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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Good News/Bad News
Uncle Sam just gave Tennessee 175 million reasons to put off serious reform of TennCare for just a wee bit longer.

Strike This Proposal
There's a proposal in Mempis for a local payroll tax. I don't think Chris Lawrence likes the idea much. Incidentally, the politicians in Memphis are calling the proposed levy a "workplace privilege tax," but it would be 1 percent of income, which makes it an income tax. And the Tennessee constitution expressly forbids such taxes, in Article XI, Section 9, where it says: The General Assembly shall not authorize any municipality to tax incomes, estates, or inheritances, or to impose any other tax not authorized by Sections 28 or 29 of Article II of this Constitution. Nothing herein shall be construed as invalidating the provisions of any municipal charter in existence at the time of the adoption of this amendment. In layman's terms, the legislature may not allow municipalities to levy an income tax because, whaddya know, the legislature itself is not authorized by Article II, Sections 28 and 29, to levy such a tax at the state level. Bottom line: the "workplace privilege tax" being proposed in Memphis is illegal.

Digital Freedom: Stop the Mini-DMCA
If you're here from the link at Instapundit, and looking for how to help stop the mini-DMCA in Tennessee, please be sure to visit the website of the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network as well as reading the rest of this post and following my links. The TDFN is leading the fight. I've got more on that at the end of this post.

If you're from Tennessee, PublicKnowledge.org has provided the text of a letter that you should send to your legislator to urge them to vote against HB 457 and SB 213, which is being misleadingly sold by special-interest lobbyists as a simple law to strengthen efforts agains the theft of telecommunications services. An except:

The legislation is cast as a communications service theft bill; however, its reach is far greater. The proposed bills limit citizens' rights, limit legal uses of commonplace consumer electronics (such as VCRs and computers) and stifle technological innovation and research. ... Proponents of these bills assert that the proposed language updates the terms of the current laws to better prevent the theft of communications services and Internet piracy. Existing state and federal laws, however, already address these concerns. The proposed bills, in contrast, broaden statutory definitions, reaching into the home to control what kinds of devices consumers may use in conjunction with services for which they have legitimately paid. Consumers have never needed the "express authorization" of their cable or phone company before buying a new TV, VCR or PC - there is no reason to change that rule today. ... The potential impact of this legislation is significant. The terms of these bills are so broadly and ambiguously defined that legal activities and technologies are threatened. For example, without express permission from the "service provider," everyday lawful activities could be outlawed or prohibited, such as:
- viewing paid-for television on multiple home TVs
- recording television on a VCR to view at a later time
- sharing a broadband connection among multiple home computers
- working from home by securely connecting to the office over the Internet
The ramifications also extend beyond citizens to manufactures, distributors and retailers because the use, distribution and sale of many consumer electronic devices and computer hardware and software could become illegal. In addition, these bills implicate privacy and anonymous speech. For example, under House Bill 457 and Senate Bill 213, making anonymous communications to voice political views or report corporate misdeeds is a criminal offense. These bills would also make many encrypted business transactions illegal.
You can help stop this outrageous legislation by copying the full text of the letter, and sending it via email, fax and regular mail to your state senator and your state representative. If you are unsure of which district you live in, you'll find district maps for the state senate here and state representatives here.

In addition, you can email Gov. Bredesen to encourage him to speak out against HB 457 and SB 213.

For more on this issue, scroll down for yesterday's posts and also go here. Also, PublicKnowledge.org has web page of resources. And the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network is fighting the good fight, and has produced two excellent one-page flyers explaining in simple terms how bad the legislation is. You can download those here and here.

Message to Music Biz: Don't Spam!
In an effort to stop people from illegally sharing music files online, the recording industry violates the user agreement of one of the file-sharing software companies and sends out spam. My mom always taught me two wrongs don't make it right.

That Crying You Hear...
... is from Democrats who are hoping the economy doesn't improve (read: a lot of people remain unemployed and suffering) so the Dems have a better shot of winning the presidency in '04.


Digital Freedom Update
Regarding the post directly below this one, the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network reports that a hearing scheduled for the morning Wednesday, April 30, on HB457 in the House Judiciary Committee, has been postponed to Wednesday, May 7th at 8:00 a.m.

Tennessee Digital Freedom Network
I've mentioned before the really lousy legislation making its way through the Tennessee state legislature that would establish a state version of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The legislation is being pushed by the Motion Picture Association of America. Sen. Curtis Person and Rep. Rob Briley are carrying the industry's water (and I'd sure like to know how much Hollywood PAC money they're gonna get in their campaign coffers for doing so.)

Good news: there is a grassroots organization fighting it! They need your help.

Some excerpts from the website of the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network:

HB457 and SB213 are the Tennessee House and Senate versions of the "Super-DMCA" bill, proposed by the MPAA and already passed in eight states (and counting). If passed here, this bill will have a very negative impact on citizens' freedom of speech, access to secure communications, and use of many networking technologies. It would give Internet service providers (ISP's) unprecedented control over what types of devices and software Tennesseeans can use while connected to their systems, and give them power to sue users for thousands of dollars per day if they infringe on that control in any way. If this bill is enacted, Tennesseeans will have far fewer freedoms in their electronic interactions; as the Internet and pervasive computing becomes more a part of our lives, this will translate into control by a few corporations over almost everything that you do electronically.

Do you have more than one computer? Do you use Linux? Do you use any kind of Internet security hardware or software (called a "firewall"), or does your company use networking equipment to share Internet access using network address translation (NAT), or allow employees to connect from home using a virtual private network (VPN)? Do you cryptographically sign or encrypt your email? SB213/HB457 threatens your access to all of these. And if you don't understand some of these terms, you may already be using these technologies and simply be unaware of it. That's unimportant, though, because you can still go to jail for it.

This legislation is being presented to the Judiciary Committees as a "Theft of Service" bill, which simply "update[s] state law so that it comprehensively protects new broadband communication services from piracy and sabotage." In reality, it is much broader and more insidious. In its current form this law would make even a minor violation of your Internet agreement a Class-D felony, and levy excessive fines of $1,500 or more per device or software program, per day. Imagine, hooking your laptop up improperly at home for a year could cost you more than half a million dollars. Compliance will cost Tennessee businesses a bundle as well.

Who is the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network?
We are a group of IT professionals, students and concerned citizens who have dedicated ourselves to protecting the right of Tennesseans to freely use digital technology in their lives. For that reason, we are using all our resources to oppose the new "Super-DMCA" bills proposed by the MPAA. In Tennessee this legislation has been proposed in the House and Senate as HB457 and SB213. Our organization is still very young and still organizing to meet this threat effectively. We need your help if we are going to be successful!

Our objections to these bills include:

- The misrepresentation of this bill as something that merely updates existing law.
- The overly broad language that would give unreasonable powers to any ISP over their customers.
- The fact that this legislation criminalizes reasonable and otherwise lawful conduct by ordinary citizens.
- Unreasonable penalties. Sell a gram of cocaine, pay $2000. Run a home network, and risk a judgment of millions of dollars, even if your service provider suffers no damages whatsoever.
- Ordinary citizens do not benefit in any way from this law. No rights are defined or protected, only taken away.

Many of us only became aware of this issue due to a Slashdot article posted on Monday, April 21st. The bill was to be reviewed by the judiciary committee at 3:30pm the next day. On little more than 24 hours notice, almost 20 people were able to show up at the judiciary committee hearing in opposition to SB213. Some came from Nashville and nearby Clarksville, while others came from as far away as Knoxville. Several people spoke out against the bill, and we were able to delay almost certain committee approval of SB213. Afterwards, a senator in attendance remarked that the committee had probably given us the two weeks because they did not expect us to return to continue our opposition. If that's what they thought, they were wrong.
I last posted on this issue on April 25. That post has links to others. Happy reading. If I could be at the hearing Wednesday to object to SB 213 and HB 457, I would.

Copyfight.org, an excellent weblog covering digital rights issues, mentioned the work of the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network in a larger post about efforts to defeat similar legislation in other states. The Copyfight stuff actually comes from The Filter, an e-newsletter published by the Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard Law School.

Also, here's a story on growing opposition to a similar law in Massachusetts. It notes that the Massachusetts legislation - like the Tennessee legislation - is based on MPAA draft legislation.
Initially perceived by the telecommunications industry as a communications theft bill, the MPAA-sponsored legislation at first received little attention ... however, industry organizations are increasingly alarmed about some of the broad implications of the MPAA-sponsored bills. Among other things, the MPAA legislation broadens the definition of the term "communications service" to include both the content transmitted - for example, downloaded song files - and the medium over which they were transmitted.

