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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


A Jobs Boom?
Steven Antler says the Bush administration may be able to claim 4.4 million new jobs by election day. Interesting numbers - the kind that, if they come true, will assure Bush's easy reelection. A caveat: Antler forgot to list his source for the projections. I'll let you know if he corrects that.

UPDATE: He did.

Bush Economy: Record Employment
One of the Democratic presidential wannabes – Howard Dean – was yapping to USA Today about the 7.2 percent GDP growth in the third quarter and said this: "Bush has compiled the worst economic record since the Great Depression and it is going to take a lot more than one quarter of growth to clean it up." (It's in today's printed edition – I don't have a web link.)

Well, Mr. Dean. Perhaps you should look at this picture:

[from USA Today]

That's not one quarter of growth – it's eight quarters. The economy has been growing non-stop for two years.

But Democrats can't win the White House by telling the truth about the economy, so they will lie and talk about "one quarter of growth."

USA Today had some good coverage of the economic growth news today, including this story. The New York Times offers this analysis of the politics.

Also, I went hunting for stats and found that there are more people working today than when George W. Bush took office back in January 2001. That's right – more people are working now than at the end of the Clinton administration. That's not a partisan shot at Clinton, it's just a statement of fact. The source for it is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

The number of people working in January, 2001, when George Bush took office: 136.0 million

The number of people employed as of September 2003: 137.6 million
That's right. There are 1.6 million more Americans working today than at the end of the Clinton administration. So, how is it that Democrats can claim millions of jobs lost under President Bush? And how come the unemployment rate is higher now than when Bush took office?

Simple. First, there have been layoffs. Lots of them. But layoffs don't matter much if those people quickly find jobs. As the BLS stats show, many of them have found jobs. But the working-age population has grown faster than the number of jobs - according to the BLS, the civilian labor force numbered 142 million when Bush took office, and by September 2003 it had grown to 146.5 million. So even though the Bush economy - after two years of fitful growth - has achieved a level of employment unmatched in history, the unemployment rate still has risen, from 4.2 percent when George Bush took office to 6.1 percent now.

Five numbers are key – the unemployment rate, the number of unemployed people, the number of employed people, and size of the workforce, and the ratio of employment to working-age population.

In September 2003, the unemployment rate of 6.1 percent reflects 9 million people unemployed. The employment-population ratio - the proportion of the population age 16 and older with jobs was 62.0 percent in September.

In January 2001, the month Bush took office, the number of unemployed rose by about 300,000 to nearly 6.0 million, pushing the unemployment rate to 4.2 percent. And the employment-population ratio was 64.5 percent.

The Clinton economy peaked in April 2000, just before the technology-driven stock market bubble burst. That month, the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent, total employment stood at 135.7 million, and the employment-population ratio stood at 64.9 percent, a record high.

By December of 2000, the last full month of Clinton's administration, the unemployment rate had risen a bit to t 4 percent, there were 5.7 million people unemployed, and total employment stood at a new high of 135.8 million. But the employment-population ratio had fallen to 64.5 percent

By January 2003, the unemployment rate had risen to 5.7 percent, and the number of unemployed people had risen to 8.3 million – yet total employment stood at a new high of 137.5 million. The ratio had fallen to 62.5 percent.

And by June 2003, the unemployment rate had surged to 6.4 percent, and the number of unemployed people had reached 9.4 million – yet total employment had reached another record high of 137.7 million. The ratio had fallen to 62.3 percent.

Why? Simple. The workforce grew. More people than ever are working – but the labor force is larger than ever, too. Even so, despite two years of fitfully uneven economic growth - but still growth - a record number of Americans are working. With the Bush economic recovery now entering its third year on a roll, jobs will soon become even more plentiful - and the unemployment rate will fall. Also likely to fall: Howard Dean's chances of winning the White House on a pack of lies.

The War of Ideas: Why the Mullahs Are Scared
Darern Kaplan has some thoughts on how to win the war of ideas in Iran. Good thoughts. The kind you ought to go read.

Road to White House a Long Hard Blog
Lawrence Lessig says grassroots blogs are transforming presidential politics:

Whether or not it elects the next president, the blog may be the first innovation from the Internet to make a real difference in election politics. But to see just why requires a bit of careful attention.
The "why" boils down to this: blogs allow for grassroots-up communication, which is far different from the top-down broadcast model.
"Enter the blog, a space where people gab. As implemented by most campaigns, it is a place where candidates gab down to the people. But when done right, as the Howard Dean campaign apparently is doing, the blog is a tool for building community. The trick is to turn the audience into the speaker. A well-structured blog inspires both reading and writing. And by getting the audience to type, candidates get the audience committed. Engagement replaces reception, which in turn leads to real space action. The life of the Dean campaign on the Internet is not really life on the Internet. It's the activity in real space that the Internet inspires.
Read the whole thing.

On South Park, Dennis Miller and the Blogosphere
The indispensable City Journal has a long article on how the Left's stranglehold on the media is being broken. Fox News, South Park, Dennis Miller, Colin Quinn and the blogosphere all play a starring role. A small excerpt:

The Internet's most powerful effect has been to expand vastly the range of opinion - especially conservative opinion - at everyone’s fingertips. "The Internet helps break up the traditional cultural gatekeepers' power to determine a) what’s important and b) the range of acceptable opinion," says former Reason editor and libertarian blogger Virginia Postrel.

InstaPundit's Glenn Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, agrees: "The main role of the Internet and blogosphere is to call the judgment of elites about what is news into question."
If you're at all interested in the media's role in the culture wars, you really need to read the whole thing.

How the Blogosphere Made Day By Day a Hit
TechCentralStation has a meaty, link-filled profile if how the blogosphere has turned an online cartoonist's work – Chis Muir's fine Day By Day - into a cyber-hit. Writer Ed Driscoll:

This newest of media, with its promise of instant publishing, has opened new doors for commentary and news reporting, as well as media and technology coverage. But it's not a vehicle that's been taken advantage of by cartoonists. Until now, that is. Chris Muir is a 40-something Florida-based industrial designer by day, and a cartoonist by night. Technologically savvy, conservative, and very much tuned in to the subjects that interest bloggers, Muir's comic, Day By Day has become a hit in the blogosphere.
And deservedly so.

Playing Defense
The folks who say they did noting wrong are hiring top criminal defense lawyers, as a federal grand jury probes possible wrongdoing in how the Sundquist administration granted contracts to companies run by friends of the now-former Gov. Don Sundquist. Phil Williams has the latest on the scandal. Background in a nutshell: One company run by a Friend of Don that existed on paper for 6 days was granted a no-bid contract after being deemed to be uniquely qualifed. The company provides garden-variety workforce training and placement services that many, many, many other companies also provde. Another company, run by another Friend of Don, was granted a lucrative contract to wire Tennessee schools to the Internet despite, A) having never wired a single school to the Internet, and, B) having submitted a bid that was higher than a bid submitted by a company that had actual experience. Prediction: Where there is smoke, there's fire.

HobbsOnline: Now Accepting PayPal!
Dean Esmay told me to add a PayPal button. Dean is smarter than I am. So I did.


High on the Hog
If you live in Tennessee or one of five nearby states, chances are your electricity comes from the Tennessee Valley Authority. A Nashville TV station has uncovered records showing the chairman of TVA - which is headquarted in Knoxville - commutes to work from his home in Tupelo, Miss., via TVA's private plane. Who pays for it? Every single person who lives within the TVA service area.

Illegal? Perhaps. The flights cost more than 6,000 roundtrip, though federal law - TVA is a federal agency - require federal employees to fly commercial flight, if it's cheaper, and to fly coach, not business or first class.

TVA Chairman Glenn McCullough Jr.: Yet another public official who thinks he deserves to live high on the hog at your expense. If there was a Shumaker Award for idiotic abuse of the public trust, he'd be a leading nominee.

Good Advice
Gov.-elect Schwarzenegger gets some very good advice from Colorado Gov. Bill Owens (who happens to be my early favorite for president in '08 if Condi Rice doesn't run).

Did Davis Let California Burn?
The Los Angeles Times has a story filled with damning details. Military choppers routinely used to fight forest fires on military land were kept out of the battle for two days while the fires expanded - ad when they had the best chance to knock the fires out and spare homes and lives - because the Davis administration said the military pilots didn't have enough training. Sheesh. They oughta recall that guy. Oh, wait... [Hat tip: The Right Coast]

UPDATE: Michael Williams, who blogs from Southern California, has more on why Davis may have not wanted military aircraft fighting the fires.

