including commentary on this story about a poll that allegedly shows majority support for an income tax in Tennessee. Yeah, right. If the idea is so popular, why isn't someone pushing it in the Legislature?
Also, yesterday's Larry Daughtrey column in The Tennessean is worth reading. As is Mike Morrow's political notes column, which carries the surprising news that House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who tried mightily last year to ram an unpopular income tax through the General Assembly, now prefers the constitutional convention route. Morrow cites a Chattanooga newspaper report:
An item in The Chattanooga Times Free Press said House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, who sponsored an income tax bill that failed last year, said he now believes the only way to get tax reform is through the ballot box. The story quoted Naifeh saying, ''The only way we're going to have tax reform in Tennessee is for the people to have a constitutional convention, and that is where I am on it right now. I'd like to see us move toward a convention.'' The report said, ''While no bills sponsoring a convention have been filed this year, Speaker Naifeh said the issue could easily be addressed next year by the General Assembly.''
Frank Cagle has a very good column up on his site about Naifeh. Frank's site has been redesigned, rather poorly, making it difficult to provide a direct link to the latest column so just go to his home page and look for it.
A Song From A Better Man
Don't miss Clint Black's new song, Iraq and I Roll, downloadable from his website. Lyrics here. Best line: "It might be a smart bomb, they find stupid people too. If you stand with the likes of Saddam, one just might find you."
Seems that Clint is anti-idiotarian, pro-liberation, and smarter than your average Dixie Chick.
Parsing the Chick's Cheeping
Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines is trying to undo the damage done by her rude slam of President Bush in front of a London audience. Here is here statement - and the between-the-lines translation:
What she said:
As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers' lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.
What she meant:
As an American citizen concerned that I just put millions of dollars in future earnings at risk, I apologize to President Bush because my disrespectful remark has angered country music fans all across America and I respect the fact that radio stations are pulling the Chicks off the air, fans are destroying Chicks records and, while I thank God I waited to insert my booted foot in my mouth until after we sold $49 million worth of summer concert tour tickets, I know we're going to be hurt financially long term if I don't fix the situation. We are currently in Europe, playing concerts for fans who paid a lot of money for tickets and a lot of them are having anti-American feelings right now, and we're from Texas so I took a gratuitous slap at President Bush in order to ingratiate myself further with our European
cash-cowfans. While war may remain a viable option, our viability as a hit country band back in the states is less certain. I just want to exhaust every possible alternative to keep us from losing sales to American children and American soldiers. I love my country - where else could a fat chick like me make a zillion dollars singing other people's songs. I am a proud American. So please welcome us home. Please...
My little diatribe below on the
Ditzy Dixie Checks Chicks got a mention over on the LGF blog, and some folks are hopping mad. Not at me. At the Chicks. Check out the comments board.
Meanwhile, over on the Chicks' official website, Natalie Maines is desperately trying to undo the damage, with a PR-crafted message newly posted:
As a concerned American citizen, I apologize to President Bush because my remark was disrespectful. I feel that whoever holds that office should be treated with the utmost respect. We are currently in Europe and witnessing a huge anti-American sentiment as a result of the perceived rush to war. While war may remain a viable option, as a mother, I just want to see every possible alternative exhausted before children and American soldiers' lives are lost. I love my country. I am a proud American.
As one commenter at LGF said, "OH MY, seems that Ms. Maines is trying to take her size 9 cowboy boot out of her well-fed-cake-hole."
Meanwhile, check out the reaction of St. Louis country music radio station 93.6 The Bull to the Chicks fiasco. And they're not the only ones. Hmm. Guess it's a good thing the Chicks pre-sold $49 million worth of concert tickets last week.
A Surplus in February
The latest revenue data, just released by the Tennessee Department of Finance & Administration, shows the state collected a large surplus in February. On an accrual basis February is the seventh month in the 2002-2003 fiscal year. The state collected $567.3 million in February, which is $16.9 million more than the budgeted estimates. The general fund overcollected by $10.1 million overcollection and the four other funds overcollected by $6.8 million. One reason for the surplus - larger-than-expected sales tax revenue. Sales tax revenue was $2.5 million more than had been estimated. Revenue from the franchise and excise taxes totaled $25.3 million in February, $11.3 million more than expected - which wiped out almost half of what had been a shortfall in F&E taxes compared to the estimates.
Year-to-date, overall tax collections are running a mere $9.1 million less than the budgeted estimate, including an undercollection of $31.2 million in the general fund and an overcollection of $22.1 million in the four other funds.
So when you hear about the state facing a shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars this year, remember to put things in context. The revenue shortfall is far smaller than the amount of money in the state's "rainy day" reserve fund, also known as the revenue fluctuation reserve fund. The rest of the budget hole can only be blamed on overspending - much of it due to cost overruns in the TennCare program. You, taxpayers, have done your part and supplied virtually all of the revenue the legislature was counting on. The bureaucracy, unfortunately, has not held up its end of the deal by living within the budget that was passed.
The Dixie Checks
Give the audience what they want. Apparently, that's advice the Dixie Chicks have ingrained, because while playing a show in London lead Dixie Chick singer Natalie Maines said she was ashamed of President Bush and sorry he was from Texas - the Chicks' home state. She later expanded her comment with some generalized anti-war comments in a brief statement to the press. The Chicks are currently making a zillion bucks off of "Traveling Soldier," a hit song that tells the story of an American soldier doing his duty in Vietnam and his girlfriend back home. But in Europe, where anti-Americanism is running high, Maines felt free to criticize America. That's her right - just like it's your right to not spend money on the Chicks' music.
It's called playing to the crowd. But playing to the crowd is tough when there are two crowds, and they like different things. In America, the Chicks' core audience is country music fans, a group that largely leans to the right in politics and is filled with flag-waving Bush supporters who likely favor the coming liberation of Iraq by American military forces. In Europe, the audience is likely more anti-American. Maines' comments wouldn't have been nearly as enthusiastically received in Oklahoma City - and Oklahomans don't much like Texans, either.
A recent Wall Street Journal story notes that the Dixie Chicks, like many acts, have started selling tickets for their summer concert tours much earlier than usual, in part because of the struggling economy and uncertainty over the war. Where the Dixie Chicks are concerned, the story is filled with irony:
March is traditionally the month when musicians and concert promoters make their plans for the key summer season, when most concerts are scheduled. But this year, with war pending and the economy in bad shape, concert promoters are approaching their critical summer season even more aggressively. The industry's goal: Lock in its share of people's summer spending money as early as possible. Last week, the first handful of the biggest summer tours went on sale. Departing from standard industry practices, the Dixie Chicks put all but eight of their 59 upcoming tour dates on sale on the same day - an unusual practice in ticketing, which traditionally has staggered on-sale dates. In three days, fans grabbed 870,000 tickets, ringing up nearly $49 million in sales.
Simon Renshaw, who manages the Dixie Chicks, says the group's decision to blitz their fans was part of a carefully timed plan to get maximum leverage out of several recent high-profile appearances, including singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the Super Bowl.
In other words, the Dixie Chicks - who claimed to be "honored" by the invitation to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl - are cashing in on American patriotism, and doing it early in hopes the war and the economy won't cut into their Dixie checks - while also pandering to anti-American feelings in their lucrative European audience. Time - and the Billboard charts - will tell how well they balanced the two.
UPDATE: Reader Stan B. writes to say he plans on showing his contempt for the Chicks' anti-Bush statement by not buying their merchandise, and he was looking for a way to email the band or their record label. I couldn't find an email address for the Chicks, but their official website has a message boards section where, presumably, you could voice your opinion - but only after you pay the Chicks $30 for an annual fan club membership. The message thread regarding the controversial anti-Bush remarks Maines made in London was quite long - more than 2,400 comments.
UPDATE: Go here for a follow-up. And there's more here and here and here.
Irritating the 'Naifeh 11'
The Knoxville News-Sentinel has an intriguing story about infighting in the state House Republican Caucus over the so-called "Naifeh 11," the turncoat Republicans who voted for Democrat Jimmy Naifeh for Speaker of the House at a time when, it was thought, the GOP could perhaps force the election of someone else as speaker by allying with Democrats upset by Naifeh's heavyhanded rule. Naifeh was re-elected and purged the House leadership and key committees of members who opposed Naifeh's income tax legislation. He also put nine of the Naifeh 11 on the powerful Finance Committee.
The Naifeh 11 are Reps. Michael Harrison of Rogersville, Russ Johnson of Loudon, Joe Kent of Memphis, Steve McDaniel of Parkers Crossroads, Bob McKee of Athens, Chris Newton of Cleveland, Doug Overbey of Maryville, Bob Patton of Johnson City, W.C. "Bubba" Pleasant of Arlington, Dennis Roach of Rutledge and Raymond Walker of Crossville.
Of the 11, three - McDaniel, Patton and Walker - are committed income tax supporters.
Of the 30 members of the Finance committee, 16 voted for Naifeh's income tax legislation last year, including the three committee officers. And a 17th member, Rep. Jere Hargrove, has been a supporter of the income tax plans in the past, although he voted against the Naifeh plan. All three Republicans who voted for Naifeh's income tax last session and were elected to the current legislature were rewarded with seats on the Finance committee.
Donald Sensing thinks maybe the UN slowdance is actually working in our favor - providing cover for a slow-motion takeover of Iraq that is already underway. Writes Sensing: More pleading with the UNSC is pointless. But I wonder whether Bush and Blair are quite happy with its pointlessness, because it does not matter. They have already initiated the "serious consequences" that UNSCR 1441 promised. So the blathering and posturing in the UNSC can continue with no problem, until one day the delegates in it open the New York Times to read that Saddam's regime has fallen and allied forces control the country.
And Victor Davis Hanson says it's time we rethought our alliances. Says Hanson: The American people are not naifs who yearn for isolationism, but they are starting to ask some hard questions about the way we have been doing business for 50 years, and it may well be time to grant the French, Canadians, Germans, Turks, South Koreans, and a host of others their wishes for independence from us: polite friendship — but no alliances, no bases, no money, no trade concessions, and no more begging for the privilege of protecting them.
The Freedom Choice
The state of Tennessee has decided not to appeal a federal appeals court ruling that found state restrictions on casket sales unconstitutional. In December, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's 2-year-old ruling that struck down the law, which said that only licensed funeral directors could sell caskets. The law was a 1972 amendment to the state Constitution. It was challenged in court by former casket retailers. The state's decision to no appeal the case to the Supreme Court represents a victory for economic freedom, and a blow to the web of cartels the state legislature - like many legislatures across the country - have erected to protect various industries against competition, at great economic harm to consumers. For more on that go here and here. Also, this story also touches on the larger issue of government-protected cartels. And for more on the Tennessee casket case, go to this story on the Institute for Justice website.
Online Sales-Tax Losses Are Overstated, Study Says
That kaboom you hear is the sound of a myth being exploded.
U.S. states lost $2.8 billion last year in uncollected Internet sales taxes, which is much less than previously estimated, according to a new study released this week. The study, by the Direct Marketing Association, contradicts and criticizes a series of University of Tennessee studies that had predicted much higher losses of sales tax revenue due to e-commerce. Those UT studies confused different types of online transactions and relied on fuzzy numbers and wildly-exaggerated estimates to arrive at its inflated figure.
The amount of potential revenue that cash-strapped states are missing out on has been grossly overstated, says Peter Johnson, a DMA economist. "The Internet is not creating a massive leak in state coffers."
The DMA report estimates the states will miss out on $4.5 billion in tax revenue in 2011. The University of Tennessee economists had previously estimated that states will lose $54 billion. That's a difference of nearly $50 billion.
Why is UT's much-higher - and much-hyped - estimate wrong? UT's studies used sales estimates compiled by Forrester Research at the height of the dot-com bubble, while the DMA used actual sales figures compiled by the Commerce Department and relied on a more conservative growth estimate, the report said.
You can read the DMA's economic study for yourself. It is groundbreaking new analysis, based on U.S. Department of Commerce data, which proves that previous claims for the amount of potential state tax losses due to online sales were, at best, wildly overstated.
The analysis, entitled "A Current Calculation of Uncollected State Sales Tax Arising from Internet Growth," clearly shows that potential uncollected revenue to the states is about 85 percent less than predicted in prior studies. In 2001, for example, the states claimed that approximately $13 billion went uncollected due to their inability to force out-of-state retailers to act as their unpaid tax collectors, while in fact the total amount potentially uncollected was about $1.9 billion.
Much-cited studies from the University of Tennessee erroneously relied on data from the Internet boom years and made flawed assumptions about ecommerce that resulted in their vast over-estimates," says the DMA. Among the flaws in the UT studies:
1. Assuming Internet growth rates of 38 percent annually - which might have seemed plausible during the dot.com bubble era, but which subsequent economic experience has invalidated.
2. Failing to separate business-to-business Internet activity from pre-existing business-to-business ecommerce
3. Using an excessively low rate of business compliance on sales tax remittance
4. Failing to note the decline of "pure-play" online retailing in favor of bricks-and-clicks.
Points #2 and #3 in the list above refers to UT failing to factor out business-to-business sales made over the Electronic Data Interchange network. The EDI is a proprietary system that predates the commercial Internet and is used by large businesses to manage orders from suppliers. Users of this system, which still handles most wholesale ecommerce transactions, almost always report and pay taxes on these purchases. The DMA factored out EDI transactions.
Regular readers know I am often critical of attempts to tax online sales, based on constitutional and other objections. And I long ago dismissed the UT study's estimate as inaccurate hype. In fact, here is a link to the first things I ever posted on this blog. They're about online sales taxes. And here's one of the most recent.
The DMA study is a bombshell, destroying a myth that has persisted for several years because of a deeply flawed study published by the University of Tennessee. We in Tennessee long ago learned to be suspicious and skeptical of any tax-related economic research that comes out of the University of Tennessee, especially if it has Dr. Bill Fox's name on it - which UT's sales tax study does - because of Fox's laughably bad track record of forecasting economic growth and tax revenues in Tennessee over the past decade. Now, the rest of the country is starting to learn the same thing.
The WaPo story today on the DMA study points out that the UT study was
The good news is, it no longer stands alone as the definitive study. The DMA study has blown a giant hole in the carefully crafted myth.
State Pension Funds as Venture Capital?
Earlier today I posted a short item commenting on Washington state's plan to put some of its state employee pension fund investments into Washington-based companies, and wondered if Tennessee does, or might consider doing, something similar to boost economic development in Tennessee. Reader Phil Ashford writes to say that when Ned Ray McWherter ran for governor in 1986, he proposed setting up a state run venture capital fund to spur development. "The fund actually got set up with about $20 or $30 million to play with," says Ashford. But none of it was ever spent. "High risk venture capital investments are really not something you can do with public money," Ashford says. "McWherter realized this pretty quickly, and the program was repealed about a year later, with the money rolled over to create the Tennessee Industrial Infrastructure Program, which gave grants to local governments for projects to assist investment."
Oh. That makes sense.
More on Prescription Drug Prices
I received the following from a PhD at a large private university in Tennessee in response to my posting below on prescription drug prices. It's good, and I'm reprinting the whole thing (with minor copyedits), although I'm not naming the writer, who asks anonymity because "I'm sure the lefties here at ... would have a cow, not to mention that they'll be out for my hide." Here it is:
I sincerely enjoy your blog, read it often, and agree with you about 75 percent of the time, but I think you missed the point in your recent posting. In this posting, you proposed that the state legislature should allow licensing of Canadian pharmacies so that people here can buy (cheaper) drugs abroad, rather than selectively not enforcing the current law against drug importation.
The reason Canadian drug prices are cheaper (and they're not always cheaper) is that they have socialistic price controls in place. Similar price controls are in place in most European countries, as well. The consequence of these price controls is that it inflates the cost of drugs here, as the pharmaceutical companies must increase prices here in order to stay profitable.
Pharmaceutical companies must invest many millions of dollars in bringing a single drug to market. Research costs, labor, clinical trials, manufacturing setup, and government red tape are but a few of the factors contributing to the huge overhead these companies face. Then, take into account the fact that the patent clock is ticking while the FDA drags their feet; after the patent expires, other companies may manufacture the drug without having to invest all that money into the research. This is the largest part of the cost of prescription drugs. Also, don't forget that the vast majority of drugs never reach the market, due to failures in clinical trials.
The fact that we research slaves (both in academia and in the private sector) are paid a salary that a pizza guy would laugh at is yet another pet peeve I have on this subject. Holding prices artificially low (via price controls) causes companies to lower salaries and lay off employees, thus decreasing the job prospects for American scientists. Why do you think college students are staying away from biology, chemistry and physics? And why do you think we're importing so many foreign scientists from China these days? To hold wages artificially low, so that prices can be held artificially low.
Y'all want these new miracle drugs? Then pony up! Show me the money! Otherwise, most companies will no longer be able to develop new drugs because they can't make money. Remember, the company isn't in business just for humanitarian purposes. Go ahead, let people skirt the system and buy drugs at prices imposed by socialist pencil pushers who know very little about the industry that they’re regulating. But I don't want to hear the collective whining when most of the biotech industry in this country shuts down because nobody can make a profit.
Could you imagine what would have happened to Alexander Fleming's great invention had he been a scientist in the current era?
Let the free market work, Bill. Socialism, both here and abroad, has just about destroyed our ability to innovate and do science. Can you point to a single time in which price controls have worked? I can't think of a single example. I apologize for the poorly organized rant, but the holier-than-thou attitude that people have regarding their "rights" to free or cheap prescription drugs really makes me angry.
I responded to his letter with the following:
I'm aware of Canada's price controls. I just have an instinctive libertarian negative reaction to government telling me where I may and may not shop. The U.S. government is focused on the wrong thing. Instead of telling U.S. consumers they can't shop in Canada, it ought to be putting economic pressure on Canada to drop its price controls on U.S.-made pharmaceuticals, and especially its rule that a drugmaker can't sell any drugs in Canada unless it sells all of them there (which forces the drugmaker to sell some products at a loss).
The thing is, liberals don't want U.S. consumers to have the freedom to shop around - they want to control prices just like Canada. I'd like to see no price controls anywhere. I also think the government ought to allow drugmakers a longer period of time of patent protection - more time to recoup their investment before facing generics. One reason prices are so high is that by the time the FDA approves a drug, the maker has just a few years to pile up profits to pay for the investment and generate dollars for new research, before generics start undercutting them on price and driving prices and profits down. Liberals want to shorten the patent period, which will drive prices UP and choke off research. Ugh.
And he responded:
From a libertarian standpoint, that is the proper approach. In this regard, the liberals seem intent on either imposing price controls (unlikely to happen), or by going the stealth route - shortening patents, for instance - which is more likely to garner support. Republicans and the more conservative members of Congress would love to ignore the issue, but realize that something must be done in order to maintain their carcasses in office - which means giving lip service to free markets, but looking the other way while liberals propose more socialism. I've long had problems with Republicans over this.
On the other hand, the problem I have with libertarians on the issue is that many of them propose totally open borders, which would allow pharmaceutical companies to continually import cheap labor to keep salaries down. Many of the Chinese scientists here work as virtual slaves to their professorial "masters." It really makes me wonder just how bad things must be in China for these people to be willing to put up with such abuse. But allowing the Chinese scientists (along with the Mexican laborers) to flood our country is like allowing these repressive regimes to open the safety valve; as long as their malcontents can leave, there's no pressure on the government to reform.