A Capital Idea
Here's an idea for forcing the Democrats to stop stonewalling President Bush's excellent judicial nominations. I must admit I like it. No. I love it. [Hat tip: Instapundit]

Audio-Blogging from Everest
I posted this over on my work blog. So... what does it take to "audio-blog" from high on Mount Everest? Some satellite phones and other rather cool technology:

"We'll have 2 or 3 sat phones. 2 of the Iridiums and 1 Thuraya, which works a bit better there. Also a BGAN high speed internet terminal at base camp on the Thuraya satellite. And we will have a very new Pocket PC to Thuraya (or Iridium) phone connection for data. It will allow instant photos/video/sound to go direct to our web page. An amazing system. There has not been anything like this yet on Everest. The Thuraya phone is very small, offers good data speed, it connects direct to the Compaq iPAQ which we can pop in the Sony memory stick with photos and video on, scribble a short message and hit send and it appears that moment on our web page! It really should be very cool. We will have 2 laptops also with data connections at base camp for email and reports between trips up high."
Technology just gets more amazing every day.

This is interesting. I suspect Democrats will do the right thing.

Nailing the Propagandists
Media Minded blows the lid off a reported instance of the major media censoring someone's views on the war. Tim Robbins is involved.

Very Special Forces Update
Here's another story revealing what some U.S. Special Forces were doing in Iraq. Turns out, some where operating in a Baghdad suburb eight months ago, or more than six months before the war started. What were they doing? Planting the seeds of democracy right under Saddam's nose:

In a news release from Baghdad, Central Command officials described the role of the 5th Special Forces Group in helping the people of Abu Ghurayb elect a city council last week, which Central Command said was the first free election in recent Iraqi history. "Soldiers from the 5th Special Forces Group who have been working with the townspeople for over eight months helped them with the elections," the statement said without elaborating on the timeline. That statement suggested that Special Forces soldiers have been in Abu Ghurayb since at least August or September. That was long before President Bush announced his decision to go to war.

A spokesman at Army Special Operations Command headquarters at Fort Bragg, N.C., Maj. Gary Kolb, said he had no information on the activities of the 5th Special Forces Group inside Iraq. The Army normally does not reveal information about the clandestine side of its work. The 5th Special Forces Group is based at Fort Campbell, Ky., and focuses on the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia. Soldiers from the group were involved in the Afghanistan war in 2001.

The Central Command statement Monday said a conventional Army force, the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, assumed control of Abu Ghurayb on April 13 and immediately began contacting Iraqi officials in charge of various public services. "It helped considerably that Special Forces soldiers had been in the area before the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom," the statement said, quoting the Special Forces team leader, identified only as Capt. Mike. Operation Iraqi Freedom is the Pentagon's name for the Iraq war. The statement said the Special Forces soldiers "developed a rapport with the townspeople before being accepted by the town's elders. As the relationship between the Iraqis and the Americans developed, the Special Forces team helped them set up an election without American influence."

"We were sent here to help win the hearts and minds of the people," Capt. Mike was quoted as saying. "We were sincere, and they responded to us. As time passed, they realized we were here to help."
Holding local elections for local governments should be the first step in establishing democracy in Iraq. Teach the concept at the local level, where folks can pick their mayor and city council and argue over local issues, and they'll learn, eventually, how to use the democratic process to settle differences on a much larger scale, like those Iraqis will face as they try to govern a nation split by religious factions.

Iraqis Get First Taste of Democracy
Iraqis have been subjected to that offshoot of modern democracy: the opinion poll. Turns out, at least in Baghdad, the locals are glad the U.S. invaded and many of them want us to stick around awhile. Betcha that really sticks in the craw of folks who supported the Leave-Saddam-Alone antiwar movement.

UPDATE: Democracy, Whisky, Sexy!

Donald Luskin continues to dismember the reputation of New York Times economy columnist Paul Krugman. Just go here, start reading and keep scrolling.

Online Sales Taxes Update
Yesterday, I wrote a long post about the issue of online sales taxes. I won't recap it - you can just scroll down or click here to read it. Today's Tennessean has another story on the same subject that is worth commenting on. The paper reports that an Illinois law firm is suing several online retailers to force them to pay Tennessee sales taxes, claiming they have sufficient physical "nexus" with the state of Tennessee to be required to collect such taxes.

Why is an Illinois firm suing on behalf of Tennessee? Money.

Tennessee has a law, the False Claims Act, which allows individuals to bring suits on behalf of the state. Under Tennessee law, the plaintiff can receive as much as one-third of any money awarded to the state as a result of the so-called whistleblower suit. So the Illinois law firm sees the lawsuit as a way to generate money for itself.

The suits target some of the biggest names in the retail industry, including Wal-Mart, Target, Amazon.com, PETsMART, Media Play and Bass Pro Shops. More than 30 retailers in all are named as defendants in the cases, which were filed in Davidson County Chancery Court at various times during the past six months. Though differing in some details, the suits generally accuse the retailers of failing to collect and remit taxes on purchases made by Tennessee residents via web sites. The suits seek unspecified back taxes owed and additional monetary damages. Listed as the plaintiff in each case is the Chicago-based law firm Beeler, Schad & Diamond. The firm has launched a similar effort against retailers in its home state of Illinois.

But unlike Illinois, where state officials are supporting the suits, officials with Tennessee's attorney general's office say they plan to soon file motions to have the Davidson County cases dismissed. "We don't think it properly falls under the False Claims Act," said Larry Lewis, deputy in charge of the attorney general office's tax division.

The suits should be dismissed, for that reason alone. Still, the issue they raise is interesting. The lawsuits allege the online retailers have sufficient physical presence in Tennessee and are required to collect sales taxes for Tennessee. Under the Supreme Court's 1992 Quill decision, merchants that sell to a customer in a state where the merchant have no physical presence can not be forced to collect that state's sales taxes. If you purchase from a catalog or Internet seller in another state you do not owe the state sales tax if the seller has no physical presence in Tennessee.

Amazon has no physical stores or other operations in Tennessee, but the Illinois law firm claims the online seller of books and other merchandise still has sufficient physical presence in Tennessee and ought to be collecting Tennessee sales tax.
In the case of Amazon.com, Beeler, Schab & Diamond's suit alleges that the online retail giant's web site sells products marketed by three companies - bookseller Borders, Toys R Us and Target - which all have a physical store presence in Tennessee. In addition the suit points out that both Amazon.com and Borders get their book orders filled by Ingram Book Group, the La Vergne-based distributor. "Because Amazon has representatives operating within Tennessee under Amazon's authority, Amazon is a dealer engaged in the business of selling tangible personal property in Tennessee and has a duty to collect and remit use tax on all of its web site sales to Tennessee purchasers," the complaint alleges.
I'm not totally comfortable with the entire argument, but it is true that some "pure-play" online merchants have played a game to avoid collecting online sales taxes even in states where it appears the company has a physical operation of some sort. Wal-Mart Stores, for example, clearly has a physical presence in Tennessee with stores dotting the landscape, but until recently its Walmart.com online store did not collect sales taxes from Tennessee residents. How could it legally avoid collecting the tax? Walmart.com was established as a separate business unit, and the online store had no physical presence in Tennessee.

In other words, the company legally avoided collecting sales taxes (and Tennessee customers who patronized the online store did not owe the sales taxes) via a loophole in the tax code.

I've said before on this site (I think, but I can't find it in the archives - it might have been in a newspaper column) that the way to address online sales taxes is to define in the law that if any portion of a large multi-subsidiary corporation has a physical presence in the state, the entire corporation is deemed to have a physical presence in the state for the purposes of deciding whether sales taxes should be collected. Under that definition, Walmart.com would be required to collect Tennessee sales taxes because it is part of a larger company that does have a physical presence in Tennessee. But Amazon, which does not, would not. But Target, Toys R Us and Borders merchandise sold through Amazon.com to Tennesseans would, since Amazon is merely the broker in that transaction, and the sellers - Target, Toys R Us and Borders - do have a physical presence here.

Walmart.com, by the way, is starting to charge Tennessee sales taxes under an agreement it and seven other online retailers, including Target.com, made with several states. The agreement allows the companies to avoid state efforts to collect past taxes, and also benefits the retailers by allowing them to bring their online and offline operations into closer coordination. As anyone who follows the development of ecommerce on a daily basis knows, big-name retailers like Walmart, Target and others are wanting to be able to do such things as accept returns at their stores of goods bought online. The legal fiction that allowed them to claim Walmart.com was a separate business - and thus avoid collecting sales taxes - made such integration and coordination problematic from a legal standpoint.

