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

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


A Victory for Tennessee Taxpayers
For several years, Tennesseans who use the Internet have paid what, it turns out, was a tax being collected illegally by the state of Tennessee. The good news: They're due a refund.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

Internet service in Tennessee is one step closer to being sales-tax-free. The state Supreme Court last week declined to review an appeals court ruling that said it's OK for Prodigy not to collect sales tax on the Internet service it provides.

Now the state Department of Revenue is evaluating whether to pursue four other cases against Internet service providers or to drop its efforts to collect sales tax on what it has - until now - considered a "telecommunications" service. Telecommunications services, which include phone and cable television connections, are subject to sales tax under state law.

The cases involve AOL, CompuServe, Earthlink and AT&T and are being litigated in Davidson County Chancery Court. If the state decides to drop the cases and reverse its position on taxing Internet access, the Department of Revenue would send notices to Internet service providers across the state, informing them sales tax collection will no longer be required on Internet access services.
Henry Walker, whose Nashville law firm represents AOL in its cases against the Department of Revenue, commented: ""The Legislature did not intend for these services to come within the definition of telecommunications services. I would hope and expect that the department would lay these cases to rest."

If the state reverses its position - which it would seem to have to do given it has lost the court case - the ISPs could file for the return of back taxes, but would have to then refund the money to the consumers who paid it. Although the state has collected the illegal tax since 1996, state law provides a three-year statute of limitations on tax refunds, which means the ISPs - and consumers - are due a refund only for the last three years.


Saddam and al Qaeda
From CNN tonight:

U.S. forces operating in the so-called Sunni Triangle - the region of Iraq most loyal to captured former dictator Saddam Hussein - found a significant weapons cache that included al Qaeda literature and videotapes, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
Of course, there was no link between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda. None whatsoever. Nothing to see here, move along, move along...

HobbsOnline goes live at BillHobbs.com, in the blogosphere near you, New Year's Day 2004. Sneak Preview.

Strong Economy Seen in 2004
The latest economic forecast is good news for President Bush, bad news for the Democrats who hoped the economy would remain sluggish in order to make it easier oust Bush from the White House.

The US economy is poised for its best performance in five years. Economists describe an economy that will be "solid," "sustainable," and "entering the new year with a wonderful head of steam." If the optimistic forecasts are accurate, it will mean more Americans find jobs in 2004 - something that has been more difficult this year. A stronger economy could also help lower the federal budget deficit, as government coffers grow from stronger tax collections and fewer unemployment payments. Altogether, it could help President Bush in his reelection bid.
I blame the Bush tax cuts.

Site Update
I haven't yet completed the move to my new URL, but there is progress to report. The design, by Todd Anderson, is still being tweaked. Meanwhile, Todd successfully imported all of my entries from this Blogspot-hosted blog into the new blog. Most of those entries are being held in "draft" status and won't be accessible at the new blog. But some will be made accessible over there, as I create a series of "greatest hits" packages. The first set to be made available are every post I made here regarding the spurious claim that President Bush was once "AWOL" from his Texas Air National Guard duties. You can access that list of posts here.


Rise of the Megachurch
The Christian Science Monitor has just published a story about the rise of the American megachurch.

In an era when small and medium-sized churches of almost every faith are losing members, megachurches continue to grow - last year by 4 percent. Their success is due in part to the ushering in of a new business-savvy approach to religion. But more important, experts say, these churches are thriving because of what's being ushered out. Gone are traditional religious dogma, rituals, and symbols, replaced by uplifting songs and sermons. Congregants are taught that - through God - they are victors, not victims. The messages are encouraging and easy to swallow, and no one is called a sinner. It's "Jesus meets the power of positive thinking."

"There's none of that old-time religion; none of that hell-and-damnation, fire-and-brimstone preaching," says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "The message tends to be more upbeat, one of empowerment. And it seems to be working. These churches are packed."

In 1970, there were 10 megachurches nationwide (defined as non-Catholic churches with at least 2,000 weekly attendants). Today there are 740, according to Church Growth Today, a Bolivar, Mo., organization. They appeal to people of all ethnicities: Lakewood attracts virtually equal numbers of blacks, whites, and Hispanics. The idea is to be inclusive and inoffensive. There's no talk of controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality. Organs have been replaced by electric guitars, hymns with rock-and-roll tunes. Nowhere is there a cross or a candle, and the language is contemporary, with not a "thee" or a "thou" to be heard.

"They have removed every obstacle that keeps people from coming into the Christian church," says Eddie Gibbs, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary. "Plus, they give people a feeling of anonymity. And that's particularly important to those who have been hurt or burnt out in smaller churches."
The story's weakness it surrounds the data with anecdotal descriptions of just one megachurch, Houston's 25,000-member Lakewood Church. Unfortunately, Lakewood is a good example of the extreme commercialization of some - but not all - megachurches. Most "megachurches" are smaller than Lakewood - a few thousand members - and most are far less commercialized. The megachurch nearest where I live has a small Christian bookstore inside its walls, but that's as far as the commercialization goes. The megachurch I attend doesn't even have that. And both of them preach the true gospel of Christ, not the watered down "health and wealth gospel" that some megachurches, sadly, spread.

Forbes had better coverage of megachurches back in October. I blogged it here.

Site Update
Todd Anderson of Popshot is making great progress on designing a new-and-improved look for HobbsOnline as I prepare to move this blog to BillHobbs.com and switch to the MovableType publishing platform.

For those readers who follow my blog primarily for items related to Tennessee public policy, the new blog will have a prominent "sub-blog" of all Tennessee-related postings.

I'll also be switching the blog's daily email alert service to a new provider, which means if you are currently a subscriber I need to know if you want to be included on the new list. If you don't, here's a simple way to let me know: Email me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net or simply unsubscribe from the current email alert, which comes via bloglet.com and can be unsubscribed from via the link at the bottom of each day's email.

I hesitate to say exactly when the new site will launch, but it will be soon. Stay tuned...

I Found Fisk a Fund-Raiser
Fisk University, a small historically African-American college in Nashville, is looking for a new president, and the historically financially endangered school needs a strong fund-raiser, says today's Tennessean.

Almost since its founding 137 years ago, Fisk University has felt intense pressure to raise money. In 1871 the Fisk Jubilee Singers went on a world tour to keep the young Nashville school in business. Since then, financial difficulty has been more or less a constant for the small-but-scrappy university, which almost had to shut its doors in the early 1980s.

''Fisk and money problems, that's part of what it's all about,'' said Ray Winbush, former director of the Fisk Race Relations Institute. ''But the past 20 years, it's been in a crisis mode.''

With that in mind, Winbush and many other supporters believe Fisk's next president will have to be a superb fund-raiser. But other qualities - from a sense of the school's rich history to a vision of its brightest possible future, from a dynamic personality to an emotional toughness - also will be critical.
I have a suggestion: former University of Tennessee President John Shumaker. Yes, I know he was forced to resign after little more than a year at UT because of revelations about his misuse of his expense accounts and such, but the truth is John Shumaker is a great fundraiser. He's also greedy and likes to live lavishly, so Fisk ought to offer him a deal: a base salary, say, $100,000 a year, plus 10 percent of everything he raises up to $100 million, and 15 percent commission after that.

He needs a job, he's greedy, and he believes in paying for performance based on measurable goals. And Fisk needs money. It's perfect!

Meanwhile, you can support Fisk by buying In Bright Mansions, an excellent CD by the 2001-02 version of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. It's a rather incredible collection of a capella slave-era gospel music, recorded last year at the studios of Belmont University, also in Nashville.

Show Prep
HobbsOnline... now serving as show prep for talk radio hosts...

Actually, that's very cool.


Bag Naifeh
Frank Cagle says Jimmy Naifeh, the powerful Tennessee Democrat who, as speaker of the state House, tried to ram through an income tax, is vulnerable in the 2004 legislative elections. Let's hope he's right. Bagging Naifeh would send a powerful message to all legislators who still harbor dreams of enacting the unconstitutional tax.


Was Bush "AWOL"?
As the presidential campaign season heats up, you are sure to hear some Democrats charge that President Bush was, long ago, "AWOL" from his Texas Air National Guard duties - and imply also that he joined the guard to avoid Vietnam.

Their allegations simply do not hold water.

Last May I wrote several posts about the "Bush was AWOL" charge. Here are the links. Arm yourself with knowledge. You won't convince the hate-Bush crowd, but there are those in the middle who might not know what to believe. Assuring them of the truth may help assure they vote for George W. Bush in November. And just what are the facts?

Bush voluntarily joined a military unit part of which was at that very moment involved in combat in Vietnam. He learned to fly fighter jets. He served honorably and was well-regarded by his fellow pilots. He put in more than his required time of service. And he was honorably discharged.

Those are the facts.

The hate-Bush crowd likes to point to some missing paperwork and an aging colonel's inability to remember one man out of thousands, and claim it proves Bush served dishonorably and was "absent without leave." But paperwork snafus are as common in the military as guns. And the absense of evidence is NOT evidence of absense. The "Bush was AWOL" claim is so thin that the New York Times, hardly a bastion of Bush support, debunked and dismissed it.

Here are the links to my key blog posts from last May:
Link 1, May 7, 2003
Link 2, May 8, 2003
Link 3, May 8, 2003
Link 4, May 9, 2003
Link 5, May 12, 2003

UPDATE: This post was inspired by this debate at the History Channel's website, in which the Bush-haters are losing in part because their side claims Bush was not honorably discharged, and then post links to documents that say Bush was, in fact, "honorably discharged."


Tax Cuts Help The Economy
The booming economy is bad news, writes Alison Fraser of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation...

Bad news, that is, for those who have continued to insist, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the tax cuts approved earlier this year aren't working. The critics are running out of negative spin.

For example, when the news came last month that economic growth in the third quarter of the year had surged to 8.2 percent - the best growth we've seen in nearly 20 years - they had a ready retort: It's a "jobless recovery."

Not anymore. Are we where we should be? No. But we're moving there at a remarkable pace. More jobs are available, and fewer people are in the unemployment lines. And the evidence indicates that this crop of good news promises solid economic growth throughout next year and likely the year after that. The recession is finally behind us. And now, fortunately, so is the slow growth that has marked the recent recovery.

Job growth has increased over the last four months, and we've added 328,000 new jobs to the economy. In related good news, the unemployment rate has slipped to 5.9 percent, erasing the poor performance of the last year.

What's significant about these figures is their signal that the economy is not merely poised for recovery, but in the midst of it. Job growth is usually the last patch in the economic recovery quilt. These patches now all appear to be in place. With few exceptions, economic indicators are up across the board.

Indeed, the stellar growth of last quarter outpaced the expectations of even the most optimistic forecasters. Three sources of growth in particular show why the recovery is structurally sound and why we can expect continued growth.


Many factors are involved, of course, but critics cannot ignore the fact that the tax cuts are working. They built a foundation for bringing the recovery full swing by providing incentives for businesses to expand and invest. Tax relief has lowered the cost of capital and made existing enterprises more profitable and investment and expansion more attractive.
The Bush Boom gains momentum... I'd blame tax cuts, but Fraser already did.

Nowehere But Here
This kind of story happens nowhere on earth but in the United States of America.

Before the civil war in the 1990s, most Bantu, as did Ader, eked out an existence as farmers living in huts without running water, electricity, flush toilets or televisions. Few ever attended school. The Aders are among many who have arrived malnourished.

Ader's wife, Fatuma Abdi, has had to learn how to use a stove instead of firewood and a dishwasher for plates, frying pans and forks the family never owned before. Her children have overcome their suspicions of packaged pretzels. Abdi, 24, who keeps her father's name in Bantu tradition, says she felt like crying with joy when she first understood disposable diapers never had to be washed.

Outranking all of those modern novelties, however, is this one:

''None of my children have cried of hunger here,'' said Ader, 36, through a translator as he watched his boisterous 2-year-old son wrestle an older brother to the carpeted floor of their two-bedroom apartment near Murfreesboro Pike.

By 2005, the United States plans to resettle about 12,000 Bantu across the country, according to the U.S. State Department.


Ader has just been here a month. He anticipates learning English and getting a job before his next child is born in May. This one will be Bantu-American. The child can be president, Ader said.
Here for just one month, doesn't speak the language, and finds modern gadgetry confusing. But he already knows that his unborn child can one day become anything it desires, in America.

Read the whole thing.

Iraq Update
A fascinating story in the Washington Post about the five families with close ties to Saddam Hussein that are believed to be directing and funding the ongoing terrorist attacks against the U.S. forces that liberated Iraq from Saddam's murderous regime.

Now, U.S. officers said they suspect the resistance may be running low on funds because Hussein partisans have recently been selling off some of their properties, even hawking household items. At the same time, some local guerrillas are demanding higher pay, military officers said.

Hickey said the ambush last month of two U.S. convoys bringing new Iraqi currency to Samarra was carried out by insurgents badly in need of cash. The subsequent firefight left 54 guerrillas dead, according to U.S. military officials.
I remain amazed that the media, in reporting on that Samarra firefight last month, paid little attention to the fact that the convoy was carrying currency to banks. I first read that fact in the British news media, and could only conclude one thing: the terrorists launched a massive attack on the convoy because they needed to steal the cash, ergo, they must be running low on funds. Today's WaPo story confirms as much.

The WaPo story, as noted above, also says some of the guerillas are demanding higher pay for the attacks. This suggests that, while on the one hand the financiers of the terror attacks are running low on money, the risk to those who carry out the attacks is growing, and the guerillas are seeking a pay raise to reflect that growign risk.

Read the whole Washington Post story and you'll realize that Iraq indeed is becoming a quagmire. For the "insurgents."

UPDATE: Here's another story about Saddam's life on the run.


Merry Christmas
The greatest true story ever told:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."
- Matthew 1:18 - 2:23, New International Version


Libya Blames Bush
Is Libya's decision to open the doors to weapons inspections and dismantle its weapons programs a victory for years of international diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions - or a capitulation to the Bush-Blair policy of confronting rogue states and terrorism-supporting regimes with the threat of force? From the London Telegraph, a priceless quote from the Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gaddafi:

"I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
As Michael J. Totten says, that settles that.

The Bush Boom Rolls On
Kevin Hassett says the Bush Boom is on:

One of the striking regularities in the economic data is the recurrent propensity of incumbents to do very well in elections when the economy is doing well. As Yale economist Ray Fair and a number of others have found, there is a strong and statistically significant relationship between economic data and electoral outcomes. The evidence suggests that voters give Presidents in particular a great deal of credit or blame for the state of the economy.

If that pattern continues, President Bush will be a very happy man next year. This week's final GDP report for the third quarter indicated that GDP growth was indeed as fast as preliminary estimates suggested, with blockbuster growth in consumer and business spending driving growth above 8 percent. A number of details below the top line suggest that the economy's momentum will sustain itself in the fourth quarter and into next year.
Hassett says Bush's tax policy has added about 1 percent to GDP growth over the last two years. Given that - until the 8.2 percent growth in the third quarter - the post-Clinton-recession economy was struggling to generate any meaningful GDP growth, that's significant.

More Dancing With Dean
Yesterday, I linked you to an Arnold Kling article that asserted that Howard Dean is the creation of the organizaton that backs him, the hood ornament on the Left's vehicle for change. Now, Dean essentially admits it in his own words in a piece by Gary Wolf in the December issue of Wired titled How the Internet Invented Howard Dean. Excerpt:

It is 83 days before the Iowa caucuses, and I'm sitting at a small table on a private jet above Colorado getting a pure dose of Internet religion from Howard Dean. "The Internet community is wondering what its place in the world of politics is," Dean says. "Along comes this campaign to take back the country for ordinary human beings, and the best way you can do that is through the Net. We listen. We pay attention. If I give a speech and the blog people don't like it, next time I change the speech."

... Naturally, bloggers everywhere are thrilled. Even those who hate the candidate love the way the campaign is being managed. "I'd vote for SpongeBob SquarePants over Howard Dean," writes Derek James in his political blog, Thinking as a Hobby. But Dean's organization, James admits, is being run "in a very smart, very democratic way." Bloggers are fascinated by Dean for philosophical and also parochial reasons. They feel they have a right to be proud. Dean has become the front-runner by applying their most cherished rules for attracting attention and building a social network on the Internet.

"We fell into this by accident," Dean admits. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization."
Dean isn't a candidate of core beliefs, he's a chameleon changing his stripes - and his speeches - to give the audience what it wants. Kling was right - Dean's campaign represents a dangerous slide toward mobocracy.

Also today... Franklin Foer says Dean's antipathy toward religion will make it nearly impossible for him to win a general election against George W. Bush.
This is, for better or worse, an openly religious country that prefers its politicians to be openly religious, too--a trend that has only become more pronounced in recent national elections. A 2000 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 70 percent of Americans want their president to be a person of faith. This religious vote isn't just concentrated in Southern states that a Democrat has no chance of carrying. It also saturates the Midwest, where Dean would have to win to have a chance at the presidency. (According to the American Religious Identification Survey, only about 15 percent of respondents in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois describe themselves as nonreligious.) Indeed, in the last five presidential elections, the candidate who more aggressively conveyed his religiosity (whether honestly or not so honestly) won. Seen in this light, a popular contest between Dean's secularism and George W. Bush's heartfelt faith could be, well, no contest. And the same, in turn, could be true of the election.
Dean switched denominations because of a dispute over a bike path.


Best of Luck, Phil
Phil Valentine, the popular Nashville radio talk show host whose crusade against the proposed state income tax helped defeat it several times, is leaving WLAC 1510-AM, his home of five years, in order to write a second book. His first book, From the Heart: The ABCs of Reality in America, is selling well.

Valentine also plans to launch a nationally syndicated radio show.

Here's how The Tennessean reported it:

With hopes of taking his popular radio talk show to a national stage, Phil Valentine has announced his resignation from NewsRadio 1510 WLAC after five years of afternoon discourse. In that time Valentine has become a local conservative icon, known especially for his influential on-air campaign against an income tax in Tennessee. In the past year his afternoon show has drawn more local listeners per week than national pundits Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, he says. After his final broadcast tomorrow, Valentine plans to write a second book and pursue national syndication. WLAC has not made plans yet for Valentine's 2-6 p.m. time slot.

''If I'm going to step out and be a national player in talk radio, now's the time to do it,'' Valentine said yesterday. ''The show has been doing so well at a local level that it's time to start branching out, and I just didn't feel so comfortable that WLAC was going to be the place to do that.''
A few thoughts. During much of the four-year income tax battle, I wrote a weekly newspaper column, first for the now-defunct weekly In Review, and then for the Nashville City Paper, from which sprang this blog. Often, I wrote about the income tax and the state budget, and Phil graciously read many of them on air. That lead to numerous on-air appearances on Phil's show, including from Legislative Plaza during some of the horn-honking anti-tax rallies. Great fun.

