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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


How Is The Economy?
South Knox Bubba thinks the economy is in bad shape. I think otherwise. Who is right?

Here is a chart of national unemployment stats for each month for the past 10 years. Unemployment was 7.3 percent in Jan. 1993, a full 1.6 percentage points higher than January 2003.

Here is a chart of annualized unemployment rates, 1948-2002. Turns out unemployment was higher in four of those years (1992-7.5%, 1993-6.9%, 1994-6.1% and 2002-5.8%) than it is right now (5.7%).

And if you click here and then click the "TENNESSEE, seasonally adjusted" box, you'll see that on a monthly basis, unemployment was higher in every single month from January 1993 through June of 1994 than it is right now - ranging from 7% to 5.9% compared to the current rate of 5.7%. So, unemploment is lower now, during the generally-described-as-slumping Bush economy, than it was during the beginning of the Clinton-era economic boom.


UPDATE: Just ran the data on unemployment in the Knoxville metropolitan area for the last 10 years. Turns out it is much lower now - 2.8% in December - compared to January of 1993 when it was 6.2%. And for Nashville, the the rate was 3.1% in December compared to 4.8% in January 1993. So the economy is in better shape now than it was 10 years ago. And that's very good news. A decade ago, the economy was emerging from a recession (yes, it is historical fact: the recession was over and the economy already growing before Bill Clinton took office) but unemployment was still fairly high. Yet from that rough beginning, the economy built to an incredible boom. Today, the economy is growing slowly, but the recession - which started before Clinton left office - is over. And from a much healthier base, a new and larger boom will almost certainly emerge.

An Idea Whose Time Has Passed
Canadian commentator Mark Steyn on why Bush is right and the experts are wrong about the proper approach to ending the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians:

The argument of the wise old birds and the EU and the Arab League is that a resolution of the Palestinian question is the key to a stable Middle East - that somehow creating another backward repressive sewer state on a tiny sliver of the West Bank would transform the map from Algeria to Pakistan. Some of us think Brzezinski and Scowcroft are holding the plan upside down: Transforming the Middle East is the key to a resolution of the Palestinian question. Creating a functioning multi-ethnic confederation in Iraq is the first step. Regime change in Iran and Syria and dramatic reform in Saudi Arabia will come next. Removing the state sponsors of Palestinian terrorism, cutting off the suicide bombers from the Jew-killing bounty, isolating Hamas and Islamic Jihad as islands of depravity in a sea of liberty, ending the (at best lethargic, at worst complicit in terrorism) UN administration of the "refugee" "camps," all these are necessary -- not for a Palestinian state, but to wean the Palestinian people from their present dead-end death-cultism, without which weaning any new state is bound to fail. If the Palestinian people deserve liberty, why settle for Arafat?

Yes. But what does that have to do with Derby Line, Vermont and Stansted/Rock Island, Quebec? I'll let Steyn explain the connection.

Time Warp
Some people need to update their web content.

Pro-War Bash
More than a hundred people who favor of the liberation of Iraq turned out at the "Bash a Peugeot for Peace" rally in Nashville today. Radio talk show host Steve Gill hosted the bash, had this to say:

''What does bashing a Peugeot have to do with peace? Nothing. But most of the peace rallies have nothing to do with peace either. They're just attacking America. By calling our rally this, we just wanted to underline that point.''

And tweak the Saddam-coddling always-surrender-first French.

What is war good for? "Quite a lot actually," says the proprietor of a store selling t-shirts, caps and buttons emblazoned with the slogan Give War a Chance! Among the things war is good for: defending freedom, toppling dictators, and spreading democracy. "When nothing else works, war works wonders. Just ask Japan, well behaved since 1945." [Ed. note: I receive no money from purchases made at that site. I just liked it.]

How Saddam Hides Weapons
From the London Sunday Times, via Tehran Times, an inside look at how Saddam Hussein hides weapons of mass destruction with the help of Iranians - in Iraqi bases run by Iranian members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq terrorist organization.

Since 1987 Iraq has been hosting the MKO as part of its continuing tense relations with Iran since the imposed war of 1980 to 1988. During the 1991 Persian Gulf war American and British warplanes spared the MKO camps from bombing raids and left tanks and artillery intact while they smashed the Iraqi Army. Today, the MKO maintains at least a dozen camps in Iraq. Its 3,000-strong military force is equipped with tanks, artillery and missile launchers mostly provided by Iraq. Despite the fact that it is Iraqi-based, the MKO has always vehemently denied any connection with Saddam. But the U.S. State Department accused the group of performing internal security duties for the Iraqi dictator in return for his giving it bases. It is a claim backed up by the former MKO members interviewed last week. MKO forces were used, they said, to support the Iraqi Army's bloody quelling of the ethnic Kurds in northern Iraq and the Shia in the south, who rose up following the end of the Persian Gulf war.

The MKO - leftist and anti-Western - is the largest and most militant group opposed to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and has several thousand members operating from Iraq, as well as a network of sympathizers in Europe, the United States, and Canada. MKO was added to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist groups in 1997 because its attacks have often killed civilians. MKO is not tied to al Qaeda, however, members of the organization are thought to have participated in the 1979 takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days. If indeed they are helping Saddam hide WMDs, here's hoping MKO's bases and personell wind up as "collateral damage" of the coming military liberation of Iraq.

The Empire Strikes Back
The entrenched empire of bureaucratic Big Government doesn't like its spending habits criticized nor its budget reduced. Here's an amazing story out of Missouri, courtesy of Chip Taylor and PolState.com, about bureaucrats threatening to fire state employees who suggest ways to cut the state budget. The PolState story quotes a Kansas City Star report:

House Republicans, who say state agencies are refusing to help them cut next year's budget, said Thursday one department threatened to fire employees who offer ways to save money. House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, a St. Louis County Republican, called a news conference where she passed out copies of a piece of paper that she said had been given to a GOP lawmaker by a Department of Natural Resources employee. The sheet of paper was dated Feb. 20. It had a "budget" note: "WARNING: If a senator or representative asks you for ideas about how to reduce the department's budget, DO NOT DO IT. THIS IS A FIRING OFFENSE. If they make a specific proposal, you may address the potential effects."

The bureaucracy's denials are less than convincing.

The Sequel
Victor Davis Hanson surveys the world scene and says we've seen this before, and we know how it ends.

Western Europe has almost gone the way of Weimar. Amoral, disarmed, and socialist, it seeks ephemeral peace at all costs, never long-term security, much less justice. Furious that history has not ended in perpetual peace and leisure, it has woken up angry that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair disturbed its fanciful slumber with chatter about germs and genocide. In recompense, cranky Western elites, terrified of trouble, indict on the cheap the democratically elected Mr. Sharon, while the masses in the millions go to the street to protest a war against a monster like Saddam Hussein and pay fealty to the terrorist Arafat. As in the past we see ideals in the militarily weak but spiritually strong leaders of Eastern Europe, as the Czechs and Poles once more reveal themselves to be far more moral men and women than any in Germany and France - the historic duet that so often either started or lost wars.

Meanwhile an American president and a British prime minister, the target of this domestic vitriol and self-loathing, once again stand nearly alone against fascism. Because they do, we know the ending of this sad spectacle. Saddam will end up like Hitler in his bunker, with a mistress or two and a half-dozen doomed toadies. Postbellum Iraq will yield up the age-old horrors that may even be too sick for the tabloids; Anglo-Americans will once again rebuild a defeated enemy country — and a passive-aggressive France will triangulate, seeking to reclaim glory without power as it looks for profits among the flotsam and jetsam of war.

The world, not America, has gone off the deep end - just as it did some 70 years ago when faced with similar choices between cheap rhetoric and real sacrifice. And so just as the tragedy of Pearl Harbor for Americans put an end to all the nonsense of the 1930s, let us hope that the memory of September 11 and the looming showdown with Iraq will do the same for the present farce as well.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Battlefields and Baptisms
The WaPo has a rather touching story about soldiers embracing religion on the front lines of the coming Iraq war:

As war approaches, the canvas chapels in Kuwait's military camps and logistics bases are jammed with worshipers, many of whom have not crossed the threshold of a church back home in years. The sermons on placing faith in a higher power at moments of crisis seem to resonate now more strongly than ever with many Marines. "I don't know about you, but I find myself talking to God a lot more out here than I did at the rear," said the Rev. Bill Devine, chaplain for the 7th Marine Regiment, as the wind whipped up clouds of dust and billowed the white flag with a blue cross that flew above his outdoor Mass. "I couldn't be happier to see so many new faces out here."

