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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Off 'Til Tuesday
No more blogging until Tuesday at the earliest. I'm taking the family to
Gulf Shores, Alabama, for a few days of R&R in the sun and sand.
This will be the view from our condo:

Feel free to make a donation in the tip jar to help me pay for it!
Have a great and safe Labor Day Weekend.

The Coming Economic Doom Boom
The New York Times reports the U.S. economy is showing unexpected strength

The economy grew at a revised annual rate of 3.1 percent in the second quarter, the government reported yesterday, and the unexpected strength led economists to raise their forecasts for the rest of the year.

Among the positive signs in the report were the continued strength of consumer spending; the rebound of capital investment by businesses; the leanness of business inventories, which fell; and a jump in corporate profits. A surge in military spending connected with the war in Iraq was also a big contributor to second-quarter growth.

Inflation, as measured by one of the price monitors included in the new data from the Commerce Department, is still low, showing an annual rate of only 0.7 percent in the quarter. Analysts said this low level should prompt the Federal Reserve to keep its target for short-term interest rates low until the economy was back on its feet.

"So far the data have been pretty encouraging," said Richard Berner, chief United States economist at Morgan Stanley, who said that third- quarter growth could now be as high as 5 percent, a full percentage point above his current forecast. James E. Glassman, senior United States economist at J. P. Morgan, said, "We see a pretty nice story building up behind the scenes.

"What is impressive about this number is the strength of final demand," which grew at a 4 percent rate in the second quarter, Mr. Glassman said. His current forecast of 4.5 percent growth this quarter "should be higher," he said. "When you see strong demand and falling inventories that tells you the business community has been surprised by demand," Mr. Glassman added. That means restocking of inventories should provide a lift to growth this quarter.

The 3.1 percent growth rate, which is adjusted for inflation, is up from the Commerce Department's initial estimate of 2.4 percent growth in the gross domestic product, which measures the output of goods and services in the United States.
Get out yer hip-waders, there's sure to be a river of tears from the pack of Democrats running for president - as headlines like this one in the Chicago Sun Times can only help President Bush's re-election chances: Economy Shows Strength.

Yankee Ingenuity
Here's one of those stories that reminds you why America is is so great: Setbacks propel us forward. It's a story about the development of fuel-cell technology with the aim of getting subways off the grid, so the next blackout won't leave hundreds of thousands of commuters stranded. Betcha they wish they already had this in London.


"A Timid, Careful, Frightened Lot"
Ben Stein has written an excellent explanation of why so many university faculties are dominated by hate-America ultra-leftists.

I start with a scholarly article I read back in 1971 when I was a government lawyer. A psychologist, I do not know who, had studied government lawyers and lawyers in the private sector, as well as businessmen and professors. His findings were fascinating. Generally, and with certain exceptions, the government lawyers were more close to their mothers than the private lawyers, more fearful than the private lawyers, and less inclined to take risks.

This immediately struck me as true. We were a timid, careful, frightened lot. Why else attach ourselves to the big Mama government who would nurture us, pay us a modest wage, and never expect very much from us? Why shelter ourselves with tenure and lifelong employment instead of going out into the big wide world and looking for the bucks? This, in a nutshell, I think, explains a lot about why professors and their students are so militantly left-wing and anti-American. They are sheltering in the academy from the chanciness and difficulty of the big wide world. They fear that world. And so they express their anger at it, the way frightened people often do.

I think it has to do with tipping points and co-optation. At a certain point, when the radicals took over the student bodies and made major inroads into the faculty recruiting process, they took over recruiting committees. They made it clear that only other frightened, angry, Marxist types such as they would be admitted or allowed to teach, and lo and behold, soon the old patriots were marginalized or learned to keep their mouths shut so they would not get mau-maued at faculty meetings.

The big difference between the anti-American, left-wing dominant group at the schools and the old guard at the schools is this: the old guard permitted, even welcomed dissent. The new left (now the old left) simply hates dissent and will not allow it. Thus you get a faculty that Stalin would be proud of, and a student body that follows their lead.
But there's hope.
Out in the wide world, the students often shed the influence of their faculties and go on to become all kinds of things, even Republicans. Especially when students enter the labor force, their lives change remarkably. Once someone has to get up in the morning, clean up, get dressed, spend the day at work, and live off the pittance he makes, the whole world becomes different. You look at loafers and bums totally differently. You look at taxes differently. You look at a country that gives you opportunity differently. In the workplace, a very rapid maturation takes place for most. Back at the university, where professors have tenure and only have to teach a few hours a week, the situation worsens. The faculty becomes like a black hole in space, a death star that gets ever darker and denser. The faculty is a leisure/intellectual class that never has to grow up and can cling to its fear and its childish loathing of the grownups out in the big wide world forever.
Read the whole thing.

Economic Doom Boom Update
Business 2.0 reports on the coming job boom and the return of the labor shortage: Forget those grim unemployment numbers. Demographic forces are about to put a squeeze on the labor supply that will make it feel like 1999 all over again. And the Wall Street Journal says: Investors are starting to pour money into technology start-ups again, spurred by innovative ideas and the stock-market uptick.

More from the WSJ story:

Ideas for start-ups are bubbling, and infusions into early-stage companies were up 43% in the second quarter over the previous quarter, according to a survey released this month by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Venture Economics and the National Venture Capital Association. "The summer slowdown that used to take place hasn't happened this year," says Magdalena Yesil, a general partner at U.S. Venture Partners. ... The second-quarter survey indicates that total venture investments, including both early-stage and more-established companies, rose, albeit slightly, to $4.3 billion from $4 billion in the first quarter.

Among the reasons: After three years of tight budgets, corporations are eyeing new technology, particularly products that can buoy in-house research and development or guarantee a rapid payback in cost-savings. Entrepreneurs, some of them victims of corporate layoffs, have had time to formulate more pragmatic ideas that fit the changed environment. "Unemployment is definitely the mother of invention," says Michael Feinstein, a partner with Atlas Venture. Other factors include better odds of a financial payoff for investors, shown by the stock market's rise and the successful public offerings of a few technology companies. So far, only 24 companies have made their public debut this year, but more venture-backed start-ups are in the going-public queue.
Among the tech sectors that appear to be heating up: companies developing ways to battle junk email, a/k/a/ "spam," wireless-networking technologies, biotechnology, energy and medical-device start-ups.
Mayfield's Mr. Morgan likens the environment to the aftermath of a forest fire: "If you look up, you only see scarred pines, devastation and you miss the point. If you look down, there's a profusion of damned near everything growing out of the ground."

Recalling Guinn?
USA Today reports that some folks in Nevada have filed papers to seek the recall of Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn. The story says the "group of Nevada conservatives" are "upset about the largest tax increase in state history." But that's not the biggest reason they're mad at Guinn. Last month, Guinn - desperate to raise taxes - couldn't get two thirds of the legislature to agree with him. So he went to the court and got the state supreme court to order the legislature to ignore the state's constitution, which requires tax increases be passed by at least two thirds of the legislature, and pass a tax increase even without a two-thirds majority. Esteemed constitutional law scholars have hailed the decision as appalling constitutional law. Guinn shouldn't be tossed out of office for raising taxes. He should be tossed out for seeking to undermine constitutional governance. Especially because of evidence that Guinn may well have conspired early on with the judges to impose the tax increase.

State Budget Blues
Oh, the horror. USA Today reports that tough budgetary times in many states around the nation is causing cutbacks at one of state government's most important functions - and causing great hardship for the people who use that particular government service.

The Illinois fair, like almost every other state fair, has struggled this summer to deal with cutbacks imposed by state legislators faced with tight budgets. The troubles are reflected in higher prices for admission, smaller premiums for blue-ribbon preserves and fewer fireworks displays over the grandstand. The downsizing of fairs is having other consequences, too. Attendance in Wisconsin this year was off 10%, with 809,484 people. In the first eight days of the Illinois fair, attendance ran 471,750, about 40% of the first eight days of last year.
It's bad everywhere. Take New York, for example, where ticket prices are up 25%, to $10. Or the Texas State Fair, which "is losing shuttle bus service because of cuts to the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system."

This is just terrible. Awful. Raise taxes now. We can't abide this kind of draconian cuts to state government.


