Don't Wait for a 'Smoking Gun'
James Robbins explains why the Democrats are hanging themselves out to dry - and potentially putting American lives at risk - by demanding absolute proof of Iraq's guilt before we go to war.
The threat is more nuanced than it used to be. For example, how do you show a convincing photograph of anthrax spores, especially taken from a satellite? Suppose the Iraqis have outfitted mobile chem-bio laboratories that they keep on the move and away from inspectors. One would guess the labs look a lot like trucks. Suppose chemical-weapons components are being offloaded into a warehouse - OK, there's a building, here men move boxes.
Even a nuclear weapon would not necessarily look like a World War II-era bomb with great big fins and radiation symbols painted on the side. It might look like a shipping container, which when you think about it is even more alarming.
Steaming hot commentary on journalism, Tennessee, politics, economics, the war and more...
- Name: Bill Hobbs
- Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Don't Wait for a 'Smoking Gun'
A Refreshing New Attitude
New Gov. Phil Bredesen has set a new fiscal tone in Tennessee when it comes to government spending. He's proposing actual cuts in state government's budget and payroll, and major institutions that in the past lobbied for higher taxes are now agreeing that there is waste to be cut.
Bredesen, who says he plans to reduce the state payroll by 2,900 employees (returning it to the number of state employees on the payroll in 2000), now is asking the state's higher education system to do its part.
Amazingly, higher ed is lining up to comply. I say "amazingly" because, for the last four years, the University of Tennessee system has sent busloads of students to the state capital at taxpayer expense in order to lobby the legislature to pass an income tax.
But now that the governor who championed the income tax is gone, and the new governor is committed to balancing the state budget without raising taxes, UT officials are saying they can, indeed, find ways to cut.
Reports the Tennessean newspaper in Nashville: UT President John W. Shumaker and other officials said they would find ways to work through hard times. ''We exist for our students,'' Shumaker said. He said UT's new executive vice president, Steve Leonard, would lead an effort to find ways to save money. Shumaker mentioned what he called a small but telling example of how money might be saved. After seeing an invoice for items the university had purchased recently for $290, he sent a staff member out in Knoxville to buy the same materials. They cost $54.
Shumaker says UT will continue to raise private funds, and plans a major capital campaign next year. He declared the university a ''no-whine zone,” the paper reports.
Incidentally, Bredesen’s plan to reduce the state payroll by 2,900 employees has people wondering why the previous administration added 2,900 people to the payroll in the midst of what it said was a budget crisis.
2,900 employees is not small change. At an average of just $30,000 per year in salary and benefits, those employees would cost the state $87 million per year. Yet the Sundquist administration hired them in the middle of a “budget crisis.” More evidence the budget crisis of the past four years was at the very least a political exxageration.
(This item is also up at PolState.com today.)
What Are You Doing Here?
Looking for stuff about the war with Iraq? Hmm... There's some down below. But before you go read it, I urge you to zip on over to Donald Sensing's blog and read this, in which exposes how a fellow United Methodist pastor, Nashville UM Bishop Melvin Talbert, allowed himself to be Saddam's dupe in the anti-war movement. It's important - because Talbert is currently all over the news for his starring role in anti-war television commercial.
Not convinced you need to go to Sensing's blog pronto? Okay, here's an excerpt...
The bishop recently went to Iraq (December, as I recall), where he let Saddam spin him like a top. He saw only what Saddam wanted him to see, he spoke only to the people Saddam wanted, he heard only what Saddam intended. There is no account of Talbert's visit, including his own, that he attempted to give a witness to the Iraqi people or the regime's figures of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; there is no evidence or report that he challenged Saddam's regime on its tyranny and murder; there is no evidence or report that he had any real agenda other than a barely-concealed willingness to be used a dupe by the co-winner of the Gold Medal for bloodthirstiest tyrant alive today (Kim Jong Il being the other).
Now... get going!
UPDATE 2/16: I received an email from reader Tom Lee, who informed me the dictator-coddling United Methodist bishop's first name was Melvin, not John. My mistake, indeed it is Melvin. It will be corrected in the originial item Lee also said Talbert was from San Francisco, not Nashville. True, but in this case we're both right. According to this story. Talbert teaches at Vanderbilt Divinity School right here in Music City. Bishop Talbert retired from his San Francisco post Sept. 1, 2000. Lee pointed me to this very interesting press release from the United Methodist News Service regarding the circumstances surrounding Talbert's resignation.
Welcome, Tennessean Readers
HobbsOnline is getting a fair amount of new visitors today who read my op-ed piece in today's Tennessean on the paper's website and clicked the hyperlink at the bottom of it. I imagine some who read it on the dead-tree version are also visiting this site. If you are looking for information about the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, scroll down and look for the blue rectangle with the outline of the state of Tennessee on it, and click that.
You should also click here and also here. The latter has links to a lot of TABOR-related posts on this site. Also, if you think TABOR is a good idea, visit TnTABOR.org. And finally, if you like this site and want to help keep it going, you can support it with a donation via Amazon tip jar.
We're Almost Ready...
A lot of websites have been pixelated with comment on Bush's statement in the State of the Union telling the people of Iraq that their enemy was not surrounding their country, but ruling it.
Bush said: Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation. It was a strong statement, designed to provide comfort to the Iraqi people who await liberation, commentators said.
But there's a second message in that statement, aimed at the Iraqi military, and not meant to comfort them at all.
Ready for War
Here's a report from the front lines in Kurdish northern Iraq, where the biggest fear is that America won't attack.
During their 12 years of freedom, the Kurdish, Turkmen and Assyrian inhabitants of this land have rebuilt most of the 4,000 villages Saddam Hussein's troops bombed and bulldozed into oblivion. They have also created at least the semblance of democracy, complete with elections and a representative parliament.They have laced the country with highways and transformed Sulaymaniyah, Irbil and Dohuk into modern cities with multiple newspapers, traffic jams and omnipresent Internet cafes. The people are warm and well fed, thanks to the Iraqi-U.N. oil-for-food program. But with Turkish tanks hovering above Dohuk, an Islamic militant group shelling Halabja and Saddam Hussein's troops patrolling their southern border, Kurdistan residents realize all too well how fragile their beautiful new world is. That's why they hope that the "top secret" American airstrip near Sulaymaniyah will be put to use soon.
In fact, the invasion is already underway.
"He needed killin'"
Jonah Goldberg is one of my favorite writers. His latest is all about Bush and Iraq.
After he's gone, when the Iraqi prisons and archives of terror are opened and the Iraqi people are free, Bush can simply say of Saddam, in cowboy parlance, "He needed killin'"; and everyone will understand.
Donald Sensing explains the difference between Islam and Western ideals.
I haven't read or heard any commentary about the most penetrating quote in the president's SOTU speech Tuesday night. It's this one, that came in the penultimate paragraph: "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity."
That sentence defines the chasm between the West generally, including America specifically, and Islam generally, including Arabic Islam specifically. Islam teaches that Allah's control over events of the world and human life is total and complete. There is no human free will, there is only rebellion against Allah or submission to Allah. Yet even rebellion is, somehow, under the controlling purview of Allah. Everything that happens, without exception, is the preordained will of Allah. Bin Laden's sort of self-justifying extremism is not the mainstream of Islam, but neither is it as far removed as we might imagine. Fatalism is a characteristic of Islam. There is no human freedom. Human liberty, especially as Americans think of it, is literally a foreign concept to Islam, expecially Arab Islam.
We say that the defining idea of American liberty is "self evident:" Human beings "are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." This claim has no natural fit with Islam. The idea that humans, created by the power of Allah, could inherently possess unalienable rights of their own, which no authority may remove, would require Islam to surrender the idea that Allah enjoys meticulous control over all affairs of nature and humankind. But this notion is lethally dangerous to the defining idea of Islam itself: that Allah has all the power.
Liberty as we conceive it is at the heart of the conflict. For Muslims, the most desirable state of human sociegty is not one that is free, in the Western sense, but one that is submissive to Allah, according to the dictates of Quran. This state of society is dar al Islam, the world of peace. Anything else is the "world of war." Hence, Islam does not use terms such as free or unfree to refer to nations, but at war with Allah or at peace (through submission) to Allah. And because of the deterministic model of Allah, any form of political repression conducted under Islam's banner is seen as Allah's will. Think Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Taliban.