Many troops call such "foxhole religion" critical to their preparation for war, saying it provides confidence that they will be protected if called upon to fight and faith that their mission is just. "After today, I feel more ready to cross the border," said Lance Cpl. Matthew Haugan of Hayward, Calif., one of the Marines baptized Sunday. "This is better armor than anything the Marine Corps could give me."

Haugan, 19, said he was part of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang when he first met with a Marine recruiter two years ago. A recent trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington shook his core beliefs, he said, and regular meetings with his battalion chaplain since he arrived in the desert have set him on a different path. "Being out here helped me realize how stupid that stuff was. We are all on the same side. We are all Marines," Haugan said. "I feel better about myself than I ever have, and I know God will be looking out for me."

More so than in other wars fought by Americans in modern times, religion infuses the crisis with Iraq, as some in the Muslim world see an attack against Islam, especially after the war in Afghanistan. Chaplains and troops in Kuwait are told to avoid religious references that would fuel that suspicion. The military discourages overt signs of faith outside the guarded compounds for fear any such expression might offend Kuwaitis' religious sensibilities.

At LSA-7, about 25 miles from the Iraqi border, Devine asked God to "let the decisions made in the coming weeks bring us peace without war. But, if you want to use us to further the goal of justice, then use us. We are ready."

There's no mention of any soldiers converting to Islam.

Economy Improves
The economy grew at a much faster pace in the fourth quarter of 2002 than previously thought, says the U.S. Department of Commerce:

The economy grew at a 1.4% rate in the final quarter of last year - twice as fast as the government first estimated. The revised reading on gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2002, reported by the Commerce Department Friday, is based on more complete data and marked a stronger showing than the miserable 0.7% growth rate reported a month ago.

I wonder what South Knox Bubba thinks about that...

UPDATE: I'm no longer wondering.

Taxpayers Bill of Rights UPDATE
An updated version of my research paper on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights is now available online at Tennessee Tax Revolt's website. Here is the direct link to the paper, which is in a PDF file. If you have downloaded the paper before today, please discard your version and get this one. Some minor errors in the previous version have now been corrected.

New Blog
As the War on Terror advances, it's worth paying attention to what people of influence in the Middle East are thinking about bin Laden, Iraq, terrorism, Israel, the West, etc. The best site for that is Little Green Footballs, edited by Charles Johnson. I've added LGF to my Vital Blogs list.

Oak Ridge Reaction
The Oak Ridge newspaper is reporting on the Attorney General's opinion that removes a large obstacle to amending the Oak Ridge city charter to include a Taxpayers Bill of Rights that will give voters a say in future tax increases. Already, the entrenched powers in Oak Ridge are trying to say the opinion doesn't really say what it clearly says.

The opinion says:

Since Tenn. Const. Art. XI, § 9
allows a home rule municipality to amend its charter in any way that does not conflict with general law or increase its power of taxation, and since the property tax laws do not preclude a city from modifying the procedure under which they are levied, a charter amendment which mandates that the city’s voters must approve by referendum all increases in the city property tax rate would be permissible.

And later it says:
The Constitution allows a home rule municipality to address in its charter the manner in which city tax rates are to be increased. Accordingly, it is the opinion of this Office that a home rule municipality may amend its charter to provide that a proposed increase in some city tax rates will be effective only upon ratification by a majority of the city’s qualified voters at a referendum election. But such a referendum requirement cannot necessarily be applied to some important city taxes that must be levied only in conformity with express statutory mechanisms.

Yet some members of the Oak Ridge city government, including city attorney Ken Krushenki, city council member Leonard Abbatiello and Mayor David Bradshaw are saying the opposite:
Krushenski, in a Feb. 21 letter to City Council, said the opinion appears to apply to "only home rule municipalities that do not have a procedure or municipal body in place for adoption of a tax rate." He added, "I anticipate that further research into the impact of the opinion and its effects on home rule municipalities will be forthcoming from this office."

City Council member Leonard Abbatiello said Thursday that he thinks this is a "non-issue" and that it is the responsibility of council to set the tax rates.

Bradshaw said that at first glance the opinion "appears to only apply to cities that don't have a statutory direction on how to set tax rate. "I know Oak Ridge does have a statutory process it does follow, and I imagine other cities do too. My first reaction is that this may be a general opinion that may have limited applicability."

Oak Ridge residents pay the second-highest property combined city and county property taxes in the state, behind only Memphis. And some people would like to keep it that way.


New Blog
A blog called Winds of Change suddenly started sending me a lot of traffic today. I appreciate it - and after having visited them, I added them to my list of Vital Blogs. Winds of Change is written by Joe Katzman, Adil "Muslimpundit" Farooq, Armed Liberal, Celeste Bilby and Trent Telenko. Thanks guys.

UPDATE: Winds of Change is doing a good job exposing how some anti-war public school teachers in Maine and elsewhere are harassing students whose parents are in the military.

Peace For Whom?
An Iraqi native now living in the U.S. has some questions for anti-war protestors.

What if you antiwar protesters and politicians succeed in stopping a US-led war to change the regime in Baghdad? What then will you do? Will you also demonstrate and demand "peaceful" actions to cure the abysmal human rights violations of the Iraqi people under the rule of Saddam Hussein? Or, will you simply forget about us Iraqis once you discredit George W. Bush? ... No. I suspect that most of you will simply retire to your cappucino cafes to brainstorm the next hot topic to protest, and that you will simply forget about us Iraqis.

Questions the anti-liberation Left has no good answers for.

Honoring Sept. 11
I'm not wild about the design of the replacement for the World Trade Center, although the 1,776-foot tall tower is a nice touch for both its symbolism of the American Revoilution and the fact that it would make New York once again home to the world's tallest tower. But I do like the story of the architect who designed it. It's an immigrant's story - an American story. Daniel Libeskind, the son of Holocaust survivors whose first memorable sighting of the United States was the Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor, is the absolutely the right person to design the replacement for the twin towers, and the memorial to those who died in a vicious attack by Islamofacist terrorists who would, if they could, rid the world of Americans and Jews.

How to Save The West Wing
I’ve been thinking about this story, first broken by the Drudge Report, that actor and former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who appears as District Attorney Arthur Branch on NBC’s Law and Order, has filmed a commercial to counter an anti-war commercial filmed by fellow NBC drama actor Martin Sheen, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing

In an interview with a local Memphis newspaper, Thompson did not hide his disdain for what he considers West Wing's preachy liberalism. "I've been thinking about the possibility of having my character run against Martin Sheen (Bartlet) for president," muses Thompson.

Surely, Thompson was speaking off-the-cuff, but he’s accidentally hit something: the formula for the greatest “Reality TV” series yet.

First, have Branch run for an win the New York governor's race on Law & Order. Then have Branch run against Bartlet for President – with actual unscripted “campaigns” and debates conducted across America, filmed for episodes of The West Wing (and cameos within Law & Order), with viewers voting over the Internet, a la Star Search, for the winner. In-progress polls could determine how various Bartlet and Branch campaign themes and issue positions are playing with 'voters,' contributing to the horse-race angle of the shows' press coverage. And if the winner is Branch, then the current cast of liberals who write and produce The West Wing get replaced by conservative and libertarian screenwriters and producers. And the current cast of characters who are members of Bartlet's staff would leave the show too, to be replaced by an all-new cast of actors playing conservative White House staffers.

Given the decline in ratings for The West Wing,, and the high popularity of both Law & Order and “reality shows,” surely this would be a ratings winner for NBC. And, I suspect, a bigger ratings winner after Thompson defeats Sheen and takes over The West Wing.

The American Left has long defended a suspected terrorist orrganizer who has been operating right here in the United States of America for years. In fact, they defend him still.

The indictment of Sami Al-Arian is damning. It alleges that this former professor at the University of South Florida was the head of the American wing of the terrorist group Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He also held a key position in the group’s worldwide leadership and even established a cell of the terrorist group at his university. From the looks of the indictment, he has been an active leader. Al-Arian used his professorial status, according to the indictment, to bring other members of his terrorist group into this country "under the guise of academic conferences and meetings." He helped Palestinian Islamic Jihad members "receive cover as teachers or students" at USF. He also worked to strengthen Islamic Jihad’s ties with other terrorist groups - principally Hamas and Hezbollah.

With hordes of damn-the-evidence defenders lining up behind him, Sami Al-Arian looks to be well on his way to becoming the new Alger Hiss. It didn’t matter to Hiss’s supporters how many people died miserable deaths in the Gulag their hero helped support, and it doesn’t matter to Al-Arian’s how many innocent civilians the rumpled academic’s friends have blasted to bits on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Definitely read the whole thing.