The Myth of the Housing Bubble
From Minnesota Public Radio, via Marketplace.org:

Builders broke ground on more homes in July than any time in the past 17 years. Some say that the bubble will soon burst and bring prices back to earth - not so fast, says commentator Susanne Trimbath. We have endlessly stoked demand, says Trimbath, but many buyers quickly discover demand exceeds supply because of fees and insurance that add thousands to a homebuilder’s costs. So, now, developers build houses to spec to avoid paying for it all up front. Problem is homebuilders couldn’t build homes fast enough, so they stopped selling in advance.
Trimbath is senior research economist at the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank in Santa Monica, Calif. You can listen to the commentary here.

Only In America
Fortune examines a restaurant concept with, uhh, legs. I must admit, I'd like to see one of these open in France - just to see the French reaction.

Nashville Not Center of Healthcare Industry After All
And now for a little breaking news - because this isn't the kind of data the local Chamber of Commerce is going to be pushing out there in press releases to the mainstream media.

Healthcare management is a big employer in Nashville, and the city is the region's medical center with several big hospitals and the medical research/teaching hospital at Vanderbilt University. We all know that. But Nashville is small-time in the overall national healthcare economy, according to the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank in California, which has just published a report, America’s Health Care Economy.

In fact, Nashville did not make the list of Top 20 healthcare metros.

The report says the health care industry ranges from health services, such as health practitioners and hospitals, drugs and pharmaceuticals, medical instruments and supplies, medical service and health insurance, to research and testing services where much of the burgeoning biotechnology sector is recorded.

The Milken Institute looked at the size and total employment of several sectors of the healthcare economy, including Drugs, Medical Instruments & Supplies, Medical Service & Health Insurance, Offices & Clinics of Medical Doctors, Offices & Clinics of Dentists, Offices of Osteopathic Physicians, Offices of Other Health Care Practitioners, Nursing & Personal Care Facilities, Hospitals, Medical & Dental Labs, Home Health Care Services, Health & Allied Services, and Research & Testing Services.

The Milken Institute has created this Health Pole Index to depict the health care industry concentration in a given geographic location and the level of importance a metropolitan area's (MSA) health care industry concentration has in the context of the nation as a whole. The Health Pole concept can be thought of as a measure of the spatial density and diversity of health-care sectors in a metropolitan economy and placed in a national perspective.

The Health Pole rankings are based on combining an MSA's health care industry location quotient (the concentration of health care in an economy) with its share of national health care employment. MSAs then are ranked according to their composite scoring. The metro area with the highest composite score for a given health care industry is assigned a benchmark score of 100. All subsequent ranking metropolitan areas have scores that indicate their placement relative to the benchmark.
The top 20:
1 Boston MA-NH
2 New York NY
3 Philadelphia PA-NJ
4 Chicago IL
5 Los Angeles-Long Beach CA
6 Washington DC-MD-VA-WV
7 Detroit MI
8 Nassau-Suffolk NY
9 Newark NJ
10 Minneapolis-St.Paul MN-WI
11 Pittsburgh PA
12 Baltimore MD
13 St. Louis MO-IL
14 Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria OH
15 Houston TX
16 New Haven-Meriden CT
17 San Diego CA
18 Rochester MN
19 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater FL
20 Miami FL

The ranking is based on total health care employment in 2001

Nashville did rank 1st in Offices of Other Health Care Practitioners; 5th in Health and Allied Services; 16th in Medical & Dental Laboratories; 23rd in Medical Services & Health Insurance.

The state of Tennessee ranked 7th in Offices of Other Health Care Practitioners, and 8th in Medical and Dental Labs (both ranked by employment concentration).

Knoxville ranked 14th in Research & Testing Services. Memphis ranked 24th in Medical & Dental Laboratories.

Stifling Democracy in Knoxville
Knoxville News Sentinel columnist David Hunter says a new ordinance passed by the Knoxville City Council is designed to stifle the people's right to protest their government. He's right. Here's an excerpt:

If I understood what I read in Friday's edition of the newspaper you hold in your hand - and I read fairly well - the Knoxville City Council has passed an ordinance designed to stifle, or at the very least hinder, the right of Knoxvillians to protest local government action concerning a pet project that is near and dear to the heart of lame-duck Mayor Victor Ashe.

Where shall I start? How about the fact that the citizens of Knoxville are also citizens of the United States of America, with a Constitution that allows them to peacefully protest and seek a redress of grievances. The last time I looked, getting up a petition, which is what the ordinance seeks to hinder, fell under the general definition of peaceful protest.

Of course, the ordinance does not prohibit petitions outright. It merely requires periodic financial disclosures by anyone conducting a petition drive. City Law Director Michael Kelly has indicated that the requirements mirror the city disclosure requirements for political candidates. I think most reasonable people would agree that circulating a petition in no way resembles running for office.

This ordinance was passed at a called session, an emergency meeting. It may be that members of City Council and the mayor have a different definition for "emergency" than the one the rest of us use. The first dictionary I plucked from my bookcase, Webster's New World, defines it this way: "a sudden, generally unexpected, occurrence or set of circumstances demanding immediate action."

Tell me, does the circulation of a petition by citizens of the United States of America qualify as a sudden, unexpected event requiring immediate action? To the contrary, Americans regularly start petition drives when they are unhappy with what their elected officials are doing.

In this case, there are citizens who don't think an additional hotel is needed in the area of the relatively new Knoxville Convention Center - especially not one that requires taxpayers to cough up millions of dollars. These people are petitioning for a vote by citizens to determine how the majority feel about the government subsidy when there are good capitalist investors willing to pay for their own project.
I wonder if Mr. Hunter would like the Taxpayers Bill of Rights? Feel free to email him about it!

More donations in the tip jar recently - thanks! I'll try to keep earning your readership and contributions.

Taxpayers Gored by Al's E-Rate Program
That great federal program pushed known as "E-Rate," pushed into being by Al Gore, has turned out to be rife with fraud, reports today's Wall Street Journal. Here's the link, but you'll need a subscription to WSJ.com to read it online. So I've taken the liberty of providing excerpts.

A former electrical contractor pleaded guilty to rigging bids under a federal initiative that subsidizes Internet connections for schools and libraries, in the first of what is expected to be many fraud cases brought against companies and individuals trying to illegally cash in on the $2.25 billion program.

"Bid-rigging schemes aimed at the e-rate program rob funds for economically disadvantaged schools and libraries across the nation," said R. Hewitt Pate, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's antitrust division. Mr. Pate said the division is continuing to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to probe the e-rate program for other instances of fraud.

The e-rate program was created through the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and is funded by fees the Federal Communications Commission imposes on local, wireless and long-distance telephone companies. The government uses that money to reimburse schools and libraries for as much as 90% of the cost of Internet access. An estimated 90% of the nation's public schools and 75% of its libraries have received money from the program.

But the initiative has been dogged by controversy. In 1998, the General Accounting Office issued a blistering report that said the program didn't have sufficient safeguards against waste and fraud. Earlier this year, the Center for Public Integrity issued a report, based on an FCC investigation into the program, that concluded it lacked proper oversight and was "honeycombed with fraud and financial shenanigans."
The story doesn't mention it, but one possible case of E-Rate bid-rigging involves a Tennessee company, Education Networks of America, that got a sweetheart deal to wire Tennessee's schools to the Internet despite not being the low bidder - and having little experience in the business at all. ENA's bid was more than $34 million, while Qwest bid less than $24 million.

Being owned by tywo longtime friends of then-Gov. Don Sundquist appeared to trump those deficiencies, however. ENA was founded in 1996 by Al Gainer and John Stamps, two longtime friends and supporters of Gov. Sundquist. Despite having no experience in provding Internet access services, shortly after it was founded ENA received a $125,000 no-bid contract to design a network to link Tennessee schools to the Internet. Subsequently, it landed Tennessee's $106 million five-year E-Rate contract to wire Tennessee's schools to the Internet and provide related ongoing support services.

The FBI raided ENA a few months ago, and the investigation into possible criminal wrongdoing is ongoing. In March, the federal government froze ENA's federal funding because of the criminal investigation into how contracts were awarded under former Gov. Sundquist. The probe also involves the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

None of this would have happened, of course, if Al Gore hadn't pushed for the E-Rate boondoggle. Or created the Internet in the first place. ;-)


The Iraqi Quagmire
Seems the Iraqis are rather impatient with us. We're not getting things done fast enough. So says this story from the Christian Science Monitor. And just what is it we're not doing fast enough? Restoring power and fixing the water system? Restoring law and order? Paving the roads? Rebuilding the infrastructure? Reviving the economy? Hunting down the Ba'athist remnants and killing off the foreign terrorists? No. We're not setting up a democracy fast enough.