Some believe talk show hosts espouse views chosen to attract listeners, and perhaps some do. Not Phil Valentine. He truly believes the things he says on the radio, and his beliefs spring from bedrock values and principles. That, I believe, is why his show became the number one radio show in Nashville. That I believe, is also why it won't be long before the Phil Valentine Show is syndicated and slotted on stations coast to coast.

Phil, I wish you the best of luck.

Now, a word of advice for WLAC. Hire another local conservative talker. You've got the audience already - don't drive them away by hiring some liberal or some mushy moderate. Don't blow it.

And hire someone new - not some local conservative retread. And hire someone who understands the Internet and can incorporate it, via a weblog, into their radio show. Imagine a radio talk show host who not only interacts with callers but also interacts via the comments feature on a blog and can link listeners to source materials and related news, commentary and content via a blog.

It would be powerful stuff.

Howard Dean has been caught lying about his family's connection to the military. Dean tried to pass off his dead brother - a civilian anti-war activist killed by, ironically enough, communist troops in Laos in 1974 - as a member of the military. Disgusting.

Dancing with Dean
Arnold Kling says left-wing militants are using the Internet as their vehicle to take over the Democratic Party - and Howard Dean is their hood ornament.

Howard Dean emerged as a candidate of the left-wing militants the way that the Cha-Cha Slide emerged as a staple on the Bar Mitzvah circuit. It's not that the Cha-Cha Slide means something to Jewish culture. It's just that there is a Bar Mitzvah circuit that needs a silly dance. When the Macarena craze finally died out - thank goodness - something else came along to take its place - unfortunately.

The political movement of affluent, college-educated, angry liberals needed a candidate for the same reason that Bar Mitzvah DJ's need a way to pull people onto the dance floor. Howard Dean is the left's Cha-Cha Slide.
And he and his Internet-fueled campaign are hastening the nation's dangerous slide toward mobocracy, says Kling. Read the whole Kling.

Some Potentially Good News
Here's some potentially good news for small business:

A web site has been developed to help small-business owners, state legislators and activists push for business-friendly regulations on the state level. The Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, which developed the site, has been pushing for state legislation that would require agencies to consider the impact of regulatory mandates on small firms before passing such measures.


This Would Suit Me Fine
Chuck knows what I really want for Christmas.
Click here, scroll down.

Ninth Circuit Screws Up the Internet
Writer and venture capitalist J. William Gurley explores the dangerous ramifications of a little-noticed decision by - of course - the ever-screwy U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision, issued Oct. 6 in the case of Brand X Internet v. the Federal Communications Commission, "has the potential to delay the progress of the Internet in the United States by certainly years and potentially decades," says Gurley. "Through its actions, the 9th Circuit has 'invited' the 50 independent and natural bureaucratic state-based public utility commissions directly into the fold of the Internet."

The case deals with whether cable lines that deliver Internet service can be considered a "telecommunications service" or not – a crucial distinction because Congress and the FCC allow states to regulate "telecommunications services," but bar them from regulating or taxing "information services." The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared it had the power to ignore the FCC.

The potentially devastating impact, according to Gurley:

Apply regulation to the world of the Internet, and you lay the foundation for things such as e-mail taxation, instant-messaging taxation, VoIP taxation, per-minute fees, bandwidth monitoring and controlled pricing. And once again, read "increased" pricing at something like 5 percent per year. Requiring Internet service companies to interact with 50 different state agencies every time they tie their shoe will undoubtedly add costs and complexities to their lives, which will in turn result in higher costs and slower innovation and deployment. California consumers, already accustomed to paying the highest gas prices in the country, will quickly enjoy the highest Internet fees as well.
Even if Congress moves to restore the moratorium on Internet access taxes, that doesn't guarantee government won't find a way to tax it anyway.

HobbsOnline News
I have registered BillHobbs.com and will be moving this blog there sometime after the first of the year. Todd Anderson of PopShot has volunteered to design the new HobbsOnline. Stay tuned...

Carnival of the Capitalists
This week's Carnival of the Capitalists, a roundup of economics and business bloggage, is up over at The Bejus Pundit. I have no entries in this week's CotC, but my most recent economics-related posts from last week are here and here.


Glenn Reynolds has a very comprehensive round-up of reaction and analysis of Libya's decision to give up its weapons-of-mass-destruction program. Libya's decision is an unqualified foreign policy triumph for the Bush administration. Don't be surprised, though, to hear Howard Dean soon explain why it hasn't made America safer.


Strategerical Successfullness!
There is now no denying that President Bush's foreign policy is working. Libya is giving up its WMD programs. "Not surprisingly, the White House described the surprise announcement as a victory for Mr. Bush in facing down rogue states developing such weapons," says the New York Times.

Indeed it is.

UPDATE: THe Coalition of Bah Humbug says Libya giving up its WMD programs is not a big deal.

UPDATE: From the New York Times: "British officials said that Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Mr. Blair's national security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, were involved in intense negotiations with Libyan officials in the days leading up to Libya's declaration. " Go Condi!!!


Merry Christmas Winter
A preacher wonders what happened to Christmas:

Santa is still strong this time of year. So are Rudolph, Prancer, and the other reindeer. Frosty is good. I've even seen larger-than-life replicas of The Grinch of Whoville. But it seems increasingly difficult to find shepherds and angels. Where are the Wise Men? What became of Joseph and Mary? Does anyone else recall when Jesus was center stage during this holiday season?

Did I just say "holiday season"? Why, there's another evidence of our loss. What used to be "Merry Christmas!" is now more often just "Happy Holidays!" A penchant for political correctness has taken us to the point that strangers to our culture would hardly guess there was once a religious motif to this time of year.

Rethinking DLs for Illegals
There's some movement in Tennessee's legislature to revamp a law that lets illegal immigrants get driver's licenses. Democratic leaders in the state House are working with Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration on legislation to address changes in Tennessee driver license requirements, while Republicans are pushing bills in the state House and Senate that would require would-be drivers to produce Social Security numbers or immigration documentation to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license. The good news is Democrats - who have previously fought any attempt to bring a measure of sanity to the state's dangerous handing out of licenses to illegal immigrants without sufficient security safeguards such as reliable identity verification - appear to finally be moving a little in the right direction. And Gov. Bredesen appears open to discussing changes in the law, which was passed in the summer of 2001 and removed the requirement for Tennessee motorists to have a Social Security number.

State Rep. Donna Rowland (R-Murfreesboro), who sponsors the House bill increasing the requirements, says those who are illegally in the country shouldn’t be issued a driver license by the state. "This law was passed in a pre-911 world," said Rowland. "California recently repealed a similar statute."

Warnings, Worries and War
This report about intelligence intercepts suggesting possible threats to New York and other cities (wuth new York possibly targeted by a female suicide bomber) may prove to be another false warning. But one day it won't be. We're at war, and we will be hit again.

Name This Blog
I am considering renaming HobbsOnline and moving it to a real .com address (off the blogspot server!) and maybe even switching over to MovableType as my publishing software. Any suggestions for a new name for my blog? I've been toying with variations using the word "context" because I write a lot about journalism. If you have a suggested name, please leave it in the comments. There's no prize 'cept the satisfaction you'll get if I pick the name you suggest. (FYI: I'm also considering separating the Tennessee-centric coverage to its own blog.)

Thanks to all who have hit my Amazon tip jar or donated via PayPal in the past couple of weeks - your generosity is appreciated and I hope I continue to provide quality bloggage for your reading pleasure. Thanks, also, to the many fine bloggers who have recently linked to various posts here, including Damian Penny, Matthew J. Stinson, Jeff Brokaw, Solomonia, the Astonished Head, Kevin Cole, Cox & Forkum, Darren Kaplan, Donald Sensing, Glenn Ryenolds, and Kesher Talk.

Quote of the Day
Can you guess who said this:

Saddam Hussein was Iraq's number one weapon of mass destruction, and his arrest represents a major victory for human rights and international law. ... Lest we forget, had those who opposed the war gotten their way, Saddam would still be in power, would still be tormenting the Iraqi people, would still be financing Palestinian terrorists, and would still be threatening peace, human rights, and democracy, along with America's vital interests, in the Middle East.
Answer: a group of Democrats, believe it or not, who seem to have been reading my blog.

I wrote back in June
In the end, it was the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein itself that was the weapon of mass destruction. And in the post-9/11 world, the only sane course was to remove that weapon of mass destruction from power. ... Some have seen the graves, while others refuse to see the truth: Saddam was Iraq's weapon of mass destruction.
Or maybe they were reading Ken Adelman.


Howard Dean's Saddam Spin
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been rightly lambasting for asserting last Sunday that the capture of Saddam Hussein had not made America safer, isn't backing down. Instead, he's subtly shifting the definition of "safer" to imply that we are not a bit safer until the War on Terror has been completely won.

"The capture of one bad man doesn't mean the president and Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terrorism," he said. Real dangers ranging from stateless terrorists to North Korea's capacity to make nuclear weapons remain, he said, and must be confronted.

"The truth is, Americans are no safer from these serious threats than they were the day before Saddam Hussein was captured. We are no safer today than the day the planes struck the World Trade Center."
But that's not what he said on Sunday. On Sunday, he said the capture of Saddam had not made American any safer, period. But of course it DID make America safer - from Saddam.

Yeah, Saddam had been reduced to a dirty bum hiding in a hole in the ground, but he was a well-financed bum, with $750,000 in cash, connections to anti-American terrorist groups in Baghdad, and no reason not to find ways to harm Americans and America. We are safer today because there is now NO chance Saddam will take some of his fortune and give it to al Qaeda to finance another major attack on America. No, capturing Saddam didn't solve the problem of stateless terrorists or resolve the problem of North Korea's nuclear program. But, then, no one has claimed it did.

Dean has built a straw man when he says "The capture of one bad man doesn't mean the president and Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terrorism." But neither President Bush nor any Democrats I've heard have claimed "Saddam-in-a-cell" equals "Final-victory-in-War-on-Terror."

Dean knows that, just as he knows it is absurd on its face to claim capturing Saddam hasn't made America at least a little bit safer. But by redefining "safer" to mean that the War on Terror must be completely over, and all outstanding issues, problems and threats resolved, Dean has created a bizzaro world where he can dismiss any progress by saying it has not made us safer because some other threats remain.

Kevin Drum is making fun of pre-war intelligence reports that claimed Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons and could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

Just in case you've forgotten, the picture above shows the fearsome Iraqi drone in all its glory, duct tape and all. Another triumph of American intelligence.
Yeah, Kevin, you are right. A cheap flying drone held together with duct tape could never ever threaten the East coast. Thinking otherwise would be like ... well ... like believing 19 men armed only with box cutters could destroy two 100-story office buildings. You are so right, Kevin - it would be absurd to be concerned.

Look, in the post-9/11 world EVERY scrap of intel suggesting a threat must be treated as serious until proven otherwise. Saddam WAS building drones to deliver chemical weapons, period. In hindsight we know the capability was not well-developed, but hindsight is always 20/20. In a post-9/11 world, NOT reacting preemptively to such intel is simply too dangerous. At least some of us believe that way. Others believe as Kevin does - that it makes more sense to wait until the enemy's technological capabilities ARE sufficient to kill tens of thousands of Americans, and that we have ironclad proof the enemy is on the verge of launching an attack. But that risks acting too slowly to prevent another horrific attack like September 11, 2001, when they killed 3,000 Americans, armed only with box cutters.

It's Working
Proponents of regime change in Iraq, including President Bush, said that removing Saddam and planting seeds of democracy would foster positive change throughout the Middle East.

It seems to be working:

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – The capital is abuzz. Everywhere, it seems, from sidewalk cafes to women's salons behind closed doors, Saudis are talking about societal changes. Religious extremism and democratic and educational reforms, as well as women's issues, are paraded for public discussion in what has long been one of the most tight-lipped and tightly controlled lands in the Middle East. While actual political reform may be moving at a snail's pace by Western standards, the new degree of openness is earthshaking here.

"There is a dialogue in society," says Khaled al-Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News, an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia. "Newspapers are flourishing. Papers are talking about accountability, corruption, leaders not being up to the mark, women, children, and empowerment."

A leading indicator, says Mr. Maeena, was a Nov. 28 commentary by Mansour al-Nogaidan, a reformed militant Muslim and Saudi columnist, published in The New York Times. The article bluntly questioned the Saudi government-sanctioned extremist religious culture - and was widely reproduced here. "I think the whole of Saudi Arabia read it and is talking about it," Maeena says.
Meanwhile, in Iran, the mad mullahs running that nation have relented to Washington's demand for real inspections of their nuclear facilities.

UPDATE: Paul Greenberg on what the capture of Saddam means for the War on Terror:
Psychologically everything has changed. ... Saddam can now be seen for what he is: a cornered rat. ... There are some things that not even whatever remains of his Baath Party will be able to depict as a great victory. Saddam has been denied even martyrdom. ... Throughout the Middle East, terrorism has been dealt a psychological blow. Difficult and uncertain as this post-war has been, here is another sign that the Americans, for all our naive faith in freedom and democracy, are serious about this. Iraq will not be another Somalia or Lebanon, where Americans lost heart and crept back to what we only thought was safety. Saddam Hussein's capture represents a victory on the most decisive front, the home front. The Vietnam Syndrome has been dealt another blow. Morale back home took a leap up with the news; it was suddenly a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

The capture of Saddam Hussein was not just a singular feat in itself, but it was a good omen for the war on terror in general. Americans are learning to excel at it, too. Even more impressive than American triumphs in combat has been the armed forces’ flexibility, their willingness to adapt to new and ominous threats, to learn from setbacks, adopt new tactics and fight a new kind of war.

Bush Boom Update
The Bush Boom is rolling along, and one of the nation's leading economists thinks President Bush's economic policies are setting the state for another long period of economic growth. Today's good economic news:

More good news for the U.S. economy emerged on Thursday with a trio of reports showing a fall in claims for jobless benefits and a climb in two broad indexes of economic health.
Also, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress is reporting that jobless claims are trending downward, inflation is low by historical standards, and housing starts remain strong.

And economist Larry Kudlow is praising the non-inflationary Bush Boom, saying:
It's a business-led scenario this country hasn't seen in many years, and it could mean another 8-to-10-year prosperity cycle is on the way. ... In effect, America's businesses are producing at a torrid 8 percent rate without generating any inflation. Keynesian demand-siders who believe that growth causes inflation should take their models out behind the barn and shoot them. As profits and production continue to rise, more jobs and higher worker incomes will spur a new round of consumer spending this winter and spring. Supply creates its own demand. Bush administration supply-siders who argued in favor of permanent tax incentives to grow the investment side of the economy are being proven exactly right.
I'd blame the Bush tax cuts, but Kudlow already did.

A Good Day
HobbsOnline had a lot of visitors yesterday - 4,372 unique visitors, including 2,839 first-time visitors. A normal day around here is in the 550-800 range for unique visitors. Numbers are rising generally because of increased inbound links and referrals from other blogs, though yesterday's surge was a classic Instalanche. Whether you're a new reader or a long-time reader, I hope you'll stick around and let me know what you think.

Healthcare Reform Update
The Joint Economic Committee, an agency of Congress, has released a report on how the the federal health benefit tax exclusion distorts the health insurance market and has promoted employer-provided insurance, but hindered market-based cost controls and individual choice. Press release here. Eight-page PDF File: How the Tax Exclusion Shaped Today's Private Insurance Market

Iraq/Al Qaeda Link Update
Newsweek is reporting that the memo alleged as proof that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta was in Iraq the summer before the September 11 attack is a "probably a fabrication."

Note the word "probably." Also note that if the document is a fake, it proves only that the document is a fake. It does not prove or disprove the larger question of whether Saddam's regime had ties to al Qaeda. Anti-war lefties dancing and celebrating and firing their rhetorical AK-47s in the air in celebration of this Newsweek story would be wise to remember this:

One of the more interesting pieces of postwar evidence was uncovered in Baghdad by reporters for the Toronto Star and London's Sunday Telegraph. The February 19, 1998, memo from Iraqi intelligence, in which bin Laden's name was covered over with Liquid Paper, reported planned meetings with an al Qaeda representative visiting Baghdad. Days later al Qaeda issued a fatwa alleging U.S. crimes against Iraq. At about the same time, a U.S. government source tells Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, Iraq paid bin Laden deputy Ayman Zawahiri $300,000.
To my knowledge, the document uncovered by the Toronto newspaper reporter is not thought to be a fake.

The anti-war lefties also should re-read this post from mid-November, which linked to and excerpted from stories in the New York Times and the Weekly Standard about a Senate Intelligence Committee memo outlining the long list of clues strongly suggesting ties between Saddam and al Qaeda generally - and possibly even between Saddam and the September 11 attack specifically.

Blogging for Freedom
Michael Silence, a reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, has a good story today about the growth of blogging in Iraq. Includes comments from Tennessee bloggers Glenn Reynolds and Donald Sensing, as well as media blogger Jeff Jarvis, who comments...

...This is a media revolution. The people now own the printing press and the power that goes with that.
Also covering the growth of Iraqi blogging is the Seattle Times.

Massive TennCare Fraud
Tennessee politicians have told taxpayers for years that fraud is not a major problem with TennCare, the state's mutated Medicaid program. After you read this story in today's Jackson Sun, you'll know not to believe them. The story reports on the federal charges filed against two men in a $650K fraud case involving TennCare -though, strangely, the story never calls the program by that name. Instead, the paper refers to TennCare only generically as the state's "Medicaid Waiver" program. But that's TennCare - the state has a federal waiver to operate its Medicaid program differently than other states. The two men face multiple federal charges in connection with an alleged money laundering and Medicaid fraud scheme that netted more than $650,000.

Cedric R. Deadmon, 36, was charged by a federal grand jury on Wednesday for establishing a non-existing company along with Isaac J. Williams, 39, of Nashville, that sought out state contracts through the Department of Finance Administration and Division of Mental Retardation Services. They then allegedly obtained monies through the state's Medicaid Waiver program by submitting false and fraudulent billings. The indictment is based on activities beginning in 1997 until May 1999.

The men allegedly received $650,342.62 from the state, getting "large checks" from the state between December 1998 and April 1999. The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Perhaps if the Sundquist administartion had cracked down on TennCare fraud, this massive theft of taxpayer money would have been prevented. Oh well. At least the Bredesen administration is working seriously on TennCare reform.