Finding Humor in Human Shields
Here's a humorous look at the anti-war activists headed to Iraq to serve as "human shields."

Christians and Persecution
Following up yesterday's posts here and at Donald Sensing's page on the topic of the effective response to religious persecution, here's news about a forthcoming film about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian who openly challenged Hitler's persecution of the Jews. From the film's website: "Bonhoeffer openly challenged his church to stand with the Jews in their time of need, and eventually joined his family in the plots to kill Hitler. His books, Cost of Discipleship, Letters and Papers from Prison, Ethics, were written during the struggle and are considered classics in the world of religion and ethics."

Blog Blockage Syndrome: The strange, conflicting feeling you get when you have the urge to blog something, but also the urge to hold off awhile because you believe the last thing you blogged is a magnum opus – or at least a very important bit of news you are very proud of – and you want it to remain visible on your homepage without scrolling.

A Landmark Opinion?
The Oak Ridge Accountability Project has issued a press release analyzing an opinion issued by the state attorney general regarding whether the state constitution allows city charters to be changed to allow citizens to vote directly in local property tax rate increases. Here is the text of the release:

In an opinion that could well become a watershed for Tennessee politics, the Tennessee State Attorney General has held that citizens do have the right under the state constitution to vote directly on local property tax rate increases. The opinion was requested in connection with a proposal by an Oak Ridge citizen group (the Oak Ridge Accountability Project). In September of last year, the Accountability group proposed a first-of-its-kind-in-Tennessee Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Oak Ridge currently possesses the second highest combined (county and city) tax rate in the state, according to the Tennessee Comptroller’s office. Only the citizens of Memphis pay higher property tax rates than the residents of Oak Ridge.

"This is a huge accountability victory for the people of Tennessee," said Martin McBride, spokesperson for the Accountability Project. "As far as Oak Ridge is concerned, the impact of this decision could far exceed all the other victories the citizens won last year, including the mall referendum.

"With this decision, the state has now officially acknowledged (as far as I know, for the first time) that citizens have a fundamental right under the Tennessee State Constitution to vote directly on local tax rates. There are restrictions and caveats to be sure, but the basic right itself is now a matter of the official record. This opinion has major implications for the Tennessee political landscape - as it applies to cities throughout Tennessee. We are simply delighted."

Last September, following the defeat of the largest municipal bond in city history, the Oak Ridge Accountability Project proposed that the city council allow citizens to vote on a Taxpayers Bill of Rights for the city. The Bill of Rights included a provision to vote on all future property tax rate increases. It was the first such measure to be proposed for a Tennessee city.

The Oak Ridge city council, however, rejected the idea, citing the constitutionality of the matter as their chief reason. "They told us that we would have to change the state constitution first, before they could even consider a Taxpayer Bill of Rights for Oak Ridge. The Attorney General opinion validates our position on the matter. No constitutional change is required."

The council's refusal to consider a Bill of Rights was the second time in 2002 that they decided against allowing a citizen vote on a matter of significant tax policy. The Accountability Group’s response to the council’s decision was to launch a successful city-wide petition drive for an independent Oak Ridge City Charter Commission. Oak Ridge voters are slated to go to the polls in June to elect the members for that Commission.

When elected, it will be the Commission’s job to decide whether to send a Bill of Rights to the citizens for consideration or not. At last count, nineteen people had picked up applications from the county election office to become candidates for the City Charter Commission.

"It is important for people to understand that we have not quite cleared all the potential legal barriers for an Oak Ridge Taxpayers Bill of Rights yet," cautioned McBride. Left unresolved, are certain questions of potential conflict with existing state statues. "Those questions are matters for the Charter Commission to wrestle with. We have done our job, the next step is up to them."

The opinion opens the way for local governments across Tennessee to become fundamentally more accountable to their citizens, by confirming that citizens themselves have the inherent right under the Tennessee State Constitution to vote on tax rate increases. Beyond the question of increases, the opinion implies that citizens have the right to vote on the actual tax rates themselves (even when no increase is involved.) "That right is also becoming clear," said McBride, "and its implications are even greater than the right to vote on tax increases."

"We intentionally limited our proposal last year to tax rate increases, because we felt that was a very moderate and reasonable way to go. To those who criticized that proposal as being a bit too "radical," we would like to point out that the constitution in fact gives citizens the right (if they wish to exercise it) to go much farther. We, however, felt that government would be best served with a more-restrained proposal, one limited to tax rate increases."

"It is hard to overstate the potential importance of this opinion. People across Tennessee are going to wake up tomorrow and find out that they can actually vote on their tax rates. Heavens!” laughed McBride, "what is the world coming to?"

The Attorney General’s opinion is available on the web at here. Information on the Oak Ridge Accountability Project is available at

Martin McBride may be contacted at (865) 482-5386 or by email at accountable-at-comcast.net.

Newspapers across Tennessee need to pay more attention to this attorney general’s opinion and what is happening in Oak Ridge. In Colorado, passage by voters of a statewide Taxpayers Bill of Rights, capping the growth of government spending and taxes, came one year after a local version was passed in the city of Colorado Springs.

Readers: If you see press coverage of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights issue in a Tennessee newspaper or television news show, please email me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net. If the story is available on the Internet, please email me the link.

Iraq and the War's Real Goal
Every seven years the people of Iraq are forced to go to the polls and cast a vote for president of the "Republic of Iraq." Lately, there's been only one choice on the ballot, Saddam Hussein, and he wins in a landslide with something like 99 percent of the vote. I'm not sure how he doesn't get 100 percent, given the lack of other names on the ballot, but that's sort of beside the point.

I've been thinking lately about concerns voiced in a variety of media that Iraq won't be a suitable candidate for a democracy transplant - that Middle Eastern culture, Islam, tribalism and other factors make it unlikely the people of Iraq will be able to create and sustain a successful democratic system. I'm not so sure that's true. It's just a gut feeling, but I'm guessing that whenever Iraqis go to the polls to cast a meaningless vote for a tyrant, more than a few of them secretly wish there was another choice on the ballot - and that they could vote for that person without fear of Saddam having them and their family killed.

Over the years, too, Iraqis have seen the United States change presidents every four to eight years. And they've seen U.S. legislators come to Baghdad to publicly criticize America. Surely it has occurred to more than few Iraqis that Americans get to pick new leaders, while they don't. And surely it has crossed their minds that were a member of the Iraqi parliament to fly to Washington DC, stand in front of the White House and criticize Saddam, he would return to a sure death in Baghdad.

I have a hunch that in such thoughts and lessons are the seeds of democracy. Will the transition go smoothly in Iraq? No. But democracy and the freedom to speak one's mind without fear of being killed is something that, once tasted by the people of Iraq, will leave the vast majority of them wanting more. It's already taking root and bearing fruit in northern Iraq, where the Kurds, under the protection of the No Fly Zones, have created a democratic society that protects the rights of women and religious minorities.

So it is with interest that I read Steven den Beste's piece today on the real reason the U.S. is going to war with Iraq. den Beste quotes from an article in the Hindustan Times in which that writer says Bush administration officials such as National Security Adviser Condi Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney have long sought the opening of a "second front" in Iraq as part of the War on Terror. The writer says "the second front warriors are pushing for the occupation of Iraq as they need a model Arab democracy. Iraqis are secular and are expected to welcome ballot boxes after decades of dictatorship. It also has enough oil to pay for its own revival. Arab thinkers and Washington insiders say that another reason is that the US needs a lot of surplus petroleum handy for a showdown with the unrepentant cashbox of jihad: Saudi Arabia."

Comments den Beste:

Yes, part of why we're going to take Iraq is for its oil fields. But the reason is that we need to control them so that the House of Saud will no longer have any weapons at all against us and we won't have to pretend they're our friends any longer. One of the long term steps which is essential in this war is for the Sauds to stop financing the international spread of extremist Islam.

As den Beste notes, Saddam's weapons of mass destruction program and his serial violations of UN resolutions are both a legitimate concern and a convenient excuse to open that second front. He surmises the Bush administration chose not to publicly articulate the larger goal for fear of tipping off the Saudis. Until now.

"We've reached the point where we no longer think we require the good wishes of the Sauds, and thus Bush has indeed publicly stated the real goal for this war, and the only way in the long run we can really win it: liberalization of the Arabs. And, as mentioned above, Iraq will be used to create an example in the middle East of how it's done, and most of that process will be financed by sales of Iraq's oil," says den Beste.

Indeed, President Bush has finally confirmed the real strategy, in his enormously important speech yesterday to the American Enterprise Institute.

