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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


Signs of the Nanny State
Don't miss this Jeff Jarvis rant. Jarvis: I'm a liberal. Thus I don't object to spending tax money for good ends of a civilized society, such as education and protection and, yes, safety nets for the poorest among us. But I do object to spending money on stupidity.

Keep It
Louis Borders started a successful bookstore chain (Borders) and a spectacular Internet failure (Webvan). Now he's getting a lot of press coverage for his latest venture, something called KeepMedia, an online "digital newsstand" where you can read old magazine articles for a fee. He's got about 140 magazines in his database. There are about 3,000 magazine titles published. He's got very few newspapers. And you can't access stories from the latest editions of the magazines unless you're already a paid subscriber to the version that's printed in thin slices of dead trees

Yet Louis Borders' KeepMedia is being covered heavily, with journalists wondering if he can succeed in selling digital content via the Internet, where many people think things like that ought to be free.

I have one question.

Why would you pay KeepMedia for access to a mere 140 publications when you could pay a small fee for Intellisearch, a service from a little-known company called NetContent a reasonable fee for access to a few thousand publications - including magazines, newspapers and trade and academic journals from the ABA Journal to the Yale Law Journal - and get access to their latest content even if you don't subscribe to the printed version.

Keep it, Louis.

War Updates
James Pinkerton says war is personal now. Lee Harris says even though al Qaeda hasn't attacked us directly since 9-11, we're still at war. Just not Clausewitzian war. And Ariel Cohen reports that Russia's oil industry is coming unglued - threatening Russia's goal of becoming a major alternative to the Middle East as a source of oil for the U.S.

How Democrats Killed the Future
You heard about the Pentagon's "terror futures market," and how it was shut down before it ever got started because a bunch of (mostly) Democrats said it was macabre for investors to bet on future acts of terror. Well, guess what. They succeeded in shutting down a program that might well have helped the government better predict terrorism. James Pethokoukis, senior writer for US News, has the details.

Boy Scout Rules
South Knox Bubba thinks he's found proof that the Bush administration wasn't really serious in its pre-war diplomatic efforts at the United Nations vis a vis Iraq. He found the evidence in, of all places, a recently published email sent to University of Tennessee President John Shumaker and a consultant/friend/former business partner whom Shumaker hired on a no-bid contract.

I'll let Bubba explain - and then I'll tell you why Bubba's way off base on this.


I told you it wouldn't be long before Shumaker e-mails started appearing in the Knoxville News Sentinel. But this is not about that. It's about something in one of those e-mails:
Fishman asked Shumaker on March 11 if UT would be interested in trying for part of a $900 million contract for rebuilding in Iraq. "Would UT be interested in partnering with RAND (The RAND Corp., an independent private nonprofit organization) to propose both teacher training and an international high school in post-war Iraq?" No response was included in the documents released Wednesday.
Isn't that interesting. On March 11th the United States was supposedly still pursuing a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. There were negotiations underway for a final, "this is it we really mean it this time" UN resolution. It wasn't until March 17th that Bush declared all diplomatic efforts had failed, and gave Saddam one last chance to leave Iraq within 48 hours or we would invade. Hostilities commenced on March 20.

So, nine days before the invasion, while we were "still seeking a diplomatic solution" the RAND Corporation was letting bids on contracts to rebuild Iraq after the war. I'm guessing that a $900 million contract wasn't cooked up over the weekend on some guy's laptop. I'm guessing they would have been working on it for quite some time. I'm also guessing that the government would have had to provide requirements and specification.

Now, obviously I am not so naive as to believe we were REALLY working on a diplomatic solution or that the invasion of Iraq would somehow be prevented. But as more information comes out it becomes clearer that the Bush administration had no intention of seeking any solution other than the occupation of Iraq and its oil fields, and that it was a long time in the planning.

Further, it is obvious that efforts to work through the UN towards a diplomatic solution were simply window dressing - a cynical attempt to paint a thin veneer of international law and gain worldwide support for plans already set in motion.
Now, of course, Bubba is just being silly. Or he missed the Left's latest anti-Bush talking points and doesn't know the current anti-Bush meme being circulate by the Left regarding Iraq is that Bush may have won the war, but he's losing the peace because he wasn't fully prepared to run Iraq after the war.

Consider the words of Howard Dean, Bubba's favorite of the nine Democrats running for president
I opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq from the beginning. While Saddam Hussein’s regime was clearly evil and needed to be disarmed, it did not present an immediate threat to U.S. security that would justify going to war, particularly going to war alone. From the beginning, I felt that winning the war would not be the hard part – winning the peace would be. This administration failed to plan for the postwar period as it did for the battle, and today we are paying the price.
The Left is criticizing Bush for being unprepared to run post-war Iraq. Bubba is slamming him for trying to be prepared.

Journalistic Bias in Knoxville
South Knox Bubba has found a clear example of bias infecting his local newspaper's political coverage. That it involves Republican bias is just an added plus for GOP-loather SKB. Nevertheless, he's right - the example he points to (courtesty of Knoxville alt-weekly Metro Pulse) is a deplorable example of bad journalistic ethics.

Corporate Relocation Update
The Tennessean reports that Lousiana Pacific is also looking at Richmond, Va., and Charlotte, N.C., as a possible new home for its HQ, now located in Portland. The Portland Oregonian newspaper had the story yesterday - and notes that Charlotte "offers a plus for LP: The company already has a sales and marketing office, with about 60 employees, in the Charlotte area." So don't be surprised if Nashville doesn't land this company. On the other hand, given Nashville's recent track record, don't be surprised if it does.


The Few, The Proud...
... and Donald Sensing. Rev. Artillery has a big reason to be proud. All hands clapping for this... don't miss the video.

Another Big Corporation Relocating to Nashville?
NashvillePost.com says a big public company based in Portland, Oregon, is thinking about relocating its HQ to Nashville. You can read the details if you have a subscription to the site, which is - hands down - Nashville's best source for breaking business news. Free 30-day trial subs available. NashvillePost.com also weighs in on the governor's efforts to accelerate economic development and recruiting across Tennessee - and quotes from/links to recent coverage here at HobbsOnline.

Now, why would a big public company move its HQ outta Portland? I thought Portland was a paradise. Lots of liberals say its paradise. Why would Louisiana Pacific, a leading manufacturer of building materials in North America, with facilities throughout the United States, Canada, and in Chile, with more than 40 manufacturing facilities in North America, want to leave?

I Can't Recall
Justene Adamec has convinced me to vote for state Sen. Tom McClintock in the California recall-Gray "Debacle" Davis-and-pick-his-replacement election coming up in October. Only problem: I don't live in California. But I would if I could. So all you loyal HobbsOnline readers out there in the Golden State, if you can't decide who to vote for, vote for McClintock. While Riordan and Arnold can't even decide if they want the job or not, much less articulate what they'd do if elected, McClintock already knows the answers to both questions.

A Q&A With Cox and Forkum
Dean Esmay has an amazing interview with the creators of the great editorial cartoons over at Cox & Forkum, and it's laden with great cartoons. Personally, I'd like to see more of "Captain Speewak!"... Read - and view - the whole thing.

Thanks, Again!
Somebody else just put something in my tip jar. That's two people in one day. Much Thanks! And if you, dear reader, aren't Justene Adamec, I suggest you go visit her blog. She's tracking the California gubernatorial recall.

Tennessee Economic Development Update
More evidence of my prediction that Gov. Phil Bredesen is prepping the ground for a push to revamp Tennessee's economic development incentives package: He's promising West Tennessee and other regions of the state will get a tailored approach to economic development, saying "one size fits all" policies don't work as well. Reports the Memphis Commercial Appeal:

The governor used his luncheon speech to about 250 members of Lipscomb University's Business Leadership Council in Nashville to outline his jobs creation plan. "Tennessee is so big and diverse that one size does not fit all. We've got to approach economic development regionally, with an ultimate goal of assuring that every community, rural and urban, shares in the growth," Bredesen said.