UPDATE: A Bredesen administration official may be floating a trial balloon about possibly scrapping TennCare.

Recommended Blog
Add the Adam Smith Institute Blog to your daily blog-reading routine. It's the blog of the Adam Smith Institute in London, which bills itself as "the UK's leading innovator of practical market-economic policies." Named for
Adam Smith, the great Scottish philosopher and economist best known for writing the book The Wealth of Nations, touting the virtues of free trade and market economics, the Institute has for 25 years been on the front lines of the global movement towards free markets, public-sector reform, and free trade. The blog's listed in the Economics section of my blogroll. I was reminded of it via a "Merry Christmas" email from an Institute employee who is a regular reader of my blog. Just another chance meeting in the blogosphere.


The Bike-Path Left
Mark Steyn on Howard Dean:

On Osama bin Laden, he's Mister Insouciant. But he gets mad about bike paths. Destroy the World Trade Center and he's languid and laconic and blasé. Obstruct plans to convert the ravaged site into a memorial bike path and he'll hunt you down wherever you are.
Steyn artfully dissects and devastates Dean and the irrelevant "micro-politics" of the "Bike-Path Left" he represents. Read the whole thing.

The Bush Boom Rolls On

A Gary Varvel cartoon from the Indianapolis Star, via Sean

Here's how USA Today reported the latest economic data (which I also mentioned on the blog yesterday):

A trio of economic reports out Tuesday, including one showing an unexpected drop in inflation, indicate the economy is rushing ahead with little threat of overheating. Housing starts hit another peak last month, while industrial production surged at the fastest pace in four years and retail prices fell.
USA Today notes that housing starts rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual 2.1 million rate, the highest level since 1984. Hmm. 1984. Lessee. That year keeps coming up in coverage of the economy, with various pieces of surging economic data described as being the "best" since that year.

There was this report about the Conference Board forecasting the economy next year will turn in its best performance since 1984. And of course there was this report about how the economy's 7.2 percent 8.2 percent growth in the third quarter was the best performance since 1984. And there was this report from a group of University of Michigan economists predicting the U.S. economy will see its strongest growth since 1984 next year, with GDP growing by 5.1 percent.

Of course, as I mentioned here, all this good news. The best economy since 1984 is causing Democrats to rethink their campaign rhetoric now that the campaign climate reminds many of, well, of 1984, when a rapidly reviving economy helped Ronald Reagan win re-election in a landslide.

I doubt it will work for the Democrats. I think we're going to see the best result of a Republican presidential re-election campaign since ... 1984.

[Cross-posted at BlogsForBush]

Progress in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is on the road to progess. Literally.

The Things We'll Soon Learn
Some wags on the Left theorize that the U.S. will never allow Saddam Hussein to come to a public trial, because it would expose past U.S. business dealings with Saddam. The notion is stupid on two counts. First, those past business dealings are already well-known. Second, compared to many other countries, those past business dealings are rather minor. The following is excerpted from a book review of Kenneth Timmerman's 1991 book The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq:

According to Timmerman, each of the players had a not-very-secret agenda: Saddam was determined to destroy Israel and be master of the Arab world; the governments of France, Germany, South Africa and Brazil were in it for big money; Egypt, Argentina, Italy, Britain and a host of others were in it for the smaller money left behind; the Soviets had their view of the world; and the Americans played regional balance-of-power against Iran, particularly during the second term of the Reagan presidency. And behind all of them were their defense industries, tying their products to their countries' perceived "national interests."

The companies involved, according to Timmerman, read like a "Who's Who" of international business. Timmerman makes the case that all were knowingly involved. Many of the affected companies will, surely, try to defend their actions.

German companies involved in the arming of Iraq included the NUKEM nuclear consortium, and its parent company, Degussa, as well as Messerschmidtt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB), Thyssen Rheinstahl Technology, and Preussag AG. All told, more than 100 German companies were involved - dozens of which maintained offices in Baghdad. The German connection was instrumental in creating Iraq's poison gas and nuclear capabilities. And German companies and technology were used to extend the range of the Iraqi SCUD missiles which hit Israel and Saudi Arabia.

French companies involved in the arming of Iraq include Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation, Snecma, Matra, Thompson-CSF, Aerospatiale, and many others. The Institut Merieux built the first Iraqi bacteriological laboratory. Several French government agencies were also involved including the Office Generale de L'Air and the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique.

Belgium's Sybetra used no fewer than 50 subcontractors from Belgium, France and England to build the Akashat/Al Qaim chemical plant in Iraq.

Also involved in arming Iraq are firms from Italy, Austria, Britain, Brazil, South Africa, and many others. The United States had an on-again-off-again relationship with Iraq. While Iraq was on the State Department's list of countries supporting terrorism, very little happened; but even then there was tension between the Department of Commerce (supporting ever-increasing trade with Saddam) and the Department of Defense (wanting to restrict sales of military-related technology).

The U.S.-Iraq Business Forum, a group promoting American trade with Iraq includes such notable firms on its membership roster as General Motors, Fisher Scientific, Lockheed, Caterpillar, Westinghouse, AT&T, Pepsicola International, Phillip Morris International and all the major American oil companies. The Forum lobbied Congress to ease trade and technology restrictions on Iraq and they were often successful. The United States supplied billions of dollars worth of agricultural credits (freeing Iraqi oil revenues to be spent on arms) and frequently permitted the sale of U.S. technology applicable to weapons research and development programs to Iraq.

Timmerman documents it all - including the role of Banca Nazionale da Lavorno (BNL) in Atlanta, which financed the agricultural credits and billions in other arms purchases.

The Death Lobby drips with cynicism. Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist Prime Minister of France, bade Saddam and his entourage farewell after a 1975 trip by announcing that French policy "is dictated not merely by interest, but also by the heart. France deems it necessary to establish relationships between producers and consumers on terms that best conform to the interests of both parties." In this case, French interest is solely money.

The Franco-Iraqi Nuclear Cooperation Treaty of 1976 included the clause that "all persons of the Jewish race or the Mosaic religion" be excluded from participating in the program, in either Iraq or France.

The German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl faced and ignored specific information about illegal sales of German chemical capabilities. More than ignored - the German government issued a permit stating that "according to current rules, machinery, electrical equipment, regulation, measuring and testing instruments for a research, development and training institute with eight main sections, name: Project Saad 16, do not need an export permission." Saad 16 is one of Saddam Hussein's primary nuclear weapons research centers.
How nice. The French government agreed to an official policy of anti-semitism in order to help Saddam build a nuclear weapons program Saddam may well have used one day to vaporize Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported the following back on June 18, 2001:
Two American arms control experts, combing through unpublished reports by a disbanded arms inspection commission, say they found evidence that Iraq continued to buy prohibited weapons or parts long after United Nations sanctions were imposed in 1990.

Many of the purchases appear to have been made in Central and Eastern Europe, the experts, Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington, and Kelly Motz, a project researcher, say in a new independent report. They found documents concerning illegal sales or potential sales by companies in Ukraine, Belarus and Romania. Among the purchases made by the government of Saddam Hussein were missile components and high-technology machine tools.

In the past, United Nations arms inspectors for Iraq had been reluctant to identify countries in public reports, in part because there have also been suspicions of illegal trading by companies in Russia, a powerful member of the Security Council.
According to this NYT story and graphic, Germany supplied 50 percent of Iraq's needs for its nuclear weapons program, while just 3.5 percent came from the United States.

Jim Dunnigan over at StrategyPage.com long ago exploded the myth that the U.S. armed Saddam:
When Iraq was on it's weapons spending spree from 1972 (when its oil revenue quadrupled) to 1990, the purchases were quite public and listed over $40 billion worth of arms sales. Russia was the largest supplier, with $25 billion. The US was the smallest, with $200,000. A similar myth, that the U.S. provided Iraq with chemical and biological weapons is equally off base. Iraq requested Anthrax samples from the US government, as do nations the world over, for the purpose of developing animal and human vaccines for local versions of Anthrax. Nerve gas doesn't require technical help, it's a variant of common insecticides. European nations sold Iraq the equipment to make poison gas. [Via CommandPost.com]
Saddam's conventional weaponry was largely French, Russian and Chinese.

It's one of the common refrains of the anti-war crowd, the claim that the United States "created" Saddam Hussein by providing him weaponry for the Iran-Iraq war. It's a lie. The three biggest sellers of arms to the Hussein regime from 1973 through 2002 were ... drumroll.... Russia, China and France, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Those three countries combined sold Saddam 82 percent of his weapons during that period. The United States sold him 1 percent. Chart here.

Remind me again - which members of the U.N. Security Council promised to veto any resolution authorizing the use of military force against Saddam Hussein? Oh, that's right. Russia. China. And France.

Thanks to Saddam's regime, Iraq owes billions to France, Germany and Russia. For what? For weapons and for components needed to develop weapons of mass destruction. A public trial may well allow the world see the real reason France, Germany and Russia actively opposed efforts to remove Saddam from power.

For that reason, I have a hunch France might try to derail a trial, perhaps by proposing Saddam be sent into exile to live out his days incommunicado under armed guard, in exchange for providing the world with information as to the whereabouts of the weapons of mass destruction, and a full accounting of the regime's trail of mass murder. France will argue that the information is more valuable than revenge via execution, and Russia and China will nod and agree with the proposal - but it will really be all about covering up their complicity in arming and propping up one of the worst mass-murdering tyrants in world history.

UPDATE: Tim Blair has some related thoughts - and don't miss the many good and pithy comments.

History Lesson
Lee Harris explains the roots of the Iraq war:

This is something that most liberal critics of the second Iraq war would like for us to forget - that this war is part of a historical process that began with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and cannot be understood apart from it. Before they can condemn the second Iraq war as an act of aggression, they had best go back and reflect on the origins of the first Iraq war. The first Iraq war began because one man, Saddam Hussein, wished to acquire the oil fields of his neighbor, and he used the army that he had built up with his country's own oil revenue in order to do this. Had he been permitted to succeed in this venture, it is certain that he would have used this new source of revenue in order to build up an even larger army that he could have then used to gobble up all the other militarily weak but oil rich Arab states in his vicinity, including Saudi Arabia, until the day arrived when he controlled all the oil fields of the middle East, at which time he could have commanded a virtually unlimited source of revenue that he could have directed to whatever aggressive purposes he thought best - a rather large amount of power to put into the hands of "a vile monster."

… Now let us suppose that, back in 1991, the American President and the American public had said, "Saddam has done nothing to us. He has only invaded a far away insignificant little country -- what difference can this possibly make to our own well being?" What would have happened then? Is it remotely conceivable that the rest of the world would have lifted a finger to stop Saddam Hussein, if the United States had been itself unwilling to shoulder the bulk of the burden of defeating him?

… Which leads us to something else we forget, namely, that unless America had acted then, no one would ever have known what a paper tiger Saddam Hussein's army really was, and today, rather than being a powerless old man held captive by the United States, Saddam Hussein would have been sitting on top of the world, his vast armies undefeated and his oil revenues sufficient to buy an arsenal of WMD's.

And, yes, all of this could have easily happened without Saddam Hussein having ever done a single thing to hurt a single American.
Read the whole thing.

Germany Surrenders
Like France before it, Germany now has agreed to forgive some of Iraq's massive debt. Hmm. Just last week we were being told that the Bush administration's decision to bar French and German companies from bidding on U.S.-funded Iraq reconstruction projects was a bad bit of political strategery that would cause the French and the Germans to balk at helping Iraq by forgiving some of its massive debt. What changed? Oh, yeah. That was before we captured Saddam Hussein. I can just imagine the conversations between U.S. envoy James Baker and French President Jacques Chirac, and then between Baker and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder:

Baker: Forgive Iraq's debt.
Chirac: Non!

Baker: We just arrested Saddam, who you've been in bed with for years. Forgive Iraq's debt.
Chirac: Oui!


The Comfy Chair Revolution
At the UN's Internet summit in Geneva in recent days - you know, the one where Iran's president defended his country's censorship of the web, and where delegates discussed Internet governance and other issues - one of the biggest issue was how to fund extending the technology and benefits of the Information Age to countries too poor to get wired.

Seems there was plenty of money already to make special chairs for the conference that looked like giant computer keyboard keys. The UN can't stand up to the likes of Saddam Hussein. But by golly you need specially made iconic plastic chairs, they're the multilateral organization to turn to.

Whither the WMD?
John Hawkins reveals the truth about the weapons of mass destruction.

Worst case scenario, it's like we stopped a serial killer before he could kill again as opposed to actually catching him with a body in the basement.
Answers all questions. Clip 'n' save.

How to Lose the War
A Democrat makes the case that anti-war candidates are helping our enemy. Here's an excerpt of Orson Scott Card's piece in the Wall Street Journal:

And the most vile part of this campaign against Mr. Bush is that the terrorist war is being used as a tool to try to defeat him - which means that if Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war. Indeed, the anti-Bush campaign threatens to undermine our war effort, give encouragement to our enemies, and cost American lives during the long year of campaigning that lies ahead of us.


When did we lose the Vietnam War? Not in 1968, when we held an election that hinged on the war. None of the three candidates (Humphrey, Nixon, Wallace) were committed to unilateral withdrawal. Not during Nixon's "Vietnamization" program, in which more and more of the war effort was turned over to Vietnamese troops. In fact, Vietnamization, by all measures I know about, worked.

We lost the war when the Democrat-controlled Congress specifically banned all military aid to South Vietnam, and a beleaguered Republican president signed it into law. With Russia and China massively supplying North Vietnam, and Saigon forced to buy pathetic quantities of ammunition and spare parts on the open market because America had cut off all aid, the imbalance doomed them, and they knew it.

The South Vietnamese people were subjected to a murderous totalitarian government (and the Hmong people of the Vietnamese mountains were victims of near-genocide) because the U.S. Congress deliberately cut off military aid - even after almost all our soldiers were home and the Vietnamese were doing the fighting themselves.

That wasn't about "peace," that was about political posturing and an indecent lack of honor. Is that where we're headed again?
But, hey, if it puts Dean in the White House, the anti-Bushies will be happy, right? Read the whole thing.

Bush Boom Update
More good economic news today as the Bush Boom gathers momentum. Among the positive data: a report that showed a bigger-than-expected rise in industrial output; another that showed lower-than-expected consumer price inflation as the cost of energy, clothing lodging and furniture all fell, pushing inflation to a nearly 38-year low; and a strong rise in housing starts.

Steyn on Saddam
Mark Steyn mulls Saddam's inglorious capture and the prospects for a trial:

For months the naysayers have demanded the Americans turn over more power to the Iraqis. Okay, let's start by turning Saddam over to the Iraqis. Whoa, not so fast. The same folks who insisted there was no evidence Saddam was a threat to any countries other than his own and the invasion was an unwarranted interference in Iraqi internal affairs are now saying that Saddam can't be left to the Iraqi people, he has to be turned over to an international tribunal.

You can forget about that. The one consistent feature of the post-9/11 era is the comprehensive failure of the international order. The French use their Security Council veto to protect Saddam. The EU subsidises Palestinian terrorism. The International Atomic Energy Agency provides cover for Iran's nuclear ambitions. The UN summit on racism is an orgy of racism.

All these institutions do is enable nickel'n'dime thugs to punch above their weights. The New York Times, sleepwalking through the 21st century on bromides from the Carter era, wants the UN to run Saddam's trial because one held under the auspices of the Americans would "lack legitimacy". Au contraire, it's the willingness of Kofi Annan, Mohammed el-Baradei, Chris Patten, Mary Robinson and the other grandees of the international clubrooms to give "legitimacy" to Saddam, Kim Jong-Il, Arafat, Assad and co that disqualifies them from any role in Iraq. I've come to the conclusion that the entire international system needs to be destroyed.

I don't suppose that's a priority of the Bush Administration, or at least not until the second term. But he's in no hurry to return to the Security Council fairyland of make-believe resolutions that never get enforced. On Sunday morning, his speed-call list was restricted to the Coalition of the Willing – the prime ministers of Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy and Spain. He seems to be roughing out the contours of a new club here: dictatorships need not apply, but nor need those democracies that serve as the dictators' front men in polite society (are you listening, Jacques?).
Typically excellent stuff from Steyn, so read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Saddam's oldest daughter, Raghad (rhymes with Bag Dead, I think), wants her daddy tried before an international tribunal rather than an Iraqi court, and vows to hire the best attorneys for her dad. My money's on Mark Geragos...

Frogs Hop On Bandwagon
France is making a move to mend fences with the U.S, reports the AP, noting that the French government said yesterday it will work with other nations to cancel billions of dollars in Iraqi debt and that Saddam Hussein's capture will open the way toward mending relations with Washington. Interesting that - in the same week the Bush administration barred the French from bidding on Iraq reconstruction contracts, and then arrested their former business partner Saddam Hussein, the French are coming around to doing things our way. Of course you knew they would. They always surrender to whoever they think is going to win.

UPDATE: Blogs for Bush points out that, of course France suddenly wants to forgive Iraq's debts - because a lot of the debt is from weapon sales. "No doubt nations will be willing to do whatever Bush wants now that we have Saddam. Who knows what stories Saddam has in his mental repository," says Blogs for Bush.

To Iraq
''Crazy'' is a word Rita Salman has heard a lot these days when she tells people she's taking her daughter to Iraq. Read the whole thing

91 Thanks
A big "Thank you" the to 91 people who voted for HobbsOnline as "Best Media/Journalist Blog" in Weblog Awards That's only 6.2 votes shy of 10 percent of the votes of winner James Taranto, who writes the "Best of the Web" blog at the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com. HobbsOnline ... 10 percent as Popular as the Best of the Web. Heh.


Carnival of the Capitalists
The 11th installment of Carnival of the Capitalists, a weekly roundup of business and economic bloggage, is up over at the samaBlog. I forgot to contribute to it this week, but if I'd remembered I'd have submitted this or this. To submit your best bidness- or econo-bloggage for inclusion in next week's CotC, send a link to capitalists-at-elhide.com, with COTC in the subject line.

So Much for Economic Liberty
From a recent edition of Hardball:

Chris Matthews: "Do you think a person has a right to work somewhere if they don’t want to join a union?"
Howard Dean: "I do. No, wait a minute. I don’t."

DEAN: I hate right-to-work laws. And let me tell you why it’s OK to be forced to join a union. The union is out there negotiating for your wage increases. Why should you get a free ride? Why should you should be able to go to work for that company, get the same benefits as everybody else who paid their union dues and you paid nothing? That’s why I’m against right-to-work laws.


DEAN: But I do believe it’s important for states to be able to make their own laws.