Seems they want democracy, and they want it now.

Four months after the US occupied Iraq, citizens wonder when they will have a say in the new government.
Oh, you know that kind of sentiment has just gotta be causing heartburn in halls of tyranny power in Damascus, Tehran and Riyadh.

Economic Doom Boom Update
There are signs the "entrepreneurial slump" may be ending, reports the Washington bureau of the American City Business Journals chain of business weekly newspapers:

The number of Americans running a new business or making plans to start a business fell slightly last year, but there are signs that entrepreneurial activity may pick up soon, according to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.
The GEM report is an annual study conducted by researchers at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., funded by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, Mo. This year's survey is based on a telephone survey of 7,059 American households, expert questionnaires and national data assembled from various sources. You can find the press release here and here. Here is a link to the full report in a PDF file.

More from the story:
In 2002, 10.5 percent of American adults were engaged in creating or growing a business less than 42 months old - down from 11.7 percent in 2001 and a peak of 16.7 percent in 2000. The decline from 2001 to 2002 is statistically insignificant, the report concludes, and last year's number was higher than it was in 1998, the year that the Internet bubble inspired a three-year boom in entrepreneurial activity. That bubble popped in 2001. "The good news here is that the 2001 slump in entrepreneurship bottomed out in 2002 and may have set the stage for a return to new growth this year," says Carl Schramm, president and CEO of the Kauffman Foundation.

Last year's slight decline in entrepreneurial activity "may simply reflect an ongoing post-boom retrenchment rather than a structural decline," says GEM author Heidi Neck, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson. The GEM survey found that 37 percent of Americans think there will be "good opportunities for starting a business" in the next six months.
This is the fault of the Bush tax cuts!

CBO Says: Deficits Peak in '04, Return to Surplus Soon
The Congressional Budget Office's latest long-term forecast of federal budget, revenue and spending trends is here. The latest CBO deficit projection is actually rather optimistic, with deficits peaking in FY 2004 and then falling, with surpluses resuming early in the next decade.[Hat tip: Steven Antler/EconoPundit]

More Signs of Economic Doom Boom
The Congressional Budget Office report referenced in the post below also says this about the economy:

After slow growth during the first half of 2003, the economy now seems poised to expand at a faster pace. Since the first of the year, economic output has grown at an average annual rate of about 2 percent, reflecting not only tensions attributable to the war in Iraq but also a host of other factors, including the slow growth of foreign demand for U.S. goods, fiscal constraints on state and local spending, and businesses' concerns about the durability of the economy's recovery from the 2001 recession. Signs of a pickup in consumer and business spending in the second quarter, the rapid growth of federal purchases, enactment of tax cuts for firms, and a slightly more accommodative monetary policy have improved the economic outlook for the remainder of 2003 and for 2004. The Congressional Budget Office anticipates a rebound in demand in 2003 and real (inflation-adjusted) growth of gross domestic product that approaches 4 percent in calendar year 2004.
I blame the Bush tax cuts!

Why I'm Not an Environmentalist
I'm not an environmentalist because the environmental theology is built on hatred for human life. My faith, Christianity, implores and requires its followers to love on another as God loves us. Environmentalists, on the other hand, regard human life as a vermin upon the Earth, and openly muse about "the right virus" coming along to eradicate it. [Hat tip: Cox & Forkum, which has more coverage of recent terrorist actions by one of America's leading environmentalist hate groups.]

UPDATE: Environmentalists apparently believe whales are more important than defending American citizens.

UPDATE: OOPS! Fixed the link under the word "theology." Don't know how I managed to put the wrong link in there yesterday. Sorry!

Power to the People
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports on a new political poll that shows most Knoxvillians don't want their property taxes raised next year - but most expect property taxes will be raised anyway. Another poll finds most Knoxvillians don't want their tax dollars to subsidize building a new hotel near the taxpayer-funded, money-losing Knoxville Convention Center. What does this mean? It means that the government of the people, by the people and for the people concept is no longer working in Knoxville. It means Knoxville needs a Taxpayers Bill of Rights, a tool designed to give voters more voice in such important decisions. [Hat tip: South Knox Bubba, who also has previous coverage of the hotel funding poll here.]

Chicago, Memphis Papers Launch Blogs
Blake Fontenay, a reporter at the Memphis Commercial Appeal, is launching a blog. So is Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn, whose blog is already up and running here.

As of today, Backdrop is being discontinued. Soon it will be replaced on the newspaper's web site with a "blog" - basically a diary of items from my city government beat, suggestions from readers and attempts to answer the eternal question: What makes Memphis Memphis? Once a week, the best of the blog entries will appear in the newspaper's print version.
Zorn describes his blog as a regularly updated online journal containing observations, reports, tips, referrals, tirades and whatever else happens to be in my notebook.

Editor&Publisher says: "Blogs are a popular web phenomenon with hundreds of thousands of individuals writing periodically on their own sites about a variety of topics. Independent journalists and commentators such as Andrew Sullivan have widely read blogs, and a few mainstream media outlets, such as The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., and the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, allow some of their writers to blog. The Chicago Tribune is probably the largest newspaper in the U.S. to run a blog on its web site."

Zorn told E&P he hopes "readers will bookmark the site and peek in regularly enough to persuade the decision makers in the fancy offices that I'm not out of my mind in leading the Tribune into this emerging hybrid media form."

No, Mr. Zorn, you're not out of your mind. Blogs are how good journalists will communicate with readers in the future. Bad journalists, and journalists mired in the old ways, will continue to fail to fully maximize the Internet and blogs, and will continue to fail to serve their readers as well as they could and as well as they should.

Our Impending Economic Doom Boom
The Dallas Morning News reports on a big surge in the volume of online stock trading - and why that's evidence of a recovering economy. Says the paper: Retail investors such as online traders are typically the last ones to join a rally. Market analysts watch the online crowd as one more piece of evidence that stocks have, finally, turned up. Also, sales of existing homes soared to a record in July, reports the AP. Another sign of our impending economic doom boom? I blame the Bush tax cuts.


Surplus: The Silence Ends in Knoxville, Sort Of
Knoxville News Sentinel political reporter and columnist Tom Humphrey has finally told Knoxville readers that Tennessee ran a revenue surplus in the 2002-03 fiscal year, but he fails to give them all the facts - and takes a snide swipe at me. In his Sunday column, Humphrey claims Tennesseans seem to have forgotten about last year's big sales tax increase.

Indeed, the $1 billion increase seems almost forgotten. One conservative Web site writer hailed another figure from the money-counter's report - that the state finished the last fiscal year on June 30 with a $2.6 million surplus - as evidence of sales tax solidity and of a "fabricated budget crisis" in prior years. The $1 billion increase was never mentioned. In other words, you can lift $1 billion out of Tennessee pockets, and nobody cares - unless you mention IT.
He doesn't mention me by name or provide readers a link to my website, but of course it is me he's talking about, and this post I wrote back on August 12.

A few comments.

1. I did mention the billion-dollar sales tax rate increase, when I quoted from the Department of Finance's monthly revenue report, where it said Adjusted for the rate change...

2. The tax rate increase was not relevant to my August 12 column, which merely noted that after four years of being told the sales tax - at whatever rate - was unable to produce meaningful revenue growth, that same sales tax produced a small revenue surplus. The sales tax surplus exists even if you factor out the rate increase.

3. Humphrey misleads his readers into thinking there was a $2.6 million surplus of sales tax revenue. The truth is, there was a $28.9 million surplus of sales tax revenue - a far more significant number - which more than offset small shortfalls in other revenue sources.

4. Humphrey simply doesn't deal with the central contention of my August 12 column, which is that the unexpectedly large growth in sales tax revenue is yet more proof that Tennessee made the right choice in not adopting an income tax. For, as I note in the column, States like California that rely heavily on income taxes are facing massive budget deficits. Because the income tax performs more poorly during a sluggish economy than does the sales tax. Hence, had Tennessee followed then-Gov. Don Sundquist's wishes and created an income tax three years ago, Tennessee's budget revenue collections would not be in surplus today, it would be in deficit.

5. By not naming me or my website or providing readers a clue or two of how to find what I wrote, Humphrey denies his readers a chance to see if, A) he is quoting me accurately and in context or not, and B) if he is representing my views accurately or not. By not sourcing the quote, Humphrey leaves his readers no way to judge his accuracy. On the other hand, I meticulously source my data, and provide hyperlinks where possible. [Ed. note Must be that vaunted credibility thing that newspapers have and bloggers don't, I guess. Er... yeah, right.]

