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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Unlike some newspapers, we don't bury corrections on page D-47. We post them right up here at the top. A few days ago, I posted this item criticizing a local TV news reporter for implying that that one reason we don't know how good or bad the holiday shopping season was is the rapid growth in the giving of "gift cards" - those credit card-like payment cards that are really just fancy gift certificates. I said that was silly because, with gift cards, "the retailer has already made the sale. The money is in the bank. They're just waiting for you to pick out the merchandise."

That's true - but wrong.

According to Robert Musil, who seems to know about these things: And there has been a huge increase in the popularity of gift "certificates" and "cards", which are not accounted for until they are redeemed for merchandise. That all means that the holiday retail season now runs well into January. Nobody will know if there was a "lump of coal" left for the retailers this year until around February 1.

He's right, of course. At many retailers, when someone spends most of a gift card's balance, the remainer is returned to the customer in cash. The money is in the bank, but can't be accounted for until later. I don't know if the TV reporter knew that - or just blundered into the truth - but I should have done a little more research.

I found Musil's comment on gift cards in his long dismemberment of a recent column by the New York Times' Paul Krugman. It's worth reading.


All Wet
The Memphis Commercial-Appeal reports on plans for a new reservoir in rural Carroll County, and speculates the new lake could be a catalyst for economic development in the economically distressed county.

I don't know if a fake lake can turn around the economic fortunes of a county, but I hope they're right. And if 10 years from now we look back and see lake-driven economic progress in Carroll County, the fact that the feds delayed the project for 20 years because of a myriad of environmental over-regulation will be all the more sad. Think of it: economic progress delayed for a generation of people because of concerns over wetlands.

After nearly two decades of studies and fruitless proposals, state and federal officials recently approved a Clean Water Act permit authorizing a reservoir along Reedy Creek, near U.S. 70.

For an object lesson on the merits of reservoirs, officials had to look only about 20 miles to the south, to Lexington, where Beech Lake and other reservoirs have attracted visitors and home-builders. "The development around those lakes is phenomenal," McBride said. But major funding and environmental obstacles stood in the way of the project. First, the right site had to be found. Officials looked at 11 potential reservoir locations, but most were deemed unfeasible because they would flood large wetland areas or have poor water quality. The Reedy Creek site was chosen primarily because it involves the least amount of wetlands. Still, it faced objections from environmental regulators. The dam, to be composed of 400,000 cubic yards of fill, will flood 9 miles of the creek, dramatically altering the aquatic habitat, and inundate 119 acres of wetlands.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, noting the damage, said in comments filed with the Corps of Engineers there was "lack of apparent need for this project." As EPA pointed out, Carroll County is only about an hour's drive from one of the largest reservoirs in the Southeast, Kentucky Lake.

That's the EPA for you - putting wetlands ahead of people! (And you just thought the purpose of the EPA was to protect the environment for the people who live in it!)

Local officials, in response, described the reservoir project as their best hope for improving the county's tax base and economy. Golf course developments, they said, aren't nearly as successful in luring development. The Clean Water Act permit was approved only after local officials offered an ambitious and complex plan to mitigate the environmental impacts. The mitigation plan includes the restoration of some 300 acres of wetlands that had been converted to crop fields and the preservation of 81 acres of existing swamp. Even more importantly, 2 miles of a local stream that had been routed into a flood-control canal will be put back in a meandering channel.

Religion of Peace® Update
This story of murder and mayhem brought to you by Islam, the Religion of Peace®.

A suspected Muslim extremist, cradling his hidden gun like a baby under his jacket, slipped into a Southern Baptist hospital in Yemen on Monday and opened fire, killing three American missionaries and seriously wounding a fourth, officials said.

It's Getting Late
Michael Ledeen says we need to moving faster to affect regime change in .... Iran. I agree. It's time the U.S. let the people of Iran unequivocally that if they rise up against their Islamofacist rulers, we'll support them with whatever it takes to assure their victory and the transition of Iran to a democracy.


I'm Guessing Both
Reader Stanton Brown sends this story from the Los Angeles Times, headlined "Many States Face Gloomy Budget Choices," along with a comment:

Note that there is no mention of incredibly bloated budgets during the flush years. This story is an example of either blatant propaganda or mind-numbing incompetence.

The answer is probably both: The reporter took in propaganda from the National Governors Association and a variety of government officials who can't fathom cutting spending and would rather raise taxes and increase spending, and in his incompetence failed to consider alternative data and viewpoints.

It Adds Up To Incompetence
I've said for years that journalists generally suck at math - and regularly expose journalists' math incompetence on this blog. I recently noted the work of Donald Luskin exposing either bias or incompetence at the New York Times in reporting on whether CSX had paid corporate income tax under the leadership of CEO John Snow, President Bush's choice to become the nation's next Treasury Secretary. Now there is academic research backing up my contention that journalistic coverage of business and other stories where basic math is involved is often filled with errors.

A content analysis of the Vancouver Sun newspaper and a math quiz administered to journalism students at the University of B.C. revealed that both working reporters and journalism students have waded in - and they are drowning in the numbers. They have difficulty performing simple mathematical calculations, they struggle to contextualize data and they disengage their critical faculties when it comes to numbers. It is not that the math that they must use is rocket-science - in fact most involves no more than elementary or high school math - it is simply that they refuse to ask, "Does this make sense?"

Lessons From California
Remember how you were told that an income tax would be a more reliable source of revenue for the state of Tennessee? Consider the lessons of California, says Orlando Sentinel columnist Peter A. Brown.

California's political leaders have been living in a financial fantasy land. Not only did they spend like drunken sailors, but they assumed that the bar would never close. California's economy would be among the world's six largest if it were a nation. It faces a projected budget deficit of almost $35 billion in the next 18 months. To put that in perspective, California's government spends about a sixth of the total outlays by states nationally, yet its deficit is more than a third of the total of the other 49 states.

All states now face tough times, but California's per-capita deficit dwarfs the others. Other mega-states, such as Florida and Texas, with less-generous government programs, proportionately smaller work forces and no income tax, are much better off. Their income is based on sales taxes, which might not be progressive, but their revenues have been more reliable.

That has certainly been true in Tennessee, which would now be suffering a major fiscal crisis rather than a minor revenue shortfall if the state had adopted an income tax three years ago, as the governor wanted.

Big Brother in Tennessee
Think you have a right to privacy in your medical decisions? You don't, at least under a new Tennessee law that will put the government in charge of monitoring your use of prescription drugs.

According to this AP roundup of new state laws:

Tennessee is requiring pharmacies to report prescriptions to a central data base, where a committee will seek to detect patterns of drug abuse. "We hope ultimately to be able to identify patients early on and prevent them from getting into an abusing situation," said Baeteena Black, executive director of the Tennessee Pharmacists Association.

The new law, effective Jan. 1, 2003, was developed by the Tennessee Board of Pharmacy and will establish a controlled substance monitoring program in Tennessee through establishment of an electronic controlled substance database housed in the Department of Commerce and Insurance within the Board of Pharmacy.

The law, called the Controlled Substances Monitoring Act of 2002, states:

The purpose of the database is to assist in research, statistical analysis and the education of health care practitioners concerning patients who, by virtue of their conduct in acquiring controlled substances, may require counseling or intervention for substance abuse, by collecting and maintaining data as described in this part regarding all controlled substance in Schedules II, III and IV dispensed in this state.

In other words, government snoops will be watching your medical decisions, second-guessing your doctors and deciding you need "counseling."

The snooping will be administered by a "multidisciplinary Controlled Substance Database Advisory Committee made up of fourteen representatives from the Board of Pharmacy, the Board of Medical Examiners, the Board of Nursing and various health-related boards in the Department of Health," according to the TPA. Please note, there is no representative on the board who is an expert in privacy rights.

It is expected to take 12 to l8 months to get the database fully operational. Incidentally, the law makes no provision for you to know what records the government is keeping on your prescription drug use.

The Tennesseee Pharmacists Association lobbied for the new law. All of the sudden I don't feel so bad about Tennessee's 142,000 pharmacists being hit with a $28.4 million tax increase - the doubling of the professional privilege tax to $400 in June 2003.


Another Frist "Scandal" Debunked
InstaPundit is doing yeoman's work at peeling back the layers of an alleged mini-scandal involving incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and finding there's no there there.

At the very least, claims that Frist was acting secretly in support of the language are contradicted by the speech -- on the Senate floor -- supporting the language. And claims that this was some sort of sleazy corporate bailout would seem to be contradicted by the words from the Rosalynn Carter - Betty Bumpers Campaign. Unless the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy has gotten really, really vast.