Said Bush:
The safety of the American people depends on ending this direct and growing threat. Acting against the danger will also contribute greatly to the long-term safety and stability of our world. The current Iraqi regime has shown the power of tyranny to spread discord and violence in the middle east. A liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region by bringing hope and progress into the lives of millions. America's interest in security and America's belief in liberty both lead in the same direction. To a free and peaceful Iraq. Success in Iraq could also begin a new stage for Middle Eastern peace and set in motion progress towards a truly democratic Palestinian state. The passing of Saddam Hussein's' regime will deprive terrorist networks of a wealthy patron that pays for terrorist training and offers rewards to families of suicide bombers. And other regimes will be given a clear warning that support for terror will not be tolerated. Without this outside support for terrorism, Palestinians who are working for reform and long for democracy will be in a better position to choose new leaders.

You can read the whole text of Bush's speech here, courtesy of Donald Sensing. And you should read it. Years from now, when Palestine and Israel co-exist peacefully and most of the Middle East is governed by democratic regimes that respect the rights of women and ethnic and religious minorities, the rule of law and free speech, the Bush speech to the American Enterprise Institute will be seen as a an important turning point in the history of the world.

UPDATE: David Frum thinks so too:
The speech President Bush gave last night at the American Enterprise Institute was not only one of the most important of the war – it ranks among the most important state papers of the past three decades. In front of 2000 dinner guests, the president announced that the assumptions that have governed U.S. policy in the Middle East since 1945 would govern no longer.

And James S. Robbins has an analysis of the speech, and the foreign policy strategy behind it:
One of the strong points of the current administration from the point of view of those who follow national-security strategy is that this group actually has a strategy. The previous crowd was reactive tacticians; there were no specific long-term goals, just some vague statements, and in practice they responded (or chose not to respond) to whatever global events came along. However, the Bush team is guided by bona-fide strategic thinkers. The Bush war-fighting strategy has been active, has shaped global conditions rather than been shaped by them, and has been refreshingly consistent. It has been a pleasure to watch the strategy unfold, and especially to track the befuddlement of its nearsighted critics, whose objections are based on nothing more than expediency, and whose internal contradictions mount daily.

And finally, the NYT has a very reassuring story on planning for pluralistic democracy in post-liberation Iraq.

Holy War
Donald Sensing's latest is extremely worthwhile as he contrasts the Southern and Northern way of war (think: Civil War), the Jacksonian versus Wilsonian approach to foreign policy, and why Iraq will be a war of liberation rather than a war to avenge a wrong. Added bonus: lots of insights into the new movie Gods and Generals. Too long to excerpt. Go read the whole thing.

The Military-Technology Complex
Something tells me they aren't researching stuff like this in Iraq:

The U.S. Army wants self-healing, corrosion-resistant polymers to camouflage tanks. Researchers think nanotubes will help them get there. ... In addition to self-repairing properties, the Army’s ideal smart coating must also incorporate nanoscale devices that detect corrosion at it happens - perhaps ... by sensing movement in the material.

To sense its environment, receive commands, and propagate color changes from one molecule to the next, the coatings will need wiring. At Clemson, researchers think carbon nanotubes may serve; they fill the tubes with iron to create rudimentary circuits, although it’s still unclear whether this low-power approach can create the range of colors the Army needs. Back at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, their collaborators are working to control the nanotubes with electricity, light, and laser, says Joseph Argento, deputy of the Army’s Industrial Ecology Center at Picatinny. The collaboration is investigating micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), under study elsewhere at Picatinny, though there’s doubt the microscopic machines will provide the right mix for smart coatings. “That’s still a sexy technology,” says Laura Battista, an environmental engineer at Picatinny who works on smart coatings. “But there’s nothing off the shelf right now.” MEMS could be useful, however, in “screens” that make vehicles invisible to satellites, say these researchers.

Hey. Can I get one of those radar-blocking "screens" for my car?

The Sundquist Legacy
Almost half of the current fiscal problem with TennCare is former Gov. Don Sundquist's fault, reports today's Tennessean:

Almost half of a $369 million shortfall this year in the state's TennCare program can be traced to an agreement that Gov. Don Sundquist made with the Bush administration last year to get more flexibility in running the massive health-care program, state officials and others say. The agreement set a cap on federal matching money for the managed-care organizations that run TennCare at $1.7 billion, which has been exceeded this year by just more than $170 million, according to the state's Bureau of TennCare.

I'm not sure what The Tennessean is getting at here. Is their main point 'Don't blame TennCare itself, blame the lack of sufficient federal money', Or is it 'Sundquist negotiated a lame-brained deal'? It's worth noting that the lame-brained deal with the feds wouldn't have been a problem if the state's own spending on TennCare hadn't been out of control and exceeded what the feds would match.


The Model for Post-Liberation Iraq
The leader of Kazakhstan says his country is a model for a successful post-war Iraq when it comes to religious tolerance, disarmament, and more, in a Washington Times story that also ran in Pakistan's English-language Daily Times.

Mr. Nazarbayev sees his country of some 14 million people, in which Kazakhs are a slight majority over ethnic Russians and other Slavs, as an example of how Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics and Jews can live in harmony.

Also, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has an interesting piece on Kazakhstan:
It's the seams between East and West, Islam and Christianity, that make Kazakhstan such a fascinating place. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the country has also been moving along a hidden seam between the past and the future. Along with the new Mercedes sedans on the streets of Almaty, the streets are full of old, battered Ladas left over from the old days. International corporations and fashion brands offer their merchandise to whoever has the money, but the local market still sells old jars for a pittance to package merchandise. A middle class is slowly growing, and that's the great hope for the economy of a country blessed with all the natural resources a country could hope for: water, metals, diamonds, and a massive reserve of oil in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan is also a major hope for the West, and not only because of the oil reserves that could become an alternative to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, but also because of the moderate Islam of the region.

And this, also from Ha'aretz:
And so the world turns: While most of the world looks like it's gone crazy, with anti-Semitism breaking out everywhere, a distant Muslim republic suddenly looks like a very safe place for Jews. So safe, that the Muslim translator did not seem to be completely joking when she said, "maybe you'll send us back all the Jews who emigrated to Israel. We need people and good professionals."

Iraqi Christians
In response to my piece below on Michael Horowitz and the impotence of quiet diplomacy in the face of persecution, Donald Sensing observes that Christians in Iraq have not been singled out for extra persecution by Saddam. Here is a USA Today story on the Christian community in Baghdad. And here is a link to a piece on the history of Christianity in Iraq

Taxpayers Bill of Rights UPDATE
The Tennessee attorney general has issued an opinion that Home Rule communities can change their charter so that tax increases must first be approved by a citizen referendum. This is great news for home rule communities that want to institute a local Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Martin McBride, leader of the Oak Ridge Accountability Project, which seeks to enact a local Taxpayers Bill of Rights in the charter of the city of Oak Ridge, had sought the opinion. More later...

The Sharpest Knife
A guy scores 34 on his ACT - a 34! - and he's a football player, yet football-challenged Vanderbilt University offers him zippo money for a scholarship. They wanted him to pay them, like, $38,000 a year to go to school there just for the privilege of being part of a team destined to lose most if not all of its Southeastern Conference games. Wait, it get's better. He's from rural Tennessee, he plays quarterback, and his name is Jim Bob Cooter. He's going to play for the University of Tennessee. Or at least he's going to practice with the team and stand on the sidelines. South Knox Bubba is all over it. And here's a story from the Daily Beacon at UT.

Cooter, and for that matter anyone associated with him, still isn't sure why Vanderbilt didn't offer a red cent to an in-state student from a rural community with a 34 on his ACT. That's right, 34. "You'd think they would at least offer something," he said. "But not even a penny." That's not to say he's upset with his situation. His family has been Tennessee fans for generations, and he has been a Vol fan since he could remember understanding what his parents were saying. "This was just the best option for me, and it worked out perfectly for me that it was Tennessee," Cooter said. "I grew up with Tennessee football." Plus, UT is more conducive to his study habits than, say, Vanderbilt. "I really don't study a lot," he said. "They keep telling me I'm going to have to study in college, but I don't know. I've never taken a book home in my life, or hardly ever."

Sez here the mid-50% range ACT composite score for entering freshman at Vanderbilt for the Class of 2006 was 28-32. I'm not sure exactly what that means, but Jim Bob scored a 34, which is better. One question: where do I get my Jim Bob Cooter UT jersey? I wanna wear it to the next UT-Vandy game.

Fight Online Sales Taxes!
SayUncle is weighing in on Internet sales taxes and urging calls to legislators. You can find phone numbers and email addresses for your state representatives here and your state senators here. Scroll down to "Whackamole" or click here for more information.