Good Website
Stop the Email Tax! is all about making the federal ban on taxes on Internet permanent - and make it cover all 50 states instead of just some of them. The current temporary moratorium ends tomorrow, so it's crunch time. I've got more on the issue here.

Economic Boom Updates
I've been updating my post from earlier today on the news that the economy grew 7.2% in the third quarter, including some information about the alleged "housing bubble" that some think could sink the economic recovery. The good news: there's no housing bubble. Scroll down for more...

Too Good to be Missed
Donald Sensing has done us all a big service with this long essay, entitled The Big Picture, exploring the rationale for war with Iraq and analyzing our short-term and long-term goals in Iraq and our progress to date. It's long and link-filled and really too good to excerpt, although I'll give you a snippet:

...the ongoing guerilla war in Iraq, is not a sign of failure in the anti-terror war, as Sen. Tom Daschle claimed on ABC News last night, but of success. It forces al Qaeda and its allies to fight us there - and better there than again in New York or Washington or elsewhere on American soil. Hence, the short-term objectives of the Iraq campaign: topple Saddam, then force al Qaeda et. al. to show themselves in Iraq. Then kill them. The enemy's infiltratration of foreign jihadis into Iraq also presents intelligence opportunities that can be exploited to determine who is directing al Qaeda, from where and by what means.
Really, you need to read the whole thing. And scroll up for the post above it. It's all, oh, about a million times more intelligent than this typical anti-Bush rant from the Left.

Southern California is still in the grip of horrific wildfires that have destroyed hundreds thousands of homes and has already killed at least 20 people. So what are some folks out there thinking about? Using the fires as an excuse to raise taxes. Let's be clear about this: People are dying. Homes are being destroyed. Lives are being irrevocably damaged. And all some folks can do is think "Yippee! Now we have an excuse to raise taxes!"

That's disgusting.

And just whose taxes would the tax-raisers use the fire as an exuse to raise? People like these:

The mood inside the small firehouse here bespoke stoicism and a matter-of-fact sense of duty. There was much to do in the aftermath of a one-sided battle. The eight volunteer firefighters had already been defeated by the overwhelming force of eastern San Diego County's Cedar fire. Rearing to 300 and 400 feet in the air, its flames had rolled through their position Tuesday like a well-commanded army.

About 300 homes within a few miles had fallen to the flames. But the men, by dint of frantic last-minute brush clearing and forays into the just-burned landscape to hose standing structures, had managed to save two dozen of their neighbors' houses.

While they worked, however, all eight of their own homes were burning to the ground.
I tell ya, California would be a lot better off if the politicians who see a natural disaster and their first thought is, "Alright! Let's raise taxes!" were fired and their jobs given to these firefighters.

Economic Boom!
It's official - the U.S. economy is booming now like it never did in the Clinton years. In fact, it's booming now like it hasn't since 1984, the year voters overwhelmingly re-elected a tax-cutting president in a 49-state landslide.

The U.S. economy "grew at a scorching 7.2 percent annual rate in the third quarter in the strongest pace in nearly two decades," reports the Associated Press.

Consumers spent with abandon and businesses ramped up investment, compelling new evidence of an economic resurgence. The increase in gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy's performance, in the July-September quarter was more than double the 3.3 percent rate registered in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The 7.2 percent pace marked the best showing since the first quarter of 1984. It exceeded analysts' forecasts for a 6 percent growth rate for third-quarter GDP, which measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States.

I can't imagine there is any celebration in the campaign headquarters of anyone running for the Democratic Party nomination for president.

UPDATE: I checked some of the Democratic candidates' websites and official blogs and there is - gasp - no acknowledgment or discussion of the fantastic economic growth report. Why, it's almost as if they are ignoring the good news and wishing it would go away.

UPDATE: Yes, but where are the jobs? They're coming.
A report by the Labor Department on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing initial jobless claims fell 5,000 last week to 386,000 - the fourth straight week that claims were below the 400,000 mark, which economists consider a divide between an improving or deteriorating U.S. job market. "It is nearly impossible to believe that the economy is not setting itself up for a break to the upside on job creation sometime during the first quarter of 2004," said Anthony Chan, chief economist at Bank One Investment Advisors.
UPDATE: Bubba doubts the good economic good news and thinks the 7.2% GDP growth stat might be a Bush lie. But, then, he also thinks there is a housing bubble. Got news fer ya, Bubba, there is no housing bubble. And all you had to do to know that, Bubba, was read my blog every day.

There's more on the non-existent housing bubble here from Susan Trimbath, a senior research economist at the Milken Institute and author of A New Kind of Gold? Investment in Housing in Times of Economic Uncertainty. Here's an excerpt:
This new business model - building homes only after they have been sold - has dramatically changed the financial performance of large development firms by dramatically lowering the risk of carrying an inventory of completed homes and by stabilizing earnings predictability.

Consider, for example, Pulte Homes, one of the largest builders of single-family detached homes in the United States. In 1991, Pulte had an operating profit margin of 4.5% and a return on assets of 1.07%. By 2002, Pulte had more than doubled its operating margin to 9.59% and raised the return on assets to 7.2%. Pulte's debt-to-assets ratio dropped from 83.6 to 35.9 during the same years.

The "build-to-order" model has changed the financial patterns for the home construction industry in ways that now set it apart "from many other types of industries," says F. Patterson Schiewitz, head of national homebuilding at Bank One in Chicago. Unfortunately, few people outside the industry have recognized this transformation, and that has resulted in underpriced securities, underrated credits, continued difficulties in home builders' getting financing and even speculation about a national "bubble" in housing.
The Trimbath publication I mentioned above can be gotten here for $10 in printed form or here for free in a downloadable PDF if you have registered (for free) at the Milken Institute's website. It's good reading.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting nugget about technology's share of the GDP:
Wesbury also points to higher-than-expected retail sales, which rose at an annualized 12.1 percent in June, July and August. And "high-tech spending and investment is once again leading the economy," Wesbury says. "We now see high-tech as a share of GDP [gross domestic product] at a higher level than it was back in 2000, so we're above the so-called bubble peak."

What Wesbury is referring to is the category in the U.S. Commerce Department's reporting of GDP called 'information-processing equipment and software,' which peaked at 6.4 percent of GDP in 2000, slumped to 5.7 percent during the recession, and now is at 6.5 percent. Wesbury says this is important because "that's the real driver of our economy, the entrepreneurial, innovative, creative side of things." He notes that new orders for computers and electronic products also jumped at a 38.4 percent annualized rate in June and July.
Wesbury, incidentally, is Brian Wesbury, chief economist of Griffin, Kubik, Stephens and Thompson, a brokerage firm in Chicago and formerly chief economist for the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, or JEC, in the mid-1990s.

Bottom line - the election is just over a year away, and the economy is growing again at a strong pace. Democrats hoping to sail into the White House on a river of economic discontent are going to have to find another stream to paddle in.


Out of the Frying Pan...
...and into the fire goes Lt. Smash.

Read the Whole Thing
It's tough to excerpt Victor Davis Hanson. Once you pick out the best part, you realize you've cut-n-pasted the whole thing. So go read the whole thing.

The Islamic Bomb
Forget the Marlins vs. the Yankees, says David Warren. The real world series will pit the West against an axis that revolves around a nuclear-armed Iran

My own assessment, from what Iranian sources I have directly and indirectly, is that the net effect of the Nobel Prize to Ms Ebadi is nil. The only thing that could make an immediate difference in Iran's domestic situation would be direct confrontation with the United States. Which is why so many Iranians - including the late Ayatollah Khomenei's own grandson, now speaking from safety in Shia Iraq - are begging for this.

They are likely to be disappointed. Faced with the near-certainty that Iran will soon become the first Middle Eastern power other than Israel with nuclear weapons - the perfect cover for increased Hizbollah operations throughout the region and the world - the Bush administration is behaving like France. Pressure for increased inspections of Iranian nuclear sites is being directed almost entirely through the United Nations. And the ayatollahs are being allowed to play a Saddam-like game, in which, as Thursday, they opened a few more centres to inspection by the IAEA, in order to take the wind out of an Oct. 31 deadline to open all.