This earlier Instapundit post has more details, and explains how the liberal media is spreading false information either intentionally or because of shoddy work.

Pencil It In
You've heard the cliche about how a lie can travel around the world before the truth gets its sneakers laced up? Well, the blogosphere is changing that. Almost as soon as the New York Times recycled the ridiculous "Sharp Pencils" story from Bill Frist's 1994 Senate campaign, I responded with an insider's view of how that story was covered at The Tennessean, where I worked at the time, and how most reporters were embarrassed by the silly notion that Frist's comments were in any way racial.

My comments were later reported by Instapundit, Kausfiles and the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com "Best of the Web" feature, and now by columnist Jonah Goldberg. Although the NYT routinely sets the tone for political coverage nationally, and most other papers and TV news follow its lead and recycle its stories, the NYT's mention of the pencils incident got almost no traction.

Other than on a few whiny Left-wing blogs, the pencils story has been smudged out.


Recommended Blogs
I just added a blog by this Aussie to my list of fine blogs. Check him out. Good stuff. Also -belatedly - added Pejman Yousefzadeh's blog to the list. Pejman, who writes often for TechCentralStation.com, writes mostly about terrorism, war, the Middle East and Iran. And does so very well.


What's to Blame for Oregon's Budget Woes?
As Tennesseans look back at the almost-over Sundquist administration and remember how the administration blamed Tennessee state government’s budget gap on the state's lack of an income tax (rather than on over-spending), it's instructive to look at the situation in Oregon. Why? Because Oregon doesn't have a sales tax. It has only an income tax. It is the flipside of Tennessee. Thus, you would think that it would have no revenue problems at all. We were told, after all, that the sales tax was the problem and the income tax was the cure.

So, Oregon has no budget problem, right? Wrong, says the Portland Oregonian newspaper.

Rising unemployment, business failures and plunging stock prices have driven down the state's income tax collections. The amount has fallen far short of paying for the roads, school support, prisons and other government services in the 2001-03 budget. As the shortfall worsened, lawmakers held a record five special sessions to fill what became a $2 billion hole in the $12.3 billion budget. Cutting spending is one of the main ways they've kept the budget in balance, as the law requires. That has kept officials busy for most of the year deciding how to strip more than $900 million by the time the budget period ends June 30, 2003.

It seems the income tax is to blame for Oregon's budget problems. It is not alone. In fact, many states that have income taxes have worse budget problems than Tennessee did in the past three years, and far worse than the minor revenue shortfall Tennessee is now facing. As I've said before, Tennessee dodged a bullet by not adopting an income tax.

A Different Perspective
What do America's socialists have to say about all those states raising taxes to balance their budgets? They don't like it - but not for the same reasons as conservatives.

The impending attacks on public services by the Democrat in California and the Republican in New York, whose reelection in each case was backed by major trade unions, underscores the basic agreement of the two capitalist parties when it comes to making workers pay for the economic crisis. With the assistance of the broadcast and print media, these politicians were allowed to wage their successful campaigns for reelection while keeping silent about their plans—undoubtedly already being developed during the election period—for a frontal assault on the living standards of the working class.

Socialists, of course, would prefer a sneak attack on the living standards of the working class, slowly undermining the economy through increased regulation, taxation, central planning and such - all the while telling you it's "for the children" and "for the working class" - until we have the high taxes and chronically high unemployment and much lower living standards of Western Europe.

We'll Not Kow Tow to the French!
I love it when Victor Davis Hanson tells the truth via satire:

The administration also announced that it would veto any U.N. resolution that allowed the French to retaliate against Libya for the Bastille Day destruction of the Louvre that cost the lives of 3,000 French citizens and destroyed an icon of French power and culture. President Bush reiterated that the United States would not take part in any "preemptory" action against the people of Libya as part of allotting "collective" guilt for the Louvre massacre.

Hanson's more recent essay looks at post-war Iraq.

The results will have ramifications that make those in Afghanistan pale in comparison — and perhaps change both the complexion of the present war and the Middle East itself in ways we can now scarcely imagine. Current polls reflect widespread dislike of the United States in the Middle East. But what will such surveys reveal in six months, when an odious Saddam Hussein is removed and something follows far better than both him and the other autocrats in the region? Look at the change in Kabul for the answer. In the post-Saddam chaos, a daily staple of news reports will be tours of Saddam's Ceausescu-like palaces and exposés of material excesses that would make Imelda Marcos blush - along with horrific tales from survivors of his gulag and glimpses into his labyrinth of torture. It won't be a pretty picture.

More interesting is Hanson's take on how the war will impact the American Left:

The American left has missed yet another train as it was leaving. Currently it is reeling from an array of staggering developments that in the post-Cold War era threaten to leave it as discredited as segregationist Republicans were during the civil-rights movement. Anti-Semitism is suddenly more commonly a phenomenon of the academic Left than of the old, white, Neanderthal Right. Multiculturalism and cultural equivalence have been refuted by the ghoulish nature of the Taliban; the more the world learns about the "alternative" universe of Saddam Hussein and kindred Middle Eastern regimes, the more it shudders in horror.

Censorship, catcalls at lectures, and the stealing of newspapers are not Mr. Ashcroft's doing but now also a hallmark of the campus Left - mostly ignored by timid college presidents. Amnesty International and the United Nations mollify rather than oppose odious regimes. Pacifism does not work in a world where the World Trade Center is incinerated. The hysterics of a Chomsky, Vidal, Mailer, or Said - never really refuted by the more responsible Left - were proved harebrained by the rapidity and economy of the American victory and the benevolent nature of the Karzai government in Afghanistan.

Exaggerating the collateral damage from the most precise weapons in military history, inflating by magnitudes of ten and more civilian casualties, spreading ad hoc conspiracy theories about pipelines, oil, and Texas corporations, raising doomsday scenarios of global anti-Americanism and nuclear hysteria in the Middle East - all that is about the extent and quality of the current anti-war exegesis, itself mostly discredited by its previous and completely wrong predictions concerning Afghanistan.

So in the few days that are left, in the calm before the storm, the Left should scramble to reclaim its moral currency by condemning our enemies and disassociating itself from appeasement. If it does not, the 2004 elections may well resemble 1972 or 1980 in their lopsidedness. The shrillness of Kerry more and more resembles a 1972 McGovern or 1980 Carter.

Sounds good to me.

Those Peaceful Palestinians
The leader of the militant Palestinian group Hamas says Israel will be destroyed within 25 years. The leader is one Sheik Ahmad Yassin, a Muslim and member of Islam-The Religion of Peace®. Yassin (rhymes with "assassin") made the prediction in front of "thousands of supporters at a rally in Gaza," reports ABC News Online:

The spiritual leader of Hamas says suicide attacks against Israel will continue and the Jewish state has less than a quarter of a century to live. The aging activist gave a speech to more than 30,000 supporters in the Gaza strip. He urged his followers to continue the holy war against Israelis.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, which operates ABC News Online, may call Yassin a "spiritual leader," but I don't. There is nothing spiritual nor holy about sending youngsters strapped with explosives to kill innocent civilians in pizza parlors, on buses and at Passover seders.

Speaking of the Religion of Peace®, some of its adherents in Chechnya just killed a bunch of people in two spectacular truck bomb attacks.

Suicide bombers drove two trucks packed with explosives through cordons protecting the headquarters of Chechnya's pro-Moscow government Friday and then detonated them, killing at least 46 people and wounding 70 more, the Russian government said. Viktor Shkareda, deputy head of the Emergency Situations Ministry in southern Russia, said 46 people were confirmed dead in the blast and 70 wounded. Rescuers were finding fragments of other bodies as they scrabbled through the heaps of broken concrete and shattered glass, officials said.

Both drivers are believed to have died in the blasts. Well, at least it's not all bad news.

No-Brainer Headline of the Week
From ABC News Online: Majority of Israelis favour US offensive in Iraq

Gee. Whodathunkit.

War Update
As war with Iraq looks increasingly imminent, can the U.S. really fight two wars at one time? Or did the Clinton administration so hollow out the military in the 1990s that a move to liberate Iraq could open the door to North Korean adventurism? DefSec Donald Rumseld says we can. And we may have to as the North Koreans are very publicly restarting their nuclear weapons program and rattling sabers toward an appeasement-oriented South Korea.

And now the United Nations says North Korea is violating the terms of the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.