The good news is, I have the Internet to respond to Humphrey's column. The bad news is, unless something rather bizarre and unexpected happens, most readers of the Knoxville paper won't ever see this. Humphrey owes his readers better. Heck, he's a smart guy and a good writer and he's capable of giving them better. You just have to wonder why he doesn't.

Maybe you should tell Tom Humphrey to tell his readers the whole truth about the revenue surplus. It's just a thought.

"This is the battlefield"
Read Mark Steyn today. Actually, read him all the time.

On Tuesday, up against an enemy unable to do anything more than self-detonate outside an unprotected facility and take a few Brazilian civil servants and Canadian aid workers with him, the global community sent out a Syrian ambassador to read out some boilerplate and then retreated into passivity and introspection and finger-pointing at Washington. This is the weirdly uneven playing field on which the great game is now fought. Islamic terrorism is militarily weak but ideologically confident. The West is militarily strong but ideologically insecure. We don't really believe we can win, not in the long run. The suicide bomber is a symbol of weakness, of a culture so comprehensively failed that what ought to be its greatest resource - its people - is instead as disposable as a firecracker. But in our self-doubt the enemy's weakness becomes his strength. We simply can't comprehend a man like Raed Abdel Mask, pictured in the press last week with a big smile, a check shirt and two cute little moppets, a boy and a girl, in his arms. His wife is five months pregnant with their third child. On Tuesday night, big smiling Raed strapped an 11-pound bomb packed with nails and shrapnel to his chest and boarded the No. 2 bus in Jerusalem.

The terrorists watch CNN and the BBC and, understandably, they figure that in Iraq America, Britain, the UN and all the rest will do what most people do when they run up against someone deranged: back out of the room slowly. They're wrong. There's no choice. You kill it here, or the next generation of suicide bombers will be on buses in Rotterdam, Manchester, Lyons, and blowing up the UN building in Manhattan. This is the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Michael Ledeen wonders why we've stopped playing offense in the war on terror. Also, thanks to Donald Sensing, I found this perceptive explanation of why suicide bombers are not undefeatable. Short version: . Suicide bombing is warfare's least cost effective weapon because it puts any consideration of a negotiated settlement between the combatants out of the question. In economic terms, it destroys the Pareto optimal frontier and reduces conflict to a zero-sum game. ... The natural outcome of the kamikazes was the atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Nothing else would do.

Western societies pushed to the brink will fight with every means at their disposal. The Islamic wacko-world would be well advised to remember that.

Remember the Titans
After all, they managed the NFL's best mid-season turnaround last year. Last year they went 11-5 and were snubbed for the Pro Bowl. This year, they only get one game on Monday night - and it's an away game - and only three national telecasts. Wouldn't it be just perfectly fitting if the former Houston Oilers make it back to the Super Bowl - in Houston - this year, and won it?

War Notes from Rev. Artillery
Donald Sensing comments on soldier baptisms in the river. But not just any river. The Euphrates river. In Saddam's hometown. Heh! He's also got some helpful tips for journalists covering conflict in the Middle East.

Predicting Another Surplus
I've written several times here in the last two weeks about Tennessee achieving a small revenue surplus in the just-ended 2002-03 fiscal year. What about the new fiscal year we're now in? How much revenue growth is expected?

Article II, Section 24, of the Tennessee Constitution says this: "In no year shall the rate of growth of appropriations from state tax revenues exceed the estimated rate of growth of the state's economy as determined by law. No appropriation in excess of this limitation shall be made unless the General Assembly shall, by law containing no other subject matter, set forth the dollar amount and the rate by which the limit will be exceeded."

The Sunduist administration used that loophole to exceed the spending cap 3 times, by a total of $1.09 billion – and that's just the cost in the first year, as each time the spending cap is breached, it often lays down a new, higher baseline of spending on which subsequent fiscal year budgets are based.

The state Department of Finance & Administration considers inflation-adjusted personal income to be "the broadest and most timely measure of overall economic activity in the state," as it states in Gov. Phil Bredesen's first budget document. And that budget predicts inflation-adjusted personal income to grow 4.3 percent in the 2003-04 fiscal year, "reflecting steady improvement in economic conditions as the economy moves through 2004."

But what if the economy grows faster? Bredesen's F&A department has already been wrong before. It didn't anticipate the fiscal year 2002-03 revenue surplus, for example. In a letter to new Gov. Phil Bredesen, dated March 10, Finance commissioner Dave Goetz said:

Based on mid-year review of tax collections and economic reports made to the State Funding Board, we have reduced the current-year estimate of taxes collected by the Department of Revenue by $64.5 million in the general fund.
In other words, Goetz said the department predicted a $64.5 million shortfall. Thanks to an economy growing faster than expected, there was no shortfall.

The letter also said that F&A predicts tax revenue growth of only $150 million or 3.1 percent, in the current fiscal year.

The first monthly revenue report for the current fiscal year will come out by mid-September, reflecting August tax collections. I suspect it will surprise on the positive side and start Tennessee's new fiscal year out on the road to another revenue surplus.

Bait and Switch?
The commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Financial Institutions is putting a new spin on his boss's predilection for recruiting companies to Tennessee: He's seeking to convince 31 nationally-charted banks already located in Tennessee to convert to state charters. Why? Revenue. The Knoxville News Sentinel has the story:

The state - still trying to douse its financial crisis with new sources of revenue - is calling on national banks to convert to Tennessee charters, which could generate millions of dollars annually in fees and assessments. The department of financial institutions is contacting the 31 nationally chartered banks headquartered in Tennessee to persuade them that Nashville regulatory oversight is preferable to Washington, D.C.'s, according to Kevin Lavender, commissioner of Tennessee's department of financial institutions.
Lavender says trying to recruit banks to switch to state charters is a new approach for his department. Banking industry officials say few banks are likely to switch. But Lavender has a selling point: He's telling the federally-chartered banks that Tennessee banking regulators are not "heavy handed" like those pesky federal banking regulators at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates and supervises national banks.

Tennessee to Banks: We're Lax!

One side comment on the story: the writer, Bill Brewer, apparently doesn't know the state's financial crisis is over. That may be because the Knoxville paper has not yet reported that Tennessee achieved a revenue surplus in the just-ended 2002-03 fiscal year.

France: Hamas Not a Terror Group
An official said to be French President Jacques Chirac's right-hand man says Hamas and Islamic Jihad aren't terrorist groups, reports the newspaper Al Bawaba. How does one say "idiots" in French? The French say they'll rethink their position if new evidence emerges. Which means the French position might change when some Hamas or Islamic Jihadi killers arise from the festering Islamic slums out in the suburbs of Paris and blow up something like, say, the Eiffel Tower. On the other hand, history suggests that when that happens, the French will merely surrender to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. [Ed. note: Haven't they already? Well yes, actually...]

Looking Past Race
Nashville is making progress on the racial front, as people appear to be accepting of a quarterback despite his race. And it's happening at one of Nashville's historically most-segregated institutions!

''I don't think it's an issue for us as a team or for us as a coaching staff,'' the coach said. ''He's a football player."
The sad thing about the story, though, is that while no one interviewed for the story seems to be bothered by a minority QB, the paper sure seems to be trying hard to stir up a little racial controversy. ;-)


Moderately Healthy
Today's New York Times reports on growing scientific evidence that drinking certain red wines is good for your health - in moderation of course. Some red wines have a class of chemicals that may "mimic caloric restriction in people by tripping the same genetic circuitry as a reduced-calorie diet does and give the gain without the pain," reports the Times.

The finding could help explain the so-called French paradox, the fact that the French live as long as anyone else despite consuming fatty foods deemed threatening to the heart.
Perhaps this explains why, in the New Testament, the apostle Paul tells his colleague to drink a little wine for his stomach's sake.

UPDATE: Instapundit points out that, in case you're still made at the French, "Red wine from California, Australia, or Chile works just as well."


Under a Big Sky
This story just makes me wish I was in Big Sky Country. I've been all over the United States and spent time in western Canada and few places rival western Montana - especially around Glacier National Park, Kalispell and Whitefish, and down through the Flathead Valley to Missoula - for beauty.