Go read the whole thing. Sensing's blog is always first-rate.
Arnold Kling's latest brilliant essay explains how "Economic idiotarians are people who implicitly reject market logic and instead see economic arrangements as an either-or choice between idealistic sharing and evil exploitation."
I believe that the Internet is going to create new Market Pricing institutions and intermediaries in the realms of journalism, music, and other cultural work. Moreover, my guess is that these institutions will not resemble today's publishers, and their revenue models may be nothing that today's industry incumbents would recognize. I believe in the digital revolution, but I distance myself from those who see this revolution as a conflict between Authoritarian Ranking and Communal Sharing.
Sometimes, advocates for Open Source Software speak as if Microsoft inflicts its products on the public using Authoritarian Ranking, when instead software should be available for Communal Sharing. I believe that it is more accurate to view both proprietary and Open Source Software through a Market Pricing framework. This leads one to predict that Open Source developers will lack incentive to make their work accessible and usable for a non-technical audience, which seems to be an issue.
The phrase "tax cuts for the rich" is designed to trigger an idiotarian response. You are supposed to see a conflict between the Communal Sharing of the tax revenue that naturally belongs to all of us and the Authoritarian Ranking of powerful rich people stealing from this communal resource.
A successful idiotarian campaign was the assault on "Big Tobacco." The lawsuits against the tobacco companies were reported as a victory for Communal Sharing and a defeat for Authoritarian Ranking. However, from a Market Pricing perspective, this is not so clear. It may be more accurate to say that smokers are people who made choices rather than victims of tobacco companies; and the winners of the lawsuits were the individual attorneys who collected huge fees, not the community as a whole.
I didn't know The Tennessean was going to publish this today. I don't know they were going to run it, period. But I'm glad they did. What is it? Go see for yourself.
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Big Bang Theory
Austin Bay over at StrategyPage.com explains why toppling Saddam Hussein will be a death blow to al Qaeda - and how al Qaeda is responding to the threat.
The massive American build-up around Iraq serves as a baited trap that Al Qaeda cannot ignore. Failure to react to the pending American attack would demonstrate Al Qaeda's impotence. For the sake of their own reputation (as well as any notion of divine sanction), Al Qaeda's cadres must show CNN and Al Jazeera they are still capable of dramatic endeavor.
This ain't theory. Al Qaeda's leaders and fighters know it, and the rats are coming out of their alleys. In Afghanistan, several hundred Al Qaeda fighters in the Pakistani border region have gone on the offensive. They specifically link their attacks to America's pending assault on Baghdad. Al Qaeda terror teams are reportedly moving into Western Europe.
The big loss will be access to Saddam's WMD. A WMD spectacular is the kind of operation that can reverse Al Qaeda's international propaganda decline. That ain't theory, either. Al Qaeda's leaders know it, which is why they seek nukes and nerve gas. It's why American strategists who know Al Qaeda know the axis of evil must be utterly broken.
Read the whole thing. And check out StrategyPage.com from time to time. It's on my permanent links list.
Reason magazine explores the unreasonableness in the way municipal governments are increasingly abusing eminent domain to benefit private businesses.
Eminent domain has a long history, and it isn’t likely to go away. After all, it’s enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, not to mention the constitutions of all 50 states. What distinguishes the current era is the degree to which local governments are willing to use this power to achieve all manner of public policy goals. Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they’re driven back by public protest or the courts. But they’re unquestionably pushing the boundaries.
In the current climate, many of the traditional constraints on public takings of private property seem to have disappeared. Most redevelopment laws, including Arizona’s, explicitly acknowledge that land can be taken even if the beneficiaries will be other private parties. This principle is even articulated in federal law, through the 1954 Supreme Court decision Berman v. Parker, which allowed local governments to condemn land for urban renewal and then transfer title to private parties. Even then, local governments didn’t have carte blanche; they had to justify the taking as a way to mitigate "urban blight." But over the years that term has become little more than a name for property a government wants to take. Today redevelopment agencies enjoy more discretion than ever, and eminent domain is becoming their tool of choice.
The American Revolution is Not Over
The coming war for Iraq's liberation is the next logical step in the American Revolution, says Alex Napp:
And so the job falls to us and our core allies. Nobody wants war, but when the alternative is leaving millions of innocent people at the mercy of brutal thugs who look for more ways to acquire weapons and expand their power, well, I'll take war. Granted, there are stages that can be gone through. I'm all for deep cover operations and all that other cool spy stuff. War doesn't have to be tanks and rockets. But it's time to fulfill the promise of the Enlightenment. It's time to live up to our ideals of freedom. For most of human history, thugs and barbarians ruled humanity. 227 year ago, the tide turned, and pockets of humanity started ruling themselves, learning to stand tall and spit in the eye of anyone who tried to make them kneel. And it's high time we made sure that nobody kneels again. That nobody has to wake up at 3am hearing that fateful knock on the door. That nobody has to worry that noting the resemblence of their elected officials to lower primates will result in their head on a silver platter. In other words, it's high time to liberate the world. It's a dirty, messy job that will take decades. But it has to be done.
"Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation." - President George W. Bush, Jan. 28, 2003.
Pataki Comes Through
Faced with a revenue shortfall, New York Gov. George Pataki does the only sensible thing. He proposes a smaller budget, and rejects calls that he increase the state's income tax or major corporate taxes, calling them "job-killing." New York, says Pataki, will live within its means.
The State of Your Wallet
The president spoke about the economy and taxes last night, too, and it was all good. Three things stand out.
First, his call to accelerate and make permanent the tax cuts Congress has already passed: "You, the Congress, have already passed all these reductions, and promised them for future years. If this tax relief is good for Americans three or five or seven years from now, it is even better for Americans today."
Hard to argue with that. If the medicine is good medicine - and it is - better to take it now than later.
Second, Bush confronted the specious class-warfare arguments the Democrats will try to make: "This tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes, and it will help our economy immediately. Ninety-two million Americans will keep this year an average of almost $1,100 more of their own money. A family of four with an income of $40,000 would see their federal income taxes fall from $1,178 to $45 per year."
Sounds very good to me.
Third: the president suggested goverment spending not grow faster than per capita income. "I will send you a budget that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year, about as much as the average family's income is expected to grow. And that is a good benchmark for us: Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families."
He's right. That's the philosophy behind the Taxpayers Bill of Rights concept: government spending shouldn't grow faster than the economy, whether you measure it by per capita income, or population plus inflation growth, or some other sensible measure.
Glad to hear the president believes that.
Club for Growth leader Stephen Moore says Bush is Ronald Reagan's third term. I'm hoping for a fourth.
Soon It Will Be Over, Over There
Lileks is brilliant today. Well, every day. But today is special. It's the day after the State of the Union.
He’s tired. This is taking a lot out of him. Think back to the post 9/11 climate, and remember the feeling you’d get in your stomach when you read a story headlined “Does Al Qaeda have a nuke?” or “Smallpox fears rise” - it seemed as if the one thick thread that held your world together was about to get a good hard yank. Some forget how every day brought the same routine - news report, a hot squirt of fear in your stomach, a quick imposition of denial, then . . . well, you had to make dinner, or pick the kids up, or take the dog to the vet. We lived in these twin worlds of the Now and the Horribly Possible. The latter, thank God, hasn’t happened yet.
Imagine, however, that your Now is also your Horribly Possible, and you live there 24-7. And imagine that every day you read intelligence reports that suggest the Possible is quite Likely. It would take its toll on a fellow.
So what do I take away from the speech? Nothing I didn’t know before. I always thought Iraq was next. Defeating Iraq isn’t the camel’s nose in the tent - it’s the camel’s head in the bed of every other Arab leader.
Let's say I'm a 44-year old Iraqi man with a two-year old girl and a wife who worked in the Ministry of Justice and came home every day weeping because someone else had been taken away, I would hear this speech and be filled with piercing fear and incandescent hope and the two emotions would wrestle every day until it was over. When you think about it, a postwar Iraq might actually be safer from WMD than New York City. It’ll be over for them. We’ve no idea when it’ll be over for us.
Also brilliant, as usual: Victor Davis Hanson, who calls the speech "an elemental talk about life and death, good and evil," and dimisses the Democrats' response as being the response of a party that is "on the wrong side of history in opposing the removal of a deadly fascist, in a post-9/11 world where there is no margin of error."
Read 'em both.