The North Korean army has brought light machine guns into the Demilitarized Zone, the United Nations Command on the Korean Peninsula said Friday -- a violation of agreements signed in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. A U.N.C. Military Armistice Commission investigation revealed that the North Koreans had brought into the DMZ automatic weapons, the kind that can be operated by crews. They were observed transporting, setting up and manning Type-73 light machine guns on six days between December 13 and December 20.

The two-war scenario is edging toward reality. Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times looks at the critical question: can the U.S. successfully handle two simultaneous conflicts if we have to?

The United States is in the midst of a major military buildup in the Persian Gulf for what could well be an invasion this winter to oust Saddam from power. If North Korea attacks South Korea while the United States has troops invading Iraq, the Pentagon would be faced with a whirlwind of decisions. Some domestic units are designated for war in both the Pacific and Gulf theaters. Gen. Tommy Franks, who would direct an invasion of Iraq, might have to relinquish some of his requested 250,000 troops to block the North Korean advance. This could prolong the war against Iraq and increase U.S. casualties...

Pyongyang has picked this time to announce the resumption of its nuclear program as the United States is involved in a crisis in the Gulf to test Mr. Bush. One scenario is that Mr. Bush is forced to order air strikes on North Korea's nuclear facilities to prevent the quick assembly and use of nuclear weapons. North Korea, whose communist regime has brought famine to the country, may respond by invading South Korea.

North Korea has more than 1 million troops stationed near or on the border with South Korea. The warning time for an attack is measured in hours, not days. The United States has a "trip wire" force of 37,000 troops in South Korea and another 60,000 sailors, Marines and airmen in the region. They, and the well-trained South Korean army, would need reinforcements almost immediately to protect Seoul from a massive artillery barrage and occupation.

"In fact, the force in place is little more than an emergency 'stopper' that is supposed to hold until reinforcements arrive," said a Navy officer. "But the forces in Japan, Okinawa and the United States are already too shallow and will be further reduced for Iraq. I see no way they could take the offensive and win even if they could hold."

Things may get really dicey really fast really soon. But the alternative - letting psychos like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Il build nuclear weapons - is beyond unthinkable.

UPDATE: THe Memphis Commercial-Appeal says North Korean nukes are really a problem for China to solve.

Owens in 2008?
Is Colorado Gov. Bill Owens laying the early groundwork for a presidential run in 2008? He's going to start a conservative think tank, reports the Rocky Mountain News.

Gov. Bill Owens and his closest advisers this month founded a conservative think tank dedicated to the study of limited government, lower taxes, the environment and "strong families." The Center for the New American Century is hoping to pull in at least $500,000 from its first fund-raiser - the inauguration dinner and ball that kicks off Owens' second term.

"The Center for the New American Century promotes the ideas and values that will shape a free and prosperous America in the 21st century," reads a card enclosed with inauguration invitations. Owens will serve as chairman of the non-profit organization's board.

For more on Owens, click here and here and here and here and here and here.

Left-Handed Economics
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist, shows his left-of-center leanings in a column today looking at the future of the economy.

Finally, there's the desperate plight of the states. New estimates by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities show that state governments are facing their worst fiscal crisis since the 1930's. Since Washington shows no interest in helping, states will be forced into desperate expedients. Taxes, mainly taxes that fall most heavily on the poor and the middle class, will go up. Spending on education and, especially, health care will be slashed, with the heaviest toll falling on struggling low-wage workers and their children.

In Krugman's left-of-center world, reducing spending is always bad. But the alternative, taxes on "the poor and the middle class," are bad too. Poor Krugman. Can't have it both ways, Krugman. If you want government to have a lot of money to spend, they have to take it from a broad cross-section of their populations - which means, yes, higher taxes on the middle class and even the working poor.

Krugman continues: "Aside from the resulting suffering, the efforts of states to balance their budgets will be a significant drag on the economy, probably several times larger than the boost from the administration's so-called stimulus program."

Krugman can't quite bring himself to say it clearly - it is not "efforts of states to balance their budgets" that will be a drag on the economy, it is the big tax increases that many states will use to balance their budgets that will be a drag on the economy.

Spending cuts help the economy, long term, by reducing upward pressure on taxes. States that resort solely to spending cuts to balance their budgets this year and in the coming years match spending to revenue without raising taxes will, inevitably become lower-taxed states in comparison to states that raise taxes to balance their budgets. And lower-taxed states generally enjoy stronger economic growth.

This is Amazing
If, that is, it really works.

The Alaris Media Network "intends to deduce demographic information from the radio stations drivers are listening to and then display advertising aimed at them based on income, sex, race and buying habit data. He said the idea was not to single out individuals, but drivers en masse," reports the New York Times. For instance, if a preponderance of rush-hour drivers are tuned to a radio station known to have affluent or educated listeners, then the advertisements at that time would be aimed at them."


Speaking of Bad Business Journalism
Mimi Bliss, a competent television news reporter for WSMV-Channel 4 in Nashville, did the traditional day-after-Christmas shopping story for the local news program Thursday night and hit all the usual notes about post-Christmas sales and crowded malls, but one part of her story seemed a bit off. Bliss said that the holiday season shopping totals wouldn't really be known until after January 1, because of post-Christmas shopping. But then she implied that one reason for the season's numbers not to be tallied yet was the rapid growth in the giving of "gift cards" - those credit card-like payment cards that are really just fancy gift certificates. If she'd thought about it long enough, Bliss wouldn't have made that implication. Because with gift cards the retailer has already made the sale. The money is in the bank. They're just waiting for you to pick out the merchandise.

It's alright to get your wrecks-and-fires coverage from TV - I just wouldn't bank my financial future on their business coverage.

Don't Believe Everything You Read
Especially if it's in the New York Times, which reported - falsely - that CSX paid no federal income tax during the years 1998-2001, based on calculations by the labor-backed Citizens for Tax Justice. The claim has been thoroughly debunked, says Donald Luskin, author of the book The Conspiracy to Keep You Poor and Stupid.

Luskin says CTJ's figures "arbitrarily focus on the amount of taxes physically paid during arbitrary regulatory reporting periods, rather than the much larger amount of taxes accrued on the company's books to be paid in the future when they become legally due." He continues:

The full reality is that CSX's profits are taxed as fully as anyone else's -- indeed, in that one year of the last four when taxes were physically paid, they exceeded 100% of profits for that regulatory reporting period. Did the New York Times do any original research into CSX's financial reports to verify or qualify the claims of Citizens for Tax Justice, whom the reporters themselves admit are biased? No, they just reported those claims as facts, and absolved themselves of responsibility as they absolved themselves of hard work -- by noting the source and (sort of) disclosing potential bias. Job done. Time to go home for Christmas, or "remember the neediest," or whatever New York Times business reporters do with all the spare time that is freed up by not having to report facts.

Luskin explains how the "inaptly named" Citizens for Tax Justice arrived at its misleading contention - designed to undermine President Bush's choice as his new Treasury secretary, CSX CEO John Snow - here.

The Citizens for Tax Justice press release has deliberately ignored CSX's deferred taxes as though they don't exist, in order to create the misleading impression that the company has found a way to never pay any taxes. Very simply, this is a lie of omission. But nonetheless, a lie.

Luskin's site has been added to my list of good websites.

Incidentally, Nashville's daily paper, The Tennessean, is on the warpath against Snow, though I doubt he knows or cares. And their beef has nothing to do with the false allegation that CSX paid no corporate income taxes (though you can easily imagine them tossing that into a future anti-Snow editorial). You can read the paper's anti-Snow editorial for yourself, or save some time by reading the short version below, courtesy of the handy HobbsOnline Tennessean Editorial Translatoramatic:

"You can't trust John Snow. Because he's rich."

The Un-Activist
I have to agree with Glen Reynolds and Radley Balko on this one:

Tiger Woods’ refusal to be a pawn for leftist activists is an important breakthrough in America’s long and tired arm-wrestling with race. His silence is in itself a powerful statement. It says that we might finally be nearing the day when merit and achievement can transcend color, sex and demographics. It says that achievement in itself is a form of "giving back" to the "community." Most importantly, it secures the "rights" of successful people of color to be able to think for themselves -- they needn’t think and say only what self-appointed civil rights leaders tell them to.

Holiday Sales Update
Retailers continue to complain about holiday sales being up by only a small percentage. But consumers will benefit big-time:

"U.S. retailers, reeling from a lackluster holiday season that is forecast to be the weakest in more than 30 years, may ring in the new year with steep markdowns on clothing, accessories - and profit forecasts," reports the Washington Post.

