Signs of the Nanny State
Don't miss this Jeff Jarvis rant. Jarvis: I'm a liberal. Thus I don't object to spending tax money for good ends of a civilized society, such as education and protection and, yes, safety nets for the poorest among us. But I do object to spending money on stupidity.
Steaming hot commentary on journalism, Tennessee, politics, economics, the war and more...
- Name:Bill Hobbs
- Location:Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Signs of the Nanny State
Louis Borders started a successful bookstore chain (Borders) and a spectacular Internet failure (Webvan). Now he's getting a lot of press coverage for his latest venture, something called KeepMedia, an online "digital newsstand" where you can read old magazine articles for a fee. He's got about 140 magazines in his database. There are about 3,000 magazine titles published. He's got very few newspapers. And you can't access stories from the latest editions of the magazines unless you're already a paid subscriber to the version that's printed in thin slices of dead trees
Yet Louis Borders' KeepMedia is being covered heavily, with journalists wondering if he can succeed in selling digital content via the Internet, where many people think things like that ought to be free.
I have one question.
Why would you pay KeepMedia for access to a mere 140 publications when you could pay a small fee for Intellisearch, a service from a little-known company called NetContent a reasonable fee for access to a few thousand publications - including magazines, newspapers and trade and academic journals from the ABA Journal to the Yale Law Journal - and get access to their latest content even if you don't subscribe to the printed version.
Keep it, Louis.
James Pinkerton says war is personal now. Lee Harris says even though al Qaeda hasn't attacked us directly since 9-11, we're still at war. Just not Clausewitzian war. And Ariel Cohen reports that Russia's oil industry is coming unglued - threatening Russia's goal of becoming a major alternative to the Middle East as a source of oil for the U.S.
How Democrats Killed the Future
You heard about the Pentagon's "terror futures market," and how it was shut down before it ever got started because a bunch of (mostly) Democrats said it was macabre for investors to bet on future acts of terror. Well, guess what. They succeeded in shutting down a program that might well have helped the government better predict terrorism. James Pethokoukis, senior writer for US News, has the details.
Boy Scout Rules
South Knox Bubba thinks he's found proof that the Bush administration wasn't really serious in its pre-war diplomatic efforts at the United Nations vis a vis Iraq. He found the evidence in, of all places, a recently published email sent to University of Tennessee President John Shumaker and a consultant/friend/former business partner whom Shumaker hired on a no-bid contract.
I'll let Bubba explain - and then I'll tell you why Bubba's way off base on this.
I told you it wouldn't be long before Shumaker e-mails started appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel. But this is not about that. It's about something in one of those e-mails:Now, of course, Bubba is just being silly. Or he missed the Left's latest anti-Bush talking points and doesn't know the current anti-Bush meme being circulate by the Left regarding Iraq is that Bush may have won the war, but he's losing the peace because he wasn't fully prepared to run Iraq after the war.Fishman asked Shumaker on March 11 if UT would be interested in trying for part of a $900 million contract for rebuilding in Iraq. "Would UT be interested in partnering with RAND (The RAND Corp., an independent private nonprofit organization) to propose both teacher training and an international high school in post-war Iraq?" No response was included in the documents released Wednesday.Isn't that interesting. On March 11th the United States was supposedly still pursuing a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. There were negotiations underway for a final, "this is it we really mean it this time" UN resolution. It wasn't until March 17th that Bush declared all diplomatic efforts had failed, and gave Saddam one last chance to leave Iraq within 48 hours or we would invade. Hostilities commenced on March 20.
So, nine days before the invasion, while we were "still seeking a diplomatic solution" the RAND Corporation was letting bids on contracts to rebuild Iraq after the war. I'm guessing that a $900 million contract wasn't cooked up over the weekend on some guy's laptop. I'm guessing they would have been working on it for quite some time. I'm also guessing that the government would have had to provide requirements and specification.
Now, obviously I am not so naive as to believe we were REALLY working on a diplomatic solution or that the invasion of Iraq would somehow be prevented. But as more information comes out it becomes clearer that the Bush administration had no intention of seeking any solution other than the occupation of Iraq and its oil fields, and that it was a long time in the planning.
Further, it is obvious that efforts to work through the UN towards a diplomatic solution were simply window dressing - a cynical attempt to paint a thin veneer of international law and gain worldwide support for plans already set in motion.
Consider the words of Howard Dean, Bubba's favorite of the nine Democrats running for president
I opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq from the beginning. While Saddam Hussein’s regime was clearly evil and needed to be disarmed, it did not present an immediate threat to U.S. security that would justify going to war, particularly going to war alone. From the beginning, I felt that winning the war would not be the hard part – winning the peace would be. This administration failed to plan for the postwar period as it did for the battle, and today we are paying the price.The Left is criticizing Bush for being unprepared to run post-war Iraq. Bubba is slamming him for trying to be prepared.
Journalistic Bias in Knoxville
South Knox Bubba has found a clear example of bias infecting his local newspaper's political coverage. That it involves Republican bias is just an added plus for GOP-loather SKB. Nevertheless, he's right - the example he points to (courtesty of Knoxville alt-weekly Metro Pulse) is a deplorable example of bad journalistic ethics.
Corporate Relocation Update
The Tennessean reports that Lousiana Pacific is also looking at Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C., as a possible new home for its HQ, now located in Portland. The Portland Oregonian newspaper had the story yesterday - and notes that Charlotte "offers a plus for LP: The company already has a sales and marketing office, with about 60 employees, in the Charlotte area." So don't be surprised if Nashville doesn't land this company. On the other hand, given Nashville's recent track record, don't be surprised if it does.
The Few, The Proud...
... and Donald Sensing. Rev. Artillery has a big reason to be proud. All hands clapping for this... don't miss the video.
Another Big Corporation Relocating to Nashville?
NashvillePost.com says a big public company based in Portland, Oregon, is thinking about relocating its HQ to Nashville. You can read the details if you have a subscription to the site, which is - hands down - Nashville's best source for breaking business news. Free 30-day trial subs available. NashvillePost.com also weighs in on the governor's efforts to accelerate economic development and recruiting across Tennessee - and quotes from/links to recent coverage here at HobbsOnline.
Now, why would a big public company move its HQ outta Portland? I thought Portland was a paradise. Lots of liberals say its paradise. Why would Louisiana Pacific, a leading manufacturer of building materials in North America, with facilities throughout the United States, Canada, and in Chile, with more than 40 manufacturing facilities in North America, want to leave?
I Can't Recall
Justene Adamec has convinced me to vote for state Sen. Tom McClintock in the California recall-Gray "Debacle" Davis-and-pick-his-replacement election coming up in October. Only problem: I don't live in California. But I would if I could. So all you loyal HobbsOnline readers out there in the Golden State, if you can't decide who to vote for, vote for McClintock. While Riordan and Arnold can't even decide if they want the job or not, much less articulate what they'd do if elected, McClintock already knows the answers to both questions.
Tennessee Economic Development Update
More evidence of my prediction that Gov. Phil Bredesen is prepping the ground for a push to revamp Tennessee's economic development incentives package: He's promising West Tennessee and other regions of the state will get a tailored approach to economic development, saying "one size fits all" policies don't work as well. Reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal:
The governor used his luncheon speech to about 250 members of Lipscomb University's Business Leadership Council in Nashville to outline his jobs creation plan. "Tennessee is so big and diverse that one size does not fit all. We've got to approach economic development regionally, with an ultimate goal of assuring that every community, rural and urban, shares in the growth," Bredesen said.Nashville City Paper also has coverage.
In the six months since his inauguration, the governor has participated in nine announcements for business expansions and relocations that will create up to 4,000 new jobs. But the largest of those have been in Middle Tennessee, including an expansion of Nissan's plants in Smyrna and Decherd that will add 1,500 jobs and the relocation of a Verizon Wireless call center to Murfreesboro with 400 jobs. The major industrial plum announced for West Tennessee during the last six months is Toyota subsidiary Bodine Aluminum's planned $124 million engine block manufacturing facility in Jackson, with 200 jobs.
I wrote two days ago at length [link] about the Tennessee Tax Structure Study Commission – the commission charged with studying the state's tax structure and making reform recommendations, and is supposed to be doing so with an open mind. Their next meeting is tomorrow in Nashville - and the agenda indicates the panel will hear presentations from two presenters you need to know about.
The first is the organization called "Tennesseans for Fair Taxation." You know who they are. They favor higher taxes. They support creation of an income tax. They view taxation as a way to redistribute income, and they are backed by the most socialist, Left-leaning organizations in the state.
The other is Susan Pace Hamill, a law professor at the University of Alabama, who will present a nearly hour-long presentation titled "Tax Reform from a Moral Perspective." Hamill teaches on Business Organizations and Taxation of Business Organizations, accroding to the UA law school's faculty listing.
You need to know more about Ms. Hamill – who she really is and what she really stands for.
In Alabama, where Gov. Bob Riley has thrown his "fiscal conservative" credentials in the trash can, a la former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, and is pushing for a massive tax increase, Ms. Hamill has come to be called the "High Priestess of Tax Reform." And in Alabama, as it did in Tennessee, tax "reform" meant massively higher taxes for massively larger government.
Dan Bowden, who was a law student at Alabama and sat through a class Ms. Hamill taught on federal income tax law, files this report on her real views of taxes and business. They are, in a word, wacky. Here's some excerpts:
I had Susan Hamill as a professor. Hamill, of course, is the “High Priestess” of Alabama tax reformers (why does "reform" always seem to mean "increase"?). She's the one stumping the state promoting her idea that according to "biblical principles," Christians should support tax increases to help the poor. In other words, "What would Jesus do? RAISE TAXES!"Prof. Hamill has written a law review article justifying higher taxes in the name of Christianity. Like I said: Wacky. Interestingly, although she writes articles declaring that "Alabamians professing faith in God have a moral duty to support tax reform," and does so from a taxpayer-funded platform (her professorship at the University of Alabama), there are few voices in Alabama calling her actions a violation of the separation of church and state. Where is the ACLU when you need them? ;-)
In 2002, I had the dubious pleasure of having Hamill teach my introductory course on federal income tax. Loud? You don't know the meaning of the word. She is like a megaphone with lipstick. I sat in the back of the classroom, and still sometimes felt the urge to cover my ears to protect my hearing.
Prof. Hamill filled our class in on a little of her background. She had worked for a private law firm in New York, and later, for the IRS. … What really clued us in on her thinking was when she referred to the IRS as "the cops, the good guys," and to private businesses as "robbers." A more twisted view of reality can hardly be imagined.
This was before Riley's election, and before he had revealed his true colours, those of a big-government, tax-raising liar. "Constitutional reform" was the buzzword at the time (look for this issue to reappear). Hamill was then putting the finishing touches on her paper arguing for her pro-tax arguments. She then revealed to our class her true motivations. She said that she had evaluated the political and social climate in Alabama, and seen that traditional arguments for tax increases would go nowhere here. She said that in order to sell pro-tax arguments to the masses in Alabama (the actual term were more like "hicks" or "religious boobs"), she would have to cloak such arguments in Biblical rhetoric. In other words, the Bible-thumping morons in Alabama could only be gotten to swallow the bitter pill of higher taxes if it was disguised in a sweet-sounding Sunday sermon. That, she said, was the reason she had decided to get a degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.
A final question: Why is the Tennessee press corps not providing wall-to-wall coverage of the meetings of the Tax Structure Study Commission? I haven't seen much in the newspapers about it – yet the presentations at the meetings have, judging from what's posted on the Commission's website, been informative and useful. And the Commission's work is certainly newsworthy, given the last four years of political debate over the state's tax structure and budget. The Tennessee press corps will report on the Commission's final report, no doubt. Wouldn't it better serve the public if the process of creating that report was also reported?
Here's a story in the Baptist Standard, a newspaper for Texas Baptists, that mentions Hamill's role in pushing for a $1.2 billion tax increase in the guise of "reform" in Alabama. Note, please, the excellent comments of John Giles in that article.
Two Jobs Data: Can Both Be Right?
Here's a guest blog from regular HobbsOnline reader and email correspondent Stan Brown, who writes:
Real Clear Politics has two articles about the economy today. The first is by Mort Zuckerman and the second by Robert Samuelson. Two points on jobs/unemployment data occurred to me while reading the articles:Good questions, Stan. I'd tend to believe the jobs data gathered from households more than the data gathered from employers. It would go a long way to explaining why the "recession" never seemed to show up in the consistently-strong consumer spending data. I'll shoot a link to this post over to Donald Luskin and the "EconoPundit" Steven Antler and see what they think.
1) If Congress extends benefits and makes it easier and easier to stay on unemployment, any comparison between the present number of people drawing benefits and some number in the past is bogus. Zuckerman's statement that we have the most drawing unemployment in 20 years is meaningless - we are comparing apples and oranges.
2) Samuelson tells us that the household data and the payroll data are incredibly divergent. Apparently there are two ways we measure the number of employees. We ask employers about their payrolls and we ask households (employees) whether they have jobs. The employees tell us that unemployment is much, much lower. Samuelson says that the payroll data shows a loss of 2.6 million jobs since early 2001. The household data shows a loss of only 108,000 (and a gain of 1.2 million this year).
This kind of disparity is enormous.
He goes on to cite a Standard and Poor's analyst who thinks that the disparity is due to businesses hiring "contract" workers which they don't count on their payroll, but who considered themselves employed since they get paid for working.
The quality of journalism on this issue has been abominable. Why haven't we heard anything about the incredibly good news from the household data? Why haven't we at least heard of the dispute? The administration should have made sure this news was out there. And why doesn't an administration defender point out the apples/oranges nature of the unemployment comparisons?
UPDATE: Luskin responds:
I don’t know the precise answers, and I’m not going to pretend I do. My approach to economics is not very much about all these bogus statistics. But what I do know is the following:And Antler responds:
1) The "jobless claims" numbers are compiled from actual claims. However, as you point out, all kinds of factors can affect why people might make these claims or not.
2) The "unemployment rate" is derived from a survey of, I think, 60,000 households. It's basically an opinion poll. Because it is a "rate," the number can fluctuate in relation to changes both in the numerator and the denominator. For example, suppose 1 million women suddenly decide to go from being moms to being babysitters. Suddenly you have a million unemployed people.
3) I'm not sure how the "payrolls" data is compiled. Let's assume it is a perfect compilation of actual payrolls. In that case, I think (but I'm not dead sure), that temporary workers might show up on the payrolls of their agencies. That, plus the assumption that it's an actual compilation rather than a poll, suggests that it would be much more accurate - if all you are trying to do is know the "number of jobs." You still have to put that number in relation to something to make it meaningful.
The lesson in this is that these statistics are stupid and dangerous.
Answered most of it at EconoPundit. I think your reader is a little off base about the change in unemployment benefits, because these get changed around every recession and even then some.
The Real Cost of Shelter
Chip Taylor reports that The Council on State Taxation (COST) has a rebuttal to the recent report on corporate tax shelters by the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC). COST, which represents multistate corporations, says that the MTC report overstates the cost to states of unclosed loopholes. According to COST, this is partly due to an overbroad definition of "tax shelters." he also notices that COST's rebuttal isn't getting as much news coverage as the MTC report. Read the whole thing. I wrote about the MTC report here, rather uncritically - just reported their findings. Taylor had an eye-oepning follow-up commentary here, and then today's piece on COST vs the MTC. Taylor's stuff is a must-read.
The Plame Game
I've written twice in the last few weeks (here then here) about allegations that "senior" Bush administration officials exposed a covert CIA agent named Valeria Plame in order to intimidate her husband, Joseph Wilson, who was the author of the report that said Iraq hadn't tried to buy uranium from the small African nation of Niger. And I've said that it is "increasingly clear" that it is Wilson who was doing the most to expose his wife, seeing as he was all over the teevee talking about her - and that the original news article by columnist Robert Novak that is being cited as proof that "senior" administration officials outed Ms. Plame in fact neither reveals that she was a covert operative nor says that senior Bush administration officials gave Novak her name and CIA employment information.
Now, it seems, the Left's best blogger is as much as admitting that Plame wasn't all that covert. And, it seems, the Left's best blogger has learned the details of Plame's CIA work from unnamed sources and revealed it. The facts are that Ms. Plame was not a deep-cover CIA operative, and Josh Marshall, author of the Talking Points Memo blog, had no trouble finding out the details of her CIA position.
Marshall, writing in his weekly column in The Hill, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill:
My sources tell me that Plame formerly worked abroad under nonofficial cover and has more recently worked stateside. Her position today may be less sensitive than it was when she worked abroad. But she still works on WMD proliferation issues. And, at a minimum, any operation that she may once have been involved in is probably now fatally compromised, any company which provided her cover is now exposed.Of course, that last sentence is Marshall's conjecture - the interesting part is the news that Plame was not a deep-cover agent, and that Marshall was able to get the information easily from "sources" and publish it. Funny - Novak learns of Plame's CIA work from some source - he says it was "government" officials, NOT administration officials - and publishes it, and the Left's scandalbloggers go into full scandal-hype mode. Josh Marshall does it and, nary a word.
Perhaps that's because Marshall repeats the scandal-perpetuating lie in his Hill column, when he says We know that two senior members of the Bush administration intentionally blew the cover of an undercover CIA officer whose job is combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. And their motivation was pure politics. Marshall repeats the lie that others have by carefully misquoting Novak's original column. Novak never says "senior administration officials" told him where Ms. Plame worked. He simply states the information with no source. He then says "senior administration officials" told him she suggested the CIA send her husband to Niger to determine the truth of the Iraq story.
Novak's words were subsequently twisted by David Corn, a left-wing writer for the very left-wing magazine The Nation, into the charge that Bush administration officials had "outed" Plame. As I wrote here on July 23:
Corn, conspicuously, does not quote Novak's entire paragraph anywhere his piece - and Corn's piece is the foundational article of the entire "scandal." Corn does assert that Novak told him that "government officials" told him of Plame's real job, but it is telling that the words Corn said Novak uses are "government officials," which could be virtually anyone in the government.Bottom line of this non-scandal: it is Wilson and now Marshall that have done the most to reveal details of Plame's CIA work, and it is Corn who tried to create a scandal by twisting the words of Novak. No wonder the mainstream media hasn't picked the ball up and run with it - there's not much there.
Somebody just put something in my tip jar. Thanks!
HobbsOnline's favorite ex-artillery officer-turned Christian pastor Donald Sensing comments on a coming bombshell. Read the whole thing. Then follow the link to the Newsweek article and read that whole thing too. Then hit the back button and follow all the other links in Sensing's piece. You'll learn something. And you'll be glad you did.
Lance Armstrong and Iraq
Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is a Texan, a friend of George W. Bush - and he opposed the Iraq war. As Washington Post sports writer Sally Jenkins - who co-authored Lance's autobiography - put it recently:
"They are friends and both are loyal sons of Texas and both are amicable, swaggering smart alecks, but Lance is deeply self-educated and his politics are different. For instance, he's in favor of choice and gun control. And he opposed the Iraq War."Yet Lance is personal hero of mine and when the 2004 Tour de France begins I'll be watching it again on the Outdoor Life Network and rooting for Lance to win No. 6.
So here's a question: Why is Lance toasted as an American hero by people like me, and by Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs, but when the Dixie Chicks or various Hollywood celebrities make statements in opposition to the war, we treated them with derision? Why hasn't Lance Armstrong become a lightning rod for criticism for those who supported the war?
Answer: Because Lance doesn't treat his celebrity status, derived from being a fast and indefatigable bike rider, lead him to think he should be treated as an expert on foreign policy, or lead him to use his public stage to take cheap shots at the president. Did you know Lance was opposed to the war in Iraq? Probably not until right now.
Lance has said he told Bush of his opposition to the war: "He's a personal friend, but we've all got the right not to agree with our friends," Armstrong told Britain's Observer newspaper. Ironically, that paper tried to whip up anti-Armstrong/anti-American hostilities among the French before the Tour de France began, but the French seem now to have embraced Armstrong. You just know, too, that George W. Bush will invite Lance Armstrong to the White House in honor of his fifth straight Tour de France win.
Those 28 Pages
The Bush administration is resisting calls to declassify the remaining 28 pages of a 900-page report looking into the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks - 28 pages that deal with alleged links between members of the Saudi government and the hijackers. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is pushing for more declassification because. the Saudi government says, keeping secret parts of the report dealing with Saudi Arabia appears to suggest that the kingdom has something to hide.
Some suggest the Bush administration is keeping the pages secret because it wants to protect the Saudi ruling family. But perhaps there's another explanation. Perhaps we're watching a bit of Bush strategery unfold. Perhaps Bush is doing a reverse rope-a-dope on the Saudis.
What if the administration classified the 28 pages on Saudi involvement in order to bait the Saudi ruling family into issuing all sorts of general denials and huffing and puffing as if they've been insulted somehow - as, indeed, the Saudi government is now doing. What if, after a few days of such denials, Bush were to order most of the remaining 28 pages of the report to be immediately declassified and made public, laying out in breathtaking detail the Saudis' involvement in 9/11?
Remember the Bush Doctrine and the goal: ending terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them. I think Bush meant it, and won't be deterred. I think everything he does related to foreign policy and the war on terror is focused on that goal, and driven by that doctrine.
Consider what has happened. The administration classifies a section of the report, which immediately draws the attention of the world press, and that gets the Saudis - accused by the implication of those 28 redacted pages - to profess their innocence loudly and publicly. Now if the administration declassifies the 28 pages it will drop the evidence into public view at a moment of maximum press and public attention - more attention than if the 28 pages had not been classified in the first place - and the pressure on the Saudis to admit their guilt, and take crucial and real steps to reform, and to crack down on the extremists and shut down the terror-supporting organizations and close the schools of Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism would be immense.
And, as we've seen with Prince Ibn Al-Walid trying to give New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani $10 million for New York shortly after 9/11, the Saudis try to assuage their guilt by writing big checks. Perhaps they may soon be asked to underwrite the costs of the war on terror... an offer that, once the 28 pages are made public, they may find impossible to refuse.
UPDATE: The Comedian has another take on it. I'm convinced that the redacted section of the 9/11 report about the Saudis was redacted so that President Bush could sandbag the press into demanding its release. Why? Because I suspect ... you'll have to go Read the Whole Thing to find out why.
Tour de Lance Update
Longtime Philadelphia sports columnist Bill Lyon says Lance Armstrong is like Seabiscuit. Longtime Philadelphia sports columnist Sandy Grady says Lance Armstrong isn't like Seabiscuit. I'll try to see Seabiscuit in the next few days and let you know who's right.
Also, a sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer says Armstrong has won over the French:
The proof that Armstrong has the rooting market cornered weren't the American flags he saw as he arrived in Paris. It's that the French were waving them, too. They didn't begrudge his winning the 100th Tour de France as much as they did his previous victories, and this one was contested in the context of a political split over the war in Iraq. ... Armstrong has become the symbol of the underdog and the dynasty at the same time. Those strange bedfellows make him simply the greatest comeback story ever.And AP sports columnist Jim Litke reminds us to not forget what Armstrong went through in battling cancer:
Lance Armstrong has been on top of the world so long that the rest of us sometimes forget how he got there. Not Armstrong. Barely 18 hours after crossing the finish line on the Champs-Elysees, he left his room at the luxury hotel where the Texas flag flew overnight to attend a news conference to remind the world how he came to win five Tour de France titles in a row.Also, the Boston Globe has a fine story about the courageous Tyler Hamilton, who finished fourth in the Tour despite riding since the second Day with a broken collarbone. Hamilton will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange Friday, then make the morning talk-show circuit Monday.
"You always look back to 1996 and you realize that a crash on Luz-Ardiden or a little cycle cross into Gap is not nearly as bad as sitting in a hospital room in Indianapolis," he said yesterday. "Drawing on that experience helps and is perhaps one of the secrets to winning the Tour."
UPDATE: Is Lance Armstrong an athlete? David Whitley of The Orlando Sentinel puts the question to the test - by trying to ride one measely stage of the Tour de France, on an exercise bike at the Y. Hilarious.
Is Bredesen Prepping to Push New Economic Development Legislation?
From the Nashville Technology Council's July 29 TECHNOLOGY News and Events newsletter:
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce reports that since July 1, 2002, executives with 712 companies considering relocation from sites outside Middle Tennessee have been communicated with by staff of Partnership 2010. Within the past 12 months, representatives of 94 potentially relocating employers have visited Middle Tennessee with the assistance of P2010/Chamber staff. Two-dozen of the visiting teams supported by P2010/Chamber staff are described at this time as either "enthusiastic" about the possibility of relocating here, or actually "negotiating" a move. One of the organizations said to be "negotiating" is described as a software company. Several other prospects are believed to have strong technology components within their operations. (Note: Agents of potentially relocating firms often study prospective relocation options confidentially, without revealing the name of the prospect company, before contacting local executives.)That's good news for Nashville. But what about the rest of Tennessee? An Associated Press report in today's Knoxville News Sentinel says companies that have considered relocating to or expanding in Tennessee but ultimately chose another state instead often often did so "because of more affordable land, better tax incentives and lower costs for employee training, according to a questionnaire commissioned by Matt Kisber, Tennessee's commissioner of economic and community development. Kisber...
asked the University of Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research to conduct the unscientific survey "so we could better assess what we were doing and make changes to that."Perhaps. But it is interesting and useful information. Kisber's boss, Gov. Phil Bredesen, made economic development deals a hallmark of his two terms as Nashville's mayor, and he's been aggressively pursuing a similar strategy as governor. Could this survey be the foundation of a legislative push next year to revamp the state's economic development tax and worker training incentives?