KnoxNews columnist George Korda has a good analysis of the early days of the Bredesen administration.
If government is reduced, he gains the critical high ground in the perception battle. Early perceptions are like wet concrete. As they harden, they hold fast. The concrete Bredesen is pouring is based on his campaign promise to bring better management to Tennessee’s government. Voters are seeing these factors as the new governor sets up spending reductionst: Bredesen said he would manage, and he’s managing. Bredesen said there would be tough choices, and he’s making them. Had Don Sundquist attacked the problem similarly – and let people see it - he might not have passed his income tax, but he’d be seen in a different light today. Whatever short-term problems these actions may cause Bredesen with different constituencies, in the long run it will pay political dividends with Mr. and Mrs. Average Voter.
I think that's about right.
The Headline is a Lie
The New York Times today headlines its story on the Bush speech by saying the "President seeks cuts in taxes and spending." The Bush budget proposal will increases federal government spending by 4 percent.
Let's go to the text:
We must work together to fund only our most important priorities. I will send you a budget that increases discretionary spending by 4 percent next year, about as much as the average family's income is expected to grow. And that is a good benchmark for us: Federal spending should not rise any faster than the paychecks of American families.
The NYT story starts this way:
President Bush vowed tonight that he would not burden future generations with the nation's pressing domestic problems: growing budget deficits, a lagging economy and a crisis in health care. He offered few new specifics on how he would solve those problems, and Democrats asserted that some of his proposals could actually worsen them. But Mr. Bush, addressing one of the core critiques of his administration, argued that he "will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents and other generations."
I heard the speech. The president's promise to "not pass along our problems to other Congresses, other presidents and other generations" was NOT a reference merely to deficits, the economy and "a crisis in health care," as the NYT spins it. The vow covered everything in the speech, from Medicare reform to dealing with terrorism and Iraq. And Bush offered specifics on each item. You can verify that by reading it yourself.
More lies: NYT columnist Maureen Dowd says Bush "tried to sell skittish Americans on a war with Iraq by alluding to the possibility of a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda."
Bush didn't allude to a possible link. He said we had evidence of a link. When in doubt, go to the text:
Evidence from intelligence sources, secret communications and statements by people now in custody reveal that Saddam Hussein aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaida.
The war with Iraq started in 1990, says Austin Bay.
After Desert Storm, the war inside Iraq continued, as Saddam's troops savaged rebelling Shia Arab villages in southern Iraq. Washington hoped for Saddam's fall, but with Khomeini's militant Iran next door, no one in the Middle East wanted Iraq to fragment. So U.S. forces didn't move, and continued to respect the spirit and letter of UN resolutions that did not permit Saddam's removal as long as he gave up his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and posed no offensive threat to neighboring nations.
Thanks for the reminder.
Bay's StrategyPage.com is must-reading for understanding what's really going in over there is a syndicated columnist with Creators Syndicate and the author of four non-fiction books and two novels. His commentaries have appeared on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. Bay has worked as a special consultant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and is a colonel in the US Army Reserve. A graduate of the Army War College, he hold a PhD from Columbia University. Check out this great piece on the Iraq-al Qaeda link and the possibility of Iraq launching terror attacks inside the United States.
More on the State of the Union
Regarding the Democrats' rebuttal: "It all boiled down to, "What Bush said, only less. Unless you want more. Really, we're flexible." - Steven Green, a/k/a the VodkaPundit.
Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan loved Bush's speech:
In many ways, this was a Kennedy-like speech, a speech a Democratic president could have made, if the Democratic Party hadn't fallen into such moral and strategic confusion. Self-confident, convinced, as he should be, of the benign nature of America's role in the world, ambitious, and warm, it was a tour de force of big government conservatism, mixed with Cold War liberalism.
Quote of the Year
Yeah, it's only January. But I doubt any political line this year will top this one from Bush's speech:
"Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country."
Yeah. But not for long.
At some point today this site welcomed its 50,000 visitor. Thanks, whoever you were. Hope you got your money's worth. I just wish all 50,000 of you had dropped a dollar in the tip jar. ;-) But don't worry, I'm not gonna pull an Andrew Sullivan on you.
More Proof of the U.N.'s Near-Total Uselessness
Iraq and Iran will co-chair the next meeting of the United Nations' Conference on Disarmament, in Geneva, Switzerland, in May, because the co-chairs rotate among countries on an alphabetical basis and it is Iraq's turn.
According to CNN, the Conference on Disarmament and its predecessors have negotiated such major multilateral arms limitation and disarmament agreements as the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification Techniques, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction, and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
"The irony is overwhelming," a U.S. diplomat said.
But, then, the U.S. is planning its own little "disarmament conference" in Baghdad in February or March, it appears, with our delegates arriving by land and air. So if the current government of Iraq isn't in power in May and a U.S.-led coalition government is running Iraq, can we recall the Iraqi ambassador and send our own to chair the meeting?
State of the Union Speech:
A grand slam home run. Rich Hailey had an on target preview of the speech, noting that "The Democratic response will be muddy, emotional, filled with worn out rhetoric. It will attack President Bush's plan, but offer no alternative. If the Dems had a viable alternative, then one of the Presidential hopefuls would be giving the response." Good point.
Here's the transcript of Bush's speech. And here are some of my favorite sections:
I am proposing that all the income tax reductions set for 2004 and 2006 be made permanent and effective this year. And under my plan, as soon as I've signed the bill, this extra money will start showing up in workers' paychecks. Instead of gradually reducing the marriage penalty, we should do it now. Instead of slowly raising the child credit to $1,000, we should send the checks to American families now. This tax relief is for everyone who pays income taxes, and it will help our economy immediately. Ninety-two million Americans will keep this year an average of almost $1,100 more of their own money. A family of four with an income of $40,000 would see their federal income taxes fall from $1,178 to $45 per year. And our plan will improve the bottom line for more than 23 million small businesses. You, the Congress, have already passed all these reductions, and promised them for future years. If this tax relief is good for Americans three or five or seven years from now, it is even better for Americans today.
How will the Democrats explain saying no to that?
To improve our health care system, we must address one of the prime causes of higher cost: the constant threat that physicians and hospitals will be unfairly sued. Because of excessive litigation, everybody pays more for health care, and many parts of America are losing fine doctors. No one has ever been healed by a frivolous lawsuit; I urge the Congress to pass medical liability reform.
That's when Sen. John Edwards, millionaire trial lawyer and presidential wannabe, fumed sullenly. Priceless!
In this century, the greatest environmental progress will come about not through endless lawsuits or command-and-control regulations, but through technology and innovation. Tonight I'm proposing $1.2 billion in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles. A simple chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen generates energy, which can be used to power a car, producing only water, not exhaust fumes. With a new national commitment, our scientists and engineers will overcome obstacles to taking these cars from laboratory to showroom, so that the first car driven by a child born today could be powered by hydrogen, and pollution-free. Join me in this important innovation to make our air significantly cleaner, and our country much less dependent on foreign sources of energy.
The politics of that is simply amazing. Bush is supposed to be the captive of "Big Oil," yet he is proposing a rather large program to develop a commercially-viable replacement for oil as an automobile fuel. And the crash program to develop hyrdogen power cars will be a boon to the technology sector, helping the economy. And Democrats will have to vote for it.
Today, on the continent of Africa, nearly 30 million people have the AIDS virus, including 3 million children under the age of 15. There are whole countries in Africa where more than one-third of the adult population carries the infection. More than 4 million require immediate drug treatment. Yet across that continent, only 50,000 AIDS victims -- only 50,000 -- are receiving the medicine they need. Because the AIDS diagnosis is considered a death sentence, many do not seek treatment. Almost all who do are turned away. A doctor in rural South Africa describes his frustration. He says, "We have no medicines, many hospitals tell people, 'You've got AIDS. We can't help you. Go home and die'." In an age of miraculous medicines, no person should have to hear those words.
AIDS can be prevented. Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year, which places a tremendous possibility within our grasp. Ladies and gentlemen, seldom has history offered a greater opportunity to do so much for so many. We have confronted, and will continue to confront, HIV/AIDS in our own country. And to meet a severe and urgent crisis abroad, tonight I propose the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a work of mercy beyond all current international efforts to help the people of Africa. This comprehensive plan will prevent 7 million new AIDS infections, treat at least 2 million people with life-extending drugs and provide humane care for millions of people suffering from AIDS and for children orphaned by AIDS. I ask the Congress to commit $15 billion over the next five years, including nearly $10 billion in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean. This nation can lead the world in sparing innocent people from a plague of nature.