And by the way, I really, really appreciate your efforts to keep up the pressure on the money-grubbers in the legislature. Without people like you giving the truth to the silly arguments proffered in the Tennessean, we would have an income tax in this state and in our municipalities, without a doubt.
I only have one other comment, about the university where the letter writer is employed. What does it say about that university's approach to freedom of speech and intellectual freedom that such an intelligent writer fears professional retribution if he signs his name, solely on the basis of his political leanings? It say the university accepts and fosters an atmosphere of intolerance of those who disagree with liberals.
Saturday, March 15, is International Eat an Animal for PETA Day. Details here. I think we'll go out for steak.
Donald Sensing has an excellent response to and expansion of the ideas in my post immediately below this one on whether blogs are journalism. Blogs are "information capitalism in the marketplace of ideas," says Sensing. The expansion of ideas and concepts through blogging's multi-writer evolving conversation - what I call "collaborative peer-reviewed journalism" is one feature blog-journalism has that traditional journalism does not.
He also makes mention of the blog-ubiquitous "tip jar," adding "hint hint." I'd never stoop that low to get you to pay a visit to the Amazon tip jar of mine that's right over there, just waiting for you to show your appreciation for this blog by dropping a few dollars in it. ;-)
We're seeing more random and not-so-random acts of journalism taking place in the blogosphere these days. I'm constantly astounded at the breadth and depth of expert knowledge displayed by bloggers on subjects as diverse as digital media, wireless networking, copyright infringement, Internet video, and much more, all written with a degree of grace and sophistication.
What does it take to be an online journalist? You don't need a professional publication with a slick web site behind you, though it doesn't hurt. All you really need is a computer, Internet connection, and an ability to perform some of the tricks of the trade: report what you observe, analyze events in a meaningful way, but most of all, just be honest and tell the truth. All of this makes a lot of people in Big Media nervous. I worked in newspaper newsrooms for 19 years, and I think it's fair to say the attitude of most old-school journalists can be summed up in the pithy phrase, What the hell is a weblog? Or, if they have heard of blogs, they airily dismiss it, saying none of this is journalism, or at least not real journalism.
I think, ultimately, they're wrong. We need to get away from the notion that journalism is a priesthood that's inaccessible to the masses. The No. 1 rule of journalism, really, is simply this: Tell the truth. Report something as accurately and faithfully as possible. Can bloggers tell the truth? I suspect so. Over time, they build up a track record, much as any news publication does when it starts out. Reputation filters and circles of trust in the blogosphere help weed out the nonsense. We all need to fine-tune our bullshit meters. But as one someone once said of the blogging masses, "We can fact-check your ass."
Reading the whole thing is highly recommended - especially for Lasica's comments on the burgeoning of visual blogging, or multimedia personal journalism.
As for me, a longtime newspaper, magazine and online journalist and blogger, I believe blogging indeed is journalism, sometimes. And sometimes it is better than journalism. And sometimes it isn't journalism at all.
Blogging is just using an online publishing tool, folks. Asking if blogging is journalism is like asking if typing on an IBM Selectric is journalism. It's the wrong question about the wrong thing.
A good rule of thumb is this: blogging is journalism when it's journalism. And when it's not, it's not.
Fewer Laws, Not More Lawbreakers
The Tennessean has an editorial today, titled Don't hassle importers of Canadian drugs, saying Tennessee law enforcement shouldn't spend time enforcing laws against people importing prescription drugs from Canada. It's a follow-up to this story from last week, which reported on Tennessee's efforts to crack down on people buying their prescriptions from low-price Canadian sources that aren't licensed to do bidness in Tennessee.
A few days ago, I noted the irony of why, on the one hand, government is consumed by concern over the high price of prescription drugs - especially for old people - and politicians are scrambling to pass a law to make drugs less expensive, but on the other hand, if you try to buy your prescriptions from certain low-cost providers, you're breaking the law and government is coming after you. The irony of that appeared to have flown over the heads of the editorial writers at 1100 Broadway.
With their editorial, they have finally seen the ironic light, I guess:
Importing drugs from Canada is an illegal act driven by desperation and the lack of good public policy regarding prescription drugs. American consumers would love to be able to purchase all their drugs from the corner drugstore. But when a drug from Canada costs a fraction of the same drug in the United States, consumers who have to take several drugs every day must look for other options. State officials say there could be a safety factor in the illegal purchases because the state has no way to exert regulatory control over Canadian businesses. That is true, and anyone buying drugs from another country must take into account the absence of U.S. safeguards. But given the exorbitant cost of many drugs in this country, that is a risk that more people are willing to run.
The Tennessean's answer - winking at lawbreakers - doesn't go far enough. Why have such strict anti-importation laws in the first place? If the goal is cheaper prescription drugs, they can be gotten less expensively from Canada. Current laws against it not only consign people to paying higher prices, they interfere with people's economic freedom to do business with whomever they chose. The safety issue is largely a red herring. For all its fiscal failings, Canada's national health program is not some Third World system of leeches, liniments and homemade remedies like these sold, ironically enough, by a Memphis pharmacy. In Canada, safety is a high priority, and Canada has a well-evolved system of regulating and licensing pharmacies.
Contrary to the The Tennessean editorial, the solution isn't ignoring lawbreakers. The solution is fewer laws.
If Gov. Phil Bredesen is looking for ways to bring down the cost of prescription drugs for all Tennesseans, including those on TennCare, a good first step would be dismantling the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy's cartel-like protectionism of in-state pharmacies and replace it with a simple process that grants an automatic license to do business in Tennessee to any pharmacy that is already licensed to sell in Canada.
UPDATE: The Tennessean's editorial includes a rather large factual error. The paper asserts that the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy should "follow the lead of the Food and Drug Administration. Do nothing. FDA officials have made clear that they won't spend their resources trying to bust American consumers who have drugs shipped from Canada or the Canadian pharmacies doing the shipping."
But the Wall Street Journal reports today on reaction to the FDA's "move to crack down on shipments of pharmaceuticals from Canada into the U.S." While the WSJ notes that the FDA "had allowed Americans to import prescription drugs from Canada for personal use, provided the supply didn't exceed 90 days," the FDA is hardly doing "nothing," as The Tennessean describes it. Says the WSJ: "The FDA had said it was concentrating its resources to crack down on shipments of narcotics and large commercial drug supplies. But now the FDA is threatening legal action against those who 'aid' the practice of buying medication in Canada."
The WSJ also notes that it is illegal in the U.S. to import prescription drugs from any foreign country. But nothing in that law forbids Tennessee from granting automatic licenses to licensed Canadian pharmacies. If enough states were to do the same thing, Congress would be under big pressure to change that U.S. law. It isn't just Tennessee pharmacies that operate like an anti-consumer cartel.
More points for Bredesen
The governor asked for the legislature to hold off on allocating lottery monies until we actually see how much revenue comes in.
The governor told legislative leaders at a private breakfast meeting that he believes it is more fiscally responsible to put the lottery into operation and begin collecting money before adopting legislation promising how the money will be spent. He then outlined his views at a hastily arranged news conference. Bredesen said estimates of lottery revenue vary wildly and the public interest would be better served by putting a lottery in place and reviewing its revenue before enacting a bill that spends it.
Is he really a Democrat, or does he just play one on TV?
This Is Interesting
The state of Washington has a multibillion-dollar public-investment fund manages some $48 billion in investments mainly for public-employee retirement accounts, About 3.3 percent of that is invested in companies based in that state. Now, the Washington State Investment Board is considering changing its investment policy to funnel more money into the state's startup technology and biotech companies, reports the Seattle Times. The agency has crafted a policy that will let it favor home-state companies just as long as the agency doesn't sacrifice its fiduciary duty to maximize investment returns.
My first thought was, Tennessee ought to consider doing the same. My next thought was, I don't know what Tennessee does or doesn't do as far as investing its public-employee retirement funds in a way that maximizes returns and also boosts Tennessee-based companies. I plan to check on it. When I find something out, I'll let you know. In the meantime, perhaps the Bredesen administration should include a review of said policies in its planning for upgrading the state's economic development activities. If it would be possible to boost Tennessee technology, biotech and other startups while also maximizing returns on those pension funds, I'd think that would be a win-win for the state.
Memphis Mike Hollihan has found an interesting story about some legislators trying to reduce your access to public records. I'll let Mike tell you all about it. After all - he's the one who found it. Plus, while you're over at Mike's place, scroll around and read his other commentaries on the Memphis Commercial Appeal's wishy-washy budget editorial, and this piece commenting approvingly on how Gov. Bredesen is handling things in Nashville. Lots of good stuff at Mike's place.
Can Iraq Become a Democracy?
Daniel Drezner explains why it might be easier to democratize Iraq than some critics believe.
While it's true that Iraq borders Syria and Saudi Arabia - two of the more repressive regimes on the planet - it's also true that a healthy fraction of Iraq's neighbors have built or are building democratic institutions. To Iraq's north lies Turkey, a stable, liberal, and secular Muslim democracy whose government is furiously trying to adopt Western human rights norms as part of its bid for European Union membership. Iraq's eastern border is with Iran, a country that may not be liberal, but has been a practicing electoral democracy for two decades. More importantly, the majority of Iran's population wants further democratization and liberalization and has emphasized this point through routine mass protests. To Iraq's west lies Jordan, which the 2000 edition of the authoritative Freedom House country rankings named the most liberal Arab state (admittedly a dubious honor).
And, of course, there's the example of Northern Iraq, a predominantly Kurdish region in which two different parties--the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)--administer separate parcels of territory. By the standards of the Middle East, these areas are freely and fairly governed. As Human Rights Watch reported in September 2002, "Both the KDP and PUK administrations promulgated laws and adopted decisions aimed at the protection of fundamental civil and political rights, including freedom of expression and of association."
Drezner is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and the author of The Sanctions Paradox (Cambridge 1999). He writes regularly at drezner.blogspot.com.
Singing the Blues
Remember Tamara Saviano, the producer for a country music cable network who claims she was fired for expressing anti-war views in a private email to singer Charlie Daniels' publicist? The inside story of that little dust-up makes her look rather bad. According to the Nashville Scene:
[David] Raybin, Saviano's attorney, says that he's considering a lawsuit, not just against Great American Country, but publicist Kirt Webster as well. "I think he's the one who started this," Raybin says. "He may be subjected to even more liability than the company." That seems unlikely. According to transcripts of their entire correspondence - provided by Webster - Saviano repeatedly e-mailed Webster, expressing her disdain for Daniels, even when he didn't respond. Webster says that he was ready to let the matter drop until she talked about organizing a massive boycott against his client.
Tamara Saviano isn't a poster child for the repression of free speech. She's a poster child for stupidity. Raybin, an attorney who often appears on the Teddy Bart's Roundtable radio show as the designated conservative/Republican guest, ought to know better than to think Saviano was the victim here.
Revoking Taxpayers' Rights
The Denver Business Journal has this story on the growing assault - by Big Government - on the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights. You'll note that the proposed amendment would gut the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights of most of its important features, including the cap on the growth of government spending that prevents the government from keeping and spending revenue growth that is larger than the combined annual inflation rate and population growth. Currently, the constitutional provision requires surplus revenue be rebated or returned to taxpayers - unless they approve the government retaining and spending the surplus in a referendum on a specific spending plan. That protection - which has resulted in $3.2 billion worth of tax cuts and rebates for the people of Colorado in the past decade - would end if the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is gutted as some Colorado officials are aiming to do. For more on attempts to gut the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights, go here and read my post about the efforts of the Bell Policy Center, a liberal Denver think tank. Astonishingly, the Denver Post yesterday accurately described the Bell Policy Center. Rather than passing them off as a "non-partisan" think tank, as the BPC claims on its website, the Post informed readers that the BPC "is a left- leaning nonprofit founded two years ago by several funds and individuals, including the gay-rights advocacy group the Gill Foundation."
Meanwhile, Colorado state treasurer Mike Coffman is blaming the state's revenue shortfall on its reliance on the income tax...
Saddam's Suicide Bombers
The AP is reporting that Iraqi homicidal dictator Saddam Hussein has opened a training camp for would-be suicide bombers, and is seeking Arab volunteers willing to carry out suicide bombings against U.S. forces in case they invade Iraq. The AP sourced the info to Arab media and Iraqi dissidents.
It's worth remembering that Iran forced Iraq into a stalemate after a decade of bloody war by sending young men strapped with explosives to blow up Iraqi armor. Iran, it turns out, had a demographic advantage over Iraq: a very large supply of young men, as Amir Taheri recounts here:
Through eight years of war against a disorganized Iran, the Iraqis failed to show much sparkle. They fought textbook battles and lost nearly all of them, against an enemy that, using its own demographic advantage in the most cynical of ways, dispatched suicide-squads of teenaged boys to neutralize the Iraqi armor. It was not until the Iraqis started using chemical weapons in massive amounts that they managed to "tame the Iranian teenage beast," as Saddam subsequently boasted. The tactic of digging trenches and using chemical weapons worked: The Iranians were stopped and ultimately forced to accept a cease-fire.
Perhaps Saddam thinks the Iranians' tactic will work for him if he uses it against the U.S. military. He's sorely deluded - if he could defeat waves of suicide bombers with trenches and chemical weapns, surely we can disperse them, dissuade them or destroy them with Daisy Cutters and MOABs.
But at least Saddam's suicide bombers will be contributing to the improvement of the global gene pool. Maybe Saddam's not really trying to win the war. Maybe he's trying to win a Darwin award for Iraq.
By the way, Pejman Yousefzadeh has a much more technical look at suicide bombing in light of the laws of war - and instructs a California liberal on the difference between a suicide jihadist and an American soldier who charges a defended position despite the risk of death. It's good stuff.
The War, The Media, The Web
Technology journalist Mark Glaser, in a piece written for USC's Online Journalism Review, says the Net has already proved its worth as a breaking news medium, but it's weblogs and grassroots online publishing that is leading the way, not traditional journalism:
It's true that the Internet has matured to become an important source for news for people around the globe. Nothing beats it for alternative points of view, access to global newspapers and independent press, weblogs and warblogs of every stripe, and discussion boards that would make your grandma turn blue with rage.
And that's the point that I think the wire services miss in their rush to crown the Net as war champion. What gives the Net its edge, its cachet, its juice, is that it's a medium sprung from discussion boards and fueled by e-mail and instant messaging. In short, it's where we kvetch about everything, whether it's a defective kitchen appliance or an oppressive government.
The weblogs that flourished after 9/11 and during the Afghanistan conflict haven't gone away. Though I enjoyed the Reuters piece on the Net's coming role in war, I have to disagree with Caroline Humer's contention that this is the first time the Net will be tested as a breaking news medium. September 11 was much more of a crucible, and the Net proved itself to be resilient and effective - especially giving space for more viewpoints for more people. A war with Iraq would only build on that.
Plus, there's this piece looking at how the television news media is gearing up for covering Gulf War II online. Mitch Gelman, senior vice president and executive producer of CNN.com, says it will be "the first major war to be covered on the Internet" and Internet news sites are preparing for traffic that could rival the numbers recorded in the week after the 9/11 terror attacks.
What To Do About Chiraq and Blair
Amen to these suggestions, over on Instapundit.
Bredesen Breaking a Promise?
Chattanooga's NewsChannel 9 (WTVC-TV) is taking Gov. Bredesen to task for breaking a campaign pledge. Here's an excerpt from WTVC's story, complete with the teevee reporter's spelling errors:
Phil Bredeson, then a candidate for governor, pledged on November 1 "I want you to know that my commitment to making sure those monies are maintained, that they are not on the table, and the state never works to balance it's budget on the backs of local governments." That statement was made during an interview that appeared in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. We contacted Governor Bredeson's office for a comment about last November's campaign pledge. We got a written statement from Lydia Lenker, Press Secretary to Governor Phil Bredesen.
"Tennessee is encountering the most difficult fiscal crisis since World War II, and Tennessee is not alone. Many states are being forced to make across-the-board cuts. Governor Bredesen set out to make those cuts as fair as possible. He believes everyone needs to share the pain equally. As a former mayor, he is acutely aware of what mayors and county officials are facing. At the same time, the proposed cuts to localities account for a very small portion of city/county general fund budgets. In Chattanooga, the total amounts to 1.21% of the budget," Ms. Lenker wrote.
Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker said: "You know the Governor pledged not to touch state shared taxes." Besides breaking a promise, the Mayor says losing $1.77 million in Chattanooga will hit hard as the city wrestles with its own money problems.
Bredesen's decision to cut state-shared taxes 9 percent appears to be the weakest part of his budget proposal, but in the end I think it represents an opportunity for the budget to attract strong grassroots support.
It sort of reminds me of when Bredesen crafted the financing deal for Nashville's new football stadium. He managed to finance almost the entire deal without using tax dollars - revenue from concessions, personal seat licenses and such would cover most of the cost. But he couldn't quite get there, so he tossed in $4 million a year in "excess" money from the city water department. Problem is, that "excess" money represented overcharging city residents for water - and it opened the door to opponents of the stadium deal putting the issue on the ballot in a referendum, which could have sunk the entire deal. In the end, voters approved the use of the water department money for the stadium, and Bredesen got what he wanted. Now, he's trying to craft a $21.5 billion deal called the state budget, and once again he included an unpopular provision to grab a small portion of the financing from a controversial source.
Perhaps there's method in it. Without the referendum on the stadium deal, Bredesen would have still got the stadium built, but there would have been no definitive proof of its widespread support among the people. Now, by telling local governments to give up a small percentage of their state-shared taxes, Bredesen is once again taking the overall deal to the public at the grassroots level and giving the people a choice: Accept a minor cut in your local government's state funding, or support keeping the state-shared taxes, at the expense of cutting education.
It's the same choice Bredesen has framed in the overall budget debate, by increasing K-12 education funding while cutting the budget for the Tennessee Department of Transportation - just as those who oppose cutting TDOT's road-building budget must explain why orange barrels and asphalt is more important than education, defenders of every other program slated for a reduction must justify why their pet project is more important than teaching kids how to spell and do math. Most can't.
Neither can most local governments justify refusing a minor cut in their budget, given the economic realities. By telling their local officials and urge legislators to not cut state-shared funds, the people of Tennessee have a chance to show their support for the governor's budget. And by then demanding their local government cut spending rather than raise taxes to offset the lost state dollars, the people of Tennessee have a chance to extend the live-within-our-means principles of the Bredesen budget to the local level. In the long-term goal of restoring fiscal restraint across Tennessee, that would be worth far more than whatever local governments lose in state-shared taxes.
Hack Journalism, and a TBI Miscue
I just read articles about the same event from two different sources, and the contrast was striking.
Apparently, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has taken a deep interest in anti-war protests, including one last week at MTSU, in Murfreesboro.
First, we get the view from WorldNetDaily.com, an internet tabloid, which is headlined "'Gestapo' tactics at anti-war rally?":
Wallace, whose tenure as director has been highly controversial, sent undercover agents to the Wednesday protest, which drew several hundred participants, to gather information. One of the agents approached several speakers, identified himself as a TBI agent, and demanded the correct spelling of their names, their addresses, and other personal information.
The Knoxville News Sentinel covers the story in more detail, and without invoking images of Nazi Germany:
Michael Principe, an MTSU philosophy professor, said after he spoke to the crowd, he was approached by a "very friendly" man wearing a Titans ball cap. The man asked for Principe's name and verified he was a professor. "I made a joke 'You're not with the FBI or anything?"' Principe recalled Thursday. "He said, 'No, I'm with the TBI'."