Let me spell out what I hinted in the last paragraph. The immediate danger from a nuclear-armed Iran is not that they will pump a missile into Tel Aviv, as Ayatollah Rafsanjani has boasted in the past. They are not so crazy. The threat itself is sufficient to win concessions from any enemy; whereas acting on the threat would only bring Armageddon. A deployed nuclear arsenal instead provides its owner with the freedom to do anything else he wants, with near impunity. And that 'anything else' is likely to consist of using Hizbollah, and other Iranian-controlled terrorist assets, to rekindle the Islamic Revolution which Khomenei began, far beyond Iran's borders.
Read the whole chilling thing. And pray that, behind the scenes, the Bush administration is covertly doing that which needs to be done to remove the mullahs before they get nukes.

Sabotaging the Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Act
An editorial in today's Tennessean praises Sen. Lamar Alexander for trying to block passage of the Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Act, which would make permanent a five-year-old moratorium on states taxing Internet access - and extend the ban to eight states that had such taxes in place before the ban was first enacted.

Alexander portrays the issue as one of states rights versus federal mandates, but that's a red herring. There's no federal mandate involved, simply a federal ban on a certain kind of taxes. The Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution clearly gives Congress the right to make laws governing interstate commerce, and the Internet clearly involves interstate commerce.

The real issue - the issue that The Tennessean editorial writers and Sen. Alexander don't address - is one of basic fairness. The issue is this: should a federal law that bans a certain kind of tax apply to all U.S. residents, or just some of them? Right now, it applies only to some of them. Meanwhile, people in Tennessee and seven other states are forced to pay taxes that Congress five years ago decided should be illegal.

Oddly, The Tennessean portrays the bill as "charity to the telecommunications industry," even though it would cut taxes that consumers - not the telecommunications industry - currently pay. And, despite what the Tennessean editorial claims, the ban won't cost Tennessee $360 million, or even $36 million. It will reduce state revenues by a mere $18 million - a flea on the woolly mammoth that is the state's $22 billion budget. Fact is, Gov. Phil Bredesen has assured the state's congressional delegation that Tennessee state government can live without that $18 million a year the state collects in sales taxes on Internet access

The $360 million figure is simply a lie, a scare tactic based on the false claim that the Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Act will end taxes on all sorts of telecommunications services, not just on Internet access.

In the end, then, The Tennessean is editorializing against basic fairness and in favor of you and every other Internet user across Tennessee being denied the same protections that federal law gives taxpayers in most every other state. And the paper is opposing you getting to share in a tax cut worth $18 million a year. Why? Simple. They want state government - not you - to have the money to spend.

I have more on the issue - and how to contact Alexander and tell him to drop efforts to block the Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Act - here.

UPDATE: A reader pointed out today's Wall Street Journal editorial on the issue. In case you don't have a subscription to WSJ.com, here's an excerpt:

The current moratorium, known as the Internet Tax Freedom Act, prevents taxes on Internet access; double taxation of Web purchases; and discriminatory taxes that treat online sales differently from offline sales.

In effect since 1998, these bans are working just as the bill's original authors, GOP Congressman Chris Cox of California and Democrat Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, intended: Internet use and electronic commerce are growing rapidly, while the digital divide continues to close. Families making less than $25,000 a year now comprise the fastest-growing segment of the Internet population, according to the Commerce Department.

But all of that will be jeopardized if the tax prohibitions are allowed to expire on Friday. A bill to make the provisions permanent passed the House in September but has stalled in the Senate, where GOP sponsor George Allen of Virginia is being thwarted by a few Republicans who have decided to dress up as tax-and-spend Democrats for Halloween.

Under pressure from the National Governors Association and others who see a digital cash cow in cyberspace, George Voinovich of Ohio and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have bucked their President and party leaders by joining Democrats Maria Cantwell of Washington and Kent Conrad of North Dakota in holding up the bill. If these renegades are successful and the ban lapses, watch for the tax man to pounce.

"You will double-up the price of plain old Internet access faster than a dog can jump on a meat wagon," predicted Senator Wyden last week. But that's just the beginning. With no law to stop them, state and local officials can start taxing everything from spam filters to instant messages to Google searches. E-mail taxes alone would be a gold mine for free-spending politicians across the country. At a Senate hearing on spam in May, Minnesota Democrat Mark Dayton suggested "looking at some very, very small charge for every e-mail sent."

He's not alone. States and cities love the idea, and not just because of the potential for taxing, say, cross-country e-mails. Governors, mayors and county officials are thinking locally, too. A message sent by you to your neighbor per next Saturday's barbecue might easily pass through computer servers located in several of the nation's 7,600 different taxing jurisdictions.

"We have heard testimony repeatedly in Congress by representatives of states who wish to use that as a basis for taxation," says Congressman Cox. "The Internet by its architecture is innately susceptible to this type of multiple taxation. And it's because of the tyranny of multiple taxation that we enacted this ban in the first place."

Many states still in denial about their spending problems have continued to claim that they are revenue starved. Senator Voinovich, a former Ohio Governor, is being urged by his successor, Bob Taft, to oppose the moratorium on these grounds. This is the same Governor Taft who just raised the sales tax by 20% in Ohio, a state that has seen spending rise 70% over the past 10 years.

Mr. Alexander, another former Governor and one of the strongest proponents of Web levies, has been showing up at negotiations accompanied by lobbyists for state and local tax collectors. Their claim is that Internet taxation is a state issue. We're all for federalism, but if an e-mail transaction sent from Nashville to Phoenix via servers in Dallas and St. Louis isn't interstate commerce, then what is?

Toy Drive Update: Scarborough Country Coverage
Chief Wiggles, founder of the toy drive for the children of Iraq, was on MSNBC's Scarborough Country Monday night. Go here for the video. Click the link that says "Operation Give on MSNBC" - or just launch your Windows Media software and play this URL:


If you don't have broadband, here's the transcript from MSNBC's archives.
Anyway, coming up, straight ahead, we’ve got much, much more. We’ve got one of America’s heroes in Baghdad, and he’s running a toy drive for Iraqi children. We’ll share his incredible work and let you know how you can help.
SCARBOROUGH: A U.S. Army officer is running a gift donation program for Iraqi children. Earlier, I spoke with Chief Wiggles about how he’s making a difference.
CHIEF WIGGLES, WWW.OPERATIONGIVE.ORG: We’ve got a program. We’re calling it Sharing Joy with Toys. And we’re looking for people to send toys over here so that we can pass them out to the schools and orphanages and getting toys into the hands of little kids.

SCARBOROUGH: How did you start this gift program in Iraq?
WIGGLES: Well, it was kind of nonintentionally in that one day, I was out at the fence doing my regular thing-greeting some of the Iraqi citizens-and there happened to be little girl on the other side of the fence who was crying in that she had been separated from her mother. And so I quickly opened up the fence, and pulled her in, and found her mother, and then realized that I had some toys back in the office. So I quickly ran back to the office and came back with a stuffed monkey, and a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some new shoes for her. And from that moment on, I realized I needed more toys. I like the feeling that that gave me, and so I put that out on my Web site where I put my journal that I wanted some toys to pass out. And so that started the flood of toys. And so far, we’ve received over 700 packages.

SCARBOROUGH: How are you getting those gifts that you’re getting delivered to the children across Iraq?
WIGGLES: Well, so far it’s been on somewhat of a small scale in that we’ve done it personally individually in that we have a team of guys that work with me, and we’ve been going out. We’ve actually only been out to two locations. And first of all, we went to an orphanage outing where we passed out stuff to about a hundred little orphan girls, and then we went to a children’s hospital just a couple of days ago and passed out toys to 300-bed children’s hospital.

SCARBOROUGH: Chief, you know, we’ve been receiving so much bad news from Iraq by many media outlets in America, but yet, the e-mails we get from the troops in Iraq, all across Iraq, are overwhelmingly positive, talking about how the Iraqi people are welcoming us over there. What’s been the response that you’ve personally gotten and your fellow troops have gotten from these Iraqi children that you deliver these gifts to?
WIGGLES: Well, it’s been overwhelmingly positive. And I don’t know, it’s just been wonderful as we’ve given out the toys and been able to see the sparkle in their eye, and see a smile on their face, especially at the hospital where we went into the cancer ward. And even though it was a pretty unfortunate, sad situation, we were able to see smiles and even smiles on the parents of the children. So overall, it’s just been wonderful.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, tell us what our viewers can do to help you and others like you get these gifts and these toys to Iraqi children who need them so badly.
WIGGLES: We do have a Web site called Operation Give, operationgive.com, where people can go on and connect into my-we call it a blog. It’s a place where I post my journals, but there’s all kinds of information on there about what kind of toys we want, what not to send, and also, if they want to donate money or other things. We’re looking for toys, school supplies, medicine, anything that we can pass out to help these people.