Saving Kabul
Capitalists are quickly rebuilding Kabul, reports the WaPo. The anti-globo/anti-war crowd sure ain’t gonna like this: war + capitalism = a better Afghanistan.

No Faith in Quiet Diplomacy
Michael Horowitz, a Jewish writer writing for Christianity Today's online version today, has a sharp response to the view of some that quiet diplomacy is the best way to combat religious persecution by tyrant regimes in foreign countries - a view expressed in a commentary on ChristianityToday.com last October by Robert Seiple, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom. Horowitz:

First is a lesson I know as a Jew - that silence doesn't work with tyrants. At root, Seiple's preferred "government-to-government" and "quiet diplomacy" approach erroneously assumes that persecuting regimes have greater power and permanency than they actually possess. It fails to understand the fragile and vulnerable character of such regimes, and it dispirits their internal opponents and crushes their victims' spirits. While engagement with persecuting regimes must often be abided as a tactical expedient, doing so on a routine basis causes their character and conduct to be masked over time, and in the process empowers and legitimizes them.

I vividly remember from my service in the Reagan administration the fear and apoplexy of senior State Department officials when President Reagan delivered his "Evil Empire" speech about the Soviet Union. (Not by accident, the speech was delivered at the annual meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals.) State Department critics of the speech labeled its truth-telling premise (and the audience before whom it was delivered) with the same "cowboy" and "machismo" pejoratives with which Seiple labels those who have raised the religious persecution issue to its current place on the U.S. foreign policy agenda. Yet as we know authoritatively from senior officials of the former Soviet Union, Reagan's truth-telling was a decisive means by which the regime was brought down.

Likewise, President Bush's "Axis of Evil" designation of North Korea - viewed with equal horror by "engagement" enthusiasts like Seiple - has placed in the dock, for the first time in years, a Stalinist regime that treats possession of Bibles as a criminal offense meriting life (and as frequently death) sentences in gulags of unrivaled savagery. The regime's blustering response to the President, while raising understandable fears of a U.S.-North Korea confrontation, is in fact a clear sign of its desperation, clear evidence that it knows that the spotlight shined by the President on its conduct ensures that its days are numbered.

Who is Horowitz? He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a former general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget during the Reagan years. In recent years, he's become a leading light in the effort to combat persecution of Christians around the world, especially Christians in Third World countries run by repressive regimes.

Christianity Today says Horowitz "has had an explosive impact in motivating the church to advocacy on behalf of its persecuted brothers and sisters around the world and in pushing Congress to pass the International Religious Freedom Act," and reports that Horowitz "became concerned with Christian persecution when he and his wife hosted an Ethiopian Christian refugee, named Getaneh, in their home" and heard his story of being "beaten and hung upside down while hot oil was poured over his feet because he refused to stop preaching about Jesus."

Says Horowitz:
Throughout much of Europe's history, you could tell a country's level of democratic commitment by looking at how Jews were treated. Jews were the canaries in the coal mine, and the manner in which they were treated showed how comfortable ostensibly Christian societies were with Christian values and teachings. Too many Jews, my people, have by now been killed to be useful targets of evil, repressive regimes. But there are millions of vulnerable Third World Christians who are just right for that purpose, and they have become the scapegoats of choice for today's thugs. The manner in which Christians are treated in many parts of the world is a litmus indicator of whether freedom exists not only for them—but for all others in their societies. Christian villages and churches have become the medium on which battles for freedom in much of the Third World are waged. And, as was true with the fight against Hitler's reign of terror against Jews, appeasing the persecutors of Christians condemns millions of others to dark-age lives.

Appeasing tyrants always prolongs and extends the tyranny.

The War: A Report From the Front
Today's Christian Science Monitor has a report from the first front in the War on Islamofascist Terror: Afghanistan.

An ongoing operation northwest of Kandahar has brought US forces into contact with the largest concentrations of Taliban fighters in nearly eight months. Operation Eagle Fury involves nearly a brigade of American Special Forces and elite units of the 82nd Airborne Division, along with Afghan fighters loyal to the central government in Kabul. Spread out over the long Baghran Valley in Helmand Province, companies of US forces have spent the past two weeks moving north from village to village, searching houses for Taliban fighters and weapons caches. They've rounded up more than a dozen suspected Taliban fighters. If the US operation succeeds, American forces will have cornered Taliban forces - and perhaps some top Taliban leaders - in a high-walled valley with few opportunities of escape. Like Operation Mongoose, set in the Adi Ghar mountains southeast of Kandahar late last month, Eagle Fury started with a foiled Taliban attempt to ambush US forces. In four or five clashes that followed, the US encountered anywhere from five to a couple dozen Taliban at a time.

Until recently, contact with the enemy for many US soldiers has been limited to rocket attacks on US bases - most of which miss entirely - or the occasional homemade bomb or land mine placed near US bases. The growing aggressiveness by guerrillas is a relief for US forces, who greet the possibility of a real engagement with the Taliban as a possible turning point in the war.

"We want them to attack us, so we can engage them and destroy them," says one Special Forces soldier from the US firebase at Spin Boldak, who took part in the initial firefight that led to Operation Mongoose. "If we can draw them out of their hiding places, we can destroy them." While the Taliban seem to be regrouping, it's not clear whether their growing assertiveness is a sign of confidence or desperation. US military sources, for one, say the Taliban are entering a field of battle where US forces have a distinct advantage.

"The past two operations suggest that the level of the training and performance seems to be worse than ever," says Maj. Greg Liska, commander of the Civil Military Operations Command at the US base at Kandahar Airport. "We've had a number of people attempting to lay mines who have blown themselves up." ... Afghan commander Abdul Razzaq Achakzai, head of border security in Spin Boldak, agrees that the enemy seems to be getting weaker rather than stronger. "They can cross the border stealthily, like a thief in the night, and then escape, but they cannot come out in force so that people can see them," says Commander Achakzai. "And the people help us whenever the enemy of Afghanistan comes to disturb us. They are tired of war, and they don't want to help the enemy."

Translation: we're winning.

Technoptimist is remembering the 10th anniversary of the first World Trade Center bombing. We didn't pay enough attention back then. We're making up for it now.

The notion of charging sales taxes on all online purchases keeps coming up, and I've been asked to take another whack at it. Okay. First, the latest news: Tennessee is getting ready to tax online purchases. You can read about it in the Memphis Commercial Appeal or The Tennessean, or the Knoxville News Sentinel. Take your pick. They all repeat the same pro-tax spin, and provide less background and depth that you deserve.

I'll just demolish one excerpt from The Tennessean:

University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox told the committee the existing tax setup is costing the state $600 million in lost revenue. Ownership of computers and access to the Internet are both highly correlated to income, Fox said. About 85% of people making $75,000 or more a year have access to the Internet, while only about 25% of those making $20,000 a year or less have such access, he said.

"So we have a tax that is not fairly collected," Fox said, referring to sales taxes that more prosperous Tennesseans avoid by being able to purchase over the Internet. "It is increasingly placing a burden on low-income Tennesseans."

Absurd on two counts.

First, last year, Fox said the state was losing $300 million in sales tax revenue because of ecommerce. Now, all of the sudden, the figure for this year is $600 million. Does anyone really believe online shopping doubled in Tennessee in the last year? It hasn't doubled anywhere. In fact, online shopping remains a tiny fraction of total retail - it's growing fast, but is still only 1.6 percent of the pie. Taxing it will bring in very little revenue.

Second, Fox's argument about fairness is silly. Years of government subsidies and spending have put Internet-connected PCs in virtually every school and library across Tennessee. And more and more workers have access the the Internet at work - which is why online shopping sites see some of their biggest traffic during the typical lunch hour. If you're a Tennessean with money to spend, you can get on the Internet. And if you don't have money to spend, well, the state wasn't getting much sales tax revenue from you anyway, so it hardly matters whether you can get online to shop or not.

I don't have time to deal with all of this foolishness for the 43rd time. Just read my previous posts here, here, here, here, and here.

Happy reading.

UPDATE: Taxing ecommerce purchases by the jurisdiction of the seller, rather than the buyer, would not run afoul of the Commerce Clause, is much more feasible from a practical standpoint, and would be fair because the seller would be collecting tax for the state in which the seller exists and puts demands on tax-funded services. But it would create an environment in which states would race to lower taxes on online shopping, in order to attact those businesses to locate in their state and employ their people. As such, it would not be as big a revenue producer for the states - and would cost some states jobs as dot-com retailers moved to states with zero taxes on ecommerce - and that's why the states don't like it.