The results, obtained by The Associated Press, includes responses from 29 of 119 businesses contacted by the center. Executives were asked to describe their businesses and the sites they considered, rank the importance of factors contributing to their decisions and compare the chosen site to the one looked at in Tennessee.
Kisber repeatedly cautioned that the survey's unscientific nature and small sample pool makes the results not "statistically valid."
Ex-Gov. Don Sundquist is still in denial about the disaster that was his second term. Memo to Don: You were lying about the state not being able to reduce spending in order to balance the budget. Tennessee didn't need an income tax. It needed a competent manager in the governor's office. Your successor proved it. Get over yourself.
HobbsOnline will cross the 200,000 visitor mark sometime today. I'm humbled. I'm also a piker compared to Instapundit - who sees that much traffic in a week or less while it's taken me since November 30, 2001 to get there - but I'm still humbled. Of course, 200,000 doesn't mean 200,000 different people have visited - just that a number of people have visited a total of 200,000 times. Still, my best guess from sifting my Bravenet and SiteMeter and email data is that I have approximately 500 regular readers, a number that is growing as some of my 100-200 first-time-ever visitors each day become regulars. I'm honored by each one of you, and your regular readership inspires me to continually improve the site and maintain high standards for content, commentary and links. And if I were Andrew Sullivan I'd note that if each of you would voluntarily support HobbsOnline with a $20 annual contribution, my wife - as Sullivan wouldn't say - might stop viewing blogging as a time-wasting hobby. [Ed. note: To those who have contributed in the past, I thank you again.]
I'm a week late on this, but apparently Nevada legislators have passed a budget and an $800 million-plus tax increase, with 2/3 of the members of the state House and Senate voting approval. The vote comes as some lawmakers continue to challenge a Nevada Supreme Court ruling that discarded the state constitution's requirement that a budget be passed by a 2/3rds majority in each house. The Nevada high court ruled that the legislature must pass a budget by a simple majority. It has been rightly reviled as atrocious constitutional law. The Las Vegas Review Journal reports
Lawmakers wanted the two-thirds vote in each house to head off any court challenges to the revenue plan. A Nevada Supreme Court ruling says approval of taxes does not require a two-thirds vote, but lawmakers want to meet the supermajority threshold to comply with the higher standard for taxes required by voters in 1996.It is touching that the legislators decided to meet the constitutional standard anyway, but when a court says lawmakers don't have to follow the constitution as written by the people, the foundations of representative democracy have begun to crumble. What is needed now in Nevada is a new grassroots drive to make the constitutional more explicit - and to add an amendment that prohibits any Nevada court from setting aside any portion of the document.
Paul Krugman Might Like This News
Nationwide, some 20 states have raised taxes this year by a cumulative $13.1 billion. The National Federal of Independent Business has the details of a mid-year report from the American Legislative Exchange Council. The non-partisan organization's Mid-year Review of State Budget Policy says the $13.1 billion tax increase in the first half of 2003 is 48 percent larger than last year, when states raised taxes by a cumulative $8.8 billion in the first half of 2002. Almost half the states that raised taxes in 2003 also raised taxes in 2002: Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Utah. The ALEC press release is here.
The Deceptional Paul Krugman
Donald Luskin has blogged another brilliant deconstruction of Paul Krugman's latest rantings in the New York Times. I'm in awe. Read the whole thing.
I read the Krugman column Luskin links to and found it odd that Krugman wrote this sentence:
"If we are ever to balance the budget again, many of the Bush tax cuts will have to be reversed once the economy recovers."Krugman argues that the tax cuts didn't help the economy recover. Okay. I don't happen to agree. But that's his position. So, then, then why does he argue the tax cuts be reversed after the economy recovers, rather than be reversed right now, given that he thinks the federal budget deficit is such a big bad bogeyman? Does Krugman think that raising taxes now would harm the economic recovery? It appears so. If that's the case, then Krugman has essentially - though, no doubt, accidentally - admitted what normal people know in their gut: higher taxes hurt the economy, lower taxes help it.
Iraq Update: We're Winning
Here's a report from Iraq that makes you realize all those other reports from Iraq - the ones hinting we're in a quagmire and on the verge of debacle - are wrong.
Sales Tax Deductibility
There may be some progress in Congress to make it possible for taxpayers to deduct state sales tax payments on their federal tax returns.
Here's a Dallas Morning News story from two weeks ago. Such a move would both cut Tennesseans' federal taxes and eliminate a major part of the argument of those who favor creation of a state income tax.
Some Democrats appear to be in support of restoring sales tax deductibility, but it only seems that way. What they're really trying to do is make certain that it doesn't happen - or if it does, it results in other taxes being raised.
Florida, Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming don't have personal income taxes, so taxpayers there - who pay sales taxes - can't deduct their largest state tax payments from their federal income tax the way taxpayers in the other 42 states can.
This week, Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson joined with South Dakota Sens. Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, all Democrats, in sponsoring a bill to let taxpayers in the eight states deduct sales taxes. Technically, all taxpayers would be given the choice of deducting either sales taxes or personal income taxes, but the practical effect would be limited to states without income tax.
Of course, with the bill crafted that way, senators and representatives in the other 42 states have no incentive to vote for it, since it would make the eight states without income taxes even more attractive to relocating businesses and residents.
The Senate bill sponsored by Graham, Daschle and the others would "cost" Uncle Sam an estimated $27 billion in less revenue over 10 years, but would recoup that money by eliminating a variety of corporate tax deductions and credits. The competing legislation offered by House Republicans would add the sales tax deduction to a pending bill extending the recent child-tax-credit legislation to lower-income families who aren't receiving the child-tax-credit rebate checks because, well, they don't pay enough income taxes to qualify for it.
What is really happening? Simple. Republicans want to make the federal tax code more fair by restoring sales tax deductibility. Democrats don't - they're only proposing the legislation in order to be able to claim they do, while not actually voting for the legislation that would do it. And in the microscopic chance their legislation actually pass, the Democrats will at least be comforted by the knowledge that they've raised other taxes to offset the "lost" revenue.
Tour de Lance Update
USA Today has a great wrap-up of Lance Armstrong's record-tying fifth straight victory in the Tour de France, the world's most grueling athletic event. The New York Times also has good coverage, as does Lance's hometown paper, the Austin American Statesman here, here and here.
ABC News has a look at how age is affecting Armstrong, shown at left with his wife Kristin and their three children. This Reuters report details some of the many problems that dogged Armstrong throughout the Tour, and why he says that, despite victory, his performance was "unacceptable."
This story from the Los Angeles Times looks at what it'll take for Lance to win a sixth TdF. Miguel Indurain, the Spanish rider whose record of five straight Tour wins Armstrong has now equaled, says Lance stands a decent chance of winning a sixth.
Tyler Hamilton, the American rider who finished fourth despite riding 19 of 20 stages with a broken collarbone, says he'll always look back and wonder "what if?"
The Christian Science Monitor says the American audience for the Tour is growing. And Bloomberg News says lance's five straight victories has caused an upsurge in American cycling-related tourism to parts of France and has this interesting juxtaposition of news stories: A neurosurgeon on two weeks' leave from the U.S. Army in Baghdad made his way to the Alpe d'Huez, one of the Tour de France's legendary mountains, to yell his encouragement. He held a banner proclaiming: "Go Lance! Go Postal."
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had a story a few days ago looking at the carbon-fiber technology in Armstrong's bicycle frame, made by Trek Bicycle Corp. in nearby Waterloo, Wis. I'm currently saving for a Trek 1500. It's not the same model Trek that Lance rode up the Luz-Ardiden climb, but it's a rather nice bike. You can help me get it sooner by dropping some change in the tip jar.
Economy: Lots of Good News
There's plenty of good economic news coming out – just in time to upset the hopes of Democrats who planned to run against George W. Bush by blaming him for a bad economy…
From the Associated Press:
The economy is showing fresh signs of snapping out of its funk: Orders to factories for big-ticket goods registered the biggest increase since the beginning of the year and new-home sales climbed to the highest level on record. The latest batch of economic news Friday reinforced hopes that a much anticipated revival will take hold in the second half of this year.
"It really is beginning to look as if the train has finally left the station," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. "The news was very good and adds to the belief the economy is on the mend."
Especially heartening to Naroff and other economists was a Commerce Department report showing orders placed to U.S. factories for "durable" goods - costly manufactured products expected to last at least three years - went up by a solid 2.1 percent in June from May.
The increase - nearly double what economists were forecasting and the biggest since January - suggested that the battered manufacturing sector is finally turning a corner. The advance came after America's manufacturers saw demand for their products fall by 2.4 percent in April and stay flat in May.
In more welcome news, sales of new, single-family homes rose 4.7 percent in June from the month before to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.16 million units, the best month for sales on record, the department said in a second report. That comes on top of a 10.9 percent jump in new-home sales from April to May.
Meanwhile, sales of existing homes remain in record territory, according to the National Association of Realtors, which has forecast a record year for home sales this year.
And Donald Luskin comments on a report of a surge in venture capital funding and says, "Funny what a little tax-cutting will do, isn't it?"
Predictable, too. Tax cuts lead to economic growth. Always have. Always will.
UPDATE: Chicago Federal Reserve President Michael Moskow says the economy is getting ready to rev up.
You can hear the faint sound of distant drumbeats for an income tax in this Q&A with Nelson Andrews, chairman of the "independent" Tax Structure Study Commission that is studying Tennessee's tax structure. As writer Tim Chavez comments, "The commission carries baggage because of who established it: the same state leaders who tried to pass an income tax against the wishes of a majority of Tennesseans. One commission member is former state Sen. Bob Rochelle." Rochelle, of course, tried to ram a state income tax through the Senate. Andrews, a former state education commissioner is also on record as a proponent of the income tax. So is commission member Gary Poe, an executive with Eastman Chemical Co.
What Nelson said: What is not debatable is that there is no way that the current structure will be able to sustain the current level of services into the future.
What Nelson meant: We need an income tax.
Andrews argues hard for the commission's neutrality and credibility, but he's singing a song few are buying. As Knoxville News Sentinel columnist Tom Humphrey said back in January:
For the most part, the members represent various special interests that are at least comfortable with the concept of tax reform, including an income tax. Thus, the deck is arguably stacked. The appointees so far include more folks with a history of supporting an income tax than opponents.As I pointed out back in January, even Gov. Bredesen is skeptical the commission is in any meaningful way "independent" and neutral on the question of an income tax. Said Bredesen at the time, in response to a question from The Tennessean,
It was created by the legislature, but I will certainly read it carefully. I was asked by some people who were thinking about serving on it what my attitude was, and did I think they were wasting their time. I said if they're taking an objective look at the tax structure and how to correct taxes and not thinking how could we quickly raise another billion dollars of revenue, then it could be useful. If what this thing is, just to bring the income tax again two years down the line, I just feel I ran for this office on a promise not to implement an income tax in my first term, so don't look at it as something which is going to box me into a corner. I will certainly listen to what they say with respect, and I think it will be a useful contribution for discussions.One open question: Jim Neeley was appointed to the commission in early January by then-Gov. Don Sundquist. Neeley, who was head of the Tennessee AFL-CIO at the time, is a supporter of the income tax. A few days later, new Gov. Phil Bredesen announced that Neeley would be his Commissioner of Labor. Is Neeley still on the commission? If so, Andrews' claims of the commission's independence from the governor are bogus. UPDATE: Neeley is no longer a member of the Tax Structure Study Commission, according to Milissa Reierson, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Labor. He was replaced him on the commission by A.J. Starling, who is the Tennessee AFL-CIO director of political affairs. As director of political affairs, Starling was the labor organization's point man on legislative issues, which of course including promoting the organization's support for an income tax. Certainly he can not be accurately said to have an open mind on the issue.
I'm also trying to determine the identity of the "five extraordinarily talented academicians" Andrews mentions. There are none on this list of ten of the board members, but I haven't yet found a full list of the commission members. (Update: I found the list. The five academicians are non-voting members of the commission. More details and link below…)
UPDATE: The membership of the commission was expanded from 15 to 19 by the legislature last session. Here is a story listing the four additional members appointed after the board was expanded. I don't know if any of these four are on record supporting an income tax, but if any of my readers find out, please pass it along to me.
UPDATE: Here is the website of the Tax Structure Study Commission. Its membership list is here, but very unhelpful - no bios, just names. One name is very worrisome - Dr. Bill Fox, a University of Tennessee economist and long-time shill for the income tax, is a non-voting member and one of five academics who are serving as economic advisers to the panel.
Minutes to past commission meetings are here. The page offers links to many of the PowerPoint presentations that have been shown at commission meetings.
The Tax Structure Study Commission's upcoming meetings are listed here. Its next meeting is July 31st in Nashville. (TSU - Avon Williams Campus, 310 10th Avenue - Room 353).
A list of "Resource Links" on the commission's website indicates the direction the commission is leaning on the question of recommending an income tax. One article considered a valuable resource by the commission is this June 2001 article from the National Conference of State Legislatures, titled Principles of a High-Quality State Revenue System, which argues in favor of states taxing incomes:
There is merit in the notion that states and local governments should balance their tax systems through reliance on the "three-legged stool" of income, sales and property taxes in roughly equal proportions, with excise taxes, business taxes, gaming taxes, severance taxes and user charges playing an important supplemental role.The commission also considers a valuable resource this April 2003 article from the left-leaning, pro-big-government, pro-higher-taxes Center on Budget Policy Priorities, which claims recent state budget difficulties were "not caused by overspending," even though solid research indicates the opposite.
Meanwhile, what I said here back in early April holds true: Even if the Tax Structure Study Commission is indeed independent and open-minded and not just another dog-and-pony show to shill for the income tax, it's still studying the wrong thing. Unfortunately, the Tax Structure Study Commission as it exists now is set up to ignore half of the equation: It is not authorized or ordered to examine the state's archaic and uncontrolled spending structure that has long been the primary cause of the state's chronic budget crises. Its budget, then, is just another example of wasteful spending.
A shorter version of this is posted at PolState.com.
Today's New York Times asserts that reduced spending by the states is hurting the economy. That assertion is just bizarre and as it turns out, the only person in the story making the claim is not an economist but the director of a portion of a left-leaning think tank in Washington DC that favors bigger budgets and higher taxes at the state level.
The Times says:
Just three years ago, the states were still a plus for the economy. While the private sector had begun to limp, state spending had remained strong and so had revenues, despite cuts in tax rates in several states. Today the opposite is happening, and that makes the states a net minus for the national economy. Without that reversal, some economists say, the economy would probably be growing at an annual rate of more than 3 percent, enough to create jobs rather than eliminate them.But the Times fails to name a single economist who believes that.
It does quote Nicholas Johnson, director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who says, "It is reasonable to think that the response by the states to the fiscal crisis is taking at least half a percentage point out of the growth rate of the national economy." But Johnson - who is a journalist by training, according to the CBPP's staff listing, not an economist - offers no explanation of why such a thought is "reasonable." Nor does the Times.
Perhaps that's because the notion that reduced state spending is harming the economy is not reasonable at all - it's just crazy. Think about it. Reduced state isn't causing the economic slowdown - it's being caused by it, as the slower economy generates less tax revenue for states to spend. States get money to spend by taking it out of the economy. Increased state spending merely means more money has first been taken out of the economy and filtered through an inefficient bureaucracy before flowing back into the economy. Most states are required to balance their budgets, so increasing state spending now would require tax increases - taking more money out of the economy.
The CBPP, The Times' only source for the dubious belief that that reduced state budgets is harming the ecomy, recently proposed states raise income taxes in order to balance their budgets, calling income taxes "a particularly promising source of new revenues because it can yield a significant amount of new revenues to help plug the large budget gaps."
The story is also laced with an untruth. The Times claims "Because state tax collections are indirectly linked to those at the federal level, the Bush administration's tax cuts have fed through to the states as parallel cuts. But the hardest-hit states, California and Minnesota among them, have been those with progressive income taxes, charging upper income households at considerably higher rates than those at the low end. As incomes have fallen, tax collections have fallen faster in these states than in those without progressive tax rates." The data show otherwise revenue from state income taxes has fallen faster than from, for example, state sales taxes in many states.
Also, the Times claim that state tax collections are linked to federal taxes is, apparently, a reference to how some states couple their tax rates to the federal rate. That's true - but what the Times forgets to tell you is, many states are "decoupling" their taxes and tax rates from Uncle Sam's. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities could have told them.
If you want to know what's really the cause of all those states facing big budget crises, read States Face Fiscal Crunch after 1990s Spending Surge, by Chris Edwards, Stephen Moore, and Phil Kerpen at the libertarian Cato Institute, and for a good summary of the fiscally sane steps states should take to deal with budget crises, read Crisis in State Spending: A Guide for State Legislators, by at the non-partisan American Legislative Exchange Council.
UPDATE: Mickey Kaus has a thorough annihiliation of the NYT piece over at kausfiles. Scroll down to the top July 28 entry, titled How to 'Presume' Your Way onto the NYT Front Page.
UPDATE: Eric Umansky says the NYT piece is weak on evidence that state budget cuts is hurting the economy:
The thesis of the NYT's lead - "RED INK IN STATES BEGINNING TO HURT ECONOMIC RECOVERY" - isn't exactly supported by a mountain of evidence. In what seems like its best shot at providing hard numbers, the Times says states have cut spending between $20 billion-40 billion over the past two years, "no one knows exactly how much." That's in a $10 trillion economy.Yes. Besides, state spending cuts due to less tax revenue are not a cause of a bad economy, but a reflection of it.
State's Tax Structure Called Good for Growing Business
The non-partisan Tax Foundation says Tennessee has the 10th-most business-friendly tax structure in the nation. The Tennessean reported the study today:
The study by the Tax Foundation is the first of its type by the 66-year-old Washington-based research organization to help businesses compare competitive state tax systems and provide state legislatures a way of measuring a state's attractiveness for new businesses, Scott Hodge, co-author of the study said. It was based on 2002 tax systems. States were listed based on a score from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most business-friendly. Tennessee scored 7.04, compared with the national average of 5.97. The overall score is a composite of five indexes used to grade each tax system — the corporate tax index, the individual tax index, the sales and gross receipts tax index, the state fiscal balance index and a conformity index, which grades the complexity of the state's tax system compared with national standards.You can read the Tax Foundation's study here (in a 28-page PDF file). The ten states with the most business-friendly tax systems are Wyoming, New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, South Dakota, Florida,Washington, Oregon and Tennessee. The ten tax systems least hospitable to business are in Mississippi, California, Arkansas, Ohio, Nebraska, Hawaii, New York, Maine, Minnesota and Louisiana.
A few key points I found in a quick read of the study:
Generally speaking, states that rank highly manage without at least one of the major taxes. Indeed, Alaska scores well despite having the worst corporate tax system in the nation because it does not have either an individual income tax or a sales tax. Colorado has a "traditional" tax system that imposes a corporate income tax, an individual income tax, and a sales tax but ranks highly by keeping all of its taxes simple with low, flat rates.Yes it does, with a Taxpayers Bill of Rights that requires a public vote on tax increases and forces government to return surplus revenue through tax cuts or direct rebates unless the public approves in a referendum a proposal to spend the surplus funds. You can read all about Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights here.
The Tennessean spent the last four years editorializing in favor of a state income tax, and slanting its news coverage in an effort to propel one through the state legislature, so it is not surprising that the story doesn't mention that eight of the top 10 states in the Tax Foundation's ranking - Wyoming, New Hampshire, Nevada, Alaska, South Dakota, Florida, Washington and Tennessee - do not have a state income tax. And Texas, the only other state without a state income tax, ranked 13th. Incidetally, three of the five states without a state sales tax are in the top 10 - Alaska, Oregon and New Hampshire.
Anti-Tax Pledge in Nashville
Today's Tennessean reports on 18 candidates for Nashville's Metro Council who have signed a pledge to oppose any property tax increases in the next four years. The incumbent mayor, Bill Purcell, running for re-election without serious opposition, raised taxes in his first term and hints he will do so again if re-elected. An organization called Tennessee Tax Revolt is circulating the pledge, and having some success in attracting candidates to sign it. See their website for a list, if you're interested in such things. One of those who signed the pledge is Dorrence Stovall, whom I attended college with. If you live in Nashville's council district 29, vote for Stovall. And if you live in district 31, the smart vote is for Roger Abramson, who is a lawyer and public policy researcher whom I worked with briefly at a now-defunct policy think tank. Who will I vote for? Nobody - I long ago moved to Franklin in suburban Williamson County and no longer pay Nashville's high taxes.
Aw... How Cute
But in a time of war, when our very survival is at stake, when 3,000 of our citizens have died at the hands of a multinational force of terrorists, is this the level of seriousness we want in our president? Or do we want something more - a president with the steely resolve to take the battle to the enemy and defeat Islamist terror once and for all?
Tour de Lance Update
Lance Armstrong essentially won the Tour de France today - his record-tying fifth in a row - even with one remaining stage tomorrow. That's because he leads Jan Ullrich by 1:16 after riding a superb time trial in horrid weather, and tomorrow's stage is flat, providing little opportunity for Ullrich to break from the pack and gain serious time. Tyler Hamilton, meanwhile, moved up to fourth with a stellar performance in today's time trial and will finish in fourth in the Tour - amazing for a gy riding since the second day with a fractured collarbone.
Next year, Lance goes for number six.
More good coverage here and here.
Sao Tome Update
Michael Williams notes that the coup in Sao Tome is over. Reuters reports coup leader Major Fernando Pereira says he lead the coup to safeguard democracy and wipe out corruption, and they report it with a straight face, as if they actually believe the guy. No scare quotes or anything. Voice of America, meanwhile, has a much better story suggesting the tiny nation's potential oil wealth motivated the coup plotters.
Africa expert Alex Vines, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, the peaceful resolution of the coup in Sao Tome is very much in the tradition of the country's manner of dealing with such tension. "Sao Tome has traditionally dealt with disputes peacefully anyhow," he said. "There was a coup in the mid-1990s that was similarly resolved as this current one - peacefully."Note, please, critics of President Bush, that the Bush administration sent representatives who helped resolve the situation peacefully. No John Wayne diplomacy, Mr. Dean. No machismo, Mr. Gephardt. Just quiet, effective, multilateral leadership, and the would-be dictator is gone and the democratically elected president of Sao Tome is back in power.
In addition, Mr. Vines points out that a delegation of mediators is lauding the amicable end to the coup as a triumph for regional politics. An international delegation of African, Portuguese and U.S. representatives traveled to the region after the coup to facilitate talks between the ousted president and the coup leader.
Mr. Vines says the main motivation for the coup was Sao Tome's eagerly anticipated oil earnings. "The expectancy of oil is a very important factor here," he pointed out. "Sao Tome is a tremendously poor country, but everybody is dreaming of future wealth if oil is found and that's the key here. There's been no oil found in Sao Tome yet, it's all speculative, based on seismic and talking up. But we are coming up to bidding round for nine off-shore blocks from Sao Tome and each bloc is likely to carry a $30 million bonus payment. That's a lot of money for a poor country like Sao Tome."
A Q&A With Hewitt
John Hawkins interviews Hugh Hewitt, a rising radio talkshow host who blogs. Hewitt has some very good comments about blogging and the future of talk radio, the Democrats and the future of the country, North Korea and the next stage of the war on terror, the California gubernatorial recall, and why the Left can't succeed in talk radio. A very good Q&A. Who says the blogosphere doesn't do real journalism? An enlightening interview. (For my Tennessee readers, Hewitt is not on the air anywhere in the state except for Bristol, where he's on from 6-8 pm Monday-Friday on WPWT 870 AM. Lucky Bristolians. Here's Hewitt's station list.)
Amen Brother, Preach On
Jeff Jarvis sez the media establishment doesn't "get" weblogs. And then he proves it, with a comparison of a story he wrote about weblogs for Nieman Reports, a quarterly pub produced by Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, and the same story after the blog-clueless editor got hold of it. Hilarious. And dead on.
Jarvis: Journalism still needs to escape its closed, think-tank think and get out there and use the tools the audience is using. They need to read what the audience is writing. They need to listen. That's what is so damned exciting about weblogs. Weblogs give you the chance to hear your audience and what they really care about - if only you are ready to listen.
I've said before that I think blogging will change journalism. Now I'm not so sure. Journalism must be willing to listen, learn and embrace change if blogging is to be allowed to rescue journalism from its current pit of declining readership and declining credibility. But traditional journalism has always been a top-down affair, where you, the audience, are supposed to shut up and listen passively as Big Journalism tells you about the things they think are important and then tell you what you should think about those things.