Simply masterful. This is the kind of foreign aid that makes sense - reducing the spread of AIDS globally is in the interest of American national security. There's no down side to it politically, either, and Democrats have to vote for it.
Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power. In the ruins of two towers, at the western wall of the Pentagon, on a field in Pennsylvania, this nation made a pledge, and we renew that pledge tonight: Whatever the duration of this struggle and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men; free people will set the course of history. Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation. This threat is new; America's duty is familiar. Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no limit. In each case, the ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism and communism were defeated by the will of free peoples, by the strength of great alliances and by the might of the United States of America.
Darn near lyrical. And from there, Bush laid out a very clear, tough, and convincing case for military intervention in Iraq. The announcement that Colin Powell will present evidence to the United Nations on Feb. 5 tells you when the war will begin: soon after, regardless of what the UN does.
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option. The dictator who is assembling the world's most dangerous weapons has already used them on whole villages, leaving thousands of his own citizens dead, blind or disfigured. Iraqi refugees tell us how forced confessions are obtained: by torturing children while their parents are made to watch. International human rights groups have catalogued other methods used in the torture chambers of Iraq: electric shock, burning with hot irons, dripping acid on the skin, mutilation with electric drills, cutting out tongues, and rape. If this is not evil, then evil has no meaning.
And tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country, your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation.
It will also be one of the greatest days in American history.
Telling the Truth
This is two weeks old, but I just found it, thanks to a link on Virginia Postrel's blog. It seems that USA Today decided to tell the real truth about all those state budget shortfalls you hear about from coast to coast.
State governments are struggling to pay for expensive programs that were approved or expanded during the economic surge of the late 1990s. Although the economy began to cool in 2000, state and local spending has continued to grow, increasing by an annual rate of 4.2% in the first nine months of 2002. Governors and legislatures meeting this month in 42 states must decide whether to raise taxes or retreat from spending promises made before the recession set in. But most of the budget cuts under consideration are reductions in planned spending increases, not actual declines in spending from last year.
Tax collections by the states fell 5.7% nationwide in the 12 months that ended June 30, the Census Bureau reports. That decline was offset somewhat by increases in federal aid and other revenue. Many states met their higher spending obligations by tapping reserve funds and using accounting gimmicks. Tax collections are rising again: up 1.4% nationwide in the quarter that ended Sept. 30. But that's not enough to match spending increases that legislatures have approved.
The paper actually published two stories. Here's a link to the other one, which says:
State and local governments are spending more money and hiring more people than last year, even as governors and mayors warn of draconian cuts in public services because of the economic slump. The National Governors Association says states face the ''most dire fiscal situation since World War II.'' But a USA TODAY analysis shows that most of the budget cuts being studied are not declines in spending from last year. Instead, they are reductions in spending increases that were approved when the U.S. economy was booming.
UCLA management professor Daniel J.B. Mitchell told USA Today the words "'shortfall'' and ''budget gap'' are political terms, not accounting terms, and "the public mistakenly thinks this means you have to cut spending or raise taxes by this amount to balance the budget.''
Consider California. The terms "shortfall" and "budget gap" are merely an estimate of the difference between what the Legislature approved spending and what it has money to pay for. Says USA Today:
California's budget ''shortfall'' is largely caused by the Legislature's plan to increase general fund spending from $78 billion this year to $85 billion next year and $91 billion in 2005. Those proposed increases are likely to be cut. It's like an employee who expects a 5% raise, gets only 3% and complains about a 2% pay cut. Mitchell says questionable accounting makes it hard for the public and legislators to understand the state's true financial condition. California reported a $3 billion surplus in the budget year that ended June 30, 2001, just as the high-tech bubble was bursting. But the state actually spent $5 billion more than it took in - a deficit. ''California is in trouble now because it ran huge deficits even at the peak of the revenue cycle,'' Mitchell says. ''If you run deficits in good times, you're bound to have a fiscal crisis in hard times.''
Postrel's Jan. 15 blog item notes that a sidebar chart in the printed version of the paper, but not available online, revealed more data on how states have spent themselves into their current crises.
The printed sidebar includes a great chart, unavailable online, that shows the average annual change in each state's budget from 1997 to 2002 and the projected change for 2003. Examples: California's state budget grew 9.4% a year from 1997 to 2002 and is projected to shrink by 0.2% this year; Colorado's grew 8.1% a year and is shrinking 2.7% this year; Virginia's grew 8.0% a year and is projected to grow 1.6% this year. Major outliers: Florida, which grew 4.4% a year from 1997 to 2002 and is supposed to grow 8.0% this year, North Dakota (3.5% vs. 15%), and West Virginia (2.8% vs. 10.8%).
Tennessee's budget also grew exponentially during that same five-year period, from less than $15 billion in fiscal year 1997 to more than $20 billion in the current fiscal year.
Woman of Mass Deception
A Tennessee state legislator from Memphis is claiming the coming war with Iraq will cost Tennessee's budget an estimated $1.3 billion in federal funding for roads, schools and other domestic needs.
State Rep. Kathryn Bowers, D-Memphis, said yesterday in an open letter to the governor, other legislators and the public, that she wants Tennessee citizens to know that the state's serious budget shortfalls will be compounded by a reduction in federal funds which she believes will be redirected to war spending, according to this story in today’s Tennessean newspaper.
Bowers wrote: ''We are very concerned about the cuts in the federal budget to provide money for a war in Iraq and the wrong message that is being sent to our children.”
The message Bowers is sending to children is that it is okay to lie in order to further your anti-war goals. Bowers’ claim is at best a half-truth, at worse a deliberate lie.
Bowers wrote the letter as part of her work as president of a national organization called Women's Action for New Directions, based in Arlington, Mass.
The organization’s web site says “WAND's mission is to empower women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism, and redirect excessive military resources toward unmet human and environmental needs.”
Bowers cited federal budget figures and projections from two reports of the National Priorities Project, described in the paper as “a nonpartisan, nonprofit Massachusetts-based group used as a resource for citizens and community groups to help them shape federal budgets and priorities,” for her wild claim that Uncle Sam will cut federal funding to Tennessee by $1.3 billion in order to help finance the war.
However, as The Tennessean helpfully notes, “The NPP reports … did not link the federal funding loss and cost of war as Bowers did, said Anita Dancs, the NPP's director of research. Dancs said in one report that the NPP calculated the amount taxpayers in every state would pay to fund a war based on the assumption war would cost $100 billion.
The Tennessean’s description of NPP is a joke, by the way. The "about us" section of the organization’s own website says this about itself: “For a number of years, NPP has focused on the trade-offs between military spending and tax breaks with social spending. This has enabled us to build bridges between the peace community and the many groups fighting for social and economic justice, expanding the number of groups who will work on both community needs and peace.”
In other words, NPP is allied with the anti-war Left.
But back to Bowers.
In a separate report, unrelated to the war, the NPP claims President Bush has proposed cuts federal funding to certain programs that will result in Tennessee losing $2.4 billion. Those cuts included $178 million in highway planning and construction, $22.1 million in the clean water revolving fund; $6.4 million in the Workforce Investment Act; $4.6 million in the low-income energy assistance program; $760,600 in airport improvements; $678,180 in the drinking water revolving fund; and $19,689 in schools.
But none of those cuts is related to the war and not going to war will not mean Tennessee gets that extra money.
Bowers ignores that inconvenient fact. And having set up the straw man, she goes in for the kill:
“My concern is that because of our state budget crunch, we will not be able to make up those dollars and we'll have to cut services even more — and people think we're cutting state dollars, but it's federal dollars being cut,” she told the newspaper.
After all, she said, Tennesseans pay $219 million in taxes for the federal government's nuclear weapons program, and that’s enough to buy Head Start for 32,047 Tennessee children; affordable housing units for 3,123 Tennessee families; and salaries for 5,101 elementary schoolteachers.
In other words, Ms. Bowers implies, if you favor a strong defense and/or the war with Iraq, you are against Head Start, decent housing and paying Johnny's school teacher well. That's absurd. You can be for all of them. Or none of them. You can even be in favor of kicking Saddam's butt so Johnny's affordable house and his school teacher's place of work won't be hit by one of Saddam's WMDs in the hands of terrorists down the road a few years .. or a few months ... from now.