MATTHEWS: You understand why a libertarian would disagree with you, right? A libertarian would think they had a right, he or she, to work where they can do the job.

DEAN: Yes, but why should they-but why should they get the benefits of everybody else who is paying dues and get a free ride?

MATTHEWS: Because it's a free country.
Matthews is right, it IS a free country, though Dean seems to think that, when it comes to your economic liberty, that's a bad thing. Right to work laws are a cornerstone of individual economic liberty. They protect individuals from forced unionization and forced conscription of a portion of their wages for union dues. Howard Dean stands ready to strip Americans of that protection and force Americans to submit to collectivization instead. [Hat tip: Dean Esmay]

Joe Blow 2
Joe Lieberman on Howard Dean:

I fear that the American people will wonder if they will be safer with him as president if Howard Dean cannot understand why the capture of Saddam Hussein has made America safer.
Aw, leave him alone, Joe. The Deanie Baby probably still doesn't know if Iraq is better off with Saddam in prison - or in power, filling fresh mass graves.

Trying Saddam
You will here over the coming weeks and months increasing calls from the Left for Saddam to be tried by the recently created International Criminal Court. There are a number of reasons for this, and Big Media coverage will focus on the ICC's lack of a death penalty. But that won't be the main reason Euro-leftists and anti-Americanistas push for Saddam to be tried before the ICC. No, they'll be pushing that because it the ICC is the wrong court if you want justice for Saddam, but the right court if you want to cover up the complicity of France and others in Saddam's reign of terror. Amir Teheri explains:

Their suggestion is prompted by two considerations. First, the United States is not included in the ICC, and thus would not be able to play a part in interrogating Saddam. The second is that the ICC would not be able to try Saddam for all his crimes since July 17, 1968, the date at which his Ba'ath Party seized power in a military coup d'etat. (The ICC's remit is limited to crimes committed since its own creation in 2002).
In other words, trying Saddam before the ICC virtually guarantees no evidence of France's long history of support for Saddam will come out, and most of Saddam's war crimes and crimes against his own people would also not be on the docket. Watch for Jacques Chirac to push heavily for an ICC trial.

Congratulations, Safaa
I have at various times in the past two years published this photo, by Tennessean staff photographer P. Casey Daley, showing little Safaa Albadran, 4, outside the Nashville Convention Center under a banner held by her father Karim, an Iraqi immigrant who opposes Saddam Hussein’s government, left, proclaiming Saddam: Out - Democracy In.

The photo was taken more than a year ago, when President Bush was in town for a political fundraiser. Also outside the convention center that day: About 300 anti-war protestors, many in need of shower, deodorant and haircut, holding signs calling Bush a terrorist because he favored the removal from power of a mass murderer who would have ordered Safaa and her father killed and buried in a mass grave if they'd held that sign up outside the Baghdad Convention Center.

I would dearly love to know what Safaa's father is thinking today, to feel the joy he must feel now that Saddam indeed is out, and Democracy indeed is on its way in. And I would love to know if Safaa understands that the flag she clutched that day is the flag under which her home country was liberated, so that no more little girls like her will be executed and buried in mass graves because their mommy or daddy criticized the tyrant.

Congratulations Safaa and Karim.

Preventing War
Polls show the American people increasingly support the war in Iraq, much to the chagrin of your average Democrat running for president who isn't named Joe Lieberman.

I support it too.

I support Bush's call and actions to spread it to the Middle East. A freer, more democratic Middle East will be more prosperous and produce fewer terrorists, and fewer Americans will die in Islamist terror attacks. Fewer Muslims will die, too, because if Islamist terrorists ever did use a WMD - a suitcase nuke, a bio weapon, a chemical weapon, a dirty bomb - to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, the only possible response from the U.S. would be the vaporizing of the main capitals of the enemy. Baghdad. Tehran. Damascus. Maybe even Riyadh.

We will have no choice - if the enemy starts to slaughter us with WMDs, we will have to use even greater force - and that means nuking whole cities, killing millions in an eye-blink. The alternative would be to sit, do nothing, and be slaughtered.

I'd rather us go in now, kill a few thousand terrorists and Iraqi Baathist dead-enders, lose only a few hundred Americans (as tragic as that is for them and their loved ones) and prevent a far more horrific future by planting democracy and creating a new ally in the middle of the Middle East - and setting off a wave of change in the Middle East that will turn the Islamic world from its current, suicidal, direction.

I supported the conventional-arms invasion of Iraq now so we won't have to defeat Iraq later by killing tens of millions of people with horrific weaponry.

Because of what we did to Saddam now, in the future - say, 25 years from now - no one will ever ask a question like this:

If you could go back in time, knowing Saddam was going to give those Russian suitcase nukes to al Qaeda, who used them to vaporize Israel (6 million dead) and take out New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago (100 million dead,) would you have supported stopping him before it got that far?
If you could go back to 1935 and take out Hitler, would you?

This year, with this murderous dictator, we did.

Damning the Media
Not only did the major media virtually ignore last week's anti-terrorism demonstration in Baghdad (and several other Iraqi cities) - they did so even though they had reports at the rally. Zeyad has the details.

When we were marching on Dec. 10 I told Omar that maybe we didn't need to cover the protests after all since it looked like reporters from all the major media agencies were doing so. As you can see in my pictures there were scores of reporters and cameras all over the place. And since the rallies ended in front of the Palestine hotel we thought that it would be impossible for the media to ignore this event. I felt a bit awkward walking along reporters carrying just a little digital camera while they had all the equipment. ... I'm telling you there were reporters from every station in the world at the demos that day and
yet only a few mentioned them at all.
This is not a case of Big Media innocently overlooking a story. This is a case of Big Media actively supressing the truth in a way that makes life more dangerous for Iraqis. By not covering the march, Big Media aided the terrorists - by conveying the false impression that few Iraqis oppose the wave of terror attacks. No doubt, such beliefs embolden the terrorists to strike again. No doubt, if the media had provided coverage of large anti-terror marches in Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Nasiriyah, Irbil, Suleimaniya, and even in Sunni cities such as Ramadi, Ba'quba, and Balad, it would hurt the morale of the terrorists. It might even cause a few of them to give up and slink away, back to Syria or whatever Middle Eastern rat hole they climbed out of.

Iraqi civilians increasingly, are the targets of the terrorists' attacks, and Big Media's active efforts to ignore the protests means more terrorist attacks, not fewer. It means more dead Iraqis, not fewer.

Poor Howard
Poor Howard Dean. He has built his campaign around opposition to a war that Americans increasingly support and, like John Kerry, made a campaign trail fetish of criticizing President Bush for failing to capture Saddam Hussein. Hey Howard - have you decided yet whether you think Iraq is or is not better off without Saddam in power?

Meanwhile, the latest Gallup Poll finds that Bush's ratings remain fairly strong:

Fifty-five percent of Americans now approve of the job he is doing. This is slightly higher than his previous rating of 50%, but is consistent with the 50% to 56% range within which his job approval score has fluctuated since September. ... The poll, conducted Dec. 5-7, also shows Bush maintaining positive job performance scores for matters related to defense and foreign affairs. And there is some sign of recent improvement on this dimension.

Bagging of Butcher of Baghdad Blogged
Here's a News.com report on how Americans used the Internet to follow news of the capture of Saddam Hussein because the news broke after most of the nation's newspapers had gone to press.

Internet sites including CNN, Fox, ABC News and MSNBC all carried substantial reports on Saddam's capture, as did news-aggregation sites such as Google and Yahoo. The access to some of them was sluggish Sunday, possibly indicating a surge in traffic and another sign of the Net's growing influence as a source of news.

… A generation of younger readers admit to getting their news from the Internet, not newspapers. Internet competition is forcing newspapers - and their giant newsgathering forces - to publish more original reporting on their Web sites, a practice they have resisted in the past.
What News.com failed to note is the increasing journalistic contribution of on-the-scene bloggers. Jeff Jarvis is covering that.

Success Breeds Success
Saddam Hussein's capture is already reaping dividends for the U.S. military, providing intelligence that allowed U.S. soldiers to capture several top regime figures and uncover rebel cells in the capital, a U.S. general said Monday, reports the AP. Huh.


Joe Blow
Joe Lieberman on Saddam Hussein's capture:

If Howard Dean had his way, Saddam Hussein would still be in power today, not in prison, and the world would be a more dangerous place.
I wonder if Dean has figured out yet whether the world is better off without Saddam in power or not.

It's interested to watch the Left try to spin this. Dean and Sen. John Kerry made statements saying the capture of Saddam meant President Bush now has a chance to internationalize the Iraq mission - as if the 60 countries already participating in some way isn't "international."

What Dean and Kerry are trying to do is move the goalposts. For months, they have criticized Bush for failing to capture Saddam. Now, Saddam is in American hands - but instead of celebrating that success, Dean and Kerry are asserting it will not be a success if Bush does not "build" on it by somehow using it to convince France and Germany to kick in money and troops. Once again, they are defining "success" in the war on terror as "letting France and Germany dictate American policy."

Give it up, guys. France and Germany were Saddam's rhetorical allies in the months before the war, doing everything they could to keep him in power. They were objectively pro-Saddam. The fact that their former Iraqi business partner and friend is a prisoner headed for a war crimes trial isn't likely to convince them to switch sides now. Dean and Kerry are simply trying to define as "success" something that is probably unattainable. France, Germany - indeed, the whole anti-war Left - opposed the removal of Saddam. If they had had their way, Saddam would still be dispensing death and misery from his palaces and the mass graves would still be filling. And that would be just fine with them. A few hundred thousand more dead Iraqis wouldn't trouble the Left near as much as the fact that America reached halfway around the world to put an end to such a murderous regime.

It's nice to know there's at least one Democrat - Joe Lieberman - who thinks getting rid of Saddam was a good thing.

UPDATE: Instapundit has a lot of links to reaction, including Lefty whackjobs who think Saddam's arrest was faked, and lots of commentary on why Jacques Chirac and the leaders of Germany and Russia may be sweating bullets right now. (Short version: They did a lot of bidness with Saddam, propped him up, armed him, and now the truth is going to come out.)

Well, This Is Big News
We captured Saddam. But remember, there was no connection between Iraq and the September 11 atack. None whatsoever.

I'll be watching Zeyad's blog from Iraq for the best on-the-scene reporting...

John Kerry needs to edit his soundbite: "He can't find Osama bin Laden. He can't find Saddam Hussein."

Jeff Jarvis has links to reports from Iraqi blogs, plus a link ot Al Jazeera coverage, and a note that the BBC is already pushing the predictable Euro-Leftist/"human-rights groups" view that for Saddam's trial, "an international tribunal (and no death penalty) would be preferable." No. Letting the Iraqis try him for the murder of hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens and family members, followed by a public execution in Firdos Square, would be preferable. [Hat tip: Donald Sensing] (Once you're at Jarvis' blog, scroll up for links to some left-wingers who aren't too thrilled we nabbed Saddam.




The Real Iraq
While the New York Times is busy ignoring major news from Baghdad, Rocky Mountain News columnist Bill Johnson filed this eye-opening report, which includes coverage of the anti-terror rally, and has sidebars including a slide show of photographs. Not to be missed!

BAGHDAD, Iraq - I expected none of this. We were shot at not even once. Never in the nearly nine hours we have spent walking and driving through the streets of this city did anyone flash as much as a cap pistol at us. This is not the Baghdad everyone has told us to fear, the one they for months have shown on television at home. Not a single car exploded. There were no dead bodies that needed to be stepped over.
And this:
His given name is Atheed Al-Naimy, a computer engineer by trade, and the son of a 20-plus-year Iraqi army general executed by Saddam Hussein eight years ago for conspiracy. The regime began eyeing and spying on his family, Atheed said, after his father resigned his commission in 1991 in protest of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait. In 1996, they finally came for his father. They came for Atheed, too. The two were tried together, and both were sentenced to die. For three months they sat in 1-by-3-foot cells on Saddam's death row.

"At the last moment, they came for me and freed me. They executed my father and his friends." His eyes teared, and he looked away. I put my hand on his shoulder and say that I am sorry. He nods. "God was with me."
And this:
It is shortly before noon when we reach Furdoise - or Paradise - Square. Atheed knows an Iraqi policeman standing at a nearby intersection, and he allows us to park beyond the barricade of cordoned-off Furdoise Street. Just up the street are two Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Overhead, two helicopter gunships circle. "They are watching, to protect us," Atheed tell us. Hundreds of men have filled the square for the anti-terror rally, which as the day grows longer, becomes apparent is not much more than an Iowa-style political rally. Leaders of various religious and secular parties alternately take the stand set up beneath the large pedestal from which mobs toppled the statue of Saddam that long-ago spring afternoon. The throngs of sign-carrying men leap in the air, their hands over their heads, chanting anti-terror slogans, as the leaders at the microphones denounce the insurgents that attack Americans, pledging to fight terror the same way a group of men in Iowa are doing today. ... For three hours, the men dance and chant in the streets, the gunships still hovering overhead. And across the street yet another gas line snakes far into the distance. On the sidewalks, other throngs of unemployed men stand about idly.

Night is falling on Baghdad. It is not safe here when the sun goes down, Atheed Al-Naimy cautions as he speeds us back to our hotel. I ask him before he departs to explain to me what he has seen today. "For 50 years, Iraq went without freedom and democracy. You can't make it happen in three weeks, three months or three years.

"It takes time."
It's easy and common in the blogosphere to say "Read the whole thing." This time, Read The Whole Thing.

And remember...no matter what Howard Dean tells you, no matter what the cut-and-run crowd claims, no matter what lies the Left tells, we're doing the right thing over there.

Forecast: 2004 Best Economy Since Reagan Era
The Conference Board forecasts that the economy next year will turn in its best performance since 1984.

Revising its year-end economic forecast sharply upward, The Conference Board today projected that real GDP growth will hit 5.7% next year, making 2004 the best year economically in the last 20 years.

The forecast, by Conference Board Chief Economist Gail Fosler, expects worker productivity, which set a 20-year record in the third quarter, to rise at a healthy 3.6% next year. That would follow a gain of 4.3% this year. The economic forecast is prepared for more than 2,500 corporate members of The Conference Board's global business network, based in 66 nations.

"Growing business spending and continued strength in consumer spending are generating growth throughout the U.S. economy," says Fosler. "This burgeoning strength is reflected in The Conference Board's widely-watched Leading Economic Indicators, the Consumer Confidence Index and the Help-Wanted Advertising Index. While the labor market, a critical factor in sustaining growth, is growing slowly, a pick-up in hiring may already have begun."
I blame the Bush tax cuts.

New Blog
I am now blogging over at Blogs for Bush, though I suspect almost anything I post over there you'll also find here at HobbsOnline. But I'm just one of several bloggers posting at Blogs for Bush, so be sure to check it out often.

A Rebellion Against Low Taxes?
South Knox Bubba is pointing to this commentary in the Knoxville News Sentinel story about a "rebellion" against low taxes in Crossville, Tennessee. It's a heartwarming story about how some folks, who wished the county commission had approved a proposed property tax increase for schools, are sending money to the county school system anyway.

"I started thinking about that vote, and the Lord wouldn't let me quit thinking about it. I figured out what the extra tax would mean to me. It turned out to be only $13.30." Johnson scribbled a check and sent it to the Crossville Chronicle, along with a challenge for other taxpayers to do likewise. ... At last count, the "rebellion" has raised a little more than $5,100.
Heartwarming. But utterly stupid to call it a "rebellion" against low taxes.

The newspaper stories I've read imply that these people are paying a "tax" by sending their checks to the school board. The KNS story SKB links to even says it:
The people are paying a new tax even after it was defeated.
No. Wrong. They are not.

Taxation is forced conscription of your money by government. These people in Crossville are making voluntary charitable donations. It is absurd to say they are "paying a new tax even after it was defeated" because, well, follow the logic here if you can: There IS no "new tax" because the proposed tax increase was "defeated."

Hence, the notion that this is some sort of "rebellion" against low taxes is just fantasy spin by a writer who probably voted FOR the proposed tax and thinks it ought to have passed.

I actually like what these people are doing - donating money. I've long believed that if you lower taxes, but continue to highlight community needs, people will increase their charitable donations. In fact, the 1980s saw a huge increase in charitable giving thanks in part to the Reagan tax cuts that freed up more people to donate more money.

What's happening in Crossville also is a good example of why Tennessee needs something akin to Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights. In Colorado, if state or local government wants to raise taxes, it has to get the people's permission in a referendum, which forces the legislative body to make its case to the people about why the increase is needed, what it will be used for, etc. Referendums are also required before government spends surplus revenue. In one town, after voters said "no" to a proposal to spend surplus revenue on expanding the town's park system (and some other things), some folks donated their rebated tax money to the park system. It's democracy - the people vote, and then the people are free to donate, or not donate, as they see fit.

Retail Sales Jump Sharply
Ya gotta love the Bush economy. The recovery from the Clinton-birthed recession keeps chugging along. The latest sign of the recovery: retail sales surged unexpectedly in November.

Retail sales rose in the United States in November, the government said Thursday, beating analysts' forecasts as consumer spending rebounded from a slump in October. The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.9 percent to $322.4 billion after being flat in October. Excluding volatile automobile sales, retail sales rose 0.4 percent after rising a revised 0.4 percent in October. Economists, on average, expected sales to rise 0.7 percent and sales excluding autos to rise 0.3 percent, according to Briefing.com.


Wall Street pays close attention to consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the total U.S. economy. Consumer spending exploded in the third quarter, fueled by tax rebate checks and proceeds from mortgage refinancing, and pushed total economic growth to an 8.2-percent rate, the fastest in nearly 20 years.

That spending has slowed down in the fourth quarter, as the effects of the rebate checks and refinancing have faded, but a slowly improving labor market has helped keep consumers shopping during the holiday season, critical to retailers.
I blame the Bush tax cuts.

Reagan on the Dime? No!
I agree with Dana Blankenhorn: we should put Ronald Reagan on the $1 coin.

Turning Point
Glenn Reynolds has a round-up of links to on-the-scene blogger coverage of yesterday's large anti-terrorism demonstrations in Iraq, as well as links to various commentary and the spotty Big Media coverage, here here, here, and here. Big Media's downplaying of the event is a damning commentary on Big Media's anti-war bias and its narrow definition of what's news in Iraq. To quote Roger Simon:

Do you think for one moment that if thousands had been marching for Saddam... for the fascists... excuse me "insurgents"... it wouldn't have been front page news?
The blog-driven coverage of the event also marks a coming-of-age moment for blog-journalism. Amazing that the NYT, with all its resources, couldn't be bothered to cover the story, but one Iraqi blogger with a donated digital camera could. This is the future of journalism - grassroots coverage by real people using inexpensive digital cameras and weblogs to report the truly important stories Big Media ignores.