I wrote about that a long time ago. In fact, it was the second thing I ever posted on this blog, back on Nov. 30, 2001, the first day I published on this site. Here is the direct link. And here is an excerpt of the piece, which comments on a paper written by Aaron Lukas, trade analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Trade Policy Studies:
Lukas's essay says that even though e-commerce is a tiny component of consumer spending, "its mere existence serves to inhibit excessive taxation" because politicians "fear that if they raise tax rates too much, consumers can take advantage of low tax rates elsewhere," so online shopping free of new sales taxes will encourage state and local governments to keep overall tax rates at a more reasonable level. As Lukas points out, the states want sellers to collect online sales taxes based on the location of the buyer, which is the reverse of the way things are in the offline world, where sales taxes are collected for the jurisdiction in which the seller is located - in other words, where the sale originates.

"To truly level the playing field, states should instruct Internet-based businesses to collect the local sales tax regardless of where their customers reside," Lukas says, adding that under that type of system, retailers would have only one tax to collect and one revenue agency to deal with, lowering administrative costs. "More importantly, the de facto tax advantage for online sellers would vanish, while healthy tax competition among the states would be strengthened," he adds, commenting, "the latter, of course, is why states immediately dismiss any origin-based proposal as unworkable."

The rest of it is good, too.

Blaming TABOR
The Daily Camera, the newspaper in the ultra-liberal Colorado enclave of Boulder, is wrongly blaming that state's Taxpayers Bill of Rights for the state's budget woes. TABOR caps the growth of revenue to a reasonable level based on inflation and population growth, and requires surpluses be returned to taxpayers. TABOR does not specify how such surpluses be returned, and for the first few years of TABOR surpluses, the state used one-time rebates.

Then, a few years ago, some stupid legislators in Colorado - mostly Democrats - theorized that, with the economy humming along and TABOR surpluses mounting, they should just cut taxes permanently, so that surplus revenue wouldn't flow into the capital only to have to be sent back to the taxpayers. It was logical, except for one thing: it was based on an expectation that the economy would always produce surplus revenue.

Now, the economy is in a funk and revenue is not growing fast enough to produce a surplus. And, because of another provision of TABOR, the legislature can't raise taxes without approval by voters in a statewide referendum. Such approval is unlikely in the midst of an economic slump, of course. So some tax-loving legislators and liberal editorialists across the state are blaming TABOR.

That's silly. The tax-referendum provision of TABOR was not a secret. Legislators who chose to reduce taxes permanently based on flimsy economic projections viewed through permanent rose-tinted lenses - rather than one-time rebates that would not have lowered tax rates in future years - are to blame for the state's lack of sufficient tax revenue now.

The worrisome thing is, those who oppose TABOR on general principles (because they prefer higher taxes and bigger government) are using Colorado’s budget woes to undermine TABOR, even though TABOR is not really at fault here. There’s a lesson there for legislators and activists proposing a Tennessee version of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment to the state constitution: that amendment should include provisions that specify surplus revenue be returned through one-time rebates or temporary tax rate reductions, to prevent a fiscally myopic future legislature from responding to a one-time surplus with a permanent tax cut that would set the state for a future fiscal crisis that would undermine support for TABOR itself.

Thanks to all who have dropped some change in my tip jar in the past week.

Iraq & al Qaeda Group Linked
Here’s evidence of how Iraq is working with al Qaeda to target Americans.

In the past, Iraq's secular regime had little contact with Islamic militants, preferring to carry out operations on its own. But intelligence analysts say Iraq's bungled efforts in 1991 convinced it that terrorism wasn't its strong point, and that it's looking to use money - and Muslim solidarity - to build relationships with groups more capable of carrying out attacks.

Filipino officials stumbled onto Hussein's links to Abu Sayyaf on October 9, after a cellphone-activated bomb the group had planted at the San Roque Elementary School in Zamboanga failed to detonate. Filipino bomb experts traced the call that was to have detonated bomb back to a cellphone that made calls to Hussein, and frequent calls to the Abu Sayyaf leaders Abu Madja and Hamsiraji Sali.

"What the Iraqis and the Abu Sayyaf have in common is an enemy - the United States,'' says a Filipino intelligence official. "We think it's pretty clear that the Iraqis wanted a relationship with the Abu Sayyaf because they have the terrorist infrastructure that Iraq lacks.''

Abu Sayyaf is the Filipino franchise of the global al Qaeda Islamofascist terror network.

Why Not Listen to the Iraqis?
Amir Taheri wonders why the anti-war protestors won't listen to the opinions of ordinary Iraqis, and why the protestors don't demand Saddam disarm and stop murdering his people:

I spent part of a recent Saturday with the so-called "antiwar" marchers in London in the company of some Iraqi friends. Our aim had been to persuade the organizers to let at least one Iraqi voice to be heard. Soon, however, it became clear that the organizers were as anxious to stifle the voice of the Iraqis in exile as was Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Iraqis had come with placards reading "Freedom for Iraq" and "American rule, a hundred thousand times better than Takriti tyranny!"

But the tough guys who supervised the march would have none of that. Only official placards, manufactured in thousands and distributed among the "spontaneous" marchers, were allowed. These read "Bush and Blair, baby-killers," " Not in my name," "Freedom for Palestine," and "Indict Bush and Sharon." Not one placard demanded that Saddam should disarm to avoid war. The goons also confiscated photographs showing the tragedy of Halabja, the Kurdish town where Saddam's forces gassed 5,000 people to death in 1988.

Taheri recounts the story of an Iraqi exile, a grandmother whose three sons were murdered by Saddam Hussein, who asked the Rev. Jesse Jackson if she could "have the microphone for one minute to tell the people about my life." Jackson refused, saying the march was "not about Saddam Hussein" but was "about Bush and Blair and the massacre they plan in Iraq." And then Jackson's goons showed up to shoo the Iraqi exiles away.

Those who favor peace with Iraq favor the continuation of a murderous regime. To their eternal shame.

Our Closest Allies
Our closest allies in the coming war in Iraq will not be the British or the Australians. It will be the people of Iraq, according to this must-read story in the Chicago Tribune:

"Only those who get money from Saddam will fight the Americans - the members of the government, the Baath Party and the intelligence - and that's not a lot of people," said a taxi driver from Kerbala who stopped for tea at a small Iraqi restaurant after dropping off his passengers. "We've had him since 1979 and we're sick of him."

Fear not, taxi driver, the forces of liberation are coming very soon.

How soon? The heretefore reticent Saudis have suddenly agreed to allow the U.S. military expanded use of its bases inside Saudi Arabia - including the use of Prince Sultan Air Base for offensive air operations against Iraq, reports the WaPo:
The agreements clarified a lengthy period of uncertainty about the extent of Saudi cooperation with the United States in event of a war with Iraq. Coupled with the approval by the Turkish government of a plan to allow U.S. ground forces to launch operations into Iraq from Turkey, they provided Pentagon war planners with another important building block in the Persian Gulf region for a possible military campaign against the government in Baghdad.

Soon. Very soon.


Rubber duckies aren't a health hazard. So says the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Phew. Aren't you glad we have a government agency to tell us such things? I was worried. My daughter has two of them in her bathtub. I worried endlessly that the little duckies were going to rise up and kill her.

Get A Clooney
Actor and foreign policy expert George Clooney says American “can’t beat anyone” in a war. This from a guy whose relevant foreign policy and military experience is pretty much limited to playing a soldier in two movies. Did he learn anything from those movies? Apparently not.

In 1999's Three Kings, Clooney played U.S. Army Maj. Archie Gates. In the fictional story, Gates is one of four U.S. soldiers who plan to steal a secret stash of Kuwaiti gold (looted from Kuwait by Iraqis and then hidden). Instead, the GIs find themselves getting involved with civilians being executed by Saddam Hussein and left defenseless by the U.S. military. They make the moral choice, of course, and help the civilians to safety. And the movie makes an excellent point about how the U.S. was wrong to fail to support Iraqis who rise up to overthrow Saddam at the end of the Gulf War.

In 1997's The Peacemaker, Clooney played U.S. Army Col. Thomas Devoe, a “Special Forces Intelligence Officer” assigned to help track down a stolen Russian nuke before a Serbian terrorist detonates it at the United Nations in New York. It has one of the best car chases you’ll ever see in a movie, and the ending, where Clooney and Nicole Kidman's character are racing to stop the terrorist as he wanders through the crowded streets of New York with a nuke in his backpack, is unsettling to say the least. Being a Hollywood movie, the nuclear blast is averted at the last second and millions of New Yorkers are spared. Intentionally or not, the movie makes the point that terrorist regimes must not be allowed to come into possession of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction – and that we can’t risk waiting until they have WMDs and are working to smuggle them onto our shores.