Grudgingly, they correct a mistake now and then - but bury the tiny corrections deep in the paper so nobody finds them. Formulaicly they publish each day a few selected and heavily edited letters from readers, to create the impression they care what readers think. But they don't. They want you to shut up and listen to them. They don't want to listen to you.
But now, increasingly, you aren't listening to them either. Good. That's healthy.
Now I believe that blogs will increasingly become journalism. Right now, most news-oriented blogs are punditry rather than reporting, though some of the better blogs do sometimes provide original reporting. I've done original reporting here, most often related to the state budget and tax debate over the last four years, digging out and reporting facts and data ahead of the mainstream media on many occasions. I suspect over time bloggers will increasingly add original reporting to their blogs to go with the large helping of punditry.
I can see a day coming when your local newspaper faces real competition from an Internet-only publication, a newsblog if you will, that carries reporting as well as commentary. It will be updated continuously as developments warrant, include digital pictures and audio and video reports created in the field by reporters on the scene and posted instantly to the newsblog via wireless Internet access. It will combine the immediacy of TV with depth of print - and, newsblogs will not face the space limitations that newspaper editors face each day, allowing newsblogs to publish offer longer, more in-depth reports more frequently. Newsblog reports will be heavily linked to source documents and materials - cyberfootnoting that will instantly enhance readers' perceptions of credibility (and put pressure on reporters to get the facts right). And it gets better. The newsblogs will allow readers to comment and interact with the writers and each other - a feature newspapers can't match. It will be cheaper to produce than a newspaper, and cheaper to distribute. And offer a much better reading experience. And as newspapers continue to see their circulation shrink, newsblogs will thrive.
If we're lucky, newsblogs won't change traditional journalism. They'll replace it.
UPDATE: Michael Williams says newsblogs need a feasible business model. He's right, of course. I sketched a proposal and posted it in the comments.
Tour de Lance Update
Lance Armstrong heads into Saturday's individual time trial with a 65-second lead over Jan Ullrich, and a record-tying fifth consecutive Tour de France win on the line. For coverage of what's at stake, and why the race might still not be decided until the end of Sunday's usually-ceremonial final stage around the Champs-Elysees, go here. If you aren't a cycling fan and don't know why you should get up Saturday morning and watch the time trial, read what Mike Celzic has to say in the Sporting News:
If you're going to catch one day of the Tour, an event that doesn't grab the hearts and minds of American fans, Saturday's the day to do it. It doesn't matter if you neither care nor know any more about cycling than a cow does about differential calculus. This isn't about that sport anymore, it's about being able to see something that you likely won't see again.Finally, don't miss this column in today's USA Today by Lance's wife, Kristin. You don't have to love cycling to appreciate it. You just have to love life and love.
You don't - or shouldn't - pass up the rare moments in life when you have a chance to witness someone great at what could be the crowning moment of a career. You don't have to be a golf fan to have tuned in when Tiger Woods won his fourth consecutive major or a baseball fan to have watched Mark McGwire break Roger Maris' home-run record. You don't watch such moments because of the sport, but because of the accomplishment.
And if Armstrong pulls it off, it will be, indeed, a crowning moment. He has won the past four Tours with dominating performances. If he wins this one, it will not be because he's light years better than everyone else, but because of grit and desire and will and all those other things we talk about when we get emotional about sports.
We Don't Need No Stinkin' Expertise
Ever read a New York Times editorial and think, "These idiots don't know what they're talking about"? Turns out, you're exactly right.
But this isn't just a problem with the NYT editorial board. I'd hazard a guess that 90 percent of reporters write about things they have no training or expertise in - and their news coverage often forms the knowledge base that similarly untrained newspaper editorialists use to write their editorials.
It is a failing of the basic way journalism has been taught for the past several decades. Too much of the courses and lab work for a journalism degree focus on the craft of journalism itself - basic interviewing and writing and editing skills, learning the AP Styleguide rules, learning to compose a story in "inverted pyramid" format, and such.
Too few journalists get a formal education in a subject area that they will then go cover. Most business journalists never took a business course in college. Most journalists who report on the economy didn't study economics. Most reporters who write about the environment have no scientific training. Most reporters who write about healthcare and medicine have no experience or education in the healthcare industry or no medical training. That's why so many news stories offer no insight, merely heat and light. It's why stories about the economy, for example, boil down to a collection of competing quotes from politicians and economists with agendas - and give you the unshakeable feeling the reporter might not understand a single word of that Greenspan quote he just used. It's why so much journalism is formulaic, uninformative and dull.
That doesn't apply to all business reporters, of course. Right here in Nashville, one of the best business journalists you'll ever find, David Fox at NashvillePost.com, traded commodity futures for a couple years at the Chicago Board of Trade, before returning to Nashville to be a stockbroker with Prudential-Bache. Later, he became a business journalist at The Tennessean, then founded NashvillePost.com. Think he knows what he's writing about? Of course he does.
I first was hired to be a "business reporter" in 1990, after about three years as a "general assignments" reporter for a trio of newspapers in Texas and Tennessee. (Details here.) I had never taken a business course, never run a business, never read a business book, never bought a stock or a bond or a T-bill, never seen a public company's financial report, and hadn't sat in an economics class since my junior year in high school, nine years earlier. Needless to say, my readers suffered for the first year as I learned the basics of business on the fly.
Fourteen years later, I've covered a few thousand business stories and read perhaps a hundred business and economic books, and I understand business and economics rather well. But I'm self-taught and still learning. It shouldn't have been that way. J-school should include fewer classes on the craft of journalism and more on the subjects journalists are likely to cover. Journalism students ought to minor in something unrelated to journalism. Better than that, they should major in something other than journalism - which, after all, is a craft the basics of which can be taught in a few courses, and the details of which are best learned by on-the-job experience.
CNN: Complicity News Network
CNN covered for Saddam's murderous regime for many years - its top news executive Eason Jordan admitted several weeks ago. (Link takes you to NYT archive abstract - for free coverage of the Eason admission that CNN had been covering up some of Saddam's crimes, go to my April archives and scroll to the entries around April 15-17.) Eason still has his job. And now CNN is covering for the tyranical mullahs who oppress Iran. If you love freedom - heck, if you just sort of like freedom - you won't watch CNN anymore. It's the news network that deserves to die becuase it's the news network that was willing to cover up torture and worse just to keep its precious bureau open. But what good is a news bureau that doesn't actually report the news? It certainly isn't doing the oppressed people of Iran any good.
UPDATE: Kevin L. Whited has some more thoughts about CNN.
Why Doesn't the NYT Do the Right Thing?
Dean Esmay has just posted this. I suggest you go read it.
The Class Struggle, Modern-Style
Steven Antler, a/k/a the EconoPundit, has a great article today at TechCentralStation.com, in which he says the coming class struggle isn't between the rich and the poor or the capitalists versus their workers, but between those in the manufacturing sector and those in the services sector. That's a gross oversimplification of his thesis, so I suggest you go Read The Whole Thing. Excerpt:
Consider for a moment the basic differences between goods and services. Goods can be easily stored, services less easily so. We produce most goods with capital-intensive, technology-utilizing methods of production, while services production still relies on humans - to move or decide things, for example.Don't worry. Antler's not a marxist.
Advances in goods production are more amazing than the most profound science fiction, while methods of services production evolve amazingly slowly -- if, indeed, they evolve at all. I composed this article on a machine much more powerful than the 1985 "Cray Supercomputer," for example, but when finished I went to a barbershop where the owner cut my hair in the same way, in the same length of time, and I suspect with the same level of skill, as did his medieval English counterpart.
There is an inherent "class conflict" between the goods and service producing sectors because economic growth affects each in a profoundly different way. The goods sector constantly discovers how to produce more per hour as the service sector's hourly output stays relatively constant; and much as we might wish otherwise, you can't manufacture time.
And it is this last melancholy truism that generates an "iron law of service pricing": services inevitably get expensive relative to everything else. The law is visible everywhere, from anecdotal evidence of rising costs of hands-on health care, tuition, insurance, to the fundamental statistics of pricing and employment costs. No matter how you choose to measure price ratios of services to goods - or employment cost ratios of the service to goods producing sectors - we see prices of services continually rising faster than prices of goods. Much of what's normally called "technical progress" is actually the "iron law" of service pricing in action. Postwar advances that replaced household servants with home appliances evidenced this law. We can say the same for the desktop computer revolution. Machines replace people as people get more expensive - a kind of "law of motion" of capitalism, to use Marx's terms.
So, if he's right, what does that mean for politics? Plenty. As Antler explains: In the grand alliance making up the Democratic Party, the only substantial service sector component missing is the insurance industry, while the only substantial goods-producing components present are the few remaining non-public sector rust belt trade unions. The Democratic Party is quite close to a grand alliance of service-providing re-distributors. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem fast becoming the party of goods-providing producers.
Among the members of the Democratic alliance, we seem to be witnessing something like the self-organizing and sometimes self-aware political action Marx labeled class-consciousness, typically taking the form of increasingly hostile, even predatory behavior towards the entirety of the outside world. Brandishing evidence of their failure as proof of their ever-increasing need, teachers perpetually demand more resources. In ongoing waves of litigation establishing increasingly obstreperous themes, trial lawyers first fight the environmental battle, now the battle of lifestyle, and soon, perhaps, the battle for direct judicial control of the taxation/spending powers of the legislature itself. Then there is the Democratic Party's profound and puzzling hatred of the pharmaceutical industry, which seems hard to explain except in terms of ritual, as if Democrats were performing some drama of primal and elemental hatred.
And perhaps that's just what's happening. Perceiving themselves correctly as sterile re-distributors incapable of genuine production, perhaps the Democrats are acting out a kind of ritualized self-recognition. Genuine "humans" versus the dehumanizing (but very productive) "machines," as in The Terminator or The Matrix - perhaps this is the self-image Democrats generate for themselves in the predatory wars they wage.
I think Antler is on to something - and has identified an important new way to analyze politics.
UPDATE: The more I mull Antler's piece the more I see it as a mere starting point for what needs to be a lot more research, data-collection, data-sifting and analysis. Here's why: Dividing people into just two categories - goods producers and services distributors - is waaaaay too simplistic for today's very complex modern economy. In Antler's formulation, goods-producers are all caught up in a spiral of ever-growing productivity and wealth, while all service distributors are not. But that's not correct. Some goods-producers are in low-skill, low-tech, non-evolving businesses that produce products that have become commoditized and low-margin - and generate little in the way of progress and wealth creation. Some service businesses are, on the other hand, very much evolving and very much creating wealth and generating progress. eBay is the signature modern service business. It produces no product, yet it evolves and generates progress and wealth based on knowledge work. eBay is an information broker created by knowledge workers.
Antler needs to consider the role of so-called "knowledge workers" in his analysis - workers who are, essentially, service personnel, but who DO bring evolving skills and increasing productivity to the economic equation, resulting in more-rapid wealth creation. I'll have more on knowledge workers in the coming days.
Tour de Lance Update
A Dutch rider won the 17th stage. Lance Armstrong and the rest of the leaders all finished 8:06 behind the stage winner, and there are no changes in the top-10 leader board. Lance still leads the overall race by 67 seconds over Jan Ullrich. Flat stage Friday, followed by crucial time trial on Saturday. Lance's comments on Tyler Hamilton's amazing breakaway win in Wednesday's stage 16 are here.
Ullrich rode the 12th stage individual time trial, 47 kilometers, in 58 minutes and 32 seconds, an average speed of 48.2 km per hour. That's 1:36 faster than Lance, who rode the stage at almost exactly 47 km per hour.
The Saturday time trial is 49 km long. To make up 67 seconds, Ullrich will need to ride each kilometer just 1.36 seconds faster than Armstrong. If Armstrong rides state 19 at just 1 km faster - 48 km - he would finish in 1:01:12 and 1Ullrich would have to ride the stage in 1:00:04 or better to take the yellow jersey.
I think I've got that figured right.
One other factor: time bonuses for stage wins and leading at mid-race checkpoints. The Tour could be decided on Saturday, if either man dominates in the time trial, but if the results are close - if Ullrich beats Armstrong by more than a minute but by not much more in the time trial, Sunday's final stage back to Paris could be a real race, for a change. Chris Carmichael, one of Armstrong's coaches, explains it all here, and explains why he thinks Lance will win the Tour de France:
Ullrich is definitely strong this year, but Lance lost the stage 12 time trial more due to dehydration than to lack of strength. He won't make the same mistake twice, and riding at full power he should be able to keep pace with the powerful German.Whatever happens, it has been a phenomenally exciting TdF.
This story is just not going to go away, despite the big-press silence this week. Based on my conversations in the last 36 hours with Washington contacts, here's how I'm very sure it's going to turn out - and it will hinge on two key questions.Interesting. As I said yesterday, It is increasingly clear that Wilson is the one who is revealing his wife's identity as an undercover agent...
Was Plame really a covert operative? Yes, but this will be difficult to officially confirm and there will be debates as to just how covert she really was, and what real harm was done by outing her.
Who outed her, the White House or the CIA? Both. Both are understandably furious with Wilson - the White House for the embarrassment he has caused and for what they see as his disingenuous and partisan statements in the media. But outing Ms. Plame was not to punish Wilson, but to refute him: Ms. Plame's involvement in Wilson's selection for the Niger assignment trivializes him, makes him seem less an expert and more of a hack on a nepotistic boondoggle. The administration officials who spoke to the press probably weren't even thinking about outing Ms. Plame, as such - after all, Wilson had effectively already done that when he outed himself by going public with his CIA-sponsored work. And therein lies the reason why the CIA is furious at Wilson - what he has done is an enormous breach of protocol and security.
UPDATE: Tom Maguire at Just One Minute also has a follow-up post today - and comments on a misleading statement Wilson made in the July 21 Newsday article:
Wilson, while refusing to confirm his wife's employment, said the release to the press of her relationship to him and even her maiden name was an attempt to intimidate others like him from talking about Bush administration intelligence failures.But, as Seamole noted, her maiden name and relationship to him are part of Wilson's bio posted online at the Middle East Institute's website.
I also found it here at the website of CPS Corporate & Public Strategy Advisory Group, a firm in which Wilson is a partner and "strategic advisor." (I saved a screen shot in case he alters the site.)
So, I guess Wilson released information about Plame's maiden name and her relationship to him ... in an attempt to intimidate himself.
The 'Leaders' Have No ... Pulse
The AP calls Uday and Qusay Hussein "world leaders" - and wonders if the U.S. was right to kill them. Really:
The Bush administration has continued to distance itself from a long-standing policy on assassinations of world leaders, reflected by a growing number of recent statements by current and former administration figures. On Tuesday, the Pentagon said Saddam Hussein's sons were killed during a six-hour raid Tuesday at a palatial villa in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by U.S. forces acting on a tip from an informant. They ranked just below their father in the deposed regime.Who else does the AP consider to be "world leaders"? Why, none other than Osama bin Laden and former Yugoslav President/genocidal maniac Slobodan Milosevic.
Meanwhile, Bigwig over at Silflay Hraka imagines what Saddam must have been thinking after they told him Uday and Qusay had been killed. Read the whole thing and revel in it - a great piece of writing. [Hat tip: Instapundit]
UPDATE, July 24: The New York Times has a story July 24 under the headline U.S. Defends Move to Storm House Where Hussein Brothers Were Hiding, which starts this way:
Washington, July 23 - Military commanders in Iraq and Pentagon officials here today defended the decision to storm the house in Mosul where Saddam Hussein's sons were hiding rather than try to encircle it and force them to surrender...Read the rest of the story and you wonder just who, exactly, was attacking the decision. Answer: the press. The statements the NYT describes as "defending" the storming of the house always come in reaction to questions from reporters. In other words, it's a made-up story. Thus, for the NYT to describe this as the U.S. "defending" its decision to storm the house indicates that the NYT believes it was the wrong decision - that it would be better if Uday and Qusay were still alive.
The Left is in a tizzy over a charge that top Bush administration officials illegally revealed the identity of an undercover CIA agent in an effort to discredit her husband, the author of a report that appeared to discredit claims that Iraq sought to buy uranium from the African nation of Niger. In the weird world of Washington DC scandals, this is as inside-baseball as it gets.
It's also probably a load of bunk, but that isn't stopping the Lefty side of the blogosphere from going on the attack.
The first four paragraphs of this Newsday article show the Democrats in full attack mode:
Democrats yesterday denounced the alleged disclosure by administration officials of the identity of an undercover CIA officer, and members of both parties indicated a congressional investigation is likely.The usual Lefty bloggers are all over it. South Knox Bubba points to "confirmation that someone in the Bush administration has outed a CIA agent. possibly in retribution for her husband's role in exposing the Niger uranium fraud." Oliver Willis calls it a "Smear From 1600" - that's the address of the White House - and points to a David Corn article that makes the allegations. Blogger Mark A. R. Kleiman claims It's official: the Bush Administration deliberately blew the cover of a secret agent who had been gathering information on weapons of mass destruction, endangering the lives of her sources and damaging our ability to collect crucial intelligence. (And, not incidentally, committing a very serious crime.) The apparent motive: revenge on Joseph Wilson, her husband, for going public with the story of his mission to Niger... And CalPundit recounts the accusations and says that "if" they are true, it is "an appalling abuse of power by the administration that not only blows an agent's cover, but reduces the effectiveness of an important CIA program." At least CalPundit said "if" because there's no evidence so far that the allegations are in any way true.
Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), an Intelligence Committee member, said it plans to investigate who revealed the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, who is married to former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. In a move that sparked the current controversy over allegations that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger, Wilson revealed two weeks ago that he had warned the Bush administration the reports were unfounded.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the intelligence panel, called the disclosure of Plame's identity "vile" and "a highly dishonorable thing to do; highly, highly dishonorable." He, too, said a probe is probably necessary and accused the White House of strong-arm tactics aimed at those who question their policies. "To go after him [Wilson] is one thing, but to go after his wife is another thing," Rockefeller said.
Former intelligence officials joined in denouncing the release of Plame's name by "two senior administration officials" to conservative columnist Robert Novak.
It appears that Corn, a Lefty who writes for the very left-wing magazine The Nation, sliced and diced a paragraph from a Robert Novak column in order to manufacture the scandal. His article was the first to make the allegations that the Bush administration illegally outed Plame as a CIA undercover operative, in order to discredit her diplomat husband.
The core of the mini-scandal is the charge that "two senior administration officials" told Novak, a famous conservative political columnist and commentator, Valerie Plame's identity as an undercover CIA agent to him. But that is not what Novak wrote. You see, I'm not just a reader of the news, I'm a journalist with a very inquisitive mind - and an Internet connection. And I've got Google. So I did what those Lefty bloggers apparently didn't do before swallowing Corn's version hook, line and sinker. I Googled and found Novak's article. Here is what it says, verbatim, and in its entirety, about Valerie Plame:
Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. "I will not answer any question about my wife," Wilson told me.Novak did NOT say "senior administration officials" revealed her identity. Novak simply states her identity. Now I don't know how Novak knows what Valerie Plame does for a living. Maybe he knows her and Wilson socially. Wilson was fairly highly placed in the first Bush administration and in the Clinton administration, and Novak has been in DC for decades. No doubt, they all make the party circuit. Plame was not a CIA spy in the jungles of Africa or the deserts of the Middle East. She lived and worked in Washington DC, where Novak works. Or perhaps Novak got the information from a low-level government employee who didn't know Plame was an undercover operative - surely, someone other than Wilson and Plame knew she worked at CIA.
Corn, conspicuously, does not quote Novak's entire paragraph anywhere his piece - and Corn's piece is the foundational article of the entire "scandal." Corn does assert that Novak told him that "government officials" told him of Plame's real job, but it is telling that the words Corn said Novak uses are "government officials," which could be virtually anyone in the government. And Novak's piece does not source Plame's identity to the "senior administration officials," as Corn implies it does. In Corn's piece, in fact, the allegation that it was "administration officials" seems to rest on a claim by Corn that Wilson told Corn that Novak said so. That's third-party. It's hearsay. It would not be admissible as evidence in a trial. And Wilson, remember, has an ax to grind.
Yet the Lefty bloggers are grabbing Corn's spin and claiming they have "confirmation" and "official" proof that the White House released Plame's identity as a smear against Wilson. (How, exactly, that's a smear, I don't know...)
Did administration officials "out" Plame? The evidence is rather lacking. In fact, it is increasingly clear that Wilson is the one who is revealing his wife's identity as an undercover agent - if indeed that's what she really is. As even Kleiman unwittingly admitted in his blog item I linked to above, when he said this: Joseph Wilson, who had previously been slightly cagy about the role of his wife, Valerie Plame, has now publicly charged on NBC that the Administration deliberately blew his wife's cover as an a act of intimidation. In doing so, he implicitly confirms that she was in fact a covert agent.
UPDATE: The anonymous blogger of Seamole has some more background on Plame and Wilson. Start here. Then go here and here. Would it surprise you to know that Wilson once worked for Al Gore? Would it surprise you to know that Wilson delivered a keynote speech at a June conference of an activist group that opposed the Iraq war and blamed Iraq's misery on U.S. compliance with U.N. sanctions rather than on Saddam's refusal to comply with U.N. resolutions?
UPDATE: Don't miss Donald Luskin's coverage of this non-scandal. In part of it, he wonders how Corn could know that Plame was an undercover CIA operative, "since he (Corn) says Wilson wouldn't tell him 'whether she is a deep-cover CIA employee,' and he cites no other sources." So, perhaps it is Corn that outed Plame?
Also don't miss Tom Maguire's coverage over at his Just One Minute blog. He's been covering it since the Corn article first appeared, and is doing a better job of it than I am. An excerpt:
The distinction between "administration" and "government" officials haunts this story. TIME clearly makes a distinction, and so does Mr. Corn here. My impression is that "Administration" means what it says; "government" is non-White House executive branch. In this story, the CIA would be "government", and White House officials would be "Administration".After you've read the Maguire entry I linked to, just keep scrolling and keep reading. Excellent stuff. Far more intelligent, analytical and evidence-based than the thin gruel of scandalmongering served up by the aforementioned Lefty bloggers.
So, when asked directly by Mr. Corn, Mr. Novak says his sources for the key personal information are "government". This agrees with the TIME formulation. The phrase "and its accurate" may suggest, to deep de-constructionists, that Novak got independent verification from a second source.
And Mr. Wilson's description of Mr. Novaks discussions with him? We know that Mr. Novak claimed some "administration" sources in his own column, so the fact that he also claims that with Ambassador Wilson is not news. Since the specifics of his conversation with Ambassador Wilson are not available, I deem this to be inconclusive.
However, Mr. Corn was surely eager to get Mr. Novak to admit to "administration" sources, and could not...
Novak was coy in his original column as to sources, but there is a lot to suggest he got a lot of his details from the CIA. TIME pretty probably had CIA, or at least "government" sources, for info similar to Novak's. Consequently, the headline for this scandal may one day be "CIA in Disarray - Feud Outs Agent". If the fallout from the Iraqi war includes a politicized and divided CIA, that is bad for the nation.
But it may better for Bush than the alternative, which is that his own aides outed a covert agent and compromised national security in order to punish a political opponent. For Bush supporters (hey, that includes me!) the choices seem to be bad, and worse.
A Reader Reminds Me: The first commandment for Presidents ought to be, "Don't Pick a Fight With The CIA".
Scroll up for a follow-up from Luskin....
Tour de Lance Update
Lance still leads, but the big news from today's 16th stage (and final mountain stage) is that American rider Tyler Hamilton, who has been riding since the second stage with a broken collarbone, won the stage. Amazing. There are no tougher riders in professional cycling than Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton. Armstrong gave Hamilton - a former member of his U.S. Postal team - a bear hug at the finish line.
Other coverage of the Tour and today's stage:
George Vecsey in the Washinton Post comments that "this Tour seems to have caught the imagination of people everywhere." Bicycling magazine assess Jan Ullrich's chances to defeat Armstrong. The Boston Globe focuses on Hamilton. Reuters reports on Hamilton's win in detail.
And LGF says this is the Best. Tour. Ever. Hey, I'm in total agreement.
Did Dems Conspire to Extend California Crisis for Political Gain?
Steven Antler, a/k/a the "EconoPundit," takes on Jonathan Alter, and suggests he missed the hidden agenda in all those states where politicians are screaming about revenue shortfalls. Antler also points to a damning article in the Los Angeles Times revealing that some of California's top Democrats conspired to extend the state's fiscal crisis in order to make tax increases more politically palatable.
The Times article is astonishing:
In a meeting they thought was private but was actually broadcast around the Capitol on Monday, 11 Assembly Democrats debated prolonging California's budget crisis to further their political goals. Members of the Democratic Study Group, a caucus that defines itself as progressive, were unaware that a microphone in Committee Room 127 was on as they discussed slowing progress in an attempt to increase pressure on Republicans to accept tax increases as part of a deal to resolve the state's $38-billion budget gap. The conversation was transmitted to roughly 500 "squawk boxes" around Sacramento that political staff, lobbyists and reporters use to listen in on legislative proceedings. According to Republican staff members who captured parts of the meeting on tape, Los Angeles Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg and others discussed holding up the budget to dramatize the consequences and build support for a ballot initiative that would make it easier to raise taxes.Disgusting.