In the six months since his inauguration, the governor has participated in nine announcements for business expansions and relocations that will create up to 4,000 new jobs. But the largest of those have been in Middle Tennessee, including an expansion of Nissan's plants in Smyrna and Decherd that will add 1,500 jobs and the relocation of a Verizon Wireless call center to Murfreesboro with 400 jobs. The major industrial plum announced for West Tennessee during the last six months is Toyota subsidiary Bodine Aluminum's planned $124 million engine block manufacturing facility in Jackson, with 200 jobs.
Nashville City Paper also has coverage.

Drumbeats II
I wrote two days ago at length [link] about the Tennessee Tax Structure Study Commission – the commission charged with studying the state's tax structure and making reform recommendations, and is supposed to be doing so with an open mind. Their next meeting is tomorrow in Nashville - and the agenda indicates the panel will hear presentations from two presenters you need to know about.

The first is the organization called "Tennesseans for Fair Taxation." You know who they are. They favor higher taxes. They support creation of an income tax. They view taxation as a way to redistribute income, and they are backed by the most socialist, Left-leaning organizations in the state.

The other is Susan Pace Hamill, a law professor at the University of Alabama, who will present a nearly hour-long presentation titled "Tax Reform from a Moral Perspective." Hamill teaches on Business Organizations and Taxation of Business Organizations, accroding to the UA law school's faculty listing.

You need to know more about Ms. Hamill – who she really is and what she really stands for.

In Alabama, where Gov. Bob Riley has thrown his "fiscal conservative" credentials in the trash can, a la former Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, and is pushing for a massive tax increase, Ms. Hamill has come to be called the "High Priestess of Tax Reform." And in Alabama, as it did in Tennessee, tax "reform" meant massively higher taxes for massively larger government.

Dan Bowden, who was a law student at Alabama and sat through a class Ms. Hamill taught on federal income tax law, files this report on her real views of taxes and business. They are, in a word, wacky. Here's some excerpts:

I had Susan Hamill as a professor. Hamill, of course, is the “High Priestess” of Alabama tax reformers (why does "reform" always seem to mean "increase"?). She's the one stumping the state promoting her idea that according to "biblical principles," Christians should support tax increases to help the poor. In other words, "What would Jesus do? RAISE TAXES!"

In 2002, I had the dubious pleasure of having Hamill teach my introductory course on federal income tax. Loud? You don't know the meaning of the word. She is like a megaphone with lipstick. I sat in the back of the classroom, and still sometimes felt the urge to cover my ears to protect my hearing.

Prof. Hamill filled our class in on a little of her background. She had worked for a private law firm in New York, and later, for the IRS. … What really clued us in on her thinking was when she referred to the IRS as "the cops, the good guys," and to private businesses as "robbers." A more twisted view of reality can hardly be imagined.

This was before Riley's election, and before he had revealed his true colours, those of a big-government, tax-raising liar. "Constitutional reform" was the buzzword at the time (look for this issue to reappear). Hamill was then putting the finishing touches on her paper arguing for her pro-tax arguments. She then revealed to our class her true motivations. She said that she had evaluated the political and social climate in Alabama, and seen that traditional arguments for tax increases would go nowhere here. She said that in order to sell pro-tax arguments to the masses in Alabama (the actual term were more like "hicks" or "religious boobs"), she would have to cloak such arguments in Biblical rhetoric. In other words, the Bible-thumping morons in Alabama could only be gotten to swallow the bitter pill of higher taxes if it was disguised in a sweet-sounding Sunday sermon. That, she said, was the reason she had decided to get a degree from Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.
Prof. Hamill has written a law review article justifying higher taxes in the name of Christianity. Like I said: Wacky. Interestingly, although she writes articles declaring that "Alabamians professing faith in God have a moral duty to support tax reform," and does so from a taxpayer-funded platform (her professorship at the University of Alabama), there are few voices in Alabama calling her actions a violation of the separation of church and state. Where is the ACLU when you need them? ;-)

A final question: Why is the Tennessee press corps not providing wall-to-wall coverage of the meetings of the Tax Structure Study Commission? I haven't seen much in the newspapers about it – yet the presentations at the meetings have, judging from what's posted on the Commission's website, been informative and useful. And the Commission's work is certainly newsworthy, given the last four years of political debate over the state's tax structure and budget. The Tennessee press corps will report on the Commission's final report, no doubt. Wouldn't it better serve the public if the process of creating that report was also reported?

Here's a story in the Baptist Standard, a newspaper for Texas Baptists, that mentions Hamill's role in pushing for a $1.2 billion tax increase in the guise of "reform" in Alabama. Note, please, the excellent comments of John Giles in that article.

Two Jobs Data: Can Both Be Right?
Here's a guest blog from regular HobbsOnline reader and email correspondent Stan Brown, who writes:

Real Clear Politics has two articles about the economy today. The first is by Mort Zuckerman and the second by Robert Samuelson. Two points on jobs/unemployment data occurred to me while reading the articles:

1) If Congress extends benefits and makes it easier and easier to stay on unemployment, any comparison between the present number of people drawing benefits and some number in the past is bogus. Zuckerman's statement that we have the most drawing unemployment in 20 years is meaningless - we are comparing apples and oranges.

2) Samuelson tells us that the household data and the payroll data are incredibly divergent. Apparently there are two ways we measure the number of employees. We ask employers about their payrolls and we ask households (employees) whether they have jobs. The employees tell us that unemployment is much, much lower. Samuelson says that the payroll data shows a loss of 2.6 million jobs since early 2001. The household data shows a loss of only 108,000 (and a gain of 1.2 million this year).

This kind of disparity is enormous.

He goes on to cite a Standard and Poor's analyst who thinks that the disparity is due to businesses hiring "contract" workers which they don't count on their payroll, but who considered themselves employed since they get paid for working.

The quality of journalism on this issue has been abominable. Why haven't we heard anything about the incredibly good news from the household data? Why haven't we at least heard of the dispute? The administration should have made sure this news was out there. And why doesn't an administration defender point out the apples/oranges nature of the unemployment comparisons?
Good questions, Stan. I'd tend to believe the jobs data gathered from households more than the data gathered from employers. It would go a long way to explaining why the "recession" never seemed to show up in the consistently-strong consumer spending data. I'll shoot a link to this post over to Donald Luskin and the "EconoPundit" Steven Antler and see what they think.

UPDATE: Luskin responds:
I don’t know the precise answers, and I’m not going to pretend I do. My approach to economics is not very much about all these bogus statistics. But what I do know is the following:

1) The "jobless claims" numbers are compiled from actual claims. However, as you point out, all kinds of factors can affect why people might make these claims or not.

2) The "unemployment rate" is derived from a survey of, I think, 60,000 households. It's basically an opinion poll. Because it is a "rate," the number can fluctuate in relation to changes both in the numerator and the denominator. For example, suppose 1 million women suddenly decide to go from being moms to being babysitters. Suddenly you have a million unemployed people.

3) I'm not sure how the "payrolls" data is compiled. Let's assume it is a perfect compilation of actual payrolls. In that case, I think (but I'm not dead sure), that temporary workers might show up on the payrolls of their agencies. That, plus the assumption that it's an actual compilation rather than a poll, suggests that it would be much more accurate - if all you are trying to do is know the "number of jobs." You still have to put that number in relation to something to make it meaningful.

The lesson in this is that these statistics are stupid and dangerous.
And Antler responds:
Answered most of it at EconoPundit. I think your reader is a little off base about the change in unemployment benefits, because these get changed around every recession and even then some.

The Real Cost of Shelter
Chip Taylor reports that The Council on State Taxation (COST) has a rebuttal to the recent report on corporate tax shelters by the Multistate Tax Commission (MTC). COST, which represents multistate corporations, says that the MTC report overstates the cost to states of unclosed loopholes. According to COST, this is partly due to an overbroad definition of "tax shelters." he also notices that COST's rebuttal isn't getting as much news coverage as the MTC report. Read the whole thing. I wrote about the MTC report here, rather uncritically - just reported their findings. Taylor had an eye-oepning follow-up commentary here, and then today's piece on COST vs the MTC. Taylor's stuff is a must-read.