By the way - just a reminder: Tennessee officials who talk about "lost revenue" from untaxed online sales are using long-ago discredited wildly-exaggerated estimates of those losses.

Weblog Audience: 5 Million and Growing
Here are some quotes and notes from the PBS NewsHour story on weblogs, which aired last night:

"Weblogs have been dismissed by some as little more than soapboxes for the self-absorbed, while other see them as a new interactive form of participatory journalism." – Terence Smith, The NewsHour.

"Narcissism, creativity and a desire to connect with like-minded people." – Joan Connell, blog editor for MSNBC.com, on what drives webloggers.

"It is the opinion journalism weblogs, like Instapundit and AndrewSullivan.com that can and have made a difference in the public policy arena." – Terence Smith, The NewsHour

"When I first started writing my goal was actually to get myself to write, to try to become a better writer. I figured I could do it on the web and no one would see it. But over the years all of the sudden people started coming to the website." - John Irons, Assistant professor of economics at Amherst College, who writes a blog on economics at Argmax.com.

"I like weblogs because you get sophisticated political commentary in bite-sized chunks, and together with that you get the opportunity to correspond, in real time, with the writers. The whole process is just terrific. It's an absolute conversation between political and cultural commentators and their readers." – Washington DC attorney Dick Marshall, a regular reader of weblogs.

The number of weblog readers is estimated at 5 million people per day, and is growing. – Terence Smith, The NewsHour

The NewsHour report on blogging is online here in RealAudio format. It is almost 10 minutes long.

Almost Famous
This blog is now an example in a college course. An online course, naturally. I'm almost famous.


Freedom of The Press - In Iraq
Rich Hailey's piece below reminds us of the importance of an honest press. In Iraq, they're already starting to see the blossoming of a free press that won't merely serve to report the propaganda of a murderous regime. Reports the Christian Science Monitor:

In the two weeks since Kirkuk fell to a mix of Kurdish and US forces, free media outlets have been busting out all over: An Internet cafe opened its doors; a radio station called the Voice of Kirkuk started broadcasting part time; a newspaper called New Kurdistan, published in the autonomous northern city of Sulaymaniyah, started circulating here; and people are tuning into several Kurdish television channels broadcasting from the self-rule zone, an offense which in the past could have landed a person in jail, at best.

The race to let new voices be heard is also on in Baghdad, where a new newspaper began its first run on Tuesday. The offices of what was the state-run Al-Iraq newspaper are being used to put out a new daily called Al-Ittihad, meaning unity. But that paper - as well as the radio, television, and newspaper outlets here in Kirkuk - are all being sponsored by one Kurdish political party, the PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan], which has been spreading its resources from its quasi-capital in Sulaymaniyah to other parts of Iraq. The development of a culture that appreciates free speech and press freedoms may not germinate overnight. Still, working on limited resources and a tattered infrastructure, the sprouting of media outlets virtually overnight is remarkable. And in many parts of the world, Europe included, it is not unusual for major newspapers to be affiliated with political parties.
And this about which news network the people of Kirkuk prefer:
Two ethnic Turkmens - whose language is an offshoot of Turkish - are checking out new satellite dishes on the steps of Salih's store. They say they've already bought one and are enjoying watching television stations from Turkey. "If we turned on the television in the past, the only news was what Saddam did today," says Sabah Nur eh-Din. "We had only two channels. It would have been better to turn the television off and just paste up a picture of Saddam on the screen."

His friend, Abbas Ali, concurs. "We used to go to sleep at 10 p.m. Now we stay up until 4 or 5 a.m. because we can't get enough." Still desperate for war news, they tune to CNN, BBC, and what appears to be a local favorite, Fox. They like it, people here say, because it has been the most supportive of the war.

For many here, the only foreign channels they can understand are in Arabic, and they are deeply resentful of the most prominent one, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. Abu Bakr Mohammed Amin, an elderly man in a red-checkered headdress visiting Salih's television shop, gives them a dismissive flick of the wrist: "They only knew how to support Saddam," he says.
A flourishing, diverse press is required for a successful democracy. Iraq is off to a good start.

Truth in Reporting
I support the war against Saddam Hussein. I believe we were justified by both US and international law in using military force against Saddam Hussein. I believe Saddam Hussein was an evil man whose threat was only constrained by his capabilities. I believe those who protested against the war were wrong, and in many cases foolish. I believe that the actions of a very few bordered on treason. Peter Arnett springs to mind.

However, simple dissent is not treason, no matter how it is voiced.

Sunday, there was a rally in Knoxville to show support for our armed forces, including veterans past and present. According to J.J. Stambaugh, writing in the News-Sentinel, Burchett said that those who protested the war should be run out of the country.

State Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, also drew cheers and applause when he called for the deportation of political dissenters who publicly criticized President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. "That's treason, not patriotism," Burchett said. "They ought to be run out of our country and not allowed back."
This makes Sen. Burchett sound like one of the worst of the "Love it or leave it," crowd, and I called Sen. Burchett to get his side of the story. He had fielded several calls about the quote during the day, enough to generate a statement to reply to the emails he received. He told me that the News-Sentinel quote was pulled from a four-minute speech, and specifically referred to Natalie Maines' comments in Europe about President Bush. During a concert she said, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." A few days later, Natalie went on to say, "The more flack I get for it, the prouder I am," a sentiment that changed later, possibly due to slumping sales of the latest Dixie Chicks album. Sen. Burchett said that the quote pulled by the News Sentinel referred to the Dixie Chicks because Maines criticized the President during a time of war, and did so on foreign soil. His remarks were not directed towards all dissent, as implied by the News-Sentinel

Now, I disagree with Sen. Burchett. I don't think the statements by Ms. Maines come close to treason, nor should she be driven out of the country for her remarks. Dissent, no matter how poorly thought out or expressed, is an important right for all Americans, one which is constantly coming under fire. As an example, during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln drastically curtailed freedom of speech and of the press. Newspapers that printed stories against the war were shutdown, and some editors were jailed. Fortunately, we seem to have learned from history, and we haven't seen a similar governmental backlash against the press, or citizens who voice their dissent.

But we have seen something that is just as saddening. A newspaper is supposed to report the news, not distort the news. In a move worthy of the worst of the tabloids, the News-Sentinel took Sen. Burchett's comment out of context, stating that he was calling for the deportation of all who voice their dissent, which simply was not the case. When a journalist slants his coverage so baldly, he sacrifices his credibility, his stock in trade. He causes the paper he works for to lose credibility as well, and once a paper has lost its credibility, what is it good for?

Apologize? Never!
Donald Sensing is wondering when the religious Left - including some in his own United Methodist denomination - will apologize for its outrageous statements about the war in Iraq. He guesses: never. Here's some of it:

I await confessions of error at the minimum from the UMC's Bishops Peter Storey and Melvin Talbert; it is too much to expect that either will own up to their active role in urging that the Iraqi people be left to murder, torture, oppression and poverty under Saddam (and so urging in the name of Christ!). Storey wrote in February that the US military would kill more than 200,000 Iraqi citizens, he was off by a factor of about 100. It seems clear to me that, as I have written before, the oldline American Protestant churches are dominated by people who are primarily political, not primarily theological in their world view. They seem perhaps evenly divided between the two main camps that I discussed here. Having predetermined their political identity, they pile on religious language to back it up.

The neo-Marxist politicization of Western Christian theology is not total, but it's very deep. These are men and women who have allowed themselves to be propagandized by postmodern dialectics and see no redeeming virtues in Western civilization, especially America. They have no theology, not really, they have only left-wing political philosophy (and not even a well-done philosophy) that they have dressed up in God talk and called theology.

Read the whole thing. Plus, there's an interesting discussion on the comment board. Well, I found it interesting. I wrote a bunch of it. :-)

Keep the UN Out of Iraq
Do it for the Iraqi people, says Mark Steyn. I'd excerpt it but then you'd be tempted to not go and ...

Read the whole thing.

In Memoriam
Edward L. Gaylord, an Oklahoma billionaire who owns the majority of the stock in Gaylord Entertainment - owner of Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, Opryland Hotel and Convention Center and assorted other properties - has died. Things is about to get mighty interestin' in Nashville as ownership passes to Gaylord's children.

Edward L. Gaylord, the publisher of The Daily Oklahoman who expanded the media company his father started into a business empire that included Nashville's Opryland, has died. He was 83. Gaylord died Sunday night from complications from cancer, according to the newspaper. Gaylord assumed the leadership of The Oklahoma Publishing Co. in 1974 after the death of his father, E.K. Gaylord. By then, the younger Gaylord had already begun diversifying the company. In the 1970s, he established the Gaylord Production Co., which produced the syndicated TV series "Hee Haw" and the "Glen Campbell Show." In 1983, the company acquired the Opryland complex in Nashville, Tenn., for $240 million. The complex included The Nashville Network (now The National Network) and Country Music Television (CMT), both of which were later sold; CMT Europe cable networks and the Opryland Music Group. OPUBCO and Gaylord Entertainment are worth about $2.5 billion.