SCARBOROUGH: All right, Chief, thank you so much for what you’re doing over there. You’re being a real ambassador in a very, very positive way for this country. And I want to thank you for all the great work you’ve been doing.
WIGGLES: Well, thanks for your-actually, for your interest and attention on this, and I’m hoping that it just grows bigger and bigger, and we get toys out to as many people as possible.

SCARBOROUGH: Now, for more information, you can go to operationgive.org. or you can send toys directly to Operation Give Warehouse, 7155 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, Maryland, 20146. You can find that address and their link and Web site at joe.msnbc.com.
You can always find updates on the toy drive at Chief Wiggles' blog, and visit OperationGive.org to help out.

FedEx is now offering free shipping from the Operation Give warehouse to Baghdad.

I'm All for This!
Should Bush pick Condi Rice as his running mate in 2004? Absolutely. Not that I'm down on Dick Cheney - I just agree that it's a good move to put Rice on the ticket in 2004, and position her to succeed Bush in the Oval Office in 2008. Plus, it would be fun to watch the Democrats try to figure out how to run against a brilliant, successful African American woman without alienating women and African Americans.

Just Trying To Help
Instapundit.com exposes the bias in a Newsweek report, with a little fact-checking help from yours truly.

Business Leaders Endorse Wesley Clark's Economic Plan
It's surprising but apparently true.

Separation of Mosque and State
Apparently, the ACLU is suing the Bush administration over its annual Ramadan feast. Details here.

We Only Lose if We Cut and Run
Michael J. Totten is writing today about A Snake that Eats its Own Tail. It's really about how dumb the terrorists are in Iraq, and why their tactics are backfiring on them. Says Totten: Utterly incapable of winning popular support, they thrash about violently consuming themselves and others around them. It is no way to win a popularity contest. Totten writes one of my favorite blogs by a liberal. (Roger L. Simon writes the other.) Totten also is one of the few liberal bloggers I've seen that are promoting OperationGive.org, a/k/a/ the Chief Wiggles toy drive for Iraqi children.

UPDATE: Wesley Clark thinks we should cut and run. Click here and follow the link to Will Saletan's piece.

Digital Freedom Update
Tony Campbell, webmaster and forums administrator for the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network, sent the following email to myself and Glenn Reynolds, providing a recap of yesterday's Tennessee legislative hearing on proposed legislation that would give the cable industry the power to control what devices you connect to the cable plug. (For background click here and follow the links):

Dear Sirs:

Jody Leavell suggested that I forward my notes from today's Joint Committee hearing to you. I hope they're enlightening. Thanks for your tireless efforts to publicize this important issue.

The Joint Committee meeting started promptly at 1:00. Senators Trail, Bryson, Person, Norris and Cooper, and Representatives Odom, Briley, Coleman were in attendance. Senator Trail called the meeting to order and asked Stacy Briggs, Executive Director of the Tennessee Cable Television Association to the Podium.

Ms. Briggs stated that she was there to point out the information that her group had provided the Committee, and to introduce her speakers. She quoted from the provided material that the current level of analog theft nationwide was estimated at 11.5%, and that she'd seen levels of 5%-25% in Tennessee as of last week. She also claimed that $7.5 million in annual local & state revenues and franchise fees were being lost in Tennessee due to theft of "services we will hopefully continue to provide."

She then introduced the next two speakers, who she said "speak around the country on this specific piece of legislation." Senator Trail asked her why we needed this legislation at all since we already had laws that made cable theft illegal. She stated that the existing law only covers analog, not digital cable theft - giving the impression that, without this new bill, digital cable theft is legal. In responding to Senator Trail's continuing questions about this, she also admitted that the primary goal of the new legislation was getting stronger civil penalties.

The first speaker after Ms. Briggs was Brian Allen, Director of Corporate Security at Time Warner Cable. He began to list items that he claimed were not covered under existing law. After a few acronyms and bits of tech jargon (Wi-Fi, head end, digital filter) were bandied about, Senator Trail stopped him and said "As long as you're talking, pretend that none of us up here understand ANY technical term unless you define it first." Senator Person quoted Trail's great line from last session: "I feel like I'm at the U.N. and my earpiece has fallen out."

Allen explained digital filters, and how they can be used to get Pay-Per-View for free. He then went on to describe "Wi-Fi theft," and described a situation in NYC where a building superintendent subscribed to broadband, then ran a network of antennas through the building and charged tenants $20/month.

Prefacing the next statement by saying "This isn't why we're here, but," he mentioned hypothetical situations where a kiddie-porn addict would pull into the driveway of a Wi-Fi user, download a bunch of pictures, and drive away, leaving the law-abiding citizen to wait for the SWAT team to descend on him. He also said that terrorists could stand outside Wi-Fi user's homes with laptops and coordinate their attacks over the Internet without being traced.

Allen said that since 9/11, the Feds are so busy with anti-terrorism that "they won't even look in our direction," and that's why they turned to the state level with this legislation. They also don't want to have to deal with local prosecutors, he said; "We go after our subscribers civilly, and we will continue to do so." When one senator asked if the law would have to be constantly updated to allow for new technology, he said "No, the statute is broad. We won't be back."

Allen said that he had "toured the states" asking prosecutors how the industry could help with these prosecutions, and the answer was "show us actual damages!" He lamented that you can't show what or how much a cable thief has actually watched. He talked about dealing with the sellers of pirate equipment, and that when he entered a business with a search order, they sometimes already knew his name, and that they'd call other pirates and warn them to destroy their records. "They know that what they're doing is illegal," he lamented.

Allen said that in their Memphis office they have a division that does "tap audits." On the first incident, they cut off the person's cable and offer them service. If no service is established, they check back within thirty days and if the person has reconnected the cable, they disconnect it again and give them a warning. If it is reconnected again by the resident, Time Warner prosecutes. When asked, he did not know the scale of the prosecution or the current success rate of those prosecutions.

At that point, Ann Carr was wildly mouthing to Senator Person that she wanted another of her speakers (Dean Dale, ex-CEO of Time Warner Cable Memphis) to take the Podium. Dale went to the mic and briefly stated that prosecutions were brisk, involving large piracy rings and investigations lasting as long as 18 months. He also said that in the Memphis area they believed there were around 60,000 people with illegal cable service.

Allen regained the floor and said that the $6 billion in cable theft losses mentioned in the material given to the committee did not include such items as illegal descramblers and uncapped modems. Senators Trail and Bryson continued to ask questions about the success of prosecutions under the current law, and Allen had no information on that. When asked if, since he had talked to so many prosecutors, if he knew of any who supported this bill, he could name none.

Senator Trail noted that if the Legislature gave the cable companies the power to get $500 civil settlements from each of the 60,000 offenders in Memphis, that $30 million might be a big incentive to come down hard on everyone, including ("and I'm not condoning theft," he said) poor college students who might not even know their cable connection isn't legal. Mr. Allen assured the Committee that that wouldn't happen.

Senator Bryson reiterated his belief that if the industry needed this update to the existing law which seemed (to most of the committee members) to already cover the cable theft issue pretty well, they'd probably be back again as soon as another technology was developed, wanting another change that would take a year or more to sort through. "It seems like we'll always be riding this treadmill," Sen. Bryson said.

At that point Senator Person made a short speech in which he said that it was obvious that the cable industry would have no problem proving actual damages, and that this issue was a complex one that needed to be resolved with legislation that protected the property rights of the cable industry, and the free-speech rights of folks like TNDF.

Mr. Allen continued by saying that the law would not have an effect on free speech, and that TNDF had not been able to provide a single example of how it might. He pointed to sites such as KCWireless.net which talk about wardriving and Wi-Fi sharing, indicating that their continues existence was proof that Time Warner supported free speech. He said the law would have no "chilling effects," because "an intent to defraud is required."

"We don't want to be sheriffs - we don't want to put our subscribers in jail," Allen said. He assured the Committee that FCC regulations preclude cable companies from restricting the connection of any device to their network, unless it damages the network or is used to defraud the service provider.

Senator Bryson made several rapid-fire points that were so good that I forgot to take notes, but it ended with Mr. Allen stumbling into admitting that the real goal was to get large civil settlements. "The reason we go civilly is because we have been successful," he said. As for their claimed problems getting criminal prosecutions, he said "I blame this on the relationship we have with law enforcement." Referring back to their aggressive civil actions, he said "We invest a lot in protecting our product."