The Plame Game
I've written twice in the last few weeks (here then here) about allegations that "senior" Bush administration officials exposed a covert CIA agent named Valeria Plame in order to intimidate her husband, Joseph Wilson, who was the author of the report that said Iraq hadn't tried to buy uranium from the small African nation of Niger. And I've said that it is "increasingly clear" that it is Wilson who was doing the most to expose his wife, seeing as he was all over the teevee talking about her - and that the original news article by columnist Robert Novak that is being cited as proof that "senior" administration officials outed Ms. Plame in fact neither reveals that she was a covert operative nor says that senior Bush administration officials gave Novak her name and CIA employment information.

Now, it seems, the Left's best blogger is as much as admitting that Plame wasn't all that covert. And, it seems, the Left's best blogger has learned the details of Plame's CIA work from unnamed sources and revealed it. The facts are that Ms. Plame was not a deep-cover CIA operative, and Josh Marshall, author of the Talking Points Memo blog, had no trouble finding out the details of her CIA position.

Marshall, writing in his weekly column in The Hill, a newspaper that covers Capitol Hill:

My sources tell me that Plame formerly worked abroad under nonofficial cover and has more recently worked stateside. Her position today may be less sensitive than it was when she worked abroad. But she still works on WMD proliferation issues. And, at a minimum, any operation that she may once have been involved in is probably now fatally compromised, any company which provided her cover is now exposed.
Of course, that last sentence is Marshall's conjecture - the interesting part is the news that Plame was not a deep-cover agent, and that Marshall was able to get the information easily from "sources" and publish it. Funny - Novak learns of Plame's CIA work from some source - he says it was "government" officials, NOT administration officials - and publishes it, and the Left's scandalbloggers go into full scandal-hype mode. Josh Marshall does it and, nary a word.

Perhaps that's because Marshall repeats the scandal-perpetuating lie in his Hill column, when he says We know that two senior members of the Bush administration intentionally blew the cover of an undercover CIA officer whose job is combating weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation. And their motivation was pure politics. Marshall repeats the lie that others have by carefully misquoting Novak's original column. Novak never says "senior administration officials" told him where Ms. Plame worked. He simply states the information with no source. He then says "senior administration officials" told him she suggested the CIA send her husband to Niger to determine the truth of the Iraq story.

Novak's words were subsequently twisted by David Corn, a left-wing writer for the very left-wing magazine The Nation, into the charge that Bush administration officials had "outed" Plame. As I wrote here on July 23:
Corn, conspicuously, does not quote Novak's entire paragraph anywhere his piece - and Corn's piece is the foundational article of the entire "scandal." Corn does assert that Novak told him that "government officials" told him of Plame's real job, but it is telling that the words Corn said Novak uses are "government officials," which could be virtually anyone in the government.
Bottom line of this non-scandal: it is Wilson and now Marshall that have done the most to reveal details of Plame's CIA work, and it is Corn who tried to create a scandal by twisting the words of Novak. No wonder the mainstream media hasn't picked the ball up and run with it - there's not much there.

Somebody just put something in my tip jar. Thanks!


HobbsOnline's favorite ex-artillery officer-turned Christian pastor Donald Sensing comments on a coming bombshell. Read the whole thing. Then follow the link to the Newsweek article and read that whole thing too. Then hit the back button and follow all the other links in Sensing's piece. You'll learn something. And you'll be glad you did.

Lance Armstrong and Iraq
Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong is a Texan, a friend of George W. Bush - and he opposed the Iraq war. As Washington Post sports writer Sally Jenkins - who co-authored Lance's autobiography - put it recently:

"They are friends and both are loyal sons of Texas and both are amicable, swaggering smart alecks, but Lance is deeply self-educated and his politics are different. For instance, he's in favor of choice and gun control. And he opposed the Iraq War."
Yet Lance is personal hero of mine and when the 2004 Tour de France begins I'll be watching it again on the Outdoor Life Network and rooting for Lance to win No. 6.

So here's a question: Why is Lance toasted as an American hero by people like me, and by Charles Johnson over at Little Green Footballs, but when the Dixie Chicks or various Hollywood celebrities make statements in opposition to the war, we treated them with derision? Why hasn't Lance Armstrong become a lightning rod for criticism for those who supported the war?

Answer: Because Lance doesn't treat his celebrity status, derived from being a fast and indefatigable bike rider, lead him to think he should be treated as an expert on foreign policy, or lead him to use his public stage to take cheap shots at the president. Did you know Lance was opposed to the war in Iraq? Probably not until right now.

Lance has said he told Bush of his opposition to the war: "He's a personal friend, but we've all got the right not to agree with our friends," Armstrong told Britain's Observer newspaper. Ironically, that paper tried to whip up anti-Armstrong/anti-American hostilities among the French before the Tour de France began, but the French seem now to have embraced Armstrong. You just know, too, that George W. Bush will invite Lance Armstrong to the White House in honor of his fifth straight Tour de France win.

Those 28 Pages
The Bush administration is resisting calls to declassify the remaining 28 pages of a 900-page report looking into the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks - 28 pages that deal with alleged links between members of the Saudi government and the hijackers. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal is pushing for more declassification because. the Saudi government says, keeping secret parts of the report dealing with Saudi Arabia appears to suggest that the kingdom has something to hide.

Well, yeah.

Some suggest the Bush administration is keeping the pages secret because it wants to protect the Saudi ruling family. But perhaps there's another explanation. Perhaps we're watching a bit of Bush strategery unfold. Perhaps Bush is doing a reverse rope-a-dope on the Saudis.

What if the administration classified the 28 pages on Saudi involvement in order to bait the Saudi ruling family into issuing all sorts of general denials and huffing and puffing as if they've been insulted somehow - as, indeed, the Saudi government is now doing. What if, after a few days of such denials, Bush were to order most of the remaining 28 pages of the report to be immediately declassified and made public, laying out in breathtaking detail the Saudis' involvement in 9/11?

Remember the Bush Doctrine and the goal: ending terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them. I think Bush meant it, and won't be deterred. I think everything he does related to foreign policy and the war on terror is focused on that goal, and driven by that doctrine.

Consider what has happened. The administration classifies a section of the report, which immediately draws the attention of the world press, and that gets the Saudis - accused by the implication of those 28 redacted pages - to profess their innocence loudly and publicly. Now if the administration declassifies the 28 pages it will drop the evidence into public view at a moment of maximum press and public attention - more attention than if the 28 pages had not been classified in the first place - and the pressure on the Saudis to admit their guilt, and take crucial and real steps to reform, and to crack down on the extremists and shut down the terror-supporting organizations and close the schools of Wahhabi Islamic fundamentalism would be immense.

And, as we've seen with Prince Ibn Al-Walid trying to give New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani $10 million for New York shortly after 9/11, the Saudis try to assuage their guilt by writing big checks. Perhaps they may soon be asked to underwrite the costs of the war on terror... an offer that, once the 28 pages are made public, they may find impossible to refuse.

UPDATE: The Comedian has another take on it. I'm convinced that the redacted section of the 9/11 report about the Saudis was redacted so that President Bush could sandbag the press into demanding its release. Why? Because I suspect ... you'll have to go Read the Whole Thing to find out why.

Tour de Lance Update
Longtime Philadelphia sports columnist Bill Lyon says Lance Armstrong is like Seabiscuit. Longtime Philadelphia sports columnist Sandy Grady says Lance Armstrong isn't like Seabiscuit. I'll try to see Seabiscuit in the next few days and let you know who's right.

Also, a sports columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer says Armstrong has won over the French:

The proof that Armstrong has the rooting market cornered weren't the American flags he saw as he arrived in Paris. It's that the French were waving them, too. They didn't begrudge his winning the 100th Tour de France as much as they did his previous victories, and this one was contested in the context of a political split over the war in Iraq. ... Armstrong has become the symbol of the underdog and the dynasty at the same time. Those strange bedfellows make him simply the greatest comeback story ever.
And AP sports columnist Jim Litke reminds us to not forget what Armstrong went through in battling cancer:
Lance Armstrong has been on top of the world so long that the rest of us sometimes forget how he got there. Not Armstrong. Barely 18 hours after crossing the finish line on the Champs-Elysees, he left his room at the luxury hotel where the Texas flag flew overnight to attend a news conference to remind the world how he came to win five Tour de France titles in a row.