Saddam and al Qaeda: The Evidence Piles Up
Stephen F. Hayes reports there is emerging a growing body of solid evidence of the links between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda terrorist organization. Yet as the Democrats continue to claim there is no evidence of a Saddam-al Qaeda link, the Bush administration is remaining surprisingly quiet. Is that the sound of a saw being quietly sharpened as Democrats crawl farther out on a limb? You be the judge.

TOP U.S. OFFICIALS linked Iraq and al Qaeda in newspaper op-eds, on talk shows, and in speeches. But the most detailed of their allegations came in an October 7, 2002, letter from CIA director George Tenet to Senate Intelligence chairman Bob Graham and in Secretary of State Colin Powell's February 5, 2003, presentation to the United Nations Security Council.

The Tenet letter declassified CIA reporting on weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's links to al Qaeda. Two sentences on WMD garnered most media attention, but the intelligence chief's comments on al Qaeda deserved notice. "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qa'ida going back a decade," Tenet wrote. "Credible information indicates that Iraq and al Qa'ida have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression. Since Operation Enduring Freedom [in Afghanistan], we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qa'ida members, including some that have been in Baghdad. We have credible reporting that al Qa'ida leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al Qa'ida members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs." In sum, the letter said, "Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians, coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al Qa'ida, suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent US military actions."

That this assessment came from the CIA - with its history of institutional skepticism about the links - was significant.

Homegrown Terrorists
The Los Angeles Times has a report today on the terrorist activities of the Earth Liberation Front, a domestic terrorist group, and how their website explicity teaches and endorses terrorist tactics. I've previously written about another eco-terror group, Arissa, an offshoot of ELF. Both ought to be on the War on Terror hit list, in my opinion. [Hat tip: Instapundit]


Moral Equivalence from the Nonviolent Blogger
Martin Kelley says, in effect, Palestinians blow up buses because the Israelis make them do it. Blowing up buses and killing kids is just as bad as building houses on disputed land, he says. And then he says I'm to blame too.

Blogs like Bill Hobbs’ and organizations like the International Solidarity Movement help insure that the bombings will never stop. Caught in the middle are a lot of naive kids: suicide bombers, soldiers, and activists who think just one more act of over-the-top bravery will stop the violence. The war in Israel and Palestine will only stop when enough Israelis and Palestinians declare themselves traitors to the chants of nationalistic jingoism. We are all Israelis, we are all Palestinians. There but for the grace of God go all of us: our houses bulldozed, our loved ones killed on the way to work.
Notice how he says suicide bombers are just "naive kids" caught in the middle - victims, if you will. How perversely twisted. Suicide bombers aren't the victims - they're the perpetrators, the nihilistic stone-cold mass-killers who know exactly what they are doing, and do it for Allah.

We're not all Israelis and we're not all Palestinians, either, though I'm sure that kind of high-school pap rhetoric is popular with the "We Are the World" crowd. I'm an American. But in the war between terrorists and civilization, philosophically I'm an Israeli.

Have a Great Weekend!
Light blogging until Monday unless news breaks that I feel like blogging about. Have a great weekend!

Denver Post Says "Raise Taxes!"
The Denver Post maligns the Taxpayers Bill of Rights that has kept Colorado's budget fiscally sane for the past decade, with an editorial loaded with perverse spin. Noting that Colorado had at $77.8 million revenue surplus in the just-ended fiscal year, the paper, rather oddly, describes the state's budget as a "fiscal train wreck." It then calls for changing the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, even though data from 1993 on shows that law has fostered high economic growth while preventing fiscally irresponsible rapid spending growth by state government.

Because of the way TABOR - the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights approved by voters in 1992 - was written, we're basically locked in at today's lower rate of revenue collection. Thus, spending levels will be stagnant, too. For example: If the state of Colorado spent $1 billion in the fiscal year before the recession but only $1 million last year, TABOR allows the state to spend only $1 million next year, plus some allowance for inflation and population growth. It doesn't matter if the economy rebounds.
That's absurd. Not once in the history of the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights has the law forced a 99 percent reduction in state spending. Not even close. But the Post's editorial writers hope to convince readers that the Taxpayers Bill of Rights has gutted state spending, so they imply it has forced massive cuts. The Post also says
This newspaper now expects Gov. Bill Owens and state lawmakers to collaborate on proposing an initiative for the November 2004 ballot that asks voters for a TABOR override.
Don't count on it. Owens is a staunch defender of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. In a speech not long ago he said this:
As we work together, we must avoid the too-easy answer of asking more from Colorado taxpayers. Some have said we should change Colorado's system of tax limitation. Some say now is the time to roll back the fundamental protections that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights gives Colorado taxpayers. The goal? Taking more money from the paychecks of Colorado families to spend more on government. I believe that far from being a straightjacket for Colorado, TABOR is an economic bulletproof vest. While other states spent their way through the 1990s, and are now raising taxes to pay for their spending, Colorado was better prepared for the revenue downturn that we face. Here in Colorado, we will not weaken our taxpayer protections. We will live within our means. We must not raise taxes. And so long as I am Governor, we will not raise taxes.
Besides, Colorado already has a provision for overriding the TABOR limits. It's called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights - and it allows legislators to ask voters for permission to raise taxes, or spend surplus dollars. A few years ago, voters were asked to approve - and did approve - Amendment 23, which dedicated 26 percent of future TABOR surplus dollars to public education. Over the first 10 years of Amendment 23, that amounts to voters paying an estimated $11 billion in taxes.

Colorado legislators don't need to change TABOR. They just need to ask voters' permission if they want to restore spending to pre-recession levels.

For more on how Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights fueled the state's 1990s economic boom, and protected Colorado from a worse revenue crisis during the recent recession - and how a similar law could have prevented Tennessee's four-year budget crisis - read this.

Surplus Silence UPDATE
The Memphis Commercial Appeal ran an Associated Press story reporting Tennessee's revenue surplus on August 13 - only the AP story refuses to call the surplus a surplus and, in fact, bent over backward to turn it into a shortfall.

Total collections for the year were $8.5 billion - or about $2.6 million above the budgeted estimates for the fiscal year, which in the world of estimating tax revenues is right on the dot.
Perhaps, but even that small a surplus is still a surplus - and still worth reporting as a surplus given the four years of stories about how the state's tax code was destined to forever produce revenue shortfalls. The AP continues:
"We're certainly better off than where we thought we would be last March when the governor's budget came out," Deputy Finance Commissioner Gerald Adams said. "We had assumed we'd under-collect by about $64 million, and we think it's closer to $25 million." Most of that $25 million was recouped through a change in the law that accelerated franchise tax payments. In the aggregate, the total came out almost exactly as predicted.
Adams is playing a semantic game, and the AP reporter fell for it, allowing Adams to imply the surplus was not really a surplus but a $25 million shortfall.

Don't believe it. The accelerated franchise tax payments were part of the state's overall revenue collection estimate, and the state collected $2.6 million more than that estimate. There was no under-collection. There was no shortfall. There was only a small but historically and politically significant surplus.

Tax Control in Denver
Here's some good news out of Denver:

More than half of Denver voters support putting a tax district for the Denver Public Library on a future city ballot, according to a survey released Thursday.The plan would allow the library to raise its own revenue from property taxes rather than depend on a percentage of the city's overall sales tax revenue.
Waitaminute, Bill, aren't you generally against higher taxes? Well, yes, but it's the next sentence of the story that makes it good news: State law allows for the creation of a special district with local voter approval. That's because of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in the Colorado constitution, which requires voter approval of new taxes and tax increases - involving voters in such crucial decisions.

PowerPoint Perfection
This is the single best use of PowerPoint I have ever seen. Via Donald Sensing, who reports that it was created by Tom Farmer and Shane Atchison of Seattle, Washington, who "received such lousy service at a DoubleTree Hotel that they Internet-posted a PowerPoint briefing for the hotel's manager." that is "both hilarious and devastating." Jeff Jarvis also doesn't much like DoubleTree.

Channeling Mondale
Howard Dean has just had his Mondale moment, promising to raise taxes on hardworking Americans.