They Needed a Study for This?
Canadian researchers have proven that pretty women cause men to act less rationally. I didn't know there was a question about that...


The Clinton Recession
The recent recession was longer than first thought - and it started during the final year of the Clinton administration - says the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The U.S. economy shrank in the third quarter of 2000, the government said on Wednesday in revisions to official figures that showed America was on the brink of recession months earlier than previously thought. The sweeping changes by the Commerce Department also downgraded the expansion that followed the 2001 slump, albeit only slightly. ... Until now, statisticians at Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis believed the economy did not start shrinking until early 2001. But extensive revisions dating back to 1929, incorporating both improved statistics and changes to definitions, revealed a contraction in gross domestic product, or GDP, in the July-to-September quarter of 2000
The recovery started in the fourth quarter of 2001, and has not stopped since.

[From USA Today]

Fact is, we're two years into the Bush Boom and the economy – including job creation – is accelerating.

WMD Update
A Badgdad dentist who blogs under the initials A.Y.S. comments on these photos of the unearthing of an Iraqi MiG fighter jet found buried in the Iraqi desert:

Now, I think it is very easy to hide the (WMD's) in a desert! ...Am I right.. watch at the area that might be used to bury a town!! So, how can they find the WMD's in few months?? I think it will last for years to search every yard in Iraq!! It is difficult..isn't it?
Meanwhile, the evidence is mounting that, indeed, Saddam's regime had weapons of mass destruction and even deployed some for possible use against American troops. In this story in Time magazine, an Iraqi "insurgent" named Abu Ali describes and shows the reporter a small warhead for a shoulder-fired rocket launcher that Ali claims contains some form of chemical weapon. Meanwhile, as has been widely reported (here, here, here and here), the double-agent Iraqi colonel who warned British intelligence that Saddam's army could launch chemical or biological weapons in less than 45 minutes, now says the weapons were designed to be fired from rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The Real Iraq
Glenn Reynolds points out that the New York Times (and probably most of the rest of the Western press) has missed a major story from Iraq. It seems there were large street demonstrations there against terrorism and, as one Iraqi blogger reports, "against Arab media, against the interference of neighbouring countries, against dictatorships, against Wahhabism, against oppression, and of course against the Ba'ath and Saddam."

Tens of thousands of Iraqis march for democracy, peace and tolerance and against violence and Islamist oppression, and the NYT says nothing, though it devotes ample coverage to the killings of two American soldiers by those who would deny the Iraqi their dreams.

Random Thought #2
If Africa is so poor, why do I get a dozen emails a day from various people in Africa trying to move $30 million to the United States, and seeking my assistance to help them do it?

Random Thought #1
Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean. Both are arrogant, condescending, elitists who play fast and loose with the truth and flip-flop policies and beliefs without apology, to suit the prevailing political winds. It's no surprise they get along well...

Tennessee Government Revenue Surplus Predicted to Soar
A third of the way through the current fiscal year, and Tennessee state government has a $53.7 million revenue surplus. Now, a University of Tennessee economist predicts the surplus will balloon to $140 million by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. But that economist, Dr. Bill Fox, famously spent most of the early and mid-1990s pessimistically predicting recessions that never materialized, so I'm guessing his forecast of a $140 million revenue surplus is wrong. I'm now predicting $160 million. I had previously predicted $110 million, but the revenue surplus nearly doubled in one month, from $27.6 million after three months to $53.7 million after four months.

The only bad news: The Bredesen administration is already making plans to spend this year's surplus - rather than save it in a rainy day fund for next year or rebate the excess tax collections to taxpayers. That's poor fiscal discipline that puts the state's taxpayers at risk of another large tax increase - or renewed clamor for an income tax - the next time the economy stumbles and the state doesn't have sufficient reserves to cover revenue shortfalls until the economy revives.

UPDATE Dec. 11: The Tennessee Department of Revenue says in a news release that November 2003 tax collections by the Tennessee Department of Revenue were $644,028,182, an increase of $44,125,761 or 7.4 percent over November 2002 collections. Revenue from the all-important sales tax was up $28,864,990 to $473,568,012. That's 6.5 percent over November 2002 collections. Some income tax proponents claim the sales tax is an obsolete tax that can't produce sufficient revenue growth. But 6.5 percent revenue growth certainly is sufficient to fund Tennessee government - unless, of course, government spending is allowed to grow without restraint.

Economy Update: Nashville
The residential real estate industry in the greater Nashville area is enjoying another record year, with home sales having shattered the 2002 record with a month to spare, reports The Tennessean. Wow. Imagine if the Bush tax cuts hadn't messed things up.


Tennessee Surplus Grows
Revenue data is in from November, the fourth month in Tennessee's 2003-2004 fiscal year. November revenues were $26 million more than the budgeted estimates. including $12 million in surplus tax revenue. For the first four months of the fiscal year, there is a $38.1 million surplus of sales tax revenue. The state's overall revenue surplus has ballooned to $53.7 million. More comment tomorrow...

Memo to the NRA: Blog First, Air Ads Later
The National Rifle Association says it may buy a "media outlet" such as a television or radio station, and declare itself to be a news operation, in order to be able to air its views during the upcoming election campaign, if the Supreme Court doesn't overturn certain parts of the recent McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law. Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry has already asked the Federal Election Commission to block any attempt by the NRA to get a media exemption to campaign finance rules.

The gun-rights lobby is considering acquiring a television or radio outlet and seeking the same exemption from campaign finance rules that news organizations have. If the group won a media exemption, it would be free to say whatever it wanted about candidates at any time and spend unlimited amounts doing so.

"We urge you to prevent the NRA from hijacking America's airwaves with the gun lobby's money," Kerry's letter said. "If the NRA has something to say, it can play by the rules, just like the millions of people in America who do every day."
First of all, buying a media outlet WOULD BE playing by the rules - the rules that exempt the media, but not the NRA, from limits on free speech.

Second, the NRA's proposal is expensive. I've got a better idea. The NRA needs to incorporate a separate entity, a non-profit LLC (limited liability corporation) that produces an online-only publication that covers news related to gun rights, gun politics, gun crime, and guns as crime-deterrent, in all 50 states and the nation's capital. LLCs are exempt (via loophole) from the campaign finance reform law.

It would be easy to do - just use a commercially available blogging software like, say, MovableType, and hire pro-Second Amendment freelance reporter/bloggers in each state to monitor gun-related news and post it to the blog. A good model is PolState.com. It shouldn't take long, NRA, just recruit your correspondents from the blogosphere. The result: a media outlet that is also an LLC - doubly exempt from the strictures of McCain-Feingold.

Once the publication is up and running, NRA, go produce commercials brief video reports to run on the blog in Windows Media and RealPlayer. Use geo-targeting ad software to serve up those online commercials brief video reports about political candidates based on the location of the website reader. Readers in, say, Texas, would see ads about pro- and anti-gun rights candidates in Texas, and so on.

Then, NRA, run television commercials nationally and state-by-state advertising the blog - television commercials that incorporate segments of the online commercials brief video reports - driving people to the website and triggering news coverage of the commercials brief video reports.

The Great American Job-Destroying Machine
Rich Lowry on why it's a good thing when jobs are lost:

In any given year, roughly 10 percent of all jobs in the American economy are destroyed, while an equal number rises up to take their place, according to the latest Economic Report of the President. The trick, of course, is to create more jobs than are lost. Since 1980, according to Michael Cox of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, "Americans have filed 106 million initial claims for unemployment benefits, each representing a lost job." But during the past decade, the economy has still added a net 40 million new jobs.

Good Career Business Advice
Jeff Cornwall says that, when it comes to thinking about your career, remember: It's not just a job - it's an entrepreneurial venture. Commenting on an excellent Arnold Kling essay (which i also recommend reading), Cornwall says, "Entrepreneurship is a process not an event. So, too, is career management these days." Read the whole thing - especially if you're sitting around waiting for the economy to improve enough for some Big Company to give you a good job.

They Deserved Better
I've never watched The Bachelor or The Bachelorette or Joe Millionaire or any of the other unReality shows that aim to put a couple together via televised glorified speed-dating. But teevee coverage of the wedding of Bachelorette Trista Rehn and Colorado firefighter Ryan Sutter caught me eye last night. Turns out the couple's million-dollar wedding was held at the Lodge at Rancho Miraqe (near Palm Springs), the same "resort" hotel where my wife and I honeymooned three years ago last month.

Despite its breathtaking location overlooking the Coachella Valley, it was a place of bad service, surly staff, unresponsive management, average food and a "spa" not much larger than a walk-in closet. We laughed last night when the reporter on Entertainment Tonight reported that the "resort" had to be closed for four days to prepare for Trista and Ryan's wedding. Half the "resort" - including the pool - was closed for half the week we were there. Poor Trista and Ryan. You deserved better.

Some Praise For a Democrat
Roger L. Simon is saying nice things about Rep. Tom Lantos, one of the most liberal members of Congress. And I agree with every word of it.

Back from Belize
Michael J. Totten is back from Belize, from whence he didn't blog - for good reason: Belize is an extremely pleasant place to be still for a while and not do a whole lot.

Data Revisions
The Heritage Foundation has a good roundup of economic growth data, and a pretty good explanation of why the official monthly employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics may need to be revised.

The payroll survey's inability to capture the rise of the self-employed is due to its structure. The BLS interviews existing firms while the Census Bureau interviews workers directly. As a result, Census can capture job growth sparked by job hiring in small businesses better than the payroll survey can. Haseeb Ahmed of Economy.com believes that the payroll survey's undercounting of small business employment will lead to an upward revision of the payroll survey employment numbers, similar to the revision in the early 1990’s when revisions to the payroll survey doubled the number of job gains.

Reining in the Revenooers
Mark Schmidt of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation writes about a lawsuit involving California tax collectors and a Nevada man, and why it might help rein in out-of-control state tax collectors.

California FTB auditors descended upon Nevada, where they trespassed on Hyatt's property, rummaged through his mail and trash, and questioned neighbors and even store clerks over Hyatt's whereabouts. The agency sent subpoena-like letters to Hyatt's business associates in Nevada informing them that Hyatt was under audit and demanding personal information about Hyatt. Unsurprisingly, these activities badly damaged Hyatt's professional standing and business relationships.

Based on its "investigation," the FTB demanded that Hyatt pay $5.5 million in income taxes and an additional $9 million in penalties. Clearly, the FTB was looking to deliver a knockout blow that would make an example out of Hyatt and scare other taxpayers into submission. Hyatt swung back by filing suit against the FTB in a Nevada state court.

Deposition testimony showed that FTB employees destroyed records favorable to Hyatt, disclosed his business secrets, and engaged in a purposeful policy of over-assessing tax delinquencies and penalties in order to intimidate taxpayers. The suit made its way to the Nevada Supreme Court in 2002, which ruled that Hyatt had a right to sue the FTB for intentional torts against him.

The FTB appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the FTB was forced to concede that its theory of absolute immunity meant California should be free to send tax collectors into other states to beat up alleged tax delinquents. Faced with this sort of reasoning, in April 2003 the Court unanimously ruled that Nevada courts did not have to honor California's law immunizing its tax collection agency.

On one hand, Hyatt's Supreme Court victory is a big win for state taxpayers - the FTB's defeat certainly sent a message to the 35 states that filed amicus briefs supporting the FTB's right to engage in KGB-style tactics. On the other hand, one wonders how many individuals will have the determination and resources to take their fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court when the taxman tramples their rights. The FTB spent $2.4 million in taxpayer dollars to hire a private law firm, in addition to expenditures for state Attorney General and FTB staff time. As big-spending state governments continue to turn the screws on taxpayers, one can only hope that the Hyatt case makes the revenuers think twice before using the power to tax as a power to destroy.


Not Planning for Failure
I'm launching a new web project... From now on, I will refer to George W. Bush as a great President at least once a day on my blog. Why, you ask? Well, someone came up with the idea to link George W. Bush's official White House bio with the words "miserable failure" in popular search engines, which is silly because we all know who the real miserable failure of a president was. So, I'm fighting back - and you can, too. If you have a blog or web site, help raise the link between George W. Bush and the phrase 'great President' by copying this link and placing somewhere on your site or blog. Because George W. Bush is a great President and we need to re-elect this great President in November 2004 so America can continue to be lead by a great President during the crucial years ahead in the War on Terror, during which time we can not afford to be led by another miserable failure - we must have a great President.

What A Miserable Failure
Have you read the story of the Googlebombing that linked the phrase "miserable failure" to the G.W. Bush bio? Well, thanks to Jay Solo, there's an antidote to that attack on GWB. A reverse Googlebombing. The phrase miserable failure ought to be linked not to GWB, but to the truly most miserable failure of a president we have ever had.

I quote Jay:

I should know! I was in high school during the heyday of the miserable failure in question.

Thus it is unfortunate that our efforts at correcting miserable failure have been diffused by people linking miserable failure to Hillary or Bill Clinton instead. They can't begin to match the level of miserable failure achieved by the miserable failure Jimmy Carter.

Granted, stagflation was an artifact of Johnson and Nixon, so the miserable failure didn't cause it. He just didn't handle it as well as less of a miserable failure might have done. He oozed malaise and an aura of miserable failure, rather than one of confidence and optimism. That makes a difference too.

Granted, oil crises went back to policies decades old, so being a miserable failure in that regard may have been inevitable. But still, it was a bad time for such a miserable failure to be in charge and compound things.

The miserable failure was truly a miserable failure at foreign policy. Achieving peace with Egypt through bribery and thanks to a more statesman-like leader in Egypt than was the miserable failure here at the time? Doesn't counter miserable failure status. Iran? Reeks of miserable failure. The miserable failure left the Middle East loons thinking that we could be pushed around, hit by planes, bombed, that sort of thing, and miserable failure Jr. simply made matters worse.

No, he oozed with miserable failure vibes and made us feel like we were a miserable failure as a nation. As a leader he was a miserable failure.

At delegating he was an infamous miserable failure, letting the little things bog him down. That's an easy way for an intelligent person to be remembered as a miserable failure.

What do you think? Is Carter not the best choice as miserable failure? I mean, really; we could replace "Carter" with "miserable failure." The Miserable Failure Institute. The Miserable Failure administration. Former President Jimmy Miserable Failure. Give it a try! Write your own take on the miserable failure.
You can help overcome the Googlebombing slander of George W. Bush. Even if you don't have the time to write your own piece about the miserable failure, just post a lot of miserable failure links repeatedly. Like this:

miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure
miserable failure

Nashville Wired
Nashville Business Journal reports that Nashville "is tied for sixth with Chicago among cities with a population greater than 250,000 whose governmental entities use technology to deliver services to residents, according to the 2003 Digital Cities Survey." More info (but not much) on the CDG report is here.

Sunday Sermon
On the end of uncertainty:

I was stunned by two things: First, that it was a verse no one had ever told me about before - and I thought I already knew everything in the Bible. Second, that there was actually a Bible verse that declared you can know the outcome ahead of time. You see, up to that point, I was pretty sure one could never know for certain. I had been impressed with all of the prayers that went this way: "And Lord, if in the end we have been found faithful, please give us a home with thee in heaven." You weren't supposed to be able to know - I thought that the only way to be sure of one's salvation was by making sure you were a really religious person. Never miss church; learn those memory verses; don't mess up with your life.
And then one day you realize you can't do enough good works, keep enough commandments, follow enough rules, memorize enough creeds, go to enough church services, know enough Bible, believe in enough "right" interpretations, do enough steps in the right order, think enough good thoughts, and avoid enough sin, to deserve salvation or contribute one iota to it. And then you make a choice: You give up ... or you give thanks for what He did on the cross for you, and live a life that tries, failingly, to honor the grace you have received.

You just believe.

My purpose in writing is simply this: that you who believe in God's Son will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you have eternal life, the reality and not the illusion. I John 5:13

Prepared text here. Audio here.

UPDATE: Michael Williams is also writing about religion today, and posing the two most important questions every human ought to consider.

A Jobless Recovery?
757,000 More People Are Working Today Than When Bush Took Office

The media bought into the "jobless recovery" theme, but Larry Kudlow examines the employment data and finds something the mainstream media has missed: There are 757,000 more Americans working now than were working when President George W. Bush took office.

The household survey now shows that 757,000 more people are working today than in January 2001. The media may rant about big job losses during the Bush presidency, but the much different reality is that three quarters of a million more people have gone to work during the president's first three years - which included a recession he inherited from the prior administration.

Part of this misinformation problem may be that the job-watchers in the media are not tracking all of the jobs. In the innovative 21st century information economy, it's the ranks of the self-employed that are surging. In November, for example, 156,000 new self-employed workers showed up. This sector has gained in five of the last six months by a total of 517,000, strongly implying that the labor market is healthier than the headlines suggest. When you add the number of new self-employed workers to the new payrolls in the corporate workforce, you get a total of 213,000 new jobs in the economy for the month of November.

Not only is this more proof that the "jobless" recovery is in good part myth, but it represents a cultural change inside the economy. Self-employed entrepreneurs are replacing the old-line corporate establishment. This is a transformation of America's jobs profile, and its being enabled by President Bush's significant tax cuts on small businesses and their investments.

As for the Labor Department's business-establishment survey - which tracks old-line corporations and doesn't properly identify the new economic culture - non-farm payrolls increased by 57,000 in November. That's not all that bad. It's the fourth consecutive rise for non-farm payrolls, bringing the total jobs-gain since July to 328,000. Meanwhile, hours worked and overtime also increased last month.

Importantly, temporary-worker payrolls have increased for seven straight months by a total of 166,000. This traditional leading indicator projects nearly 100,000 new private jobs in December and at least 750,000 in the first quarter of next year.
The mainstream media may have missed it but I didn't. I mentioned it last Friday.

I'd blame the Bush tax cuts, but - as you read above - Kudlow already did.

A Reminder
Victor Davis Hanson powerfully reminds us of who we are fighting and way.

All of the deadly terrorism since 9/11 - the synagogue in Tunisia, French naval personnel in Pakistan, Americans in Karachi, Yemeni attacks on a French ship, the Bali bombing, the Kenyan attack on Israelis, the several deadly attacks on Russians in both Moscow and Chechnya, the assault on housing compounds in Saudi Arabia, the suicide car bombings in Morocco, the Marriott bombing in Indonesia, the mass murdering in Bombay, and the Turkish killing — has been perpetrated exclusively by Muslim fascists and directed at Westerners, Christians, Hindus, and Jews.
It's Victor Davis Hanson so, as always, read the whole thing.