"You always look back to 1996 and you realize that a crash on Luz-Ardiden or a little cycle cross into Gap is not nearly as bad as sitting in a hospital room in Indianapolis," he said yesterday. "Drawing on that experience helps and is perhaps one of the secrets to winning the Tour."
Also, the Boston Globe has a fine story about the courageous Tyler Hamilton, who finished fourth in the Tour despite riding since the second Day with a broken collarbone. Hamilton will ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange Friday, then make the morning talk-show circuit Monday.

UPDATE: Is Lance Armstrong an athlete? David Whitley of The Orlando Sentinel puts the question to the test - by trying to ride one measely stage of the Tour de France, on an exercise bike at the Y. Hilarious.

Is Bredesen Prepping to Push New Economic Development Legislation?
From the Nashville Technology Council's July 29 TECHNOLOGY News and Events newsletter:

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce reports that since July 1, 2002, executives with 712 companies considering relocation from sites outside Middle Tennessee have been communicated with by staff of Partnership 2010. Within the past 12 months, representatives of 94 potentially relocating employers have visited Middle Tennessee with the assistance of P2010/Chamber staff. Two-dozen of the visiting teams supported by P2010/Chamber staff are described at this time as either "enthusiastic" about the possibility of relocating here, or actually "negotiating" a move. One of the organizations said to be "negotiating" is described as a software company. Several other prospects are believed to have strong technology components within their operations. (Note: Agents of potentially relocating firms often study prospective relocation options confidentially, without revealing the name of the prospect company, before contacting local executives.)
That's good news for Nashville. But what about the rest of Tennessee? An Associated Press report in today's Knoxville News Sentinel says companies that have considered relocating to or expanding in Tennessee but ultimately chose another state instead often often did so "because of more affordable land, better tax incentives and lower costs for employee training, according to a questionnaire commissioned by Matt Kisber, Tennessee's commissioner of economic and community development. Kisber...
asked the University of Tennessee's Center for Business and Economic Research to conduct the unscientific survey "so we could better assess what we were doing and make changes to that."

The results, obtained by The Associated Press, includes responses from 29 of 119 businesses contacted by the center. Executives were asked to describe their businesses and the sites they considered, rank the importance of factors contributing to their decisions and compare the chosen site to the one looked at in Tennessee.

Kisber repeatedly cautioned that the survey's unscientific nature and small sample pool makes the results not "statistically valid."
Perhaps. But it is interesting and useful information. Kisber's boss, Gov. Phil Bredesen, made economic development deals a hallmark of his two terms as Nashville's mayor, and he's been aggressively pursuing a similar strategy as governor. Could this survey be the foundation of a legislative push next year to revamp the state's economic development tax and worker training incentives?

Poor Don
Ex-Gov. Don Sundquist is still in denial about the disaster that was his second term. Memo to Don: You were lying about the state not being able to reduce spending in order to balance the budget. Tennessee didn't need an income tax. It needed a competent manager in the governor's office. Your successor proved it. Get over yourself.

HobbsOnline will cross the 200,000 visitor mark sometime today. I'm humbled. I'm also a piker compared to Instapundit - who sees that much traffic in a week or less while it's taken me since November 30, 2001 to get there - but I'm still humbled. Of course, 200,000 doesn't mean 200,000 different people have visited - just that a number of people have visited a total of 200,000 times. Still, my best guess from sifting my Bravenet and SiteMeter and email data is that I have approximately 500 regular readers, a number that is growing as some of my 100-200 first-time-ever visitors each day become regulars. I'm honored by each one of you, and your regular readership inspires me to continually improve the site and maintain high standards for content, commentary and links. And if I were Andrew Sullivan I'd note that if each of you would voluntarily support HobbsOnline with a $20 annual contribution, my wife - as Sullivan wouldn't say - might stop viewing blogging as a time-wasting hobby. [Ed. note: To those who have contributed in the past, I thank you again.]

Nevada Update
I'm a week late on this, but apparently Nevada legislators have passed a budget and an $800 million-plus tax increase, with 2/3 of the members of the state House and Senate voting approval. The vote comes as some lawmakers continue to challenge a Nevada Supreme Court ruling that discarded the state constitution's requirement that a budget be passed by a 2/3rds majority in each house. The Nevada high court ruled that the legislature must pass a budget by a simple majority. It has been rightly reviled as atrocious constitutional law. The Las Vegas Review Journal reports

Lawmakers wanted the two-thirds vote in each house to head off any court challenges to the revenue plan. A Nevada Supreme Court ruling says approval of taxes does not require a two-thirds vote, but lawmakers want to meet the supermajority threshold to comply with the higher standard for taxes required by voters in 1996.
It is touching that the legislators decided to meet the constitutional standard anyway, but when a court says lawmakers don't have to follow the constitution as written by the people, the foundations of representative democracy have begun to crumble. What is needed now in Nevada is a new grassroots drive to make the constitutional more explicit - and to add an amendment that prohibits any Nevada court from setting aside any portion of the document.

Paul Krugman Might Like This News
Nationwide, some 20 states have raised taxes this year by a cumulative $13.1 billion. The National Federal of Independent Business has the details of a mid-year report from the American Legislative Exchange Council. The non-partisan organization's Mid-year Review of State Budget Policy says the $13.1 billion tax increase in the first half of 2003 is 48 percent larger than last year, when states raised taxes by a cumulative $8.8 billion in the first half of 2002. Almost half the states that raised taxes in 2003 also raised taxes in 2002: Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Utah. The ALEC press release is here.


Amazing Generosity
Here's some amazing news about how folks around the country are reacting to the New York Times report on strapped state budgets that I blogged on earlier today.

The Deceptional Paul Krugman
Donald Luskin has blogged another brilliant deconstruction of Paul Krugman's latest rantings in the New York Times. I'm in awe. Read the whole thing.

I read the Krugman column Luskin links to and found it odd that Krugman wrote this sentence:

"If we are ever to balance the budget again, many of the Bush tax cuts will have to be reversed once the economy recovers."
Krugman argues that the tax cuts didn't help the economy recover. Okay. I don't happen to agree. But that's his position. So, then, then why does he argue the tax cuts be reversed after the economy recovers, rather than be reversed right now, given that he thinks the federal budget deficit is such a big bad bogeyman? Does Krugman think that raising taxes now would harm the economic recovery? It appears so. If that's the case, then Krugman has essentially - though, no doubt, accidentally - admitted what normal people know in their gut: higher taxes hurt the economy, lower taxes help it.

Iraq Update: We're Winning
Here's a report from Iraq that makes you realize all those other reports from Iraq - the ones hinting we're in a quagmire and on the verge of debacle - are wrong.

Sales Tax Deductibility
There may be some progress in Congress to make it possible for taxpayers to deduct state sales tax payments on their federal tax returns.

Here's a Dallas Morning News story from two weeks ago. Such a move would both cut Tennesseans' federal taxes and eliminate a major part of the argument of those who favor creation of a state income tax.

Some Democrats appear to be in support of restoring sales tax deductibility, but it only seems that way. What they're really trying to do is make certain that it doesn't happen - or if it does, it results in other taxes being raised.

Florida, Alaska, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and Wyoming don't have personal income taxes, so taxpayers there - who pay sales taxes - can't deduct their largest state tax payments from their federal income tax the way taxpayers in the other 42 states can.

This week, Florida Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson joined with South Dakota Sens. Tom Daschle and Tim Johnson, all Democrats, in sponsoring a bill to let taxpayers in the eight states deduct sales taxes. Technically, all taxpayers would be given the choice of deducting either sales taxes or personal income taxes, but the practical effect would be limited to states without income tax.

Of course, with the bill crafted that way, senators and representatives in the other 42 states have no incentive to vote for it, since it would make the eight states without income taxes even more attractive to relocating businesses and residents.

The Senate bill sponsored by Graham, Daschle and the others would "cost" Uncle Sam an estimated $27 billion in less revenue over 10 years, but would recoup that money by eliminating a variety of corporate tax deductions and credits. The competing legislation offered by House Republicans would add the sales tax deduction to a pending bill extending the recent child-tax-credit legislation to lower-income families who aren't receiving the child-tax-credit rebate checks because, well, they don't pay enough income taxes to qualify for it.