The next speaker was Todd Flournoy, Counsel and Director of State Legislative Affairs for the MPAA. "On behalf of Jack Valenti, I thank you for this opportunity," he intoned. He explained that the MPAA's members were becoming increasingly involved with digital distribution of their content, and that "If we can't get a handle on Internet piracy, there won't be a content industry."

Senator Trail asked Flournoy what specific services were not covered in the current statutes. Flournoy replied that there wasn't specific coverage of Internet and digital services. Senator Trail answered that it didn't seem necessary to mention every possible service by name since the current law covers essentially all imaginable forms of electronic communication. At that point, Representative Briley (the bill's sponsor) said that for that matter, we could just abolish the whole criminal code and replace it with a law that said simply "Do no harm." Senator Trail responded that he advocated no such thing, only that the solution to a supposedly inadequate law was not necessarily more bad law.

Mr. Flournoy said that the industry was already testing the waters with services such as MovieLink and MovieBeam, and non-video services such as iTunes were growing as well, and the new law was necessary to protect them. Senator Trail quoted the current law's definition of a telecommunication service ("any service provided for a charge or compensation to facilitate the origination, transmission, emission or reception of signs, signals, data, writings, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature of telephone, including cellular or other wireless telephones, wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photo-optical system") and asked how that definition could be construed to not cover those services. Flournoy said that their experience was, and their lawyers tell them that, those services are not covered under existing law in the states. When Trail asked if that applied to Tennessee's law or some other state's law, Flournoy said that Tennessee's existing law was the same as in the eight states where this law has been passed.

Flournoy went on to say that the proposed law "clearly does not affect any sort of legitimate behavior, nor does it - it doesn't affect anything that's not stealing, it doesn't chill research or other consumer behavior." and noted the "three or four different clarifying intent paragraphs" added to underscore just how clear the law was.

This great quote came soon after: "I stand here before you as representing the MPAA, one of the leading advocates of First Amendment rights, assuring you that we've taken every precaution including adding what we believe is redundant language to clarify that unless you're acting with an intent to defraud you're not going to be caught up in this act."

The next speaker was Jim Spears, Vice-President of Government Relations at BellSouth. He stated that BellSouth's issues were currently more narrow, but that "as time goes on, I think we'll be right there with those folks" supporting the new bill, as BellSouth hopes to move into cable TV. BellSouth invests over $400 million a year in their network, much of which goes to broadband support, and so that was Mr. Spears' focus. He said that the FCC defines and regulates BellSouth's DSL services as an information service, not as a telecommunications service, so BellSouth's only immediate concern is that the law's language is expanded to include pure information services. The Committee was almost unanimously dumbfounded that Mr. Spears did not believe that the existing law's definition of telecommunication service did not include an information service.

Senator Briley, however, made the following astonishing statement: "I think it depends on how you read that definition. It means 'any service provided for a charge or compensation to facilitate the origination, transmission, emission or reception of signs, signals, data, writings, images, sounds or intelligence of any nature of telephone.' 'Of telephone.' So all those services or--or items have to be 'of telephone' in order to be telecommunications services. Now I think, you know, that the layman's understanding of plugging your computer into a wall and communicating with a computer somewhere else, that's not what I think 'of telephone' means."

Representative Odom pointed out, "Well, you've gotta read the rest of it: '...including cellular or other wireless telephones, wire, radio, electromagnetic, photoelectronic or photo-optical system,'" and Representative Briley fell silent. Odom went on to express his misgivings in terms of the concern that was being expressed by people statewide over the far-reaching effects of this bill.

Ross Loder, representing the Tennessee Municipal League, was next to speak. He stated a desire for the League to be involved in crafting this legislation and the three concerns that the League members had:

1) The effect of cable theft on franchise fees and taxes
2) The role of local law enforcement, and the need for clear definitions
3) The expansion of power-utility-operating municipalities into cable and broadband services, under Public Chapters 531 of 1997 and 481 of 1999.

The last speaker, subbing for the absent Jeff Yarbrough, was Curtis Person III, son of Senator Person and head of Charter Cable's West Tennessee operation. He gave a brief description of the astonishing amount of cable theft that he saw on a regular basis. In Jackson, Charter is involved in 5-10 prosecutions each month for theft of service. He stated that his concern was for service that were not listed in the existing legislation.

There was a lot of joking around the Committee when Mr. Person stepped up to the Podium that the situation was like an episode of the old game show "To Tell the Truth" ("My name is Curtis Person." "No, MY name is Curtis Person!") After Mr. Person spoke, Senator Person took a moment to express his pride in his son's accomplishments, and that the suggestions of impropriety made by TNDF regarding his familial relationship to Charter were unfounded.

At that point I addressed Senator Person directly from the floor. I apologized, and said that TNDF had never stated that Senator Person had acted improperly. Early in the last session, a TNDF member had found a Curtis Person listed on the Internet as an employee of Charter Cable and thought that it was Senator Person. I had replied that it was not him, but his son, Curtis III. Another Internet writer had read the posts on TNDF.net and had made his own judgments, but TNDF had made no such statements. Senator Person then said that he was already aware of that, but appreciated me repeating it.

The hearing was adjourned at about 3:30pm.
There's a lot there to digest. A few initial comments. I was intrigued that Brian Allen, Director of Corporate Security at Time Warner Cable, said the bill required proof of an "intent to defraud." The whole problem with this legislation, as I see it, is that it gives the cable industry the power to decide what devices are "authorized" and then turn around and use the mere existence of an "unauthorized" device as proof of "intent to defraud."

Here's the scenario that shows how bad that could be: Your cable company starts marketing a digital video recorder. It decides it wants you to stop using you TiVo and start using its DVR instead, even though its DVR costs more per month than your TiVo. So it declares all DVRs other than its own to be "not authorized" and, boom, if you have a TiVo plugged into your cable outlet, you are demonstrating "intent to defraud." Next thing you know, the cable industry sends you (and every other subscriber) a personalized letter stating that you are risking a civil suit, big penalties and even possible criminal action if you don't unplug your TiVo - and offering to drop the matter if you'll just rent the cable company's "authorized" DVR instead.

I wrote extensively about this facet of the proposed legislation here way back on May 13.

Also, I am not sure if am the "another Internet writer" who Campbell refers to near the end of his email, but I did write about Sen. Person's son being a cable industry executive. I still think Sen. Person should recuse himself from these proceedings. He has a conflict of interest because of his family connection to the cable industry. Full disclosure: Sen. Person once sent me a check for $100 to support this weblog, back during the days of the battle over the proposed state income tax, an issue on which the senator and I agreed. It helped pay for the PC on which I am writing this post.

And finally, I sure wish I knew what those points Sen. Bryson made that were so good. Sen. Bryson, I'd welcome a guest commentary on the issue.


WMD Hunt: Did Saddam Ship 'Em to Syria?
The New York Times has just posted a report on the very plausible possibility that Saddam shipped parts of his weapons-of-mass-destruction stuff to Syria just before the U.S. invasion in March.

The director of an American spy agency said today that he believed that material from Iraq's illicit weapons program had been transported into Syria and perhaps other countries as part of an effort by Iraqis to disperse and destroy evidence immediately before the war last spring. The official, James R. Clapper, Jr., a retired lieutenant general, said that satellite intelligence showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria just before the American-led invasion in March had led him to conclude "unquestionably" that illicit weapons material was moved outside of Iraq.
It is entirely plausible.

How Blogs are Altering the PR Game
Richard Bailey says weblogs are a mistake. Writing at PR Studies, a blog produced by the faculty of the Centre for Public Relations Studies at Leeds Business School at Leeds Metropolitan University in, believe it or not, Leeds, England, Bailey says blogs "have come about because one important aspect of Tim Berners-Lee's vision of a shared information space was missing when it came to be realised. He had envisaged it being as easy to edit as to read on the web. Instead, from Mosaic onwards, browsers have been just that. Browsers. Individuals participanting in the web space have most typically been passive consumers of content, not its active creators."

But blogs are changing that - and that is changing the media and the public relations profession. Bailey:

In the realm of public relations, we're starting to ask similar questions about the effects of online debate on the role of PR. Here's my take. If the world were an entirely predictable and controllable place, we'd all be marketing managers or directed by marketing teams.