Economic Update: Nashville
The Nashville regional economy shows signs of strength according to the latest economic indicators report from economists at Middle Tennessee State University.

Economic Snapshot
Here's your weekly Economic Snapshot, a round-up of stories from the American City Business Journals chain of weekly business newspapers.

Thank You
A heartfelt "Thank you!" to those of you who have recently made a donation to HobbsOnline via the Amazon tip jar and Paypal. It's rather amazing when people I've never melt nor are likely to ever meet find my blog, like the work I do here, and make a donation to express their support.

Michael Williams reports and comments on the California legislature's rejection of Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed spending cap - and why Arnold may still get what he wants. Ahnuld wants to let voters vote on whether or not to cap government spending. Apparently some in the ruling class see that as a huge threat to democracy ... or at least to their plans to spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, spend, and spend.

By the way, yesterday was Michael's birthday. You can help him celebrate by dropping a little something in his tip jar.

Bush Boom: Economy May Boost Bush Toward Landslide
Bruce Bartlett links to and summarizes an econometrics-based political forecast from Yale economist Ray Fair that says that, as it stands now, Bush stands a very good chance at a landslide win.

Yale economist Ray Fair, one of the most respected econometricians in the U.S., periodically calculates the vote total for presidential elections based on a political/economic model. Following is his latest forecast from Oct. 31, before the most recent GDP revision. As of that date, he was predicting that President Bush would get 58.3% of the two-party vote next year. Any increase in real GDP growth above the model's forecast will increase that percentage.
Fair says the good economic news of the third and fourth quarters of 2003 were unexpected and each quarter of good economic news...
...adds 0.837 percentage points to the incumbent vote share, so two extra good news quarters adds 1.674 percentage points for President Bush. The new economic values give a prediction of 58.3 percent of the two-party vote for President Bush rather than 56.7 percent before. This does not, however, change the main story that the equation has been making from the beginning, namely that President Bush is predicted to win by a sizable margin. The margin is just now even larger than before.

From Wired: "The Internet, like all media, is benefiting from a general economic turnaround that is making advertisers more optimistic. But I also think the combination of people spending more and more time on the Internet, and more and more people getting broadband is driving this." - Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney Internet Group, whose network of sites includes ESPN.com, ABC.com and Disney Online.

Beggar Blogger
Andrew Sullivan says if you don't give him $20, he'll stop blogging.

If you visit here regularly, we ask for $20 donation for the next twelve months; if you come every day or more than once a day, please consider giving more. Without it, the blog won't survive.
To put things in perspective, Sullivan has raked in some $120,000 or so from past threaten-and-beg "pledge" weeks. No begging here. The way I see it, Sullivan is saying "gimme money and then trust I'll do a good job." Last summer, however, Sullivan took a whole month off just days after he collected around $40,000 in donations.

Here at HobbsOnline I figure if I do a good job, folks will donate via the Amazon tip jar or PayPal in recognition for the good work I have already done. I'd just feel sleazy threatening to shut down my blog if you didn't give money - and then take a month off after you did.

Carnival of the Capitalists #10
Carnival of the Capitalists #10 is online over at A Penny For.... I haven't had a chance to read everything yet, but there appears to be a lot of good stuff. I have read this CotC entry from Jeff Cornwall at The Entrepreneurial Mind, and recommend it.

Famous in Knoxville
HobbsOnline gets mentioned in a story about blogs in the Knoxville paper. Cool. Other Tennessee bloggers got mentioned to, including new HobbsOnline favorite Adam Groves.


The War On Terror is But a Battle in a Much Longer War
So says writer Clark S. Judge, in an essay outlining the "100 Years War" that America has been fighting since the early 20th Century.

From the fall of the Berlin Wall until the September 11 attacks, Americans believed they were living in a largely post-conflict world - the "end of history" as Francis Fukuyama titled his famous 1992 book. Humanity was embracing an enduring state of liberal democratic happiness, a world entirely broken from the bloody past. Since the September 11 attacks, a shadow of doom has run across this new-age portrait, but the belief that we are in an entirely new age remains.

Yet, viewed with a little more attention to history and less to the euphoria and hysteria of the moment, this "new world" appears hardly new at all. Instead the major conflicts of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries appear to be chapters of a single story, of a single epochal struggle: a new hundred years' war that is almost finished and will shape human institutions for centuries to come.


Again and again in an unbroken line stretching from Wilson’s 14 Points to Roosevelt and Churchill’s Atlantic Charter to George W. Bush’s recently issued National Security Strategy, the United States has proclaimed as its goals free peoples, free nations, free expression, free commerce, enduring peace among less fearsomely armed nations, and human dignity.
Worth reading.

"Great Democracies Should Oppose Tyranny Wherever It Is Found"
Here's Mark Steyn from last week:

At a time when lazy leftists keep comparing Iraq with Vietnam and artful conservatives have begun comparing Bush with Kennedy, it's worth noting the big difference between the two men and their wars. At the Royal Banqueting House in London last week, George W. Bush gave one of the best presidential speeches of modern times. "Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability," he told his British hosts. "Long-standing ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold. As recent history has shown, we cannot turn a blind eye to oppression just because the oppression is not in our own backyard. No longer should we think tyranny is benign because it is temporarily convenient. Tyranny is never benign to its victims, and our great democracies should oppose tyranny wherever it is found."

President Bush has repudiated half a century of U.S. policy in the Middle East.
I find it exceedingly strange that the Left, which for decades critized America and especially the Right for coddling dictators and sometimes installing them in other countries, has changed its tune now that President Bush has repudiated that policy and put America on a new and more righteous path of fostering democracy and now has become vitriolic in its attacks on him.

Says Steyn, "It's one thing to dislike Bush, it's one thing to hate America. But it's quite another to hate America so much you reflexively take the side of any genocidal psycho who comes along."

An excellent commentary - I'm sorry I was so busy before Thanksgiving that I didn't read it until today.

New Economic Boom Benefits Bush in Poll
The latest public opinion poll shows the surging economic recovery is boosting President Bush's poll numbers. (More poll data details here.)

Americans are growing more optimistic about the economy and that shift is beginning to improve President Bush's standing with voters, according to an Associated Press poll. People are increasingly comfortable about job security for themselves and for those they know - 44 percent now, compared with 35 percent in early October.

And more approve of the way Bush is handling the economy - 50 percent compared with 45 percent earlier, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
Memo to the Democrats: It IS the economy, stupid! So go ahead... blame the Bush tax cuts.

For a Song
A new poll finds the "sweet spot" price for physical music CDs is about $12, but teenagers think a digitally-downloaded full-length album should cost about $5 less.

Memphis in the Meantime

The above photo was taken by Adrian Constant, a co-worker of mine and regular reader of HobbsOnline (he agrees with every word almost nothing I write!). Adrian says the photo, of the skyline of Memphis, was taken with a digital camera "while crossing the bridge over the Mississippi River at Memphis - with a slow shutter speed, through the window in the rain and at night." The blackness in the bottom half of the photo is the mighty Mississippi River.

I don't think Memphis has ever looked better.

True or False: Allah = Jehovah
Michael Williams, one of my favorite bloggers, gets quoted in this news analysis from Mark O'Keefe at Newhouse News Service, regarding President Bush's recent statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. O'Keefe's piece doesn't give the URL of the post he quotes. Here it is.

For what it's worth, I believe Bush made a political statement that probably differs from his private religious beliefs. We are fighting a war against extremist Islam and part of that war is cultural - we seek to convince the Muslim world to reject theocratic extremism and violence in favor of religious tolerance and democratic values. Had Bush answered "No, Muslims do not worship the same God as Christians," the conflict would have been instantly transformed in the minds of most Muslims as a war against Islam. Many already believe it to be, though the reality is over the years the American military has been used to defend Muslims, and most recently it was used to remove from power the world's busiest butcher of Muslims.

Bush had to say what he said for political purposes. Ours is not a war against all of Islam, it is a war of self defense that would be unnecessary if moderate Muslims would stamp out the extremism that infects the Islamic world.

Unemployment Falls
The U.S. economy created new jobs for the fourth straight month, lowering unemployment to 5.9 percent in November, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Economists predicted unemployment would remain at 6.0 percent in the November employment report. I predicted it would drop to 5.9 percent. On the other hand, the economists and I were both wrong in predicting higher job growth - though, I suspect, we'll be less wrong than it now appears once the initial number is revised next month as the government collects more data.

UPDATE: The press is reporting that "only" 57,000 jobs were created in November. But that's not the entire truth. 57,000 non-farm payroll jobs were created. The total number of employed people rose by 589,000 in the month, according to the household survey, which includes people who work for themselves as independent contractors, consultants and small-business start-up entrepreneurs. Corporate America isn't yet hiring in huge numbers, but the American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and that's a good thing. Individual entrepreneurs are driving this economic rebound.

Holiday Reading List
Jeff Cornwall has a Christmas Reading list, if you've got an entrepreneurial mind.

Yes. Now.
Jonah Goldberg thinks we ought to create a League of Democracies as a competitor for the feckless, tyrant-coddling United Nations - and calls George W. Bush "the most radically pro-democracy president of the 20th century." A good read. More importantly, a great idea.

People want a goody-goody multinational organization that does nice things and solves bad problems. So, since the U.N. is the only outfit in that business, we keep dusting it off and patting it on the back after each of its innumerable and monumental failures. One of the reasons it fails is that it's pretty much designed to. There is no vision, no set of shared values that truly unites the United Nations. You can't have a civil rights organization where Klansmen are welcomed as members; you can't have a softball team where half the players want to play basketball, and you can't have a global organization dedicated to the spread of human rights and democracy with nearly half the members representing barbaric, corrupt regimes.
A League of Democracies? Yes. Immediately. Now.

You Like Me! You Really Like Me!
HobbsOnline was picked as one of The 25 Best Blogs That Didn't Win A Thing in the 2003 Warblogger Awards, along with 24 other blogs that have sallied forth onto the virtual fields of the blogosphere. I'm honored. I'd like to thank the Academy and...

Funny Money: Economics Cartoon Hunt
I'm collecting economics-related cartoons. If you see any on the Net, please send me the link. It's for a future post.


Do the Math
Jack Kelly, national security writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, says the Iraqi insurgents are in trouble - and the recent attack in Samarra proves it.

The guerrillas need to kill at least 50 members of the security forces for each casualty they take, just to stay even. But it's going the other way. President Bush reportedly has been told that since Operation Iron Hammer began a month ago, nearly 1,100 Iraqi guerrillas have been captured or killed. If this is true, then we've inflicted 15 casualties on the guerrillas for each death we've suffered. That is not an exchange rate the enemy can sustain for long. ... The Ramadan offensive has not had the strategic effect they had hoped. Public opinion in the U.S. has not turned against the war. Despite the attacks on the Italians and the Spanish, no U.S. ally has left the fight.
Why should you assign any credibility to his opinion? Welli, Kelly IS a former Marine and Green Beret and a former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force in the Reagan administration...

UPDATE: Dec. 5: South Knox Bubba calls the above excerpt of Kelly's column "drivel," and adds "insert 'Viet Cong' for 'Iraqi', 'Nixon' for 'Bush', and 'Tet' for 'Ramadan, and it's 1968 all over again."

Is Iraq really Vietnam all over again? Here's more from Kelly:
The Viet Cong were able to take horrendous casualties and keep on fighting mostly because of an endless supply of reinforcements from North Vietnam. There is no North Vietnam to back up Saddam, and the Ba'athist remnant is much less popular among Iraqis than the Viet Cong were among the Vietnamese.

Though small scale infiltration into Iraq by al Qaeda types is impossible to prevent, there is no way for the guerrillas to replace the bulk of their losses with new recruits, and there is no way such new recruits as can be found will possess the skills of those killed or captured.
Kelly's right, Bubba's wrong. Maybe he ought to have read the whole thing before he called it drivel.

UPDATE: Dec. 5: Barry, posting in comments over under Bubba's post, points out another key difference that undermines the "Iraq-is-another-Vietnam" theme:
Isn't another big, but basic diffence, that we like, uh liberated Iraq from its dictator government? I don't remember a point where we freed the entire Vietnamese peninsula. Maybe I'm wrong. If the Republican Guard had stopped the US advance somewhere south of Baghdad and the division remained till today, I might buy at least some of that argument. But the fact that somebody just opened a 20-computer internet cafe in Tikrit makes me wonder if that comparison is just a teensy bit off...
That "somebody" would, of course, be the U.S. Army's First Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, which opened the Internet cafe inside Saddam's former palace in Tikrit.

Where Do I Send a Check?
Ralph Nader is raising money for a possible presidential campaign. I suggest every Republican send him $1, just to make sure he indeed does decide to run.

Online in Tikrit
The U.S. Army's First Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, opened a 20-computer Internet cafe in Saddam's former palace in his hometown of Tikrit today, reports CNN. It's got ISDN connections beamed by satellite to an Internet service provider - top-notch high-speed Internet service. So... how long before a member (or a few members) of the U.S. Army's First Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, sets up a blog? I'd be happy to read The Real Tikrit every day...

A Whole Lott About Blogging
Dean Esmay reacts to a scholarly paper on the role of weblogs in the downfall of Trent Lott. The paper, Parking Lott: The role of Web logs in the fall of Sen. Trent Lott, is by Chris Wright at the Culture, Communication & Technology Program at Georgetown. You can find it here in a peer reviewed journal of communication, culture, and technology articles from Georgetown University, or I've got it for you here. It's a 30-page PDF file.

Productivity Growth a Myth?
Stephen S. Roach, chief economist for Morgan Stanley, says the reported fast-rising productivity of U.S. workers is a myth based on bad government data. But Robert Musil examines Roach's anaylsis and finds it lacking "any evidence for his assertion whatsoever." I've read both. Musil's analysis seems better grounded in facts, data and reality than Roach's.

I was thinking a little more about this post yesterday - about an essay on Jeff Jarvis' blog about how technology such as webcams and weblogs are rendering the media's current methods obsolete - as I helped a professor at the university where I work set up his own weblog. I work in the PR office for Belmont University, writing press releases and encouraging the media to write about various events here, and to include university faculty as "experts" quoted in news stories. I also have begun helping faculty members set up weblogs, and maintain a blog about blogging. The first, Dr. Jeff Cornwall's The Entrepreneurial Mind, is beginning to get noticed in the economics-and-business niche of the blogosphere - and has already been noticed by the local business press, which reported its launch and, in the case of one local business publication, republished one of Dr. Cornwall's posts as an op-ed.

A few years ago, working as a freelance business journalist, I wrote a story for Business Nashville magazine (not online) and, in the process of writing that story I quoted Dr. Joe Smolira, a business professor at Belmont University. I was "the media," and I filtered what he had to say - even though it was Dr. Smolira and not I who had the expertise in the subject. Yesterday, I showed Dr. Smolira how to operate his new Movable Type-powered weblog, which will focus on corporate finance, mutual funds, the stock market and related topics.

Soon, Dr. Smolira will filter the media.

The media world is being transformed by blogs and other technology that is increasingly pushing the power of the "press" into the hands of individuals. A few years ago, the big Internet content buzzword was "push," as Big Media and the tech industry focused on ways to "push" content over the web to Internet surfers. It was a top-down, force-feed, audience-as-passive-consumers broadcast model. "Push" bombed.

Meanwhile, Blogger and others launched the weblogs niche, the price of digital cameras fell to affordable levels, digital video cameras dropped below $1,000, webcams became cheap and cell phones became cameras, empowring the audience in ways unprecedented in the history of media. "Push" as envisioned by Big Media may have bombed, but there is a "push" happening in the news business.

The audience is pushing the content - by linking to and highlighting obscure news articles, digging up facts and data that run counter to the major media spin, "fisking" news stories for bias and error, and publishing its own coverage of news events by blogging first-person accounts increasingly accompanied by digital photos, audio and video.

The media has been pushing its audience around for years. Now, the audience is pushing back.

Blogs and PR
MediaPost.com reports on a new survey conducted by The Blog Search Engine that should give PR professionals pause before they try to flak their clients' goods and services to the blogosphere. Bloggers who say they are open to receiving and writing about PR pitches also say they will not refrain from writing critically about the pitched product or service if they think it deserves it.

What this means, the survey's planners say, is that PR practitioners should tread warily, attempting to discern a blogger's likes and dislikes before targeting him or her. Similarly, all pitches to bloggers should be carefully customized
The survey also looked at how many blogs are carrying advertising, and has other interesting data about the blogosphere. The survey's methodology wasn't very scientific - it's self-selected respondents represent a very small fraction of the blogosphere - but the data is interesting if only to provoke discussion.

A Good Monopoly
Here's a Lawrence Lessig essay that praises efforts by local and state governments to build high-speed advanced fiber networks.

"Why should government be in the business of providing high-speed networks? Isn't that what free markets are for? Haven't we all learned that the market is more efficient at supplying goods and services? Do we really need to rediscover the failings of Karl Marx at 100 megabits per second? The answer, as Cornell economist Alan McAdams argues, has nothing to do with Karl Marx and everything to do with basic economics. AFNs are natural monopolies. That doesn't mean that there can be only one, but rather that if there is one, then it is far cheaper to simply add customers to the one than to build another. The electricity grid in a local neighborhood is a good example of a natural monopoly. Sure, we could run four wires to every home, but do we really need four electricity companies serving every home?"
He's actually right about this.

The Shadow Campaign
Glenn Reynolds, via Mickey Kaus, mentions but does not link to this WSJ article from two days ago, detailing how the Democratic Party is evading the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law that it pushed so hard for passage - and how the party's campaign structure is now wholly owned by liberal activist groups.

The Mccain-Feingold law's ban on unlimited donations to political parties was barely three weeks old last November when liberal operatives started plotting ways around it.

The result will be a shadow Democratic Party - an alliance of nonprofit groups that hopes to raise $200 million to mobilize voters and run ads slamming Republicans. It took months of struggle for the Democrats' allies to figure out how to coordinate the left's efforts, while abiding by the new law and not offending the party's unruly constituencies. The story illustrates the difficulties Democrats face as the 2004 campaign heats up.

Democratic leaders in Congress relentlessly fought to ban so-called "soft money" donations for years, scoring points by depicting Republicans as captives of fat-cat contributors. Many liberals privately opposed the ban, however, rightly predicting that it would exacerbate the Democrats' financial disadvantage because Republicans have a huge lead in "hard money" donations that fall under federal limits on size and source. Now outside activists are trying to make sure that the unrestricted "soft money" from corporations and wealthy individuals that the party can no longer accept keeps flowing into pro-Democrat efforts - a strategy that has the tacit approval of party leaders who backed the ban.
I linked to a Dick Morris column about the same shadow campaign structure yesterday.