Four Day School Weeks
I've blogged in the past about the small but growing trend of school districts - mostly in rural communities - shifting to four-day school weeks (with longer school days) and finding it enhances academic performance and saves money. Here's a story on the trend from the Washington Post. I'll have more comment later after I've had a chance to read the whole story - and when I'm at home rather than blogging from the Comcast kiosk at over-crowded CoolSprings Galleria mall. Here's one interesting quote from the story:

Last week, Colorado Gov. Bill Owens issued a report card on each of the state's public schools. The results showed no difference in student achievement between four-day and five-day systems, the state said.

Good Point
A reader sends a link to this column by Sen. John Kerry and notes, accurately, that if a Republican had suggested the same thing, "The headline would read "GOP Attacks Social Security Again!"


Our Friends, the Saudis
Our friends, the anti-Christian, racist, anti-semitic, terrorist-funding Saudis.

The Real Racist Roots of the Lott Affair
It's worth remembering that Trent Lott got his start in politics by working for a pro-segregationist Democrat congressman. It's also worth remembering that Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 as a "Dixiecrat" - and the Dixiecrats were a spinoff of the Democratic Party. It's also worth noting, says Charles Paul Freund, senior editor of Reason, that one of the Democrats's most honored former presidents, Woodrow Wilson, was a racist who made segregation of blacks federal policy.

Wilson's historical reputation is that of a far-sighted progressive. That role has been assigned to him by historians based on his battle for the League of Nations, and the opposition he faced from isolationist Republicans. Indeed, the adjective "Wilsonian," still in use, implies a positive if idealistic vision for the extension of justice and democratic values throughout the world. Domestically, however, Wilson was a racist retrograde, one who attempted to engineer the diminution of both justice and democracy for American blacks—who were enjoying little of either to begin with.

Obviously, Southern hopes that Wilson could force blacks into servility were always delusional. Nevertheless, Wilson's Jim Crow presidency remained an available model for segregationists and supremacists who came later. Thurmond and his fellow Dixiecrats didn't necessarily require a model of triumphalist racism, but the point is that in Wilson they had one. The Lott Affair has been treated as if its origins lie in 1948; they don't. The past isn't dead, said Mississippian William Faulkner. "It's not even the past." He might have added that the past we attempt to grapple with usually isn't even the real past.

When Up is Down
Merry Christmas!

It was another record year for retailers this holiday shopping season, but that's not the story you'll hear from the mainstream press. No, you're gonna hear gloom-and-doom stories like this one from the New York Times, which moans about how retail sales were up just 1 percent over last year.

Statistics from the International Council of Shopping Centers show that holiday sales increases in the last three years have steadily shrunk — from a 9.5 percent increase in 1999 to just a 4 percent gain in 2000 and a slim 2.3 percent jump last year.

The paper notes the rise of online shopping and a very high level of discounting, but doesn't make three important points:

1. Much of that online shopping now takes place at websites owned by retailers, so even though sales at retail stores may have risen just 1 percent, the retailers didn't lose.

2. Discounting - which benefits consumers by helping them spread their dollars farther - also reduces the retail sales total by lowering prices. The real key is units sold - did the stores sell more stuff this year than last year? Yes, they did, at lower prices.

3. This was the best year ever for retailers - and, thanks to that discounting, for customers too.

Let's get this straight: 1999 was the best year in history for retailers. But then came 2000 and it was 4 percent better. And then came 2001 and it was 2.3 percent better than 2000. And this year is expected to be one percent better than 2001. So 2002 is now the best year in history for retailers - despite the sluggish economy.

Yet, the retail industry is poor-mouthing it like sales were down. They weren't. Sales were up.

UPDATE: Retailers continue to complain. But consumers will benefit big-time.


Only $35 Billion
Check out the ScrappleFace's satirical report on Internet sales taxes. Funny stuff.

States like California, so well-managed that it's only $35 billion in the red this year, have proven to be good investments for taxpayers, the spokesman added. And Americans seem eager to pump in more cash. "It's one of the great privileges of citizenship to know you are supporting high-quality state government programs in a state you may never even visit," the source said. "It's like UNICEF or the Salvation Army. It's a feel-good experience you never quite out live."

The Real Racists
ScrappleFace, a parody blog, offers up a biting satire that exposes the real face of racismin American politics. Hint: It ain't the Republican Party that divides by race and tells African Americans they aren't as capable as whites.

Trent Lott and the Future of Federalism
UPI's Jim Bennett looks at the Lott controversy and what it means in the context of the growing strength of conservatism as a governing force.

The real indictment of Lott is twofold: first, that he foolishly exposed the Republicans to opposition attempts to pin the narrow definition of the Right on the party; and secondly, that in trying to correct the damage, he demonstrated that he was not capable of making a principled defense of decentralism, nor that he had any idea of how to reach out to African Americans except to endorse, unconvincingly, the failed agenda of state centralism.

Genuine decentralism, or in the American context, genuine federalism, is not the defense of petty tyrannies against wider ones. It is the defense of civil society on all levels, of the state against the Federal, the community against the state, the group against the community, and the individual against the group. There are a variety of tools that may be used in this, and sometimes the power of the wider entity must be used to balance a smaller tyranny. Like many useful tools, such power must be used only with great caution, but sometimes it must be used never the less. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written to provide such uses, and such cautions.

Federalism and decentralism are central to the political problems of the coming decades. If the Republicans are to realize their big-tent vision, they must convey their dedication to and understanding of these principles of decentralization and civil society to the American people. Lott's comments seemed to indicate he understood none of this, and that for him, States' Rights was no more than a ritual formula. He lost the opportunity to take the party forward on this issue. Now perhaps his departure has renewed the party's opportunity to make its case.

Penciled Out
Instapundit is pointing out this item from Mickey Kaus noting that David Firestone, the New York Times reporter who dredged up the silly Sharp Pencils Incident from Sen. Bill Frist's past and used it to passively accuse Frist of being a closet racist got it wrong about which Ford complained about the quote. It wasn't the ultra-smooth U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., but his race-baiting daddy. Comments Kaus: "Inspires confidence in Firestone's deep understanding of Tennessee politics, doesn't it?"

Instapundit is also pointing out this story about how Washington Sen. Patty Murray's pro-Osama comments aren't generating the same controversy in the mainstream media as Trent Lott's pro-segregation remarks did - although the Internet and talk radio are blazing with anger over Murray's remarks praising the terrorist leader. And here is a good response to Sen. Murray's idiotic remarks.

Frist Attack Update
AP reporter Karin Miller does a decent job explaining the allegedly race-tinged parts of incoming Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's record, though she does recycle the silly Sharp Pencils Incident and seems to come down on the side of it being a racial incident.

U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, D-Memphis, who is black, said then that Frist "insulted the African-American community. Knoxville minister Harold Middlebrook, who headed the Tennessee Baptist Convention, said "they didn't make those statements in white communities. They only made those statements in our community. When they make those comments in our community, it becomes racist."

At least Miller notes that the Belle Meade Country Club, where Frist resigned his membership in 1994, is no longer an all-white club. Not even the New York Times bothered to mention that the club is no longer exclusionary, although Belle Meade Country Club now accepts minority members. Frist's resignation from the club is not evidence of some closet racism on his part. Just the opposite. In fact, it is not hard to see how the resignation of such a prominent member of the country club - Frist - because of its exclusionary policy, may well have helped push the club to alter its ways.

But the Center for Public Integrity strives mightily to spin the pencils incident as a racial remark, in part by paraphrasing what Frist said. And the Center's article mentions the Belle Meade Country Club but doesn't mention it now accepts African Americans and other minorities as members.

Frist also enraged black clergy and others during the campaign with allegedly racist remarks made in the closing days of the contest against incumbent Sen. Jim Sasser. The remarks surfaced after a November 1994 bus tour the Frist campaign took through a predominantly black neighborhood in Jackson, Tenn. As the bus pulled into the community, a young campaign volunteer reportedly told passengers, "We're getting deeper and deeper into the jungle here."

Of course, Frist did not make that remark - a young campaign volunteer did. But the Center for Public Integrity does its best to smear Frist as racist for words someone else said.

Frist himself reportedly asked for some of his campaign’s pencils to give to children in the neighborhood. But, Frist allegedly wanted unsharpened pencils, fearing that he might be “stuck” or stabbed.