Goldberg Gigs the Chicks
Jonah Goldberg takes on the idiots on the Left who think the Dixis Chicks are the poster children for the supression of free speech:

Now, I don't want to belabor this point, but there is something remarkably obvious that needs to be said. In countries where actual free speech is threatened, where fascism or Orwellian thought control are the order of the day, the victims of the backlash don't typically go on to pose naked on the cover of a magazine, mock their critics, and score exclusive primetime interviews on national TV as well as, literally, thousands of write-ups in magazines and newspapers across the country. It's just not the way it works in ... hmmm I dunno, let's say, for example's sake, Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Over there people who criticized the president received different treatment. Over there, if I were to mention at the local bazaar, for instance, that Saddam Hussein dyes his mustache, I might expect a knock on the door later that evening from some men. One of them might grab my tongue with a pair of pliers and then, without anesthetic, slice my tongue off before I was carted off to jail for an unknown and unknowable period of time. And I guess - just for giggles - I should mention that Saddam's regime would still be doing this sort of thing today if we lived in the sort of crazy mixed-up world where people take the Dixie Chicks, Tim Robbins, and Martin Sheen seriously.

NewsHour to Report on Blogging
The NewsHour on PBS will air a report on blogging tonight. The report, by media reporter Terence Smith, has been in the works for several months. Check your local listings for the time your PBS station airs the NewsHour. The story is slated to air at approximately 29 minutes past the hour. The transcript for the story should appear on this PBS web page within a few days.

The NewsHour generally does well-researched in-depth pieces and I suspect this will be more of the same. When the transcript is online, I'll post a link here.

UPDATE: The story is online in RealAudio format here.

Very Special Forces
The New York Times, perhaps trying to make up for all its hysterical anti-war "quagmire" rhetoric before the Iraq war, publishes a paean to the Special Forces who played a large, though largely secret, role in winning that war.

Dozens more 12-member Special Forces teams infiltrated southern and western Iraq to hunt for Scud missiles and pinpoint bombing targets. Scores of Navy Seals seized oil terminals and pumping stations on the southern coast. Air Force combat controllers flew combat missions in AC-130 gunships and established austere desert airstrips to begin the flow of soldiers and supplies deep into Iraq. These carefully choreographed opening days marked an important milestone for Special Operations forces, military commanders say. Once viewed as mavericks and cowboys needing to be segregated from conventional troops, Special Operations forces were tightly incorporated into the United States Central Command's planning from day one. As a result, more Special Operations commandos and air crews were assigned to more missions and integrated more thoroughly into conventional military operations than in any other war in modern American history, senior officers said. All told, more than 9,000 Special Operations forces were involved in the conflict, military officials said.
The ending's marvelous in its simple truth.

War Update: More Stuff the Anti-War Movement Won't Like
A British politician consider a leader of the anti-war movement has been found to have been on Saddam's payroll. There is proof that al Qaeda and Saddam's regime were working together. We've found what looks to be chemical weapons - including cyclosarin - hidden north of Baghdad (and the hunt for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is just beginning.) Across the border in Iran, the mullahs - whom Glenn Reynolds so aptly called a "theokleptocracy" - are worried by signs the Iranian people are becoming very pro-American (and anti-mullahs!). France, meanwhile, is being revealed to have been providing intelligence secrets and other assistance to Saddam's regime.

Meanwhile, every day brings fresh evidence of the kinds of atrocities committed by the Iraqi regime (you know - the kinds of things CNN knew about but declined to report.)

Yet some on the anti-war Left continue to claim up is down and believe they were right to oppose the removal from power of a dictator who imprisoned children and fed opponents into shredders.

Generosity Linked to Taxes?
The Chronicle of Philanthropy has published its annual list ranking metropolitan areas by their financial generosity to charities and worthy causes. Here's a story from the AP via CNN, with a list of the ten most generous cities (Nashville is seventh, Memphis is fifth) and the ten least generous cities. I haven't done a direct comparison but it strikes me that many of the cities on the most-generous list - indicating their citizens give a higher percentage of their discretionary income to religious and non-profit causes - are in states with lower taxes, while many of the cities on the least-generous list are in states with high taxes.

According to the CNN story, residents of the Salt Lake City and Ogden area in Utah are the nation's most generous, and people in Hartford, Connecticut, are the least. Salt Lake City-Ogden residents who itemized their federal tax deductions gave 14.9 percent of their discretionary income to religious and nonprofit causes. Nashville residents gave 8.3 percent and Memphis residents gave 8.4 percent of their discretionary income to religious and nonprofit causes. The Chronicle of Philanthropy analyzed 1997 tax data for households earning more than $50,000 a year that itemized deductions, including charity donations, on their tax returns. Taxpayers who don't itemize can't write off charity donations, and there is no reliable way to measure their donations. The study subtracted housing, food, taxes and other basic living costs from total incomes to arrive at figures for discretionary incomes.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy story is on their website here. It also ranks charitableness by city rather than the broader "metropolitan area," and finds Detroit ranks #1, followed by New York and Fort Worth.

Online Sales Taxes? Argghh!
The half-truths, misstatements and falsities in this report written by Karin Miller, the Associated Press reporter in Tennessee, and carried in today's Tennessean, are numerous. Below, excerpts from the story in italics, followed by my comments.

Tennesseans who shop on the Internet should pay sales tax when they purchase an item, but most don't.

Actually, Tennesseans who shop at many online retailers do indeed pay sales taxes because those websites are operated by a major offline retailer.

The state doesn't enforce the law and the federal government doesn't require online retailers to collect the tax.

The state's sales tax doesn't apply the purchases made from out of state vendors online any more than Tennessee applies its sales taxes to a candy bar or a sweater you buy in Kentucky. The state has a "use" tax on the books for items you buy out of state and bring into Tennessee, identical to the sales tax, but Tennessee never set up an enforcement and collection mechanism, making the tax de facto voluntary. How voluntary? The form state government provides for reporting your purchases and filing your "use" taxes describes itself as a way for Tennesseans to "voluntarily" report their tax liability. The state has no pro-active general collection mechanism for the use tax and the state does not fairly and equitably enforce the - nor make any attempt to fairly and equitably enforce - the tax. It is a voluntary tax and will remain such until the legislature deems it necessary to create a collection mechanism.

In 2001, state and local governments lost about $362 million in Internet sales taxes, according to a University of Tennessee study, and researchers project the losses to grow to $1.2 billion within three years.

That study has long ago been discredited time and time again, but the AP didn't bother to mention a more recent research study into online sales taxes which found states are losing much less than the UT study estimated - perhaps because Miller, the AP reporter, was successfully "spun" by Tennessee officials and legislators who want to make the revenue "loss" appear to be very very bad. The UT study was based on projections for the growth of e-commerce made during the dot-com boom, but online sales have not grown that fast. Also, an increasingly portion of online sales are being made by the online units of offline retailers, and those companies increasingly are charging sales taxes.

Nationally, the study found that governments lost $13.3 billion in ''e-taxes,'' with losses estimated at $45 billion by 2006.

See above.

A multistate effort, known as the streamlined sales tax project, seeks to create a national standard for collecting taxes owed on Internet and mail-order sales. Thirty-seven of the 45 states that impose a sales tax are seeking to participate, including Tennessee.

Miller doesn't bother to mention until much much later in the story that participation would be voluntary, because of two Supreme Court rulings that currently bar such taxes. She also never mentions the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars states from taxing economic activity outside their borders. (Incidentally, the state's "use" tax is supposedly applied to the purchase price of merchandise you buy out-of-state plus any shipping and handling charges that the merchant adds to your bill, which clearly appears to be a violation of the Commerce Clause because it applies the tax to economic activity - shipping and handling - that clearly occurs in another state. But that's an issue for another day.)

"We're trying to level the playing field between brick-and-mortar businesses in this state and those on the 'Net, and to ask people to pay taxes they already owe," said Sen. Bill Clabough, R-Maryville, who is helping lead Tennessee's effort.

Clabough. Argghh! The Republican is a consistent squish on taxes - he was a supporter of the proposed but unconstitutional state income tax (Tennessee Politics, 4/26/99) and here again proves he is both for higher taxes and doesn't know what he's talking about. The tax is not owed right now. Repeat: you do not owe one dime of sales tax to Tennessee on things you buy over the Internet from sellers who don't have a physical presence in Tennessee. That, according to the 1992 Quill ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, upholding your constitutional protection against states levying their taxes outside their borders.