The WSJ article is available only to subscribers of the WSJ.com website - if you want to read it and you're not a WSJ.com subscriber, leave your email address in the comments below and I'll send it to you. (To avoid spammers, substitute -at- for the @ in your email address.)

This is Scary
Al Qaeda is said to be planning a major new attack - with a biological or chemical weapon, according to a confidential UN report. Good Muslims everywhere should pray they don't ever manage to pull it off. Why? Because.


It's Over - The Newsies Just Don't Know It Yet
Jeff Jarvis, like me, has worked in the mainstream media. And, like me, he knows that technology is rendering the mainstream media's methods and practices obselete.

In this age of transparency - of constant cable news and C-Span's unblinking eye and instant online wire reports and mobile alerts and full transcripts online and more video here and weblog links to coverage everywhere and automated Google news searches and, in sum, the commoditization of news - the role of the newsman has utterly changed ... but that news hasn't caught up to the newsmen yet.

It used to be, we depended on them to tell us what is happening (and some prided themselves on doing it better than others). Those days are over. Toast. "What happened" is the commodity; we can find out what happened anywhere anytime.

The pressthink - if I can borrow Jay's term - evident in this tale is of pressthinkers still believing that we need them to report this news and that they stand in the position of gatekeeper and newsfeeder and grand informer. They don't want to admit that's over.

Bush could have put a webcam on his jet and we all would have watched. He could have put pix up on a weblog and we all would have clicked. The press crews add very little value to that as things stand now.

So their only option besides going along is to try to spoil the trip before and complain about it afterwards. The former isn't an option - see the Star Trek prime directive; do not interfere in history. So the latter is all that's viable - whine and stomp feet.

All this indicates the extinct pressthink of the transluscent age. We are now in the age of transparency: We can all see all the news and judge for ourselves what's news and what isn't, what's real and what isn't, what's important and what isn't, and often what's true and what isn't.

Do reporters and editors still have a role in the news we can all see (as opposed to the news they dig up)? Don't know yet, do we?
Jarvis knows what few in the news business get yet: it's all changing.

Operation Give Update
Fox News will feature Chief Wiggles, the U.S. Army soldier behind the Operation Give project, a toy drive for the children of Iraq, tonight, reports Instapundit

The Lonely World of the Delusional
Several months ago, a liberal blogger by the name of Barry Bozeman launched a blog named Rush Limbaughtomy in order to skewer the Right. It was intermittently funny but must just juvenile. His next blog was named HoggsOnline and started as a deliberate attack on my blog and me personally. I responded at first, but then decided to just ignore him.

Strangely, his site rocketed up the charts on the Blogosphere Ecosystem rankings.

Well, now we know why. Barry has been caught "gaming" the Ecosystem. It's a little more complicated than this, but in essence, Barry created numerous blogs, and relentlessly cross-linked between each site and drove up his Ecosystem ranking artificially. The ranking is based on the number of inbound links.

Further, Barry formed something called the "League of Liberals," a group of liberals' blogs that further juiced the links by also linking to Barry's duplicate blogs. As NZ Bear, the creator of the Blogosphere Ecosystem, explains it:

If you're wondering just how badly these blogs distorted the League's rankings, I'll draw your attention to the League's total inbound unique statistics from this morning, before I suspended these blogs: 8597 unique inbound links across all the League's blogs. With the removal of the duplicate blogs, the League now totals 5641 unique inbound links. That's right: 34% of the League's total unique links were due to these duplicate blogs. To League members, I ask you: is that really the way you want to advance?
Barry also was caught inflating his primary blog's visitor traffic data by placing the same SiteMeter "hit counter" on all of them. If you went to his primary blog, and then followed a link to one of his duplicate blogs, you were counted twice. Naturally, he climbed fairly high in the Ecosystem's ranking of blogs by average daily traffic, based on the SiteMeter data.

Kynn Bartlett explains the situation - and why he resigned from the League of Liberals. It has something to do with ethics.

NZ Bear, creator of the Blogosphere Ecosytem explains how Barry was gaming the rankings. (Link takes you to the latest developments; scroll down for earlier details.)

HobbsOnline, by the way, comes by its Ecosystem rankings honestly. I have not created multiple blogs to increase the number of inbound links, nor do I beg other bloggers to link to me. I am a member of exactly one blog "alliance," the Rocky Top Brigade, and only minimally - posting a link to the RTB's membership list and including a few RTB members on my blogroll. I rarely participate in the RTB's bi-weekly "Volunteer Tailgate Party" round-up of members' best posts, have never hosted it, and don't really want to. On Monday, for the first time ever, I hosted a similar type of bloggage roundup, the Carnival of the Capitalists, and don't expect to host it again for months.

According to the Ecosystem, my blog currently has 202 unique inbound links. That's 202 other blogs (mostly) that have linked to my site. Technorati, which tracks blogs' inbound links, says I currently have 181 inbound links from blogs.

I have my SiteMeter on just this one blog - and a second counter from Bravenet so you can see two independent reports of this blog's traffic. SiteMeter's and Bravenet's numbers vary somewhat, but it's safe to say my blog has at least 500 different readers each weekday. These are real readers - not phantom readers created by counting one reader two, three or a dozen times.

Every last one of my links and regular readers was gained honestly - by writing good stuff, being generous in linking to other bloggers' intelligent posts, and slowly building readership over time. Success - real success, not faked by gaming the rankings - is the most satisfying kind.

It's a Win-Win
Fellow Tennessee blogger Mike Lawson has a day job producing training CD-Roms. His newest, Safety & Security On Your PC, is now available and, being a good guy, Lawson says he'll give $1 to Operation Give, which coordinates the collection and distribution of toys and other items for Iraqi children.

More Thought-Provoking Thoughts About Provocation
Michael Williams disagrees with Donald Sensing's application of his interpretation of Jesus's instruction to "turn the other cheek."

UPDATE: And now Donald Sensing has some more response to his initial post, and comments there-upon.

Photo Finish to the Plame Game
Glenn Reynolds says a serious covert spy wouldn't pose for Vanity Fair, and pronounces the whole scandal "bogus."

Don't look at me. I said it was much ado about nothing months ago and saying it was a political attack by a leftwing nutball too, and that Plame and her hubbie were the ones most responsible for blowing her alleged CIA covert status.

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!*
* except for Democrats running for president
Here's the latest data on the health of the U.S. economy , via Reuters:

The vast U.S. services sector expanded robustly in November but growth slowed further than expected even as companies took on more workers, a report Wednesday showed. The Institute for Supply Management's (search) non-manufacturing index eased to 60.1 last month from 64.7 in October, well short of Wall Street forecasts for a more modest dip to 64.3. The employment index climbed to 54.9 from 52.9, the highest since March 2000, in the latest sign that the U.S. economy is finally growing quickly enough to create some jobs.

"We are beginning to see businesses becoming a little more willing to hire," said Gary Thayer, chief economist at A.G. Edwards & Sons in St. Louis, Missouri.

Ralph Kauffman, who heads up the services survey, said job creation suggested growth in the sector may be here to stay. A string of economic reports in recent weeks has not only hinted at continued strong U.S. growth in the fourth quarter, but also indicated that the recovery may be gathering enough momentum for employers to resume hiring.
It's Bush's fault!

Good News! Update
Michael Williams has some good commentary on that recent Boston Globe story about the surprising growth of evangelical Christian groups at liberal colleges in New England.

Do More Than Save Money By Switching to Geico
If you buy your auto insurance from Progressive Auto Insurance, you are helping make a rich guy named Peter B. Lewis even richer - and he is spending millions to support a Democratic plan to evade campaign finance reforms and spend millions to try to defeat George W. Bush.

After McCain-Feingold passed, a funny thing happened. The Democrats discovered they weren’t as good as Republicans are at raising hard money. At $2,000 per person, they could only come up with $66.5 million through the end of September of this year. In the same period, the Republicans raised $158 million.

So the Democratic Party, led by Clinton operative Harold Ickes, has catalyzed the formation of Americans Coming Together (ACT), an independent-expenditure organizations that hopes to raise and spend $94 million defeating Bush in 2004. To get it going, billionaire financier George Soros and Peter B. Lewis, chairman of Progressive Corp., each donated $10 million to the kitty.

The independent-expenditure effort amounts to more than just an attempt to continue to live off the soft money the Democrats had battled to ban. It is a virtual abandonment of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) as the central vehicle for the party’s campaign next year. Rather than stick with the hard-money-hobbled DNC, with all its limitations, reporting requirements and donation limits, Ickes and Co. are counting on ACT to free them from those bounds.

In effect, they have created an off-the-shelf, unregulated, uncontrolled, soft-money vehicle to run the campaign in 2004. Without the reporting obligations that the DNC has, the independent-expenditure organization can fund anything it wants - overt or covert - to advance the party agenda in 2004.

Soros's and Lewis's donations represent the most aggressive attempt by one or two men to take over the political system with their money since Steven Forbes tried it in 1996 and H. Ross Perot in 1992. But those two efforts at least had the saving grace of ego behind them. They were efforts by individuals to use their own wealth to achieve their political ambitions. The Soros and Lewis efforts are designed to use extraordinary wealth to control the outcome of democratic elections.
If you think Bush should be re-elected, and you insure your vehicles with Progressive, I think you should move your business to a different auto insurance company.

Funny Money: Economics Cartoon Hunt
I'm collecting funny economics-related cartoons. I've posted one in the post below, and have a few more, but if you see any on the Net, please send me the link. It's for a future post.

Howard Dean is Not Going to Like This
Productivity of U.S. companies rocketed at a 9.4 percent annual rate in the third quarter, the best showing in 20 years, offering an encouraging sign that the economic resurgence will be lasting, reports the AP.

The increase in productivity - the amount an employee produces per hour of work - reported by the Labor Department on Wednesday was even stronger than the 8.1 percent pace initially estimated for the July-to-September quarter a month ago. It was up from a 7 percent growth rate posted in the second quarter.

"The booming productivity gains are translating into better profits, which are now inducing businesses to expand activities - namely investing and hiring," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. "The report suggests that the economic expansion that is now unfolding will be solid and durable."
I wonder what this is going to mean for the Democrats running for President...

I'm certain they'll blame the Bush tax cuts.


Is Latent Entrepreneurialism a Threat to the Economy?
Bill Wellborn considers the results of a survey released by FedEx showing that two out of three workers in America would rather own their own business ... and sees the seeds of economic calamity.

The survey said 67 percent - that's two out of every three people for those of you challenged by percentages - dream about owning their own business. And 55 percent - that's every other person you have ever known - would leave their job tomorrow to start a business if a little thing like money were not an issue. I was flabbergasted. I was floored. I was fairly shocked at this revelation.

I wondered what would happen if two out of every three people employed in America suddenly quit their jobs and started their own businesses. The companies they left behind would probably fail because they wouldn't be able to find employees to fill the 67 percent that left. And the start-up businesses would eventually join the 96 percent of new businesses that the Department of Commerce predicts will fail within 10 years. Our economy would collapse, leaving the final opening Wal-Mart will need to take over the free world.
There's a lot more - read the whole thing.

Huh. I wonder what Jeff Cornwall thinks about this.

UPDATE: Well, now I know what Cornwall thinks about the FedEx survey. He also has a link to the FedEx PowerPoint presentation of the survey results, here.

UPDATE: It is interesting to me that, in the FedEx survey, "Become Wealthy" was not the top reason respondents said they had started a business or wanted to start a business. In fact, fewer than one in 10 gave that is their primary reason for starting a business or wanting to start a business - far more said they wanted to "Do Something You Love," "Be Own Boss," and "Have Work/Family Flexibility."

Moderate Muslims Should Join the War on Islamist Terror Because...
Because the alternative is unthinkable, and it's in all of our interests to keep it that way, says Steven den Beste:

I know my nation. I know my people. We don't want to destroy you all. But if you (I mean 'Muslims') place us in a position where only you or us can survive, it's going to be us, and you'll all be dead. We can do that; we've had that capability for a very long time. We don't want to, but we will if we must. ... If you learn nothing else about America, learn this and imprint it on your brain in glowing colors: we will never surrender. There are many ways this war can end. That's not one of them.
Long, and worth every minute you devote to reading it. (Even if you recall that I said pretty much the same thing with regards to Iraq here back on April 10. The simple truth is, if we don't act against Islamist terror now, we'll have to do it later. And if "later" comes after terror attacks more horrific and deadly than September 11, 2001, our response will be much more deadly. We're in Iraq trying to prevent that.

Licensing Illegals is a Risky Road
Here's an editorial criticizing the giving of driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

Taking the "practical" route of giving licenses to illegal immigrants who now drive without them will only further encourage more Mexicans and others to illegally cross the border, endangering their lives. Why lure more migrants to take such risks? ... Granting the licenses now would put expediency over legality, and put more migrants and the nation at risk.
I've got a proposal for a compromise. Give a temporary license, valid for one week only, to any illegal who will use it to drive back south of the border, go to a U.S. consulate and apply for a visa to enter the country legally.

Latest Economic News IS Doom ... For Some

Cartoon by Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel

They'll blame the Bush tax cuts.

UPDATE: Bush Up in Polls as Economy Improves

The President's poll numbers are rising, reports the AP.

President Bush's standing with the public has improved since his surprise Thanksgiving trip to Iraq amid signs of a stronger economy and following congressional passage of a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

Bush's job approval was at 61 percent in the National Annenberg Election Survey conducted the four days after the holiday, up from 56 percent during the four days before Thanksgiving. Disapproval of the president dropped from 41 percent to 36 percent, according to the poll released Tuesday.

Public opinion about Bush personally also improved during the four-day, post-holiday span, with an increase in the number who view him favorably from 65 percent to 72 percent. Republicans shifted from 83 percent with a favorable view of Bush personally to 94 percent. Democrats moved from 46 percent to 55 percent.

The public view of his handling of the economy also shifted from a 45-51 percent split before Thanksgiving to a public divided almost evenly on his handling of the economy, 50-48, afterward.
Success attracts support.

Economic Doom Update
The number of job cuts announced by U.S. employers fell 42 percent in November, according to data from the job placement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
On Friday, we'll get the November U.S. employment report which, according to a poll of economists by Reuters, is expected to report the unemployment rate held steady at 6.0 percent with an increase of 135,000 new non-farm sector jobs.

My prediction: Unemployment will drop to 5.9 percent, and the jobs increase will be significantly higher.

And you know exactly who I'll blame.

Meanwhille... this is a little old, but from the Nov. 14 Nashville Business Journal comes this:

Middle Tennessee's economic outlook is brightening further, a newly released survey shows.
So says the third-quarter 2003 edition of the Nashville Economic Index from Pinnacle Financial Partners and the MBA program at the Owen Graduate School at Vanderbilt University. Here's a link to the Index.

Church and State
The U.S. Supreme Court has taken up a case with broad church-state implications. Here's coverage in the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today. You can find a lot more stories via Google News.

When Joshua Davey graduated from high school in 1999, he won a Washington State scholarship to help pay for his college tuition. But when he declared he wanted to major in theology and become a minister, the state retracted its aid offer.

In Washington, only one area of college learning is off limits for a state scholarship: the study of religion as a participant, rather than as an observer. That is because the state constitution forbids spending any state taxpayer money in support of religion.

Tuesday, the US Supreme Court takes up Mr. Davey's case to consider whether Washington State acted properly in upholding its strict separation of church and state, or, instead, violated Davey's federal constitutional right to freely practice his religion.

The dispute is one of the most important cases of the term. If Davey wins, it will mark an important step in eliminating what some analysts view as state-authorized hostility toward religion. Analysts also say such a decision would help smooth the way for school-voucher programs and government funding for faith-based initiatives in virtually every state.

On the other hand, if Washington wins, it would represent a major victory for those who believe that the best way to preserve religious liberty in America is by maintaining strict separation between church and state. Likewise, analysts say a decision favoring Washington would likely complicate school-voucher and faith-based initiatives in the roughly 20 states that enforce a more hard-line view of the church-state divide than the US Supreme Court.
Lawyers for Davey say the state is discriminating against the religious. "By expressly singling out for special disabilities only those students, like Joshua Davey, who are pursuing theology degrees taught from a religious viewpoint, the state has committed a textbook violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment," says Jay Sekulow, in his brief on behalf of Davey.

Here in Tennessee, the state is about to launch a new lottery to raise money for college scholarships for academically eligible high school graduates. I kind of doubt Tennessee law requires the state to discriminate against students who, like Davey, wish to pursue a theology degree. Indeed, I hope not. What the state of Washington has done is give an advantage to the non-religious that it denies to the religious. It is blatant discrimination and it is wrong.

Donald Sensing is, as usual, provoking thought.

Turning the other cheek actually could well have been Jesus' admonishment to the people under oppression by the Romans and class structures to stop being passive and start resisting, but never to be the aggressor and to provide an opportunity for the oppressor to ponder the evil of his ways.
You probably were taught something very different way back in Sunday school as a child. But Sensing, as usual, backs up his contention with historical context.

Online Sales Taxe Update
Yesterday, I linked to something Les Jones wrote about whether high sales taxes drive people to shop online. Chip Taylor, whose blog I read not often enough, has more.

Taylor also has some excerpts and comments about a recent Christian Science Monitor story about states' budgets and tax structures.

Christmas List
I want this book for Christmas, in case you were wondering... Plus, the money goes to a good cause: supporting the awesome talents behind Cox & Forkum.

Operation Give Update
Dean Esmay has the latest on Operation Give, the toy drive for the children of Iraq.

You should know that Operation Give is alive and well. FedEx is now shipping our packages to Iraq for free. We've hooked up with Major Softy and the Iraqi Schools Project and are now collecting and shipping school supplies over there as well as everything else. We've had an amazing number of donations, and an incredible amount of support. I'm feeling guilty about not giving the project more time. I very much hope that if you're involved with any church, community group, or business which does charity work, you visit the Operation Give Web Site to check out the videos, flyers, and other promotional info you can use to get yourself and other people involved in the project.
Read the whole thing. And tell others about Operation Give.

Maybe Dean Should Talk Policy With Madonna*
Howard Dean says the solution to stopping Iran's growing nuclear weapons program lies in dealing with the Soviet Union. Said it on Hardball last night. But Michael Williams claims the Soviet Union ceased to exist more than a decade ago. I report, you decide. (P.S. Michael's right on his analysis of Dean's proposed policy vis a vis Iran's nukes, too.)