It's hardly recognizable as the same incident. However, as the KNS report goes on, it grows more troubling:
TBI officials say Elliott broke no laws and violated no one's civil rights. Elliott was there to gather intelligence and to make sure that no one was being threatened, officials said. Elliott gathered the names because he needed them to file a thorough report, TBI Assistant Director David Jennings said. "He went from a covert operation to an overt operation," Jennings said.
This implies that in the TBI view, Elliot was not wrong in gathering the information, but in revealing that he was gathering the information. The Assistant Director of the TBI sees nothing wrong in covertly gathering personal information from protestors.
Now that is scary.
Why Can't We Just 'Contain' Iraq?
Because it won't work - and it will condemn more innocent Iraqis to death than wa, says Walter Russell Mead:
Sanctions are inevitably the cornerstone of containment, and in Iraq, sanctions kill. In this case, containment is not an alternative to war. Containment is war: a slow, grinding war in which the only certainty is that hundreds of thousands of civilians will die. Based on Iraqi government figures, UNICEF estimates that containment kills roughly 5,000 Iraqi babies (children under 5 years of age) every month, or 60,000 per year. Other estimates are lower, but by any reasonable estimate containment kills about as many people every year as the Gulf War -- and almost all the victims of containment are civilian, and two-thirds are children under 5. Saddam Hussein is 65; containing him for another 10 years condemns at least another 360,000 Iraqis to death. Of these, 240,000 will be children under 5. Ever since U.N.-mandated sanctions took effect, Iraqi propaganda has blamed the United States for deliberately murdering Iraqi babies to further U.S. foreign policy goals. Wrong. The sanctions exist only because Saddam Hussein has refused for 12 years to honor the terms of a cease-fire he himself signed. In any case, the United Nations and the United States allow Iraq to sell enough oil each month to meet the basic needs of Iraqi civilians. Hussein diverts these resources. Hussein murders the babies. But containment enables the slaughter. Containment kills.
Morally, politically, financially, containing Iraq is one of the costliest failures in the history of American foreign policy. Containment can be tweaked -- made a little less murderous, a little less dangerous, a little less futile -- but the basic equations don't change. Containing Hussein delivers civilians into the hands of a murderous psychopath, destabilizes the whole Middle East and foments anti-American terror -- with no end in sight. This is disaster, not policy.
Read the whole thing - and also don't miss Donald Sensing's essay on why war is the most desirable option at this point because it is the least deadly option.
Here's some good news on the issue of making America less dependent on oil imports from the unstable Middle East: "Soaring energy prices and the precarious nature of Persian Gulf oil are boosting the chances Congress will approve oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge," reports the AP. "With gasoline prices averaging $1.71 cents a gallon this week and topping $2 in many places, and people worried about oil supply problems if war erupts in Iraq, pro-drilling forces in the ANWR debate believe they have the public's attention as never before." Pro-drilling senators are one vote shy of passage. And the best news: because of Senate rules, the Democrats can't filibuster it this time.
Lawmakers Weigh In on Budget
Here's a running roundup of state lawmakers' reactions to Gov. Phil Bredesen's budget proposal:
State Sen. Bill Clabough, a Republican, tells the Maryville Times the Bredesen budget will be a tough vote for legislators, and that "TennCare continues to be a hole we can't fill up." In recent years, Clabough has been a ready vote for the income tax. back in 1999 Clabough stood ready to vote for the income tax bill in a Senate committee, a crucial step toward passing one, according to a Tom Humphrey column in Tennessee Politics back in 1999. But he considers voting for a balanced budget that doesn't raise taxes to be a tough vote.
State Rep. Chris Newton, a Republican, tells the Daily Post-Athenian that he favors the budget's spending reductions, but is concerned by the reduction in state-shared taxes - the revenue that goes to cities and counties.
Elected officials from different parts of the state are already in Nashville lobbying against that reduction, and "telling us exactly what taking 9 percent of state-shared revenues means to them,” Newton said. “Right now, there is no one presenting an alternative. But I can tell you, after the next few weeks there will be some other ideas presented.” Newton also said this: "It is very difficult for me to support taking state-shared revenues away from our local governments.”
In the same newspaper article, State Sen. Jeff Miller, a Republican, said he felt “vindicated” after Bredesen’s budget presentation to the General Assembly Monday night. Miller introduced a budget bill last year that included a 4 percent across-the-board cut in state spending. “I was ridiculed and told I was out in left field,” Miller said. “Here we are this year and 9 percent is palatable in the Legislature. So it is funny how things can turn around with a new head coach.”
The Citizen-Tribune in Hamblen County is reporting on a nice impact there from the Bredesen budget: county commissioners are being encouraged to hold the line on spending. Hamblen County Executive David Purkey says asking for more money during such lean economic times would essentially be a waste of time, the paper reports. "Everybody needs to be put on notice .... It's not going to happen this year," says Purkey, who says he refuses to submit an unbalanced budget to the commission and will propose a budget with the assumption county government will lose $281,000 in state-shared funds. "We've just chosen not to whine about it. Everyone needs to recognize we're losing money, we're not gaining money. We're losing money in a slow economy."
State Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican (and my representative) has emailed an update on the budget, in which he says this: "There are only three states in the Union who are not suffering from budget problems. When we solve TennCare, Tennessee will be the fourth state. Our economy is strong, we have good job growth and a rising personal income level. We live in a very desirable state. ... I support the across-the-board cuts, and would like to see us be very cautious on any new expenditures. I don't like, but will support the governor's cutting of local funds. It was not our local officials that got the state in financial trouble, and thus we as state legislators should not expect the cities and counties of Tennessee to carry the responsibility or expect them to pass on the tax increases."
Bucking the Roadbuilders... and Other Budget Notes
Here is a fact: Phil Bredesen is the first Tennessee governor in modern history who doesn't need the roadbuilders. Think about it. The roadbuilders are powerful because they give a lot of money to candidates running for office, they are wealthy, but they represent only a tiny chunk of the total electorate. But Bredesen is worth more than $100 million. As he showed last fall, he can toss a million bucks into his own campaign without blinking. Which is why Bredesen is the only governor who could take on the roadbuilders and reduce the state's roads budget as part of the across-the-board budget cutting. The best part is, Bredesen isn't proposing a one-year reduction in spending. He intends to make his budget the new - and lower - baseline.
''I have to reset the spending level down from where we would have been,'' Bredesen said a day after unveiling a budget that included $355 million in spending cuts. ''I've made it clear,'' he said, referring to his Cabinet, ''don't throw me anything you're expecting to get back one or two years from now. … I don't want to do this every year. Let's get the pain behind us.''
Meanwhile, The Tennessean is praising the governor's open budget process and urging legislators to be as open as they consider passing or changing Bredesen's budget. Funny, I don't recall the paper getting all worked up over the secret meetings pro-income tax legislators held last year in trying to ram an income tax through the General Assembly. The schizophrenic editorial in one place slams the Bredesen budget as being "one with which no Tennessean should feel at home," but later says "the governor has already made a good case for his numbers."
The Memphis Commercial Appeal says Bredesen's budget "is about as equitable as Tennessee taxpayers might reasonably expect" given Bredesen's no-new-taxes campaign pledge, the state of the economy, and soft tax revenues. But it's not a "blueprint for long-term progress," says the CA.
Repeatedly over the past few years, and notably in last November's election, Tennessee voters - and the politicians who represent them - have expressed a clear preference for low taxes over improved, or even sustained, basic state services in many areas. The governor's new budget should quickly make apparent the consequences of that choice.
That's the CA's way of saying it hopes the people chafe under the spending cuts enough to be willing to tolerate an income tax. It’s probably wishful thinking.
The Nashville City Paper is praising Bredesen's budget, in an editorial that favorably compares Bredesen's approach to his predecessor's disastrously incompetent approach to crafting a budget:
Gov. Don Sundquist would submit an unbalanced budget every year, hoping that whatever new revenues could be generated would cover his wish list for new programs or increased spending. When it became clear several years ago that the budget deficit was heading into crisis mode, he proposed a business tax. He didn’t include legislators in the planning process but surprised them with his proposal. We all know that opened the can of worms that led to three years of angry and vitriolic debate on an income tax. Bredesen got legislators - and citizens - involved early. He opened up his cabinet meetings to the press so that much of the budget discussion was done in the open. The governor warned all of us early that he would be demanding cuts almost across the board, and he expected everyone to come to the table ready to offer suggestions. So Monday night, when he presented the 9 percent cuts in the state budget, nobody was surprised
The NCP also reports today that the state House Finance Committee is webcastings its budget hearing in streaming video, accessible via the General Assembly’s web page. Hearings are set for Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through mid-April. The schedule is on the web at www.legislature.state.tn.us.
In West Tennessee, the Jackson Sun likes Bredesen's budget:
What matters is that Bredesen communicated with people. He talked in terms average Tennesseans understand. The state has so much income and intends to spend that much and no more. No one can remember the last time a governor proposed such a budget.
Nashville's lefty alternative
Bredesen's budget is pretty fair. The 9 percent cuts he's made in most departments are well distributed across the board. Everyone can cry foul over their cuts, but the truth is that in most cases they're no more or less than anyone else's. The budget is, therefore, equitable. Finally, Phil Bredesen is a smart man. State government probably does include a fair amount of waste. Shaving off one-tenth of its expenditures will probably reduce it to its core responsibilities, and Bredesen as a capitalist understands that pretty well.
The Scene, you'll remember, once published an article urging then-Gov. Sundquist to "exploit" terrorism and 9/11 to get his income tax passed.
The Knoxville News Sentinel has a report on Bredesen's intention to make permanent the spending cuts he proposed in state aid to local governments and the highway fund.
The governor told reporters Tuesday that 9 percent reduction should be permanent. "I told everybody, on all these cuts, do not look at them as just a one-year or two-year issues," Bredesen said. "I need to be doing this once. I don't need to be back here doing it again next year." Restoring the cuts in future years could set the stage for another budget shortfall, he said, adding, "Let's get the pain behind us."
Finance commissioner Dave Goetz tells the KNS that may cost the Bredesen budget some support in the legislature. Perhaps, but it will gain him support among the people of Tennessee. And by setting a lower baseline and restraining the growth of spending over the long term, Bredesen could well set up a scenario in which a revived economy generates large revenue surpluses in 2005, perfect for allowing Bredesen to seek a reduction in the sales tax rate when the legislature meets in 2006, at the start of his re-election campaign.
That would be a welcomed long-term strategy.
On the Brink
Lee Harris writes that we're on the brink of a world-historical event, and an invasion of Iraq will launch a new era in international politics. It's a heavy dose of political philosophizing. Here's one of the less dense bits:
If we look at the source of the Arab wealth we find it is nothing they created for themselves. It has come to them by magic, much like a story of the Arabian nights, and it allows them to live in a feudal fantasyland. What Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein have in common is that they became rich because the West paid them for natural resources that the West could simply have taken from them at will, and without so much as a Thank You, if the West had been inclined to do so. They were, by one of the bitter paradoxes of history, the pre-eminent beneficiaries of the Western liberalism that they have pledged themselves to destroy. Their power derives entirely from the fact that the West had committed itself, in the aftermath of World War II, to a policy of not robbing other societies of their natural resources simply because it possessed the military might to do so - nor does it matter whether the West followed this policy out of charitable instinct, or out of prudence, or out of a cynical awareness that it was more cost effective to do so. All that really matters is the quite unintended consequence of the West's conduct: the prodigious funding of fantasists who are thereby enabled to pursue their demented agendas unencumbered by any realistic calculation of the risks or costs of their action.
Harris contends that the belief in nation-state sovereignty is going to need some adjusting in the new era of nuclear proliferation among rogue states. Lots of mentions of Clausewitz, too. Read the whole thing. In a comfortable chair with a large mug of coffee.
The View from Memphis
Memphis Mike looks at Bredesen's budget and wonders why Jimmy Naifeh is being so supportive.
Even House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who predicted the universe would end if a budget like this came to pass, has shown amazing deference to Bredesen's budget. That's too odd for words. Is he that craven? Or does he know something about the process down the road and so isn't worried? After all his grim-faced predictions and bullying threats last year, once he lost he still kept alive the idea of the income tax. Immediately after losing the vote, he claimed the IT was dead forever. But as the weeks wore on, he kept reducing the time before he expected to bring it back before the House. After Bredesen's election, he shut up altogether, although the State's papers kept up the drum-beat in new and more muted language. So why is he so rah-rah now?
Tracking Terrorists Via Online ID Theft Search
The Lansing State Journal is reporting on a project at Michigan State University in which computers are going to help the FBI track down terrorists - using credit card numbers. The MSU project, designed to combat identity theft, has developed techniques for tracking identity thieves in cyberspace. The MSU lab has mostly been used to help police and citizens uncover evidence of financial crimes motivated by greed, but in the coming weeks the MSU project will be used to help the FBI pursue al Qaeda members and other terrorists hiding in the United States.
The FBI says terrorists often use stolen or fabricated Social Security numbers, credit cards and passports to create false identities and pay for their operations. The MSU project seeks to track digital "footprints" that identity thieves leave at any of about 2,000 Web sites, including chat rooms and sites belonging to banks and the U.S. Postal Service, the paper says. An MSU professor has developed "mathematical models that predict how criminals behave and work together," models the FBI hopes to combine with a scoring system the FBI already uses to detect suspicious financial activity.
This bothers me. I'm all for the government catching terrorists or, preferably, killing them. But I've never been a big fan of government tracking our financial transactions and compiling big databases of personal data. Government agencies like FinCen, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, which compiles records of prviate individual's financial transactions over a certain dollar amount, are ripe for abuse. FinCen's powers were greatly expanded by the anti-terrorism legislation called the USA Patriot Act, which, in Section 314(b), "permits financial institutions, upon providing notice to the United States Department of the Treasury, to share information with one another in order to identify and report to the federal government activities that may involve money laundering or terrorist activity."
For more on FinCen, read this about the "Know Your Customer" rules the Clinton administration tried mightily to impose, although they represented a massive invasion of innocent civilians' banking privacy. No word on whether FinCen is working with the FBI on the Michigan State project, or will have access to that data. They shouldn't.
Bredesen Targets Road Funds
Fresh from last night's well-received speech on next year's budget, Gov. Phil Bredesen has revealed how he plans to balance the books this year. He's going to use reserve funds set aside for exactly that purpose - and he's going to raid the road-building honey pot. The plan calls for taking $30 million out of the road-building money, heretofore considered sacrosanct because of heavy lobbying pressure by the road-building industry. But these are tough times, and the road program certainly ought to bear a share of the burden.
Bubba and the Budget
South Knox Bubba is posting particulars from Gov. Bredesen's budget proposal - particulars of the spending cuts. Comments Bubba:
It is amazing how little things add up, And it's about time we went through this exercise. I'm not sure why we couldn't do this last year instead of passing the largest tax increase in state history. Notice how some of the savings come from charging for services that were previously "free". Also notice how many vacant jobs are being eliminated. Our wild, drunken spending spree appears to be over.
Also, Kevin Raybould, who comes at things from a liberal persuasion, has posted a long and thoughtful analysis of the politics of Bredesen's budget. Writes Raybould:
Bredesen has done two things, however, that shows he is aware of the potential pitfalls. He has increased spending for k-12 education in the state, and he has increased spending on TennCare. In the first case, he has helped neuter criticisms that he does not care about education. He can now claim that his cuts in higher education represent a genuine attempt to trim fat, and not just an attempt to balance the budget on the backs of the future. Further, education is one of the largest costs of local government, and one of the services people demand the most from. By increasing state spending on education, he has relieved some of the pressure on local governments might feel to raise property taxes to fund their school system. In the second case, by funding TennCare, he has created the impression that he supports the ideas behind the program, if not their particular implementation. Now, when Bredesen speaks of reforming TennCare, people do not hear "eliminate".
Raybould also writes for PolState.com.
Do We Need UN Approval?
Would President Bush be committing an illegal act if he orders an invasion of Iraq even though the United Nations Security Council has not authorized such? Absolutely not, says Donald Sensing. The U.S. Constitution is the highest authority in such matters, not the U.N. And last October, Congress authorized the use of military force against Iraq. Read the whole thing if you want to understand the legal technicalities.
Get on With It!
Another day, and more news shows with pictures of the U.N. dithering and daddling and doodling and doing nothing, content to let France profit from its Iraqi oil deals and Germany to conceal its involvement in Saddam's weapons programs one more day, while 24 million people live under a homicidal dictator. I wish Bush would just get on Air Force One, fly over to Normandy, and deliver the following very short speech:
"Six decades ago, Americans shed blood to bring liberty to the people of France and Germany, and liberate Europe from Hitler's murderous grasp. Now, we are faced with another homicidal tyrant and, by golly, America is once again going to step up and do the right thing. 24 million Iraqis deserve liberty more than France needs its lucrative oil deals. The Middle East needs to be free of Saddam's threats and needs a real shot at democracy and freedom more than Germany needs to cover up its involvement in Saddam's weapons programs. We'd love to have France's help. We'd love to have Germany's help. But we're going to do the right thing whether they help or not. We owe it to the men and women who lie under these gravestones not to sidestep this latest call of history on America to once again liberate the oppressed. Thomas Paine once said, "Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered." But conquer tyranny we must. And conquer tyranny we will. Thank you. God bless America. God bless the coalition of the willing. And God bless the people of Iraq, whose wait is almost over."
Ugh: "Unbudgeted Dollars"
The Bredesen administration has made a good start at restoring the credibility of the governor's office and the honesty of the budget process that were left shredded by his predecessor. Changing how it handles surplus dollars would be a good next step. And if the administration won't fix it, the legislature should.
In recent years I wrote several columns critical of the Sundquist administration's use of the term "unbudgeted dollars" to artfully describe surplus revenue without using the word surplus. As longtime readers know, the Sundquist administration one year spent nearly $300 million in "unbudgeted dollars" while claiming the state faced a "shortfall" in the coming fiscal year. It could have saved that surplus for the next year, but instead chose to spend it, preferring the next year's "shortfall" be large enough to increase pressure to pass an income tax.
Even more than fiscally stupid, the Sundquist approach was constitutionally suspect. The administration spent the money without getting the legislature to appropriate it, although the state constitution requires every single dime the state spends be appropriated by the legislature, and spells out that the appropriations process involves passing a law. Instead, the Sundquist administration used a legislature-created loophole to simply advise a few key lawmakers that it was spending the money. Under the loophole, legislative consent was not required. Spending "unbudgeted dollars" became so ingrained in the Sundquist administration's way of doing business that, in response to several columns of mine criticizing the process on both fiscal and honesty grounds, Sundquist's finance commissioner Warren Neel inserted a highly defensive explanation of the process in its budget summary. It's on page A-65 of the FY 2002-03 budget and says this:
When notice of unexpected revenue is received by an agency, the Commissioner of Finance and Administration may submit an expansion report to the chairmen of the finance committees for acknowledgement. Upon the chairmen's acknowledgement of the expansion report, the Commissioner of Finance and Administration may allot the additional departmental revenue to implement the proposed or expanded program. This expansion procedure is not used to increase allotments funded from state tax revenue sources. No appropriations from state tax sources may be increased except pursuant to appropriations specifically made by law.