No, Frist did not "allegedly" want unsharpened pencils. He directly asked for unsharpened pencils and his fear was not that he would be "stabbed" by a member of the audience, but that he might be "stuck" by a sharp pencil point as he handed them out.

There was nothing racial in the remark in any way. But the Center for Public Integrity really wants you to think there was.

Flip Flops
Robert Kagan wonders why those who supported military intervention in Iraq in 1998 are opposed to it today, when nothing has changed except the person who occupies the White House.


As Kagan puts it: Yesterday's liberal interventionists, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, are today's liberal abstentionists. What changed? Just the man in the White House. Intellectual consistency, even for great thinkers, is no match for partisan passions.

Actually, Kagan is wrong about that in one respect. Conservatives who supported the use of force in 1998 still do today. It is only the Left that is intellectually and morally inconsistent on this issue.

Oh well. At least the Russians - and the French! - finally agree with the U.S. on what needs to happen vis a vis Iraq. And the Aussies are on board.

Take a few minutes to read this from Australia, writte by Peter Howson, a former member of the Australian federal government under four different leaders.

Revolutionary Islam is on the march and is able to cause great suffering and devastation through the use of random terror. The Christian liberty we have inherited, and upon which our civilisation and material existence is based, is under immediate and dire threat. So far our bishops have been silent or have given aid and comfort to our enemies by admission of guilt.

The lesson of the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, and of the Bolshevik takeover of tsarist Russia in the 1920s, is that we must respond to those who seek to dictate to the world with a vigorous and militant defence of our faith and our civilisation – and we must do so at the early stages of attack so as to save lives and suffering. Church leaders should focus intently on the real evil in the world and on the consequences that would follow from any pretence it can be justified by our sins. They should not hold back because some will see that as an attack on another religion. If they fail in this task, they will become increasingly irrelevant, and the decline of the Anglican Church in Australia will proceed apace.

For too long bishops and archbishops in Australia have been preaching against Western triumphalism and Christian arrogance. Yet today one would be surprised to find triumphalism and arrogance within the church. Bin Laden and Bashir have thrown down their challenge. We must fight across all fronts – religious, cultural and economic. But, regrettable as it may seem to some in the church, the exercise of military power is also essential. This battle will not be quickly or easily won. But if we are to win it, the Christian church must join in the militant defence of our common Christian heritage.


A Salute to Cell Phones
Some Tennessee legislators want to ban younger drivers from using cell phones while they drive. Others, like Rep. Henri Brooks of Memphis, want to ban use of cell phones for all drivers, reports the AP.

Representative Henri Brooks of Memphis wants to go even further, requiring all drivers with cell phones to use a hands free system. But Brooks says an outright ban of phones in cars may be necessary.

One thing's for sure. When the General Assembly opens each session with the Pledge of Allegiance, Rep. Brooks is fully capable of holding her cell phone. With both hands.

Good Blog
I just added a new blog to my list of links, written by Chris Lawrence, an Oxford, Miss., resident who is also a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in political science at the University of Mississippi, a former Libertarian candidate for Congress, and a self-admitted "road geek."

Well, Duh
The Tennessean reports that legislators have discovered lotteries are "big bidness." There's this one priceless anecdote from the story - priceless for what it says about the reporter.

Between touring the major vendors, lawmakers stopped at a downtown Atlanta convenience store, picked numbers on an $8 million Lotto South jackpot and bought holiday-themed scratch-off tickets. For many, that was the easy part. After scratching off his $5 ''Merry Money'' ticket, state Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, realized he didn't know how to tell if he won. ''I got to figure out how to do this,'' he said, chuckling. Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, bought $10 in tickets and won $4. ''A bad return,'' he surmised.


To surmise means to guess, deduce or infer. I doubt Rep. Sargent had to infer that spending $10 to get $4 was a bad bargain. Perhaps only the journalist had to think hard and guess that such a trade might be a bad deal. But, then, lots of folks go into journalism because they suck at math.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Cohen, prime sponsor of the constitutional amendment allowing the creation of a state lottery in Tennessee, also shows how bad he is at math:

''We knew how many states,'' he said of the 38 states that have lotteries, ''but when you see how many tickets are produced ... I mean, it's a billion-dollar business coming to Tennessee.''

No, Sen. Cohen, it is no that at all. It is a predatory business coming to Tennessee to take much of that billion dollars out of the productive Tennessee economy by convincing dunderheads to surmise day after day, week after week, month after month, that trading $10 for $4 or less or nothing at all on the beyond-miniscule chance they might get more is a good bargain, and so divert their money away from productive uses such as, oh, buying food for their family or another book to help their toddler learn to read, and use it instead to buy a piece of paper, scratch on it a bit and toss it in the trash and curse their "luck" when they should be cursing you.


Color Blind
Here's what Howard Owens has to say on Trent Lott, Condi Rice, and the future of racism in American politics.

If a Trent Lott was going to be smacked down today, it would have to be his own peers - white men - who would do it. The leadership on the minority left has become so concerned with protecting its own power that those leaders are only interested in protecting the status quo, and that status quo involves promoting overtly racists standards, such as affirmative action. Since Lott's remarks did not openly threaten their agendas, his comments meant nothing to them (not until they saw they could get some press by condemning Lott). But conservatives grasped early on that if Lott's comments went unchallenged, the remarks would have a subtle but profound impact on extending the stereotype of white male conservatives - that we are closet racists.

The same conservatives who drummed Lott out of office will embrace Rice exactly because she can run on the content of her character and not on the color of her skin. We have, I am saying, moved that far beyond racism. You cannot succeed in American politics by making race an issue, and you'll fail if you try. And, let's face it, George W. Bush is a big reason that has happened.

The GOP is still the bastion of middle class white males, and it is the party of choice for most conservatives. With GWB in power and leading the charge, he has strengthened the hand of all like-minded conservatives. It's not that they are more emboldened to speak out; it's that their condemnations of racism and rhetoric supporting a color-blind society are amplified through a powerful bullhorn in GWB. And Bush does give them cover, because those who might disagree with the modern conservatives (notice, I'm not using the odious term, "compassionate conservatives"), will too quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the divide over race.

Great stuff.

Why We Fight
Regular readers know I'm a fan of Victor Davis Hanson. Here is a link to his latest.

But why would any in the Middle East follow such a pitiful band of cutthroats? Fear, for starters — the terrorists can murder newspaper editors, government officials, or military officers who oppose them. Despair plays a role too among the Arab dispossessed. Over 300 million in the Middle East live under regimes that are corrupt and tribal, dysfunctional autocracies without elections or the rule of law. With rising populations and failing economies, despots can only defer reform by using their state-run presses to vent tension against those more successful, such as Israel and the West. Hating the Jews is old stuff for the weak and envious, and so apparently is despising the country that gives you Star Wars, 757s, and vaccinations. A mass, crybaby adolescence has infected the Middle East. At first this pathetic, passive-aggressive view of the West intrigued Americans, then it disturbed them; but now it has become not merely tedious, but downright repellent to us. There are root causes for the spread of terror, but they are entirely self-induced.

Great stuff.


Kill The King
Figuratively speaking, that is. Frank Cagle continues to agitate for Republicans in the Tennessee House of Representatives to work with dissident Democrats to oust the General Assembly's Jimmy Soprano, Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, from the speaker's chair.

There are enough votes in the House that prefer someone as speaker other than Naifeh. It isn't just his income tax bill last session. It is dissatisfaction with things in general. East Tennessee Republicans have grown used to being ignored and short-changed by the speaker and his henchmen. But now Middle Tennessee Democrats are catching on that Naifeh's rural West Tennessee mafia is shafting them as well.

This is a golden opportunity for House Republicans to get together with like-minded Democrats and change the status quo. If they vote for Naifeh and give away this opportunity there is a growing network of conservatives around the state that will make sure they pay a price for it. If it is too much to ask that Republicans band together and put forth a candidate then there is an alternative. Do nothing on the first ballot. At least have the courage to abstain. It's not exactly a Profile in Courage. But it's a start.

A good start, I'd say. But I doubt the Republicans will find the courage to do it.

Pushing TABOR
My guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal today offers up the Colorado model as a solution to the twin problems of tax reform and the public's lack of faith in their state government.

Several recent studies by good-government groups lead to the reasonable conclusion that many Tennessee elected officials are more beholden to their own interests, or to the influence of special-interest lobbyists who fund their campaigns, than they are to the interests of the average taxpayer. Locking taxpayers out of the Capitol during the income tax debate, and saying the state open meetings law doesn't apply to lawmakers, didn't help.