But that’s not the kicker.
This is. One of WAND’s five stated policy goals is
Eliminate the testing, production, sale and use of weapons of mass destruction
Isn’t that what we’re trying to do in Iraq?
You can ask Rep. Bowers yourself, by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And They Said It Couldn't Be Done
Gov. Phil Bredesen is going to do what the previous administration said could not be done (and, indeed, never seriously tried to do): he's going to cut the budget. And revelations of massive budgeting errors by the previous administration are helping Bredesen lay the grounwork for the state's first real budget trimming in almost a decade.
The Tennessean reports:
Gov. Phil Bredesen is asking most state departments to look for 7.5% across-the-board spending cuts in the short term and said in the long term he hopes to find ways to eliminate 2,900 state jobs he said were added since 2000. In his second week as Tennessee governor, Bredesen continued to work through ways to deal with expected budget shortfalls with his new Cabinet in meetings that he has opened to reporters. He is putting a "full-court press" on getting a handle on TennCare cost overruns, which, he said, will cause most of the projected shortfalls this year and next.
Bredesen told his Cabinet yesterday that TennCare pharmacy costs are out of control and "it doesn't make sense'' that some TennCare enrollees would receive more than 65 prescriptions a month."
It hasn't made sense to TennCare critics for the past four years, either, but the previous administration and Gov. Don Sundquist were hell-bent on enacting a state income tax and refused to address TennCare's giant financial black hole because it made the budget crisis worse - and pushed more legislators to the brink of voting 'Yes' on the administration's various proposals for an unconstitutional state income tax.
Indeed, for the past 4 years, Sundquist officials stamped their feet and repeatedly claimed the $5 billion TennCare program wasn't the cause of the state's chronic budget problems, but Bredesen is telling the truth: "TennCare is so big that when it sneezes everyone else catches pneumonia."
Bredesen revealed that the Sundquist administration made "two flat-out errors" in TennCare budgeting, failing to budget $36 million in payments to hospitals and creating $45 million in administrative costs by overprojecting how much the federal government would contribute.
Over-projecting was a chronic budgeting problem with the Sundquist administration, which often over-estimated revenues, appropriated the money, and then blamed the tax code - rather than their politicized estimates - for the shortfall.
The story also includes some snarky, defensive comments from the former Sundquist administration's top budget official about those two huge TennCare budget errors that ocurred (or were perpetrated) on his watch.
Things are getting fun in Tennessee. And remember, TennCare is just the first budgetary problem Gov. Bredesen is dealing with. I suspect Tennesseans will be learning a lot more details about various "budgeting errors" and other masterpieces of fiscal malpractice of the Sundquist administration in the weeks and months ahead, which will provide Bredesen enormous political capital to cut Tennessee's bloated budget down to a more management and sustainable size.
(This post is also at PolState.com.)
It’s a non-issue in Tennessee, but that hasn’t stopped the state’s capital-city newspaper from raising it anyway. The Tennessean reports that proposals to release some prison inmates early in order to save money and help balance the state budget are getting a “cool response” from state lawmakers.
Who is making the proposal?
The Tennessean, and nobody else, apparently, in a prime example of a newspaper manufacturing news on a slow news day.
Despite Tennessee's budget woes, most of which stem from an additional $258 million required for TennCare, state lawmakers interviewed by The Tennessean were largely opposed to making early release of inmates a budget tool. ''I'm willing to listen to their argument, but I'm not persuaded at this point that is what we need to do,'' said Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Goodlettsville.
Whose argument? The paper mentions no Tennessee lawmaker or state official who has proposed early release. It merely cites a New York Times report from last month that some states were “laying off prison guards, closing prisons or giving prisoners emergency early releases to reduce budget deficits,” including Iowa; Ohio, Illinois, Montana, Arkansas, Texas and Kentucky. But not Tennessee.
To understand why the non-story became front-page news in The Tennesssean, you have to understand the paper’s political agenda. The paper favors an income tax, and favors virtually unlimited government spending on healthcare. Because it is now clear that TennCare – not the state’s tax structure – is the prime cause of the state’s budgetary problems in recent years, the paper is seeking to refashion the budget story to be a story about something other than the giant financial sucking sound called TennCare. The scary specter of early release of violent felons – which no one except the Tennessean itself has raised – makes a convenient diversion.
But just remember - it isn't a real issue in Tennessee.
Andrew Sullivan well-states the case for war with Iraq, and the case for not going to war. Here's a long excerpt, but you need to just go ahead and read the whole thing.
Neither option is without risks. The calm today is deceptive. The risk tomorrow is greater than most of us can imagine. If we do nothing - or worse, we do nothing that looks like something, i.e. fruitless U.N. inspections ad infinitum - then the worst could happen. If we do something, the worst could also happen - the use of such weapons in Iraq, a growing conflict in the Middle East. But by going in, we also stand a chance of seizing our own destiny and changing the equation in the Middle East toward values we actually believe in: the rule of law, the absence of wanton cruelty, the dignity of women, the right to self-determination for Arabs and Jews. We also have a chance to end an evil in its own right: the barbarous regime in Baghdad. We choose Iraq not just because it is uniquely dangerous but because the world has already decided that its weapons must be destroyed. We go in to defend ourselves and our freedoms but also the integrity of the countless U.N. resolutions that mandate Saddam's disarmament. Our unilateralism, if that is what is eventually needed, will therefore not be a result of our impetuous flouting of global norms. It will be because only the U.S. and the U.K. and a few others are prepared to risk lives and limb to enforce global norms. Far greater damage will be done to the United Nations if we do nothing than if we do what we have an absolute responsibility to do.
Anyone offers you a meal of this, accept immediately. Buffalo meat loaf and buffalo burgers taste very good - and compared to beef it has less of the things that are bad for you and more of the things that are good for you.
Donald Sensing offers his nomination for Super Bowl MVP - and a succinct analysis of the game. I am in total - and happy - agreement with him. I have two favorite teams - the Philadelphia Eagles (team of my birthplace) and the Tennessee Titans. I wanted to see them meet in the annual Roman Numeral Bowl, but alas the Bucs finally found a way to win at the Vet, and the Titans lost to the Raiders. So I was a bit conflicted. Until I recalled that the Raiders are the team the Eagles lost to in the Super Bowl a couple decades ago, the last time the "Iggles," as Philadelphians call them, were in the Big Game. YAY BUCS!
Legacy of Failure
Don Sundquist was governor for eight years. He left behind a legacy of failure - and documented it! When you say your prayers tonight, thank the Good Lord Sundquist has left the building.
This story reflects very well on Nashville and the patriotism of her people.
Northern California ranked second to Nashville in the Marine Corps' national recruiting last year, according to Maj. Mark Johnson, commanding officer of Marine Recruiting Station San Francisco, which covers the area from Monterey to Eureka and as far east as Solano County. He said some of the hardest work for the military was in San Francisco high schools, which have a policy that bans on-campus recruitment by military services.
Nonetheless, said Capt. Tuan Pham, a Marine recruiting officer, the service has had good results in San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa, Alameda and Contra Costa County. Overall, he said, the Marines signed up 1,122 young men and women last year in the San Francisco district. Army Lt. Col. Paul Woods, who runs the Northern California recruiting headquarters in Sacramento, said the region has "a positive environment" for recruiting. "We are doing well overall since Sept. 11," he said. Woods said that unlike the Marine Corps, the Army does not rank its recruiting districts' numbers. He said he has signed up about 300 new recruits a month for the active Army and the reserves.
The results were a bit of a surprise to some military officers, who share the national perception that Northern California in general and the Bay Area in particular have strong anti-military prejudices. Woods said he had been told that Northern California did not look favorably on the military when he was transferred to the area after five years in Europe. Recruiters have more success in rural areas and smaller cities than they do in large cities, Woods said. This is true over the rest of the country, and Northern California is no exception.
The story notes that the San Francisco school districts' ban on military recruiters violates federal law, but the school districts don't appear in a hurry to comply. What do you expect from San Francisco? The region's built-in anti-American bias screams from the headline of the story, in which the San Francisco Chronicle calls people who join the miltary "suckers." Feel free to flame the writer.
On to Baghdad
Bill Keller's piece in the New York Times explains why the Iraq war will be underway in February or March - and why it should.