Yet the coming of the internet has served to remind us that people are not always persuaded by top-down, hierarchical communications. They will seek to find the truth from other sources, and check facts for themselves. They may even band together to disrupt the goals of an organisation.

In this anti-authoritarian culture, third party endorsement has more value and importance than ever before. Hence the efforts of PR practitioners to persuade journalists and opinion formers - yes, even some bloggers - of their messages.

In an uncertain and fast-changing world, the PR adviser does not hold all the trump cards. But he or she is accustomed to unpredictability through experience of handling the press, and so should have the adaptability needed to cope with the challenge of new voices.

If nothing else, in a new world where members of the public are gaining a voice, the phrase public relations begins to make more sense. PR begins to mean more than press relations.

It is not weblogging that is the radical departure. Weblogs are an extension of the bulletin boards and newsgroups that have pioneered individual and community participation online. Yet it is through weblogs, through the breaking down of barriers between readers, writers, editors and publishers, that we are beginning to see fulfilment of Tim Berners-Lee's vision of the world wide web.
Read the whole thing.

I don't have much to add, 'cept to say Bailey is on target. Before blogs and the Internet, you had little choice but to be a news consumer. Now you are - if you chose to be - a participant in the news process. You can be a news fact-checker. You can be a news commentator or news analyst. You can even be a news reporter. Blogs and the Internet put the power of the press in the hands of the masses. It's a liberating thing.

War On(Line) Terror
If Instapundit and other blogs hosted by Hosting Matters become unavailable around 7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30, this explains why: another denial-of-service attack may be launched against a website that combats Islamist terrorism by maintaining lists of terrorist-affiliated websites. If Glenn's main site is, indeed, knocked offline by a denial-of-service attack, remember he has a backup site.

Turn of a Phrase
The Federal Reserve has decided not to raise interest rates. No surprise there. What's interesting is how the Associated Press reports the story writes reader (and Knoxville newspaper reporter) Michael Silence. The AP:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Reserve held a main short-term interest rate at a 45-year low Tuesday, an effort to keep the economic resurgence moving forward.
Says Silence, "I find it interesting, and perhaps significant, that this phrase has now gained mainstream acceptance: 'to keep the economic resurgence moving forward'."

Yeah. It's almost as if the press has finally admitted the recession - which ended more than a year ago - is over.

You can find the AP story here and here. Also, this AP story published before the Fed's latest interest rate decision, shows the AP believes the economy is "perking up" and "enjoying strong growth" and all that. Since few newspapers outside the largest cities have reporters who write original economic coverage, the AP story - and the recovering-economy meme - will soon be the dominant economic story in most newspapers nationwide. This can't make anyone running for President who isn't named Bush very happy.

Thanks, Again!
Virginia Postrel often reminds Glenn Reynolds to mention his tip jar more. Here at HobbsOnline, I try to refrain from mentioning my tip jar except to say "thanks!" to those who have made recent donations. It's been awhile since I said "thank you," so if you've donated recently, this Thank You is for you. I blog for free, so it is extra nice when folks decide they like my work enough to support it with a voluntary donation. If you don't donate, that's okay too - enjoy the free ice cream.

Like a Bad Penny
Those folks who want to give the motion picture and cable TV industries the authority to outlaw digital video recorders like TiVo and control what devices you plug into the cable outlet haven't given up. The Tennessee Digital Freedom Network has the details on Tennessee legislative hearings scheduled for today and Wednesday. If you want to see everything I've written about the subject - and it's a long list - go here and scroll down to the weblogs section, which also lists coverage by Instapundit, Copyfight, the Business Law Weblog and other blogs. [Hat tip: Instapundit].

UPDATE: Jody L. of the Tennessee Digital Freedom Network emailed the following regarding the hearings:

I just wanted to send a reminder about the hearings going on today and tomorrow concerning the "Theft of telecommunications service", a.k.a. "Super DMCA" legislative efforts. They will be hearing from proponents of the legislation today which include Bell South, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), BMI Records, Time Warner Cable, and the Tennessee Cable Association.

Tomorrow legislators will hear from us (TNDF), American Library Association, and Radio Shack with our objections to the proposed legislation.

From the list of proponents who will present it is becoming clearer that this legislative attempt is about content control. Back in the spring the proponents abjectly denied that. Remember that Senator Person's son is on the board of one of the cable companies who initiated this legislation.

An assumption among many of the representives is that these media giants are suffering and some sort of bill is needed to remediate the harm caused them. We are trying to overturn those assumptions and convince the legislators that they are being asked in this bill to provide special market protections for companies which either operate in a monopoly, or are structured much like a cartel, thus neutralizing the threat of competition that current technologies are providing.

A lot is at stake for both consumers of information technology and these legacy media giants, that's why they are going for the throat.
Yep. Sadly, the major media in Tennessee has largely ignored the story.

Economic Recovery Update
From the Sunday Los Angeles Times, a report that the economy "is expanding at its fastest pace in four years."

As 2003 winds down and the presidential campaign ramps up, most mainstream economists agree that the U.S. economy is expanding at its fastest pace in four years. When the gross domestic product for the July-September quarter is announced Thursday, it is expected to show that the economy barreled forward at an annual rate of 6% or perhaps even 7% - a performance unmatched since the glory days of the '90s boom. Although growth is likely to slow somewhat between now and the end of the year, most analysts think that it will remain strong enough to ensure a second-half growth rate of 5%.
Huh. This is awful. I blame the Bush tax cuts.

Also, this from Reuters:
U.S. consumers, heartened by signs of an improving job market, grew more confident in October, just a month after they bought more durable goods like refrigerators, cars and washing machines, two reports showed on Tuesday. As hopes for a brighter employment picture took hold, an index of consumer confidence from the New York business group The Conference Board climbed to 81.1 in October from a revised 77.0 in September, beating forecasts for a rise to 79.5.

Fear Factor
Lots of good stuff at DarrenKaplan.net today. Start with his essay on Erich Fromm's "Fear of Freedom" and Moslem Popular Support for Militant Islam, and keep scrolling. In the next post, Kaplan says reports of some casualties in Afghanistan indicate the hunt for Osama bin Laden is heating up again.

Adjust Your Bookmarks Accordingly
AlphaPatriot has moved his blog to alphapatriot.com. Also, he's got a good post quoting from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn's report on her recent visit to Baghdad. Blackburn, I'm proud to say, is my congressman - and probably a future Tennessee governor or U.S. senator.

Toy Drive Update
Dean Esmay has the latest details and links to press coverage, as Chief Wiggles' toy drive for the children of Iraq gains momentum. Also, scroll down and read his prior entry.

We're Winning
Donald Sensing says the latest terrorist attacks in Baghdad are evidence that the enemy is losing. Read the whole thing. The always-readable Michael Totten also has some thoughts about the bombings. Read 'em - and also his commentary over at TechCentralStation.com.

Cool Website
If you're into music, check out Yes.net.


A Call for Higher Taxes
Here's not-so-shocking news: A writer for the Memphis Commercial Appeal doesn't want you to pay less taxes. James Brosnan, who covers the federal government for the C-A, praises Sen. Lamar Alexander for opposing federal legislation that would make a national ban on Internet access taxes permanent, and extend the ban to eight states allowed to keep such taxes under a "grandfather" clause because they existed before the temporary ban was enacted. Not surprisingly, Brosnan portrays it as an issue of states rights versus federal mandates, when the issue really is fairness: it is simply unfair for Tennesseans to continue to be forced to pay a kind of tax that most people in the nation are protected from via a federal ban.

ATR recently had strong words for Alexander and Sen. George Voinovich, who also is holding up passage of S. 150. ATR also offers a way to communicate with senators about the proposed ban. Also, if you wish to contact Sen. Alexander and tell him to stop blocking your tax cut, click here and scroll down for the phone numbers.

Toy Drive Update
Dean Esmay has the details. Also, MSNBC now plans to air its feature on Chief Wiggles and the toy drive on Scarborough Country at approximately 9:52 Central time. There's already a link to OperationGive.org on the Scarborough Country page of the MSNBC.com website.

Unhappy in Jacksonville
The folks who own the Florida beach house where the Tennessee Titans vacation once a year, a/k/a/ Alltel Stadium, aren't happy about the way the Titans march around like they own the place. Heh.

Nose of the Camel Mouse
Jeff Cornwall wonders and worries about Disney's involvment in a new "entrepreneurship center" in Orlando.