Even if the legislature were to pass tough new ethics laws, though, that still would not be enough to restore public confidence and persuade skeptical Tennesseans to accept tax reform. But there is a way: Combine real reform with a "taxpayers bill of rights" amendment to the state Constitution similar to Colorado's, and put the latter on the ballot.

Frist Watch
The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein avoids the tired sniping at Sen. Bill Frist over sharp pencils, country club memberships and family wealth and instead writes an intelligent profile of Frist with an eye on the future and Frist's impact on healthcare policy.

For Democrats, Frist presents a challenge much like House Speaker Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), the mild-mannered insider who succeeded former speaker Newt Gingrich, and Bush himself: All present largely conservative policies in a moderate tone much more acceptable to swing voters than the harder-edged voices who dominated the GOP in the immediate aftermath of their 1994 congressional takeover.

In contrast to Lott, Frist embodies a newer generation of Southern Republican politicians who attract white voters with conservative positions on taxes, social issues and national security and generally believe that any association with racial intolerance could alienate moderate swing voters.

Mark it down: The Lott Debacle will turn out to be a big win for the Republican Party.

I have a guest column running in the Sunday Memphis Commercial Appeal, on the subject of Tennessee's tax structure and how to reform it - and revive the public's faith in their government at the same time. If you get the dead-tree version of the C-A, it's supposed to run on the front page of the Viewpoint section.

UPDATE: It is now online here.

From one Fief to Another
Gov.-elect Phil Bredesen has picked Gerald Nicely, the former head of Nashville's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, to head the much-maligned Tennessee Department of Transportation (a/k/a the Department of Asphalt).

The Tennessean reports: The agency had become a "fiefdom" unresponsive to Tennesseans, he said. Nicely pledged to change that.

How ironic. Nicely knows a thing or two about fiefdoms. Under his rule, MDHA was a fiefdom unresponsive to Nashvillians (unless the Nashvillians in question were powerful, connected local developers).

If it becomes a trend, just remember - I invented it and Glenn Reynolds alerted the masses.


Frist Attack Update
I'm blogging this from the Comcast Internet sales kiosk at CoolSprings Galleria. Check out this coverage and comments of the liberal media's biased attack on Sen. Bill Frist. By the way, the mall I am at - south of Nashville in the suburb of Franklin - doesn't seem particularly busy for the final Saturday before Christmas. But I still have some shopping to do...

Defeated Legislators Explain Why The Voters Were Stupid
In a pair of stories, the small Greeneville Sun newspaper in Greeneville, Tenn., lets two defeated state legislators run on and on about how smart they were and how dumb the voters were and how lucky the state of Tennessee was to have them in the legislature. Somebody needs to tell the paper's reporter, Tom Yancey, that one-source stories in which the source is the subject of the profile are, well, extremely amateurish journalism.

State Rep. Zane Whitson blames his defeat on his vote for income tax.

Whitson said his “biggest disappointment” during 24 years in the legislature came last year when “we didn’t pass a flat (income) tax under which every person would pay less tax.” But wait. The flat tax plan would have increased overall revenue by about $850 million. So how would "every person" have paid "less tax"?

Whitson also waxes ineloquent about talk radio, Gov. Don Sundqust and the alleged (but unproven) impact of Internet retail on sales tax revenue.

Meanwhile, state Rep. Ronnie Davis doesn't blame his defeat directly on his support for the income tax. But, then, he's under a 12-count federal felony indictment for alleged extortion, influence peddling, bank fraud and money laundering.

Davis decries fellow Republicans who opposed the income tax: “The irony is, the public got mad because we (legislators) stayed down there too long and then passed an increase in the sales tax, but they didn’t get mad at the (legislators) that were willing to do nothing at all. They got mad at those of us who were willing to do something,” Davis said, to keep the state’s budget “from going down the drain.”

He also says TennCare isn't the cause of the state's budget problems.

And thus does another dull knife leave the drawer.

Gee. Ya Think?
Today's New York Times reports that Medicare will be cutting payments to doctors by 4.4 percent, and then notes that "federal officials predicted that doctors would, as a result, be less willing to accept new Medicare patients."

Thus is the NYT surprised by a basic principle of economics: less pay incentivizes less work. They must be surprised by it - they considered it "news" enough to make it part of the lead.

But one Dr. Mark H. Krotowski, a family doctor in Brooklyn, isn't surprised: "The new cuts will force more physicians to turn away Medicare patients. That's the reality. Doctors will not have any incentive to accept new Medicare patients. While Medicare reimbursements are going down, our expenses are rising 5 percent to 10 percent a year."

The NYT reports that the Department of Health and Human Services admits the payment cuts might "cause fewer physicians to accept new Medicare patients" and could prompt doctors to increase their charges to some of the 40 million Medicare beneficiaries." At least someone understands another basic principle of economics and, indeed, life: There is no free lunch.

A Sucker Bet
Rich Hailey explains why insurance is like a casino. It's a long post, but worth it as Hailey makes some excellent points.

In order for the system to work, those who claim in excess of what they pay in must be outnumbered by those who claim less than what they pay in, which means that for the majority of the people, they will pay in more than they get back. In Vegas, this is called a sucker bet, and the house loves gamblers who take it. Additionally, insurance companies set their premiums based on total claims over the past year, adjusting the rates to ensure a slight profit. In Vegas, it’s called the house’s edge, and it is what pays for all those multi million dollar casinos and resorts.

The worst part is that it is all unnecessary. If my employer paid me the $500 he pays for my insurance, I know I could invest it for a higher return than any private insurance company. I don’t have the overhead of adjustors, secretaries, boards of directors, advertising, and so on to cover. 100% that money could be dedicated towards creating a medical savings account, covering my health care far more effectively than an insurance company could. Of course, it would throw a lot of insurance company employees out of work, but we need to get rid of the parasites before they suck us dry.

Frist Attack Update
Today's New York Times recycles a ludicrous story about an allegedly racially insensitive remark made by Sen. Bill Frist when he was running for the Senate in 1994:

Also in that campaign, Representative Harold E. Ford Jr., Democrat from Memphis, demanded that Mr. Frist apologize to African-Americans for remarks that he and a supporter made. Mr. Frist, going to a largely black march against crime, had asked a worker to obtain imprinted pencils to distribute, requesting unsharpened pencils. "I don't want to get stuck," he told the aide.

Frist would be holding a handful of pencils to distribute and didn't want to prick himself on one of the sharp points - but his innocuous comment was seized on by the anti-Frist reporters for the Memphis Commercial-Appeal and the Nashville Tennessean as "evidence" that Frist had been racially insensitive.

It was absurd then - a lie propagated by two newspapers that had already endorsed Frist's opponent, the incumbent Sen. Jim Sasser - and most everyone in the newsroom at The Tennessean, where I worked at the time, knew it and was embarrassed by the story. It is even more absurd now for the NYT to recycle it in an attempt to undercut Frist as he ascends to the post of Senate Majority Leader.

[Editor's note: the Frist/pencils story from the 1994 campaign is not available online via the Tennessean's website. If you have a hard copy of it and can scan in an image of it, I'd be glad to post that image here. Email it to me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net]

UPDATE: Reader H. Koenig writes to say: I had to reread that excerpt you posted at least three times before I figured out what it might be that was so offensive - it finally occurred to me that he was supposed to be implying they will be used as a weapon against him. The only racist here are the people who go out of their way to find offense in any innocuous comment. It's time to start telling people who react this way, "the comment is racist only to someone who is a racist, and wants everyone else to be one, too."

Amen to that.

UPDATE: Regular readers of kausfiles on Slate.com will see an item there today about Frist, the sharp pencils, and me. Mickey Kaus writes: "Hobbs' insider perspective carries some weight (although since his wife was apparently working on the Frist campaign he's not exactly unbiased, as he admits)." Kaus is referring to the post directly below this one. I should clarify something: My wife did work on the 1994 campaign - however I did not meet her until April 2000 and we were married in November 2001. At the time of the Sharp Pencils Attack, I had no connection to the Frist campaign. UPDATE OF THE UPDATE: Kausfiles has updated that post to reflect this. Thanks, Mickey.

ANOTHER UPDATE: OpinionJournal.com mentions the Sharp Pencils Incident and mentions my take on it in their "Best of the Web" roundup for Monday, Dec. 23. They call the NYT's reportage of it a "pointless complaint."


The Assault on Frist Begins
FratersLibertas finds bias in the Associated Press' description of Sen. Bill Frist.