Because of that complexity, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1967 that businesses don't have to collect taxes for states unless they have a physical presence in the state.

The court's primary reason wasn't "complexity." The primary reason was the Commerce Clause.

At the time of that decision, most ''remote'' sales were catalog orders. The landscape was similar when the nation's high court upheld the ruling in a second case a decade ago. However, Internet sales have changed all that.

How? The Internet is merely an electronic catalog and ordering system.

Retailers won't start collecting the taxes until at least 10 of the 45 states streamline their systems. The states must represent 20% of the 45 states' population, or about 55 million people. The system would be voluntary for retailers and states - unless Congress is persuaded to impose the standard code nationally. Clabough said U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert had promised to move such legislation quickly, and he plans to ask Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee for a similar vow.

Frist, who wants to be President, should tell Hastert where to stick it.

Clabough will meet today with House Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Head, Comptroller John Morgan and Revenue Commissioner Loren Chumley in hopes of reaching a compromise that will allow him to move forward with legislation.

You mean the governor isn't pushing this? Clabough - the governor, a Democrat, doesn't want to raise taxes! Why are you, a Republican, seeking to raise taxes? Don't you see how beloved is the last Republican who tried that in Tennessee? We're talking about ex-Gov. Don Sundquist, who is routinely booed even in absentia and who, if he'd been able to run for a third term, would have been overwhelmingly rejected by voters. Stop being a squish on taxes, Clabough. Stand up for the people instead of the every-growing government for a change.


Krugman Responds to Luskin
And Luskin, who slapped him down Wednesday, slaps him down harder the second time around.

Someone Spotted a Segway
You know, a Segway. One of those high-tech, $5,000 glorified scooters that look so dorky but were supposed to revolutionize "human transport." Well, someone spotted somebody using one to get around in New York City. (Don't let anyone tell you Segways make Segway users look like dorks!)

My only thought about Segways is this: If we all used them instead of walking, we'd all start getting fatter due to lack of exercise. At what poundage level is one's butt too big for the Segway? And when that level is reached, will the Segway collapse under the weight, or merely be so slowed by the weight that its forward movement becomes almost imperceptible, forcing the rider to dismount his or her prodigious posterior and walk, huffing and puffing, towing the thing behind?

A Sin of Omission
The Tennessean is reporting that the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville is on the short list of possible sites for a 2004 Presidential Debate. Perhaps the paper should have looked a little deeper into the release from the Commission on Presidential Debates: Another site on the short list is the new Curb Events Center, a 5,000-seat arena nearing completion on the campus of Belmont University ... in Nashville. The much smaller and less experienced Nashville City Paper had the whole story.

Oil: The All-Purpose Conspiracy Theory
Glenn Reynolds says we ought to consider using a bit of our power to depose Robert Mugabe, the thug running Zimbabwe, and says such an adventure would have the added advantage of not being able to be portrayed by the hysterical anti-war Left as being "about oil."

But of course a war to depose Mugabe would be all about oil, if the Left wanted to try not very hard to spin a conspiracy theory. Here's how the illogic might go:

A few months ago, Mugabe signed a deal to increase oil imports from Libya. Libya is an alleged sponsor of international terrorism, and an Arab state run by an alleged dictator who doesn't like the United States. In fact, he hates the U.S. because he was bombed by the U.S. during the Reagan administration. And who was vice president under Reagan? Bush 41, who later became president and invaded Iraq, but left Saddam in power. 12 years later, Bush 41's son, a president with well-known ties to Big Oil, again invaded Iraq in a war to take Iraq's oil.

Meanwhile, there's Mugabe, the legitimate president of Zimbabwe, buying more oil from its "staunch Arab ally" Libya, which of course will decrease the amount of oil available to U.S. customers, driving up the price at the pump and harming the U.S. economy. Plus, Zimbabwe, while having no proven oil or natural gas reserves, does have good potential for coal-bed methane gas production, which would represent either competition for Big Oil, which is bad, or opportunity for Big Oil - either way, the Bush administration has a powerful incentive to get control of Zimbabwe's coal beds in order to protect its ally Big Oil.

Er, something like that. I'm an amateur conspiracy theory spinner, not an accomplished lefty conspiracist like Noam Chomsky, et al. Probably need to add something about a "pipeline project" in it, and the Carlyle Group, to make it more credible.

Oh, wait. Amazing. Just googled "Zimbabwe oil pipeline" and hit the jackpot.

August 16, 2002: Tamoil, the Libyan state owned oil company is faced with bankruptcy over its dealings with Zimbabwe, industry sources say. So desperate is Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe to maintain this vital source that he had handed the deeds of Zimbabwe House, the home of his country's high commission in London, to Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi as surety. Libya already owns vast tracts of land in Zimbabwe as a result of the deal. Following the $ 360 mm-a-year deal struck between Mugabe and Gaddafi last December, Tamoil was contracted to provide 70 % of Zimbabwe's 800000 barrel a month requirement. The rest of Zimbabwe's oil came from IPG in Kuwait and overland from South Africa. Oil industry sources said one of those suppliers, BP, would close the taps to Zimbabwe because of non-payment.

The sources said the Libya-Zimbabwe transaction took an early turn for the worse. Supplies had been stopped twice. Zimbabwe was unable to meet the $90 mm quarterly payment in May this year and Tamoil turned off the taps for 21 days. Gaddafi personally intervened to get the oil flowing again.
Among the items taken in payment were controlling interests in the Jewel Bank, formerly the Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe and in the state travel company, Rainbow Tourist Group. Gaddafi has been given a controlling share in the oil pipeline between Zimbabwe and the Mozambique port of Beira. He also has a significant shareholding in Zimbabwe's state-owned energy company Noczim. Gaddafi had said he also wanted shares in the Victoria Falls Hotel and the Sheraton in Harare
So there you have it. An Arab dictator is acquiring vast tracts of Zimbabwe, a non Arab, non-Muslim country, and doing it with OIL as a weapon. Ergo, if the Bush administration tries to oust Mugabe, it will clearly be "all about oil."

If the Left wants to spin it that way.

Liberating Iraq from Space
The Los Angeles Times has an interesting story today looking at how satellites allowed the U.S. military to swifty adjust battle plans. The Times' site requires a free registration, and then will load your PC with pop-ups, so I've taken the liberty of excerpting a small portion of the story for you:

Stretched across a wall at the U.S. Air Force's Combined Air Operations Center near the Persian Gulf is a shimmering, ever-changing display, showing the location of every aircraft above Iraq. Throughout the war, commanders at the operations center used the map to reroute bombers the moment targets emerged - whether they were Saddam Hussein sightings or Iraqi missile launches. In a matter of minutes - not hours or days as in past wars - commanders identified targets and then sent out orders to bomb. This compression of time, known in the military as "shortening the kill chain," was possible for just one reason: satellite information. Flowing through a network of electronic eyes and ears above Earth, information bathed the battlefield, sending location data to GPS units in tanks, messages to sturdy portable computers with the troops and satellite images to weather stations set up on the dusty front lines.

The fire hose of information from space was a little-heralded but critical part of the swift victory in Iraq, providing a different kind of shock and awe: the ability to act almost instantaneously and cripple the Iraqi army's ability to respond. In the Iraq war, space became the ultimate military high ground. While last year's conflict in Afghanistan saw the use of space technologies in small skirmishes, the Iraq war marked the first effort to apply them across an entire battlefield swarming with hundreds of thousands of soldiers and a constant rush of tanks, jets and helicopters.
There's also a cool PDF illustration of how the system worked.

State DMCA Update
Today's Tennessean has a good op-ed by the operator of a local Internet cafe/coffee shop regarding the truly horrible legislation moving through the state legislature that would create a state version of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Finally, opposition to the legislation appears to be getting some traction in the press.

Writes Joe Dougherty:

Do you enjoy taping Tennessee-Florida football? Under this law, your cable company could decide you may not do that unless you use their specified device. You know, the one that doesn't let you skip the commercials. Do you log in to your office VPN network from home? It might be illegal under the terms of the Super DMCA. Need to send an encrypted email to your attorney? Might be illegal. Want to instant message with an AOL buddy using your software? Gee, that might land you in jail too.

Did you buy one of the new wireless computer routers and cards so your child could do his Internet research on the laptop in his bedroom while you read email in the kitchen? The Super DMCA could make that illegal. Want to remain anonymous and notify the legal authorities of crimes and misdeeds? Don't blow that whistle. That, too, might be illegal under the terms of the Super DMCA.