Economic Recovery Update
Homes sales surged in September:

The U.S. housing market strengthened in September, according to separate reports Monday from the government and the nation's Realtors, defying expectations of a slowdown.

A report from the National Association of Realtors (NAR) showed sales of previously owned homes rose 3.6 percent to a record annual rate of 6.69 million units in September. Economists, on average, expected a pace of 6.3 million units, according to Briefing.com.

Separately, the Commerce Department said sales of new homes fell 0.2 percent to an annual pace of 1,145,000 units from August's pace of 1,147,000. Economists, on average, expected a pace of 1,110,000 units, according to Briefing.com.

"We knew the September pace for existing-home sales was going to be a big number, but after setting records in July and August we thought the pace might start to slow," NAR chief economist David Lereah said. "This underscores the powerful fundamentals that are driving the housing market -- household growth, low interest rates and an improving economy."
You know who I blame. I blame the Bush tax cuts!

WMD: The Hunt for the Truth
South Knox Bubba says I'm lying about this. But David Kay has been in Iraq, while SKB hasn't, so I think David Kay has a much better idea of the extent of Saddam's weapons programs than SKB does. The Bush-haters will do anything to discredit the president and the War on Terror - even try to make you think that because two chemical weapons experts downplay one small portion of David Kay's interim report on the search for Saddam's WMDs, the whole report is a lie.

So here's the truth. In the Los Angeles Times story that SKB links to, two chemical weapons experts say the finding of a vial of C. botulinum Okra B is not that significant. But SKB doesn't bother to mention that another chemical weapons expert thinks it is too early to dismiss the vial's significance - and that, at any rate, Kay's report contained other information about Iraq's work in other areas of bio-weaponry:

Terence Taylor, another former U.N. biowarfare inspector who now heads the Washington office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a nonpartisan think tank, said it is too early to dismiss the discovery of the vial.

"Just because botulinum B has not been used in a weapons program elsewhere, and we never found evidence of it in the 1990s, that does not necessarily rule out" transforming it into a weapon, Taylor said. "There's not enough detail in Kay's [unclassified] statement. And there's a lot we still don't know about their weapons programs."
SKB also fails to mention that Kay reported evidence that Saddam's regime was working on such potential biowarfare agents as Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever, and also continuing work on weaponizing ricin and aflatoxin - in violation of U.N. resolutions.

Bubba also doesn't link you to the full text of Kay's report. I do. Because I think that, along with my commentary, you should be able to have the full report - so you can decide. Bubba just gives you selective spin.

Capitalist Carnival!
Carnival Of The Capitalists #3 has been posted at The Noble Pundit. I've been remiss in linking to the first two editions of this weekly round-up. Which is pretty bad because I'm supposed to host it here in early December. You can find the first two - and a list of future hosts - here. There is a lot of good economy and business-related bloggage in this week's Carnival. Don't miss it. [Hat Tip: Jeff Cornwall's The Entrepreneurial Mind]


Leaving Church
Consider this item a follow-up to this one from Oct. 22. The church I attend is related to a movement started about 200 years ago in frontier America that was a reaction against denominationalism, a call for Christians of various denominations to drop their brand name and unite under the simple banner of "Christian." It was a high ideal, but two centuries later, the movement itself had become a de facto denomination. Though it has no earthly headquarters its leaders try to enforce the same kind of tradition-as-law creeds and brand-name uniformity it once railed against (Happily, a few congregations, including the one I attend, reject such legalism and still believe in the movement's original high ideals.)

Now, a study of why people are leaving churches of that historical heritage finds that, no surprise, many of them are now attending modern-day non-denominational and community churches. Those high ideals still attract people.


The Rumsfeld Memo
Donald Sensing has a very insightful analysis of the Rumsfeld memo over at his always-excellent blog, One Hand Clapping. No excerpts for you, dear reader, 'cuz ya need to read the whole thing.

MSNBC to Air Toy Drive Story
I have received the following email from Pete McCarthy, producer of MSNBC's Scarborough Country:

Please let your readers know Chief Wiggles Interview will air tonight on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, 10:45 pm Eastern. It's a good invterview with some compelling video of a toy hand-out at Baghdad Children's Teaching Hospital.
That's really cool. It should result in a lot more attention for OperationGive.org, and more donations and more toys - and more joy for more Iraqi children. As I've said before, Give 'til it helps.

If MSNBC makes the video or text available online, I'll link to it fo those of you who don't get the chance to watch it on the broadcast.

(And, yeah, it's also really cool that MSNBC knows my blog exists. I'm blushing...)

A Surplus of Bad Predictions
Yesterday's Nashville City Paper had an excellent column by local radio talkshow host Steve Gill who, after noting the state has a $30 million surplus two months into the fiscal year, remarked:

This year, Gov. Phil Bredesen proposed and the legislature passed a budget that essentially held the line on spending. Although it was touted as a budget that cut spending, the reality is that it only reduced the budget from expected growth levels; actual state spending went up slightly. Similar proposals in the past were met with screams and howls from the pro-tax crowd who claimed that children would starve, old people would die, and schools would close as a result of such insane budgeting. None of those dire predictions proved accurate.

When the legislature refused to pass an income tax last year and instead increased the sales tax to pay bills from massive spending during the past decade, the pro-tax crowd predicted that Tennesseans would flock across the borders to buy their groceries to avoid the high sales tax and that collections would never meet expectations. Wrong again.

Now those same naysayers are claiming Tennessee revenue collections are illusory and disguise fundamental flaws in the tax structure that spell doom for all of us. Why should we believe anything they say when they have never been right about anything in the past?
Good question, Steve. Answer: we shouldn't believe them because they are wrong.

Playing with Fire
I generated some heated debate with my post yesterday wondering why the Chief Wiggles Toy Drive, a non-political grassroots efforts - born in the blogosphere - to send toys to the children of Iraq - was not getting as much support from the Left/anti-war side of the blogosphere as it was from the hawkish side of the blogosphere. You can read that post later if you haven't already. What I want to read right now is the comments from Plunge, who administers Chief Wiggles' blog.

As the administrator of the Chief's site, I would like to add a quick comment here.

A while ago, I invited bloggers from the left to read the Chief's blog and, if they liked, to post a link.

That was a big mistake. The Chief's blog is a journal and was never meant for heavy debate. While the bloggers themselves were extremely kind, even when skeptical, I can not say the same for their readership. I have never read such hateful comments towards our country, the soldiers, the Chief directly and his family. I quickly ended the invitation, thanked the bloggers that participated, and tried to forget the whole thing.

As the toy drive gains momentum, we are getting a bit of the hate-filled messages again. Not as severe as before, but they are coming.

While I would welcome the support of the toy drive from the bloggers on the left again, I can do without the comments and emails their supporters seem to feel are necessary.

Just for all to know, I screen each and every email that is sent to the Chief and I delete all hateful and rude comments on the site. I try to post in the comments for people to read the blog rules, but at times it doesn't seem to help.

The Chief has enough to do without having to deal with these type of comments and the like.


Chief Wiggles' Blog Administrator

Having said that, we'll welcome each and every link to the toy drive. Oh yeah, if you want to see the Chief on the News, we have clips up on his site. :-)
Tell me again how there aren't some on the Left who just-do-not-care for the Iraqi people.

Plunge - before you delete some of those hate-filled comments, you are welcome to send them to me so I can post a few excerpts to expose them. If you feel it's appropriate.

New to the Blogroll
I have long loved the writing and bloggage of Virginia Postrel but, for some reason, have never remembered to add her to my blogroll. Until now. Postrel's Dynamist blog is excellent. And her book, The Future and It's Enemies, is a must read. (I haven't read her more recent book, The Substance of Style, yet.)


A General's Theory of Economics
Wesley Clark has outlined the basic principles of what would be his economic policies if he's actually elected president. From a Reuters story:

Clark outlined only principles of his economic policy and promised more specifics as the campaign unfolded. But he said he could achieve federal budget savings of $2.35 trillion within 10 years, about half of which would come by repealing tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.
Clark proposed scrapping tax cuts for families earning more than $200,000 a year, a move he said would save $1.1 trillion between 2006 and 2015. He also said he would change the tax code to make it "simpler, fairer, more progressive and pro-growth."
A few thoughts...

One: it is bizarre, stupid and, frankly, deceptive to describe a $1.1 trillion tax increase as a "federal budget savings." You do not create a "budget savings" by giving the government MORE money to spend. You spend less.

Two: higher taxes are not pro-growth. Lower taxes are. That's why the economy is rebounding.