"Since this is going to be a crisis, the crisis could be this year," Goldberg said, according to a transcript. "No one's running [for reelection]. And maybe you end up better off than you would have, and maybe you don't. But what you do is you show people that you can't get to this without a 55% vote."
The ballot initiative would let the Legislature approve any tax increase with a 55% vote. The state Constitution requires a two-thirds majority. That means that under the current makeup of the Legislature, at least eight Republicans must join the slim Democratic majority for a tax increase to pass. Fabian Nunez, also of Los Angeles, agreed. "If you don't have a budget, it helps Democrats," he said.
While a delay might serve the tactical advantage of Democrats, its consequences are already being felt by students, vendors and the poor: Since the new fiscal year began July 1 without a budget, the state has already begun to cut off money to some programs. Republicans noted that many caucus members have charged the GOP with holding the budget process hostage. Yet, those same Democrats are now caught on tape discussing ways to hold things up.
Assembly Budget Committee Vice Chairman John Campbell (R-Irvine) said he listened to about 20 minutes of the meeting on the squawk box in his office. "It sounded like they were hoping to create a crisis at some point to further their political gains in other areas," he said. "I thought that was outrageous."
Campbell said Democrats also discussed whether delaying the budget would increase the chance of a union-backed initiative that would lower the threshold for new taxes to a 55% vote of the Legislature. The state Constitution currently requires that budgets pass by at least a two-thirds majority, which today would require that a few Republicans join a united Democratic majority.
Campbell said that the Democrats discussed leveraging the public's distaste for the Legislature. "They were worried that if the Legislature appeared to have dealt with the budget crisis, the initiative may not play well," he said. "This is very surprising, considering they are in charge."
After about 90 minutes, a staffer interrupted to alert lawmakers that their meeting was not private at all: "Excuse me, guys, you can be heard outside," an unidentified staff member said.
"Oh [expletive], [expletive]," Goldberg said.
Jeff over at A Little More to the Right explores the controversy over Mel Gibson's forthcoming movie about the last hours of the life of Jesus the Christ. Read the whole thing. And, yes, I agree with every word of it. And, yes, I look forward to seeing the movie. Donald Sensing also weighs in on the controversy, from the perspective of a Christian pastor, and links to a blog that reports on uber-blogger Matt Drudge's response to the film. (Drudge, a Jew, called it "magical.")
An Experiential Browser?
News.com reports on Netomat, a new Internet company that "began as a modern art project" and is taking "the multimedia aspects of the web, the personal connection of the blog, and the social dynamics of instant messaging" and adding in some art theory and business strategy, and "hoping that's the recipe for an Internet revolution." Essentially, Netomat offers simple tools for adding photos, text and sound to a web page – and allows the author to also permit viewers of the webpage to add their own drawings, text, links and other content – and allows viewers can see the original page and all the modifications.
The Tennessean does its best to pour cold water on the news of the deaths of Saddam's evil sons, Oday and Qusay, at the hands of the 101st Airborne yesterday:
Yesterday's successful military operation in Iraq doesn't end the danger for U.S. troops. It doesn't solve Iraq's complex political problems, and it doesn't answer the questions about the Bush administration's pre-war intelligence. ... Taking them out might not hasten Iraq's progress toward democracy, but it should sap the strength and the resolve of Saddam's Baath Party. ... Since the end of the major military conflict in early May, U.S. soldiers serving in Iraq have continued to be killed at a rate of about one a day. The death toll among U.S. troops rose to 153 yesterday. This nation has grown increasingly concerned about enduring a prolonged, expensive and deadly conflict in Iraq with too little help from other nations. .... It is far too early to declare that yesterday's operation was a turning point in a situation that desperately needed turning. ... With or without Odai and Qusai, with or without the Baath Party, Iraq remains treacherous.A few points in response:
1. The danger to U.S. troops will be ended when all the bad guys are dead or captured. Two of them - two of the biggest bad guys - died yesterday.
2. The "questions about the Bush administration's pre-war intelligence" are really just questions about 16 words in the State of the Union speech - words that are, in fact, true when read in their entirety.
3. The operation's success was a victory for the Bush administration's intelligence operations.
4. Since the end of major military conflict, declared by the president on May 1, 37 American soldiers have been killed in attacks by enemy forces. Not 153. The Tennessean is playing games with the numbers, trying to make you think that 153 soldiers have "been killed" by the enemy since the end of major combat, when, in fact, that is the total number of deaths of American soldiers in Iraq since the start of the war, including combat and non-combat deaths. Most of the deaths since May 1 have been non-combat deaths - accidents - which occur at domestic military bases frequently.
5. The notion that Iraq would be the same "with or without" the Baath Party and "with or without" Oday and Qusay is ludicrous and the assertion otherwise should be a source of embarrassment to the paper's editorial board.
The deaths of Oday and Qusay - Oday ran the Saddam Fedayeen terrorist militia and Qusay is believed to have been organizing the guerilla campaign - is an unqualified success for the Bush administration and its policy in Iraq. Which, perhaps, is why The Tennessean can't celebrate it without carping.
Tour de Lance Update
Rest day today. Final mountain stage tomorrow. In lieu of race coverage today, I bring you links to coverage and commentary, including a nice column about Lance and the Tour de France by Lou Sessinger, a sports columnist for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper, coverage of the pivotal Luz Ardiden stage from the Associated Press and Cycling News. The latter explains why Jan Ullrich waited after Lance crashed on the final climb, rather than charge ahead to victory. It also has lots of great pictures from the race.
And the San Antonio Express News has a story about another pro athlete who beat cancer.
Taxpayers Bill of Rights Passes at Local Level
The Board of Mayor and Aldermen in Spring Hill, Tennessee, passed the Spring Hill Tax Payer Bill of Rights Monday night on a vote of 7 in favor, one against and one not present. It is the first local taxpayers bill of rights in Tennessee. This is major news, as the Spring Hill law is part of a grassroots effort to enact tough barriers to increased government spending and taxes all across Tennessee and, some say, nationally.
For background, start here. Ths is big news, which means there's a chance the mainstream news media in Tennessee will ignore or downplay it. More details to follow in the days ahead...
UPDATE: The Spring Hill measure, which takes effect immediately, allows residents to vote on any future property tax increases, and requires any budget surpluses created by excess revenues in the general fund will be returned to the taxpayers in the next fiscal year by means of a property tax reduction. Three years ago, Spring Hill Mayor Ray Williams vowed to eliminate city property taxes for Spring Hill residents, and he and the board have been doing so in stages, reducing the rate four times. Spring Hill residents pay only 23 cents per $100 assessed value.
The Tennessean actually covered the story. But, true to the paper's unceasing support for bigger government and higher taxes, the paper just had to go get a quote from the deputy director of the Tennessee Municipal League - a lobbying group that lobbies for bigger government budgets, higher taxes and creation of a state income tax - pointing out that the Spring Hill taxpayers bill of rights can be canceled by a future city council. As, no doubt, the TML and The Tennessean fervently hope it will.
The paper fails to point out that overturning the law would, in effect, be a vote for higher taxes - and such votes do not serve Tennessee politicians well these days.
The Spring Hill development is a victory for anti-tax activists in Tennessee, who have won most every battle in recent years across the state, including defeating a proposed income tax that was within a whisker of passing. Colorado's statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights grew out of a similar measure passed first at the local level in Colorado Springs. Tennessee activists pushing for a similar limitation on government taxing and spending in Tennessee have focused their efforts at the local level too, and have already put one in the win column.
As other cities and towns across Tennessee move, for competitive reasons, to copy Spring Hill, the Taxpayers Bill of Rights may emerge as the defining issue of the next statewide election, in 2006.
The Daily Beacon, the student newspaper at the University of Tennessee, has more details of how UT President John Shumaker has been spending money on his UT credit card and expense account. It will disgust you. Or at least it should.
Shumaker also charged a total of $12,656.26 in hotels. Receipts show he has stayed in such locations as the Grand Hyatt in Beijing, China, the Sheraton Hotel in Frankfurt, Germany, and a host of Hilton hotels.Read the whole thing. And praise the Daily Beacon for having the courage to run the story. Unlike our friend in South Knoxville, they aren't in denial.
Shumaker spent $506.43 at the Orangery in Knoxville and also spent $180 at the Bella Spazio salon last September. Recently visiting San Francisco, Shumaker charged $880 for a limousine. The president has spent $2,155.53 for a car through Hertz Rent-A-Car over the last year. The president's food bill amounted to $2,644.80 and included meals in Knoxville, China, Texas and other locations, including Bobby Van's Steakhouse in Washington, D.C., where $523.40 was spent.
Shumaker is given a $735,000 compensation package yearly by the university. He is one of the highest paid university presidents in the nation. Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, said he believed the president's office is not showing proper fiscal restraint. "UT is cutting back and asking people to sacrifice, and no sacrifice is made in the office of the president," Dunn said. "Maybe he thought since he was being paid like a king he ought to live like a king," he said. "Now he knows he's got to be more like a servant."
I worked downtown five years ago when Nashville's downtown was hit by a tornado. The building I was in was hit, but sustained virtually no damage (though many downtown buildings suffered extensive damage). I also once worked for a political campaign housed in this building. It felt like working in a fire trap. I'm not surprised a strong wind blew part of it over - it always felt like a few guys could push it over on a dare. I was near downtown when the storm blew through today. If I'd been in that building, I'd have fled.
Tennessee Economic Development
The 2003 Tennessee Governor's Conference on Economic and Community Development is scheduled for Sept. 2-4, 2003, at the Nashville Convention Center. Nashville's enjoyed a series of recent big economic development news of late. This meeting is about spreading the good fortune across the rest of the state. If you're interested in that sort of thing, the agenda is here.
Justene Adamec has valuable coverage of the ongoing California budget battle, and how some in California want to get rid of the state constitution's requirement that budgets be passed by a vote of at least 2/3rds of the legislature. It's the Nevada Effect. Seems Democrats don't have quite enough votes to raise taxes and are blaming Republicans for obstructionism because the Republicans won't do what they said they won't do. When a Big Government liberal won't compromise, its called Standing On Principle, see, but when some small-government conservatives keep a promise the Big Government liberals want them to break, it's Obstructionism.
Subject: Tip Jar
I just received one of the nicest emails I have ever received from a reader of this blog. With the writer's permission, I'm reprinting it here for you.
Subject: Tip JarThanks, G. I do wonder sometimes who is tipping and why. And to be mentioned in the same sentence as Lileks, well... wow.
Bill - regarding your tip jar, I thought I'd step out of the shadows to say hello and let you know that I was last week's contributor of $11.11. Weird amount, I know. I can't say why exactly, but whenever I hit someone's tip jar, I have a tendency to select some goofball whimsical amount like that. I donated the same amount to James Lileks that day.
In any case, having given the matter a little thought I decided I'd say hello and let you know why I decided to hit your tip jar. It stands to reason that you would naturally be curious about who tips and why, right? Strangely enough, at the time of tip, I had probably read more of your postings in the Comments section over at SK Bubba's blog (which I found via Instapundit) than anywhere else, even on your own blog.
Anyway, I found myself almost always nodding in vigorous agreement with whatever argument you were waging over there, whether it was the one about the Dixie Chicks or the more numerous and more important postings about the war in Iraq. I admire your ability to marshall facts to support your point of view, and incorporate those facts into coherent posts. In the face of puerile rudeness and name-calling (what is it with gttim, anyhow?) I also commend you for your measured tones and your tendency to stick with facts rather than resorting to rudeness and bluster like some of your fellow comment posters. In any case, between reading your work in postings on SKB's blog and your own, I figured I had gotten enough benefit from your labor to justify throwing a small donation your way to help you defray some of your expenses. Or buy you a few gallons of gas. Or something.
Through your comments over at SKB's blog, of course, I discovered your blog and have been enjoying reading that when I have time. I could use about 9 extra hours in the day just to peruse some of the blogs I enjoy reading. Speaking of your blog, I have been enjoying the postings about the unfolding Tour de France. I have been monitoring quite a bit of the race myself and enjoying OLN's extensive coverage. You're right ... today's was quite exciting!
OK, I'll sign off now. Just wanted to say howdy, explain my tip, and encourage you to keep up the good work.
G. in Decatur, Ga
Let Reporters Blog!
Michelle Nicolosi, editor of Online Journalism Review, says newspapers should encourage their reporters to write weblogs:
More papers should think about setting up reporters with blogs. Working on them should be optional - not mandated - and reporters should be given the freedom to have a little personality in their blog, to link offsite, to post pretty much as they see fit. If they do a bad job, cancel it. But if you try to control it too much, the blog will not really be a blog - it'll be briefs. Newspaper style briefs are boring. They don't have the same appeal and won't draw the same kind of crowd as a personality-driven insider's look at a given topic.She's right.
But I doubt newspaper executives will take her advice any time soon. Why? Because newspapers are organized around a model in which the newspaper controls the flow of information - it decides how to portray a 3-hour public hearing in 8 inches of copy, for example, or how to report the details of a hundred -page government document in 15 column inches. The newspaper model demands the reader trust the newspaper, sometimes on little more than blind faith.
Blogs gain trust by extensive linking to source documents, which few newspapers do either online or with footnotes in print..
Bogs represent a level of uncontrolled information flow that makes your average newspaper editor very nervous. And blogs linking to actual source documents gives many editors the willies. After all, if your readers can read the original documents, they'll more easily be able to spot the bias, the errors and the incomplete-ness of the 12-inch story.
Read the whole interview with Nicolosi - plenty of good insights about the Internet and the democratized digital future of journalism. [Hat tip: Corante.com]
Tour de Lance Update
Lance Armstrong reestablished his dominance in the Tour de France with a spectacular attack on the climb to Luz-Ardiden in today's tough mountain stage. He now leads Germany's Jan Ullrich by 1:07 in the overall standings, with one mountain stage left in the Tour. Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov, who trailed Armstrong by just 18 seconds in the overall standings starting today's race, and talked big about taking the overall race lead from Armstrong today, finished eighth, 2:07 behind Armstrong - and almost a minute behind Tyler Hamilton. Hamilton is riding with a broken collarbone, so I'm guessing we won't be hearing any more big talk from Vinokourov. High praise here for Jan Ullrich, though, who stopped and waited for Lance after Lance fell in a freak accident in which a fan's bag caught on his handlebar, yanking his bike out from beneath Armstrong. Ullrich's classy move is payback for Armstrong stopping and waiting for Ullrich after Ullrich crashed on a mountain descent in last year's Tour.
The crash seemed to inspire Lance:
Armstrong won after recovering from fall just 2.5 miles into the climb to Luz-Ardiden. He grazed his left elbow and stained his overall leader's yellow jersey. Then he got back on his bike and got back in the race. "After the fall, I had a big, big rush of adrenaline,'' Armstrong said. He then told himself, "Lance if you want to win the Tour de France, do it today."Rest day Tuesday, followed by one more mountain stage Wednesday.
Barring a crash, Armstrong and Ullrich are the only two riders left with a realistic chance to win the Tour. An American and a German are the only two people with a chance to win in France. Yeah. That's normal! :-)
Ullrich has never finished lower than second in the Tour. He won it once in 1997 and finished second four times, including in 2001 and 2002 behind Armstrong. He appears likely to finish second again, behind Lance, as he plays the role of Alydar to Armstrong's Affirmed.
LGF also comments on Armstrong's win today...
Meanwhile.... this column is 11 days old, but well worth reading. It's by Sally Jenkins, who co-write Lance's excellent and inspiring autobiography, which details his battle with cancer and return to competitive cycling. Click the book cover image to purchase the book, It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life - you'll be getting a great book and supporting this blog at the same time. Not a bad deal, eh?
Iraq: The Good News You Don't Hear
StrategyPage has a rundown of the good news from Iraq.
What is really happening in Iraq? The media make it sound like another Vietnam, with the Iraqi population sliding towards mass resistance as Iraqi society collapses in violent anarchy. But the reality is a lot different. Attacks on coalition troops are declining, the availability of public services is increasing and public opinion towards the coalition becomes more favorable each day. The gunmen who are attacking coalition troops are being hunted down and arrested, and huge arms caches found and destroyed.Read the whole thing - especially the part about all the stuff our special forces are doing outside the glare of the teevee cameras. And cheer up. We're winning. [Hat tip: ZogbyBlog]
Actually, all of those trends ARE reported, but are buried in the far more numerous gloom and doom reports. This unsavory situation has developed for the usual reasons; bad news attracts more eyeballs than good news. And the news business is all about being a better eyeball magnet. Mass media has operated on this principle for over a century, or about as long as there has been mass media. Along they way, mass media moguls have invented the phantom crime wave (by simply reporting all the normal crime and dubbing it a crime wave), started wars (the Spanish-American War) and stopped them (Vietnam). The mass media have also given us vapid celebrities, sensational (but meaningless) trials and great success at combining "how low can you go" with "can you top this." From a marketing point of view, it works. But as a means of delivering timely, accurate news, it doesn't.
Much of the current reporting on Iraq warps the public perception of the past, as well as the present. The media plays down the fact that resistance from Sunni Arabs was widely discussed in the Pentagon before the war. But that wasn't a sexy story then, even though it is now. The coalition policing efforts have taken nearly a quarter million AK-47s off the streets, as well as huge quantities of RPGs, explosives and other weapons. Again, not interesting enough for prime time.
Tour de Lance Update
Lance still leads, but Jan Ullrich is gaining. Update at LGF. Sucks that there's no live coverage of tomorrow's mountain stage on OLN. Could be the defining stage of the tour, with six tough climbs that could determine whether Lance or Ullrich wears the yellow jersey into Paris, yet we're stuck with CBS., which won't cover it live, but instead offer a 1-hour highlights show in the afternoon. Ugh.
Sao Tome Update
Click here for the latest news on the coup that ousted the democratically elected pro-American president of a small oil-rich non-Islamic African country.
UPDATE: Donald Sensing has an answer to the question I posed at the end of this post.
UPDATE: Looks like the coup perpetrators may be backing down.
Time Trial 2, and It's Tyler's Tour Too
Lance Armstrong finished second in today's 12th stage of the Tour de France, an individual time trial in which each rider races against the clock. Germany's Jan Ulrich finished first, gaining 96 seconds on Lance in the overall standings. The number-two rider at the start of today's stage, Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov, finished 30 seconds slower than Armstrong and dropping to third place overall, 51 seconds behind Armstrong. Ullrich is now in second, just 34 seconds behind Armstrong.
Tyler Hamilton, who started the day in fifth place overall, finished two minutes and 59 seconds behind Ullrich, raising his overall position to fourth, 2 minutes and 59 seconds behind.
I'm rooting for Armstrong to win the Tour de France, but a little part of me is rooting for Hamilton, too. Hamilton is riding with a fractured collarbone - has been since a crash on Day 1 - and is among the race leaders. An extraordinary, gutty, amazing performance. Hamilton is posting a journal from the Tour on his website. Today's entry describes the pain he's riding in, and his view of the crash of rider Joseba Beloki that almost took out Armstrong - a former teammate, as Hamilton rode with the U.S. Postal team until this year. Hamilton:
The pain in my collar bone is now being matched by pain in my spine. I started feeling a jabbing pain in my back and rib cage a couple of days ago. We just figured it was a bruise making it's way to the surface and that it would get better each day. But the problem is it's been getting worse. Yesterday, the pain woke me up about an hour ahead of our scheduled wake up call. No one gets up earlier than they have to at the Tour. So this was serious. I couldn't take a deep breath. It was like I got an instant cramp every time I tried to suck in a lot of air. And the pain would dart around my side into my chest. The feeling made me a little more than nervous.By the way, riding with a broken bone is nothing new for Hamilton, whose ride in the Tour is "the stuff of legend," according to San Francisco Chronicle writer Dan Giesin.
As I ate breakfast, Ole spent a little time working on the area trying to get a feel for what was wrong. He figured the culprit was probably a nerve being pinched somewhere in my now twisted spine. Since I'm stronger on one side at the moment, I'm pulling things a little out of whack. I practically squirmed out of my seat every time Ole got close to the spot where the pain was the most intense.
Monday's stage was really tough. I had previewed the climbs in June, so I knew that we were going to have our work cut out for us. The two climbs following the Izoard, weren't super long, but they were steep. And it the heat was intense. I found myself in much the same position I did on Alpe d'Huez. I couldn't sprint when guys attacked, but I could ride a pretty steady pace on my own that eventually got me back in contact with powerhouses up front. It was a dangerous ride as well since the tar was soft and pretty slippery in some spots.
It was really a shame to see Beloki go down like he did. My read on the crash was that he had hit a slick spot where the tar had melted, had his wheel slip out, then got caught up on dry pavement. The speeds combined with the elements made it impossible for him to control his bike. It was a bad situation. And it could have happened to any one of us. But how about Armstrong, though? I've never seen anything like what he did. The guy just keeps making bike racing history. We could see him crossing the field as we made our way around the switch back. When he darted back into the road I couldn't believe what I was watching him do. I instinctively threw out my arm to try and give him a push to help get him up to speed, but then I realized I had reached out with my right arm, which is the side with my collar bone fractures. At the last second, I pulled my hand away. I don't think I would have been much help to him anyway. He seemed to have the situation under control. Although his heart rate must have been over 200 at the time.
In last year's Giro d'Italia, Italy's multi-day race, Hamilton crashed in the first week and broke his shoulder, but continued to race, finishing second, despite pain so severe that he grit his teeth so hard that he later needed extensive dental work and nearly a dozen teeth capped.
Armstrong survived cancer to come back and win the tour, four times in a row and counting. Hamilton is riding this Tour with a broken collarbone, and could win up on the podium next to Lance. Just two Americans doing what Americans do best: overcoming adversity. Nobody's got a strong heart than Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton.
Don't miss Virginia Postrel's excellent commentary in yesterday's New York Times on how state laws are limiting online shopping. Postrel looks at the Federal Trade Commission's recent examantion of state regulatory barriers to ecommerce in 12 indistries ranging from pharmaceutical sales to legal services, and helpfully points to transcripts of those hearings. She also discusses a report (PDF here) from FTC staff economists on state regulatory barriers in a single industry, online wine sales, which I discussed here on July 7 and again on July 8. Tennessee is one of 26 states that prohibit almost all direct shipping of out-of-state wines. Seven - including Tennessee - make direct sales a felony. Notes Postrel: "Consumers in these states can buy directly from winemakers only if they actually visit the winery. ... Why, then, do the bans persist? The answer is interest-group politicking. Local businesses, whether they sell wine, cars or insurance, are keeping out the competition."
Read the whole thing.
UPDATE: Les Jones, who has some experience working in ecommerce, has some good comments on why consumers aren't getting the full benefit of ecommerce.
Give 'Em Credit
A review of University of Tennessee President John Shumaker's use of his Ut credit card for personal purchases has triggered a broader review of credit card usage throughout state government. Reports today's Tennessean:
The request for broadening the review came yesterday from the legislature's watchdog Fiscal Review Committee, which has asked UT President John W. Shumaker to appear before it Sept. 4 to answer questions about the credit cards, use of UT's airplane, the demotion of UT architecture dean Marleen Kay Davis and UT's award of a no-bid contract to a Shumaker acquaintance.Tennessee state government has two kinds of credit cards - it has issued some 2,200 corporate travel cards from Diners Club to employees who travel a lot on state business. Each of those cards has a $3,000 credit limit. The state has issued another 1,167 cards used by state offices to order office supplies. Some lawmakers are questioning how the credit cards are issued, and their use regulated. State Sen. David Fowler: "The situation at the University of Tennessee has brought light to a matter that may go well beyond UT. Credit cards are easily subject to abuse, and I think we need to do everything we can to make sure that there are proper checks and balances that would normally be inspected by auditors auditing in the private sector."
Meanwhile, Shumaker's granting of a UT $300,000 no-bid contract to a long-time friend and former business partner has sparked more soul-searching at the state level. Jim Davenport, executive director of the legislature's watchdog Fiscal Review Committee, plans to seek a legal opinion on whether the UT and the Board of Regents systems are covered by a new state law providing oversight by the committee on no-bid contracts for state goods and services that are $250,000 or more.
The Shumaker spending scandal, which SKB dismissed as much ado about nothing, has already forced Shumaker to reimburse the university $24,600 for purchases and travel of a personal nature. Now it's prompting a much deeper review of a variety of spending practices. It may be Shumaker's biggest positive contribution to Tennessee yet.
Not Two Of France's Favorite People
Is Lance waving buh bye to his rivals... or helping Ah-nuld say 'hasta la vista' to Gov. Gray Davis?