I will begin by repealing the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, and using the revenues that result from the repeal to address the needs of the average American...
Okay, Mr. Dean ... if you repeal the tax cuts, you will be raising taxes on millions of average Americans, making it harder for them to address their needs. How, exactly, is that going to help the economy? And how will that help average Americans like me, who will have about $1,000 more to save or spend or invest this year because of those tax cuts? That's $1,000 more to buy my children the clothes they need and the toys they want, or to cover part of one month's mortgage payment, or about three months' worth of utility bills. It's groceries, diapers and baby formula for about 6 weeks around my house. For someone else it might be a big-screen TV or a vacation. So how, exactly, Mr. Dean, does it help the economy or help average Americans to make it harder for them to pay the mortgage or stock the fridge or buy a new TV or take a vacation? How, exactly, Mr. Dean, will it help the merchants who sell the products and services that average Americans won't be able to buy with the extra $500 or $1,000 or more they won't have if you take it out of their pockets?

Inflation and interest rates are low, Mr. Dean, and unemployment - already fairly low by historical standards - is falling. Business productivity and profits are rising, as is the stock market. Give it time, Mr. Dean - the economy is recovering thanks to those tax cuts. Government tax revenues will soon begin to recover too, just as they always do when the economy is revived with tax reductions. Your tax increases would short-circuit the recovery and sucker-punch the economy and the American people just as they are getting back on their feet.

Now, why do you want to do that?

Here's more on that Iraq-as-flypaper theory (the one that says having our forces in Iraq attracts al Qaeda and other terrorists and Islamist fundamentalist wackos there where we can kill them with gusto, without having to read them their Miranda rights, while keeping them far, far away from attacks on U.S. soil.) Follow the links.

As retired military intelligence officer Ralph Peters wrote in a recent New York Post op-ed:

Within our own country, every potential Howard Dean voter will declare that the U.N. headquarters bombing proves, for all time, that our occupation has failed, can never succeed, should never have been tried, and, anyway, that we're all bad people for disturbing poor, innocent dictators. Then they'll trot out the nonsense that, since Iraq has become a magnet for international terrorists, we've failed on that count, too. On the contrary. We've taken the War Against Terror to our enemies. It's far better to draw the terrorists out of their holes in the Middle East, where we don't have to read them their rights, than to wait for them to show up in Manhattan again. In Iraq, we can just kill the bastards. And we're doing it with gusto.
Amen. More here and here and here.

We're winning.

Shoulda Blogged It
Nashville City Paper has recently concluded publishing Journal of a Thoughtful Fool, a 21-part series of journal articles written by Whitney Kemper, a 55-year-old Nashville man, as he hiked the entire length of the 2,172.6-mile Appalachian Trail. It's a very nice series, with good writing, interesting articles, and catchy headlines like Tents, myths and scientific fallacies, The Appalachian Trail is like East Nashville, and Is sex possible on the Appalachian Trail?. But why didn't Kemper blog the trip? Instead of weekly installments, the City Paper and Kemper could have provided daily updates, illustrated with lots of digital photos.

That's the future of this kind of journalism. If you get the City Paper printed on thin slices of dead trees you might want to clip and save the Journal of a Thoughtful Fool - so you can show your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren how they did things in the old days.

UPDATE: The City Paper could've done it this way.

Doin' the Dean Dance
Charles Johnson over at LGF mentions that the ultra-Left wing thinks Howard Dean may not be anti-Israel pro-Palestinian enough, so the're dissing him. I don't know, but I think maybe this could be a dog-and-pony show to convince moderates that Dean isn't a leftwinger, and that, when push comes to shove, Dean really isn't as pro-Israel as he seems, and the loony Left knows it. But I could be wrong. But I don't think so, given the following paragraph from the article LGF links to:

Privately, Dean's supporters say that the opposition of activists such as proponents of Palestinian rights can only help Dean by drawing a bright line between him and the other candidate competing for the hardcore anti-war vote, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. To a certain extent, their argument goes, a backlash from the left will aid Dean when he needs to tack more to the center in some of the more conservative primary states. Dean's rhetoric is already moving right: In an August 15 speech to Iowa's Hawkeye Labor Council, he touted his support for balanced budgets and the first Gulf War.
Get it? He doesn't really belief everything he's saying. He tacks leftward to gain anti-war supporters, then tacks rightward "in some of the more conservative primary states," telling his audiences whatever he thinks will gain their vote. Okay, but what about the truth? What does Howard Dean really believe? And if, God help us, he is elected President, will he really help Israel defeat terrorism, or not? It's a political question for Dean, but a life-and-death question for Israel.

Ten Days of Silence
Ten days have passed since the Bredesen administration announced the state ended fiscal year 2002-03 with a revenue surplus, thanks to better-than-expected growth of revenue from the sales tax. The following newspapers have not yet reported the news, according to a Google news search:

The Tennessean
Nashville City Paper
Memphis Commercial-Appeal
Knoxville News Sentinel
The Jackson Sun
Chattanooga Times-Free Press
Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle
Cleveland Daily Banner
Kingsport Times-News
The (Murfreesboro) Daily News Journal
and pretty much every other newspaper in the state.

Is it only "news" if it supports the pro-income tax stance that most of those papers have? Or are they just staffed by lazy and/or incompetent reporters and editors? Inquiring minds want to know...


New to the Blogroll
Check out Balloon Juice. You'll be glad you did.

Schwarzenegger Endorses Spending Caps!
California gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger has endorsed the concept of constitutional caps on the growth of government spending - a key feature of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Arnold Schwarzenegger came out from behind the curtain today to put some muscle in a campaign that until now was based on sheer celebrity, calling for a constitutional cap on state spending and making clear his distaste for new taxes. ... "We must have a constitutional spending cap and must immediately attack operating deficits head on," Mr. Schwarzenegger told a ballroom packed with reporters at the Westin Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport. Does that mean we are going to make cuts?" he said. "Yes. Does this mean education is on the table? No. Does this mean I am willing to raise taxes? No. Additional taxes are the last burden we need to put on the backs of the citizens and businesses of California.

"I feel the people of California have been punished enough. From the time they get up in the morning and flush the toilet they're taxed. When they go get a coffee they're taxed. When they get in their car they're taxed. When they go to the gas station they're taxed. When they go to lunch they're taxed. This goes on all day long. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax. Tax."

Surplus Update
None of Tennessee's major newspapers has yet reported that Tennessee ended the 2002-03 fiscal year with a small revenue surplus, although the news was released nine days ago. But the British newsmagazine The Economist took note, and has some kind words about Gov. Phil Bredesen. Instapundit has the details.

A Surplus Grows in Colorado
Colorado ended the 2002-03 fiscal year with a $77 million revenue surplus, reports today's Rocky Mountain News. Colorado has a law called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights that requires surplus revenue above a certain level to be returned to taxpayers via rebates or tax cuts. Tennessee, which also ran a revenue surplus last year, has no such law. You can read more about the Taxpayers Bill of Rights here.

Oh. Great.
Now SKBubba's gonna get the big head.

Some more folks have put some money into my tip jar since the last time I said thanks, so, thanks to you whoever you are. No Andrew Sullivan-style pledge drives here (and no month-long vacations from blogging after raising major donations either!) but if you like what I do here and find it valuable in some way, and haven't hit my tip jar recently or at all, I wouldn't mind...

A new study finds that population growth is "key reason" for urban sprawl. Well, yeah. Kidding aside, the study from the Center for Immigration Studies looks to have some important data in it. Here's the first few bits of the press release:

In recent years, a host of local governments, states, and non-profit organizations have adopted initiatives designed to save rural land from sprawl. Most anti-sprawl efforts have focused on "Smart Growth" strategies, which emphasize better planning to create more efficient land use. A new study from the Center for Immigration Studies indicates that this approach will have only limited success in saving rural land because it fails to address a key reason for sprawl - immigration-driven population growth. Based on data from the Census Bureau and from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, the study finds that about half the loss of rural land in recent decades is attributable to increases in the U.S. population, while changes in land use account for the other half. The 122-page report, entitled Outsmarting Smart Growth: Population Growth, Immigration, and the Problem of Sprawl, contains detailed information for every state and will be available on line at www.cis.org.
I'll watch for it.

A Deficit of Information
The Washington Post today reports on how several states, including Tennessee, are using sophisticated new software to better manage bureaucratic spending.