But as I explained in this column, nothing in the constitution specifies that the provision applies only to dollars spent from state tax sources:
Article 2, Sec. 24 of the state constitution says verbatim: "No public money shall be expended except pursuant to appropriations made by law." Laws are made in Tennessee by majority vote in both houses of the Legislature, subject to normal signature or veto/override.
Public money includes all money that passes through the government's hands. Every dime of it - not just dollars from state taxes. And nothing in the state constitution gives the legislature the power to delegate the appropriations process to the executive branch. It says "appropriations made by law," not "appropriations made by the governor and his finance commissioner with a wink and a nod from the finance committee chairs."
All that is background to some very bad bad news buried deep within the Bredesen budget. Bredesen's finance commissioner, Dave Goetz, did not delete Neel's defensive explanation of the constitutionally dubious spending practice. It's still in there, on page A-56 of the Bredesen budget document.
Perhaps in the rush to complete the budget, Goetz merely copied that section from last year's budget. Let's hope so, because the Bredesen administration needs to stop the practice of spending "unbudgeted dollars" and "unexpected revenue" without a legislative appropriation. The Bredesen administration needs to start calling "unbudgeted dollars" what they are - surpluses - and reserve them until the legislature passes a law appropriating them. In fact, lawmakers should demand reform. After all, right now they're left out of the loop. The finance commissioner and the governor get to spend millions of "unbudgeted" dollars by merely notifying the finance committee chairman in the House and Senate - not even getting their approval. Lawmakers have no say and no control. They ceded that power to the governor's office and it's time they take it back.
More Budget Coverage
The Tennessean covered Gov. Bredesen's budget speech, but does a poor job of giving readers detailed information about the budget today - and includes what appears to be a whopping error. Other papers around the state did a much better job, although the Memphis Commercial Appeal's coverage includes a puzzler.
The Nashville City Paper covered the actual budget, and notes that "the recommended budget for fiscal year 2003-04 totals $21.465 billion, including federal and other funds, some $1.06 billion more than the current year’s original $20.4 billion."
For all the talk of cuts, overall spending is going up more than $1 billion compared to the current year - and a whopping $2.184 billion over what the state spent two years ago.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal also covered the budget as well as the speech, giving plenty of detail on where the cuts will be impacting the Memphis area.
The CA appears to disagree with the City Paper on the size of the budget, saying that "the overall budget, which includes $8.2 billion in federal funds and $3.4 billion in various nontax fees like student tuition, is up $5 million from the current year. But the amount funded from actual state taxes would decrease by $131.7 million from the current fiscal year. That amount is less than the $355 million in cuts because of the accounting complexities of budgeting."
Which is it? Is overall spending rising $5 million or $1.06 billion? Everyone seems to agree that Bredesen's overall budget proposes to spend $21.465 billion in fiscal year 2003-04. But the KNS thinks we're spending $20.4 billion this year, while the CA thinks we're spending about a billion more than that. From their coverage, I can't determine why. Meanwhile, the KNS has a graphic (reproduced below) comparing the Bredesen budget with the current budget, and it doesn't agree with either number. The graphic is based on Bredesen administration numbers, and the administration says we're spending $20.617 billion this current fiscal year. That's still $847 million less than Bredesen is proposing to spend in the next budget.
The Knoxville News Sentinel also digs into the budget in more detail and, in at least one instance, reports a fact differently than the Tennessean. As I mentioned below, The Tennessean reported that the estimate of next year's budget shortfall had been reduced from $780 million to $427.6 million. If the KNS is right, the Tennessean got it wrong. Here's what the KNS said:
The spending blueprint outlines $355.1 million in reductions of recurring expenses. Other reductions in one-time expenses last year - for example, $28 million less spending on capital outlay - bring the total reductions to $427.6 million, said Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz. Further, the budget makes the estimate that state revenue will grow without new taxes by $201 million in the year that begins July 1. There is also a recalculation of earlier estimates on the budget shortfall for next year, pegged previously at $780 million - a figure now reduced to $629 million, Goetz said. The combination of reductions and new revenue thus brings the budget into balance at precisely $21,464,636,600, the budget document says.
The Knoxville paper also explains how Bredesen is accurate to claim the budget reduces spending for only the third time in 30 years, when his total proposed budget for fiscal 2003-04 is actually slightly higher than the budget for the current fiscal year:
It would spend a total of $9,548,167,200 in state tax revenue, or about $131.7 million less than projected in the current ear. Bredesen said that is just the third time in the past 30 years that state tax dollar spending will actually shrink, the last being in 1991-92. On the other hand, the budget anticipates a $511 million increase in spending of federal funds sent to the state - [and] a $108 million increase in nontax money that flows through state government entities, such as the tuition paid by university students and the fees paid by licensed professionals. The bottom line is a budget that increases in overall spending but declines in state tax dollar allocations.
Here is that Knoxville News Sentinel budget graphic:
Interestingly, the graphic doesn't quite agree with the recommended budget as described in the first page of the governor's budget document, which proposes am overall spending plan of $21.457 billion, or about $7.4 million less. One could imagine Gov. Bredesen still tweaking the numbers after the budget document went to press.
She Deserved to Be Fired
Tamara Saviano objected to a pro-war message posted on country singer Charlie Daniels' website, so she sent out an email blasting Daniels and calling for a boycott of his music and concerts. Problem is, Saviano is a producer for Great American Country, a cable network devoted to country music. And Saviano included her employer's name and contact info at the bottom of the email. GAC fired her, saying she had compromised the good relationships GAC needs with the country music industry.
''Without consent of the company, the employee sent a communication - via an e-mail account she regularly used in her capacity as a GAC employee - calling for a boycott of Mr. Charlie Daniels' music concerts in opposition to his 'Open Letter to Hollywood,' '' the GAC statement said. ''Our success as a television network requires that we have access to and good relationships with, country music artists, their management and their record labels. ... We believe her actions threatened to seriously damage relationships key to GAC's success."
GAC fired Saviano after receiving a call from Daniel's publicist, inquiring as to whether an upcoming Charlie Daniels special scheduled to air on the network was still going to be shown, given the contents of Saviano's email. Now Saviano has hired a lawyer and is threatening to sue. How American.
Here's the question of the day: Were her free speech rights violated?
Answer: No. Saviano has a right to her views and a right to express them, but GAC has the right to fire employees whose actions put their business at risk, as Saviano's threat - under GAC's name - to launch a boycott of a significant and popular country music star. She does not have the right to attach GAC's name to them. And if attaching GAC's name was inadvertent as Saviano claims, and her threat to send her boycott email to 2,000 people was just idle chatter, as she claims, then she is a loose cannon, mistake-prone and lacking discretion. Either way, I can't criticize GAC for firing her.
Buried at the end of The Tennessean's story on Gov. Bredesen's budget proposal is the amazing news that next year's shortfall is getting smaller all on its own:
In January, Bredesen projected that he would have a $780 million gap to fill. That number has since been revised to $760 million and then yesterday to $427.6 million, Goetz said.
In it's never-ending drive to keep you fully informed, the paper doesn't explain how the budget gap shrank by $352.4 million in about two months. [Ed. note: As I explain in this more-recent post, the Tennessean's use of the $427.6 million appears to be an error.] Another gems in the story: the paper admits the Bredesen budget would cut state spending "for the first time in 10 years," although in recent years the paper uncritically repeated then-Gov. Don Sundquist's claim that spending had been cut, even though it was a lie. We note the paper mostly avoided discussion of Bredesen's assertion that TennCare is not saving the state money and is, in fact, a major source of its budget woes. In the past, the paper asserted as truth the Sundquist administration's demonstrable lie that TennCare was not the major cause of the budget problems. But the paper endorsed Bredesen. So when he says TennCare is the major cause of the state's budget problems, the paper switches direction on the truth without even a hint of embarassment.
The politics of the Bredesen budget are simple and brilliant. By shielding public K-12 education from the cuts and infact increasing K-12 spending and increasing teacher pay, Bredesen has set the stage for a very simple approach to dealing with special interests that will no doubt seek to shrink the cuts to their portion of the budget. They'll be asked: 'Why is your program more important than education?
The roadbuilders, for example, will whine and complain about their budget being nicked a bit, although Tennessee spends lavishly on roads to the point of repaving roads that don't need it and building four-lane highways to tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. "Why are roads more important than education?" Answer: They aren't. In fact, almost nothing the state spends money on is more important than education.
Bredesen's budget will pass more or less as-is, for the simple reason that lawmakers have no other real choice. He's protected K-12 education from cuts and is giving teachers a payraise - neutralizing a large special interest that otherwise would be at the capital pleading for higher taxes and more spending. And by taking tax increases off the table, and then putting education on one side of the debate and all of the other state programs on the other, Bredesen has neatly framed the upcoming debate as one where if you oppose cuts to one of those other programs, you must be for cutting education. We know who will win that debate.
The Budget Speech
Gov. Phil Bredesen gave his budget address to a joint session of the state legislature tonight. I give it an A+. Two things really jumped out. On taxes, Bredesen said:
This evening, I'm submitting to you such a budget. It is a responsible, balanced budget. And it requires no new taxes. I am delivering to you a complex document. But underneath it all, I am simply asking us to do the same thing that every family in our state has to do. That is: Figure out how much money we have coming in, and then plan to spend that much and no more. This is our family budget.
That's the very approach conservatives asked an allegedly fiscally conservative Gov. Don Sundquist to take for four years. Instead, he proposed one budget after another that we couldn't afford, refused to consider cutting spending at all, and demanded higher taxes to pay for his wish list. Bredesen is a refreshing change.
On TennCare, Bredesen refuted once and for all the lie we were told for four years that TennCare was saving us money and that it isn't the cause of the state's budget mess. Bredesen told the truth: it wasn't - and it is.
In particular, you will be hearing a lot more from me about TennCare in the next few months. In the short term, we are going to have to substantially reduce benefits before the end of the current fiscal year. This will include placing reasonable limits on the use of costly prescription drugs - one of the biggest reasons for our TennCare overruns. And by this summer, we will begin making fundamental changes in the structure of TennCare. This program is innovative and it is helping hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans. It is also deeply troubled and it is one of the most significant sources of our fiscal woes. Its problems are structural, not superficial. It requires major surgery, not Band Aids.
"One of the most significant sources of our fiscal woes."
It took an election to finally get the truth, but we heard it last night, free of spin and political machinations. Take it from a real fiscal conservative, one who voted for Bredesen's opponent: Bredesen is not only saying the right things on the budget; he's doing them.
A version of this story is also posted at PolState.com.
UPDATE: If you're here because Instapundit pointed you this way, please go to the very top of my blog for more entries on the Tennessee budget.
Tennessee Budget Update
Tennessee's new governor is getting high public approval marks in a new poll - seems the good folks in Tennessee like having the state budget cut and taxes not raised.
Bredesen gets "good" or "fair" marks from 84 percent of those surveyed. Some 58 percent think he's doing the right thing by cutting the budget by 9 percent virtually across the board. See this report in the Knoxville paper for details.
Meanwhile, The Tennessean has details on Bredesen's budget proposal, noting that it cuts spending by $365 million. The story quotes state Sen. Ron Ramsey noting the irony that, last year, proposals to cut spending rather than raise taxes were met with howls that such cuts were not possible.
Ramsey said it is ''ironic'' that when former state Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Brentwood Republican now in Congress, asked for across-the-board cuts last year, critics accused her of ''having her head in the sand and not understanding the situation.''
''If we had tried this last year, people would have said the sky is falling — the big difference is the governor,'' said Ramsey, a Republican, praising the Democratic governor.
Indeed, former Gov. Don Sundquist created an atmosphere of crisis by proposing massive spending increases and categorically rejecting all spending cuts, demanding tax increases instead. What a change an election makes.
Sen. Jeff Miller, R-Cleveland, said Bredesen's approach is in stark contrast to former Gov. Don Sundquist, a member of his own party, who told ''department heads to fight for every penny and not give an inch'' when it came to trimming the budget.
''Governor Bredesen is doing exactly what many of us within the Republican Caucus have wanted to do for the last four years,'' Miller said. ''We find it refreshing.''
Judging from the Knoxville poll, so do the majority of the people of Tennessee.
My latest on the Tennessee budget is also up at PolState.com.
The UN is Not Useless!
It just isn't any good at battling tyranny, writes Max Boot.
The UN isn't entirely useless. A quick perusal of its website shows that it has a lot to keep it busy. "UN agency to launch a new sports and environment initiative for youth," reads the headline of one press release. Another trumpets: "UN banks offer cut-rate loans for solar power development in India." While the UN pursues those weighty projects, the hard work of making the world a bit safer for democracy will be performed, as it always has been, and always will be, by America, Britain and their allies.
We've Been Here Before
These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.
- Thomas Paine, The Crisis, December 19, 1776
But conquer it we must, for the sake of Safaa Albadran and 24 million other Iraqis who deserve freedom for their homeland. Incidentally, I'm a big fan of Thomas Paine who used media as a weapon to help defeat British tyranny more than 200 years ago. If he was writing today, he'd have a blog.
I just read something that made me feel good about the future.
Their numbers are enormous - some 60 million Americans are between the ages of 10 and 25, according to U.S. Census statistics - and for most of this population that echoes the baby boom of two generations earlier, the United States has enjoyed unrivaled security and prosperity. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, shattered that comfortable worldview, but Generation Y still shows a willingness to sacrifice and plan for the future, says Neil Howe, a historian who has co-authored Millennials Rising and other studies of generational differences. "These kids are planners." he says. "They're thinking, 'What's the world going to be like, if we don't get Saddam Hussein, in the year 2030?'" It is no coincidence that these generations come along at the right time."
Downright providential, I'd say.
A Humorous Column About War
Is war funny? No. But the run-up to it is, at least when Mark Steyn gets through with it. Go read the whole thing. I won't spoil it by excerpting the funniest bits here. And Steyn's right. Let's Get On With It!
Taxpayers Rights Under Assault in Colorado
An assortment of liberal pro-big government types are trying to amend and undermine the state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment, which limits the growth of government spending to the rate of population growth plus inflation, a factor in preventing Colorado from facing the kind of mammoth deficits some other states have faced. But Colorado voters overwhelmingly favor the Taxpayers Bill of Rights as-is, according to the pollsters. Colorado faces a budget gap of 9.2 percent - but had the state been allowed to spend $3.2 billion more in surplus revenue over the last few years instead of return it to taxpayers via rebates and tax cuts, the state would be facing a much larger deficit today.
The story I linked to above comes from the Denver Business Journal and reports on a forthcoming study from the Denver-based Bell Policy Center that is highly critical of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. A quick check of the Bell Policy Center's website finds that the organization favors typical liberal big-goverment approaches to policy - more money for this, more government efforts to do that, universal healthcare, etc... - while couching its agenda in "third way" rhetoric designed to mask its liberal leanings:
We must move away from the argument over "more" or "less" government and toward a more reasoned discussion of what is the right kind of government to promote opportunity for all.
I assure you, their answer to what is the right kind of government is never "smaller."
The BPC's website makes it clear that they believe that, only with government assistance, can a person join the "cycle of opportunity," and that "expanded opportunity in America often has been stimulated or supported by government action." Because the Taxpayers Bill of Rights leaves more money in taxpayers pockets rather than send it to the state bureacracy to use to stiumlate opportunity, the BPC early on targeted the Taxpayers Bill of Rights for attack. In Feb. 2002, the BPC released a report, "Understanding TABOR," that noted there was increasing unease in Colorado about the Taxpayers Bill of RIghts.
Unease among the general public. Uh, well. No.
In summer 2001, the Bell conducted a 13-stop Listening Campaign to learn more about critical issues facing Colorado communities. In meetings with policy-makers, educators, nonprofit workers and community leaders statewide, Coloradans said they are unclear about the effects of the amendment. Although TABOR has been in effect for nearly 10 years, almost all expressed unease about their ability to understand its implications for the operation of state and local governments. This
uncertainty seems to be heightened by deteriorating economic conditions in the state and nation.
Whose missing from that list? Taxpayers! The Bell Policy Center found that people who feed at the public trough don't like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights because they have less money to spend. Not exactly a big shock.
Colorado Springs tax activist Douglas Bruce, the architect of the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights, says the law has been and continues to be good for Colorado and its people, and has been a strong defense against future tax hikes." He notes that elected officials in New Hampshire, Arizona, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee also have sought his advice about adopting similar provisions in Tennessee.
As I demonstrated in this white paper, Tennessee's budget problem - a shortfall of less than $1 billion - would not exist today if the state had lived with its own spending growth cap over the past decade, instead of exceeding it by $1.096 billion during the eight years of the Sundquist administration. That extra spending has proven to be unsustainable during the economic downturn. Laws like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights prevent profligate spending during the boom years that is unsustainable over the long term - and that reduces the pressure for tax increases and imposition of new taxes.
The BPC has just released a longer report assaulting the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. I haven't had a chance to read it, but I will. Meanwhile, I suspect the Independence Institute and University of Colorado economist Dr. Barry Poulson will soon respond. When they do, I'll report - so you can decide.
The Hunt for bin Laden
Pakistan says we're getting close. And a member of al Qaeda may have decided to spill the beans on bin Laden's location in exchange for the $25 million reward.
Andrew Sullivan explains why Bush's Iraq policy is just Clinton's with teeth, and why the Europeans don't like it.
The truth, however, is that the current Bush policy toward Iraq is indistinguishable from Bill Clinton's. After the U.N. inspectors found that they could no longer do their job effectively in 1998, the U.S. shifted its policy in Iraq toward regime change in Baghdad - exactly the policy now being pursued. The difference between Bush and Clinton, of course, lies in the sense of urgency and importance applied to the same policy. September 11 made the White House acutely aware of the ruthlessness of the new Islamist terror-masters: suddenly, the American homeland was also in play. The possibility of a chemical or biological 9/11 made Washington realize that its continued Iraq policy needed actual enforcement. It made Washington realize that regime change needed to mean what it said.
Are there deeper differences between Bush and Clinton on this? There is, of course, the matter of style. Clinton was a master of the European dialogue. He meant very few things he said but he said them very well. He was a great schmoozer. When he compared the Serbian genocide to the Jewish Holocaust, it sounded earnest but no-one, least of all the massacred Bosnians, actually believed he meant it. And he didn't. If he had meant it, he wouldn't have allowed a quarter of a million to be murdered in Europe, while he delegated American foreign policy to the morally feckless and militarily useless European Union. Ditto with Iraq and al Qaeda. A few missiles here and there; some sanctions that starved millions of Iraqis but kept Saddam in power; and a big rhetorical game kept the pretense of seriousness up. But there was no actual attempt to match words with actions. In this, the French were completely - preternaturally - comfortable. No wonder Clinton was popular.
Dont' miss a word of it.
I must admit, I copied this idea for a "Happy Thoughts" photo of the day from South Knox Bubba. My Happy Thought photo comes from The Tennessean a few months ago. It's a picture of Safaa Albadran, 4, the daughter of Iraqi exiles. She was photographed standing outside the downtown convention center under a banner held by her father, Karim, left, proclaiming "Saddam: Out - Democracy In," during a pro-war demonstration by Iraqis living in Nashville. My happy thought is that one day the 24 million people still living under murderous tyranny in the Albadrans' home country will be free, just like Safaa is today. And if it takes the U.S. military to make it so, that's fine with me.