What is really happening? Simple. Republicans want to make the federal tax code more fair by restoring sales tax deductibility. Democrats don't - they're only proposing the legislation in order to be able to claim they do, while not actually voting for the legislation that would do it. And in the microscopic chance their legislation actually pass, the Democrats will at least be comforted by the knowledge that they've raised other taxes to offset the "lost" revenue.

Tour de Lance Update
USA Today has a great wrap-up of Lance Armstrong's record-tying fifth straight victory in the Tour de France, the world's most grueling athletic event. The New York Times also has good coverage, as does Lance's hometown paper, the Austin American Statesman here, here and here.

ABC News has a look at how age is affecting Armstrong, shown at left with his wife Kristin and their three children. This Reuters report details some of the many problems that dogged Armstrong throughout the Tour, and why he says that, despite victory, his performance was "unacceptable."

This story from the Los Angeles Times looks at what it'll take for Lance to win a sixth TdF. Miguel Indurain, the Spanish rider whose record of five straight Tour wins Armstrong has now equaled, says Lance stands a decent chance of winning a sixth.

Tyler Hamilton, the American rider who finished fourth despite riding 19 of 20 stages with a broken collarbone, says he'll always look back and wonder "what if?"

The Christian Science Monitor says the American audience for the Tour is growing. And Bloomberg News says lance's five straight victories has caused an upsurge in American cycling-related tourism to parts of France and has this interesting juxtaposition of news stories: A neurosurgeon on two weeks' leave from the U.S. Army in Baghdad made his way to the Alpe d'Huez, one of the Tour de France's legendary mountains, to yell his encouragement. He held a banner proclaiming: "Go Lance! Go Postal."

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel had a story a few days ago looking at the carbon-fiber technology in Armstrong's bicycle frame, made by Trek Bicycle Corp. in nearby Waterloo, Wis. I'm currently saving for a Trek 1500. It's not the same model Trek that Lance rode up the Luz-Ardiden climb, but it's a rather nice bike. You can help me get it sooner by dropping some change in the tip jar.

Economy: Lots of Good News
There's plenty of good economic news coming out – just in time to upset the hopes of Democrats who planned to run against George W. Bush by blaming him for a bad economy…

From the Associated Press:

The economy is showing fresh signs of snapping out of its funk: Orders to factories for big-ticket goods registered the biggest increase since the beginning of the year and new-home sales climbed to the highest level on record. The latest batch of economic news Friday reinforced hopes that a much anticipated revival will take hold in the second half of this year.

"It really is beginning to look as if the train has finally left the station," said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors. "The news was very good and adds to the belief the economy is on the mend."

Especially heartening to Naroff and other economists was a Commerce Department report showing orders placed to U.S. factories for "durable" goods - costly manufactured products expected to last at least three years - went up by a solid 2.1 percent in June from May.

The increase - nearly double what economists were forecasting and the biggest since January - suggested that the battered manufacturing sector is finally turning a corner. The advance came after America's manufacturers saw demand for their products fall by 2.4 percent in April and stay flat in May.

In more welcome news, sales of new, single-family homes rose 4.7 percent in June from the month before to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.16 million units, the best month for sales on record, the department said in a second report. That comes on top of a 10.9 percent jump in new-home sales from April to May.

Meanwhile, sales of existing homes remain in record territory, according to the National Association of Realtors, which has forecast a record year for home sales this year.

And Donald Luskin comments on a report of a surge in venture capital funding and says, "Funny what a little tax-cutting will do, isn't it?"

Predictable, too. Tax cuts lead to economic growth. Always have. Always will.

UPDATE: Chicago Federal Reserve President Michael Moskow says the economy is getting ready to rev up.

You can hear the faint sound of distant drumbeats for an income tax in this Q&A with Nelson Andrews, chairman of the "independent" Tax Structure Study Commission that is studying Tennessee's tax structure. As writer Tim Chavez comments, "The commission carries baggage because of who established it: the same state leaders who tried to pass an income tax against the wishes of a majority of Tennesseans. One commission member is former state Sen. Bob Rochelle." Rochelle, of course, tried to ram a state income tax through the Senate. Andrews, a former state education commissioner is also on record as a proponent of the income tax. So is commission member Gary Poe, an executive with Eastman Chemical Co.

What Nelson said: What is not debatable is that there is no way that the current structure will be able to sustain the current level of services into the future.

What Nelson meant: We need an income tax.

Andrews argues hard for the commission's neutrality and credibility, but he's singing a song few are buying. As Knoxville News Sentinel columnist Tom Humphrey said back in January:

For the most part, the members represent various special interests that are at least comfortable with the concept of tax reform, including an income tax. Thus, the deck is arguably stacked. The appointees so far include more folks with a history of supporting an income tax than opponents.
As I pointed out back in January, even Gov. Bredesen is skeptical the commission is in any meaningful way "independent" and neutral on the question of an income tax. Said Bredesen at the time, in response to a question from The Tennessean,
It was created by the legislature, but I will certainly read it carefully. I was asked by some people who were thinking about serving on it what my attitude was, and did I think they were wasting their time. I said if they're taking an objective look at the tax structure and how to correct taxes and not thinking how could we quickly raise another billion dollars of revenue, then it could be useful. If what this thing is, just to bring the income tax again two years down the line, I just feel I ran for this office on a promise not to implement an income tax in my first term, so don't look at it as something which is going to box me into a corner. I will certainly listen to what they say with respect, and I think it will be a useful contribution for discussions.
One open question: Jim Neeley was appointed to the commission in early January by then-Gov. Don Sundquist. Neeley, who was head of the Tennessee AFL-CIO at the time, is a supporter of the income tax. A few days later, new Gov. Phil Bredesen announced that Neeley would be his Commissioner of Labor. Is Neeley still on the commission? If so, Andrews' claims of the commission's independence from the governor are bogus. UPDATE: Neeley is no longer a member of the Tax Structure Study Commission, according to Milissa Reierson, spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Labor. He was replaced him on the commission by A.J. Starling, who is the Tennessee AFL-CIO director of political affairs. As director of political affairs, Starling was the labor organization's point man on legislative issues, which of course including promoting the organization's support for an income tax. Certainly he can not be accurately said to have an open mind on the issue.

I'm also trying to determine the identity of the "five extraordinarily talented academicians" Andrews mentions. There are none on this list of ten of the board members, but I haven't yet found a full list of the commission members. (Update: I found the list. The five academicians are non-voting members of the commission. More details and link below…)

UPDATE: The membership of the commission was expanded from 15 to 19 by the legislature last session. Here is a story listing the four additional members appointed after the board was expanded. I don't know if any of these four are on record supporting an income tax, but if any of my readers find out, please pass it along to me.

UPDATE: Here is the website of the Tax Structure Study Commission. Its membership list is here, but very unhelpful - no bios, just names. One name is very worrisome - Dr. Bill Fox, a University of Tennessee economist and long-time shill for the income tax, is a non-voting member and one of five academics who are serving as economic advisers to the panel.

Minutes to past commission meetings are here. The page offers links to many of the PowerPoint presentations that have been shown at commission meetings.

The Tax Structure Study Commission's upcoming meetings are listed here. Its next meeting is July 31st in Nashville. (TSU - Avon Williams Campus, 310 10th Avenue - Room 353).

A list of "Resource Links" on the commission's website indicates the direction the commission is leaning on the question of recommending an income tax. One article considered a valuable resource by the commission is this June 2001 article from the National Conference of State Legislatures, titled Principles of a High-Quality State Revenue System, which argues in favor of states taxing incomes:
There is merit in the notion that states and local governments should balance their tax systems through reliance on the "three-legged stool" of income, sales and property taxes in roughly equal proportions, with excise taxes, business taxes, gaming taxes, severance taxes and user charges playing an important supplemental role.
The commission also considers a valuable resource this April 2003 article from the left-leaning, pro-big-government, pro-higher-taxes Center on Budget Policy Priorities, which claims recent state budget difficulties were "not caused by overspending," even though solid research indicates the opposite.