The detour through the United Nations looks more than ever like a dead end. Saddam's shuck and jive shows he will never come clean. The antiwar tantrums of France and Germany just encourage his intransigence.
Perhaps if we give Mr. Blix a few more months to chase wild geese around Iraq, the U.N. will reward us by endorsing war, but we can already count on a substantial coalition: The gulf Arabs are on board (if they are sure we will see it through to the end), probably Turkey (which wants leverage over the future of its neighbor), the Brits, the Aussies, Italians, Spanish and all those dependable ex-Communists. The Russians and French might even jump on the train once it's moving, to protect their investments. Where's the unilateral in that?
David Warren's piece in the Ottawa Citizen is good, too.
Pataki Makes the Right Call
New York Gov. George Pataki has endorsed the president's plan to end the tax on stock dividends. As you might expect, the typical chorus of liberals is lined up to complain that the federal plan might cost New York some tax revenue too. Pataki appears to understand better than they do that cutting taxes will boost the economy - and boost revenue.
Specifically, the governor singled out for praise a proposal to eliminate taxes on corporate dividends paid to taxpayers, the centerpiece of the plan President Bush announced on Jan. 7 for kick-starting the stalled economy. "The president's new economic stimulus plan will help New Yorkers, specifically his proposal to eliminate the double taxation of dividends," Mr. Pataki said in his first public statements since the Bush announcement. "This element of his stimulus package will help a financial industry in New York that is hurting."
But, the Times reprots, Gov. Pataki "was noticeably silent on the question of whether New York, whose income tax laws are tied to the federal laws, would enact changes to keep it from automatically following the federal government's lead."
Some state officials, mostly Democrats, have said that the Bush proposal will hurt New York at a time when it faces a cumulative deficit of $12 billion and needs every source of revenue it possesses. Alan G. Hevesi, the state comptroller, said that if the state piggybacks on the federal plan and decides it will also stop collecting a dividend tax, it could lose $551 million in revenues in the fiscal year that begins April 1, and $2.5 billion over four years.
The notion that Bush's plan to end the federal dividend tax will harm state revenues is a canard being tossed about by liberals who oppose tax cuts in general. But here's the truth for New York and any other state with a tax on dividends: staes can de-couple their tax codes from the federal system, create a new state dividend tax form and continue collecting the tax, simply, and easily. Tennessee already does it. Or states can continue to tie their dividend tax to the federal system, cut taxes along with the feds, and accelerate the economic growth in their state.
TABOR: Safeguarding Democracy?
I though Aristotle said it, but then I Googled it and found the famed quote was actually written by Sir Alexander Tytler, a Scottish jurist and historian who lived from 1742-1813. What did he say?
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship…” Tytler's words come from his book, The Decline and Fall of the Athenian Republic, published in 1776.
I’ve long thought about Tytler's warning – that democracy is undermined by itself once voters see the political process as a way to feed at the public trough – as I’ve watched the American Left try to create a tax-and-spend system in which a minority, defined as “the rich,” pays the taxes and a majority reaps the benefits in the form of various government welfare and spending programs. Tytler, I thought, just might be right.
But now I'm not so sure. I think democracy is evolving a way around the problem Tytler identified. It's called the Taxpayers Bill of Rights and because of it I believe Tytler is dead wrong. Democracy’s demise is NOT inevitable. Constitutional provisions like Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights turn Tytler’s premise upside down.
Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights has five provisions. It limits the legislature to revenue growth based on a formula approximating economic growth. It requires surplus revenue be returned to taxpayers. It requires the legislature get approval from voters if it wants to spend surplus revenue, raise taxes or increase government debt. It applies to county and local governments. And local and county governments can hold referendums to ask voters permission to temporarily or permanently exempt the jurisdiction from the amendment.
Tytler envisioned a world where special interest groups would pressure lawmakers to craft legislation that would dole out money to them. Voters would “always vote for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury,” he said. But under the TABOR concept, there is no public treasury, at least as Tytler views it. For what Tytler called the “public treasury” was really the “government treasury,” as he viewed it. But that’s a false premise. There is no such thing as government money, and the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is built on that fact.
Under the TABOR concept, the government doesn’t have money; it merely is allowed to take a restricted portion of the people’s money, with the people having the final say over changing that limit.
The impact of this is that legislators must prioritize and economize, and they must engage the electorate in debates over taxes and spending. In Colorado, the legislature can not spend surplus dollars without approval by voters in a statewide referendum. This has had the effect of reducing the influence of special interests. Proposals to spend surpluses must be crafted to gain the approval of a majority of voters statewide, rather than cater to narrow interests.
When voters say “No” to proposals to spend surplus dollars – as they have done five out of six TABOR referenda since 1993 - are they acting as Tytler envisioned? No. Just the opposite. They are not voting for “largesse from the public treasury” and they are not voting for candidates who promise more “benefits” from the public treasury – they are voting for less money being in the government’s hands in the first place. They are voting to reduce the power of the “public treasury” by leaving the money in the hands of the general public.
Voters may well vote their own selfish interest when faced with a ballot question involving what to do with surplus revenue under Colorado’s Taxpayers Bill of Rights. But because of the way that amendment is structured, the decision must be the majority opinion of the whole state. A vote to benefit one’s own wallet is a vote to benefit every other Coloradoan’s wallet too. Likewise, a vote to approve the spending of surplus revenue will only happen if legislators propose a program or project that benefits the vast majority of Coloradoans, not just a special-interest few.
And because the people are more engaged in the fiscal discussion, democracy is strengthened rather than weakened.
For more on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights concept and how it has strengthened democracy and had a positive impact on the economy and state budget of Colorado, download my 17-page white paper, available online here in a PDF file thanks to South Knox Bubba. The paper also examines flaws in the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights that open the door to the kind of special-interest mischief Tytler was warning about, and suggests ways to fix those flaws in a Tennessee Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Cutting Texas Down To Size
Texas has a budget shortfall. A big one. It is, after all, Texas, and things are BIG in Texas. The governor's response: "CUT!" And the bureaucracy is doing it, reports the Houston Chronicle.
Gov. Rick Perry and Republican legislative leaders officially began the process of slashing the state budget Thursday, sending state agencies a letter urging immediate 7 percent spending cuts to save $700 million this year. "We must instill fiscal discipline across state government," Perry said. "We must not shy from this challenge. This is the time for bold leadership, innovative solutions and fiscal restraint."
They suggested cuts in government administrative costs, elimination of foreign and most out-of-state travel, a decrease in capital purchases, a hiring freeze and - if need be – layoffs, the Chronicle said, but acute Medicaid services, the Children's Health Insurance Program and the Foundation School Fund, which acts as the main bank account for public schools, will be exempted from cuts.
"Savings achieved now will be key to resolving the state's budget issues for the remainder of this year and for the next biennium," the letter told agencies, directing them to submit savings plans to the leadership by Feb. 6.
Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn released a lowered revenue outlook last week that that nearly doubled the state's estimated budget shortfall to almost $10 billion over the rest of this fiscal year and next fiscal year. Texas must cut $1.8 billion in spending by the end of August to balance its current budget.
No sooner than the fax machine could spit out the high-level directive, budget slashing had already begun. Perry himself pledged to cut the governor's staff by 14 percent, although he did not provide details of how he'd do that. Comptroller Strayhorn's office preempted all others with an announcement early Thursday that she is cutting her budget by 6 percent, or $5 million.
That’s leadership by example.
UPDATE: Here's more on the cuts from the AP.
MORE UPDATE: Speaking of Texas... amen to this.
I've updated this post, reflecting an ongoing debate between myself and CalPundit over the merits of using inflation+population growth as the measure by which goernment tax revenue should be limited under a Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
Speaking of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, Colorado has a good one, which is why their legislators are cutting spending rather than talking about a big tax increase in order to balance that state's budget.
Just Some of the Facts
This Tennessean editorial notes some good news about the state's budget process, but alas the editorial is marred by the paper's continuing inability to really tell the whole truth regarding the state budget. The paper says that Bredesen "is considering opening budget meetings, where department heads map out their respective budget proposals," and rightly remakrs that "openness in the process would go a long way toward rebuilding trust."
Just remember: The Tennessean never found the previous governor's budget process to be untrustworthy - in fact, they swallowed the process and the lies hook, line and sinker for four years.