A Political Miscalculation
Pennsylvania's new governor, Ed Rendell, is a typical tax-and-spend Democrat, but he proposed a budget with sharp spending cuts - in hopes of spurring public outrcry and ginning up support for tax increases. Oops. The Republican-led state House of Representatives passed his budget basically as-is, and the state Senate looks poised to go along, leaving Rendell with a budget he didn't really want. Read all about it at the invaluable PolState.com. Here's an excerpt from blogger Mitch Sommers' report:
Rather than loading up the budget with all kinds of goodies and getting it cut to size, he sent an austere, even painful budget, thinking that, faced with whittling a $2.4 billion projected deficit down to size and the cries of protest that would ensue, the legislature, and the Republicans in control of that legislature, would see the wisdom, or at least the necessity, of tax increases and placing slot machines at the state's race tracks to make up for at least some of the cut services. The Republicans warned Rendell not to take this approach; Rendell did it anyway. And a funny thing happened. The Republicans announced they would support the budget Rendell loathed.
The State House passed it the next day with virtually no debate. Chip Brightbill of Lebanon, the State Senate's Majority Leader is scheduled to take it up next week. And everyone is saying that Rendell screwed up and John Perzel, the House Majority Leader (and, like Rendell, also a Philadelphian) is a minor deity for having outmaneuvered Rendell for passing a budget that Rendell never thought they would pass. So, did Rendell screw up? The consensus seems to be, at the very least, he miscalculated; that he didn't think that the Republicans would actually pass a budget with such deep cuts. It's pretty hard to escape the conclusion that he was wrong about that.
France is Not Our Friend
Is Chirac in bed with the Islamo fascist wackos? Michael Ledeen makes a persuasive argument.
Both Shroeder and Chirac went to great lengths to support Islamic institutions in their countries, even when - as in the French case - it was in open violation of the national constitution. French law stipulates a total separation of church and state, yet the French Government openly funds Islamic "study" centers, mosques, and welfare organizations. A couple of months ago, Chirac approved the creation of an Islamic political body, a mini-parliament, that would provide Muslims living in France with official stature and enhanced political clout. And both countries have permitted the Saudis to build thousands of radical Wahhabi mosques and schools, where the hatred of the infidels is instilled in generation after generation of young Sunnis. It is perhaps no accident that Chirac went to Algeria last week and promised a cheering crowd that he would not rest until America's grand design had been defeated.
Both countries have been totally deaf to suggestions that the West take stern measures against the tyrannical terrorist sponsors in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. Instead, they do everything in their power to undermine American-sponsored trade embargoes or more limited sanctions, and it is an open secret that they have been supplying Saddam with military technology through the corrupt ports of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid's little playground in Dubai, often through Iranian middlemen.
If Ledeen is right, France and Germany have cast their lot with the losers.
Does the Death Penalty Deter Crime?
There are 299 people in Texas who have been 100-percent deterred by it. And the number is sure to rise very soon.
Progress in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is moving into the Internet age, something prohibited under the Taliban. More evidence that our war against the Taliban was a good thing.
How stupid is Saddam?
South Knox Bubba is wondering why we're focused on Iraq when Iran is apparently much further along in developing nukes. And when North Korea has nukes. The simple answer: Iraq is the low-hanging fruit. Plus, it's a perfect spot to demonstrate to the Arab-Muslim world the wisdom of not attacking or threatening America and its allies. And then it's on to Iran and Syria, though in different ways. But first, we must make Iraq an object lesson. The road to peace in the Middle East runs through Baghdad.
Why Baghdad? Many reasons. Iraq funds suicide bombers in Israel. Iraq has ties to al Qaeda. But mostly just two reasons. Iraq is doable. And "location location location." Iraq's weak military is easy pickings - indeed some are trying to surrender now before the war has even begun (hoping to avoid those long lines later!). Because we can do crush the Iraqi military and liberate the country in short order - buy stock in companies that supply little American flags to the newly liberated - we can easily make Iraq and object lesson for North Korea, for Syria, for Iran and even for Saudi Arabia. 24 million Iraqis celebrating the Americans and enjoying American-provided freedom will put a large dent in al Qaeda's recruiting. And 10 years from now, when Iraq is once again a functioning, secular, westernized Arab democracy (it had a multi-party parliamentary monarchy before Saddam), young men and women around the Arab-Muslim world will realize their future lies in that route, not in terrorist training camps and nihilistic Islamic wacko fundamentalist fascism.
While the Syrians and the Saudis and the Iranians tremble and fret, we'll then write a new Iraqi constitution that establishes a democratic system - just like we did in Japan and Germany - and seed the Muslim world with a badly needed dose of liberty. The mullahs who run Iran are starting up their nuke program because they see WMDs as the only way to hold on to power, but they are running out of time. After we do Iraq, which is gonna take about 2 weeks, the ordinary people of Iran - who overwhelminly hate their government (even their women are rising up to protest) and admire the U.S. - will be emboldened to rise up and overthrow the mullahs. I have no doubt plans are in place for covert and perhaps even overt support. Meanwhile, we'll probably be delivering an ultimatum to Syria - shape up, withraw from Lebanon and let us finish off Hezbollah or we do to Damascus what we did to Baghdad.
We are starting with Iraq because it is doable - its the low-hanging fruit - and it is smack in the center of the Middle East, perfectly located to touch off a political earthquake that will destabilize the Middle East in ways that favor us and favor reshaping it more to our liking. And as we do, Kim Jong-Il will lose most of the customers for North Korean military hardware, missiles and nukes. As that is NoKo's last cash export, the country will completely collapse and South Korea will take over in a "reunification" on Western terms.
We're doing Iraq because the world needs a good housecleaning and Iraq is a good place to start.
Bredesen Set to Unveil Budget
The Memphis Commercial-Appeal presents a detailed look at Gov. Phil Bredesen's budget proposal for fiscal year 2003-04. A year ago, the CA and other newspapers were telling readers that the state budget was uncuttable, that there was simply no way to bring it in to balance without a tax increase. Bredesen is proving them wrong.
We Also Own the Skies ... and the Ground
Here's a story that explains how precision-guided munitions and other technologies are likely to shock and awe the Iraqi military.
Working at an Iraqi air defense installation is not likely to be much fun, either. Protecting the allied air effort will be Navy and Air Force fighters armed with AGM-88 HARM Anti-radiation missiles. The HARM missile seeks out radar emitters and locks on their locations. Once the missile has locked on your location, turning off the radar is useless. The missile already knows where you are. As soon as an Iraqi radar site powers up, these missiles will be on their way. And that's only the aerospace portion of U.S. combat power. For the Iraqi Army, equipped with obsolete, Soviet-era military technology, facing U.S. ground forces will be highly dangerous as well. Assuming that any Iraqi artillery batteries survive the allied air attacks, they will have to face counterbattery fire from U.S. Artillery. As soon as the Iraqis fire, the Army's Firefinder ground radar will track the trajectory of the shells, calculate the locations from which they were fired, and pass the firing coordinates to U.S. artillery batteries before the first Iraqi shell hits the ground. In other words, for the Iraqi Army, firing an artillery barrage is a quick way of asking for immediate destruction.
In other words, once the war starts it's almost over.
UPDATE: The invaluable Donald Sensing has a follow-up with technical details on how we return fire - and why the Iraqis in the Gulf War called it "steel rain."
We Own The Night
Here's a story that sheds light on why the U.S. military prefers to fight at night.
To the naked eye - and to the enemy - it's dark, dusty and frightening, impossible to tell where to run, hide and especially who to shoot. But to the U.S. military, equipped with the latest night-vision technology, darkness is increasingly a key advantage. "We'd rather fight at night. We are the masters of the night,'' said Maj. Steve Keppler of the Army's 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, also known as Opposition Force, or OPFOR. Previously based in Germany, some of its members served on the front lines of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The 4,800 soldiers stationed here have become the Army's "bad guys,'' the desert rats who have taught virtually every U.S. soldier now stationed around Iraq how to fight in the sand and how to see in the dark. It's no secret that if war comes again, it will come at night. Should U.S. forces strike Iraq, they will assuredly do so under the cover of darkness, military experts say, and the familiar pictures of green tracer fire streaking over dark Iraqi deserts will fill TV screens as they did in 1991."
The story notes the night-vision technology works best when there's a moon - though soldiers train to use the equipment even when there isn't. But, of course, the moon helps an enemy that has little or no night-vision technology.
Many pundits have predicted that the United States would take into account the cycle of the moon and launch an attack in Iraq during the darkest days of the month. Soldiers and their superiors at Fort Irwin, however, made it clear that the darkest nights are not necessarily the best nights for an attack. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory's Web site, the moon over Iraq will reach its first quarter March 11 and its last quarter around March 25.
Hmm. I wonder what stage the moon will be in on March 17.
A Little More of the Iceberg
When news first surfaced of the highly dubious sweetheart contracts given by the Sundquist administration to two business owned by two longtime friends of Don Sundquist, I recall thinking it was just the tip of the iceberg.
I still think so.
The point Baker would seem to want to make is that the Seventh District "belongs" to Memphis and West Tennessee, not to those jumped-up Middle Tennesseans who stole it. Get real. Blackburn couldn't have won if she hadn't earned it. The District is too tilted to West Tennessee for that not to be the case.
Mike Hollihan is pointing to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune story about the financial inner workings of the grocery industry. Mike says the large promotional payments and "slotting fees" that food manufactures paying grocery chains like Safeway to carry their products on the store shelves "basically raise the cost of your shopping."
Perhaps, but I'm not so sure.
Mike quotes the following section of the story to support that contention:
Supermarket giant Safeway Inc., which operates about 1,800 stores nationwide, received $2.3 billion in slotting fees and vendor allowances in 2001, almost $1 billion more than its profit for the year. Closer to home, Austin-based Hormel Foods Corp., maker of Spam and Jennie-O turkey products, spent $239 million on slotting and other promotional fees in 2001. Cheerios maker General Mills Inc. made $2.2 billion in promotional payments, including slotting fees, in 2001, an amount equal to 22 percent of annual sales. "Imagine what might happen to the price of a box of cereal if General Mills didn't have to pay that," Ausura said.
Ausura is John Ausura, described by the Star-Trib as "a former food-company executive and a principal at Crossroads LLC, a California management and strategic consulting firm." But Ausura is probably not the best source for intelligent, unbiased comment on how ending the slotting fees would affect consumer prices. According to the Crossroads LLC website, Ausura is a corporate turnaround specialist, which means he helps restructure failing companies - which tends to include cost-cutting. Among his clients have been big food manufacturers General Foods and Campbell Soup, two companies who no doubt would prefer to not have to pay the slotting fees - regardless of the impact on prices at the consumer level. This isn't a criticism of Mike Hollihan - the Star-Trib should have more fully explained Ausura's potential bias if it was going to quote him so heavily.
The Star-Trib explains that "slotting fees first emerged in the early 1970s, when they were charged to companies that wanted their products placed in the racks near the cash register,' and "eventually use of the fees spread to all aisles of the grocery store." The story continues:
The competition to get a product into a store is fierce. About 100,000 grocery items are available on the market, but a typical grocery store has room for about 40,000. Most manufacturers acknowledge that retailers have a right to recover some costs that come from placing new products on their shelves or in their warehouses, especially since new products often fail. But as the grocery industry has become dominated by a few large retailers, the fees have gone up and the definition of "new product" has expanded to include a new flavor of ice cream or different permutation of an established breakfast cereal. Food manufacturers now pay grocery stores $5,000 to $30,000 per new product per store, Ausura said. They also fork over money for advertising, sales and in-store promotions, known as "pay to stay" agreements. "The whole purpose of these fees was to shift a lot of the costs that retailers used to bear to the manufacturers," Ausura said.
Now, let's go back to the section Mike quoted. Whenever you read a story about business and economics, it is helpful to recall the first principle of economics: There is no free lunch. Safeway received $2.3 billion in slotting fees and vendor allowances in 2001, which the story says was "almost $1 billion more than its profit for the year." What happens if Safeway doesn't charge the manufactures those fees? It's in the red by $1.3 billion. So, then, what would Safeway have do to get out of the red and back into the black?
That's right. Call a corporate turnaround specialist. And raise prices.
Little Knowledge a Dangerous Thing
Ed Weathers, who writes commentary for the left-leaning Memphis Flyer, knows that the American military is torturing al Qaeda suspects. He doesn't just think it. He knows it. We're not sure how, since Weathers lives and works in Memphis where there are exactly zero al Qaeda suspects being interrogated, but Weathers, he just knows it's happening, so he wrote about it:
Let's put it plain: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is being tortured. He's being tortured by Americans, or their hired mercenaries, where nobody can watch. And so is Muhammad Abdel Rahman, who was captured last month, and who apparently spilled the beans on Shaikh Mohammed. And so is Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was captured last fall, and who apparently led the CIA to Abdel Rahman. And so are hundreds, if not thousands, of marginal suspects in Afghanistan and Guantamo. George Bush would like us to believe that the terrorists, men who (Bush claims) would happily martyr themselves for Islam and for hatred of America, are, under mild persuasion, revealing everything they know about Al Qaeda. Or he would like us to look away. Or he would like us to congratulate him for getting these bad guys to talk and turn each other in. He would like us to do anything but ask why they're talking.
As Weathers says, let's "put it plain" - the writer is sitting in Memphis with no firsthand knowledge of whether anyone is being tortured or not. He's just anti-Bush. He slanders John Aschroft and Donald Rumsfeld, saying they and "their spawn" condone torture and it "doesn't even make them queasy." The writer's only "proof" is a New York Times article that he neither quotes nor links to - and which doesn't mention what he says it describes:
Prisoners - innocents - who have been released in Afghanistan describe being forced by Americans to stand, naked, sleepless, in chains, for so long that their legs swelled up, leaving them no feeling in their shackled feet. (See the March 4 issue of The New York Times for details.)
I saw the March 4 NYT story but there were no such details. You can read it yourself here.
Weather's basic assertion - that top al Qaeda leaders we've nabbed are hardened men willing to martyr themselves and are therefore unlikely to give up information unless tortured - is absurd. Neither Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, nor Muhammad Abdel Rahman, nor Ramzi bin al-Shibh were willing to martyr themselves. They were among the top leaders of al Qaeda. They were the men who recruited others to go on suicide missions, directed those missions, reaped the sadistic glory of successful operations and used it to recruit more victims of their suicide death cult. They shrank from going on such missions themselves. These are not men who want to die in the service of their cause.
As for the assertion that "hundreds, if not thousands, of marginal suspects" are also being tortured in Afghanistan and down at Guantanamo Bay, Weathers offers scant proof, other than mentioning (but not quoting from or linking to) that March 4 story, in which U.S. officials admit using sleep deprivation, psychological intimidation, deception and even making them stay in awkward physical positions for hours in order to extract information. Such tactics are not technically torture and do not warrant the Memphis writer's overwrought worrying. In fact, the story makes it rather clear that the U.S. is able to extract information without torture.
The Times reports that Abu Zubaydah, a key bin Laden lieutenant who was shot in the chest, groin and thigh a year ago when he was apprehended in Pakistan, was often teased with painkillers to encourage him to cough up information. Says the Times, Zubaydah "apparently gave investigators false information that led the Justice Department to issue warnings that were later discredited. But he also gave valuable leads that helped in identifying Mr. Mohammed and Jose Padilla, who was arrested last year in Chicago in a reported conspiracy to detonate a'dirty bomb'."
Withholding painkillers from a man who helped kill 3,000 Americans may be harsh. It isn't really torture. I suspect Weathers knows that, too.
Either Osama's about to be captured and his two of his sons have been grabbed ... or only one of his sons ... or both were wounded ... or none of them and it's all just fact-free hype from the Pakistanis. Stay tuned...
Higher Education & Fiscal Discipline
At least one state university is prepared for budget cuts. Austin Peay State University in Clarksville did something the previous Tennessee governor failed to do: it saved a revenue windfall for a rainy day. That's called fiscal discipline. Because of it, APSU can deal with a 2.5 percent cut in its state funding - $443,500 - by using most of the $500,000 set aside earlier this school year in extra money that came from additional student fees from the fall and spring terms, thanks to APSU's growing enrollment. APSU could handle a 5 percent funding reduction - about $1.23 million - by using the $500,000 plus $650,000 available from vacant staff and faculty positions, and cutting operating costs a minor $52,000.
During the of the administration of Gov. Don Sundquist, Tennessee enjoyed several years of record-setting revenues and revenue growth, but squandered the windfall on a series of profligate budgets - increasing spending far faster than the combined rate of inflation and population growth, rather than setting some of the windfall aside for a rainy day. Too bad Sundquist didn't spend a little more time at APSU - he might have learned a thing or two about smart fiscal management.
The Brains of the Anti-War Movement
Here's some hilarious video of anti-war protestors in New York City proving how smart they are. Heh.
This website explains what the Internet is - and why it isn't like super-TV. Essential reading if you want to understand the emerging wired world.
Blog of Record
Years ago, the New York Times made a habit of publishing full, unedited transcripts of important speeches by presidents and such. They don't do it anymore - too expensive, I guess. But the web makes it possible to do so, and many newspaper websites and independent weblogs are now carrying transcripts of speeches by the president and other elected officials, etc. Often, you can find transcripts on "official" websites as well - the White House maintains a great archive of President Bush's speeches at WhiteHouse.gov, for example, and text and audio of the president's weekly radio addresses can be accessed under the "news" tab at the White House website. Another good source for transcripts of speeches and press conferences related to Iraq and the war on global terrorism is Donald Sensing's One Hand Clapping blog. Sensing isn't just linking to transcripts - he's publishing the full text.
Why did New Mexico's new Democrat governor make cutting taxes a centerpiece of his first year in office? Because of tax competition with neighboring Arizona and Colorado, says Michael New, a post-doctoral fellow at the Harvard-MIT data center, is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute:
New Mexico's sales and income taxes are higher than many of its economic competitors, including Arizona and Colorado. Furthermore, during the 1990s voters in both Colorado and Arizona ensured that their taxes would stay low by putting effective fiscal discipline measures in place.
For instance, Colorado voters enacted America's most effective tax limitation when they passed the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) in 1992. TABOR sets a low limit for expenditure growth and mandates that all surplus revenues be refunded to taxpayers. As a result, Colorado taxpayers received tax rebates every year from 1997 to 2002, totaling over $3.2 billion. No other state has reduced taxes this much during this time-span.
Similarly, in 1992 Arizona voters approved a supermajority tax limit which requires that tax increases had to receive two-thirds support in both chambers of the legislature to take effect. This has been effective at keeping taxes low during the recent fiscal crisis. During each of past two fiscal years Arizona has faced a budgetary shortfall. However, instead of raising taxes to balance the budget, the governor has called special sessions of the legislature to focus on spending reductions. In fact, over the past two years the legislatures have enacted $1.5 billion in spending cuts without one tax increase.
Those Helpful French
Turns out a French company has been selling spare parts to the Iraqi military, including parts for its fighter jets and military helicopters - and some parts were delivered as recently as January. Now, all of the sudden, it is clear why France has been trying to prevent the U.S. from toppling the Iraqi regime.
The net is tightening around Osama bin Laden and he may soon be captured - or killed. Allahu akbar!