Meanwhile, what I said here back in early April holds true: Even if the Tax Structure Study Commission is indeed independent and open-minded and not just another dog-and-pony show to shill for the income tax, it's still studying the wrong thing. Unfortunately, the Tax Structure Study Commission as it exists now is set up to ignore half of the equation: It is not authorized or ordered to examine the state's archaic and uncontrolled spending structure that has long been the primary cause of the state's chronic budget crises. Its budget, then, is just another example of wasteful spending.

A shorter version of this is posted at PolState.com.

Today's New York Times asserts that reduced spending by the states is hurting the economy. That assertion is just bizarre and as it turns out, the only person in the story making the claim is not an economist but the director of a portion of a left-leaning think tank in Washington DC that favors bigger budgets and higher taxes at the state level.

The Times says:

Just three years ago, the states were still a plus for the economy. While the private sector had begun to limp, state spending had remained strong and so had revenues, despite cuts in tax rates in several states. Today the opposite is happening, and that makes the states a net minus for the national economy. Without that reversal, some economists say, the economy would probably be growing at an annual rate of more than 3 percent, enough to create jobs rather than eliminate them.
But the Times fails to name a single economist who believes that.

It does quote Nicholas Johnson, director of the State Fiscal Project at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, who says, "It is reasonable to think that the response by the states to the fiscal crisis is taking at least half a percentage point out of the growth rate of the national economy." But Johnson - who is a journalist by training, according to the CBPP's staff listing, not an economist - offers no explanation of why such a thought is "reasonable." Nor does the Times.

Perhaps that's because the notion that reduced state spending is harming the economy is not reasonable at all - it's just crazy. Think about it. Reduced state isn't causing the economic slowdown - it's being caused by it, as the slower economy generates less tax revenue for states to spend. States get money to spend by taking it out of the economy. Increased state spending merely means more money has first been taken out of the economy and filtered through an inefficient bureaucracy before flowing back into the economy. Most states are required to balance their budgets, so increasing state spending now would require tax increases - taking more money out of the economy.

The CBPP, The Times' only source for the dubious belief that that reduced state budgets is harming the ecomy, recently proposed states raise income taxes in order to balance their budgets, calling income taxes "a particularly promising source of new revenues because it can yield a significant amount of new revenues to help plug the large budget gaps."

The story is also laced with an untruth. The Times claims "Because state tax collections are indirectly linked to those at the federal level, the Bush administration's tax cuts have fed through to the states as parallel cuts. But the hardest-hit states, California and Minnesota among them, have been those with progressive income taxes, charging upper income households at considerably higher rates than those at the low end. As incomes have fallen, tax collections have fallen faster in these states than in those without progressive tax rates." The data show otherwise revenue from state income taxes has fallen faster than from, for example, state sales taxes in many states.

Also, the Times claim that state tax collections are linked to federal taxes is, apparently, a reference to how some states couple their tax rates to the federal rate. That's true - but what the Times forgets to tell you is, many states are "decoupling" their taxes and tax rates from Uncle Sam's. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities could have told them.

If you want to know what's really the cause of all those states facing big budget crises, read States Face Fiscal Crunch after 1990s Spending Surge, by Chris Edwards, Stephen Moore, and Phil Kerpen at the libertarian Cato Institute, and for a good summary of the fiscally sane steps states should take to deal with budget crises, read Crisis in State Spending: A Guide for State Legislators, by at the non-partisan American Legislative Exchange Council.

UPDATE: Mickey Kaus has a thorough annihiliation of the NYT piece over at kausfiles. Scroll down to the top July 28 entry, titled How to 'Presume' Your Way onto the NYT Front Page.

UPDATE: Eric Umansky says the NYT piece is weak on evidence that state budget cuts is hurting the economy:
The thesis of the NYT's lead - "RED INK IN STATES BEGINNING TO HURT ECONOMIC RECOVERY" - isn't exactly supported by a mountain of evidence. In what seems like its best shot at providing hard numbers, the Times says states have cut spending between $20 billion-40 billion over the past two years, "no one knows exactly how much." That's in a $10 trillion economy.
Yes. Besides, state spending cuts due to less tax revenue are not a cause of a bad economy, but a reflection of it.


State's Tax Structure Called Good for Growing Business
The non-partisan Tax Foundation says Tennessee has the 10th-most business-friendly tax structure in the nation. The Tennessean reported the study today:

The study by the Tax Foundation is the first of its type by the 66-year-old Washington-based research organization to help businesses compare competitive state tax systems and provide state legislatures a way of measuring a state's attractiveness for new businesses, Scott Hodge, co-author of the study said. It was based on 2002 tax systems. States were listed based on a score from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most business-friendly. Tennessee scored 7.04, compared with the national average of 5.97. The overall score is a composite of five indexes used to grade each tax system — the corporate tax index, the individual tax index, the sales and gross receipts tax index, the state fiscal balance index and a conformity index, which grades the complexity of the state's tax system compared with national standards.
You can read the Tax Foundation's study here (in a 28-page PDF file). The ten states with the most business-friendly tax systems are Wyoming, New Hampshire, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska, South Dakota, Florida,Washington, Oregon and Tennessee. The ten tax systems least hospitable to business are in Mississippi, California, Arkansas, Ohio, Nebraska, Hawaii, New York, Maine, Minnesota and Louisiana.

A few key points I found in a quick read of the study:
Generally speaking, states that rank highly manage without at least one of the major taxes. Indeed, Alaska scores well despite having the worst corporate tax system in the nation because it does not have either an individual income tax or a sales tax. Colorado has a "traditional" tax system that imposes a corporate income tax, an individual income tax, and a sales tax but ranks highly by keeping all of its taxes simple with low, flat rates.
Yes it does, with a Taxpayers Bill of Rights that requires a public vote on tax increases and forces government to return surplus revenue through tax cuts or direct rebates unless the public approves in a referendum a proposal to spend the surplus funds. You can read all about Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights here.

The Tennessean spent the last four years editorializing in favor of a state income tax, and slanting its news coverage in an effort to propel one through the state legislature, so it is not surprising that the story doesn't mention that eight of the top 10 states in the Tax Foundation's ranking - Wyoming, New Hampshire, Nevada, Alaska, South Dakota, Florida, Washington and Tennessee - do not have a state income tax. And Texas, the only other state without a state income tax, ranked 13th. Incidetally, three of the five states without a state sales tax are in the top 10 - Alaska, Oregon and New Hampshire.

Anti-Tax Pledge in Nashville
Today's Tennessean reports on 18 candidates for Nashville's Metro Council who have signed a pledge to oppose any property tax increases in the next four years. The incumbent mayor, Bill Purcell, running for re-election without serious opposition, raised taxes in his first term and hints he will do so again if re-elected. An organization called Tennessee Tax Revolt is circulating the pledge, and having some success in attracting candidates to sign it. See their website for a list, if you're interested in such things. One of those who signed the pledge is Dorrence Stovall, whom I attended college with. If you live in Nashville's council district 29, vote for Stovall. And if you live in district 31, the smart vote is for Roger Abramson, who is a lawyer and public policy researcher whom I worked with briefly at a now-defunct policy think tank. Who will I vote for? Nobody - I long ago moved to Franklin in suburban Williamson County and no longer pay Nashville's high taxes.

Aw... How Cute
But in a time of war, when our very survival is at stake, when 3,000 of our citizens have died at the hands of a multinational force of terrorists, is this the level of seriousness we want in our president? Or do we want something more - a president with the steely resolve to take the battle to the enemy and defeat Islamist terror once and for all?

Tour de Lance Update
Lance Armstrong essentially won the Tour de France today - his record-tying fifth in a row - even with one remaining stage tomorrow. That's because he leads Jan Ullrich by 1:16 after riding a superb time trial in horrid weather, and tomorrow's stage is flat, providing little opportunity for Ullrich to break from the pack and gain serious time. Tyler Hamilton, meanwhile, moved up to fourth with a stellar performance in today's time trial and will finish in fourth in the Tour - amazing for a gy riding since the second day with a fractured collarbone.

Next year, Lance goes for number six.

More good coverage here and here.