Come on now AP, is it really newsworthy that a member of the Senate Republican leadership is a Bush ally? Or that a heart surgeon is wealthy? I don't want to tell you professional journalists your business, but no, it's not.

This journalist has to agree with the critic - the AP lead is factual, but in a selective and biased way. But then, I had a chance to talk with Sen. Frist a few years back while waiting for a table at Green Hills Grille, and found him quite likeable. And I enjoyed his first book. And my wife worked for his first Senate campaign. So I'm probably biased, too.

Lott Exits
Trent Lott does what he should have done days ago - step down and let someone else be Senate Majority Leader. Good news: That person likely will be Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, which is great news for the nation as Frist is a man of exemplary character and skill.

I agree with Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit.com that it's to the Republicans' credit that Lott is gone.

Unlike the Democrats with Clinton, the Republicans have purged themselves of someone who didn't belong in the office he held. The failure to do so cost the Democrats greatly. I think that the Republicans, meanwhile, will reap benefits from their action. says Reynolds.

Democrats, meanwhile, keep old racists like Sen. Robert Byrd, former KKK member, around.

TennCare Update
Here's today's Tennessean story on the latest court order that threatens to swamp TennCare and cost taxpayers big bucks. The Memphis Commercial Appeal follows up its Thursday story on the same topic with two stories today, including a page one report on the details of the ruling and its possible impact, and this sidebar with the headline Clients who lost coverage happy to be spared from 'flawed process', replete with quotes from former TennCare members who are happy about the judge's order (which, essentially, says because some mistakes were made, every single person declared ineligible for TennCare must be put back on the rolls).

We're still scouring the paper's web site for a story headlined Taxpayers who stand to lose $300 million unhappy to not be spared by 'flawed court ruling'. We'll let you know if we find it. Don't hold your breath.

Say What?
From today's New York Times story on Sen. Bill Frist challenging Trent Lott for the post of Senate Majority Leader:

Mr. Frist is also a relative newcomer, Republicans said, and his leadership skills are untested.

As leader of the Senate Republicans' campaing committee, Frist lead the party to a major win in the November elections, taking back control of the Senate when few analysts thought possible. I'd say he's been tested.


The Feel-Good Article of the Day
Tom Holsinger says the conquest of Iraq is already underway. And, he says, Saddam Hussein is like a frog in a slowly-heating kettle of water.

Bad News...
... on TennCare.

The order further calls for the reinstatement of every person disenrolled from TennCare, regardless of eligibility or possession of private health insurance, since July 1. TennCare is the state's managed-care health insurance program for people who are poor, disabled or uninsured.

“This decision ignores the clear mandate of the General Assembly and the waiver granted by the Bush administration,” Gov. Sundquist said. “If it remains in effect, it will cost the state at least $300 million this fiscal year, and TennCare as we know it may cease to exist, putting some 500,000 Tennesseans at risk of losing their health-care coverage.”

Yikes. They should just send the bill to Gordon Bonnyman at the Tennessee Justice Center.

Here's a little background on the case.

UPDATE: There's some good news on TennCare, too:

Officials of the Bush administration have indicated to Gov.-elect Phil Bredesen that they plan to allow governors as much flexibility as possible in managing programs such as TennCare and other health insurance plans. Bredesen spent yesterday in Washington with 15 other new governors in meetings with Cabinet secretaries and President Bush.

Good News...
...on the economy. A yardstick of U.S. economic activity rose markedly in November in a sign that the nation's financial situation is beginning to improve, reports the AP.

Colorado Cap Helps State Spend More
Less-than-expected tax revenue has lead Colorado to spend less money. $700 million less. Colorado had planned to spend $13.8 billion this year, but has reduced spending to $13.1 billion. Tennessee, meanwhile, increased taxes by nearly $1 billion to deal with a similar shortfall. Why the difference in approach? Simple: Colorado has a constitutional provision called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights that prohibits tax increases without the consent of voters, while Tennessee does not. Thus, government in Colorado has learned how to economize and prioritize; while Tennessee's has not.

Check out the chart that goes with the Denver Post story. Since the 1993-94 fiscal year, Colorado has increased state spending by 72 percent, from $7.6 billion to $13.1 billion. (It would have been 81 percent if the legislature's $13.8 billion spending plan had been sustained by revenue.) During the same period of time, Tennessee increased spending by 56 percent.

But here’s the irony: Colorado cut taxes during that period of time. Tennessee raised taxes.

Colorado was able to increase government spending by a greater percentage than Tennessee because, unlike Tennessee, it has a mechanism that restrains the growth of spending. That's not an oxymoron. The reality is, Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights - which limits revenue growth to the combined rate of inflation and population growth and returns excess revenue via tax cuts - helped Colorado's economy grow faster.

From 1993 through 2000, Colorado's gross state product – the measure of the state’s total economic output – rose 79.4 percent (from $93.6 billion to $167.9 billion), according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis. Tennessee’s rose just 48.9%, (from $119.7 billion to $178.3 billion). While Tennessee's economy grew in those eight years, Colorado's grew much faster. Tennessee’s economy went from being 28 percent larger than Colorado’s to being just 6 percent larger.

From 1993 through 2001, Colorado's total personal income grew 84.3 percent, compared to 54.3 percent in Tennessee. Total personal income is an aggregate measure for the state and is one measure of the growth of the overall economy. Because some of that increase reflects growth in population, a better measure of real economic performance is per capita income - and there Tennessee also lags Colorado. In 1993, Coloradoans' per capita income was $22,196, or $2,655 higher than Tennessee's that same year. By 2001, per capita income in Colorado had risen 50.8 percent to $33,470, while in Tennessee it had risen just 38.1 percent to $26,988. Tennesseans' per capita income now lags that of Coloradoans by $6,482.

Another way to put it: Colorado's citizens have seen their incomes rise by an additional $3,827 per capita more than have the people of Tennessee since 1993 – the year Colorado enacted a policy of tax restraint and Tennessee did not.

Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights, which took effect in 1993, created an environment of stable taxes and, indeed, tax cuts when revenue exceeds the generous TABOR limit. As a result, Colorado's economy boomed. That economic boom is reflected not only in its income statistics, but also in its population growth from 1993 through 2001 - 32.4 percent, compared to Tennessee's 15.9 percent.

All of that economic growth resulted in more money for the government to spending, even as Coloradoans' taxes were cut. Why? Because low taxes spur higher economic growth.

As I explained in this post, Colorado was able to increase per-capita state spending by 139 percent from 1990 to 2000, the third-largest increase among all 50 states, even though its TABOR amendment restrained the growth of revenues available for spending. But Tennessee, with no effective cap on revenues, taxes or spending, increased per-capita spending by 76 percent from 1990-2000.

Tennessee pursued a strategy of increasing taxes to fund more government spending in the 1990s, and routinely exceeded its weak constitutional spending cap. But because higher taxes reduce economic growth, the state actually brought in less revenue than it might have under a lower-tax/higher growth strategy. In 1990, Colorado's government spent $2,504 per capita and Tennessee spent $3,753 - 50 percent more than Colorado. By the end of the decade, Tennessee was spending $6,593 per capita, just 10 percent more than Colorado, which had increased spending to $5,992 per capita. Even though Tennessee raised taxes repeatedly during the 1990s in order to spend more, Colorado was able to raise spending faster by taxing less.

The lesson of Colorado is clear and undeniable: By restraining spending and taxes, with a Taxpayers Bill of Rights modeled after Colorado's, Tennessee could actually create a future in which taxes would be guaranteed to remain low yet state government would actually have more money to spend, all within a system that would put a premium on accountability and prioritization.

Gov.-elect Bredesen, are you listening?

In Oklahoma, A Democrat Calls for Spending Restraint
Oklahoma faces a budget gap. The governor-elect, a Democrat, says its a good reason to look for ways to spend less money.

Gov.-elect Brad Henry: As daunting as the latest budget numbers are, I sincerely believe that they present us not just with a challenge, but an opportunity as well. For better or worse, it will encourage state leaders to put the functions of government under a microscope and determine what works and what doesn’t, what should be a priority and what shouldn’t be. During these efforts, my administration will be focused on protecting public education, health care and other important programs. Everyone will have to tighten their belts, but hopefully, by thoroughly examining agency spending, we can minimize the disruption to vital state services. If department heads can’t justify each dollar that they spend, then maybe we can redirect that money to other priorities such as public school classrooms or health services for the elderly.

Henry's finance director-designate "believes strict across-the-board funding cuts are the most efficient approach to the state’s budget crunch," reports the Journal Record in Oklahoma City.