*Scroll down a bit...

UPDATE: Dean's comment snags him a Union Endorsement. Hah!

UPDATE Dec. 3: Steve Verdon thinks Howard Dean is not making sense in his foreign policy statements vis a vis North Korea, Iran and nukes. It's a thorough fisking of the stupid things Dean said on Hardball the other night.

We're Anticipating a Burst of New Readers Here!
There's a report at MediaPost.com on a survey by BURST! Media of around 12,000 Internet users which found that use of the Internet for finding information about next year's presidential race is expected to increase compared to the mid-term elections in 2002. That's not surprising as overall Internet access and usage continue to rise, but there are some interesting things deeper in the data.

Among self-identified "definite voters," the Internet is expected to play a much larger role as a resource for gathering information about candidates and the key issues they will cover than it did during the last election. Some 70 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 plan to use the Internet for that purpose, while the percentage is close to 60 percent in other definite voter age segments, according to the BURST! Media survey. Even among senior citizens, some 61 percent said they plan on using the Internet to gather political information, and the gender gap in previous surveys is closing as the number of women saying they will likely use the Internet to gather election information increased dramatically over the BURST! survey more than a year ago.

Says BURST!:

It is well documented that more and more individuals are turning to the Internet for their news and information - and for many segments it is the preferred media option. Candidates for office and interest groups will be remiss if they do not utilize the medium as an avenue to deliver in-depth position statements on issues that matter to voters.
Hmm. Maybe the BURST! survey data explains the recent strong growth in daily readership here at HobbsOnline.

Caution: Children Playing

"After a 90-minute policy discussion with Madonna..."
Reportedly, Madonna was impressed with candidate Wesley Clark. Yeah. This is gonna help Clark big time in flyover country.

Another Dirtball Bites the Dust
Here's some happy news to start your day. Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, one of Saddam's chief thugs, is probably dead or in U.S. hands.

UPDATE: 'Tis said to be not true. On the one hand, that's sad news. On the other hand, it means some GI may yet have the honor of ending Izzat Ibrahim's life and bringing Iraq one big step closer to peace.


Much Thanks
I've been remiss lately in saying "Thank you!" for the donations that have come in via the Amazon tip jar and PayPal, one or two a day. Thanks to each and every person who has donated. I'm not getting rich, but I'm having fun - and, hopefully, enriching your news-reading.

Self-Employment Boosting Economic Recovery
The Wall Street Journal has a story today with data showing how the growth in self-employment is boosting the U.S. economy.

Are start-up companies helping to drive the economic recovery? For months, economists who pore over the Department of Labor's employment surveys have suspected as much. That is because for the past 18 months, more and more Americans have been going off to work on their own. Self-employment has increased by 400,000 in the past year alone, according to a monthly survey of American households conducted by the Labor Department. But it has been hard to tell whether these new self-employed workers were really profiting from their ventures, or whether they were just biding their time during a period of painful unemployment.

Now, investment strategist Kenneth Safian says he has found evidence that small enterprises really are playing an important role in the recovery. The evidence is buried in the government's monthly personal-income report, which was released last week. Proprietors' income, which is the income earned by individuals from running their own businesses and from partnerships, is surging. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that proprietor's income, excluding the farm sector, was up 8.6% from a year earlier. By contrast, the wages and salaries of individuals on corporate payrolls were up just 2.3%.

Proprietor's income covers a broad swath of the economy - everything from larger law firms to one-person construction companies or tech consultants operating out of a home office. Mr. Safian, who is president of Safian Investment Research Inc., based in White Plains, N.Y., says the upshot of the latest trend is that more workers are striking out on their own and earning money doing it. The economy, he says, "is becoming more entrepreneurial."

If that is the case, it would say a lot about the dynamism of an economy that has been through series of shocks in the past three years. It might also help explain why official payroll employment levels have been so depressed in recent months. If more people are striking out on their own, then their job status in some cases wouldn't show up in the government's measure of employment levels at established businesses, which is down 2.4 million since the recession started in March 2001.
UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds had some thoughts a couple months ago on what the growth of self-employment and "cottage industry" would mean for society.

Are States' Economic Development Tax Incentives Unconstitutional?
Reader Ben Cunningham sent me a link to an interesting article on the web site of the respected Mackinac Center for Public Policy that explores where tax rebates and other incentives offered by various states to lure new businesses might violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

But a far more important development is Cuno, et.al. v. Daimler Chrysler, in which the plaintiffs argue that such incentives violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The case was filed by a number of parties, including two Michigan residents, and is aimed also at the state of Ohio and the city of Toledo.

The Cuno case is described as a "true test case" because it was brought largely to test the constitutionality of such programs. In March 2000, attorneys for the plaintiffs filed suit over a $300 million incentive package the state of Ohio offered to DaimlerChrysler in exchange for maintaining long-standing jeep production in Toledo, instead of opening a new plant in Michigan, just over the border.

The suit alleges that Ohio’s granting of property tax abatements and/or tax credits to DaimlerChrysler represents a violation of Commerce Clause restraints.


According to plaintiff counsel Peter Enrich, the Commerce Clause was designed to prohibit state regulation and tax policy from interfering with economic activity between the states. For example, one state may not raise barriers to competition with another state in order to protect its own interests.

But what about the power of a state being used to advance its own interests at the expense of another state? Does this not also constitute undue interference, on the part of that state, with interstate commerce? Enrich argues that the United States Supreme Court has "consistently struck down on Commerce Clause grounds, state tax breaks or benefits that discriminate against out-of-state economic activities or interstate enterprises." In other words, when one state provides financial incentives to a business to build or expand a facility within its borders, and those incentives make the investment less costly than it would otherwise be if it were invested in another state, the incentive is unconstitutional.

On the other hand, in their brief before the court, defendant’s attorneys argue that the Commerce Clause "… does not require that all states maintain the same taxing system and rates." In other words, incentives are just part of the states’ overall tax structures. Michigan may have a lower overall income tax burden, but the fact that a business locating in Michigan has lower taxes than one locating in Ohio doesn’t constitute discrimination against Ohio. Defendants argue that the Commerce Clause only prohibits states from erecting barriers to commerce. For instance, Ohio may not impose tariffs on Michigan-manufactured Cadillacs to protect Ohio-made Hondas.
For what it's worth, my thoughts:

Back in the early 1990s, when I was a reporter for the Nashville Business Journal, I wrote a series of stories exploring how Kentucky's more aggressive use of tax incentives was helping that state land a lot of new manufacturing company projects for which Tennessee was also on the short list. (None of the stories are online - this was before Al Gore invented the Internet.)

One key Kentucky incentive, called KREDA, allows eligible businesses to receive a 100 percent credit against the Kentucky income tax liability on taxable income generated by the project. In plain English, what it meant is that a company building a new plant in an economic distressed county could keep all of the state income tax paid by its new employees and use it to finance the construction of the new plant.

Tennessee, which did not and still does not have a state income tax (other than a tax on certain investment income), found it very hard to compete. Ultimately, the stories written by myself and fellow NBJ reporter Bill Lewis (who later became NBJ's editor, and now is a business reporter at The Tennessean) led to then-Gov. Ned McWherter reforming the state's economic development incentives. Though Tennessee's offerings remained far less generous than Kentucky's, they seemed to tilt the playing field somewhat back in Tennessee's favor. Key Tennessee incentives include state funds to pay for infrastructure improvements (rail lines, roads, utilities and such) for new plants and for communities to prepare new sites for industry, and funds for worker training. Those, combined with the state's excellent central location, good work force, low taxes and such, helped make Tennessee one of the leading states for economic development in the 1990s, with momentum that continues still.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy article raises the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down states' economic-development tax incentives and subsidies as a violation of the Commerce Clause. I hope not. Because if they do it is a short step from there to a future ruling declaring that all states must have identical tax codes, so that none would tax less and therefore be more attractive to businesses or individuals in other states.

After all, differing tax codes cause some people who live near a state border to leave their own state and shop in a neighboring state, don't they? Isn't that a case of a tax code influence interstate commerce?

The right view in my book is that the Commerce Clause was intended to prevent states from enacting punitive taxes and regulations on interstate commerce but was not intended to forbid states from deciding for themselves how to tax commerce within their own borders. And if such state tax codes are percieved by businesses and individuals in other states to be less onerous than the tax code in their own state, and they decide to relocate, or drive across the border to shop, the state with the more-onerous tax code has, after all, the constitutional right to lower taxes.

That view of the Commerce Clause protects an environment in which states compete to keep taxes low. Re-interpreting the Commerce Clause to outlaw economic development tax incentives removes the incentive for states to keep their taxes low. It also might create a perverse incentive for states to raise taxes. Why? Because other states would also have to do raise taxes in order to not run afoul of the Commerce Clause. State legislatures would see no downside to raising taxes, especially on business, since all other states would be forced to do likewise (and have no reason not to) and politicians from coast to coast would promise all sorts of new programs funded by the flood of new revenue, and tout those - instead of low taxes and generous tax incentives - as "economic development" lures. Another step on the road to cradle-to-grave socialism.

UPDATE: Michael Williams says "federalism is an application of competitive market principles to government," and calls for scaling back the Commerce Clause via repeal of the 17th Amendment, which replaced the selection of senators by state legislatures with the direct election of senators by the people of each state.

Does Sales Tax Influence Online Shopping?
Les Jones thinks so. He looks at the latest data from AOL's Online Shopping Cities survey, which tracks online spending around the country.

More Reasons for Democratic Presidential Candidates to Cry
From the Wall Street Journal: Manufacturing Activity Is Highest in 20 Years

Manufacturing in November showed the most robust activity in two decades, lifting employment in the sector higher than expected. The Institute for Supply Management, a private research firm, said Monday that its index of manufacturing activity rose to 62.8 last month from 57 in October. Providing solid evidence of an improving manufacturing jobs picture, the ISM employment index climbed to 51 from 47.7. The last time the employment gauge was above 50 was September 2000.

Readings of at least 50 point to strong growth in the industrial sector, which has lagged behind other sectors as the economy digs out of the recession that started in 2001. Economists had expected the industrial index would rise to 59, according to a survey by Dow Jones Newswires and CNBC.

Calling the survey results "astonishing," Ian Shepherdson, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics Ltd., said the latest reading is consistent with year-over-year growth in gross domestic product of about 7%. He added that the employment survey suggests "the three-year run of industrial job losses will soon end."
Also from the WSJ today: U.S. Home Prices Rise 5.61%, As Appreciation Accelerates.
The U.S. housing market continues to defy economists' expectations that higher mortgage rates would clip sales and curb appreciation. The average interest rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage was 5.9% in October, according to Freddie Mac.
CNN also notes the surging manufacturing sector and the good news on home prices.

I blame the Bush tax cuts!

Jobs Forecast
Dr. Cornwall over at The Entrepreneurial Mind points out new good economic reports - and makes a prediction for 2004: "The Federal Reserve issued a report that showed strengthening in employment and in manufacturing. These are two indicators that had been lagging up until now. The National Association for Business Economics also reports stronger employment. My prediction for 2004: Entrepreneurs will begin to report workforce shortages in several categories."

Jobs Disappear as Manufacturing Shifts Overseas
A nation's fragile economy is at risk as manufacturers shift more and more jobs overseas. The United States, right? No. Japan. And the U.S. - including Tennessee - is one of the beneficiaries of the trend.

Pieces of von Mises
Economist William H. Peterson describes how an encounter with famed economist Ludwig von Mises radically altered his thinking.

...Dr. Mises told us of subjectivism, of how mainstream economics embraces empiricism and so much ignores the vast and crucial economy of the mind--of how choices, values, and attitudes set the fate of the individual, the family, the firm, the state, or of organizations, societies, nations, even civilization itself, as witness the death of the Egyptian, Greek, and Roman civilizations.
Interesting stuff.

Economy Watch
Want to read stories that indicate how the economy is doing in various cities across the U.S. Each Monday, check the weekly Economic Snapshot from the American City Business Journal chain. I'm adding it to the list of economics links on my blogroll.

"This was a Latin Ohio with volcanoes and mule carts"
Michael J. Totten is travelblogging from Central America.

Some people think tourists ruin a place, distorting its character with their own. There is some truth to this. Mayan seamstresses around Lake Atitlán sell hippie clothes they wouldn´t wear if you paid them. But don´t think a place would improve if the tourists left it alone. Panajachel is prosperous by Guatemalan standards. Europeans, Asians, and people from all the Americas inject thousands of dollars into its economy every year. The standard of living is markedly higher than in the destitute towns between the lake and Antigua. Tourism breathes life and variety into Panajachel. If people stop coming, it will wither. Giving the place "back" to the locals will only hurt them.

That slender waist of green between our two vast Americas is itself another America, lush and fecund, tortured and hot, ancient and modern, European and Indian, prosperous and poor. It has a beauty that hurts, but it truly is not to be missed.
A very good read.

UT Hate Speech & Bias Update
Adam Groves has another good follow-up on the bias and hate-speech scandal involving the "Issues Committee" at the University of Tennessee. Groves, a UT student, has been blogging up a storm on the issue and has it well-covered, so from now on I'll probably post only brief items on this, with referal links to his blog, where you can Read the Whole Thing and Follow the Links.

Sunday Sermon
Here's your Sunday sermon for the week. I'll post a link to the audio when it becomes available. I look forward to hearing it - the Hobbs family stayed home Sunday as the two little ones had colds, Mom too, and Dad felt like he might be coming down with a cold of his own. Here's an excerpt from the pre-prepared text. Warning: No Hellfire and Damnation ahead...

Christians nowadays are too often willing to allow ourselves the luxury of dividing our experience of Christ into mutually exclusive categories of faith and obedience, believing and doing, claiming Christ as Savior and following him as Lord. I am rather sure that writers such as Paul, James, or Peter – and certainly our friend John – would find such distinctions meaningless.

On the one hand, all these biblical writers certainly affirmed that nobody could be saved by doing enough. Nobody can match the perfect commands of God with perfect obedience. Not one of us is without sin under law. There is no "merit system" in the Christian religion by which we balance our failures with good deeds that make up for them or tip the balance our way on the weighing scale of divine justice. The biblical argument for our lostness goes this way: the wages of sin is death, all of us are guilty of sin, anyone who denies he sins is both a liar and indicts God as a liar, and so . . . well, you can draw the conclusion even if you’ve never had a course in logic.

There is one and only one path to life. It has been blazed and marked for us by Jesus Christ – God among us to make atonement for sin and to effect a perfect reconciliation between God and humankind. No, Jesus himself is the path to God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one can have access to God except through him. So the essential proclamation of the Christian faith is not "Do this!" but "Believe this!" And what we are called to believe is the gospel – the good news that heaven has borne the burden of our redemption in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. We are neither asked nor expected to find our own way to God but to receive salvation as heaven's free gift through faith in Christ alone.

On the other hand, it has been the fatal error of many attempts at Christian theology to equate faith in Christ alone with faith that stands alone. In his effort to keep his followers from mistaking and misapplying his teachings, John Calvin used to say, "It is faith alone that justifies, but the faith that justifies is never alone."
One line in that intro sticks out - There is no "merit system" in the Christian religion by which we balance our failures with good deeds that make up for them or tip the balance our way on the weighing scale of divine justice. On the other hand, there is Islam, in which charity is motivated by fear rather than faith - motivated by a desire to suppress the wrath of Allah.

Economic Doom Watch
Steven Antler, the EconoPundit, says "The best available econometric evidence suggests the US economy can easily afford current and future deficits with few ill-effects. It may time to acknowledge if a catastrophic great unraveling were genuinely in store for us, we'd have lots more indications of this fact it by now." Read the whole thing and scroll around a lot while you're there - Antler's economics blog is one of the best.

Bush in Baghdad
David Warren says he did more than feed turkey to the troops - he broke an impasse in negotations involving the Iraqi Governing Council and the timing and methods of future elections in Iraq.

What You Don't Know About Howard Dean
What is Howard Dean hiding? Newsweek reports on the presidential wannabe's attempt to keep you from knowing too much about his governance of Vermont:

As investigative reporters and "oppo" researchers flock to Vermont to dig into Howard Dean’s past, they have run into a roadblock. A large chunk of Dean’s records as governor are locked in a remote state warehouse - the result of an aggressive legal strategy designed in part to protect Dean from political attacks. Dean - who has blasted the Bush administration for excessive secrecy - candidly acknowledged that politics was a major reason for locking up his own files when he left office last January. He told Vermont Public Radio he was putting a 10-year seal on many of his official papers - four years longer than previous Vermont governors- because of "future political considerations... We didn’t want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time."

Late last year, Newsweek has learned, Dean’s chief counsel sent a directive to all state agencies ordering them to cull their files and remove all correspondence that bore Dean’s name - and ship them to the governor’s office to be reviewed for "privilege" claims.
What doesn't Dean want you to know?

Saddam's Strategery
There is a fine analysis of Saddam's flailing - and failing - military tactics over at the Belmont Club blog.

To fully understand these tactics, one must go back to the beginning of Saddam's campaign to drive out American troops. In those early days, six months ago, Iraqi infrastructure were the prime targets. Oil pipelines and electricity grids were attacked, leading the press to breathlessly proclaim that the reconstruction was going badly, even backward. But the campaign never achieved decisive results. Today, oil production exceeds two million barrels per day and even the press admits that electricity is increasingly available throughout the country. Plan A forgotten, it was on to plan B.
Now Saddam's on Plan G. Read the whole thing. And don't miss this follow-up, in which is hilariously answered the question, "Is Saddam a military genius?"

Also, Belmont Club has an interesting analysis of enemy losses, noting that we're killing and capturing many more of Saddam's dwindling forces than we are losing in dead and wounded. Belmont Club's prediction: "An overwhelming defeat is engulfing Ba'athist forces. The principal reason is that the enemy losses are eating up his seed corn."

Belmont Club is a new addition to my blogroll.

Whose Quagmire Is It, Anyway?
The number of Fedayeen Saddam militia members thugs killed in action yesterday near Samarra, Iraq, has been raised from 46 to "at least 54," according to this report. Meanwhile, the U.S. military suffered just five wounded. This war is shaping up to be a real quagmire ... for the remnants of Saddam's brutal regime. Meanwhile, here is an interesting report that says the Fedayeen ambushed the American convoy while it was on a mission to deliver nw Iraqi currency to banks. The BBC also reports one of the two convoys attacked in Samarra was delivering currency to the bank.

If these reports are true it makes me wonder: Were the Fedayeen trying to steal the money? And if so, is it because the anti-American side is running low on funds?