The intent of the bill is to control how you use your televisions, telephones, computers, personal digital assistants, audio/video recorders - in short, any modern communication device. It would be illegal for you to use your God-given right to tinker and try new inventions without the approval of your provider.
Dougherty notes one other problem with the legislation: This law makes it a crime to do many types of university level research. Consequently, if it is passed, when professors and companies decide where to locate and work, they may not come to Tennessee. They'll go to states that had the foresight and wisdom to refuse to do the bidding of the entertainment and telecom lobbies.

I've got more on the state DMCA here on April 23. The post has links to a lot of other resources.

Dougherty's piece assumes Gov. Phil Bredesen has "the knowledge and intelligence to understand the unnecessary and harmful effects this bill may have on Tennesseans." But perhaps we shouldn't assume Bredesen is already opposed to this horribly bad legislation. You can send him email. If you don't want to write an email, just send him a short note urging him to veto the legislation if it reaches his desk, and send him links to Doughtery's op-ed and my April 23 posting.

Tennessean: Fowler's Words Not Racist
Amazingly, The Tennessean says it sees no racism in state Sen. David Fowler's question about the lottery scholarship money and whether some students might " snort it up their nose, buy kegs for the fraternity." Fowler had been accused by a group of African-American legislators of racism for the remark. I'd have bet a dollar The Tennessean would've sided with those crying "racism" in this incident. After all, it's the same paper that, nine nears ago, published stories with a straight face in which then-U.S. Senate candidate Bill Frist was accused of racism for a remark about sharp pencils


Bloglet Update
I slammed Bloglet two days ago, saying the email alert service it powers rarely works and, in fact, "sucks." And it started working again. Apparently, Bloglet had been having some problems. I dunno. Maybe it's gonna work now, or maybe it's gonna go back to sucking. I'm leaving the disclaimer on it - but if you want a daily email alert letting you know what's been posted on the site in the last 24 hours, feel free to give Bloglet a try. It's over there on the right-side column. And while you're over there, scroll down to the Amazon tip jar and show you support for the site and that you want to see it continue to operate...

Can't Buy Me Love? Saddam Did
One of the leading voices of the antiwar movement was bought and paid for by Saddam. Somehow, I'm not surprised. And just who is running to the defense of the paid-for apologist for tyranny? Scott Ritter, the former U.S. arms inspector who became a Saddam apologist after taking Iraqi money himself. LGF has more on Ritter, and it isn't pretty. By the way, here is Ritter's email address: wsritter@aol.com

I Want My WMD
"Best of the Web" over at OpinionJournal.com has a nice assessment of the anti-war movement's fixation with the lack, so far, of finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a topic I commented on extensively yesterday: They demand weapons of mass destruction right now (after arguing that Hans Blix and crew should have forever to find them). How true. And how transparent. The Left wants to write of the Iraq project as a failure now before it's really over - and before it has a chance to fully succeed. Success in Iraq - deposing the murderous tyrant, disarming the nation of its WMDs, and democratizing its government - is the Left's worst nightmare. Hence, the rush to declare the mission a failure long before the mission is over.

Dixie Chicks Update
The Dixie Chicks are uncovered on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, and spouting off to Diane Sawyer on ABC, claiming they were the targets of those who want to silence them and take away their free speech. Two thoughts. 1. If there was such a conspiracy to silence them, it worked pretty darn poorly - they're on ABC and in a popular magazine. 2. The conspiracy to expose the Chicks as total nitwits is working much, much better.

Iraq Update
Uh oh. Looks like Islamic fundamentalism is rearing its ugly head in Baghdad. So much for "Democracy, whisky, sexy!" Er... or maybe not.

HobbsOnline Prepares to Move
MovableType produces some great blogging software. I use it at work and I use it as one of nearly 100 bloggers contributing to PolState.com. Unfortunately, they don't offer web hosting services like Blogger does, so myself and thousands of other bloggers are basically stuck with Blogger for our independent weblogs unless we want to pay for a domain name, rent service space, etc..., some of which is, in my case, more technical detail than I feel like handling in order to produce a blog. After all, my readers rarely bother to drop any loose change in the tip jar or support the site by purchasing merchandise at the outlets mentioned in the right-hand column, so I'm always looking for ways to make operating this blog easy and painless.

Now comes the good news. MovableType is soon to launch TypePad, an online blog hosting service, to compete with Blogger. I'll be moving HobbsOnline to that service sooner rather than later - once TypePad is up and running smoothly. It may be a few months, but I just wanted to let you know. And, once I'm on a Movable Type-powered blogs, I'll turn on the comment feature for at least some items. You can learn more about TypePad here.

Stop the state DMCA!
Rich Hailey, who posts here occasionally (but not often enough) has some comments on my post yesterday about efforts to pass a state version of the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Says Hailey: If you use a firewall, if you archive music, if you listen to CD's on your computer, if you time shift shows off cable or satellite, if you think you have the right to watch what you want, when you want, and that it is nobody's business what you watch, then you have a stake in stopping this legislation.

Well said.

A state senator questions whether lottery money for scholarships might wind up being used by some students to buy cocaine and beer - and gets called a racist. But a clear-minded look at who said what indicates that it is those who are accusing the senator of racism for his remarks who are the ones who have a dim view of minorities.

An excerpt of the story: During a debate on lottery scholarships, [Sen. David] Fowler questioned $1,000 scholarship supplements that would be awarded to qualifying students from families with adjusted gross income of less than $36,000.

"Just a real quick question," Fowler said in remarks addressed to Sen. Jo Ann Graves, D-Gallatin, who made the proposal. "Where does the $1,000 go? I mean, just, are we just going to write them a check for $1,000 and they can snort it up their nose, buy kegs for the fraternity?"

That's it. That's the whole remark.

Within hours, some - but, thankfully, not all - of the African-American members of the Tennessee legislature were accusing Fowler of "outrageous racial remarks" and calling Fowler "the spokesman for the racist regime in the Tennessee Senate."

But here's the question: Who are the real racists in this little uproar?

The African-American legislators who are claiming Fowler was referring to minorities when he mentioned cocaine and kegs. Because, it is clear, that is how those legislators view poor African-American residents in their districts: as cocaine-snorting, beer-drinking losers.

Some African-American legislators don't think Fowler's comments were racist. Stupid and crass, yes, but not racist.

Sen. Roscoe Dixon, D-Memphis, who is African-American, did not attend the news conference with other black lawmakers but said the comment was "probably inappropriate." He noted that if Fowler had used the examples of "crack cocaine" or a "quart of Colt 45," that may have been construed as racist. "You don't see many black people buying kegs," Dixon said.

Fowler's comments were stupid and uncalled for. There were better ways to ask the legitimate question over making sure lottery money actually gets spent on college tuition. He could have asked what guarantee there was the money wouldn't get spent on pizza and concert tickets, and offended no one.

But were Fowler's words racist? Only in the minds of a few African-American legislators who either view their constituents as beer-drinking, coke-snorting losers, or simply look for a reason, however flimsy, to cry "racism!" and play the victim every chance they get. Either way, they - not Fowler - are the race-baiters in this story.

This is also posted at PolState.com, with a comments board.

The Nashville City Paper has a story on the Fowler comments and reaction, in which state Rep. Ulysses Jones absolutely goes off the deep end, calling Flower a closet Klan member, saying has has a "serious deficiency in intelligence," and charging the entire state senate - which has three African-American members - is a "racist regime." Fowler's response to Jones' comments are, it should be noted, as sane, rational and respectful as Jones' were unhinged and rude. Read the NCP's story here. They allow readers to post comments, unlike most dailies.


Krugman's Deception
Donald Luskin unravels a lie told by New York Times economic columnist Paul Krugman. It's also over at Luskin's rather excellent blog.

Why Can't People Spell My Name?
It's Hobbs. Not Hobbes. I'm not related to this guy or this cat.

The Hunt for the WMDs
The anti-war Left is pushing a new meme: we haven't found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, so that proves Bush lied about the reason for the war, there are no WMDs, so the war was illegal, blah, blah, blah. But wait. We haven't found Saddam or his remains yet, so why isn't the anti-war Left clamoring that must prove he didn't exist?

The heavy combat just ended a few days ago, and we're still trying to restore law and order and basic services to a country the size of California. It's not likely we'll find the whole big pile of WMDs gift-wrapped and waiting for us in some public square in Tikrit, with a note from Saddam saying "Here it is. Sorry for all your troubles." It's a complex, ongoing investigation. We just don't have an Official Iraqi WMD Treasure Map with a big, fat X marking the spot where the WMDs are hidden.