Religious Liberty Upheld in Lipscomb Bond Case
Here's an excellent op-ed by Lipscomb University President Stephen Flatt, explaining why the Supreme Court's decision to let stand the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on whether the Nashville university could issue tax-exempt bonds is a victory for religious liberty. An excerpt:
To have denied the bonds to Lipscomb, when the university passed every other test, would have been to discriminate against Lipscomb solely because its mission includes a religious component. Those who framed our Constitution wanted to protect the citizenry, and rightly so, from any government action that would create a national religion. They did not intend for the government to deny rights to its citizens because of their religious beliefs. To have ruled against Lipscomb and Metro Nashville in this case would have done just that.
No taxpayer funds were used in our construction projects. The funds came from those who purchased the bonds. The only impact to the city was the loss of a small amount of tax revenue the bondholders would have paid had the bonds been taxable. But the economic benefit far outweighs the lost tax revenue.
This ruling does not break down the wall between church and state. It does not open the door for a raid on the public treasury, because public funds were never used in this process and cannot be. What it does is affirm that your rights, as determined by the U.S. Constitution, really do matter.
Compare Flatt's intelligent assessment of the case with that of The Tennessean, which asserted rather ridiculously that the Supreme Court's decision was "a victory for efforts to break down the wall between church and state." As Flatt shows, the decision was a victory for strengthening that wall.
The language of the Tennessean reflects that of Joe Johnston, the Nashville attorney for the spectacularly misnamed "Americans for Religious Liberty," which had sought to deny Lipscomb (and, by extension, all other religiously-tinged organizations) the same rights as non-religious organizations based solely on their religious nature.
In a story published on the website of the Freedom Forum, Johnston says he views the decision as "an indication of another step the Supreme Court has taken in breaking down the wall between church and state that is part of a trend of breaking down 70 years of jurisprudence." ARL's lawsuit against Lipscomb and Metro Nashville seems to runcounter to its own statement of principles, which includes this principle:
We believe that federal and state governments should be religiously neutral, guaranteeing equal freedom to the religious and the non-religious.
ARL sought to use the courts to deny Lipscomb the same freedoms available to the non-religious.
COMMENT: Reader Devereaux Cannon writes to say this: "Joe Johnston wrote that the Lipscomb decision, "is part of a trend of breaking down 70 years of jurisprudence." There is a whole lot of "jurisprudence" from the past 70 years that could do with breaking down. I am particularly bothered by the concept dating from the New Deal era that the commerce clause empowers Congress to regulate how much or even whether I can grow wheat, corn or cotton, even if for my own consumption. Clarence Thomas is bothered by that too. Every judge should be required to read his concurring opinion in United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549 (1995)."
And that's just one example of jurisprudence for the last 70 years that deserves breaking down.
Feel-Good Story of the Day
We have president who starts each day by praying. That can't be a bad thing. More important, Bush's faith is resonating with the people of America and helping them see him as a strong, reliable leader.
Though his fathers son, Bush, in many ways, is the spiritual heir to Reagan, minus the astrology rap and lack of church attendance - a crucial difference. He has appealed to conservative Christians, including even Catholics, in ways not seen since Reagan and surpassing Reagan. The voting data on this is shocking. Though Bush and Democratic nominee Al Gore split the popular vote almost 50:50, Bush cleaned up among churchgoers. Among those who attend religious services weekly, he beat Gore 57 to 40%. For those who attend more than weekly, he won 63 to 36%. (Gore won by 61 to 32% among those who said they "never" attend church, suggesting that the former veep easily bagged the atheist vote.) Among whites who identified themselves as "religious right," Bush beat Gore 80 to 18%. Bush took white Protestants by 63 to 34% and white Catholics by 52 to 45%. Bush advisers believe that it was the "religiously active Catholics" that narrowly brought him victory in 2000 and could hold the key to 2004. By one estimate, over half of Bush's 2000 vote came from serious Catholics and Protestants.
In the post-9/11 world we now live in, a world of struggle and danger that puts a premium on faith, the "faith gap" is going to be even wider for Bush in the '04 elections. Hallelujah.
Writing in the American Journalism Review, veteran newspaper editor Charles Layton blames a lazy business press, in part, for the corporate stock scandals of the last few years:
Three years before Enron crumbled, and two years before the stock market hit the wall, BusinessWeek ran a cover story headlined "Corporate Earnings: Who Can You Trust?" Inside was a package of six stories, 16 pages of copy, explaining how corporations often overstated their earnings, auditors turned a blind eye, and Wall Street analysts had been bought off and compromised into compliance. "Questions have begun to be raised about the integrity of the U.S. financial markets," reporter Sarah Bartlett wrote in an introduction. "It's the gnawing sense that companies...are regularly pushing the limit, accountants are AWOL, and analysts are too enmeshed with their investment-banking brethren to provide objective advice." This hit the nail bang on the head--in October of 1998! Long before the rapacious schemes of so many corporations came to light, and before Wall Street's duplicity became the stuff of subpoenas and congressional probes, here was BusinessWeek unmasking the whole scam, in language so forceful and clear a child could understand it.
My own experience covering business and working around other business reporters tells me a big part of the problem is too many business reporters don't know anything about business - and newspapers don't do much to help them learn it. Business is a specialized niche, but newspapers - even business newspapers - tend to hire general-assignment journalists to cover it.
Memphis Commercial Conceal
Chris Lawrence thinks he knows why the Memphis Commercial Appeal is ignoring the story about that landmark opinion from the office of the Tennessee attorney general that, under the state constitution, cities may give their citizens the right to vote on tax rates. He provides a list of possible reasons. And yes, the CA is ignoring the story. I emailed a top editor there information about the story a week ago today, right after posting on it here, and he assured me in a reply email that the information would be passed along to the right folks in the newsroom. A week later - and 15 days after the opinion was issued - the CA has yet to cover it. Neither, incidentally, has the Nashville Tennessean.
How Goes the War?
Mark Steyn's latest in The Spectator surveys the progress the War on Terror 18 months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Steyn concludes that we're winning. And the U.N. is losing, along with France and Germany.
If the war on terror is, as the has-been senators contend, 'almost forgotten', it's because al-Qa'eda have been unable to pull off any attacks on Western soil in a year and a half. That's a longer period of calm than Britain managed in its three-decade struggle against the IRA. As we know from the ricin plotters, that low body-count is not for lack of effort on the Islamonutters' part. But they've been able to hit Westerners only in less rigorously policed jurisdictions like Tunisia and Bali, and now the Philippines. So, in any objective sense, America's war on terror is not being 'seriously neglected' but rather impressively prosecuted.
So Bush is doing what he said he would - hunting 'em down one by one. But he's also dealing with what the lefties claimed to be so interested in back in autumn 2001 - the 'root causes'. In his speech to the American Enterprise Institute the other day, the President formally committed himself to the reversal of half a century of US policy. Ever since Suez, when Eisenhower bet on Nasser and stiffed the French and British, Washington has clung obstinately to the peculiar belief, in the teeth of all the evidence, that its interests were best served by local strongmen. Mr Bush has now concluded that the real 'root cause' is the absence of liberty. "It is presumptuous and insulting to suggest that a whole region of the world, or the one-fifth of humanity that is Muslim, is somehow untouched by the most basic aspirations of life," he said, venturing into territory his predecessors have preferred to steer clear of.
M. Chirac will emerge from the liberation of Iraq diminished, as will Germany's Gerhard Schroder and Canada's Jean Chretien, both of whom have abused a relationship they need more than the Americans do. Bush is an unflamboyant war leader: a lot of the time I wish he had a better speechwriter; for months now, he's been staggering around like a punchy fighter repeating over and over the same stock phrases on Saddam - "he gassed his own people," etc. But Chirac, Schroder and Chretien have to be good in the diplomatic yakfest because that's the only forum they have: it's the only battlefield they can win on. And, while they're yakking away, Bush is getting the job done, on his terms. My problem with 'old Europe' is that it's taken on the characteristic of its capital's most famous statue: a small boy who just stands there pissing 24 hours a day.
Don't miss a word of it.
Also don't miss Steyn's explanation of why Canada will never become part of a larger North American confederation with the United States.
The First Amendment & The Mall 2
Lots of updates posted to yesterday's running commentary on two anti-war protestors arrested for disruptive activity at a mall in Albany, N.Y. Go here and scroll down past the stuff you read yesterday. The development of that commentary is, I think, representative of the way blogs are changing journalism. Before blogs, the story would have remained a brief item in the local Albany press, perhaps recycled as a wire story in other papers, providing readers with only a cursory look rather than a detailed exploration of the incident and its implications for free speech rights.
Here's an example of the kind of poor-quality coverage you get from traditional media - an MSNBC story that's all heat, but no light. The reporter didn't even bother to explore First Amendment issues even after one of the people - at the mall to protest the arrest of the two men - is quoted in the MSNBC story raising that very issue:
Organizers say they still consider the day a success, and that they got their message across: that everyone should be able to exercise their first amendment rights, even on mall grounds.
MSNBC couldn't be bothered to capitalize "First Amendment," much less explain the realities of the amendment vis a vis the mall incident. For that, you needed weblogs.
The original news story got a small mention on South Knox Bubba's site, followed by a brief comment on Instapundit. Next, I weighed in on the First Amendment implications, writing from the perspective of a professional journalist, while UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh posted expert legal commentary on the First Amendment and freedom of speech implications. Soon after, readers supplied additional information, while Instapundit provided a law review article on malls and free speech, plus the text of the mall's press release on the incident (supplied to Instapundit by a reader). And then another blogger dug up police records from the Albany incident, providing a truer picture of what really happened at the mall. And, reacting to readers’ questions, Volokh dug into what the New York constitution and legal precedent says about the Albany incident. In the end, between Instapundit, Volokh and me, a well-developed story emerged exploring all of the nuances of the incident in its constitutional and legal context.
Collaborative peer-reviewed journalism producing a higher quality product: that, my friends, is how the blogosphere works.
From Burnt Umber to Teal
Memphis Mike is less pessimistic about Gov. Phil Bredesen, now that he's cutting the budget:
Remember last year during the Income Tax Wars we heard the constant refrain from our colleges and universities that money had to keep flowing in or they would have to start cutting classes and teachers? It was all part of the doom-n-gloom scenario that Jimmy Naifeh and Don Sundquist encouraged to try to scare Tennesseans into an income tax. Now comes this story, via the Commercial Appeal that, surprise, surprise, cuts can be made after all. Forty-five million dollars in cuts. They said it couldn't be done, and yet here they are doing it. Phil Bredesen's dead-serious quest continues to produce surprising results. Maybe he'll make this work after all.
Yeah. Amazing, isn't it?
Legislators Play Twister
Mike Hollihan examines a Memphis legislator's proposal to force buyers of manufactured homes to also buy a weather radio and finds it based on, well, a twisted notion of cost-benefit analysis.
Our idiot legislators are at it again, making sure that they do the thinking for all you stupid people out there. According to this CA story, state representatives want to mandate the inclusion of weather radios in the sale of every manufactured home (ie. mobile home) sold in Tennessee, adding up to $75 to their cost.The rationale? "If we can require something that is this inexpensive and if it saves one life, it's worth it,'' Barrick said. "It seems like we've become tornado alley over the last couple of years.'' An emotional feeling and a couple of legislators who want to "do something." Always adds up to trouble.
Doing some Googling, I learned that approximately 185 people died in tornadoes in Tennessee between 1950 and 1995, or roughly 4 people per year. Approximately 236,000 mobile homes exist in Tennessee (Table 3), or 11% of the State's housing total and 3% of all US housing. Sales of new manufactured homes as a percentage of all home sales has fallen in the past few years, nationally, from roughly 20% to 10% in 2001. So, let's say that approximately 20,000 new manufactured homes will be sold in Tennessee this year. Do the math: $1.5 million in additional cost is being added, every year, to manufactured housing on the chance that one of the four average yearly deaths is in a mobile home, and happens to have their weather radio on, and heeds the warning.
I'm not sure where Mike gets his number of 20,000 new manufactured homes being sold in Tennessee each year - it sounds high to me - but his basic point is right. The legislators proposing this silly law are proposing, in effect, a $75 tax on the purchase of a new manufactured home that will have little or no impact on saving people's lives. And there are other problems with the proposal. For one, it assumes the owners of those homes will be home when the twister comes. But if the twister strikes in the daytime, as the did the tornado that hit downtown Nashville a few years back, most people will not be at home. So why not pass a law requiring all persons to carry a wireless weather radio beeper? I'm being facetious, of course.
Another problem with the legislators' proposal is, it unfairly targets lower-income homebuyers with that $75 tax, though tornados are an equal-opportunity menace. If we're going to use the power of the state to force low-income people to buy weather radios, what is the logic for letting buyers of site-built homes off the hook?
Given all that, perhaps we ought to just rely on the homebuyers to take personal responsibility for their own safety. It seems to work for the overwhelming majority of us every tornado season.
High Times for Sales Taxes
Sales tax rates nationwide are at a 21-year high, says Vertex Inc.:
The 2002 average sales tax rate of 8.396 percent is the highest rate recorded since Vertex has been conducting the study since 1981. This is a notable increase from the 2001 average rate of 8.276 percent. "With the U.S. economy continuing to demonstrate decreased spending, state and local governments seem to be feeling the pinch of lower tax revenues," said Bruce Pierce, chief taxation officer for Vertex. "This appears to be the primary driver for the third consecutive year of seeing an increase in the average sales tax rate."
Vertex Inc.'s website offers lots of free data on a variety of taxes. They have a good breakdown of Tennessee's complex sales tax.
North Korea is Not Iraq
den Beste explains the difference between North Korea and Iraq, and why the Bush administration is taking the right approach to the North Korean crisis by responding very little to the North Korean provocations.
As the weeks have passed and North Korea's shrill demands have not actually led to short term disaster, it's also becoming obvious that they are in dire straits. The reason they're trying to create urgency for us is because they themselves face imminent disaster. Kim is trying to provoke a crisis for us because he's facing one of his own. With the cutoff of oil shipments, and as a result of other factors, he's looking at a situation where his nation may collapse completely. They do not have the ability now to generate enough power to keep even a minimal modern state running. For instance, their railroads are electric; without electric power generation, most of their internal transport will shut down. A railroad system is to a nation what the blood system is to a person; shut it down, and everything else dies.
In fact, the contrast between the situations in Iraq and North Korea are very important. We do not have the ability to "contain" Iraq, but containment is the best strategy for North Korea. Containment for Iraq required world support and active participation by the UN, and there has always been disagreement and dissent and a hell of a lot of cheating. By contrast, most of the world sees North Korea as a leper among nations, and though they emphatically demand UN control over policy regarding Iraq, they all seem to be demanding that the US exclusively deal with North Korea.
Moreover, in the case of North Korea, the use of what amount to sanctions actually have a good chance to work. In particular, it's because North Korea has become heavily dependent on subsidies and aid from (wait for it) South Korea and Japan and the US, and we have the ability to start to withhold those things without having to deal with the UN. North Korea has no ability to pay for enough oil to replace the oil we have ceased to give them, for instance. All three nations are gradually cutting their support, and because of that NK faces calamity.
There's a lot more.
Don't Worry, Be Happy
I'm not going to worry about this.
Jimmy Carter is No Neville Chamberlain
Neville Chamberlain is famously derided for appeasing Hitler and declaring "peace in our time," only to see Hitler invade Poland. But Chamberlain gets a bad rap, says Lee Harris.
Had Chamberlain possessed the might of the U.S., and the collective will of its people, Hitler would have been obliterated long before Munich.To make excuses for tolerating an evil on the order of Saddam Hussein when you possess the military might to crush him is not appeasement, but blind folly. The more clearly we understand Chamberlain's position, the more clearly we can see what men like Jimmy Carter are asking of us.
What people like Carter are asking us to do is to leave 24 million Iraqis under Saddam's boot, while our own people continue to be at risk from Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and his evident ties to terrorist organizations. It's sheer mad folly.
Maybe They Don't Want You To Know
It has been 15 days since the Tennessee Attorney General's office issued a landmark opinion that says cities can alter their charters to allow referendums on property tax rates without running afoul of the state constitution, yet the Nashville Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal continue to ignore the story. The AG's opinion - issued Feb. 19 - makes it more likely a Taxpayers Bill of Rights giving the public the right to vote for or against tax increases will be added to the Oak Ridge city charter. And legislation has been filed in the state legislature to create a constitutional amendment that would create a statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights that would cap taxes and also require a referendum on tax increases at the state level. Yet the state's two largest newspapers have remained silent. Either they don't know what a real news story looks like. Or they don't want you to know of a grassroots drive to give you more control over taxes and government spending.
On the one hand, the government is consumed by concern over the high price of prescription drugs - especially for old people - and politicians are scrambling to pass a law to make drugs less expensive. On the other hand, if you try to buy your prescriptions from certain low-cost providers, you're breaking the law. If The Tennessean saw the extreme irony in this, they didn't bother to mention it.
Maryland Gov. Robert Erlich, the state's first GOP governor in decades, says he'll veto tax icreases if the Democrat-run legislature passes them. Democrats are pushing a fruit salad of tax increases, including raising the state sales tax, gas tax, alcohol tax, cigarette tax and income tax. Erlich has proposed legalizing slot machines at Maryland's horseracing tracks and taxing that to bring in more revenue, showing once again that, at least in Maryland, it is still the Republicans with new ideas and Democrats who trot out their same tired old answer to everything: higher taxes.
Glenn Reynolds explains why Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a Democrat, is wrong in her apologia for Osama bin Laden:
You're not a freedom fighter unless you're actually fighting for freedom, a distinction that appears to elude many on the left. Bin Laden, like Mao and Ho, wanted to create a variety of strongman theocracy with himself at the head. That was hardly the goal of America's founders. Those who can't tell the difference don't belong in politics. Neither do those who can tell the difference, but who choose to ignore it.
So, what exactly did Rep. Kaptur say?
"If you think back to our founding as a country, we are a country of revolution," Kaptur said in an interview with the Toledo Blade. When America "cast off monarchical Britain" in 1776, it involved the help of many religious people who had fled repression in other countries, the 11-term lawmaker said. "One could say that Osama bin Laden and these non-nation-state fighters with religious purpose are very similar to those kind of atypical revolutionaries that helped to cast off the British crown."
And now you know the definition of "idiot."
UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has a response to Kaptur's comments:
Well, yes, one could say that. One could say that Adolf Hitler and his nation-state fighters with nonreligious purpose are very similar to those kinds of nationalistic forces that helped defeat him. One could say that the Ku Klux Klan and its non-nation-state fighters with ethnically motivated purpose are very similar to those kinds of atypical rebels that helped to cast off the British crown, too; in fact, the Klansmen said things like that, and others did to. One could say lots of things if one doesn't mind being a moral idiot.
And he provides Rep. Kaptur's email address, email@example.com, in case you're inclined to contact her for some reason.
The Addicted State
Stateline.org is reporting on a think tank study that says a federal bailout of states' troubled budgets would just make things worse in the long term.
The study for the American Legislative Exchange Council found that every dollar of federal assistance deepens state budget deficits by more than 62 cents. The dynamic at work is this: federal assistance just encourages more spending and worsens the deficit problem states face. ALEC is a bipartisan membership association for state lawmakers. Chris Atkins, director of tax and fiscal policy for ALEC: "If the federal government steps in and bails them out, then it will lead to higher state spending. You can't keep printing money and giving it to the states, particularly when states have increased their expenditures quite heftily over the past 10 years."