You’d think Clooney might have learned a thing or two while making those two movies. You’d think he’d understand the very real risks the United States faces, and understand that it is our failure to liberate the people of Iraq 12 years ago that left intact a breeding ground for state-sponsored terror. You'd think that he'd believe the U.S. must take this chance to rectify its mistake of 12 years ago. But he doesn't. In the movies, Clooney's character decided to save the Iraqi civilians. In the movies, Clooney's character raced to save American civilians from a terrorist nuke. But in real life, Clooney would prefer to leave the people of Iraq to suffer and die, and leave Americans vulnerable to a terrorist strike of unimaginable horror.

Three Kings and The Peacemaker were just movies. But if we again fail to liberate the people of Iraq – the plight of the Iraqis in Three Kings writ large as awful reality – then the people of Iraq may well come to loathe us as much as they loathe Saddam. And events much like the plot of the The Peacemaker may yet come to pass.

Only without the happy Hollywood ending.

Taxpayers Bill of Rights Legislation Filed in Tennessee
Two pieces of legislation related to TELs and establishment of a real Taxpayers Bill of Rights in Tennessee have been filed, including this one sponsored by Sen. Curtis Person and this one sponsored by Sen. Jim Bryson. Of the two, I prefer Bryson's by a slim margin, though passage of either would be good.

Person's bill is a call for a constitutional convention to consider a Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Bryson's bill would put a Taxpayers Bill of Rights amendment on the ballot for voters to approve, a la the lottery amendment. Bryson's bill has 10 Senate co-sponsors. Person's has eight. Either piece of legislation would need 17 votes to pass the state senate. A companion bill must also pass the state House. As of now, Bryson's bill appears not to have a companion bill filed in the House, although it was only filed 12 days ago.

My correspondent down at the state legislature informs me that neither bill is moving without a strong show of grassroots support. I suggest you read both bills, read my white paper on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, and then call your legislators and your local taxpayer-friendly radio talk show hosts, and write letters to the editor, and help get the ball rolling. And ask your local newspaper why they haven't covered this news.

Tax and Spending Limits Also Limit Deficits
Some states are facing less dire fiscal crises then others. Michael New explains why:

During the economic expansion of the late 1990s, many states behaved as if their coffers would remain perpetually flush with revenue. However, that spending surge, coupled with the economic slowdown, has resulted in budgetary shortfalls across the nation. It should be noted that the fiscal situation is better in states that were able to limit budgetary growth. However, the question remains, why were some states more disciplined than others? The lessons have little to do with partisanship and more to do with the amount of fiscal discipline that was imposed on state legislators.

Indeed, one fiscal-discipline measure that enjoyed some success in limiting the growth of government during the 1990s is that of the tax and expenditure limitation, or TEL. TELs restrain government growth by limiting the amount that expenditures or revenues can increase in any given fiscal year. Many studies argue that TELs are fairly ineffective. However, during the 1990s, two states, Washington and Colorado, enacted TELs that set especially low limits for budgetary growth. The experiences of these two states are instructive. First, in both cases, state spending was restrained. According to data from the National Association of State Budget Officers, Washington ranked 46th in per capita state-expenditure growth during the 1990s. Similarly, between 1993 and 2000, Colorado ranked 41st in per capita state and local expenditure growth, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Second, residents in both states enjoyed a considerable amount of tax relief. Colorado's TEL was unique because it mandated immediate refunds of surplus revenues. As a result, between 1997 and 2002, Colorado residents received tax rebates every year, totaling over $3.2 billion. In Washington, the situation was similar. Since spending was kept in check, surpluses began to materialize. These surpluses were used to first lower and then abolish the car tax, saving residents more than $1.3 billion. Not surprisingly, Colorado and Washington ranked first and second in terms of aggregate tax reductions during the late 1990s.

These fiscal limitations have not been able to prevent deficits altogether. In fact, Washington's current deficit is due partly to the fact that the state legislature suspended the TEL in 2000 and spent in excess of the limit. Still, many other states, such as California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts provided far less in the way of tax relief and are currently experiencing much larger deficits. This is largely because these states were unable to keep spending in check during the 1990s.

New believes that, in many states, "the current fiscal crisis provides advocates of limited government with a unique opportunity." Because many states may turn to unpopular tax increases to balance budgets, "voters might be especially receptive to the idea of tax and spending limitations," he says.

I think that's about right - even for Tennessee, where our current governor is avoiding tax increases and using spending cuts to balance the budget. But Tennesseans are still saddled with last year's tax increase, which will cost them more than $1 billion a year every year. And the new administration's effective use of spending reductions to balance the budget is merely proving to Tennesseans that, had the prior governor done the same thing for the past four years, last year's tax increase would have been unnecessary. And, the fact is, had the weak TEL in Tennessee's constitution been adhered to over the past 20 years, Tennessee today would have a multi-billion-dollar revenue surplus. For more on that, see my "white paper" on the Taxpayers Bill of Rights, available by clicking here.

Also, here's another article by Michael New on TELs.

Calling Saddam
The New York Times has a fascinating story about how the U.S. military is already using some of the tools at its disposal to dislodge Saddam Hussein. Including cell phones.

American cyber-warfare experts recently waged an e-mail assault, directed at Iraq's political, military and economic leadership, urging them to break with Saddam Hussein's government. A wave of calls has gone to the private cellphone numbers of specially selected officials inside Iraq, according to leaders at the Pentagon and in the regional Central Command. As of last week, more than eight million leaflets had been dropped over Iraq — including towns 65 miles south of Baghdad — warning Iraqi antiaircraft missile operators that their bunkers will be destroyed if they track or fire at allied warplanes. In the same way, a blunt offer has gone to Iraqi ground troops: surrender, and live. But the leaflets are old-fashioned instruments compared with some of the others that are being applied already or are likely to be used soon.

"The goal of information warfare is to win without ever firing a shot," said James R. Wilkinson, a spokesman for the Central Command in Tampa, Fla. "If action does begin, information warfare is used to make the conflict as short as possible."

Our Rush To War
Here's a timeline of the United States' "rush to war" against Iraq. Just remember: resolutions are not the same as resolve. (Link courtesy of Instapundit.)

The WaPo says war is inevitable. And the NYT says a UN Security Council vote to authorize the use of military force is "the last remote hope of getting Iraq to disarm peacefully."

While We Wait...So Do They
Imagine if you are an Iraqi who desires freedom and liberation from Saddam's murderous tyranny. Imagine if you long for the day when U.S. combat troops liberate your nation and open the door to creation of a free, democratic, capitalist Iraq. Now, imagine you dream of such things while sitting in range of Saddam's missiles .. and while the UN dithers, delays and dabbles with appeasing Saddam.

Actually, you don't have to imagine it. A UPI correspondent has written about it.

The stakes could not be higher for America's war on terrorism. The nexus between terror and weapons of mass destruction exists not only in Iraq, but also in Iran and Syria. Given the portability of both (consider the mobile biological weapons labs), one has to believe the threat of this toxic combination is regional and not isolated to a single regime. The lawyers, students, teachers, and trade unionists who seek America's freedoms for themselves in the Muslim world will be the West's vital allies in toppling a political order that exports terror and seeks an apocalyptic arsenal. America needs the region's democrats to create the transparent customs services, friendly intelligence organizations, and disciplined militaries necessary to win a war on terror of which Iraq is only one battle.

These silent democrats are watching the fate that befalls the opposition gathered now in northern Iraq. If America supports the democratic opposition in Iraq now, then it will embolden the region's silent democrats. If America casts them aside the moment Saddam falls, then the silent democrats are unlikely to risk embracing America's support and ideals in the months and years to come.

The democratic Iraqi opposition now gathered in Salahudin, within range of Iraqi missiles, has hoped to hold a conference where they will announce a free government in exile. Initially, this conference was to be held last month. But after equivocation from the National Security Council, the opposition has been told to wait.

And what of post-liberation Iraq? Who will govern it and how?

Writer James S. Robbins suggests we help Iraq craft a new constitution based on James Madison's principles of federalism:
The federal principle has had some notable successes besides the US. Germany's federal constitution owes much to ours, and has endured better than its Weimar predecessor. Likewise the Japanese constitution. (Both were the products of "regime change.") Canada has been conducting a federal experiment for many years, particularly with respect to Quebec. The 1994 South African interim constitution was a remarkable document built on realistic compromise, and contains many praiseworthy structural limitations on central power. Furthermore, it was adopted at a time when predictions of civil strife in South Africa were as alarmist as they are today concerning Iraq, and the document played an important role in preventing a political and social meltdown.