Sao Tome Update
Michael Williams notes that the coup in Sao Tome is over. Reuters reports coup leader Major Fernando Pereira says he lead the coup to safeguard democracy and wipe out corruption, and they report it with a straight face, as if they actually believe the guy. No scare quotes or anything. Voice of America, meanwhile, has a much better story suggesting the tiny nation's potential oil wealth motivated the coup plotters.

Africa expert Alex Vines, of the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, the peaceful resolution of the coup in Sao Tome is very much in the tradition of the country's manner of dealing with such tension. "Sao Tome has traditionally dealt with disputes peacefully anyhow," he said. "There was a coup in the mid-1990s that was similarly resolved as this current one - peacefully."

In addition, Mr. Vines points out that a delegation of mediators is lauding the amicable end to the coup as a triumph for regional politics. An international delegation of African, Portuguese and U.S. representatives traveled to the region after the coup to facilitate talks between the ousted president and the coup leader.

Mr. Vines says the main motivation for the coup was Sao Tome's eagerly anticipated oil earnings. "The expectancy of oil is a very important factor here," he pointed out. "Sao Tome is a tremendously poor country, but everybody is dreaming of future wealth if oil is found and that's the key here. There's been no oil found in Sao Tome yet, it's all speculative, based on seismic and talking up. But we are coming up to bidding round for nine off-shore blocks from Sao Tome and each bloc is likely to carry a $30 million bonus payment. That's a lot of money for a poor country like Sao Tome."
Note, please, critics of President Bush, that the Bush administration sent representatives who helped resolve the situation peacefully. No John Wayne diplomacy, Mr. Dean. No machismo, Mr. Gephardt. Just quiet, effective, multilateral leadership, and the would-be dictator is gone and the democratically elected president of Sao Tome is back in power.

The California Recall and Bush v. Gore
Things could get very interesting, from a constitutional point of view, says an article posted at FindLaw.com and discussed here at PolState.com

A Q&A With Hewitt
John Hawkins interviews Hugh Hewitt, a rising radio talkshow host who blogs. Hewitt has some very good comments about blogging and the future of talk radio, the Democrats and the future of the country, North Korea and the next stage of the war on terror, the California gubernatorial recall, and why the Left can't succeed in talk radio. A very good Q&A. Who says the blogosphere doesn't do real journalism? An enlightening interview. (For my Tennessee readers, Hewitt is not on the air anywhere in the state except for Bristol, where he's on from 6-8 pm Monday-Friday on WPWT 870 AM. Lucky Bristolians. Here's Hewitt's station list.)

Amen Brother, Preach On
Jeff Jarvis sez the media establishment doesn't "get" weblogs. And then he proves it, with a comparison of a story he wrote about weblogs for Nieman Reports, a quarterly pub produced by Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, and the same story after the blog-clueless editor got hold of it. Hilarious. And dead on.

Jarvis: Journalism still needs to escape its closed, think-tank think and get out there and use the tools the audience is using. They need to read what the audience is writing. They need to listen. That's what is so damned exciting about weblogs. Weblogs give you the chance to hear your audience and what they really care about - if only you are ready to listen.

I've said before that I think blogging will change journalism. Now I'm not so sure. Journalism must be willing to listen, learn and embrace change if blogging is to be allowed to rescue journalism from its current pit of declining readership and declining credibility. But traditional journalism has always been a top-down affair, where you, the audience, are supposed to shut up and listen passively as Big Journalism tells you about the things they think are important and then tell you what you should think about those things.

Grudgingly, they correct a mistake now and then - but bury the tiny corrections deep in the paper so nobody finds them. Formulaicly they publish each day a few selected and heavily edited letters from readers, to create the impression they care what readers think. But they don't. They want you to shut up and listen to them. They don't want to listen to you.

But now, increasingly, you aren't listening to them either. Good. That's healthy.

Now I believe that blogs will increasingly become journalism. Right now, most news-oriented blogs are punditry rather than reporting, though some of the better blogs do sometimes provide original reporting. I've done original reporting here, most often related to the state budget and tax debate over the last four years, digging out and reporting facts and data ahead of the mainstream media on many occasions. I suspect over time bloggers will increasingly add original reporting to their blogs to go with the large helping of punditry.

I can see a day coming when your local newspaper faces real competition from an Internet-only publication, a newsblog if you will, that carries reporting as well as commentary. It will be updated continuously as developments warrant, include digital pictures and audio and video reports created in the field by reporters on the scene and posted instantly to the newsblog via wireless Internet access. It will combine the immediacy of TV with depth of print - and, newsblogs will not face the space limitations that newspaper editors face each day, allowing newsblogs to publish offer longer, more in-depth reports more frequently. Newsblog reports will be heavily linked to source documents and materials - cyberfootnoting that will instantly enhance readers' perceptions of credibility (and put pressure on reporters to get the facts right). And it gets better. The newsblogs will allow readers to comment and interact with the writers and each other - a feature newspapers can't match. It will be cheaper to produce than a newspaper, and cheaper to distribute. And offer a much better reading experience. And as newspapers continue to see their circulation shrink, newsblogs will thrive.

If we're lucky, newsblogs won't change traditional journalism. They'll replace it.

UPDATE: Michael Williams says newsblogs need a feasible business model. He's right, of course. I sketched a proposal and posted it in the comments.

Tour de Lance Update
Lance Armstrong heads into Saturday's individual time trial with a 65-second lead over Jan Ullrich, and a record-tying fifth consecutive Tour de France win on the line. For coverage of what's at stake, and why the race might still not be decided until the end of Sunday's usually-ceremonial final stage around the Champs-Elysees, go here. If you aren't a cycling fan and don't know why you should get up Saturday morning and watch the time trial, read what Mike Celzic has to say in the Sporting News:

If you're going to catch one day of the Tour, an event that doesn't grab the hearts and minds of American fans, Saturday's the day to do it. It doesn't matter if you neither care nor know any more about cycling than a cow does about differential calculus. This isn't about that sport anymore, it's about being able to see something that you likely won't see again.

You don't - or shouldn't - pass up the rare moments in life when you have a chance to witness someone great at what could be the crowning moment of a career. You don't have to be a golf fan to have tuned in when Tiger Woods won his fourth consecutive major or a baseball fan to have watched Mark McGwire break Roger Maris' home-run record. You don't watch such moments because of the sport, but because of the accomplishment.

And if Armstrong pulls it off, it will be, indeed, a crowning moment. He has won the past four Tours with dominating performances. If he wins this one, it will not be because he's light years better than everyone else, but because of grit and desire and will and all those other things we talk about when we get emotional about sports.
Finally, don't miss this column in today's USA Today by Lance's wife, Kristin. You don't have to love cycling to appreciate it. You just have to love life and love.


We Don't Need No Stinkin' Expertise
Ever read a New York Times editorial and think, "These idiots don't know what they're talking about"? Turns out, you're exactly right.

But this isn't just a problem with the NYT editorial board. I'd hazard a guess that 90 percent of reporters write about things they have no training or expertise in - and their news coverage often forms the knowledge base that similarly untrained newspaper editorialists use to write their editorials.

It is a failing of the basic way journalism has been taught for the past several decades. Too much of the courses and lab work for a journalism degree focus on the craft of journalism itself - basic interviewing and writing and editing skills, learning the AP Styleguide rules, learning to compose a story in "inverted pyramid" format, and such.

Too few journalists get a formal education in a subject area that they will then go cover. Most business journalists never took a business course in college. Most journalists who report on the economy didn't study economics. Most reporters who write about the environment have no scientific training. Most reporters who write about healthcare and medicine have no experience or education in the healthcare industry or no medical training. That's why so many news stories offer no insight, merely heat and light. It's why stories about the economy, for example, boil down to a collection of competing quotes from politicians and economists with agendas - and give you the unshakeable feeling the reporter might not understand a single word of that Greenspan quote he just used. It's why so much journalism is formulaic, uninformative and dull.

That doesn't apply to all business reporters, of course. Right here in Nashville, one of the best business journalists you'll ever find, David Fox at NashvillePost.com, traded commodity futures for a couple years at the Chicago Board of Trade, before returning to Nashville to be a stockbroker with Prudential-Bache. Later, he became a business journalist at The Tennessean, then founded NashvillePost.com. Think he knows what he's writing about? Of course he does.