Ohio University economist Richard Vedder, an aknowledged expert in state tax and fiscal policy who produced the ALEC research, says: "The strings attached to federal aid lead to greater state spending - meaning that state deficits are encouraged, not helped, by federal assistance." Federal bailouts would stifle needed reforms such as privatization and restructuring of government services with an eye on greater efficiency. In fact, as federal dollars are generally tied to state spending levels, a bailout would reward states for the fiscal insanity of raising spending.
The Stateline story also notes a recent Cato Institute study that found that if all states had restrained spending to the rate of inflation plus population growth over the past 12 years, they would have a combined surplus today of almost $100 billion. Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at Cato Institute, tells Stateline a federal bailout doesn't make sense because states’ current budget woes were caused by overspending, not revenue shortfalls and "news headlines are overplaying how bad it is."
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.
Tennessee taxpayers understand those facts all to well, having seen spending grow far faster than inflation plus population growth during the eight years of the Sundquist administration, leading to the unaffordable budget that Gov. Bredesen is having to trim today.
The Stateline story also notes the comments of some who disagree with the ALEC and CATO research, but they provide no data to support their assertions. ALEC and CATO do. The good news is, the Bush administration has rejected calls for a federal bailout of the profligate-spending states. Consider what that means for taxpayers in Tennessee: If Uncle Sam was going to bail out Tennessee, Gov. Phil Bredesen would not be working hard to streamline state government and trim spending. And Tennessee taxpayers would be footing the added bill for larger, more expensive, less-efficient government for years to come.
An Attention-Getting Device
Now this is a clever way to send a political message. Hilarious. Any military readers in my audience going over there to liberate Iraq, feel free to put my name on a bomb. I'd be honored.
The First Amendment and the Mall
There's a good discussion going on over at SKBubba's blog regarding this story out of Albany, N.Y., about a mall that tried to kick out two men who were wearing t-shirts with anti-war slogans. Bubba's worried about people's First Amendment rights. But he's off base.
One of the problems I think we face in this country is that clever lawyers and lazy courts have combined to turn the Constitution, which was designed to set the rules for the government-people relationship, into a document for engineering people-to-people relationships. The First Amendment was written to limit the government's role in controlling your speech. It was not written to regulate what a private mall owner does to control your speech. There is no First Amendment right to be free of mall-owner-suppression of your opinion.
But people who don't fully understand the First Amendment read a story like this one about the men arrested at the Albany Mall and start whining about "freedom of speech." Gimme a break. I make my living giving the First Amendment a daily workout. But I know I don't have an unfettered right to wear what I want and say what I want in any manner I want to say it when I'm inside someone else's building. The men in the Albany mall were given to make a choice: they could continue to shop or they could protest the war. If they wanted to shop, they could have removed the t-shirts, which apparently they had bought at the mall and then put on over the shirts they had worn to the mall. Or, if they wanted to protest the war, they could do so - in their t-shirts - outside of the mall.
They chose neither option, and the mall owner had them arrested for trespassing. Sure, the mall owner was petty and small. But he was also within his rights. Meanwhile, the two anti-war protestors are suddenly telling their story - and carrying their anti-war viewpoint - to a much wider audience thanks to the mall owner's pettiness.
Thanks to a link from Instapundit, I see that the U.S. Supreme Court agrees with me.
The Supreme Court has held that the standard constitutional protection for political speech does not apply to malls and shopping centers because no state action is involved. Many, though not all, state courts have agreed with the Supreme Court's ruling. - University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 2001.
UPDATE: UCLA law prof Eugene Volokh - who specializes in First Amendment issues - has some interesting comments on the case:
The article is titled "Lawyer Arrested for Wearing a 'Peace' T-Shirt", though it should more properly be "Lawyer, Told to Leave Mall or Take off 'Peace' T-Shirt, Arrested for Trespassing When He Doesn't Leave" (but of course I realize that would be too long). As best I can tell from the story, the arrest was proper, because a private mall may generally exclude anyone it pleases (unless it's doing so based on race, national origin, or some other criteria, or unless there's a state law that prohibits such exclusions, which isn't the case in most states).
Nonetheless, the mall owner's action seems to be (if the press accounts are correct) distinctly narrow-minded, and worthy of condemnation. The T-shirt involved wasn't rude or insulting; it just expressed a legitimate, decent political viewpoint that the mall owner disagreed with. His property rights may allow him to evict the person, and to use the police if necessary, just as they'd let him evict someone who's wearing a pro-war T-shirt. But our free speech rights allow us to condemn him for his intolerance, and we should do so.
Volokh also links back to Instapundit, which now has the text of a mall press release regarding the incident. The mall claims the protestors were being mildly disruptive.
UPDATE: Reader Todd Morman writes to say that the legal issues are more complex that Volokh, Instapundit and I are portraying them. He sends this link and this one to back up his point. Morman apparently writes for a paper in the Carolinas owned by Creative Loafing. Morman's main points: Some malls are developed with public money, a point raised in some Colorado court decisions regarding free speech. And the U.S. Supreme Court clearly stated that individual states are within their rights - under their own constitutions - to require that malls allow certain speech. As to the second point, that's true - but I've been discussing the Albany case in light of the First Amendment, not state constitutions. As to the first issue, that also involves state constitutional issues, as the story Morman provided the link to makes abundantly clear:
Four states, for example, have adopted positions in the middle. Three of these states, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, have identified certain types of speech entitled to more protection than other types. "These states have said that speech related to registering voters and obtaining signatures to get a candidate or an issue on the ballot have protection," Schiller says. "On the other hand, although groups seeking to pass out flyers related to political issues such as gun control or abortion rights do have free speech rights, those rights do not rise to the level of overcoming the private property rights of a shopping center owner."
A fourth state, Colorado, has found a different sort of middle ground. "Some centers in Colorado have been developed in part with public money from redevelopment authorities," Schiller says. "Colorado Courts have made fine distinctions in cases concerning those centers, sometimes, but not always, finding access rights where public money has been used."
And finally, Volokh has more on the Albany mall incident, pointing to a Smoking Gun report that includes the police affidavits. Says Volokh:
If the police report is correct, then apparently the arrestees weren't just wearing the T-shirts but were stopping passersby to express their views; that's what led someone to complain to mall security, led mall security to tell the T-shirt-wearers to stop or leave, and then led the police to eventually tell them the same and arrest one of them when he didn't leave. That would make the mall's behavior much less intolerant - one can debate whether private malls should let their patrons actively proselytize their views to passersby (and not just passively by wearing T-shirts, something that mall visitors often do), but the mall's decision not to allow this is at least within the boundaries of reasonableness.
That's a reasonable conclusion.
FINAL UPDATE: After a group of about 100 anti-war protesters disrupted business at the mall, demanding the mall drop the charges against the two t-shirt-wearing trespassers, the mall relents under the pressure of small-scale economic terrorism and indeed does drop the charges.
REALLY FINAL UPDATE: I've been getting a lot of grief from "Tim" on the comment boards at SKB's blog over this story - seems he thinks I was ignoring the implications of the case under state constitutional free speech protections. Tim hadn't read my blog, of course, or he'd have noticed the article was titled "The First Amendment and the Mall." (Tim, who hails from Atlanta, called my article "common wingnut stuff" even though he admitted he hadn't read it. Tim has a blog, and I have read it. It's typical lefty crap so I'm not providing the link.)
Tim's ignorance aside, I indeed do extensively discuss the state constitutional angle above, thanks to assistance from Todd Morman. Well, now comes Eugene Volokh, who reports on his blog that the New York constitution and relevant case law there doesn't help the t-shirt-wearing anti-war protestors at the Albany mall either. Volokh cites three cases, including SHAD Alliance v. Smith Haven Mall, a 1985 case in which the judges ruled that the New York Constitution's free speech guarantee applies only to state action and "the nature of property [here, a mall] [does not] transform a private actor into a public one."
Media Continues to Ignore Big Story
Days since the Tennessee Attorney General's office issued this opinion that says cities can alter their charters to allow referendums on property tax rates without running afoul of the state constitution: 14
Number of news stories appearing in the Nashville Tennessean or the Memphis Commercial Appeal about that opinion: Zero.
Background: A grassroots citizens group in Oak Ridge is lobbying for changes to the city charter that would require public approval in a referendum of all future property tax rate hikes. Oak Ridge City Attorney Ken Krushenski last year told Oak Ridge city council members that it would be unconstitutional and contrary to existing state law to have referendums on property taxes. But, in the opinion, Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Gary Hotvedt, demolished Krushenski's argument, writing that "a home rule municipality may amend its charter to require property tax increases to be approved by referendum.''
The citizens group successfully petitioned to have a charter commission election and on June 3, Oak Ridge voters will elect seven members to that commission, which will recommend suggested charter changes to put before the voters in another election. Referendums on future property tax hikes is key part of the citizen group's proposed charter changes. Referendums are needed to help keep the city property tax rate in check - Oak Ridge residents pay the second-highest property combined city and county property taxes in the state, behind only Memphis.
The Knoxville News Sentinel has covered the story, which I reported here last week. The Oak Ridger has also covered the story.
The AG's opinion - issued Feb. 19 - makes it more likely a Taxpayers Bill of Rights giving the public the right to vote for or against tax increases will be added to the Oak Ridge city charter. And legislation has been filed in the state legislature to create a constitutional amendment that would create a statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights that would cap taxes and also require a referendum on tax increases at the state level. Yet the state's two largest newspapers have ignored the story.
If You Read Nothing Else Today
Be sure to check out incredible article by Thomas Barnett, a professor of warfare analysis at the U.S. Naval War College. Barnett's eye-opening piece looks at the Pentagon's new map of the world, and outlines a new approach to managing the clash between what Barnett calls "disconnected states" and the “functioning core” of global civilization.
Let me tell you why military engagement with Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad is not only necessary and inevitable, but good. When the United States finally goes to war again in the Persian Gulf, it will not constitute a settling of old scores, or just an enforced disarmament of illegal weapons, or a distraction in the war on terror. Our next war in the Gulf will mark a historical tipping point - the moment when Washington takes real ownership of strategic security in the age of globalization.
That is why the public debate about this war has been so important: It forces Americans to come to terms with I believe is the new security paradigm that shapes this age, namely, Disconnectedness defines danger. Saddam Hussein's outlaw regime is dangerously disconnected from the globalizing world, from its rule sets, its norms, and all the ties that bind countries together in mutually assured dependence.
The problem with most discussion of globalization is that too many experts treat it as a binary outcome: Either it is great and sweeping the planet, or it is horrid and failing humanity everywhere. Neither view really works, because globalization as a historical process is simply too big and too complex for such summary judgments. Instead, this new world must be defined by where globalization has truly taken root and where it has not.
Show me where globalization is thick with network connectivity, financial transactions, liberal media flows, and collective security, and I will show you regions featuring stable governments, rising standards of living, and more deaths by suicide than murder. These parts of the world I call the Functioning Core, or Core. But show me where globalization is thinning or just plain absent, and I will show you regions plagued by politically repressive regimes, widespread poverty and disease, routine mass murder, and - most important - the chronic conflicts that incubate the next generation of global terrorists. These parts of the world I call the Non-Integrating Gap, or Gap.
Globalization's "ozone hole" may have been out of sight and out of mind prior to September 11, 2001, but it has been hard to miss ever since. And measuring the reach of globalization is not an academic exercise to an eighteen-year-old marine sinking tent poles on its far side. So where do we schedule the U.S. military's next round of away games? The pattern that has emerged since the end of the cold war suggests a simple answer: in the Gap.
The reason I support going to war in Iraq is not simply that Saddam is a cutthroat Stalinist willing to kill anyone to stay in power, nor because that regime has clearly supported terrorist networks over the years. The real reason I support a war like this is that the resulting long-term military commitment will finally force America to deal with the entire Gap as a strategic threat environment.
Don't miss a word of it - especially the country-by-country run-down of the world's "disconnected states" and states that are at risk of disconnecting from the Functioning Core of civilization.
(Link courtesy of Little Green Footballs. LGF is indispensable in the midst of this war.)
Not Second Class
An Arizona blogger who goes by the nom de plume of Edward Boyd, and writes the Zonitics blog, is commenting on the recent end of a lawsuit in which an attempt to discriminate against Nashville's David Lipscomb University on religious grounds was struck down by the courts. He's quoting from this story in the Washington Times:
Opponents of financing church-affiliated colleges with tax-exempt municipal bonds have conceded defeat. They say they no longer have a prayer of stopping it in the courts. Officials of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Americans for Religious Liberty (ARL), both of which brought lawsuits against such practices, say they believe such bonds for "pervasively sectarian" schools now pass muster in federal courts. The last straw was a little-noted Supreme Court action last week when the justices ended the 12-year lawsuit, filed by Americans for Religious Liberty, to strip David Lipscomb University's tax-exempt status for $15 million in city-sponsored industrial revenue bonds. The school, affiliated with the Churches of Christ, used investors' money to build a library, convert the old one to offices, add athletic facilities and landscape its campus in Nashville.
"It shifts our battle to legislatures and the state courts now that the Supreme Court won't intervene even at David Lipscomb University," says Edd Doerr, executive director of the ARL. "That's probably the most pervasively sectarian school in the country, and if we can't win there, I don't know any other case we would ever win."
Can't you just hear the anti-religious bias dripping of Doerr's lips. The Zonitics blogger comments, "Gee, after 12 years of trying to stop this common practice, the groups are finally willing to try to address their concerns through the democratic process. And can't you hear the disdain in his voice: 'It shifts our battle to legislatures and the state courts now that the Supreme Court won't intervene even at David Lipscomb University.' We are supposed to feel sorry for this poor man that he has to sully himself in state courts and legislatures rather than the exquisite federal courts. Poor Mr. Doerr."
Here's the real truth about the lawsuit: the plaintiffs were attempting to force the government to discriminate against Lipscomb University solely based on religion. In the plaintiff's utopia, religious (read: Christian) organizations like Lipscomb would be treated as second-class members of the community. But the courts ruled properly. The goverrnment may not discriminate against Lipscomb - or any other university - because of its religious affiliation. The group named Americans for Religious Liberty is in fact for quite the opposite.
The Wrong Side of History
Don't miss this essay by someone who lived through the anti-America nuclear freeze marches in Europe in the 1980s.
In fact, Reagan was proven to be utterly correct, and the protesters utterly wrong. The USSR was defeated. Gorbachev did indeed end up tearing down the wall. Eastern Europe is now free and developing democracy. And it was all because "Ronnie Raygun" decided to stand up and face evil head-on rather than appease it. George W. Bush is following in his footsteps. Iraq will be liberated, and the evidence of Saddam's WMD programs exposed to the world. Iraq will become the first Arabic democracy in the world, and it will become the catalyst for sweeping change in the Middle East. And 20 years from now, history will prove that Bush was just as right as Reagan was in his time.
Bet on it.
Saudis Linked to Bali Terror
LGf - which is absolutely essential reading for a proper understanding of the world war we're in - has a story today about Saudi financing of terror, specifically al Qaeda's bombing of that Bali nightclub a few months back. LGF also has trenchant comments on this report about how anti-war protestors plan "direct action" to interfere with the U.S. government and military in the event of war.
Noting that "anti-war groups are planning to infiltrate military bases and disrupt business districts and large corporations when the war with Iraq begins," LGF repeats a quote from a leader of a group called Direct Action to Stop the War, who said, "if the Bush administration goes ahead despite worldwide popular opinion, then our goal is to shut down the capitalist machine that drives the war."
Comments LGF: "Spoken like a true Stalinist."
Now This is Entertainment!
Be sure to add Hollywood Halfwits to the list of sites you check regularly. Good stuff, exposing the sheer air-headed idiocy of the Hollywood Left.
Kurds For War
Nashville is now home to the largest Kurdish population in America, says this story on a pro-war rally by Kurds living here. That makes Nashville a large Kurd town. More importantly, it makes Nashville home to about 7,000 people who truly understand the need for a war to topple Saddam Hussein.
Count me among their allies.
I am pro-war. Pro-war? Absolutely, yes!
War, when waged by a moral nation, is a tool for positive change, for liberation, for progress. Ask the people of Japan, circa 1945. Ask the people of Germany after the fall of the Third Reich. Ask the Jews liberated from Auschwitz. Ask the Muslims liberated from the murderous Slobodan Milosevic. Ask the people of Afghanistan, liberated from the Taliban. War is never a great thing. But it is far better than the peace of tyranny. Ask the prosperous people of South Korea - and the starving millions of North Korea.
There are those - mostly on the virulently anti-American anti-war Left - who claim there is no evidence Saddam ever used chemical weapons against the Kurds. But the Kurds know the truth of March 16, 1988, when Saddam bombed the Kurdish village of Halabja with poison gas and deadly sarin, tabun and VX nerve agents, killing more than 5,000 men, women and children.
Today, Kurds who still live in Northern Iraq enjoy peace, freedom, democracy, and growing prosperity, but not because of French intransigence or Security Council waffling - and most certainly not because of anti-war protests. No, the Kurds live in safety and freedom solely thanks to the American and British warplanes that enforce the No Fly Zones and prevent Saddam from launching another attack. The Kurds in Nashville would hope you remember that.
Media Ignores Big Story
The Nashville Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal continue to ignore a major story: an opinion issued by the state attorney general's office that says cities can alter their charters to allow referendums on property tax rates without running afoul of the state constitution.
The opinion was sought by Oak Ridge City Attorney Ken Krushenski, and is considered a major victory for a grassroots citizens group in Oak Ridge that is lobbying for changes to the city charter. Last year Krushenski told council members that it would be unconstitutional and contrary to existing state law to have referendums on property taxes. But, in the opinion, Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Gary Hotvedt, demolished the argument that such referendums would be unconstitutional, writing that "a home rule municipality may amend its charter to require property tax increases to be approved by referendum.''
The citizens group successfully petitioned to have a charter commission election and on June 3, Oak Ridge voters will elect seven members to that commission, which will recommend suggested charter changes to put before the voters in another election. Referendums on future property tax hikes is key part of the citizen group's proposed charter changes. Referendums are needed to help keep the city property tax rate in check - Oak Ridge residents pay the second-highest property combined city and county property taxes in the state, behind only Memphis.
The Knoxville News Sentinel has covered the story, which I reported here last week. The Oak Ridger has also covered the story.
The AG's opinion - issued Feb. 19 - makes it more likely a Taxpayers Bill of Rights giving the public the right to vote for or against tax increases will be added to the Oak Ridge city charter. And legislation has been filed in the state legislature to create a constitutional amendment that would create a statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights that would cap taxes and also require a referendum on tax increases at the state level. Yet the state's two largest newspapers have ignored the story.
French and German unwillingness to help the United States confront the Islamic terror regimes is providing a convenient excuse for the U.S. to do what it really wanted to do all along, says this commentary in Financial Times. Writer William Richard Smyser, professor of political economy at Georgetown University, says the U.S. is re-orienting its strategic approach to that of a naval power.
The shrillness of the debate about French and German opposition to war on Iraq has concealed the change in fundamental American strategic thinking that lies at its heart. The Pentagon is returning the US to its traditional role as a maritime power. In that strategy, western Europe, indeed Europe as a whole, will matter less than it has done. Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac are serving as a convenient excuse for President George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, to slash the American presence in Europe. The US has always been primarily a sea power, from the days of the privateers to Theodore Roosevelt's "Great White Fleet" and Ronald Reagan's 600-ship navy. Now that it no longer needs a massive land presence in western Europe it wants to return to that strategy.