Three: Clark wants to make the tax code "more progressive." Well. Taxpayers in the top half of earners based on adjusted gross income in 2001 paid 86.2 percent of all income taxes. Folks in the bottom half paid 13.8 percent of all income taxes. It's going to be hard to make that much more "progressive" unless you merely adjust the tax rates so as to exempt millions of people on the bottom of the income chart from paying any income taxes at all. Oh. Wait. Bush already did that. The Jobs and Growth Act of 2003, signed into law by Bush on May 28 of this year, completely eliminated the income tax liability for three million individuals and families, making the tax code more progressive.

Just a Random Thought...
Anti-war critics like to imply we're losing a soldier a day over in Iraq, and argue that's a reason to come home. First of all, we've lost just over 100 soldiers due to enemy action since May 1, which is much less than one a day. (Obligatory disclaimer: Every death is a tragedy.) Second point: We're killing lots of the bad guys.

Third point: We lost 3,000 a day on September 11. As tragic as each American soldier's death is, there is a price to be paid for preventing future September 11s. There is a price to be paid for freedom.

Chief Wiggles Toy Drive Update
The grassroots toy drive for the children of Iraq is getting lots of press coverage - and sending lots of toys to Iraq. Amazing for something that just bubbled up from one soldier's mention on his website of an encounter with a poor, ragged Iraqi girl.

Here are links to news reports from KSL and KTVX, two Utah television news programs, as well as the Deseret News and WorldNetDaily, and an excerpt from the latter:

Wiggles' heartfelt account generated 1,000 e-mails over the next 24 hours from readers wanting to know where to send toys, Scott Evensen a friend of Wiggles, told their hometown newspaper in Utah, the Deseret Morning News.

This outpouring of support for Chief Wiggles' campaign last month spawned Operation Give, through which more than 500 boxes of toys have been shipped to Baghdad and more tens of thousands of dollars have been contributed to finance the drive, according to the Morning News.

As Evensen described, volunteers lined up warehouse space in Baltimore and made arrangements to ship donated items to Kuwait at a cost of about $3,500 per shipping container. Evensen told the paper they got word from orphanages in Iraq that the children were in particular need of school materials and underwear.

"My sphere of influence is small in comparison to the task at hand, but who knows what the ripple affect will be of my small effort to calm the tears of one sweet little girl," Wiggles had wondered in his Internet journal last month.

Who knows, indeed.
Some people care. Others, who opposed the liberation of the people of Iraq, say things like this: I'm really not interested in hearing one more thing about crayons for the little children.

That's sad. And revealing. I'd bet the children of Iraq are far more interested in crayons and toys, and their long-term views of America (and, thus, our success in the War on Terror) will be far more influenced by a package of crayons or a box of toys than whether Bush said Iraq was an "imminent" threat or said the opposite, or what bloggers think about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, WMDs, and the Rumsfeld memo.

I searched the September and October archives of South Knox Bubba's blog for any mention or promotion of Chief Wiggles and the toy drive. Nada. Then, for fun, I searched the September and October archives of another prominent Lefty blogger, Atrios. No mention of the Chief Wiggles toy drive. Surely, I thought, some prominent lefty blogger has endorsed the toy drive. So I ran a search on Kevin Drum's CalPundit, for the same thing. There was no mention of it.

Three prominent Lefty blogs. Zero promotion of the toy drive. Not a scientific sample, sure, but you would think one thing the entire blogosphere could agree on is that it's a good thing to send toys to the poor children in Iraq, a nation beset by war for decades and formerly ruled by a mass-murdering tyrant, and give the toy drive a few promotional pixels. Yet so far it is the hawks of the blogosphere who are busy promoting the toy drive for the children of Iraq.


Incidentally, you can participate in the toy drive by visiting Operation Give.

Lamar Pushes for Higher Taxes
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander wants you to pay taxes on your Internet access. He's fighting legislation that would roll back taxes for millions of Americans - including every Tennessee resident who pays for Internet access - and would ban such taxes forever in the states where they are already temporarily banned.

The Alexander for Senate bumper sticker is coming off my car.

UPDATE: The bill to make permanent the ban on taxing internet access passed the House last month and has the votes to pass the Senate. The only thing that is preventing it from becoming law is to schedule a Senate vote. Alexander has placed a HOLD on the bill which makes it impossible to schedule a vote. The bill has already been passed out of committee and is ready for a floor vote.

PLEASE email Senator Alexander and tell him to stop blocking this bill, which will cut taxes for every Tennessean who has Internet access. Tell Sen. Alexander to support final passage of S. 150, the Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Act of 2003.

You can also call the numbers below and leave a message with his staff. Please contact him today, the temporary ban on taxation expires on Novemeber 1.

Washington, DC Phone: (202) 224-4944
Chattanooga, TN Phone: (423) 752-5337
Jackson, TN Phone: (731) 423-9344
Knoxville, TN Phone: (865) 545-4253
Memphis, TN Phone: (901) 544-4224
Nashville, TN Phone: (615) 736-5129
Tri-Cities, TN Phone: (423) 325-6240

Blogs and Journalism
Here are four interesting articles about blogs and journalism from Jay Rosen, who writes the valuable PressThink blog:

Emerging Alternatives: Terms of Authority

Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds

What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism?

What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism?


Church in the 21st Century
Forbes takes a look at megachurches, which are defined as non-Catholic churches with at least 2,000 members. Huh. The church where I and my family are members qualifies, though compared to the "megachurches" on the Forbes list of the ten largest, it doesn't feel "megachurch-y." We have around 2,500 members, but three Sunday worship services, so even with visitors included there are never more than about 1,000 people at each service. But we do have the video screens and most of the other accoutrements of a megachurch - the broad menu of church programs, the contemporary music, casual feel, and use of drama, video clips and other modern media.

On the other hand, we're not broadcast on teevee (though services soon will be webcast) the two men who share the preaching role do not preach a "prosperity" gospel (grace is the most common topic) and the music, thanks to the tradition of the congregation's heritage, is a cappella.

Last Sunday's sermon was excellent, by the way. You can read it here or listen to it here.

It's interesting to note that the top-10 list of largest megachurches includes several non-denominational churches - including The Potter's House in Dallas, Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., and Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif. (Although as Donald Sensing once pointed out, many churches in the "community church" movement still have denomination ties - they just downplay them. Which is what my church has done.)

We're living in a post-denominational world - one where the authenticity of the worship experience and the transforming impact of a church on its members will increasingly be more important to church-goers than the name on the sign and the denominational affiliation and traditions it implies. Many of the largest churches in Nashville downplay their denominational ties and focus on sharing the authentic and transforming Christian gospel with the community in a positive and impactful way.

I've thought for years, and believe the data will increasingly prove, that strong denominational ties hold back churches from growing, as such "brand names" carry the baggage of traditions and stereotypes. Does it really matter what is on the sign outside if the gospel is preached - and lives are transformed by God's grace - inside? No. I've heard the gospel preached at small, traditional churches and at the contemporary and semi-megachurch I attend. I've heard it preached in a very traditional southern African-American Church of Christ in Atlanta - sorry, I forget the name - where the pews still were stocked with funeral-parlor fans and the songs were sung in call-and-response style rather than with words on a video screen.

I've also read it in the writing of Donald Sensing, who preaches for a decidedly non-megachurch church, and heard it preached by T.D. Jakes from The Potter's House on teevee.

We come from different denominational backgrounds and traditions, yet we all believe the same thing - salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and his death, burial and resurrection. I am not a "Baptist" or "Presbyterian" or "Methodist" or "Church of Christ" or "Church of the Nazarene" or "Assemblies of God" Christian. I am just a Christian.

Michael Williams has more thoughts on megachurches. Says Michael:

Christian churches need to operate in the world, even though we aren't of the world. Methodologies and programs need to be malable and dynamic, even though the gospel of Christ is unchanging and the message remains the same. Using technology and business-savvy to spread God's Word is no different in spirit than when Jesus fed the crowds who came out to listen to him with fish and bread, or when he sent his followers out to the surrounding towns, two-by-two, to share his good news.
Amen to that.

And just what is the good news?

It's captured well in the lyrics of a song, How Deep the Father's Love For Us, by British songwriter Stuart Townend:
How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure,
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss;
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders;
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life-
I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything,
No gifts, no power, no wisdom;
But I will boast in Jesus Christ,
His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer.
But this I know with all my heart:
His wounds have paid my ransom.