The Left is trying to say that because the Bush administration claimed it had intel indicating Saddam had WMDs, but we haven't found them yet, proves the Bush administration was lying. That's silly. Intel that indicates something exists is not necessarily intel on the thing's exact location. I know for a fact my Dad owns a shotgun and a real nice 30.06 rifle. But I don't know where in his house they are. In fact, for all I know, he moved them to the neighbor's house, or down the street to someone else's house.

That's what's happening with the WMD hunt. We know Saddam had the WMDs 12 years ago. Heck, we've got video of the stuff. And we can safely assume he didn't destroy his WMDs because neither he nor the UN inspectors ever provided evidence that his WMDs were fully eliminated and his WMD programs fully shut-down. Even Hans Blix says Iraq can't account for tons of the stuff. So we know it was there, and know it hasn't been destroyed. The only thing we don't know is where, exactly, it is right now.

Iraq a big country - the size of California - and we've got fewer than 1,000 people looking for this stuff, and having to do so while stray Saddam loyalists take potshots at our military, in a land where they don't speak the local language, etc., etc. It appears that much of the effort right now is on rounding up Iraqi scientists who can provide intel to shorten the search, and we're having some success in nabbing the scientists or convincing them to turn themselves in.

We're not likely to find the WMDs at the scientists' homes, but the search for the WMDs must go through their homes. Hence, the delay in finding the actual WMDs.

And we don't know yet if Saddam moved truckloads of the stuff to Syria, or put it on a boat and sent it out to sea, or buried it in an unmarked hole in the western Iraqi desert. Take your pick, or all of the above. We know some Republican Guard troops were equipped with chemical protection suits and gas masks, which proves Saddam was contemplating using chemical weapons. Which means he had them.

As I said before, intel confirming existence of WMDs is not necessarily intel confirming location of WMDs, anymore than not having found Saddam or his JDAMMED remains yet proves he didn't exist.

Saddam had 12 years to hide the stuff and we're supposed to find it in 12 days? Have some patience. This is a very complex investigation. We'll track down the scientists, flip them, roll up the WMD program leaders (except for Chemical Ali, who is now gassing his 72 virgins in hell) and eventually find the buried treasure. Or we'll find out where it went. Maybe some of the WMD stuff isn't in Iraq because Saddam palmed it off to al Qaeda or Hizb'allah (Party of God - nice peaceful religious Muslims ya know). If so, then we NEED to be in Iraq, gathering intel and tracking the stuff down before it gets used against us. Which, of course, was a big reason for the war. And if we find out that Saddam destroyed a lot of it the day before the war, well, that's a form of victory, too, isn't it? After all, that was the ultimate goal - not just finding the WMDs, but destroying them too, and making sure they didn't and don't fall into the hands of terrorists.

The Left, which predicted and openly yearned for a body bag-filled quagmire, now hopes we don't find the weapons of mass destruction – for finding the WMDs will further expose the stupidity of their opposition to the war. In case we do find them, they have already telegraphed their response: they'll say, without evidence, that the stuff was planted by the CIA, and they'll repeat it long enough that a small minority of people will believe them, march with them, and donate to the World Workers Party, the communist organization that is the prime mover in the anti-war Left.

The Left lampoons the lack of WMDs so far, and also calls for the U.S. to turn Iraq over to the UN and pull out - which would guarantee the WMDs are never found. But here's the rub: We all know the weapons existed. If we don't find them, there's a high likelihood its because the Left managed to delay the war by forcing the Bush administration to dither and dally with the UN long enough for Saddam to hide some and palm some off to terrorists. If we turn Iraq over to the UN, we would never find out if Saddam gave some WMDs to al Qaeda and Hizb'allah - never, that is, until they are used against us and tens of thousands of Americans lay dead or dying in the streets of New York or Washington or Los Angeles or your town.

And if that happens, the anti-war Left, which pushed the Bush administration to go to the UN in hopes of delaying and preventing the war, would bear a part of the blame.

UPDATE: Dr. Weevil made the comparison a week ago between not finding Saddam yet and not finding the WMDs. I hadn't read Weevil's piece, but Instapundit is still right to say: "Advantage, Weevil." Also, in one of the comments below Weevil's piece, it is noted that Saddam was prohited from having programs for the development and manufacture of WMD's, not just prohibited from having WMDs themselves. So, finding precursors to WMDs - labs, tools, etc. - is proof enough of sufficient casus belli.

Click the cartoon for more great cartoons and commentary from Cox and Forkum.

AP Tries To Prop Up Attack on Wamp
The Associated Press has published a follow-up story on U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp and seven other congressman who the AP implied in a hit-piece a few days ago were getting a sweetheart deal on housing from a secretive Christian organization in Washington D.C. But note, please, how the AP tries to maintain the illusion that Wamp is doing something wrong - even though the liberal Common Cause says the $600-a-month rent Wamp is paying to rent a single room is reasonable, as Rich Hailey wrote about here yesterday.

Not willing to just admit it's initial story was baseless innuendo, the new AP story implies Wamp is renting the whole house for $600, by starting its story this way: "U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp said he is paying market rate by living in a $1.1 million, Capitol Hill townhouse for $600 a month..." The AP is trying to tie in readers' minds Wamp's $600 a month and the $1.1 million price of the house. But the truth is, Wamp is one of eight congressman who pay $600 a month to rent rooms in the house - a total of $4,800 a month in rent. That's more than enough to cover a typical mortgage on a $1.1 million house. They're paying a reasonable rate for their rooms. (If the foundation that owns the house put $300,000 down - not unreasonable for a $1.1 million house - and financed the $800,000 balance at 6 percent, the mortgage would be $4,796 a month, not including taxes and insurance.) If the AP had been truly fair to Wamp in the follow-up it would have put in the lead that not only does Wamp believe he is paying a fair rate for the room, but that Common Cause agrees.

The AP continues to call the religious organization "secretive" even though the organization sponsors the very high-profile annual National Prayer Breakfast that routinely attracts the sitting president of the United States, most members of congress, and many foriegn dignitaries. Notice, also, that The Tennessean helps perpetuate the lie that Wamp and the other congressman are doing something wrong or questionable, by headling the AP story "Wamp defends living in house..." But there's nothing to "defend," other than to defend against a silly, unwarranted, innuendo-driven attack launched by the Associated Press, an attack it now appears was motivated mainly by antipathy toward the fact of Wamp's (and the other congressmen's) Christianity.

Wamp and the other congressman are paying a reasonable rate to rent their rooms. The "secretive" religious group is, in fact, not secretive at all, and its mission is not a mystery, as I explained here on Sunday. It appears that religious bigotry not facts, drove the AP story. End of story.

Assaulting Your Digital Rights
Here's an update on some truly lousy legislation making its way through the Tennessee legislature. The legislation - which I wrote about here and here in the last month - would create a state version of the controversial federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Unfortunately, this bad legislation is moving rapidly through the legislature without press scrutiny or the public outcry it deserves. The Tennessean finally covered the legislation today, in a story that seems to favor the legislation and accept the Tennessee Cable Television Association's view favoring the legislation. But at least the paper acknowledged the other side of the story - that the law will "jeopardize the privacy and civil liberties of those who use the devices" encompassed by the legislation:

The proposal originally made it a crime to knowingly use an "'unlawful communication device'" to receive "any communication service without the express consent" of the company providing the service, which could be an Internet service provider, cable company or telephone company. That would have let those companies "effectively control what you can connect in your living room," said Fred Von Lohmann, a senior attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco advocacy group that opposes the bill. Opponents, including Von Lohmann's group, say the original bill would outlaw commonly used computer-security software such as firewalls, citing wording that outlaws use of an "unlawful communication device" to conceal the origin or destination of a communication.
But beyond that The Tennessean's story fails to explore the much-broader ramifications of the bill beyond the cable TV industry. Memo to The Tennessean: this legislation is about much, much more than cable TV. It is about Hollywood asserting control over all digital technology. Some sections of the draft legislation even banned research and writing about technologies such as computer security, filtering and other important Internet topics that might lead to infringing copyrights.

The legislation is backed by the powerful Motion Picture Association of America, which is, no doubt, greasing the campaign warchests of legislators who sponsor and support it. The legislation calls for criminal charges against individuals who provide or employ devices "with the intent to defraud a communication service provider." But opponents say the law's too-broad definitions could outlaw useful devices merely on the basis that they might be used for illicit purposes. The baby DMCA laws have already passed in Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Wyoming, and are working their way through legislatures in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas as well as in Tennessee, where the judiciary committee of the state Senate has recommended the passage, with amendments, of the proposed legislation. Sen. Curtis Person is pushing the bad legislation in the state Senate. In the state House, the legislation is being pushed by Rep. Rob Briley.