The US can cut its troop presence in Europe now that the Soviet threat is gone. Others can protect that particular shore of the Atlantic. Washington does, however, still want bases along all vital sea routes, such as the Mediterranean. Thus Spain, Italy, Turkey and Israel become much more important than Germany. Iraq becomes much more of a threat - to Israel, to the Middle Eastern balance and to US security on the Mediterranean and Gulf routes. That is why Pentagon civilian planners have persuaded Mr Bush to support and fund Israel's costly occupation of Palestine and to reinforce Israel with an even more costly occupation of Iraq. NATO is no longer as important.
And British historian Paul Johnson says the following in a commentary in the March 13 edition of Forbes:
Britain, which is not so much an ally of America as it is a member of the same family, will continue to serve as the geographical center of the Anglosphere and as America's offshore island to the Eurasian landmass. Other than that, the U.S. should put its trust in the seas and oceans, which offer a home and a friendly environment to its forces and do not change with the treacherous winds of opinion.
No argument here. But then, my favorite moment in U.S. military history is the Battle of Midway, in which the U.S. Navy, just six months after Pearl Harbor, turned the tide of World War 2 in the Pacific, sinking four Japanese carriers (while only losing one of our own), and putting Japan on defense for the rest of the war. Liberation has no more intimidating symbol than a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group.
Public Supports President, War
A clear majority of the American people support going to war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, a new ABC News poll reveals. Soon, I expect, the U.S. will also have the votes of a majority of the members of the U.N. Security Council. And the U.S. already has the backing of some three dozen nations, a true "coalition of the willing" for the war, which is likely to start next week. Unilateral? Not at all.
Actually, the war is already under way. See Instapundit for details.
How Technology Will Change Journalism
Blogs, portable devices, digital cameras and more are changing journalism. What will the final product look like? An interesting piece from Dorian Benkoil, managing producer at ABCNews.com, offers some predictions.
Journalists may even be in for a sea change. Digital technology may revamp what the public thinks of as “news” just as television and radio remade what had been a world ruled by print. If the news “platform” becomes irrelevant, and the audience segment (the “demographic” some would say) is ill-defined because any group can get any piece of anything it finds relevant, will the cyberjournalist be someone who gathers massive quantities of journalistic “data” that can be parsed in numerous ways? Or will the need for intelligent sifting and analysis become ever more crucial to help the info-harried user rise above the cyber-torrent?
This blog you're reading is part of how digital technology is changing journalism. For the better, I hope.
Al Qaeda Franchise Strikes in Philippines
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an offshoot of the al Qaeda Islamic terror network, is being blamed for a bombing at an airport in Davao, Philippines, today that has killed at least 19 people. Among the missing: Three Christian missionaries from an American Southern Baptist family. U.S. military forces are already in the Philippines battling Abu Sayyaf, another al Qaeda-connected terror group. Abu Sayyaf split from the MILF in the early 1990s. Both are violent Islamic separatist groups and are linked to a sweeping alliance of militant Islamic groups in Southeast Asia that has close ties to al Qaeda. Their aim: topple the region's secular governments in favor of Islamist states. As I've said before, we're in a world war.
Cartoonist Meets Reality
And all I have to say is, ouch!
Budget Crunch in Knoxville
Knox County is planning for the worst, but hoping to be pleasantly surprised.
Knox County Finance Director John Werner said in preparing the county's new fiscal year budget, which begins July 1, he's going at it conservatively. "I'm just planning on losing $3 million, and anything less than that will be a windfall," Werner said recently.
The paper goes on to suggest property tax increases are likely to make up the short fall. It's interesting that the first assumption is that we'll make up the shortfall with a tax increase. It isn't until the last paragraphs of the article before another option is raised.
Moody agrees with the conservative approach by Werner and County Executive Mike Ragsdale. But she added, "I would go a step further. I think we are in tough financial times. This is the golden opportunity for government to evaluate all of their programs and services to see if indeed we need to continue to fund those and, if so, at what level."
I like the way she thinks. Figure out what you need first, then figure out how to get it.
Here's the part that still confuses me.
With the state anticipating a $780 million shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year, Gov. Phil Bredesen last month proposed the state keep a large portion of the tax revenues it shares with cities and counties.
How can we be $780 million in the hole when we just passed a $900 million tax increase?
According to this analysis of last year's budget, we were $400 million in the hole. So by my math, if we were $400 million in the hole, and passed $900 million worth of increases, a static budget would put us $500 million into the black. For us to be $780 million in the red, we had to increase state spending by about $1.3 billion, or 13.6% over last year.
Since Gov. Bredesen is asking for budget cuts of 9.5%, that still leaves a real increase in spending of about 4%.
Somebody is running a shell game in Nashville.
[Ed.note: It can be confusing. The tax increase was expected to raise $983 million in additional revenue this current fiscal year, although the economy has not recovered as rapidly as expected so that figure is now down to about $900 million. Meanwhile, TennCare has over-=spending its budget by some $369 million this year, and all of that is Tennessee taxpayer dollars, not federal dollars, thanks to this bit of idiotic deal-making by the Sundquist administration. Also, some of the tax increase this year went to cover items in the budget that are recurring annually but last year were funded out of non-reucurring money sources such as reserve funds. As for the coming fiscal year, the shortfall is said to be $780 million. I'm not sure of every part of that calculaton, but it most assuredly includes more TennCare cost explosion, and spending increases necessary to continue government services at an "as-is" level. A "continuation" budget anticipates a few percentage points of growth each year to offset inflation and population growth. In effect, spending must rise just to stay even. By the way, the tax increase is expected to raise an additional $1.2 billion in the fiscal year that starts on July 1. I'm not sure exactly how all the numbers add up, but the good news is the Bredesen administration is actually cutting spending, not just slowing the rate of growth. As the economy improves, revenue growth will accelerate and, because the state is on a lower-growth pending track, we could see the replacement of shortfalls with surpluses. - BH]
UPDATE: Thanks for the information, Bill. Let's see if it begins to make some sense. $900 million in additional revenue becomes $570 million after covering the previous deficit. Assuming that TennCare grows at 9%, its budget will increase from $2.27 billion ($1.9 billion budgeted plus $370 million cost overrun) to $2.47 billion, or $574 million dollars over last year's budget. This reduces the surplus to roughly $0, and we still have to replace the one time revenues we used to balance the budget for the last couple of years, and account for inflation and population growth.
So that's how Tennessee can have a tax increase of close to $1 billion and still run a deficit.
Memphis Mike Hollihan has some concerns about the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. He's for it - but worries that legislators will find ways to ignore it, alter it, circumvent it and ultimately render it ineffective. Read it - and below is my response.
I think the proper approach to the Taxpayers Bill of Rights concept is to put it in the state constitution without including an income tax. If the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is put in the constitution via referendum, like the lottery, or constitutional convention - and if it is written properly - it will be impossible for legislators to circumvent it, although they certainly will try. But we can learn from Colorado and write a Taxpayers Bill of Rights that doesn't include the loopholes and wiggle room that Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights has.
Changing a Tennessee Taxpayers Bill of Rights would be very difficult as such change would have to be ratified by constitutional referendum or convention.
Hollihan says he felt almost betrayed by my column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal last December, which also ran in The Tennessean a few weeks ago. That column envisioned coupling the Taxpayers Bill of Rights with a tax reform package that included an income tax (and eliminated the state sales tax, franchise & excise tax, Hall income tax on investment income, and estate tax). I chose to couple the income tax with the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in that column for one reason: to show income tax supporters that they can live with a Taxpayers Bill of Rights. In fact, if a Taxpayers Bill of Rights as I outline in that column and in this research paper was in the constitution, supports of the income tax would be able to more easily put on the ballot a tax reform proposal that includes an income tax. And if they propose tax reform that is revenue-neutral and includes a flat income tax permanently eliminates and bans those other four taxes, they might find me - and others of like mind - voting for it.
But rest assured I DO NOT support enactment of an income tax in ANY form without a Taxpayers Bill of Rights in the state constitution.
The Likely War
We're on the brink of war. With North Korea, says Stanley Kurtz, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. And the scariest part is, war with North Korea may be the only option.
The North Koreans are taking actions that will result in the production of enough plutonium for as many as six nuclear weapons by summer. Once North Korea processes weapons-grade plutonium and removes it from Yongbyon, that plutonium will be effectively hidden from spy satellites, inspectors, and military strikes. At that point, North Korea will be free, not only to construct more nuclear weapons, but to sell weapons-grade nuclear material to al Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, and anyone else who will pay for it.
Which is a darn good reason to continue to hunt down the leaders of al Qaeda, dismantle Iraq, and undermine the stability of the regimes in Iran, Libya and Syria, come to think of it. And then - quickly - confront North Korea. If they chose war, they'll be chosing their own destruction. Just remember - it's all a part of the same war, a World War forced upon America on Sept. 11.
Moab Reacts to MOAB
The mayor of Moab, Utah, a town famous for its rock formations and mountain bike trails, is fretting that the acronym for the new Massive Ordnance Air Burst bomb - MOAB - will harm the town's reputation. MOAB is the Air Force’s new 21,000 pound bomb. It is the successor the the "daisy cutter" and packs the punch of a small nuclear weapon, without the nasty radiological side effects. (Thanks to LGF for the link.)
The way I see it, the mayor of Moab ought to be proud of the MOAB, as it will soon be deployed in the liberation of the oppressed people of Iraq, some of whom one day may desire to travel to America to visit the nation that freed them. A few of them might even find their way to Moab. If they do, I recommend they eat at Buck's Grill House - and order the Buffalo Meat Loaf.
Race for the White House
Here's some good news from the WaPo:
President Bush has postponed his reelection campaign until after a war with Iraq, but White House and Republican Party strategists have begun planning for a contest in which they envision raising as much as $250 million to wage a battle designed to break the political stalemate of the 1990s and make the GOP the country's majority party.
Tennesse's Mr. No
Tennesseee Finance & Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz gets it, according to a profile of Goetz in the Knoxville paper:
Two large golden letters hanging on the inside of the door to Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz's office say a lot about his job. "NO," they say. "Given the financial constraints we always have, a lot of what this job entails is telling people 'No,' " Goetz said. "That's just what you have to do." Lest someone miss the hint, he's also got a big antique ax on his desk.
Goetz is at the center of the single biggest chore facing the new administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen - putting together a budget in less than two months with anticipated shortages of $480 million in the current fiscal year and $780 million for the next. "It's hard, but I'm having a great time," Goetz said. "I've been working over two weeks straight, as has my budget staff, but it's exciting to be in the middle of this." It's not that he's a masochist or likes to see state spending slashed 9 percent. He says he's just excited to see change that could lead to progress. "Especially after watching the last four years, if there is some way I can help Phil Bredesen move us beyond the seemingly intractable problems we've been caught up in, I felt like I had to do it," he said.
After eight years of a governor who said 'yes' to everything except fiscal restraint and budgetary sanity, it's nice to have a governor and an F&A commissioner who know how to say 'No.'
The Technology War
Another fascinating report on the cyberwar likely to be waged against Iraq alongside the usual troops, tanks and bombs.
Imagine Iraqi commanders getting misleading text messages on their cell phones. They appear to contain orders from Saddam Hussein but are actually sent by the U.S. military in disguise, directing Iraqi troops to a trap. Or how about a radar that confuses the Iraqi air defense system by showing U.S. bombers in the wrong locations, or heading in the wrong direction?
Why Do They Hate Us?
David Warren tries to explain why "they" hate Americans. No, not Islamic fundamentalists. Not even the German or French Left or the anti-globo crowd. He's talking about Canadians.
Indeed, it is quite the other way around. We are constantly looking for some American policy that we can show as "typical" -- because it fits with some stereotype we have created of the mass, crass U.S. society. They get their news from television, and drive SUVs, and live in sprawling suburbs, and eat junk, and are vastly overweight - just like us. Except it is worse in the case of the Americans, because on average they have more money. And there are few moral flaws in another human being as grave as having more money.
Now, hatred of one's neighbour as a projection of self-hatred is a universal phenomenon. Croats hate Serbs (or, vice versa) because they speak the same language (though they both deny it), Pakistanis hate Indians (or, vice versa), Welshman hate Englishmen (though not vice versa; the English have never noticed). The Europeans hate the U.S. the more they come to resemble Americans outwardly. It seems the Americans alone are capable of liking themselves just the way they are (another reason to hate them).
And this, at a time of unprecedented crisis in our Western alliance, which depends for its direction as for the bulk of its strength on the United States. The prime ministers Blair in Britain, Aznar in Spain, Berlusconi in Italy, have elected to lead, and thus necessarily to resist a tide of cheap anti- Americanism. President Chirac of France and Chancellor Schroeder of Germany have elected to surf that tide, to wherever it washes up. Our own prime minister is never so obvious, but rides both ways, and sideways, carried by the tide, but pointing his little surfboard in a variety of directions, a cork upon the sea.
Well, put me on record as not hating the Canadians. They've got a nice little country up there, even with its crumbling socialized healthcare system. Pretty mountains and gorgeous scenery. Nice people. And the exchange rate on the American dollar is really favorable to American tourists. Plus, their military snipers kick butt.
West Wing Sheen Dulled
Martin Sheen, who plays fictional president Josiah Bartlet on NBC's formerly top-rated drama The West Wing, claims NBC is nervous that Sheen's outspoken anti-war stance is going to hurt the show's ratings. Memo to Sheen: Nobody cares about your politics. Ever since 9/11, your show has become increasingly inconsequential and irrelevant. Why watch a fictional leader tackle fictional terrorists when we have a real leader who is doing a superb job of it? Martin, your show's ratings were already declining, and the "reality TV" craze is getting the blame. But as I've said here before, there is a way to save The West Wing.
Former Senator Fred Thompson, who now plays a district attorney on Law & Order, has filmed a TV commercial supporting President Bush and the war effort. Thompson's show gets higher ratings than The West Wing (as does Law & Order: SVU, and the conservative military drama JAG). And, unlike Sheen, Thompson has actually been a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Click here to see Thompson's ad.
Media Ignores Big Story
The Knoxville News Sentinel has belatedly reported on the state attorney general's opinion that the cities can alter their charters to allow referendums on property tax rates without running afoul of the constitution.
The opinion had been sought by Oak Ridge City Attorney Ken Krushenski, and is considered a major victory for a grassroots citizens group in Oak Ridge that is lobbying for changes to the city charter. Last year Krushenski told council members that it would be unconstitutional and contrary to existing state law to have referendums on property taxes. But, in the opinion, Tennessee Assistant Attorney General Gary Hotvedt, demolished the argument that such referendums would be unconstitutional, writing that "a home rule municipality may amend its charter to require property tax increases to be approved by referendum.'' The Knoxville paper quotes Jim Finane, a consultant with the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service, saying the issue of having referendums on property taxes had previously been "unplowed legal ground.''
The citizens group successfully petitioned to have a charter commission election. Voters on June 3 will elect seven members to that commission, which will recommend suggested charter changes to put before the voters in another election. Having referendums on future property tax hikes is a linchpin of the citizen group's agenda of proposed charter changes. Group members contend such referendums would help keep the city property tax rate in check. Oak Ridge residents pay the second-highest property combined city and county property taxes in the state, behind only Memphis.
Two of Tennessee's other major newspapers - the Nashville Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal - have so far ignored this story, which I reported here last week. The opinion was issued Feb. 19. After two weeks of ignoring the story, it's natural to wonder why.
Sixty years ago, America was simultaneously fighting Italy, Germany and Japan. Surely today our much richer and larger country can fight both Iraq and al Qaeda, which have only a fraction of the combined combat power of the original "Axis of Evil." The critics argue that deposing Saddam Hussein would alienate friendly governments whose help we need against al Qaeda, and would lead to more support on the "Arab Street" for the terrorists. Both are dubious propositions. True, many U.S. allies, from France to Egypt, are skeptical about the invasion of Iraq. But it does not follow that they will cease to cooperate with the U.S. war against al Qaeda. They're not offering this cooperation as a favor to Washington: It is in their own self-interest to hunt down murderous fanatics who bear a deep hatred of the West and its allies in the Mideast.
We must continue the slow, steady slog of hunting down terrorists and dealing with rogue regimes. It's not "either/or." Both are vital steps to ensure American security.
And the capture of Khalid Mohammed - one of several top al Qaeda terrorist leaders now in U.S. hands - shows America can do both.
Seems that the eco-weenie crowd is helping defeat the U.S. military.
Before they can even fire a shot, Marines who are training to kill must tread tenderly on their beach because of the presence the gnatcatcher. That unfortunately named creature is protected by the Endangered Species Act. This small gray songbird is found on roughly 50,000 of the 126,000 acres at Camp Pendleton, so the Marines have to play gracious hosts.
Certainly a case could be made that the real endangered species in this conflict is the U.S. Marine. He is limited in his ability to adequately prepare for war. If his training calls for digging in on the beach, he is forced to go elsewhere on the base to practice that chore. His preparation has no continuity. He cannot, as Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo. says, train as he would fight. Those shortcomings he experiences during exercises can directly lead to death on the battlefield. How can a soldier be prepared to storm a real beach if he's fighting under conditions he's never encountered, asked to do things he's never done?
At one point, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating more than 70,000 acres of Camp Pendleton a nature preserve, making it off-limits to military operations. A similar proposal was made for nearly 8,000 acres of the 12,000-acre Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, just down the road from Camp Pendleton.
The Marines at Camp Pendleton still have to leap bureaucratic hurdles when they practice amphibious assaults. That is when they can actually train at all. The presence of endangered species has on occasion caused the cancellation of exercises.
One of the few constitutional duties of the federal government is to protect the country through a military defense. One of the many duties it has taken on that is not in the Constitution is protecting wildlife. It should be clear which has priority in this conflict.
Coming Home to Roost
The federal probe into what looks like corruption in the way the Sundquist administration awarded sweetheart contract worth millions to some of the governor's friends, is casting a very wide net.
Don't Miss This
Moke Hollihan vivisects a Memphis Commercial Appeal editorial, titled "Sharing the state budget pain," with aplomb. I'd considered responding to the same editorial, but having read Mike's piece I can't think of a single thing I'd add. Go read the whole thing. Thanks to SKB for the link.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States, was arrested Saturday in Pakistan, senior U.S. government sources told NBC News. Pakistan will extradite him to the United States, an information minister told Reuters. U.S. officials have described Mohammed as a key al-Qaida lieutenant and the organizer of the terror mission that sent hijacked passenger jets crashing into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, killing more than 3,000 people.
“He was critical to not only the planning for the September 11, 2001, attacks but also is central to the planning for future attacks, so his capture is extraordinarily significant,” a senior U.S. official told Reuters.
Good for us. Bad for al Qaeda. Very bad for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Can you say military tribunal? Sure I knew you could.
UPDATEL: Judging from the photo accompanying this CNN story, Mohammed is not having one of his better days. Dude don't look so tough now that he's in our hands, and we're squeezing him like a fat, juicy orange.
Among the terror attacks he is linked to: the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000; Richard Reid's foiled attempt to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb in 2001; the bombings at the El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia, and the bombings in a resort town in Bali last year; The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan last year; a foiled plot in the 1990s to blow up 12 U.S.-bound commercial airliners in a two-day period (an operation called "Bojinka" if you want to Google it for more info; and the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.