When coalition forces enter Baghdad and begin distributing material assistance, they should also hand out copies of the Dar Al Faris Arabic translation of The Federalist Papers and other books from the Arabic Book Program. We should help the Iraqi people understand that for them the era of big government is over.

A capital idea.

France's Moment
Andrew Sullivan has an excellent commentary today on why France is at a pivotal moment in its history. Plus why the U.N. Security Council's vote on a resolution for war is rather beside the point.

The second U.N. resolution is irrelevant to whether a war actually takes place. It is therefore a gamble Bush cannot completely lose (whatever diplomatic and popular damage it does would be more than undone by a successful war). But it's a resolution the Security Council (and France and Germany) can easily lose. If the resolution is defeated, but war ensues, Bush will take a small hit at home, a huge hit abroad (still, how much worse could it get?) - but, precisely because of these things, an even bigger domestic gain if the war is successful. Bush will be seen as someone who did all he could to win over the U.N., but in the end, did what he believed was right. He will emerge principled and triumphant. Ditto Blair, especially if a liberated Iraq reveals untold horrors, human rights abuses and French arms contracts.

Read the whole thing.

Then check out this sensible editorial from the Knoxville News Sentinel, saying the UN can opt for or against its own future legitimacy:
The United Nations is in peril because almost every time it faces a decision that might require it to side forcefully with humane values, it weaves and dodges. There is an enormous threat to the civilized world right now from terrorists receiving weapons of mass destruction from the likes of Saddam, a genocidal maniac who has been working steadily on building nuclear weapons.

I'm Proud to Be A Member...
... of this congregation.

Corruption in the Capital?
It looks unethical and you'd think it is criminal, but state Sen. Jerry Cooper apparently broke no laws when he abused his position of power to put hundreds of thousands of dollars in his pocket at taxpayers' expense. Cooper should resign. He won't.

Bredesen: Bush Plan Good for TennCare
Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen says President Bush's plans for reforming Medicaid will be good for TennCare, reports today's Tennessean.

After meeting yesterday with President Bush, Gov. Phil Bredesen said he was optimistic that the administration's Medicaid proposal could help rein in the soaring costs of TennCare. Bredesen, a Democrat, said he was impressed by the flexibility Bush's plan would give states to operate their own health insurance programs such as TennCare for the poor and people with disabilities.

A Victory Against Religious Discrimination
Nashville's Lipscomb University and the city of Nashville have won a battle against religion-based discrimination in a court case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Today's Tennessean reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to hear an appeal on Lipscomb University's use of tax-free bonds to build new facilities.

The case dealt with a challenge of Metro government's approval of the Church of Christ-affiliated college's use of $15 million in bonds more than 10 years ago to build a new library and several sports facilities. The school repays the bonds, but gets a better rate because of the tax-exempt status. ''It represents the end of this case, which has been going on for a long time,'' Nashville lawyer Bradley MacLean said. ''Schools like Lipscomb cannot be discriminated against solely on the basis of their religious affiliation when they seek tax-exempt bond financing to advance their educational purpose.''

The high court's decision not to hear the appeal left standing a U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that Metro's action ''is not direct aid'' that would violate the principle of separation of church and state. A 2-1 decision by the appeals court reversed a 2000 ruling by U.S. District Judge Aleta A. Trauger that found Metro's action violated the separation doctrine.

In a bizarre bit of spin The Tennessean calls the case "a victory for efforts to break down the wall between church and state," although it was in fact the opposite. The case doesn't break down the wall between church and state - it fortifies the wall by protecting a church-related organization from being subject to government discrimination because of religion. It was the right decision.

Are Weblogs Journalism?
Yes, says Dave Winer, a fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, and publisher of Scripting News, a weblog about online publishing.

Web logs are journalism. Have they had a big impact? Absolutely. When a big story hits, I don 't necessarily trust the professional journalists to tell me what's going on. If I can get the Web logs from the people who were actually involved, I'll take that. A really remarkable thing came out from the BBC, where they asked amateur photographers to send them pictures. So they're jumping onto the trend that's going to grow and grow and grow. With the Columbia disaster, where did the pictures come from? Not from professional journalists. The typical news article consists of quotes from interviews and a little bit of connective stuff and some facts, or whatever. Mostly it's quotes from people. If I can get the quotes with no middleman in between - what exactly did CNN add to all the pictures? Maybe they earned their salaries a little bit, but web logs have become journalism, and it's much richer. Journalism is a high calling, but it's really no more than points of view on what's taking place. I think the pros are going to use this tech, and they are doing it more and more.

Freelance journalist Glenn Fleishman has some thoughts on the question. So does journalist and blogger Jeff Walsh. Also, the topic comes up from time to time at Corante.com's blog on blogging.

For more on this, scroll down to yesterday's post "On Journalism."


The Gathering Storm
Canadian columnist David Warren says the time for war is here.

America, Britain, and the entire Western world, continue to be under the direct threat that was announced from the skies over Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2001. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein has presented itself as the immediate enemy, but is part of a nexus. Our enemy is diffused and diverse, and yet united around a single goal: the destruction of U.S. power, and through that, of the civilization it protects. Our choice was plain from that morning in September: to defend ourselves, or surrender to it. There is no "third way", and there never was one. The war in Afghanistan was only the beginning, the taking of Baghdad will be far from the end.

By now, there can be no doubt that war is upon us. After the eerie calm of 2002 - equivalent in its way to the "phony war" of 1939 and early 1940 - we have reached the point where even those who live in denial can no more deny. They may continue to dispute the cause, but not for long. War changes not only the physical but the mental landscape it has touched, and nothing remains the same. There were those who blamed the rise of Hitler and Nazism for the gathering storm of World War II, and those who preferred to blame the war-mongering rhetoric of Winston Churchill. The war itself changed all that, and people who subscribed to the latter view could not even remember that they had done so, when the war was over.

You know what they say. Read the whole thing.

Faster Please
The pro-American tilt among the people of Iran is not news in the blogosphere, but it's finally inching into the mainstream American press.

"The day Saddam Hussein is arrested, killed or exiled, Iranians will pass out sweets in the streets," said Mehdi Ansari, a newspaper vendor. His clapboard kiosk on Vali Asr, Tehran's main boulevard, does brisker business these days as Iranians follow the latest twists in the U.N. inspection effort that they expect will eventually lead to war.

Read the whole thing. And then read this.

Heh heh.

A Libertarian in Taxachusetts
Massachusetts freelancer W. James Antle looks at how the Libertarian Party is finding surprising acceptance in the Bay State thanks to its small-government/low-taxes agenda.

The biggest Massachusetts Libertarian achievement of 2002 ... was the Question 1 ballot initiative to abolish the state income tax. Pushed by the Libertarian Party but disavowed by state Republicans, Question 1 was otherwise known as the Small Government Act. Its objective was to stop taxing Massachusetts citizens' incomes and roll back state spending to where it was during Gov. Dukakis' last year in office. Supporters argued that income tax abolition would result in a $3,000 tax cut for 3 million working Bay State residents and lead to the creation of 300,000 to 500,000 new jobs. The Globe's Jacoby, one of the few pro-Question 1 voices in the major media, wrote, "Shrink state government and a hive of creative private activity will take its place. Individuals and organizations will form what Edmund Burke called the 'little platoons' of a free society - the voluntary associations that have been the wellspring of so much that is useful and humane in American life."

The conventional wisdom was that even the tax cut passed by Massachusetts voters in 2000, rolling back the state income tax rate to 5 percent, was in jeopardy and that abolition of the tax entirely had no chance. The Boston Globe showed only 34 percent planning to vote yes on Question 1; the Boston Herald found just 25 percent. Instead, Question 1 received 45.4 percent of the vote - coming within a few points of passage - and prevailed in nearly a third of the commonwealth's cities and towns.

There are lessons to be learned from this by all advocates of smaller government, not just those who work within the Libertarian Party. One is the importance of linking lower taxes and government spending to increased liberty, personal responsibility and economic prosperity. Republicans who refuse to make this case are creating a void that others must be willing to fill. Yet another lesson is that at times supporters of smaller government can bypass the old arguments about whether it is better to support the Republicans or a third-party candidate. Howell, who spent most of her own campaign promoting Question 1, did not even put a dent in Mitt Romney's vote totals. Moreover, the high vote total for Question 1 helps Romney, now that he is Republican governor of the state, maintain his pledge not to raise taxes.