Sao Tome Update
The Voice of America is reporting the Bush administration "is working diplomatically to restore Sao Tome's elected government, which was ousted by officers in the country's military Wednesday. "
The State Department says Washington is consulting other African countries and Portugal on how to resolve the crisis. Portugal is the former colonial ruler of Sao Tome and Principe. The American diplomatic effort is being led by the U.S. ambassador to Gabon, Kenneth Moorfield, who also has the responsibility for Sao Tome. The United States, as well as Nigeria, Mozambique, Portugal and France joined U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in condemning the coup.I think the notion of Nigerian troops in Sao Tome is problematic given the rising tension in recent years between Nigeria and Sao Tome fueled by Nigeria's coveting the oil in the Gulf of Guinea that it shares with Sao Tome. Military intervention by the AU to reverse the coup is a better option - and the U.S. should provide assistance if asked. For more on Sao Tome, click here and follow the links.
Also Thursday, African Union (AU) officials hinted that military intervention may be considered to restore the government of ousted President Fradique de Menezes. A spokesman for AU chairman, Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, said this is one option under consideration. Mr. Chissano flew to Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday to consult with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Mr. De Menezes, who was in Nigeria when the coup took place. Mr. Chissano said Wednesday's coup is condemnable and unacceptable to the AU. Nigeria, Sao Tome's northern neighbor, has hinted at possible military intervention in the small country of 150,000 people. Sao Tome's deposed President de Menezes has ruled out a possible military intervention by Nigeria but says he may welcome such action by the African Union.
Other bloggers blogging about Sao Tome:
Andrew Apostolou at Apostablog, who favors intervention if that's what it takes to end the coup, and notes that, Of course, the "it's all about oil" brigade will soon start up. To be sure, the coup appears to be motivated by a desire to grab future oil revenues. If the Sao Tomese win back their freedom because of oil, then this natural resource will have been of some use to them.
Adam at Karmic Inquisition, who provides a very long and insightful post and comments, That the US (warts and all) endeavors to keep the world's oil supply in a diverse set of hands is a good thing for democracies around the world, IMO. Only 1 of the 6 companies trading Iraqi oil is US. Hardly a US grab. Just the same, the US should "take the sticks away" of her critics by simply insisting that public oil trusts be established for protectorates in cases where new oil wealth is found (Sao Tome) or where it had been nationalized prior (like in Iraq).
OxBlog. OxBlog is one of the finest blogs in the blogosphere and I'm honored by the link. Thanks for noticing! More importantly, thanks for caring about Sao Tome.
It's worth noting that many of those in the political arena who are calling for the U.S. to intervene in Liberia, which has no oil and is not of any real strategic interest to the United States, are not calling for U.S. intervention to restore democracy in Sao Tome.
What's the difference, Howard Dean?
Slouching Tiger, Hidden Golf Ball
Here's a report from day 1 at the British Open...
Should bureaucrats and politicians in congested Washington D.C. set the speed limit for roads like this one in southeastern Utah. I think not, as I asserted in a post the other day on speed limits. The federal government simply has no business being involved in setting highway speed limits across the nation. Locals know better what their speed limits should be, or whether they should have them at all.
Reader Jody Leavell responded to the previous post:
When you ran the story about speeding the other day you alluded to what might have been the study reported by CBS here. Understandably two people can read the same study and come to different conclusions which is partly what I think is the case here. In terms of deaths per mile traveled the study found essentially a constant rate, neither declining nor rising. However, in total numbers of fatalities the numbers did increase significantly, while the number of injuries declined just as significantly. I am aware of several other factors that can account for the fatality rate increasing, including a greater number of drivers on the road. By itself that number would not necessarily correlate to "speed kills." But the reduction in injuries for low speed crashes at the same time that deaths were increased does suggest a threshold effect. Combine an understanding of the physics of the automobile in acceleration (positively or negatively) and the measures automakers take for safety and one might begin to see that speed above a threshold does kill.Leavell makes some good points, but...
Now about government mandated speed limits. I think national legal limits are asinine. There is no way to set a fixed limit that works for all environments. But on the other hand, local speed laws are important. The federal government could assist local governments in determining those, but should not enforce them. They could also provide feedback to states where limits are too weak and cause a higher than expected rate of fatalities - that would be facilitating interstate commerce. From the drivers point of view it may not change much, depending on how belligerent they are towards limits of any kind.
But that also brings up the point about who should be driving. I assert that most drivers are not qualified and ill-equipped to properly respect and manage the power of the automobile as currently conceived. It is the same reason why not anyone can captain a passenger vessel on the sea or in the air, the danger to the public is too great. The scale of the automobile in terms of it's size, power, and speed far exceeds the needs of the average citizen and their abilities to control it. Add to that the ever increasing trend of auto-makers to insulate the senses of the driver from the reality of the environment they create for themself and others and you have a recipe for disaster.
For fun, imagine if a driver was forced to lay prone outside the cars enclosure with their head a foot off the ground. Also, though the passenger may enjoy relative comfort free from vibrations, jarring motions, wind and noise, the driver is rigidly connected to the frame of the car and not allowed to wear a helmet or goggles. How might that affect the driving style of that driver? The conception may seem absurd, but it does point to the fallacy of the automobile currently employed in our society. It also points to possible alternatives, too.
Overly-rapid deceleration is what kills, not speed. Astronauts don't die by speeding around the globe in 90 minutes. The pilot of a Learjet 45 does not die by cruising at mach 0.79 (526 mph). Speed does not kill.
Of course if everyone drove 100mph there would be more fatalities compared to if everyone drove 35 mph, even if the number of wrecks didn't change. That's not the point. The point is, who should decide what speed limits should be. I prefer that decision be made at the state level and lower, with Uncle Sam not involved at all. As for whether humans are able to control today's modern cars, the weight of the evidence is not on Leavell's side. Just look around you on your commute to work, or your trip to the mall. The vast majority of cars are not in wrecks or out of control. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's report on 2002 traffic fatalities, Americans drove 2.8 trillion miles in 2002, up from 2.78 trillion in 2001. The number of cars on the road rose 2 percent to 225,655,000 in 2002, while the number of vehicle miles traveled was up 1.7 percent. Overall fatalities increased to 42,815 in 2002 from 42,196 in 2001, a 1.5 percent increase. But the fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled remained at 1.51, a historic low.
Let's recap. In 2002, there were:
2.0 percent more cars on the road.We seem to be controlling our fast, powerful cars better than ever.
1.7 percent more miles driven.
1.5 percent more fatalities.
The NHTSA report is here in a 110-page PDF file.
Nevada Nut Case
Chris Lawrence wonders if California Gov. Gray Davis is "conducting a bizarre experiment to see how much lower he can drive his own poll ratings" by backing a lawsuit to undermine the state constitution in order to raise taxes. I dunno. Can they go much lower? Answer: Yes they can! Maybe Davis is just trying to catch
up down to the legislature.
Tour de Lance Update
Lance Armstrong remains the leader. Up next: the individual time trial, where Lance is expected kick butt and put some time on his closest challengers. Vive la Lance!
Plane Truth Update
University of Tennessee President John Shumaker is going to reimburse the state for $24,600 to cover 26 trips he took in the UT plane on personal business. And he's giving up the UT credit card that he use for personal purchases. None of this would have happened without Knoxville commentator Frank Cagle and the dogged Phil Williams of Nashville's NewsChannel5.
Iraq Update: Things Are Better than the NYT Will Admit
Amir Taheri has a report from Baghdad. I'll not excerpt it because you need to read the whole thing. [Hat tip: Instapundit]
Internet Sales Tax Dead For Now?
Efforts by a group of states to gain to gain congressional approval for their plan to tax all Internet sales may appears to be coming up short this year, reports the Washington Post today: Two key congressional panels today signaled that they are not willing to hitch the online sales tax issue to a planned extension of the Internet tax moratorium, a law that bans taxes on Internet access and Internet-specific services. ... Today's actions in Congress are just the latest sign that the states' campaign to level the sales tax playing field may be losing steam, at least for 2003.
Sao Tome Coup Update
Here's an excerpt of the transcript of the July 16 State Department press briefing by spokesman Richard Boucher in which the coup in Sao Tome was discussed:
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the coup?Sounds like the U.S. may again use the leverage of foriegn aid to reverse the coup. Good. As I explained yesterday, Sao Tome is very important.
MR. BOUCHER: We have reports now from our Embassy in Libreville, Gabon, as well as from the media, that Prime Minister Maria das Neves and some other government officials were put under arrest about 3:00 a.m. local time in Sao Tome. We deplore these actions. We strongly urge those involved to release the arrested government officials. President Menezes was out of the country on a visit to Nigeria. The Prime Minister and some other government officials are, as I said, reportedly under arrest. Early reports indicate that all of approximately 25 U.S. citizens, including our U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Moorefield and other staff from the Embassy in Libreville who were visiting Sao Tome, are safe and unharmed. We understand that four of these individuals worked for the Voice of America, four were Embassy Libreville staff, and the remainder were private U.S. citizens. There are no reports of any injuries or deaths that we know of at this point. The United States does not have a resident embassy in Sao Tome, but Ambassador Moorefield is accredited to Sao Tome, as well as to Gabon. That is what we know of the situation now.
QUESTION: Are we doing anything to try to help the president return to power?
MR. BOUCHER: At this point, we are following the situation closely. I would say we are monitoring developments. We are also, I think, looking at our assistance programs to determine what we need to do with those, and we will review those programs and take the appropriate action once the facts have become clear.
Meanwhile, ABC News is following developments in Sao Tome.
National Taxpayers Bill of Rights Push?
Apparently, the efforts to enact a Taxpayers Bill of Rights in Spring Hill, Tennessee, which I wrote about here on Tuesday, are part of a national push to enact similar tough restraints on government spending and tax increases at the local level. At least that's what this claims. That's all I know about it. But I've long thought the smart approach to getting a statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights in Tennessee was to first focus on the local level.
The recession is over. Has been for 20 months, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. It started in March 2001 and ended in November 2001. The NBER says: All the major indicators of economic activity were generally flat or declining through September 2001. Real GDP then grew at a substantial rate from the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2001 and has continued growing since then. ... Economic activity is typically below normal in the early stages of an expansion, and it sometimes remains so well into the expansion.
Some facts worth considering:
1. The economy slipped into negative-growth mode in March 2001, less than 2 months after George W. Bush became president. But none of Bush's economic proposals had been passed by Congress yet, so the economy slipped into recession during the last months of Clintonomics.
2. Bush's economic policies began taking effect initially with the $300 tax rebate checks mailed to taxpayers in the summer of 2001, and mor fully with the October 1, 2001 start of the new fiscal year. The recession ended and the economy resumed growing one month later.
3. The economy has been growing slowly for the last 20 months. Bush's economic policies have been in place for 22 months.
[Hat tip: EconoPundit]
Nevada's Bad Idea Is Spreading
California State Education Superintendent Jack O'Connell said he will ask the state Supreme Court to break the budget stalemate and allow a tax increase and a budget to be passed by a simple majority of lawmakers, instead of the two-thirds majority required by the California constitution. Where did O'Connell get the notion to ask the court to make such a ruling?
Ugh. These people have no respect for constitutional government.
I suspect Volokh will be all over this.
For my coverage of the Nevada case, click here.
The AP reports:
The move comes just a few days after Nevada's high court ruled that funding education was more important than following the procedural requirement that two-thirds vote is needed to pass a tax hike.Gov. Gray Davis is supporting O'Connell's lawsuit.
O'Connell plans to make the same argument, a spokesman said.
"The superintendent took a look at the Nevada case and their finding that the core job of the Legislature was to fund education and that trumps any procedural issues," said Rick Miller, of the California Department of Education.
NEVADA UPDATE: Volokh is continue to explore that case. Also, here's a story from the Las Vegas Review Journal updating a lawsuit filed by citizen and a group of Republican lawmakers in federal court, saying the Nevada Supreme Court's decision violated federal constitutional protections.
A Coup in Africa, and the War on Terror
What does a military coup in a tiny impoverished African country have to do with the war on terror? Plenty. A military coup in Sao Tome & Principe, a tiny island nation off the west coast of Africa, has big implications for the United States and deserves a lot more attention than it is getting. I've written about Sao Tome, its untapped oil, and its friendly overtures toward the United States before (start here and follow the links).
Here's a Voice of America report on the coup, plus coverage from the BBC, looking at oil's importance to Sao Tome, and a Forbes report on how oil has brought conflict to neighboring nations. CBS News' web story on the coup has lots of background on the tiny nation.
In this report, VOA says the government of neighboring Nigeria swiftly condemned the coup and "warned the military not to threaten or harm Nigerians living in Sao Tome." Mozambique also denounced the coup."
Sao Tome, made up of several small islands, has a population of about 150,000 people. VOA: It is one of the world's poorest countries, but potential oil reserves in its coastal waters have increased political tensions. Arguments over oil have fueled political instability in recent months. In January, President de Menezes dissolved parliament and called early elections because of a dispute with lawmakers over oil negotiations. The president later reinstated parliament and a new constitution was approved this year limiting the powers of the presidency.
Seven months ago, I wrote that Sao Tome, a largely Roman Catholic former Portuguese colony, was "a democracy, and a stable one at that." It was - and the Bush administration should move immediately to make it so again.
A military coup in Sao Tome in 1995 was ended, and democracy restored, when the United States and the European announced they would cut off vital foreign aid. A similar response is needed this time. It is in the United States' vital national interest that Sao Tome and Principe's President Fradique de Menezes be restored to his office, and democracy reinstated. part of winning the war against Islamist terrorism is to de-fund it, by shifting U.S. oil importation to non-Islamic countries as much as possible. Sao Tome is one such country.
What do you call a company that gives you less than you pay for? Epson.
The Dutch Consumer Association has advised its members to boycott Epson ink-jet printers, alleging that customers are unfairly being charged for ink they can never use. The boycott call last week came after joint tests by several European consumer groups indicating that Epson ink cartridges prematurely block printers from churning out more pages even when there is enough ink to keep going. In advertisements printed in several national Dutch newspapers, Epson acknowledged its printers stop working before cartridges are empty but said that protects printers from damage. They also said customers aren't charged extra for the unused ink.So, I'm not the only person who feels cheated by Epson. As I wrote here on May 26:
Ink-jet cartridges manufactured by Epson are fitted with an "Intellidge" chip, which Epson says keeps the print head moist. If the print head dries out, air bubbles can form that destroy the printer, the company said. The Dutch association, which has 620,000 paying members, wants Epson to modify its chip so that it gives a low-ink warning but doesn't block the printer.
"We don't deny that it's sensible to have a certain percentage of residual ink," said Dutch Consumer Association spokesman Ewald van Kouwen. "But we noticed (excesses of) 10, 20, 30 percent in our research. Then it's not residual ink anymore. It's just a way of getting you to buy more ink faster."
I own an Epson CX3200 all-in-one printer/fax/copier/scanner. I learned the other day that unless it has a color ink cartridge in it that has some ink left, it will not even print in black and white - even though printing in b/w uses ink only from the black ink cartridge. My previous printer, a Canon, would let me print in b/w even if any or all of the three color ink cartridges were empty or even removed from the machine. (It had separate cartridges for yellow, cyan and magenta; the Epson has just one color cartridge). In order to print a single simple letter in black ink, I had to go buy a $28 color cartridge. Epson does not disclose these facts in its product marketing and documents for the CX3200, and there is no way to disable this "feature." In fact, the CX32000 will not even allow me to print a multi-colored document or web page in black-and-white if I wanted to. I might prefer to take a Microsoft Word document, for example, that has black text with a few red titles and print it in all black. But Epson won't let me do that. I have to use their color ink - which means I'll eventually use it up and then have to buy a new Epson color cartridge in order to print a black-and-white document. This strikes me as wrong. I shouldn't have to pay Epson $28 for color ink in order to use the b/w printing capability of my printer. I paid them for the black ink cartridge, after all.Now I know it's even worse than I thought. Not only must I buy a color cartridge in order to print in black-and-white, Epson tells me the cartridge is out of ink before it is really out of ink.
My next printer will not be an Epson.
Meanwhile, I found a good source for after-market printer ink cartridges that will cost much less then the highway-robbery price for Epson-branded cartridges - approximately $20 for both cartridges instead of $28 apiece. An FAQ on Epson's site indicates use of non-Epson cartridges doesn't void the warranty.
Are Corporate Tax Shelters Costing Tennessee?
A new study released by the Multistate Tax Commission claims Tennessee brought in 30 percent less corporate excise tax revenue in 2001 because of corporate tax sheltering. The MTC estimates Tennessee "lost" $280 million. The Tennessee Department of Revenue actually collected $673 million in state corporate excise taxes in 2001.
Forty-five States participate in the Multistate Tax Commission, an organization of state governments that aims to help states administer tax laws that apply to multistate and multinational enterprises equitably and efficiently. That is to say, the MTC exists to help states maximize tax revenue.
From the MTC report: "The lost revenue attributable to (nationwide) domestic and international income tax sheltering is adding to the size of state budget deficits. It is not enough to say that state corporate tax revenues are declining just because of federal tax law changes or state tax-cutting during the 1990s. It is apparent that some corporations are increasingly taking advantage of structural weaknesses and loopholes in the state corporate tax systems."
The MTC report says most U.S. businesses are not part of the problem and very few small businesses are able to take advantage of the tax sheltering schemes studied by the MTC. Among the ways the MTC says some companies are sheltering profits from states' tax collectors:
1. Reincorporating in Bermuda strictly for tax income purposes;So ... it's not the sales tax that was losing Tennessee money after all? Huh.
2. Creating separate corporations to house "intangibles" (e.g., trademarks) and then siphoning profits away from taxation in the states in which the companies actually do business;
3. Shifting taxable income away from the United States to other nations through the pricing of goods and services involved in transactions between jointly owned companies;
4. Using complex interpretations of tax laws to create so-called "no-where income" that is earned by a corporation but then not reported to states that impose corporate income taxes.
The MTC report, Corporate Tax Sheltering and the Impact on State Corporate Income Tax Revenue Collections, is available here in a PDF file.
Plane Truth Update
The University of Tennessee board of trustees has ordered up an audit of the expenditures of UT President John Shumaker, who it has been reported may have been putting personal expenses on his UT expense account and using the UT plane to fly to Birmingham to visit his girlfriend. There are also serious questions about Shumaker's use of no-bid contracts, including one that benefited a long-time friend and former business partner, and expenditures on his university-issued credit card. Stay tuned...
War Update: Saudis Next?
Steven den Beste thinks so. Let's hope so. Read the whole thing and cheer up: the war is going well. [Hat tip: Instapundit]
The Sound of Saw Cutting Limb?
For months, the Democrats have loudly whined and moaned about mounting deficits while working feverishly in Congress alongside Republicans to increase spending as fast as they can, with pork for this, pork for that, and a $400 billion free-drugs program.
The Democrats have seized on the 'record' deficits as a campaign issue, preparing to hammer President Bush with it, though the deficits are actually not near a record as either a percentage of the budget or as a percentage of the national Gross Domestic Product. Doesn't matter - they know they have a willing ally in the press to portray the deficits as A Grave Threat to America.
So along comes GWB, promising to slash the deficit in half by 2006.
Presumably, since GWB shows no inclination to raise taxes - and, in fact, has let it be known that he plans to seek more tax cuts - that means spending cuts.
What are the Democrats to do? Having made the daffuzit, as former Tennessee Sen. Jim Sasser called it, a centerpiece of their anti-Bush rant, can they now fight efforts to cut the deficit? Not and retain any sense of credibility on the issue.
GWB has them right where he wants them - out on limb screaming "deficits are bad!" - and unable to complain when he starts sawing.
At least I hope that's Bush's strategery.
Audio recordings of most Supreme Court oral arguments dating back to 1955 could soon be available on the web as MP3 files, for free, reports Wired today. Jerry Goldman, professor of political science at Northwestern University, who runs the Oyez project, which is transferring the audio to MP3 files, notes that "reading a transcript of a spoken event is not the same thing as listening to an event. The spoken word contains more than substance; it contains emotion. The value comes in creating a community of listeners." Wired's piece explains the meaning of "Oyez," though I suspect the lawyers among my readers already know it.
Meanwhile, On the Road to Paris...
Lance Armstrong is leading the Tour de France, the world's toughest bike race. Lance is a Texan. The roads of the tour are lined with spectators, including many Lance fans waving Texas flags. Given France's antipathy toward Americans, and especially to a certain other Texan named George W. Bush, I'm rather enjoying the spectacle of a Texan winning their precious bike race. For the fifth year in a row. All the American flags along the road are nice too.
The Houston Chronicle has an excellent piece on Lance's escape-artist avoidance of a crash in Monday's ninth stage, in which Armstrong came in 36 seconds behind stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov, who trails Armstrong by 21 seconds after Tuesday's stage 10.
The crash came on a 40-mph descent, just before a hairpin turn, and took out Basque rider Joseba Beloki, one of the few riders in the race given a serious chance of defeating Armstrong. The Chronicle:
They say it's better to be lucky than good. But they're wrong. In most cases, you've got to be good to be lucky. Lance Armstrong proved that Monday in the process of saving his skin - literally, as it were - and his bid for a fifth consecutive victory in the Tour de France. He also proved that only an idiot would question his athleticism. Lance's instincts, combined with the sort of hand-eye coordination possessed by only the rarest of human specimens, kept him from sharing the fate of the lesser rider who dared to challenge his reign.And that's why Texas - and American - flags are flying along roadsides all over France.
Joseba Beloki swore he was racing to win the Tour this year, not to futilely chase Lance's Postal-blue-clad bottom into Paris as he had the last three summers. Toward that end, Beloki was desperately attempting to peel precious seconds off Armstrong's lead when less than five miles from the finish line he inexplicably skidded out of control and went tumbling almost directly in front of Armstrong's own speeding bicycle.
"I was scared like never before," Armstrong said. "It was a real panic, and in a moment like that, it was a real survival instinct. I was lucky the field was there like that. There could have been crops or a drop-off."
Hotly pursuing the breakaway stage leader Alexandre Vinokourov, they were traveling in excess of 40 mph in the mid-90s heat - "the pavement was melting," Lance said - when the mishap occurred just before a sharp hairpin turn. Beloki's rear wheel appeared to lock, perhaps because he tried to brake, causing the back of the bike to skid violently to the left. The tire separated from the rim, and Beloki was thrown from his saddle, landing hard on his right side. By any reasonable expectation, Armstrong should have immediately double-dribbled the Basque and finished the stage beside him in an ambulance, instead of later taking the obligatory podium bow while still cloaked in yellow. Armstrong isn't a religious man, his cancer cure notwithstanding, but apparently he has been assigned a guardian angel anyway...
Somehow, Armstrong swerved around the crumpled Basque and headed off through a freshly mowed pasture that was blessedly bereft of either sheep or cows or fruit trees, lots of which grow in the area. He barely slowed down until he'd reached the other side of the switchback, where he walked his bike across the roadway and rejoined the chase...
If you subscribe to the law of averages, you must wonder when Lance's remarkable run of luck will expire. But you also have to realize that trouble avoids him because he has the technical skills, the physical strength and the natural instincts to dodge it first.
There was likely only one man in all of France this day - no, the whole world - who wouldn't have left Beloki in worse shape than he already was and wound up stuck in the hospital with him to boot. That man is leading the Tour.
And that's why he is.
Lies About Iraq
It's the Democrats who are telling them, says Glenn Reynolds:
The Democrats have a commercial - ironically named "truth" - that features a clip of President Bush saying: "Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Of course, what Bush actually said was: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." ... The commercial omits that crucial phrase. It also fails to note that the British stand by this statement, and pooh-pooh the U.S. investigator who, without access to their information, said it wasn't true.The saddest part of this whole story is that the mainstream media, which has access to all of the clips and quotes and information, is failing to report the whole story and instead running with the "Bush Lied!" meme even though the charge itself is provably false, and the story of the 16 disputed words in the State of the Union address regarding Iraq seeking uranium from Africa is much, much more complex than CNN, et al, portray it. The British government stands by its assessment that Saddam indeed was seeking to buy uranium from Africa. Bush's statement was 100 percent true. Indeed, it still is.
Tennessee Taxpayers Rights Update
Steve Carithers from Tennessee Tax Revolt emailed to report that a very strong "Taxpayers Bill of Rights" is on the agenda of the Spring Hill, Tenn., city council this month - and has a good chance of passing:
It is the best TABOR that we can get. Ray Williams, the mayor, has told me that he has already existing in statute form spending caps and tight restrictions on rules regarding spending. The only thing being voted on is the voter referendum on new taxes and the requirement that surplus funds be refunded back to the voter. That will be the only element that is not currently law.The issue comes up for a vote at the next meeting of the city council of Spring Hill, a fast-growing suburb south of Nashville, scheduled for 7 p.m. July 21. For more information on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights concept, start here and follow the links. I've also got a white paper here in a 17-page PDF file.
He and we found out that to do an amendment to the city charter would require it to go through the General Assembly as a private act and we were afraid that it would not pass, so we opted for a combination of statute with a resolution. Though it could be removed, it would be at a great political price for any new administration and we mainly see this as a symbolic way to move the process along to getting a state TABOR.