States are facing their worst deficits in 50 years, so some - including Oregon, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Utah and Mississippi - are turning to sophisticated software tools to shave costs and stretch revenue. The data-retrieval systems are particularly valuable now, state officials said, because they can exhume critical information about expenses that were previously buried in a mountain of raw figures.
Actually, Tennessee is not facing its worst deficit in 50 years. It finished the last fiscal year with a revenue surplus.
The companies that make this software, facing stalled corporate spending, are showering attention on the civil servants they once thought of as small fry. Major companies that design this type of software, such as Business Objects and Brio Software, both headquartered in Silicon Valley, and McLean-based MicroStrategy Inc., say state and local governments have become more interested in their products in the past two years. The software typically costs several hundred thousand dollars for a state government, software executives said, but once installation and training costs are tallied it is not unusual for the system's final cost to be several million dollars. ... The software's proficiency at compressing immense volumes of data into neat streams of information can be as useful for states as it is for a chain with thousands of stores, the software companies say.
Information is nice, but unless this new software is used to root out waste and make government more efficient and less costly, it's just a neat tech gizmo that cost taxpayers a lot of money.
Richard Taylor, Tennessee's project manager for the financial-data access system, estimates the $1 million the state spent on MicroStrategy's software will save $500,000 per year even if the software only halves the man-hours employees spend gathering and analyzing data from a mainframe computer. When Tennessee finishes installing the software, it will give employees access to all the financial transactions the state has completed in the past five years.
Okay, good. But the people of Tennessee should also be given access to the data, via a publicly accessible website. It is the people of Tennessee, after all, who pay the taxes that the government spends. So why won't the bureaucracy let the bill-payers see how their money is spent? I suspect it's because giving the people access to information about of the financial transactions their state government makes would provide the people detailed knowledge of just how much money is being spent frivolously.

In my real job, today, I had to call the Los Angeles Times in order to find out exactly who to send a certain press release to. So I called their main number, 1-800-LATIMES. An automated system answered and provided a list of choices. Press 1 for this, press 2 for that, etc. It first told me to press 1 for subscription information, press 2 to place a classified ad, press 3 to place a display ad, or press 4 to inquire about direct-mail advertising. Only then did it suggest pressing 5 for the editorial department, i.e., the news department. Subscriptions and three forms of advertising are of a higher priority than news at LA's biggest newspaper, I guess.

It Must Be Garbage Day in Gaza
Because Israel has taken out some trash.

One of Hamas' senior leaders, Ismail Abu Shanab, was riding in a station wagon with two bodyguards in Gaza City when their vehicle was struck by missiles fired from a military helicopter and caught fire. Several witnesses also were injured. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, under greater pressure to crack down on militant groups to maintain the U.S.-backed peace process, had decided to clamp down and arrest those behind the deadly bombing on a bus in Jerusalem on Tuesday. But Abbas was quoted today as saying today's attack would hamper his effort.
What effort? And why did Abbas have to "decide" whether or not to arrest the killers behind the Tuesday bus bombing? Never mind, Mahmoud, the Israelis can handle this better anyway. And any Palestinian who truly desires peace will cheer them on as they do it.

UPDATE: Little Green Footballs has pictures of the frenzied mob swarming over the dead terrorist's car, probably pulling out body parts again. And LGF wonders why the news coverage says the death of the terrorist leader says event will prompt Hamas to "abandon" the ceasefire, and asks "killing children with a suicide bomber is not abandoning the truce?" Start here and scroll up. Also, LGF notes that the Israeli military nabbed some Islamic Wacko Jihad terrorists on their way to bomb a target in Haifa, preventing yet another massacre of innocent Jews. Probably a civilian target.

No doubt, Islamic Jihad was trying to trick Israel into providing Islamic Jihad an excuse to abandon the ceasefire.


The Invisible Bus Bombing
Yesterday's suicide-bombing of a bus in Jerusalem - killing 20 and injuring many more, including a two-week old baby - is not considered "breaking news" to Human Rights Watch. You'd think being blown up while riding a bus constitutes a human rights violation, but perhaps the murder of civilians is beneath Human Rights Watch's notice if the civilians happen to be, you know, Jews.

Nothing about it at the website of United for Peace & Justice, either, though you'd think blowing up a bus full of innocent Jews would be considered very divisively not-peace and not-justice

No mention, no condemnation either, from International A.N.S.W.E.R - you know, the group whose acronym stands for "Act Now to Stop War and End Racism," though you'd think targeting Jews with bombs would be, you know, an act of both war and racism. 's latest press release urges solidarity with the Palestinians, from whence yesterday's suicide-bombing mass murder came.

I guess that's because the Palestinians agreed to a 'cease-fire':

At least Amnesty International condemned the bombing, saying The repeated and deliberate killings of civilians by members of Palestinian armed groups perpetrated as part of a policy to target civilians constitute crimes against humanity. Unfortunately they then play the moral equivalence charade by comparing the numbers of Israeli civilians killed and inured by Palestinian terrorists with the number of Palestinian terrorists and unfortunate bystanders killed by Israeli defense forces.

Memo to Israel: Finish that wall.

Cartoons courtesy of Cox & Forkum.

The A-Bomb Question
Donald Sensing has some very good comments and references to historical research regarding the role of the atomic bomb in causing Japan to surrender and end World War II, plus info about the scope of Japanese atrocities during that war, and why the most deadly weapon the Americans used against the Empire of Japan in that war was not the atomic bomb. Sensing:

I have known a few men, also serving in the armed forces in the Pacific, who completely agree. My father-in-law, an Army officer in 1945, veteran of eight combat amphibious assaults in the Pacific, is convinced that he is alive because the atom bomb canceled the invasion of Japan. My father was assigned to the Pacific Fleet in 1945 and wound up on an aircraft carrier, serving a battle station as a 40-mm antiaircraft gunner. Carriers were primary kamikaze targets.
Go read the whole thing.

Power Politics Update
Did President Bush really try to upgrade the national power grid two years ago, in order to prevent massive blackouts like the one that hit much of the northeastern quadrant of the nation last week? And did Democrats and environmentalists prevent him from doing so? Yes, absolutely, yes, says the New York Times. [Hat tip: Kevin Patrick]

Ambitious Bush Plan Undone by Energy Politics
WASHINGTON, Aug. 19 - President Bush stood at a gasoline station near his ranch in Texas today and said he had been calling for an energy bill to modernize the nation's electricity grid "for a long time."

Mr. Bush is quite right. A comprehensive energy policy was part of his platform as a candidate for president and seemed prescient from his very first week in office, when he was forced to ensure there was enough power in California to ease the state's rolling blackouts. By May 2001, largely because of the California crisis, Mr. Bush had released his energy plan.

But the president's ambitious policy quickly became a casualty of energy politics and, notably, harsh criticism from Democrats enraged by the way the White House had created the plan. Although the policy included recommendations to improve the nation's electric grid that everyone agreed on, they were lost in the shouting and have been dormant in Congress for the past two years.
Methinks this really ought to be pointed out in Bush campaign ads running in the blackout zone.

Nonviolent Nonsense
A website called Nonviolence.org linked to my post below regarding the Enola Gay, the plane the dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima back in 1945, helping to speed the end of World War II, saving many hundreds of thousands of lives in the process. The writer of the Nonviolence.org post seems to think I'm guilty of historical "amnesia and techno-lust," and comments:

Schoolchildren visiting Washington won’t learn the truth about the bombing. Another generation will be spoon-fed propaganda about its country’s greatness and goodness. Another generation will not pause to consider its country’s old sins and tragic mistakes. A typical blog entry about the Smithsonian exhibit that claims no single plane did more to save lives in World War II. Abstract death and claim righteousness to your country, keep militarism going and keep peaceful people from uniting across national boundaries.
What peaceful people is he talking about? The Japanese, who attacked us on Dec. 7, 1941, or the Japanese who were invading China and other countries as far back as 1931, or the Japanese who massacred some 300,000 Chinese during their occupation of Nanking in 1937-38? The fact of the matter is, Japan was not willing to surrender before we bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but afterwards they did, ending the war. And for almost 60 years since, we have indeed united peacefully with the Japanese across national boundaries, a fact which seems to escape Martin Kelley, the reality-denier who founded Nonviolence.org.

While we're mulling that over, please note also that Nonviolence.org has not posted anything condemning yesterday's bus bombing in Jerusalem, in which a Hamas suicide bomber killed 20 innocent Israelis. In fact, I ran a search on the Nonviolence.org website for the terms Hamas, Hezbollah (and alternate spelling Hizbullah), Arafat and Palestinian and got the same result every time: "No pages were found containing..." I dunno why. I mean, if you're into urging nonviolence, I'd think you would be very vocal about urging Hamas to disarm and stop killing Jews... I mean, you know, if you're actually against the mass murder of Jews, that is.