Deputy finance Director Alison Fraser tells the paper that revenue from the state's income tax is expected to be down 7.9 percent, with revenue from the sales tax down a smaller 6.2 percent.

Once again, another state faces a revenue shortfall because of its reliance on an income tax. The state of Oklahoma would have been well-served if it had followed Gov. Frank Keating's advice and phased out its income tax. And Tennessee is lucky it didn't create one. Had we done so, our budget crisis would have been made worse, not better.

UPDATE: What's to blame for various states' budget problems? It's not the mythical "structural" problem you often hear about, says Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at the Cato Institute.

If there is a structural problem in state tax systems, it is that individual income taxes raise too much money in boom years, thus causing states to overspend. State budget numbers can certainly be interpreted in different ways. Recent news stories have implied that state officials are innocent victims of sinister "budget gaps." However, I think a more accurate news report would read: "Huge budget forecasting errors cause massive overspending by the states."

That's certainly true in Tennessee.

Arkansas Legislators Balk at Raising Taxes
Unfortunately, it was a Republican governor who proposed raising taxes. Fortunately, Democrats in the Legislature are saying no, and pushing for budget cuts instead to eliminate the state's budget gap. This is likely to harm the GOP's chances of becoming the majority party in Arkansas.

Undermining America
Ex-journalist-turned peace activist Colman McCarthy "says kids need to study closely the history of the peace movement, starting with the lives and ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, the Berrigan brothers and other radicals. And he wants to teach kids that American violence goes hand-in-hand with widely accepted conventionalities such as economic competition, conspicuous consumption, tax cuts, U.S. foreign policy and gigantic Pentagon budgets."

Ugh. Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be taught by this fool.

Incidentally, the story about this "former journalist" violates a basic rule of good journalism: no one-source stories. Especially not a fawning one-source profile where the profile subject is the source. (Yeah, I know - there is one quote in the story from one other person, but it's basically a quote that agrees with McCarthy, so that hardly counts). If the reporter made an effort to find one person to challenge McCarthy's anti-American views, the story doesn't indicate so.

Merry Christmas
from James Lileks.

Politics in the Information Age
Duane Freese examines the role of weblogs in the growing pressure on Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, and what it says about information technology's impact politics in the future.

New information technology doesn't change politics per se. But it can have a leveling effect by creating a real forum for the views of more participants. When conducted through broadcast TV ads, telephone solicitations and direct mail campaigns, politics favor the kinds of organizations that only money can buy. And while ultimately that is the kind of organization any candidate needs, the Internet and new media allow motivated, like-minded, concerned people to coalesce and break through the normal filters of big money and big politics.

The technology appears to give no partisan advantage. Anti-globalists use cellphones and email to coordinate their anti-World Trade Organization protests, while libertarians used email to organize defeat of the intrusive "Know Your Customer" rules that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation had proposed for banks back in 1999. And now, a handful of conservative-leaning weblogs are leading the charge to unseat Lott.

Read Freese's story to have a fuller understanding of how the Internet and weblogs (of which this is one of thousands) can be used as tools of political communication and action.

It's stories like this that make TechCentralStation.com must reading.

The Apology Lott SHOULD Have Given
Below is the apology Trent Lott should have given, according to Quentin Langley, a reader of the daily News & Views email from Chuck Muth. (Go to ChuckMuth.com to subscribe to News & Views for yourself.)

Here's what Lott should have said:

I really don't know what I was thinking. As you know, I was brought up a racist, segregationist Democrat. I carried these views into early adulthood and worked for Democrats in Congress who were completely committed to the segregationist agenda. However, I saw the light, and left the party of Jim Crow for the party of Abe Lincoln.

When praising a man who was a big political wheel when I was just nine I suddenly found myself expressing a view far more suitable for Al Gore Senior or Senator Robert Byrd. Please be assured, just like Strom Thurmond, I have put the Democrat Party and its despicable policies behind me.

I don't know Quentin Langley, but he's right. And if Lott had given this apology, it would be the Democrats having to defend themselves today.

UPDATE: Ann Coulter is making a similar point today.

In 1948, Thurmond did not run as a "Dixiecan," he ran as a "Dixiecrat" – his party was an offshoot of the Democratic Party. And when he lost, he went right back to being a Democrat. This whole brouhaha is about a former Democrat praising another former Democrat for what was once a Democrat policy. Republicans made Southern Democrats drop the race nonsense when they entered the Republican Party. Democrats supported race discrimination, then for about three years they didn't, now they do again. They've just changed which race they think should be discriminated against. In the 1920s, the Democratic platforms didn't even call for anti-lynching legislation as the Republican platforms did.

Thurmond's Dixiecrat Party was not the only extremist spin-off from the Democratic Party in 1948. Henry Wallace, formerly FDR's vice president and agriculture secretary, left the Democratic Party that year to form the communist-dominated and Soviet-backed "Progressive Party." Much as Thurmond's Dixiecrat Party was expressly pro-segregation, Wallace's Progressive Party was expressly pro-Soviet.

Coulter notes that President Bill Clinton dedicated a room at the Agriculture Department to Wallace, a pro-communist Democrat. (Clinton, it should be noted, also has extensively praised former Sen. William Fulbright, a hardcore segregationist, in much the same way Lott praised Thurmond. But Democrats didn't try to rid their party of such racial insensitivity, while Republicans are desperately trying to rid their own party of that Lott.)

Good stuff.

A Rare Species Found at UT-Knoxville
And The Tennessean gets an interview with that rarest of creatures, the UT football player who graduates. Actually, an inspiring piece. Let's hope someone reads it to all the other UT football players.

A Hate Crime at Ole Miss?
Vandals scrawled vile and racist graffiti on the walls of some dormitories at the University of Mississippi on Nov. 6. But was it a hate crime? No, says Michelle Malkin. It was "an apparent racial hoax committed by black students against black students, but blamed on whites - until the suspects were nabbed last week."

At the time the racist vandalism appeared, Ole Miss was commemorating the 40th anniversary of desegregation of its classrooms. Local and national observers immediately assumed the vandals were white. Why allow a double standard of justice to prevail? If the attackers had been white, they faced possible federal prison time. Because the suspects are black, the most serious consequence they face is expulsion. Welcome to equal treatment under the law, 2002-style.

Where is the uproar over the hoaxers' callous use of lynching imagery and flagrant exploitation of the N-word - at Ole Miss of all places? And where is the national press on this matter? Fake hate crimes are an abhorrently common phenomenon on modern college campuses, where race-consciousness reigns in such a poisonous way that it would make integrationists weep. "Students of color" are herded into separate dorms, separate departments, and separate graduation ceremonies.

There's more.


Don't Blame the Sales Tax
Yet another state faces a shortfall - and it's the income tax that bears the blame. California's deficit has hit a whopping $34.8 billion - about $1,000 for every person in the state.

[Gov. Gray] Davis, a Democrat, said the deficit over the next 18 months is up from a previously estimated $21 billion mainly because of a nosedive in personal income tax revenues, which make up a healthy portion of revenues flowing into the state treasury.

Revenue from the sales tax is not to blame.

Some good news from the story: Voters may soon see a clear distinction between Republicans and Democrats on fiscal issues, as California's elected Republicans favor spending restraint while the Democrats favor propping up unaffordable big spending with higher taxes. Of course you knew that already. Reports Reuters: Republicans have called for reduced spending while Democrats urge tax hikes in order to preserve important state programs.

GOP Governors Hurt Party By Raising Taxes
Analysts say efforts by some Republican governors to raise taxes - including, notably, Gov. Don Sundquist's four-year failed effort to enact an unconstitutional state income tax, followed by his embrace of a billion-dollar sales tax increase that was the largest tax increase in the state's history - will hurt the GOP politically with voters.

Analysts warn that tax increases will hurt politically, especially for Republicans, as well as economically. "Republicans can talk all they want about it being a user fee or a temporary measure or a disagreeable, but necessary step," said Pete Sepp, National Tax Foundation spokesman. "That's not going to wash with voters who elect Republicans with the expectation that they will at least hold the line on taxes if not cut them."

It's an effort to "be popular with everyone" that won't succeed, said Sepp. "They want to be the education governor, or the transportation governor, or the compassionate governor" by pandering to special interests, he said. But such efforts will "[fail] to earn the respect of the interest groups pressing them to do it, because it's never enough."

But two GOP governors get points for cutting taxes rather than raising them. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Owens and Bush - sure would make a nice ticket in 2008.