I can assure you that Ray has made this a tough set of laws, and everyone is extremely impressed with him. He has cut the property tax five times in the last three years and is going to repeal the property tax as a method of funding in that city. He is always trying to find other ways to cut spending and taxes. He even went to the point of bidding out all of the pens and office supplies for the city. He has sold any land the city has and will never use anytime soon. When they needed a new city hall, he bought the building at a bankruptcy auction for $150,000 instead of building a $million monstrosity. We would seriously love to draft him to run for governor.
UPDATE: The Columbia Daily Herald has coverage of the Spring Hill Taxpayers Bill of Rights here and related anti-tax efforts in the surrounding county here.
"A Less Cynical View of the Left"
Michael Williams, a UCLA computer science doctoral candidate who runs a new and rather excellent blog called Master of None, offers up a "Less Cynical View of the Left" with some comments on the Charles Krauthammer column that I commented on Sunday and Donald Sensing has also addressed. Go RTWT.
Internet "Swiss Army Knife" of Politics?
USA Today says Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean's use of the Internet is "rewriting the playbook" on how to organize, finance and mold a presidential campaign:
The money and manpower coming his way online are forcing his Democratic competitors to rethink how they use the Internet. Analysts see the flowering of a medium destined to be central to politics. Future campaigns, they say, could feature searchable online donor lists and 50-state networks activated by the click of a mouse.Phil Noble, an online political consultant: "It is the Swiss Army knife of politics. It can be used in dozens of ways, limited only by the imagination and creativity of the candidate."
Your Own Online 'TV' Station
A growing number of people a creating their own programming and putting it on cable, satellite and the web as live streaming video, reports Wired today.
Despite regular improvements in the technology, adoption of Internet TV has been slow even in the more developed countries. For all the innovations in the past two years, Internet TV remains a choppy image in a small window opened on a monitor. Even so, Internet TV is beginning to take off in a serious way. Over 700 TV broadcasters, the majority of them commercial stations, everywhere from Afghanistan to Colombia and Australia, are making programming available on 56K connections. Internet portal wwiTV and its North American affiliate, TV4all, list 3,000 live and archived television and radio feeds from every part of the world.The Internet is lowering the cost of production of all forms of media. Will personal Internet TV soon do to traditional broadcast media what blogs are doing to traditional print journalism?
The contemporary Christian music industry is taking a different approach to try to curb illegal music downloading. Rather than preparing to sue thousands of its fans, the industry is "responding to the problem by appealing to their customers’ faith and moral values," reports Nashville City Paper:
The Christian Music Trade Association has formed an anti-piracy task force that is meeting weekly to develop ways to spread the word to Church groups and CD buyers that downloading is not only illegal, it violates one of the key tenets of the Christian faith: Thou shalt not steal.Interesting. I guess we'll see if treating its customers as adults and appealing to them with respect is more effective than the RIAA's approach of calling them criminals, suing them, and trying to develop technologies to wreck their computers.
The Nashville-based trade group and affiliated Gospel Music Association reported earlier this month that sales of Christian CD units are down 10 percent the first half of this year over the same time last year, compared to an 8 percent decline in the overall music industry.
"Clearly one of the culprits is the fact that so many people are downloading music without paying for it and burning CDs illegally. It is causing economic harm to everybody in the food chain involved in music, from the songwriters to retailers," said John Styll, president of both groups. "We felt like in the Christian community, there is, beyond a legal obligation, also an ethical and moral obligation. We think in the Christian community, we can appeal to that side."
UPDATE: Michael Williams says the Christian bands he's acquainted with 'prefers the additional exposure that pirating brings to whatever marginal revenue is lost in sales." That's probably accurate. Independent and not-yet-huge artists and bands often have a more accepting view of music file-sharing, figuring it expands their audience even though it brings them no direct revenue on CD sales, and a larger audience translates to a bigger market for concert tix and future CDs.
To the person or persons who dropped something in my tip jar today: Thank you! I never expect it when it happens and never take it for granted. It is gratifying to be appreciated for writing this blog - whether you donate or just read regularly and recommend HobbsOnline to your friends.
Donald Sensing has an interesting discussion about speed limits, keying off today's commentary by Walter Kirn in the New York Times, which notes that among certain demographics, higher speed limits have not translated into more traffic fatalities. Be sure to read the comments, too.
I had the pleasure of driving in Montana during the brief period in the mid-1990s when their daytime Interstate speed limit for cars was defined as "reasonable and prudent," rather than a set mph number. I was driving a new Acura Integra with a sport package, (and sunroof and leather - a real sweet ride!) so I was all equipped for speed. It was a hot summer day in late June and I was on Interstate 90 headed east from Butte toward Livingston, where I planned to exit and head south to Yellowstone. I kicked it up to 85, then 90, then 100... and then to 110, which I maintained for about 5 minutes. I passed everyone in sight. It seemed reasonable and prudent, given the light traffic, the smooth road surface, the dry road conditions and the to-the-horizon visibility. The picture you see is along I-90 near Butte.
In five minutes at 110 mph, no one passed me. I passed everyone on the road. Even with optimal conditions for speed: no speed limits, a dry road, little traffic, and a wide-open vista that let you see miles and miles ahead, most drivers kept it at about 85. Why? Given their freedom, most drivers seemed to feel that 85 was the proper balance between their desire to get someplace quickly and their need to feel safe doing it.
Modern cars can handle 85 on a good highway, and modern drivers can too. I love driving out west because with speed limits set at 70 and 75 in some states, I can do 80-85 with minimal risk of being pulled over and asked to pay a left-lane-use-tax, and feel safe doing it.
Montana set their speed limit at 75 mph in 1999. That seems a bit low to me, but I've only visited Montana. I don't live there. Perhaps 75 makes sense in the more mountainous western part of the state. Maybe 65 mph is the right speed for Highway 93, which runs from Canadian border through the mountainous areas west of Glacier National Park past Kalispell and around the along the western shores of Flathead Lake to Missoula - the gorgeous country of A River Runs Through It. I don't know. I've driven both, but only once.
And that's the point. I'm no more qualified to say what is safe on those roads, or any other in Montana, than are the bureaucrats in Washington DC. That they should have any say over the speed limits in Montana, Texas, Wyoming or even Maryland is absurd. Such decisions should be made no higher than the state level. Montanans should decide their speed limit - or even if they'll have one at all. As should Texans, Floridians, Californians, Tennesseans, Hawaiians, Virginians, New Yorkers, Minnesotans, Ohioans, etc.
UPDATE: Donald "Speed Demon" Sensing, who started this, examines the ethics and morality of speeding.
Speed Limits Updates
What do you do when drivers routinely exceed posted speeds on a major urban highway? If it's the recently reconstructed Hwy. 55 through south Minneapolis, you raise the speed limit. Beginning today, motorists on the four-lane parkway, also known as Hiawatha Avenue for much of its route from downtown Minneapolis to Crosstown Hwy. 62, will find speed limits ranging from 40 to 55 miles per hour. Previously, speeds were limited to 35 miles per hour. - Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 11, 2003
Motorway speed limits will be increased to 80mph under a Conservative government, the party has confirmed. Under a raft of transport policies to be unveiled later this month, shadow transport secretary Tim Collins will also pledge to abolish the controversial M4 bus lane and scrap speed cameras on all roads apart from genuine accident blackspots. Unnecessary road humps and road tolls will also be abolished, the Tories will pledge. Mr Collins said the M4 bus lane introduced in June 1999 was a "nonsense generating congestion". "We will stop raising money from cameras for police to buy more cameras that encourage unsafe slow-down-speed-up driving and increase exhaust pollution." The Tories would raise speed limits "where appropriate", he told the Evening Standard. "The present motorway 70mph limit could go up to 80mph. Simultaneously, some other speed limits could come down." - Ananova.com, July 1, 2003
You may not have noticed last week, because the news media gave the good news scant attention, but the U.S. Department of Transportation reported that last year the traffic-injury rate on the highways fell to its lowest level — ever. This is not just reassuring news for those of us who actually travel around in that dreaded machine that liberals loathe, called the automobile, but it also helps discredit a pervasive nanny-state myth that raising speed limits on highways leads to higher death rates. Let's put this wonderful I-told-you-so story into context. Eight years ago the Republicans in Congress, much to the infuriation of the do-gooder lobby, repealed the federal 55 miles-per-hour speed-limit law. States were now allowed to raise their speed limits to whatever level they wished. This was one of the Republican Congress's enduring and under-appreciated accomplishments. - National Review Online, June 25, 2003
"Tax Cuts for The Rich" - and the Middle Class Too
The latest Bush tax cut is just for the wealthy, right? Wrong, although that's the lie the Democrats have been telling. As it turns out, the less money you make, the larger your tax cut will be as a percentage of your pre-tax cut tax liability. For example, a couple with adjusted gross income of $40,000 will have their tax bill cut by 96 percent, while a couple making an AGI of $200,000 will see their tax bill fall just 9 percent. Clearly, the tax cut is not overly weighted toward the wealthiest taxpayers.
In fact, the couple making an AGI of $40,000 will see their tax bill fall by more than one third of the decrease enjoyed by the couple with an AGI of $200,000 - even though that couple makes not three times the income but five times the income. Of course, the wealthy are seeing a bigger tax cut in pure dollars, but there's a reason for that: they pay a lot more taxes. But as percentage of their tax liability, the wealthy are getting a much smaller tax cut than the middle class.
The chart is based on calculations by the non-partisan Tax Foundation, which has more data on its website, TaxFoundation.org.
The Fabricated Crisis
For months, the media has been pushing the notion that most of the states were facing budget crises brought on by falling tax revenue. Interesting theme. Too bad it's a lie. The invaluable TimesWatch has a look at how the NYT spread the lie in a story about Oregon's budget crisis. And, providing a more coast-to-coast view, Donald Lambro at the Washington Times reports that "most state spending is expected to rise in the coming fiscal year, even though governors claim budget deficits have forced them to cut expenditures to the bone."
The National Governors Association data also show that contrary to continued claims that states' spending is being slashed as never before, expenditures will actually climb modestly in the aggregate when California is removed from the equation. The NGA survey shows that proposed spending remained essentially flat between fiscal 2003 and 2004 at $482 billion, but budget analysts say that this state-spending figure is distorted and skewed by California, which will have to cut spending deeply to offset a looming $38 billion deficit.Here in Tennessee, increased federal funding is allowing the state to grow the overall state budget by a billion dollars, although Gov. Phil Bredesen cajoled the legislature into holding the line on spending. Various news media have portrayed the FY 2004 budget as cutting spending 9 percent virtually across the board.
"Some states are cutting spending, but NGA data show that for the 49 states other than troubled California, spending will still rise by more than 2 percent in the 2004 fiscal year," Mr. Edwards said. But this is not the fiscal picture painted by newspaper and nightly television news reports on the states' budget problems. The Washington Post for example, reported recently that "budget cuts and layoffs this year produced the deepest state-spending reductions in dollar terms since the governors began their fiscal survey."
According to the NGA's Spring 2003 Fiscal Survey of States, spending from the state's general fund, which rose 9.1 percent in FY 2003 compared to FY 2002, is budgeted to rise just 0.2 percent this year. I haven't found the data yet to explain the disparity.
A Democrat Surveys the Field
Roger L. Simon, a Hollywood screenwriter and lifetime Democrat says the current field of Democrats running for president is a pack of "low-rent losers" and John F. Kerry is a big fat liar. 'cept he wrote it better than that:
The idea that someone who can’t even be truthful about his background wants to be President while going around accusing others of dishonesty is creepy to me. That is why I have said before and no doubt will repeat that the Democrats should start looking for some more interesting candidates than the pack of low-rent losers they are presently proffering…. Or this lifetime Democrat is going to sit this one out. (And I'm certain I won't be the only one.)Roger, now you know how we Republicans felt in 1996, when our choices were Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Lamar Alexander - and it didn't matter much because the outcome was virtually inevitable.
Go visit Simon's blog. And while you're there, scroll down to this rather amusing post.
Plane Truth Update
Nashville City Paper says to go easy on Shumaker:
Media and lawmakers around the state may be too quick to condemn University of Tennessee President John Shumaker over alleged misuse of a state airplane, and we think the culprit may be the ghost of Wade Gilley. You’ll remember Gilley, the UT president who resigned after it was discovered he was romantically linked with a professor who had apparently embellished her résumé. Now, in the middle of a hot summer with little state news of import, the press has attacked Shumaker, implying that he picked up a female friend, University of Alabama/Birmingham President Carol Garrison, in the UT plane for a date. The Knoxville News-Sentinel had uncovered a trip on which Shumaker and Garrison were both on the plane in a series of stories using information obtained from Open Record Law inquiries.But wait. The Shumaker controversy is about much more than the plane.
Blogs: Reviving Journalism's Lost Spirit
Orlando Sentinel columnist Kathleen Parker on blogs vs. journalism:
I'm not an expert on blogging, but I am a fan. As a regular visitor to a dozen or so news and opinion blogs, I'm riveted by the implications for my profession. Bloggers are making life interesting for reluctant mainstreamers like myself and for the public, whose access to information until now has been relatively controlled by traditional media.
I say "reluctant mainstreamer" because what I once loved about journalism went missing some time ago and seems to have resurfaced as the driving force of the blogosphere: a high-spirited, irreverent, swashbuckling, lances-to-the-ready assault on the status quo. While mainstream journalists are tucked inside their newsroom cubicles deciphering management's latest "tidy desk" memo, bloggers are building bonfires and handing out virtual leaflets along America's Information Highway.
The best bloggers, who are generous in linking to one another - alien behavior to journalists accustomed to careerist, shark-tank newsrooms - are like smart, hip gunslingers come to make trouble for the local good ol' boys. The heat they pack includes an arsenal of intellectual artillery, crisp prose, sharp insights and a gimlet eye for mainstream media's flaws.
Defending the Indefensible
Don't miss this column from Charles Krauthammer, who explains why Howard Dean and the liberal Democrats are for U.S. military intervention in Liberia, but against it in Iraq. Says Krauthammer: "In terms of brutality, systematic repression, number of killings, relish for torture, sum total of human misery caused, Charles Taylor is a piker next to Saddam Hussein. That is not to say that Charles Taylor is a better man. It is only to say that in his tiny corner of the world with no oil resources and no scientific infrastructure for developing instruments of mass murder, Taylor has neither the reach nor the power to wreak Saddam-class havoc. What is it that makes liberals like Dean, preening their humanitarianism, so antiwar in Iraq and so pro-intervention in Liberia? ... Hence the central axiom of left-liberal foreign policy: The use of American force is always wrong, unless deployed in a region of no strategic significance to the United States."
Ouch. But, then, the truth hurts.
UPDATE: Donald Sensing has a good commentary on the Krauthammer piece that I was remiss in not pointing you to before now. And scroll up after you're finished to read a follow-up.
State Revenue Update
The Tennessean has stopped covering monthly revenue reports now that the reports are showing good news, and there's no chance that the bad news can be spun to support the push for a state income tax. Their website carried this cursory AP report on the latest data. ... Meanwhile, Chattanoogan.com merely republished the press release. A Google search finds no coverage by the Memphis or Knoxville papers. Good news, it seems, is no news.
Meanwhile, Jerry Harder, an adjunct professor at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, commented on a version of my Saturday report on state revenues that was posted at PolState.com:
What Mr. Hobbs ignores is that the state is still $65 million in the hole. The $65 million will come from raiding different reserve funds. The Nashville Tennessean had a story to this effect on Saturday. What the state needs is a very unlikley $65 millon surge in overall tax collections.My response:
I love it when folks use the term "raiding" when it comes to spending money from the reserve funds.
They aren't being raided - they are being used for EXACTLY what they were intended. Folks who say that's "raiding" the fund often (I've found) are of the group who think, somehow, that governments have their own money and should never be made to do with less.
The purpose of a reserve fund is for a fiscal rainy day. FY 2003 was a rainy day in Tennessee, so we're spending the emergency savings. We're not raiding them anymore than if you put $100 a month in savings in case of an emergency and then, one day, your transmission breaks and you dip into savings to fix it.
Should the reserve fund never be tapped? If you say yes, then here's a question: why have a reserve fund at all if you aren't going to use it sometimes?
Tennessee is tapping its reserves because politicians decided it would be better to keep certain projects and programs funded at certain levels for one year, despite the sluggish economy and slower tax revenue growth, because they knew the economy would eventually improve and revenue growth would resume. As it is now doing.
The good news is, tax revenue is coming in better than expected. In other words, there is a surplus of revenue compared to projections. And the trend line is up. Having watched Tennessee's fiscal policy and situation for five years now, I confidently predict that revenue will surpass projections in the new fiscal year, and we'll have a surplus, and be able to put money back into the rainy day reserves.
News? Who Needs It? We Got Ads!
If you live in Nashville, you might notice on Tuesday that The Tennessean has less news in it. Why? Because the publisher, catering to a big-bucks advertiser, is starting the press run 2.5 hours earlier Monday night. Journalism sacrificed for profits. The good news is, 100,000 people who don't normally get the paper will get the news-lite Tuesday version.
This guy posted 100 things on his blog in one day. On purpose. And he's not Glenn Reynolds!
To the person or persons who just dropped something in my tip jar: a heartfelt thank you. It's always surprising when that happens - and never taken for granted. I think, therefore I blog - and it's nice to be appreciated for doing so.
A Fitting Tribute
The USS Ronald Reagan was commissioned today. It's the nation's ninth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and the best ever built, and will project American power and diplomacy and help maintain the peace for the next 50 years. How fitting that such a ship is named after the president who won the Cold War. And how fitting that the USS Reagan was commissioned at a time when the nation once again has a president providing tough, decisive leadership during troubled times. This nation seems to be always blessed with great presidents when we need them. The 1980s were such a time, and so was the era that began on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Vote Early, Vote Often
EconoPundit is nominated in the New Weblog Showcase, a weekly contest which provides a forum for new bloggers to showcase their best work. Bloggers vote for the weekly winner by linking to the post on the nominated blogs that they like. The Blogosphere Ecosystem daily ranking scan counts how many links each submitted post has received and at the end of the week, the new blog with the most links to its sample post, wins! EconoPundit is currently ranked #2 in the voting (as of the moment I'm posting this), with nine inbound links. The current No. 1 has 11 inbound links, so we're close. Very close. But Sunday is the final day.. By linking to this, you cast a vote for EconoPundit.
You know what to do.
Sales Tax Collections Surged in June
Total tax collections by the state of Tennessee were a microscopic $2.4 million less than the budgeted estimates, while revenue from the sales tax surged ahead in the strongest year-over-year growth in more than a year. Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz announced late Friday that sales tax revenue in June was $11.3 million more than the estimate and, factoring out the sales tax rate increase and other changes to the tax, real growth in sales tax revenue was a very strong 3.67 percent. For August 2002 through June, sales tax revenue has grown 1.63 percent over the prior year, adjusted for the rate increase and other changes.
Franchise and excise taxes and gasoline taxes and motor vehicle registrations also brought in millions more than expected.
Overall, the state after 11 months of revenue for the 2002-03 fiscal year has collected just $15.8 million less than the budgeted estimate, which means the state's revenue shortfall is a tiny fraction of the state's overall $21 billion budget - and much, much lower than the shortfall the doomsayers had forecast at the start of the fiscal year.
A month ago I predicted the state would see June and July revenues come in sufficient to erase what little was left of the shortfall. While the shortfall grew slightly in June - up $2.3 million compared to after May revenue totals - I still believe the year-end shortfall will be smaller. Less than $10 million, and perhaps gone entirely. Surging revenue from the sales tax - $11 million more than expected in June alone - should continue in July and wipe away most if not all of the remaining shortfall.
UPDATE: Don't miss this.
Yes, I Know
Yes, I know I said I was taking a blogging break for the weekend. But that was before I got home and found the state had emailed the latest revenue numbers. And as long as I was blogging, hey, there's that Shumaker scandal...
Plane Truth Update: The Scandal Grows
Possible misue of the University of Tennessee plane for personal trips may be just the tip of the iceberg for embattled UT President John Shumaker. After Thursday's revelations of possible abuse of his UT expense account and UT Amex card for personal purchases comes the latest from the indefatigable Phil Williams of NewsChannel5 in Nashville. Shumaker gave a lucrative no-bid contract to a friend he once planned to go into business with. Can you say "conflict of interest"? Sure. I knew you could.
The gory details, and Shumaker's lame explanations:
In fact, in the past year, UT has spent more than $300,000 on such international initiatives. Almost all of that has gone to a Washington-based consultant, Charles Fishman, under an exclusive no-bid contract. Fishman runs a consulting firm, Intectran, and has helped set up international programs for other universities where Shumaker worked.The thwack! when that thick business proposal smacked onto the table in the NewsChannel5 video was priceless. That's the sound of the hammer dropping on Shumaker.
"Is he the only person in the country capable of doing that kind of work?" asks NewsChannel 5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams.
"Well," Shumaker replies, "I've not found anybody better qualified."
In fact, records indicate Fishman began billing the university at least two months before he signed a contract. He charges $300 an hour in the U.S. And, when he's overseas, he charges $3,000 a day, plus expenses. This comes just months after state auditors criticized the Shumaker administration for signing an $80,000 no-bid marketing contract with a company, simply because the UT president decided they were best for the job.
In this case, Shumaker and Fishman have a personal history.
"At one point you were going to be business partners with him," William suggests to the UT president.
He answers, "I don't know what you mean."
But a business proposal, obtained by NewsChannel 5, reveals confidential plans drafted in 1997 for a company called American International Education Group. It's a company that wanted to help set up such international programs. Two of its principals: John Shumaker and Charles Fishman.
How will Bubba spin this?
UPDATE: Gov. Bredesen has called for a review of the usage of all state planes.
Have a Good Weekend
It's Friday afternoon, the weekend lies ahead, gorgeous summer weather is expected, and I'll be hangin' with the wife and kids and generally not blogging unless some major news breaks. We're picking up a gorgeous new custom-made couch and loveseat tonight, and probably shopping for a rug and a painting for over the fire place tomorrow. See ya Monday.
Lies About Iraq
It's the Democrats who are telling them.
Plane Truth Update
NewsChannel5 won't stop digging, and now they've found plenty of evidence that University of Tennessee President John Shumaker, already on the hot seat for possibly using the UT plane to make trips to Birmingham to see his girlfriend, is using his UT expense account and UT-paid Amex card for expensive personal expenses, including commercial airline trips on which Shumaker had no UT-related business scheduled, $500 dinners at fancy restaurants, and more. This guy's a piece of work. SKB was defending Shumaker, but has been silent on the expensive executive since July 5...
UPDATE: Bubba's in denial...
I recently posted a policy regarding posting comments on my blog. Barry Bozeman, a ranting leftist who runs a website that appropriates and twists the name of Rush Limbaugh, immediately violated it by using foul language. So I edited his comment. He'll probably soon call me a fascist who is out to stifle dissent. But this is my blog, and I have the right to set high standards. If they are too high for Barry, too bad. You can see my comments policy over in the column on the right side of my blog. Basically it boils down to this: play nice. Barry couldn't. Buh bye, Barry.
Glenn Reynolds is pointing to a bombshell article from The Tennessean by Judge Gilbert S. Merritt of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Merritt, of Nashville is what Glenn Reynolds says he is: "a lifelong Democrat and a man of unimpeachable integrity." Merritt is currently working with the American Bar Association in Iraq to help rebuild that nation's judiciairy.
In it, Merritt reveals the smoking-gun proof of collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.
Merritt's article begins:
Through an unusual set of circumstances, I have been given documentary evidence of the names and positions of the 600 closest people in Iraq to Saddam Hussein, as well as his ongoing relationship with Osama bin Laden. I am looking at the document as I write this story from my hotel room overlooking the Tigris River in Baghdad...If that doesn't convince you to Read the Whole Thing, you are one of those anti-Bushies whom no amount of evidence will ever convince of the truth.
One question: the article was published June 25. I missed it. Until Instapundit today, the blogosphere missed it. Yet this is a story that deserved to be the lead on every network and cable news program, and dominate the newspaper headlines. Saddam and al Qaeda were working together. The president's concern that a regime cable of producing weapons of mass destruction, and with a history of using weapons of mass destruction, might link up with a global terror group like al Qaeda, raising the likelihood that the next "September 11" could kill vastly more Americans, was justified.
And that concern - now shown to be 100 percent valid - was a key justification for going to war.
UDPATE: SayUncle refers to Alex Knapp's Heretical Ideas blog as a good source of information on links between Saddam and al Qaeda. I concur. Start here. Heretical Ideas is on my blogroll.
UPDATE: More articles by Judge Merritt here. (Link goes to one story, with links to several others listed at the end.)