I ran a search for the word terrorism too and found three articles on the site that mentioned the word, including this one that suggests the U.S. focus on Saudi Arabia as the key player in the September 11 attacks. Okay, I agree with that ( and think the Bush administration is focusing on the Saudis, quietly). But then what? Should we unite peacefully with them across national boundaries? Bomb them? Invade them? The latter choices would seems to be rather, uh, non-nonviolent, but Kelley, after criticizing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, condemns President Bush for "giving a pass" to Saudi Arabia. So the founder of Nonviolence.org seems to be urging ... violence.

Somebody please slap some sense into him.

Time for a Little Tax Reform?
A group of taxpayers are suing the state of Tennessee over unfair taxes. And you know what? They're right. This part of Tennessee's revenue-surplus-producing tax code is unfair. The tax exemption in question should be available to all, or none. (Meanwhile, we're still waiting for Tennessee's major media to acknowledge the fiscal year-ending revenue surplus...)

Al Qaeda Claims Blackout
Al Qaeda says it caused the blackout, though some skeptics are, well, skeptical.

An Egyptian newspaper says a communique attributed to Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the power failure in the United States and Canada on Friday and Saturday.

The operation "was carried out on the orders of Osama bin Laden to hit the pillars of the US economy" and as "realization of bin Laden's promise to offer the Iraqi people a present", the statement, which the Al-Hayat newspaper obtained from the Web site of the International Islamic Media Centre, said.

"Let the criminal Bush and his gang know that the punishment is the result of the action, the soldiers of God cut the power on these cities, they darkened the lives of the Americans as these criminals blackened the lives of the Muslim people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine. The Americans lived a black day they will never forget. They lived a day of terror and fear... a state of chaos and confusion where looting and pillaging rampaged the cities, just like the capital of the caliphate Baghdad and Afghanistan and Palestine were. Let the American people take a sip from the same glass," Al Hayat quotes the statement as saying.


Stop the Charade
Hamas blew up a bus in Jerusalem - 20 dead including some little kids. CNN: The bombing is the most deadly attack since three major Palestinian militant groups - Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - announced a cease-fire June 29.

Okay. Now can we admit the 'cease-fire' is a joke? Now can we admit that Hamas is not a "militant faction" and is not a legitimate force of resistance against occupation, but is a group of cold-blooded nihilistic murders? Now can we recall the diplomats, end the "peace process" farce, and stop interfering with the Israelis' efforts win their war against terror? Before more babies are blown up?

The Enola Gay: A Life Saver

The Enola Gay, beautifully restored, has gone on display at the Smithsonian. No single plane did more to save lives in World War II than the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, hastening the end of World War II in the Pacific. Except perhaps the second plane that dropped the second atomic bomb, on Nagasaki.

Naturally, some anti-nukeniks in Japan aren't happy. Some are complaining the display is meant as "justification" for the dropping of the A-bomb on Japan. Uh, no, we already had justification. See: 1941, December 7. It's a date that will live in infamy though not, apparently, in Japanese history classes. Here's the deal: Japan attacked the U.S.; we fought back. We were never the aggressor in the Pacific, we were always battling to defeat the aggressor. To win the war conventionally by invading Japan itself would have brought an estimated one million casualties on our side - with Japanese casualties certainly much higher. Instead, we dropped A-bombs on two small Japanese cities, killed about 230,000 people, and lost nobody on our side. After Hiroshima, the Japanese didn't believe we had more A-bombs, and vowed to fight on. After Nagasaki, they feared we might have many more - and might use the next one on Tokyo. Game over.

The Enola Gay saved lives, as did the U.S. Air Force plane that bombed Nagasaki. That plane is on display at the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Here's a webpage about that plane and its crew.

President Truman faced a horrifying decision in deciding whether or not to use the atomic bomb. On the one hand, he could order a conventional invasion and eventually win the war at a cost of millions of dead and injured. On the other hand, he could destroy Hiroshima, killing perhaps a quarter million civilians, and hope it induced Japan to surrender. But of course they might not surrender. It might take nuking two cities. Or three. Or four. Or more ...

Can you imagine having to make such a decision? Can you imagine trying to decide which was right, which was most likely to shorten the war and spare the most lives - which was the more moral way to go?

History tells us Truman made the right decision - a decision that vastly shortened the war and vastly reduced the Japanese and American death toll. But had he made the other choice - to forego use of the such a horrifyingly destructive weapon and order a conventional invasion, I couldn't fault him either.

This year, we faced another homicidal regime, Saddam Hussein's tyranny, and another difficult moral question. Should we invade now, and prevent him from ever deploying weapons of mass destruction against Israel, or against us someday? Or should we wait, and risk the failure of economic sanctions, inspections and diplomacy to prevent him from eventually attaining suitcase-sized nuclear weaponry capable of wiping out a few million Americans - or mass-murdering the 6 million Jews who call Israel home - in a single detonation?

And if we waited, what then? Threaten him with mutual assured destruction? As I wrote back on April 10, that is simply not a moral choice if you have another:

George McGovern says we shouldn't have invaded Iraq. One reason: even if Saddam did have "a few weapons of mass destruction," it is assumed that "he would insure his incineration by attacking the United States." In other words, McGovern says, the moral position would have been to threaten to incinerate 5 million people in Baghdad if Saddam ever used WMDs, but it was immoral to remove Saddam now, at the cost of only a few hundred dead Iraqi civilians. Why? Because, to McGovern, striking first is wrong, but striking back after an attack is okay. But it is a sick, sick mind that believes the moral position is to do nothing until the only thing that we can do is incinerate 5 million innocent people - especially when the alternative, the thing we in fact have done, can prevent the 5-million-dead scenario at the cost of only a few hundred civilians dead now.
Yes, a few hundred - perhaps a few thousand - Iraqi civilians died. But had we not acted now, a few years from now - - motivated by anger and revenge rather than aiming for prevention - we might have had to murder five million Iraqis because one madman set off a suitcase nuke that killed millions in Tel Aviv. Or New York. Or your town.

This is not a perfect world. Some moral decisions do not involve black-and-white choices. We made the right choice sending the Enola Gay to Hiroshima. And history will say we made the right choice sending the troops into Iraq.

Putting Limits on the Taxin' and Spendin'
Robert Hawley sent along a link to this story in Sunday's Washington Post about some "tax activists" in two counties in Maryland who are pushing for a referendum to cap property taxes and, in one county, to roll back a recent increase in the county income tax. Yes, they have a county income tax there. Can you imagine such a thing? The WaPo story is dripping with bias against such tax-limitation efforts, portraying the anti-tax activists as "angry" and fiscally irresponsible while devoting numerous paragraphs to the views of government officials who warn of dark consequences if the referendums get on the ballot and are approved by voters. But it also has this encouraging news about grassroots activism against ever-rising taxes:

Ballot questions to limit taxes became popular in the 1970s, when voters in Prince George's and in California approved controversial caps on property-tax rates. Similar referendums surfaced across the country - including in several counties in Maryland - in the early 1990s, but the pace has since slowed in many states. Today, as more local officials look to raise revenue to bail out recession-strapped budgets, government experts predict the backlash will be another sustained push for voter-imposed tax limits.

"It is spiking back up, from what we can tell," said M. Dane Waters, president of the Initiative and Referendum Institute, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks ballot referendums. "The trend seems to be as the local governments start trying to get more money, some citizens say, 'We want to stop that.' "

Montgomery and Howard are two of the 13 Maryland counties that raised taxes this year. Nationwide, about 25 percent of cities planned to raise property taxes this year, according to a February survey by the National League of Cities. The increases are causing an uptick in the number of ballot initiatives seeking voter-imposed tax limits, including efforts in Wisconsin, Georgia and Tennessee. Waters said voters approve about half of tax referendums that make it onto the ballot.

"In our estimation, this could very well mark the third phase of the modern tax revolt," said Peter Sepp, a vice president of the National Taxpayers Union, who said the first two phases were California's Proposition 13 in 1978 and the anti-tax efforts of the early 1990s. "We are seeing this effort spring up on a county-by-county, city-by-city basis."
The third wave of the tax revolt. An anti-tax environment in states coast to coast even in ultra-Democratic Maryland. Seems to me that will not make an "I'll raise taxes!" candidate like Howard Dean very happy.

FYI: Sepp and the I&R Institute are among the many sources of information I relied on in writing this white paper about the Taxpayers Bill of Rights in Colorado and why a similar constitutional amendment would ensure fiscal discipline in Tennessee's state budget.