The editorial writers still can't tell the whole truth about the state budget. They write: "According to the governor, the state is looking at a $322 million shortfall, despite the record $933 million tax increase enacted last year. On top of that, the state shortfall for the next fiscal year could hit $500 million." Notice the subtle linkage between the shortfall and tax revenue. But the governor they praise for being trustworthy and competent recently said the cause of the shortfall this year is largely TennCare cost overruns, not a failure of the tax code to produce sufficient revenue. And, through December, the state is actually running a small surplus of revenue compared to the approved budgeted estimate.
The Tennessean, its longing for a state income tax unquenched and undimmed, wants readers to keep thinking the tax structure is to blame.
But this Memphis Commercial-Appeal editorial today is much more egregious. It just flat-out lies and blames the shortfall on the "failing tax structure."
Bredesen, has yet to find a magic wand he can wave over the budget problems created or exacerbated by the state's failing tax structure. ... The biggest tax increase in Tennessee history - a $933 million hike last year, primarily in the state sales tax - will not live up to expectations."
Lies piled on lies. The tax hike will bring in more than $1 billion in the next fiscal year, and even more as the economy inevitably improves. Combine that with Bredesen's willingness to make actual spending cuts now, and by the middle of his first term, Gov. Bredesen and the state of Tennessee will be enjoying a revenue surplus.
This Was Not Unexpected
And it's a classy move by Tennessee's new governor. Not only does Gov. Phil Bredesen forego his annual salary, he finds a way to economize in the governor's office, the Tennessean reports: Bredesen "said he was able to increase salaries for staffers in the governor's office and stay within budget by having fewer people work for him." Imagine that. Here's hoping the rest of state government takes its cue from Gov. Bredesen's actions.
UPDATE: the Memphis Flyer likes Bredesen's initial moves.
Frist - and Tennessee - Explained
This piece on Bill Frist and Tennessee's politics in the Weekly Standard is just plain excellent.
If you went into a lab and tried to create a state that would be perfectly suited for producing successful national politicians, you would create Tennessee. It is southern, which is important because the South is both the largest and the fastest growing region of the country. But it is not too southern. It is rich, and has that huge fundraising base, but it is not culturally elitist, like New York and California. Most important, it is heterodox. If you are going to live in Tennessee and thrive there, you cannot live in an insular cultural enclave, the way Trent Lott can in Mississippi, or the way Nancy Pelosi can in the Bay Area. In Tennessee you have to travel to the eastern part of the state, where they supported the Union, you have to travel to the western part, where they supported the Confederacy, and you have to travel to West Nashville, where they support Cadillac dealerships. If you travel and campaign throughout Tennessee, you are apt to acquire an instinctive feel for how different types of people think and react.
Start with Nashville. The city is hard to figure out because, though it isn't very big, it exists on many different planes. Beyond the Belle Meade elite, there are the music people, who live in the exurbs or in rural mansions. When Bill Frist was growing up, he would not necessarily have had any contact with the country music community, who would have been regarded as rednecks. Even today, when the music industry is just another successful business sector, the visitor is surprised to find that country music has a relatively low profile in Nashville. Country music doesn't dominate the radio dial. It doesn't color local conversation the way the movies color chatter in Los Angeles. As Lamar Alexander, a successful governor and newly elected senator, notes, "Country music still sits uncomfortably in Nashville, like McDonald's in Japan."
Then, outside of Nashville, there are collar counties, such as Williamson County, with McMansions, mega-churches, G. Gordon Liddy fans, and new money. These fast-growing places are extremely Republican, anti-tax and anti-government, and are looked upon with bewilderment and suspicion by many people in Bill Frist's neighborhood. There are also the religious elites. Nashville is home to several denominations, including the conservative Church of Christ. The city hosts the largest publisher of Bibles in the world.
It's long, well-written, mostly accurate and highly deserving of your time.
Praise from the Left Coast
Kevin Drum, a/k/a/ "CalPundit," likes the Taxpayers Bill of Rights concept, but the California blogger offers a twist:
The basic idea of TABOR is flawed because it essentially means that state employee salaries are frozen forever in real terms. If we had adopted this kind of rule in 1970, teachers would still be getting paid about $15,000 a year today. A better idea, I think, is to limit state spending to a percentage of gross state product (GSP, the state equivalent of national GDP), with perhaps a small amount of wiggle room allowed by a super-majority vote. This allows everyone to benefit from economic growth, while still keeping a clear cap on spending.
I'm not so sure I agree with his contention that TABOR freezes teachers' salaries - or spending on any other government program - forever in real terms, as CalPundit says. I think policy choices have as much or more impact on teacher pay as TABOR does. But that's almost beside the point. I welcome debate over the proper measure to tie revenue growth to - the real issue ultimately remains putting some sort of restraint on the growth of taxation and government spending via the state constitution, and giving the taxpaying public more control.
My research shows that, since the adoption of the TABOR amendment in Colorado in 1993, Colorado's per-capita spending by government has accelerated rapidly. Much more rapidly than Tennessee's. The reason is that TABOR creates a stable tax environment and, in boom years, leads to tax cuts - and a stable tax environment and periodic lowering of taxes helps the state's economy grow faster and the state's people grow wealthier. I document that in fine detail in my TABOR white paper, available online in a PDF file thanks to South Knox Bubba.
An excerpt of my research: From 1990 through 2000, Colorado increased per-capita state spending by 139 percent, the third-largest increase among all 50 states, while Tennessee increased per-capita spending by 76 percent. In 1990, Colorado's government spent $2,504 per person. Tennessee spent about 50 percent more than that - $3,753 per capita. By the end of the decade, Tennessee spending per capita had risen to $6,593, and Colorado’s had increased to $5,992. Tennessee state government now spends just 10 percent more per capita than does the government of Colorado.
One other point: TABOR provides a remedy for the effect CalPundit cites, and Coloradoans used it to address the very issue of public education funding. In November 2000, Colorado voters approved a ballot question asking for roughly one fourth of TABOR surplus revenue over the next ten years to be set aside for increasing spending on public K-12 education. Essentially, the amendment, effective 2001, altered the TABOR formula and allows for extra revenue growth earmarked for education, and increases per pupil spending by at least inflation plus one percent for the next ten years and by at least the rate of inflation thereafter. The money was dedicated to several uses, including class size reduction, technology upgrades, and performance incentives for teachers.
Again, it is policy choices that drive teacher pay. TABOR doesn't lock teacher pay or government spending at a lower level. It merely forces legislators to prioritize.
UPDATE: Keven, a/k/a/ CalPundit, writes, "My basic problem with population growth + inflation is that as population grows, the number of teachers will grow at the same rate (assuming class size stays the same). Thus you have no choice except to keep their salaries constant (in real dollars) unless you cut other stuff."
I'm not so sure that's true. First, it assumes the growth in population will mirror the pre-growth demographics of the state, with the same percentage of families with school-aged children, the same wealth distribution, etc. But that's not a given. In Colorado, per-capita disposable income has soared since TABOR was enacted. I have not data, but you'd have to assume that as the population becomes wealthier a higher percentage of people will be able to afford private schools for their children. But demographic questions aside, CalPundit hasn't addressed one basic fact of Colorado since TABOR: state government spending has not just grown, it has grown per capita.
Once again: From 1990 through 2000, Colorado increased per-capita state spending by 139 percent, the third-largest increase among all 50 states. According to this inflation calculator, which is based on federal Consumer Price Index data, inflation from 1990 through 2000 totaled 34 percent. Factor that in and Colorado still increased per-capita spending by government by roughly 100 percent. The state spent $2,504 per capita in 1990, but in inflation-adjusted 2000 dollars that would've been about $3353. But Colorado actually spent $5,992 per capita in 2000 - an inflation-adjusted real increase of 78 percent.
That's $2,639 more per capita, after factoring inflation. Surely there was money in there for teacher pay increases. - and remember, that's a per capita increase so it already takes into account population growth. If those teacher pay increases did not beat inflation, that is because lawmakers made other choices, not because the TABOR formula didn't make the money available.
MORE STUFF: CalPundit’s basic complaint with the TABOR formula (inflation + population growth) is that it prevents the government from benefiting from economic growth and using the extra revenue to fund increases in teacher pay (or, presumably, increase spending on other perceived needs.)