I first was hired to be a "business reporter" in 1990, after about three years as a "general assignments" reporter for a trio of newspapers in Texas and Tennessee. (Details here.) I had never taken a business course, never run a business, never read a business book, never bought a stock or a bond or a T-bill, never seen a public company's financial report, and hadn't sat in an economics class since my junior year in high school, nine years earlier. Needless to say, my readers suffered for the first year as I learned the basics of business on the fly.

Fourteen years later, I've covered a few thousand business stories and read perhaps a hundred business and economic books, and I understand business and economics rather well. But I'm self-taught and still learning. It shouldn't have been that way. J-school should include fewer classes on the craft of journalism and more on the subjects journalists are likely to cover. Journalism students ought to minor in something unrelated to journalism. Better than that, they should major in something other than journalism - which, after all, is a craft the basics of which can be taught in a few courses, and the details of which are best learned by on-the-job experience.

CNN: Complicity News Network
CNN covered for Saddam's murderous regime for many years - its top news executive Eason Jordan admitted several weeks ago. (Link takes you to NYT archive abstract - for free coverage of the Eason admission that CNN had been covering up some of Saddam's crimes, go to my April archives and scroll to the entries around April 15-17.) Eason still has his job. And now CNN is covering for the tyranical mullahs who oppress Iran. If you love freedom - heck, if you just sort of like freedom - you won't watch CNN anymore. It's the news network that deserves to die becuase it's the news network that was willing to cover up torture and worse just to keep its precious bureau open. But what good is a news bureau that doesn't actually report the news? It certainly isn't doing the oppressed people of Iran any good.

UPDATE: Kevin L. Whited has some more thoughts about CNN.

Why Doesn't the NYT Do the Right Thing?
Dean Esmay has just posted this. I suggest you go read it.

The Class Struggle, Modern-Style
Steven Antler, a/k/a the EconoPundit, has a great article today at TechCentralStation.com, in which he says the coming class struggle isn't between the rich and the poor or the capitalists versus their workers, but between those in the manufacturing sector and those in the services sector. That's a gross oversimplification of his thesis, so I suggest you go Read The Whole Thing. Excerpt:

Consider for a moment the basic differences between goods and services. Goods can be easily stored, services less easily so. We produce most goods with capital-intensive, technology-utilizing methods of production, while services production still relies on humans - to move or decide things, for example.

Advances in goods production are more amazing than the most profound science fiction, while methods of services production evolve amazingly slowly -- if, indeed, they evolve at all. I composed this article on a machine much more powerful than the 1985 "Cray Supercomputer," for example, but when finished I went to a barbershop where the owner cut my hair in the same way, in the same length of time, and I suspect with the same level of skill, as did his medieval English counterpart.

There is an inherent "class conflict" between the goods and service producing sectors because economic growth affects each in a profoundly different way. The goods sector constantly discovers how to produce more per hour as the service sector's hourly output stays relatively constant; and much as we might wish otherwise, you can't manufacture time.

And it is this last melancholy truism that generates an "iron law of service pricing": services inevitably get expensive relative to everything else. The law is visible everywhere, from anecdotal evidence of rising costs of hands-on health care, tuition, insurance, to the fundamental statistics of pricing and employment costs. No matter how you choose to measure price ratios of services to goods - or employment cost ratios of the service to goods producing sectors - we see prices of services continually rising faster than prices of goods. Much of what's normally called "technical progress" is actually the "iron law" of service pricing in action. Postwar advances that replaced household servants with home appliances evidenced this law. We can say the same for the desktop computer revolution. Machines replace people as people get more expensive - a kind of "law of motion" of capitalism, to use Marx's terms.
Don't worry. Antler's not a marxist.

So, if he's right, what does that mean for politics? Plenty. As Antler explains: In the grand alliance making up the Democratic Party, the only substantial service sector component missing is the insurance industry, while the only substantial goods-producing components present are the few remaining non-public sector rust belt trade unions. The Democratic Party is quite close to a grand alliance of service-providing re-distributors. The Republicans, on the other hand, seem fast becoming the party of goods-providing producers.

Among the members of the Democratic alliance, we seem to be witnessing something like the self-organizing and sometimes self-aware political action Marx labeled class-consciousness, typically taking the form of increasingly hostile, even predatory behavior towards the entirety of the outside world. Brandishing evidence of their failure as proof of their ever-increasing need, teachers perpetually demand more resources. In ongoing waves of litigation establishing increasingly obstreperous themes, trial lawyers first fight the environmental battle, now the battle of lifestyle, and soon, perhaps, the battle for direct judicial control of the taxation/spending powers of the legislature itself. Then there is the Democratic Party's profound and puzzling hatred of the pharmaceutical industry, which seems hard to explain except in terms of ritual, as if Democrats were performing some drama of primal and elemental hatred.

And perhaps that's just what's happening. Perceiving themselves correctly as sterile re-distributors incapable of genuine production, perhaps the Democrats are acting out a kind of ritualized self-recognition. Genuine "humans" versus the dehumanizing (but very productive) "machines," as in The Terminator or The Matrix - perhaps this is the self-image Democrats generate for themselves in the predatory wars they wage.

I think Antler is on to something - and has identified an important new way to analyze politics.

UPDATE: The more I mull Antler's piece the more I see it as a mere starting point for what needs to be a lot more research, data-collection, data-sifting and analysis. Here's why: Dividing people into just two categories - goods producers and services distributors - is waaaaay too simplistic for today's very complex modern economy. In Antler's formulation, goods-producers are all caught up in a spiral of ever-growing productivity and wealth, while all service distributors are not. But that's not correct. Some goods-producers are in low-skill, low-tech, non-evolving businesses that produce products that have become commoditized and low-margin - and generate little in the way of progress and wealth creation. Some service businesses are, on the other hand, very much evolving and very much creating wealth and generating progress. eBay is the signature modern service business. It produces no product, yet it evolves and generates progress and wealth based on knowledge work. eBay is an information broker created by knowledge workers.

Antler needs to consider the role of so-called "knowledge workers" in his analysis - workers who are, essentially, service personnel, but who DO bring evolving skills and increasing productivity to the economic equation, resulting in more-rapid wealth creation. I'll have more on knowledge workers in the coming days.

New to the Blogroll
I just added TaxGuru.net to my blogroll, under "Economics Blogs." He wrote this today. I think you're going to like this blogger.

Tour de Lance Update
A Dutch rider won the 17th stage. Lance Armstrong and the rest of the leaders all finished 8:06 behind the stage winner, and there are no changes in the top-10 leader board. Lance still leads the overall race by 67 seconds over Jan Ullrich. Flat stage Friday, followed by crucial time trial on Saturday. Lance's comments on Tyler Hamilton's amazing breakaway win in Wednesday's stage 16 are here.

Ullrich rode the 12th stage individual time trial, 47 kilometers, in 58 minutes and 32 seconds, an average speed of 48.2 km per hour. That's 1:36 faster than Lance, who rode the stage at almost exactly 47 km per hour.
The Saturday time trial is 49 km long. To make up 67 seconds, Ullrich will need to ride each kilometer just 1.36 seconds faster than Armstrong. If Armstrong rides state 19 at just 1 km faster - 48 km - he would finish in 1:01:12 and 1Ullrich would have to ride the stage in 1:00:04 or better to take the yellow jersey.

I think I've got that figured right.

One other factor: time bonuses for stage wins and leading at mid-race checkpoints. The Tour could be decided on Saturday, if either man dominates in the time trial, but if the results are close - if Ullrich beats Armstrong by more than a minute but by not much more in the time trial, Sunday's final stage back to Paris could be a real race, for a change. Chris Carmichael, one of Armstrong's coaches, explains it all here, and explains why he thinks Lance will win the Tour de France:

Ullrich is definitely strong this year, but Lance lost the stage 12 time trial more due to dehydration than to lack of strength. He won't make the same mistake twice, and riding at full power he should be able to keep pace with the powerful German.
Whatever happens, it has been a phenomenally exciting TdF.