It's lousy law. For a better understanding of why, please read this piece examining the virtually identical legislation under consideration in Florida.

Feel free to email Person and Briley and tell them to stop the mini-DMCA. You should also email your state representatives and state senators to urge them to vote against House Bill 457 and Senate Bill 213 when it comes to their committee or to the floor.

For more, see Copyfight.org and blogger Aaron Schwartz, Princeton professor Edward Felton's blog, this roundup from John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, as well as this Electronic Frontier Foundation round-up of information, and this recent story from the Boston Globe.

And please remind your legislators they work for you, not for the Motion Picture Association of America.


Bloglet Sucks
The email alert service offered on this site by Bloglet rarely works. Don't ask me why. It's free. I get what I pay for. If you're one of my subscribers, I apologize. I'll keep the Bloglet service, but I'm going to add a disclaimer that it rarely works. Meanwhile, just check the site every morning, whether you get the email or not, because I update frequently. Besides, HobbsOnline is good for you.

If Baghdad Bob Needs a New Job...
This one sounds like it might be fun.

Update on C Street
Bill posted Sunday about a story in The Tennessean implying wrongdoing on the part of several congressman who rent rooms in a house in Washington D.C. that is owned by a Christian group. In that story, The Tennessean said that Rep Zach Wamp, one of the residents of the house, wasn't commenting.

Well, he is now. In a story posted in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Wamp dismisses the story.

"I think frankly it's much ado about nothing," Wamp said of a national media report that first named him among the residents of a house that tax records show is owned by the C Street Center, a sister organization of a foundation known as the Fellowship.
Here's the story: Eight members of Congress live in the boarding house, each paying $600 per month. They each have their own bedroom, but share bathrooms. According to Common Cause, that is a reasonable rate. Again from the News-Sentinel:
"There is no indication from this (AP) story that there is a specific lobby agenda from the (religious) group," said Celia Wexler of Common Cause. "We kind of checked around with people who lived on Capitol Hill and that $600 a month didn't sound to them like an incredibly bargain rate" for a room in a house.
Hmm. Sharing a house to save money. Sounds like good fiscal policy to me.

Here is one of those fascinating stories about how the Internet and other digital technologies are radically and rapidly altering a society for the better.

The rapid embrace of online banking is but one example of the remarkable tech transformation of this Baltic nation where most people didn't even have a phone when Soviet control ended in 1991. Estonia has the most advanced information infrastructure of any formerly communist eastern European state. Dubbed E-Stonia by some, the country ranked No. 8 out of 82 countries in putting the Net to practical use in a recent World Economic Forum report. The country ranked No. 2 in Internet banking and third in e-government.

Last month, the government launched a one-stop home page for online state services. Estonians can use it to digitally sign government forms or legally binding contracts with other people. The government also set up a site called "Today, I'm Deciding" to let citizens offer their own opinions on legislation. It's got a chat room where they can debate the merits of bills or offer up legislation of their own.

Estonia's progress is especially impressive considering its condition at the time of the Soviet collapse, when you could count the number of modern personal computers on two hands, said technology consultant Linnar Viik. That relative backwardness proved an unexpected benefit. Estonia leapfrogged countries wedded to older technologies.
(Hat tip: David Russell)

This Is Good
I like this plan.

Peeping Tim
Tim Blair recently had a comment about Marshamallow Peeps. So I sent him a link to this. His response: "They put one in an AUTOCLAVE? People are sick." Turns out, Blair's mother's family name is Hobbs so, "we're probably weird cousins or something." Given the high quality of his blog, I'll claim him.

Democracy, Whisky, Sexy
From the New York Times:

NAJAF, Iraq, April 2 - In the giddy spirit of the day, nothing could quite top the wish list bellowed out by one man in the throng of people greeting American troops from the 101st Airborne Division who marched into town today. What, the man was asked, did he hope to see now that the Baath Party had been driven from power in his town? What would the Americans bring? "Democracy," the man said, his voice rising to lift each word to greater prominence. "Whiskey. And sexy!"
And now it's a song you can download for free.

This One Is a Bit Local
Today's Nashville City Paper editorializes that Brentwood voters should elect city council members who will support a redevelopment plan proposed for the 550-acre Turner farm property - a plan that goes against the city's low-density development zoning that has been in place since Brentwood began. The editorial says the proposal, for a "European-style village," would give Brentwood "a long-needed real downtown."

Now, I haven't looked at the Turner proposal - you can, at BrentwoodPlan.com - and I don't have an opinion on it. I had read somewhere that it would make neccessary the extension of Murray Lane to a new interchange at I-65, which strikes me as a bad idea. But that's not my beef with the City Paper. I just want to know why Brentweed has "long needed" a "real downtown." Is there a law that mandates a suburb must eventually evolve a "real" downtown? Is there some subset of regulations that defines what, exactly, makes a downtown "real" or, even makes it a "downtown" at all?


Other than the City Paper, who says Brentwood "needs" a "real" downtown? Brentwood is a nice place now, without a "real downtown," whatever a "real downtown" is. Neighboring Franklin, the suburb I call home, has a "real downtown." It's quaint, old, full of character, and a real hassle to drive through. Sure, it's filled with lots of neato shops and eateries, but I rarely go there. CoolSprings Mall is much more accessible, larger, offers more selection, etc. Nashville, the big city just north of Brentwood, has a "real downtown," filled with tall buildings, bad traffic, dirty sidewalks and too many bums hassling passersby for change. I go there about four times a year. Is that what Brentwood has long needed? I don't think so.

The City Paper says Brentwood has "long needed" a European-styled downtown village - a strange claim for a paper that has been in existence for less than three years, and covered Nashville's suburbs for much less than that. But it doesn't say why Brentwood needs such a thing.

Brentwood isn't in Europe and, last time I checked, Brentwood was attracting people by the droves who want a big house on an acre, preferably near a golf course, not some small Euro-flat or crammed-in faux Ye Olde London townhome. Brentwoodians want a nice home in a quiet subdivision with pretty trees, lots of green grass, with wide well-maintaned roads, good policing and good schools. Which, come to think of, they already have.

Don't be surprised when they vote to keep it.

Bredesen is Right, Again
A Tennessee state legislator wants to de-couple the state's inheritance tax from the federal estate tax, saying that otherwise as the federal tax is phased out it will cost Tennessee millions of dollars. State Rep. Mike Turner, a Nashville Democrat, is pushing legislation to keep Tennessee's death tax alive and kicking, but Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration disputes his estimates. The administration says the expected loss of revenue is much lower, and says it is willing to live with it.

Bredesen's finance commissioner, Dave Goetz, said: "We're looking at the actual impact and are willing to absorb the impact." Goetz said inheritance taxes are particularly burdensome to family farmers who cannot pass their property on to their children without paying the taxes. And the spokesperson for Bredesen's revenue department said Turner's proposal "is not the direction that the administration wants to go in," according to The Tennessean.

As quoted in Nashville City Paper, Revenue Department spokesperson Emily Richard said: "They’re not discussing the future of this. It's not a direction that they want to take. We understand the lawmaker's position. But the bottom line is ... out of a $21.5 billion budget ... we're not talking about all that much money."

Bredesen, allegedly, is a Democrat, but once again on fiscal issues he is showing himself to be a fiscal conservative with the right instincts on taxes. The inheritance tax is a job- and business-killer that Tennessee - even in a tough budget year - can afford to live without.

Tennessee collected a paltry $70.4 million from inheritance taxes last year, less than half of one percent of the total state budget. Under new tax laws pushed through Congress by the Bush administration, the federal government is phasing out the death tax in 2005-06. Turner touts estimates the phase-out will cost the state $6.35 million in lost revenue this year, but the Bredesen administration calculates the lost revenue at $2.5 million. Either figure is tiny in a $21.5 billion state budget.

Bredesen can live with that. So can small-business owners, family farmers and others who will benefit from the phase-out of Tennessee's death tax - if, indeed, Bredesen sticks to this policy. If he does, Bredesen will strengthen his image as a fiscal conservative, while fellow Democrats like Mike Turner remain mired in the increasingly irrelevant and impotent class-warfare tax-the-rich rhetoric of the past.

With anti-tax conservatives and Republicans increasingly ascendant in Tennessee politics, Bredesen's approach is the best chance the state's Democratic party has to stave off the GOP and retain a measure of power in Nashville. Turner's approach is a recipe for further decline.

I've posted this commentary over at PolState.com. There's a commenting feature over there, so let me know what you think.

UPDATE: Some Georgia Democrats also want to decouple their state's death tax from the federal death tax and deny Georgians the tax cut currently coming to them.