Economist Dr. Barry Poulson, a professor of economics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, said the following in one study of TABOR’s impact:
“That the TABOR Amendment has slowed the growth of state spending is now well documented. But TABOR has also had the effect of stabilizing state spending over the business cycle. The result is what economists refer to as consumption smoothing in state finance. Consumption smoothing is important because it permits the government to maintain stability in the provision of government services without discontinuous changes due to cyclical changes in state revenue.
“It is often argued that the TABOR Amendment requires a decrease in state government relative to the private economy. This argument is a major source of misunderstanding, because it ignores the consumption smoothing impact of the TABOR Amendment over the business cycle. To the extent that TABOR is a binding constraint, as it has been over the past five years of rapid economic growth, state government will grow less rapidly than the private sector. But during periods of recession and slower economic growth … TABOR is a less binding, and possibly a nonbinding, constraint. In recessions state government is likely to grow more rapidly than the private sector.”
They Protest Too Much
SayUncle has something to say about the anti-war protestors:
Hey folks, life gets more complicated when you put down the weed, wear a suit instead of a tie-dye shirt, stop living in a fantasyland where we can trust evil dictators, make more than $18K per year, and realize that someone has got to actually solve problems. No amount of pot smoking, free love, and dressing like the Statue of Liberty will solve the problems of the world.
Read the whole thing.
I have added two new features to this weblog in the past few days. First, you can subscribe to receive an email update once per day alerting you to new items posted at HobbsOnline. If I post nothing, no email is sent. You'll find the subscription box over there on the right. Also, I've added a search box that allows you to search this website for past articles. It's quicker than scrolling through the archives. Just enter your search terms in the search box. Enter the last name of our new governor, Bredesen, and you'll find numerous articles. Unfortunately, the PicoSearch tool only finds returns the main page from the archives - you'll still have to scroll, but at least you'll have the date something was posted and can use your browser's "find" tool to locate the word on that page.
Arghh. Tennessee now has an anti-income tax governor who pledges to propose a budget that doesn't spend more than the state's revenues - even if it means cutting. And he's a Democrat. Down in Georgia, theyir new governor is proposing a big tax increase and more government spending. And he claims to be a fiscally conservative Republican. Stephen Moore examines the crazy tax increase proposal from Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who is that state's first GOP governor in a century - and as of now very likely to be a one-termer.
What is astonishing is that Perdue turned to giant tax hikes even before even pretending to make an effort to cut the badly bloated budget in Atlanta. Perdue doesn’t seem to understand that Georgia, as with most every state this year, has a chronic overspending problem — not a revenue-shortfall problem. Perdue adopts the standard left-wing education rhetoric of “meeting the needs of families and children.” Thus his budget throws money at dubious government programs: more dollars for pre-kindergarten programs, more money for foster care, more money for higher education, and more money for school construction. But if there is any money for the reform that really matters in improving academic achievement — expanding parental choice in education — I couldn’t find it in the budget, and the governor never mentioned it in his budget speech.
Tax revenue growth has exploded in Georgia over the past decade. The budget is more than twice as large as it was in 1990 — and so are total revenues. After adjusting for inflation, tax revenues have climbed from $7.1 billion to $14.4 billion. How could any rational person look at this steep revenue growth and conclude that new taxes are needed to balance the budget?
A Cato Institute study shows that if the Georgia budget had simply grown at the rate of inflation and population growth over the past decade, the state would have a $1.9 billion surplus today, not a deficit. Cato’s analysis shows that if spending had been restrained over the past decade — as many states out west require — the average Georgia household would be getting a $635 tax cut this year.
There is nothing in Perdue’s budget about tax-and-expenditure limitation measures to make sure that spending sprees don’t happen again. There is no call for an audit of state agencies to ferret out waste and inefficiency and duplication of services, things that are endemic in state budgets. There is no call for a super-majority vote-increase requirement to raise taxes. There is nothing in his budget that would require a vote of the people before taxes are raised. My suspicion is that if the Perdue tax hike were put to a vote of the people it would be soundly defeated.
Georgia Democrats are lining up to oppose Perdue's tax hike.
Taxpayers Bill of Rights Update
Regular readers know that I have developed a white paper, heavily footnoted and documented, outlining the history of tax-and-expenditure limitations, the history of the Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights, and the positive impact it has had on that state's politics, finances and economy.
If you would like a copy of that white paper by email, contact me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net and tell me if you want it as a Microsoft Word file with active hyperlinks, or as a PDF file, and I'll send it along. Actually, if you want it as a PDF file, you can go to South Knox Bubba's blog and download it. A very hearty thanks to SKB for making a PDF file out of it and posting it online. Bubba's got some comments on TABOR here.
And here's the link to the TABOR PDF file.
For more information on efforts to enact a Tennesssee Taxpayers Bill of Rights, check out TnTABOR.org.
UPDATE: Justin Bollinger of Elephant Rants comments on SKB's site: "That sounds like taxation WITH representation doesn't it? What a great idea...of course I am not getting my hopes up."
Bredesen Agrees with Beavers and Blackburn?
One's a moderate Democrat, the other two are conservative Republicans, but they seem to agree on the proper approach to the chronically-in-crisis Tennessee budget.
From the Jan. 22, 2003, Memphis Commercial Appeal: "Phil Bredesen...told Cabinet members to work on plans to shave up to 5 percent from department budgets."
From the March 24,2002, Knoxville News-Sentinel: "Some conservative legislators - notably including Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, and Rep. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet - have long argued for across-the-board cuts of 5 percent or whatever figure is necessary to balance the budget. But Finance Commissioner Warren Neel and many legislative leaders dismiss the idea as impractical at best or impossible at worst."
Thanks to Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt for sending those. Hmm. Guess Neel was wrong.
For more on Bredesen whipping out the "Big Hatchet," check out South Knox Bubba's blog, which also links to Memphis Mike Hollihan's Half-Bakered blog for even more good commentary.
Surprise, surprise. The cops lied about it. The Tennessean had an audio expert analyze the sound on the video, and determined that Cookeville Officer Eric "I'm terrified by tail-waggin' mutts" Hall shot the dog simultaneous with yelling "Get back!" Two officers claimed Hall yelled "get back!' before firing. But he didn't. Officers also claim the dog barked, but the audio indicates the dog did not bark.
The Cookeville police officer who shot to death a family's dog Jan. 1 during a traffic stop did not yell ''get back!'' before firing, as he and another officer wrote in police reports, an audio expert said. Computer enhancement of the audio portion of the videotape does not match with some accounts given by police officers of what happened.
Sadly, the trigger-happy Hall still has his job. And his gun. Don't you feel safe when you're passing through Cookeville?
Have you heard of or seen those silly commercials that accuse SUV drivers of funding terrorism because they use gasoline from the Middle East? Of course, the commercials are devoid of real logic. If SUVs support terrorism because they use gasoline from the Middle East, drivers of small cars also support terror when they pump gas.
But there's something even worse than buying petro products from oil-rich countries run by terror-supporting Islamofacist regimes like the House of Saud. This slide show explains it in devastating fashion.
This is Good News
Hilary is resigning. No not that one. This one. But like that one, she won't be missed by a large segment of the affected population group.
A Month Late and a Few Million Dollars Short
News travels slowly to Kingsport, Tennessee, apparently. The Tuesday edition of the Kingsport Times-News carried this story with the following headline: November sales tax revenue largely flat across state .
But the Sundquist administration released the November revenue data in mid-December. It was in all the papers on December 12th, including this story in The Tennessean. I had it here on December 11th. (Yes, I beat the dailies by a day.)
And the December data was released on January 10 by the Sundquist administration. I reported it here less than an hour after the data was released. The daily paper in Nashville reported it the next day and the Knoxville and Memphis dailies worked the data into stories over the weekend. So I beat them to the punch by a day or more.
We all beat the Times-News by more than a month on reporting the December tax revenue data, and there's no telling when they'll get around to reporting the January numbers. That's a shame, because until they do, their readers in Kingsport are living under the false notion that sluggish tax revenues are creating a deficit in Nashville. But the truth is the December revenue totals were higher than expected and erased the emerging shortfall. Today, new Gov. Phil Bredesen says the state does indeed face a shortfall this year, but it is caused by TennCare cost overruns, not by sluggish revenues.
You learned this just today from The Tennessean and from me. I'm guessing the fine people of Kingsport will find out in mid-February.