Nevada Court Shreds Constitution That Gives it Power
The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the state legislature to ignore the state constitution in order to pass a budget. Basically, the constitution requires a two-thirds majority to pass a budget, the governor is demanding a tax increase to pay for his bloated spending plan, and he can't get two thirds of the legislators to agree with him. So the Nevada Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to enact a budget, and suspended the operation of the two-thirds majority requirement.
UCLA law professor and constitutional law expert Eugene Volokh explains why that is "one of the most appalling judicial decisions" ever by a high court, in a long, detailed, link-filled post here. This is a few days old, and I'm sorry I missed it before today. It's a follow-up to something I posted July 1 about Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn asking the court to order the legislature to raise taxes.
Finally, if the court is willing to nullify "general procedural rules" so that it can order the legislature to fund education, why stop at the 2/3 supermajority? What if it turns out that the Legislature can't even get a simple majority for a tax increase? Under the court's reasoning, it should nullify the 50%+1 requirement, too - after all, the simple majority requirement is also a mere "procedural requirement that is general in nature." Or, better yet, why not order the governor impose the taxes himself? The requirement that taxes be imposed by elected legislators is also just a "procedural requirement that is general in nature." But wait - that would be inefficient. Why doesn't the court just impose the taxes itself, and order government officials to just seize the property from Nevadans' bank accounts? The only thing that stops it is also a "procedural requirement that is general in nature," and apparently those aren't really binding any more.Volokh suggests Nevada legislators use the power they have to impeach the justices, and that voters begin the process of recalling the justices.
This really is shameful, and I do not use the term lightly. Yes, I know that there are lots of claims of judicial overreaching - but there are at least various defenses based on tradition, precedent, ambiguous constitutional text, or whatever else. Here, I see no such defense: Just the court's willingness to completely ignore the very constitution that gives it power. I hope that Nevada legislators and Nevada voters will not stand for this. Obviously, they can amend the Constitution with a "We Really Mean It Clause," though I don't know whether they can do it in time.
But of course those are constitutional powers reserved for the people and the legislators. The rogue Nevada Supreme Court justices would probably ignore them - or issue an order nullifying them. [Hat tip: Instapundit]
UPDATE: Coverage from the Las Vegas Review Journal. The court ordered the legislature to convene under simply majority rule. My question: What if the legislature refused to do so? They won't - there is sufficient support for a higher-taxes budget under simple-majority rules - but if they did, what could the court do? I wish we could find out. Unfortunately, there is apparently a majority in the Nevada legislature willing to roll over for the court and let the court - not the people through their constitution - be the final authority over their elected officials.
VOLOKH UPDATES: Here, here and here. Is Nevada on the verge of becoming East California? I link, you decide.
A Picture Worth A Thousand Bombs
LGF has a picture of a target-rich environment.
Why Do I Keep Promoting EconoPundit?
Because Roosevelt University's Steven Antler, PhD., a/k/a the EconoPundit, writes thought-provoking stuff like this:
Why is there a fundamental class conflict between goods and services? The former sector constantly discovers how to produce more and more per hour, while the latter sector's output stays relatively constant. This means services will inevitably get more and more expensive relative to everything produced in the goods sector. This also means participants in the service sector have a basic economic interest in maintaining all conditions favorable to this discrepancy. It also suggests a much broader context for all pro- or anti-regulation, or pro- or anti-government political debates.Read the whole thing.
The Real State Budget Crisis
Alan Reynolds explains it:
The fundamental "crisis" of the states is that government spending in most states has increased far more rapidly than the incomes of taxpayers. States that face the problem by cutting spending and tax rates are certain to prosper, just as Ireland did after slashing national spending and tax rates. Higher tax rates are no solution to the unaffordable spending schemes of overtaxed states like California and New York. On the contrary, high tax rates are a symptom of excess spending and a major cause of inferior economic performance.Read the whole thing.
Vote Early, Vote Often
EconoPundit is nominated in the New Weblog Showcase, a weekly contest which provides a forum for new bloggers to showcase their best work. Bloggers vote for the weekly winner by linking to the post on the nominated blogs that they like. The Blogosphere Ecosystem daily ranking scan counts how many links each submitted post has received and at the end of the week, the new blog with the most links to its sample post, wins! EconoPundit is currently ranked #2 in the voting (as of the moment I'm posting this). By linking to this, you cast a vote for EconoPundit.
You know what to do.
Break Up Iraq
James at Outside The Beltway examines a Ralph Peters column that suggests we should break up Iraq into three nations - one each for the Kurdish, Shia and Sunni populations - rather than try to force the three groups, which don't much like each other, to power-share in some jerryrigged democracy. I think both James and Peters are right. Iraq isn't a real nation - it's an artificial one created by European diplomats in the early 19th century. Certainly the Kurds in northern Iraq, who have already created a stable pro-American capitalistic democracy, should be allowed to be independent.
Dying for Freedom
As usual, a great editorial cartoon from Cox & Forkum, which also offers up links to various press coverage of the anti-government protests in Iran. The major Western media heavily covered the story of the Iranian conjoined twins who died while doctors were attempting to separate them. Those women risked their lives in their quest to live free - and ultimately died for it. But thousands of other Iranians are risking their lives for freedom too, and it's barely noticed by the same western media.
Of Google's Cache, Copyrights and Cash
If you use Google much, you know that sometimes you can find a defunct webpage still rattling around in Google's "cache," even though it is no longer on the original website. Now, as Google has grown in size and impact, its cache feature is raising concerns over copyrights and cash, as an increasing number of online publishers try to charges readers to access articles, only to find that, in some cases, the article is available free via Google's cache. News.com has the story. Some online publishers prevent Google from recording their pages in full by adding special code to their sites. The story says search experts and copyright lawyers "expect the issue to come up in a court of law, joining the leagues of copyright disputes that have surfaced because of technology innovation."
Plane Truth Update
The Nashville Scene explains how University of Tennessee President John Shumaker has blown the PR in the growing investigation into whether he used the university's plane for personal trips:
As the questioning has continued, intensified and attached itself to him like a bad dream, Shumaker has unwisely decided that the best defense is offense. Shumaker formally asked the state comptroller's office in a letter to review his use of the plane. Fine enough. That should settle things, or at least provide the appearance of doing so. Unfortunately, when he made that request, he also complained about the condition of the plane, saying it was in disrepair.The Scene also explains why Shumaker may be a short-timer at UT.
The plane, a quarter-century old, is a King Air, which is nice enough. It comes with propellers, not jet engines, but Shumaker feels it needs to be replaced. Or, he wrote in the letter, it needs a complete overhaul. He said safety was at stake. Estimates for replacing the plane, by the way, run as high as $4 million. That's a lot of jack.
At a time when the state has been forced to cut costs in many state departments by 9 percent across the board, and at a time when the UT brass has had to significantly increase tuition to make ends meet (9 percent for undergrads), Shumaker took out a shovel, [dug] a hole, jumped in it and then kept digging. It has been astonishing to watch a man commit such public hara-kari.
Part of the problem is that we're talking about planes. And planes have sunk many a CEO before. Just ask any executive at any large corporation that owns a fleet of them. The first thing you do, if revenues are tanking and you're looking to cut costs, is dump your personal airline. You fly Southwest, and you let everybody know it. Granted, private airplanes are sometimes the most time-efficient and cost-efficient way for organizations to go, but when the chips are down, nothing sends a message like pushing the planes over the cliff. Unfortunately, Shumaker took the other public relations route: He said he needed a better plane.
When you think of the Department of Agriculture, pictures of farms and cornfields and tractors come to mind, right? Add a cable modem to that.
Taxpayers, via Uncle Sam's Department of Agriculture, are now subsidizing high-speed Internet access for rural America, reports today's Washington Post:
At a wireless industry conference in Washington this week, policymakers are talking about how to encourage more [broadband providers] in rural America, where an estimated 10 to 30 percent of the residents don't have high-speed Internet service, whether a consumer cable connection, digital subscriber line or fiber-optic line...Now, I'm all for folks having high-speed Internet access. It makes the Internet much more useful. But rural areas don't just have lower incomes - they have lower prices for things like housing, which means they oughta be able to find $40 a month for high-speed Internet - or less, as prices for broadband are coming down - if the service is available. This story is about government spending tax dollars to give low-interest loans to broadband providers to build high-speed networks in rural areas where high-speed service currently isn't available.
The Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service is sponsoring $1.45 billion in low-interest loans in its first major loan program for broadband providers. The first loans will be granted this summer...
"High-speed broadband in areas of 20,000 population or less is absolutely essential if those rural communities are going to remain viable in the next decade," said Hilda Gay Legg, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, who is scheduled as a keynote speaker today at the Wireless Communications Association International's conference at the Washington Convention Center.
The government is currently reviewing 29 applications to make sure they have a viable business case...
The Rural Broadband Coalition, an Alexandria-based advocacy group, is pushing for more government loans to help its members shoulder the high cost of capital, said Damian Kunko, the group's chief executive. Internet connections are particularly important for rural areas, because they increase access to remote health care and distance learning, he said.
"Capital funding is a huge issue. It's an issue for the overall telecom industry," but the government is getting involved in funding, which means new opportunities for small entrepreneurs in low-population areas, said Gregory L. Rohde, a former director at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and a funding consultant for telecom firms.
Rural area populations have lower incomes, which means $40 a month for any kind of high-speed Internet service is often too costly, said Shirley A. Bloomfield, vice president of government affairs for the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, which represents 600 independent phone operators.
The Department of Agriculture says it is reviewing loan apps to see if there is a "business case" for approving the loan. But if there was a "business case," they wouldn't need the subsidy - Wall Street and the banks would be competing to offer the loans.
My prediction: these rural broadband services will be built, but won't generate enough revenue to pay off the loans. Meanwhile, Wi-Fi or some other wireless technology - or perhaps even delivering the Internet via electric power lines - will leapfrog DSL and cable modems. That convergence of forces will make the subsidized rural broadband providers go bankrupt and default on the loans - and other broadband providers will pick them up for a pennies on the dollar.
Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, you're going to pick up the tab for your own Internet access - and someone else's too!
There were expressions of surprise, even among some government security officials, that this kind of info would be public. There shouldn't be. Several commercial map companies sell fiber maps. At least three web sites identify all major North American exchange points, and at least four major American cities have detailed fiber maps online. At CarrierHotels.com, we're not disinterested observers, as our web site features information about buildings that serve as major telecom hubs.
This information is online because building owners, colocation firms and hosting providers are businesses that need to market their services. Connectivity is a key yardstick for companies evaluating hosting and disaster recovery. The government knows this, too. Most fiber maps that are online were placed there by economic development agencies touting their cities' connectivity.
What's more, classifying information about fiber networks is impractical. Laying fiber requires permitting and approval processes that generate voluminous public records. "Will backhoe operators need to have background checks if they're trenching for new fiber runs?" wondered one NANOG poster.
The genie is out of the bottle, if not on public web sites, than certainly in Google's cache. We can't pretend that public information on fiber networks can be completely hidden from terrorists, no more than it was hidden from Sean Gorman. A more productive approach is for the US homeland security team to know more about America's networks than the terrorists, and use that advantage to defend any vulnerabilities. Gorman's work, which is being shared with counter-terror officials, should be seen as a huge asset in that effort, rather than a liability.
Instapundit is right. This is extremely interesting.
Foreign Aid: How YOU Can Help
I received this email from Dr. Bruce Woodall, the husband of a cousin of mine, and a doctor who until recently spent several years working at a not-for-profit clinic and hospital in the tiny coal mining town of Jellico, Tennessee, even though with his extensive qualifications he could land a high-profile big-dollar job at most any medical center or practice in the country.
Bruce is currently doing locum tenens work on Nukunonu, one of three tiny atolls in the Tokelau Islands, a group of three atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, about half way between Hawaii and New Zealand. It is my intention to donate some personal funds and raise more to total $500 to $1,000 to help fund a response to the need he outlines below. You are welcome to help me. Contact me by email at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net for more information.
Dear Friends and Family,For most people, living on an island in the South Pacific sounds like living in Paradise. But for Sosimo, Isaia and Isoefo Aleki, it isn't. You can help change that for them.
Some have asked if there is a special need on Tokelau with which they could assist. There certainly is.
Last week when I went did my home visits, Dr. Silivia Tavite, Tokelau's dentist and one of our dearest friends, suggested that I visit a home with a handicapped boy, a patient that the hospital staff had never mentioned to me. A tired looking mother greeted us and introduced us to four of her children; a healthy four-month-old daughter and a one-year-old son who is not crawling or attempting to even sit independently. This developmentally delayed boy has a five-year-old brother who is uncharacteristically thin and frail with poor coordination that is getting progressively worse. He also has an eight-year-old brother whose developmental history matches his two younger brothers, only he’s further along – he was born weak and has grown progressively weaker, his short-lived, tenuous ability to walk has now been completely lost and his neck muscles are now to weak to hold his head upright. These same parents have two teenage daughters who are both healthy. Clearly these three brothers have Muscular Dystrophy. It is doubtful any of the three will see their twentieth birthday.
I was angry and embarrassed at having been on the island for over two months and not having known about them. Apparently there was an inappropriate though well-intentioned attitude among the nurses to not trouble me with a problem I could do nothing about. True, there is no cure, but there is care, for both the boys and for their parents, and the dear grandmother who rarely leaves the house because of her care for them. These boys could have a whole new experience of life if they were given increased mobility. Currently the family owns only a hospital style wheelchair which is worthless on this rough broken corral terrain. Thus the boys hardly ever leave the house, and one parent or grandparent is confined with them. We feel the following would be extremely beneficial: three of those all-terrain, three-wheeled jogging strollers, the kind with the large diameter tires that are popular back home for fitness minded parents to push their kids in while jogging or hiking off-pavement. We are aware that manufacturers do build models designed for large kids and for handicapped adults. I once read an article about a military officer who ran marathons pushing his son with cerebral palsy in one.
Here is what we are asking: First, we cannot surf the web from here so we need help finding out what is available. Nukunonu is a harsh and remote environment, so durability and high quality would be prudent. Puncture proof tires would be advisable if such are an option. Let us know if this sort of research is your passion, but do not try to email us photos unless we ask for them. Second, we will need three sponsors, each willing to coordinating the purchase and shipping of one of the units. A sponsor could be an industrious individual or family, a church, or a service group of some sort. The shipping may cost as much as the units, and we would like to get them here priority so that we can oversee the assembly and placement prior to our departure. If you would like to contribute to the effort, please do NOT send us money, rather wait and let us put you in touch with the parties who will coordinate the purchase and shipping.
Attached is a photo of the brothers. Their family name is Aleki and they are: Sosimo age 1, Isaia age 6, and Isoefo age 8. Before the end of October we would love to be able to post a photo of the three of them outside enjoying a sunny day being wheeled around the island village by parents or friends to interact with the other children.
Grace and Peace,
Bruce, Dale, Elizabeth and Sarah
Vote Early, Vote Often
EconoPundit is nominated in the New Weblog Showcase, a weekly contest which provides a forum for new bloggers to showcase their best work. Bloggers vote for the weekly winner by linking to the post on the nominated blogs that they like. The Blogosphere Ecosystem daily ranking scan counts how many links each submitted post has received and at the end of the week, the new blog with the most links to its sample post, wins! For example, if you link to this, you cast a vote for EconoPundit.
You know what to do.
New Media Blog
Actually, it's more a traditional website than a blog, but Camera.org, the website of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America is one heckuva great site. I became aware of them after one of the people involved with that website emailed me in response to a mention of this post over at LGF.
Yes, I just added a comments feature to the blog. Please don't abuse it. If you do, I'll remove it. I'm the sole authority on whether or not you are abusing it. Check the side column for a comments policy, coming soon.
Also, I just added a blog to my blog roll. It's called The 12th Man. It's a good blog , and Alex of The 12th Man was helpful to me in fixing a bug and improving the look of my blog.
Could Dissertation Be a Security Threat?
A Washington Post report on a doctoral dissertation by George Mason University grad student Sean Gorman that maps critical infrastructure in cities is a fascinating story on more than one level. The dissertation is a computerized mapping of every business and industrial sector in the American economy, layering on top the fiber-optic network that connects them. Says the Post:
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Gorman's work has become so compelling that companies want to seize it, government officials want to suppress it, and al Qaeda operatives - if they could get their hands on it - would find a terrorist treasure map. He can click on a bank in Manhattan and see who has communication lines running into it and where. He can zoom in on Baltimore and find the choke point for trucking warehouses. He can drill into a cable trench between Kansas and Colorado and determine how to create the most havoc with a hedge clipper. Using mathematical formulas, he probes for critical links, trying to answer the question: 'If I were Osama bin Laden, where would I want to attack?' In the background, he plays the Beastie Boys."Gorman compiled his map using material freely available on the Internet. None of it was classified. Says the Post: "His original intention was to map the physical infrastructure of the Internet, to see who was connected, who was not, and to measure its economic impact."
The story examines the pros and cons of publishing his dissertation vs. making it classified information. There are free speech issues, of course, but also issues of public safety and whether publishing the information would benefit terrorists more by providing them a targeting map, or benefit Americans more by spotlighting critical infrastructure that must be "hardened" against attack.
The issue is, just how much of the kind of information Gorman accessed should utilities, government agencies and corporations make available online as a matter of routine and a matter of policy? The First Amendment guarantees a right to publish, while various "right-to-know" laws and open-records laws work to enhance the flood of information that is available, though it takes a smart, dedicated researcher to connect the dots in some cases. But is that a good thing? Does it make sense, for example, that the location of every single natural gas pipeline in America is available online? Perhaps not - but our open, participatory system of government, with public hearings, right-to-know laws, open-records laws and the First Amendment, likely makes it impossible to keep such information from the public domain. Here in Tennessee, we're debating whether a company should be allowed to build a uranium enrichment plant in a small town in rural Tennessee, with various issues ranging from jobs to environmental concerns to fears the plant may become a terrorist target. I'm glad we're having the debate - though I don't pretend to have any informed opinion on it - because such major decisions ought to be made in public, with copious amounts of information.
The downside is, if the plant is built and if terrorists decide it makes a juicy target, we can't go back and remove from public access the information about the plant and its location.
Our economy rests on a complex technological ecosystem. Islamic terror groups like al Qaeda already know that. It's why bin Laden in a December 2001 videotape aired on al Jazeera urged his followers to "find the joints of the American economy and hit the enemy in these joints."
Gorman's dissertation identifies such joints. But, then, so do thousands of information sources both online and off. Gorman's work is more dangerous, in the wrong hands, only because he connected the dots, and put it all together in one picture. Terrorists know that blowing up a pipeline or disrupting a telecommunications network is a good tactic. But knowing which pipeline or fiber optic cable is the best target can transform tactics into something approaching strategy.
But if Gorman can compile such information freely from the Internet, al Qaeda can too - and probably already has. Therein lies the core of the issue.
Victor Davis Hanson has written often about how our "consensual government, individual freedom, secular rationalism, free markets, egalitarianism, and self-criticism and self-audit, when applied to the battlefield, result in better-disciplined, better-equipped, better-supplied, and better-spirited armies." But it's not just our armies that are better equipped. Our people are, too. We're also better educated than your average Islamic wacko, we're defending a better way of life, and we're more adaptable to change. I call it entrepreneurial adaptability. Our economy is built, torn down, and rebuilt bigger and better through a constant cycle of change and growth that economist Joseph Schumpeter called creative destruction.
Islamic terrorism is about just destruction. The whole of the Islamic terror movement is based on defeating modernism and returning the Muslim world to the 13th Century. It is not about survival, creativity, growth and change, it is about death and destruction and rolling back 700 years of progress. It is a movement that will never invent something like the cell phone, the jet aircraft or the computer. It's a movement that uses Western technology - and virtually all technology is Western - but doesn't understand it and can't innovate it. Visit your local Circuit City store, your local pharmacy, your local computer store, your local auto dealer, or your local manufacturer of almost anything. You won't find a single product invented by Islamic fundamentalists.
The Islamic terror movements' biggest technological innovation in recent years was to turn a hijacked airliner into a flying bomb instead of a negotiating tool - and it took them about four decades to come up with it. Meanwhile, the heroes of Flight 93 came up with a counterattack in about 90 minutes, learning of the threat via cellphone calls to loved ones on the ground, and then coordinating the response that brought the plane down short of its intended target. al Qaeda's innovation, four decades in the making, was rendered obsolete in 90 minutes by a few average Americans.
In the race to use information and innovate, I'm willing to bet on Americans over the terrorists. We Americans created the information Gorman accessed, and we created the systems and technologies his dissertation describes. And we understand those systems and technologies better than the enemy ever will. The enemy can use that information to attack us, sure, but we will use it and information like it to better prepare to detect and defeat terrorist attacks. Therefore - with some trepidation - I believe Gorman's work should be published.
UPDATE: Steve Gilliard over at Daily Kos points out that maps of Seattle's fiber optic network are available online. And Rafe Colburn sez: "Shouldn't the focus be on studying the maps to figure out where more redundancy is needed and which chokepoints need better security rather than on obsessing over the convenient packaging of publicly available information?"
Blogging Behind The Windows
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a report on how Microsoft treats employee-bloggers. Robert Scoble, a "technical evangelist" for the next version of Windows, "is one of a growing number of Microsoft employees who maintain their own weblogs," says the P-I:
Blogs, as they're known, are a phenomenon across the Internet, but for big companies such as Microsoft, they bring both opportunity and risk. Employee blogs can put a human face on a monolithic corporation, giving outsiders new insights into a company's culture and building a sense of community around its products. But corporate traditionalists also worry when employees express their personal thoughts about work in a public venue, without so much as a quick read by the PR department.Scoble says Microsoft's executives are "allowing the bloggers to talk and hoping that nobody gets into trouble or gets sued, or a customer gets mad, or that we get quoted in the press and create a firestorm." The P-I interviews a handful of blogging Microsoft employees and reports that, while technical subjects and the company's products are frequently discussed, "Microsoft bloggers say they're particularly careful not to post sensitive or confidential information. Often, though, blogs provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse of life at the Redmond software company."
I post a lot more items related to blogging at my work blog.
Vote Early, Vote Often
EconoPundit is nominated in the New Weblog Showcase, a weekly contest which provides a forum for new bloggers to showcase their best work. Bloggers vote for the weekly winner by linking to the post on the nominated blogs that they like. The Blogosphere Ecosystem daily ranking scan counts how many links each submitted post has received and at the end of the week, the new blog with the most links to its sample post, wins! For example, if you link to this, you cast a vote for EconoPundit.
You know what to do.
Flights of Fancy
Investigative reporter Phil Williams at NewsChannel5 in Nashville has been investigating whether University of Tennessee president John Shumaker is inappropriately using the university's taxpayer-provided plane for personal trips, inluding some 20 trips to Birmingham, a city that's an easy 250-mile trip down Interstates 75 and 59 from Knoxville - a trip of less than four hours.
The evidence is circumstantial, but on balance it's not good for Shumaker:
In particular, it's Shumaker's repeated flights from Knoxville to Birmingham. In a recent six-month period, the plane flew to Birmingham some 20 times, mostly on weekends, to drop off or pick up Shumaker. At an operating cost of $625 an hour, that's a pricetag of about $25,000. "Do you have a home in Birmingham?" Williams asks Shumaker. "No, I have family and friends in Birmingham."Williams goes on to explain that in Shumaker's appointments calendar, trips to Birmingham on the UT plane were designated by the phrase "Hold-SEC," and that Shumaker claims the trips were related to the search for a new athletic director for UT. The SEC refers to the Southeastern Conference. Some trips, Shumaker says, were related to picking a search firm to aid UT in the search for a new athletic director. Other trips were to secretly interview high-profile AD candidates who didn't want to risk it becoming public that they were talking to UT.
Among those friends: Dr. Carol Z. Garrison, the president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Garrison worked for Shumaker at the University of Louisville before he came to UT, and the two have been linked romantically in Louisville talk-radio circles.
But, as Williams points out, there are some problems with Shumaker's story:
1. One trip marked "Hold-SEC" was made on Nov. 2, 2002, more than two months before UT issued, in mid-Feburary, a request-for-proposals in order to begin the process of hiring a search firm, yet Shumaker now claims the Nov. 2 trip was to interview search firms. Either Shumaker is lying or he was pre-selecting a search firm and the RFP process was a sham.
2. Another trip, on Feb. 22, 2003, blocked out three hours for a "Hold-SEC" appointment in Birminingham but, in fact, Shumaker attended a black-tie gala in Birminingham with Garrison. There was no meeting related to the hunt for an athletic director. Musta been canceled. Lucky for Shumaker, the trip wasn't wasted. There just happened to be a black-tie gala in town that night. And Ms. Garrison happened to have an extra ticket.
What an amazing coincidence.
Good thing Shumaker had his tux on the plane, huh?
More on Internet Wine Sales
The Tennessean serves up a story on the Federal Trade Commission's study showing that "bans against direct shipments of wine by Tennessee and more than two dozen other states hurts consumers."
Weirdly, the paper states that " In approximately 20 of those states, importing wine is a misdemeanor," but fails to explain that, in Tennessee, direct shipment of wine to consumers is a felony. I guess looking it up was too hard.
The story does examine whether the FTC report might be impetus for the Tennessee legislature to remove its ban:
Last month, for example, South Carolina legalized direct shipments of alcohol while Virginia passed laws legalizing shipments to states that also allow shipments from its liquor suppliers. Thirteen other states have similar so-called reciprocal shipping laws. Whether Tennessee will follow suit is questionable, in large part because the state's politically powerful liquor wholesalers lobby has long supported the ban. John Jones, the chairman of the Alcoholic Beverage Commission, is another in favor of the current ban and is doubtful it will go away anytime soon.The FTC report in fact examined those very issues and, as I noted here yesterday, the FTC found that "states that permit interstate direct shipping generally report few or no problems with shipments to minors."
Like many supporters of the ban, Jones said he is concerned the state would lose tax revenues if it allowed direct shipments of alcohol. He also is concerned that allowing direct shipments could make the products more available to minors.
Jones told The Tennessean he hadn't seen the FTC report but was skeptical. The FTC report has been available since Friday - there's a link to the 139-page PDF file with the FTC's press release posted online here. It's a good thing the chairman of Tennessees Alcoholic Beverage Commission hasn't bothered to read the report. We wouldn't want public policy made by informed individuals. Better to just let them continue to have their nests feathered by the wine wholesaler PACs and lobbyists.
Doing The Dean Dance
CJ over at Up For Anything offers a very lucid explanation of why Howard Dean's foreign policy pronouncements on sending troops to Liberia show Dean to be, well, disengenous. CJ's being charitable.
Dean, of course, is for sending troops to Liberia to affect regime change and end a human catastrophe, though he was against sending troops to Iraq to affect regime change and end a human catastrophe. He says Iraq and Liberia are different. Yes, they are. Liberia poses no national security threat to the United States of America. Iraq was. Liberia is not at war with the U.S. Iraq was - only a truce halted hostilities in the first Gulf War, and Iraq never lived up to its responsibilities under that truce. So, yes Mr. Dean they are different.
Dean is playing politics with people's lives - he's talking tough on Liberia because he wants to look tough in order to get re-elected, but he's a typical Democrat who likes to use U.S. troops only when American security is not at stake. When America's security is at stake, Dean prefers to leave things in the incapable hands of the United Nations.
Read the whole thing. And hang around for awhile at Up For Anything - it's a rather good blog.
Bring 'Em On 2
David Warren says Bush's controversial "Bring 'em on" comment was appropos of what he's created in Iraq: a trap for the world's Islamic terrorists:
The U.S. occupation of Iraq has done more to destabilize Iran than the ayatollahs could hope to do in Iraq; and then something. This "something" has befuddled the various "experts" on regional security, trapped within their Pavlovian assumptions. They notice that the U.S. forces in Iraq have become a new magnet for regional terrorist activity. They assume this demonstrates the foolishness of President Bush's decision to invade.Just remember - GWB is consistently misunderestimated by his opponents - from your garden-variety Democrats here at home to al Qaeda the Taliban, Saddam and, now, Hizbullah out in the War in Terror combat zone. A combat zone, it should be noted, that Bush has shifted away from our own soil, to a place were fewer American lives are at stake, but more terrorists' lives are. Warren calls it flypaper. I prefer roach motel.
It more likely demonstrates the opposite. While engaged in the very difficult business of building a democracy in Iraq - the first democracy, should it succeed, in the entire history of the Arabs - President Bush has also, quite consciously to my information, created a new playground for the enemy, away from Israel, and even farther away from the United States itself. By the very act of proving this lower ground, he drains terrorist resources from other swamps.
This is the meaning of Mr. Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt from the Roosevelt Room on Wednesday, when he was quizzed about the "growing threat to U.S. forces" on the ground in Iraq. It should have been obvious that no U.S. President actually relishes having his soldiers take casualties. What the media, and U.S. Democrats affect not to grasp, is that the soldiers are now replacing targets that otherwise would be provided by defenceless civilians, both in Iraq and at large. The sore thumb of the U.S. occupation - and it is a sore thumb equally to Baathists and Islamists, compelling their response - is not a mistake. It is carefully hung flypaper.
Hizbullah itself (the "Army of Allah" - Shia, and ultimately financed and armed by Iran's ayatollahs) are directing their attention less and less towards the "Little Satan" of Israel, and more and more towards the "Great Satan" of the U.S., as events unfold.
This is exactly what President Bush wants. To engage them, away from Israel, in mortal combat. To have an excuse for wiping them out - a good, solid, American excuse, from which Israel has been extracted. The good news is, Hizbullah's taking the bait.
UPDATE: Lt. Smash says Bush's "bring 'em on" taunt will be a morale-booster for the troops in Iraq.
UPDATE: Instapundit has a lot more good stuff re "Bring 'em on."
I rarely watch The Agency, a CBS drama set inside a fictionalized Central Intelligence Agency, but this week's episode, a rerun called "Unholy Alliances" caught my attention.
In it, the head of the CIA is paid a visit by head of the Palestinian Authority's intelligence service, asking for help in cracking down on Hamas, the Palestinian terror group. Interesting, I thought, and kept watching.
Shortly, the head of the CIA is also visited by the head of the Mossad, Israel's intelligence service, demanding to know why the American intelligence chief has been meeting with the PA's intelligence chief. The CIA director then concocts a plan to set up a meeting between the head of the Israeli and Palestinian intelligence services. To make a long story short, some Americans are wounded and some Israelis killed in a terrorist attack shortly after arriving in Israel, and operatives from the CIA are sent to Israel to track down the perpetrators.
At this point, the viewers are lead to believe that Palestinian terrorists are behind the attack, clearly an effort to sabotage efforts to bring the PA and Israeli intelligence services together in a joint effort to wipe out Hamas.
There are, no doubt, some Palestinians who would like to put an end to Hamas and its terror tactics and negotiate a real peace with Israel. And this episode of The Agency seemed to be headed toward a somewhat balanced message: Israel and right-thinking Palestinians ought to work together to wipe out terror groups like Hamas.
But that's not where the episode ultimately took viewers. No, viewers were instead treated to an anti-Israel polemic, a piece of propaganda that Yasser Arafat and his terror goons must have loved.
As the story evolved, the terrorist attack on the Americans and Israelis was perpetrated by Jews, while almost every single Palestinian portrayed in the show was a model of moderation. The only Palestinian "terrorist" in the episode is a young boy, who seems hardly threatening at all, while the head of the Mossad is seen as a revenge-minded crazy who doesn't want to even talk with his Palestinian counterpart, let alone help him. The head of Palestinian intelligence is shown as a dapper, well-dressed, urbane moderate who just wants peace, and when he is killed in a car-bomb explosion, the perpetrators are not members of Hamas, trying to sabotage attempts to wipe out Hamas, but Jews who don't want peace with Palestinians. And not just any Jews, but members of the top echelon of Israeli intelligence. And not only do they not want peace, they want to push every single living Palestinian out of the West Bank in the pursuit of creating a "Greater Israel."
Talk about turning reality on its head. In the real Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is the Palestinian Authority that continues to coddle those who want to see Israel completely eliminated, while it is Israel that has repeatedly offered generous land-for-peace deals that aim for side-by-side existence of Israel and a Palestinian state. In the real Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is Palestinian terrorists who use car bombs and suicide bombers to blow up Jews.
But not on CBS.
UPDATE: Charles Johnson over at LGF has a post on anti-Israel propaganda at the New York Times, in the form of a cartoon series. In the post-September 11 world where, as GWB so accurately defined it, "if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists" construct, where, exactly, is the NYT?
UPDATE: AN LGF reader comments: I taped that CBS show Staurday night expecting to see an intelligent episode, yet I was treated to an anti Israel polemic. All Israelis were portrayed as hard lined ideologues and the Palis were shown to be really reasonable nice guys. The whole premise was ludicrous - that Israeli right wing Jews and Hamas would coopreate to destroy the phony "peace process" and that fantical Jews (Yigal Amir types) could infiltrate into the highest echelons of the Israeli security serives. The show was absolutely terrible! Amen to that.
UPDATE: The Agency is produced by Wolfgang Petersen, a German-born director who now works in Hollywood and has produced or directed such movies as Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, Air Force One and The Perfect Storm. He once said this of In the Line of Fire: "I like to tell big stories, but I don't like those that are too simple, too predictable. I like characters that aren't stereotypes and one-dimensional, and correspond to the reality of our increasingly complex world." Oh. Really?
Stating the Obvious
There's a new report out from the Federal Trade Commission that says laws like the one Tennessee has banning the sale of wine on the Internet are anti-competitive and drive up prices for consumers. Well... yeah. The FTC says lifting such laws could help consumers save about 20 percent on their wine purchases. The report on online wine sales is part of a broad FTC review of state regulations and whether they are reducing online competition. The FTC: "By allowing interstate direct shipping, states would give consumers the opportunity to save money on their wine purchases, and would let consumers choose from a much greater variety of wines." Twenty-six states ban interstate wine sales online. Tennessee is one of them - in Tennessee it is a felony for a winery to ship wine directly to the consumer. The story notes a previous study indicated that calculated that state restrictions on online wine sales cost consumers more than $15 billion a year.
Here's a link to the FTC's press release, which has a link to the full report (a 139-page PDF file). Here's an excerpt:
The states that permit interstate direct shipping generally report few or no problems with shipments to minors. Some states have applied the same types of safeguards to online sales that already apply to bricks-and-mortar retailers, such as requirements that package delivery companies obtain an adult signature at the time of delivery. Some states also have developed penalty and enforcement systems to provide incentives for both out-of-state suppliers and package delivery companies to comply with the law.The Progressive Policy Institute, which calculated that bans on online wine sales were costing consumers $15 billion a year, recently came out with a statement opposing Congress granting states the right to levy new sales taxes on cross-border online purchases until the states first dismantle their "web of protectionist laws and regulations that unfairly discriminate against out-of-state e-commerce companies in favor of in-state bricks-and-mortar companies." The PPI is a centrist Democrat think tank in Washington DC. Says the PPI:
Several states that allow interstate direct shipping also collect taxes from those shipments. By requiring out-of-state suppliers to obtain permits, states such as New Hampshire have sought to achieve voluntary compliance with their tax laws. Most of these states report few, if any, problems with tax collection. Other states with reciprocity agreements forego taxing interstate direct shipments altogether.
Congress should not grant states the right to tax Internet sales unless they have first eliminated protectionist laws and regulations that discriminate against e-commerce, or unless they can make a clear and compelling argument that discriminatory laws or regulations are required for consumer protection. Linking the rights of states to collect tax on Internet sales to the elimination of protectionist laws is likely to be a net benefit for consumers, as the additional taxes consumers would pay could be more than offset by savings from purchasing lower-cost goods and services online.In March, the PPI published a report, Buying Wine Online, which urged states to "abolish mandates that legally require a wholesaling tier and other statutes that unnecessarily restrict the market, so that consumers and producers may benefit from greater choice, competition, and market access."
It's time to end the state-protected wine cartel in Tennessee. But don't expect it to happen any time soon - the state's wine wholesalers, whose lobbyists and PACs give heavily to elected state legislators' campaign funds, will fight brutally to maintain their protected and profitable cartel.
I've written about this issue previously.
UPDATE: Second-day coverage here, or scroll up to July 8 post titled "More on Internet Wine Sales."
Blogs in the Corporate World
Today's New York Times has an article examining the role of blogs as an internal communications tool in the corporate setting. The NYT:
So far, web logs are best known as a medium for communicating with the general public - like the blog by the noted journalist Andrew Sullivan, which is devoted to culture and politics, and sites like the Veg Blog, which is about all things vegetarian. In the corporate context, some chief executives, for better or worse, have adopted blogs as a way to share their personal wisdom with the wider world. But a growing number of businesses, government organizations and educational institutions are using web logs to manage and improve the flow of information among employees. These blogs, not accessible to the public, typically allow many people to contribute entries that can be read by others in the organization." The story also looks at the downside of blogs as a corporate information management tool.
This is Too Cool
Wired is reporting on an Internet 'radio' website that streams music based on your personal tastes – and learns what you like. Last.fm uses collaborative filtering to learn its listeners' likes and dislikes, and deliver a personalized radio stream - sort of an online TiVo for radio. The basicsm says Wired:
"Users can either fill out a profile or just begin listening. If a song plays to the end, the system logs this as a thumbs up. But if the user doesn't like a song and hits the Change button in the Last.fm player, it's marked as a thumbs down. Over time, a preference profile is built. By comparing the preference profiles of its listeners, the system can predict what songs a particular listener might like, based on the overlap with other listeners with similar tastes."
A Nashville Terror Connection?
This is interesting.
An assortment of computers stolen from a trucking company's shipping terminal has brought to light a federal terrorism task force's attention on a Murfreesboro retailer who is facing charges in the theft of thousands of dollars worth of laptops. Overnite Transportation has filed a federal civil lawsuit against Fayrouz Fayez Abdel-Khalek, the owner of Compu-MaxUSA Inc., in an effort to recover $390,000, the value of computers stolen in April from the trucking company's La Vergne terminal. The computers, printers and digital cameras were destined for Hewlett-Packard. According to police and court records, an Overnite employee stole the equipment and sold it to Abdel-Khalek in the Murfreesboro Home Depot parking lot.Tell me again, why in the post-September 11 world Why do we allow individuals to wire large amounts of money to the Middle East? I know one thing - I'd rather buy direct from Dell or Gateway than risk buying from this guy and having my moneysent to fund Islamic terrorists.
The Overnite lawsuit also sought a temporary restraining order to freeze Abdel-Khalek's bank accounts. It noted Abdel-Khalek's ties to his native United Arab Emirates, ''large amounts of money'' that had been wired to the Middle East, the defendant's recent detention in Newark, N.J., as he tried to leave the country - and his status as ''a person of interest'' by the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force.
The Battle Hymn of the Republic
The Battle Hymn of the Republic was written in 1861 during the American civil war, by Julia Ward Howe after Howe visited a Union Army camp on the Potomac River near Washington, DC. She heard the soldiers singing the song John Brown’s Body, which had a strong marching beat and, as Union soldiers' letters and diaries make clear, was a favorite marching song for Union troops. Howe heard the song being sung and was moved to write new words for the majestic, powerful melody. She wrote the words to Battle Hymn the next day, and it rapidly was embraced as a national hymn.
Howe later recalled the moment of inspiration:
I awoke in the grey of the morning, and as I lay waiting for dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to entwine themselves in my mind, and I said to myself, "I must get up and write these verses, lest I fall asleep and forget them!" So I sprang out of bed and in the dimness found an old stump of a pen, which I remembered using the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.The hymn was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1862, and was sung at the funerals of Winston Churchill, and Robert F. Kennedy. Fittingly for a song about liberation, The Battle Hymn of the Republic is set to the music of John Brown’s Body, a 19th Century American camp meeting tune named for American abolitionist John Brown, who led a short lived insurrection to free the slaves.
On July 4, 2003, in an era when America once again pursuing its age-old mission of liberating the oppressed and spreading the light of freedom, I reprint for you the very fitting and stirring words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His truth is marching on.
I have seen Him in the watch fires of a hundred circling camps
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
His day is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! His day is marching on.
I have read a fiery Gospel writ in burnished rows of steel;
“As ye deal with My contemners, so with you My grace shall deal”;
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with His heel,
Since God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Since God is marching on.
He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet;
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.
In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free;
[originally …let us die to make men free]
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! While God is marching on.
He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, He is honor to the brave;
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of wrong His slave,
Our God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah! Our God is marching on.
Happy July 4th. And God Bless America - her work is not done.
For The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Also, Dean Esmay has some thoughts on America, Britain, the Revolution and Empire today.
Independence Day Break
Tomorrow, July 4th, is Independence Day and the 227th anniversary of our nation's declaration of independence from tyranny. I'll be on a blogging break for most of the day. Celebrate your independence and pray to God he keeps America strong and free for centuries to come. It is the last best hope of mankind on this earth, and only America has the power, the will and the moral authority to liberate others around the globe. In honor of July 4th, I'll be posting the lyrics and some history of The Battle Hymn of the Republic I hope you enjoy it. My best to you and yours.
Have a happy and safe July 4th.
That Tired Liberal Agenda
Having nothing new to say, SKB is re-hashing the same tired attacks he made back in mid-May, accusing me of accusing the Democratic Party of wishing for a terror attack and prolonged economic woes. But of course I was only reporting and commenting on what top national Democrats told a reporter. Can't Democrats come up with something postive to say? Must they always rehash the same tired strategy of attack, lie, slander and scare? Sad. Very sad.
"Liberia is significantly different from the situation in Iraq."
Howard Dean is calling for the U.S. to send troops to Liberia. He opposed the liberation of Iraq. This is actually very typical. Lefty American politicians tend to support military intervention in places where America's national security is not at stake, and oppose intervention when our security IS at stake.
"The situation in Liberia is significantly different from the situation in Iraq," Dean says. He argues that there's no inconsistency in opposing the war in Iraq while backing intervention in Africa, because Bush never made the case that Iraq posed a threat to the world. "The situation in Liberia is exactly the opposite. There is an imminent threat of serious human catastrophe and the world community is asking the United States to exercise its leadership."
Yeah. The serious human catastrophe had already happened in Iraq - witness the mass graves, the gassing of the Kurds, the slaughter of the Shias, the cash funding of Palestinian homicide bombers. Dean didn't want us to go in there and remove the guy who did all that, to prevent him from doing it again, on a larger scale, perhaps even to us. But he's all for intervention in Liberia. Why?
Votes. He can't win the White House without the support of the majority of the American people, who currently - and accurately - see Dean as soft on defense and weak on national security. But he's a bit late in calling for the U.S. to intervene militarily in Liberia - President Bush had already raised the possibility. Bush is a leader on this, Dean is just a follower, and playing politics to boot.
"Freedom is God's Will"
Donald Sensing explores America's Christian roots, and the relationship between God, life and liberty - and our obligations - in a must-read essay that I almost did not excerpt here so you'd be more likely to go read the whole thing. I said "almost."
However much it is claimed that Jefferson (and most of the other Founders) were secular deists, there is no escaping that Jefferson's writings are permeated with God consciousness. It's true that Christ does not figure into his political writings, but God does, and frequently. What gave Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries the right to be so, well, revolutionary? What gave them the right to start this country? Whence came their idea that the people should rule instead of a king or a parliament of nobles? How could they claim that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was "unalienable," meaning beyond the power of a government either to grant or deny? Why did they talk about human rights to begin with and where do rights comes from?Now. Go. Read. The. Whole. Thing.
According to Thomas Jefferson and his fellows, the ultimate answer to all those questions was simple: God.
However true it was that commercial interests were prominent in the minds of Jefferson, Washington, Franklin and all the rest, only cynics of today's postmodern day say that the religious convictions of the Founders were not central to their determination to risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for a single claim: the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain rights that may not be rightfully denied them.
That was the whole justification for the American revolution: the rights of the people in America came from God, not from the British crown. When the Crown usurped them, it was the God-given right of the people of America to cast off the crown and determine their own mode of governance. That is what the Declaration of Independence says, and that is what the Founders did. Freeman wrote, "If you could sum up Jefferson's political views in one sentence, you would say: He believed that God and reason allow people to rule themselves."
The source of human freedom is not an academic question nor is it merely one of Constitutional history. It is in fact the question of utmost importance in Iraq today, for example. The people there are freed from slavery under Saddam Hussein, but as of now, what they are freed to is not yet settled.
Bring 'Em On
President Bush is catching some grief from your garden-variety hysterical name-calling anti-Bushies for his "bring 'em on" comment in discussing the situation in Iraq, and the sporadic attacks by a few pro-Saddam remnants who have managed to kill a small number of U.S. troops since the major combat phase of the Iraq liberation ended two months ago.
A little bravado from the president, which likely mirrors the bravado of the troops in the field, sure as heck beats the response of the last president to a few troops being killed by what were, essentially, terrorists. Each life lost is a tragedy, yet in the bigger picture these are flea bites on a grizzly bear.
Remember Mogadishu? We lost 18 soldiers becuase the Clinton administration refused to send armor to Somalia. And then they compounded the tragedy by pulling out. President Clinton let the bad guys (trained by Osama bin Laden's agents, by the way - read Black Hawk Down) drive us out by killing a few of our guys.
Thanks to President Clinton, we fled and Somalia today is a disaster. I wish he'd said "We're staying, and we're sending armor and more troops, so just tell those Somali terrorists that if they wanna fight, bring 'em on."
Saddam, it was reported a long time ago in NYT or WaPo, based his strategy heavily on what happened in Somalia - he's reportedly watched Black Hawk Down many many times and figures to do the same thing to us and drive us out. But he learned the wrong lesson. America never re-fights the last war. The lesson WE learned from Somalia is, you can't lose if you go in with overwhelming force and firepower, and - most important - refuse to leave.
I think that's what Bush meant. You want a fight, Ba'athist terrorsists? Bring 'em on. We're not leaving.
UPDATE: Dang. Wish I'd said it as well as this guy:
In case you missed it folks, we're in a war. ... The leftist bedwetting, simpering and weak-knee-ing over Bush's comment just goes to show you what has happened to approximately half our society. ... The thing is, half our society doesn't know what it means to be in a fight. As a former troop with tactical time in a couple hazardous duty areas, I believe that the idea that he is endangering the troops by throwing down the gauntlet is inane, and it totally underestimates the effect Bush has had on the Middle East. Qatar, Saudi and Jordan are talking about democritization, Bashir Assad doesn't make Colin Powell wait for 45 minutes before seeing him, and maybe, just maybe, the Palestinians are ready for serious peacemaking. That statement won't be interpreted as bravado in Iraq, or some stupid challenge endangering the troops. It will instead be understood as a promise, that if the attacks don't stop, there will be hell to pay. Which is exactly the message that is needed now that are elites are once again raising the white flag.UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan makes a great point about the "Bring 'em on" taunt:
One of the many layers of the arguments for invading Iraq focused on the difficulties of waging a serious war on terror from a distant remove. Being based in Iraq helpsus notonly because of actual bases; but because the American presence there diverts terrorist attention away from elsewhere. By confronting them directly in Iraq, we get to engage them in a military setting that plays to our strengths rather than to theirs'. Continued conflict in Iraq, in other words, needn't always be bad news. It may be a sign that we are drawing the terrorists out of the woodwork and tackling them in the open.And, so, bring 'em on.
In Nevada, a Governor - or a Dictator?
Does Nevada have a recall provision for elected officials? If so, here's hoping they start work on recalling Gov. Kenny Guinn, who calls himself a Republican but who has been pushing for a mammoth tax increase and now is asking a court to order legislators to vote for higher taxes. A group of legislators is willing to raise taxes, just not enough the would-be dictator of Nevada wishes, so he's going to court to make them do it, claiming the state constitution requires them to vote for the higher taxes because it requires sufficient taxes to balance the budget. That's nonsense. Guinn proposed a budget that is $860 million out of balance over the next two years. That doesn't mean legislators are constitutionally required to pass the taxes to fund it. If it did, then Nevada doesn't have a democratic form of government - it has a dictator.
Five other states also entered the new fiscal year without a budget, according to Stateline.org, which has this description of the situation in Nevada:
Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn (R) filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning that asks the Nevada Supreme Court to intervene in lawmaker's tax standoff over how to fund the state's education plan, The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported Tuesday. Democrats are pushing for tax increases, while Republicans are fighting to hold the line. Guinn, a Republican, wants the Supreme Court to order a tax increase.Well... at least some Republicans are fighting to hold the line.
I've commented previously on Guinn's desire for higher taxes on Nevadans and indicated I thought he was as bad a governor as Don Sundquist was in Tennessee until his term, mercifully, ended last January. I was wrong. Guinn is worse.
New Online First Amendment Resource
The First Amendment Center, located in Nashville on the campus of Vanderbilt University, has created a new online resource for research and news on First Amendment issues. The First Amendment Center is a program of the Freedom Forum which, full disclosure, happens to have my father-in-law as its chairman and CEO.
The new website, at FirstAmendmentCenter.org, offers in one place on the Internet access to information on all five First Amendment freedoms - free speech, free press, religious liberty, assembly and petition - and a wealth of analysis, commentary and case law.
"The First Amendment Center Online is designed to be useful for students, teachers, journalists, lawyers and the public," said Ken Paulson, executive director of the First Amendment Center, in a news release. "It’s a new resource for anyone - lawyer or layman - who needs research information, has a question, or wants daily news, analysis and commentary about First Amendment issues."
Among the topics you'll find on the website: student dress codes, the Pledge of Allegiance, campus speakers, Internet filtering, violence and media, libel, school prayer, and adult entertainment - each section provides FAQs, and access to relevant cases and resources. The site's First Amendment Library is said to be the only comprehensive online compilation of all First Amendment Supreme Court cases - there are about 1,300 - arranged by numerous topical categories.
In addition, the Freedom Forum commissioned a variety of First Amendment experts to write 125 articles for the site.
Check it out - it's a valuable resource.