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

Location: Nashville, Tennessee, United States


A Victory for Tennessee Taxpayers
For several years, Tennesseans who use the Internet have paid what, it turns out, was a tax being collected illegally by the state of Tennessee. The good news: They're due a refund.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

Internet service in Tennessee is one step closer to being sales-tax-free. The state Supreme Court last week declined to review an appeals court ruling that said it's OK for Prodigy not to collect sales tax on the Internet service it provides.

Now the state Department of Revenue is evaluating whether to pursue four other cases against Internet service providers or to drop its efforts to collect sales tax on what it has - until now - considered a "telecommunications" service. Telecommunications services, which include phone and cable television connections, are subject to sales tax under state law.

The cases involve AOL, CompuServe, Earthlink and AT&T and are being litigated in Davidson County Chancery Court. If the state decides to drop the cases and reverse its position on taxing Internet access, the Department of Revenue would send notices to Internet service providers across the state, informing them sales tax collection will no longer be required on Internet access services.
Henry Walker, whose Nashville law firm represents AOL in its cases against the Department of Revenue, commented: ""The Legislature did not intend for these services to come within the definition of telecommunications services. I would hope and expect that the department would lay these cases to rest."

If the state reverses its position - which it would seem to have to do given it has lost the court case - the ISPs could file for the return of back taxes, but would have to then refund the money to the consumers who paid it. Although the state has collected the illegal tax since 1996, state law provides a three-year statute of limitations on tax refunds, which means the ISPs - and consumers - are due a refund only for the last three years.


Saddam and al Qaeda
From CNN tonight:

U.S. forces operating in the so-called Sunni Triangle - the region of Iraq most loyal to captured former dictator Saddam Hussein - found a significant weapons cache that included al Qaeda literature and videotapes, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
Of course, there was no link between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda. None whatsoever. Nothing to see here, move along, move along...

HobbsOnline goes live at BillHobbs.com, in the blogosphere near you, New Year's Day 2004. Sneak Preview.

Strong Economy Seen in 2004
The latest economic forecast is good news for President Bush, bad news for the Democrats who hoped the economy would remain sluggish in order to make it easier oust Bush from the White House.

The US economy is poised for its best performance in five years. Economists describe an economy that will be "solid," "sustainable," and "entering the new year with a wonderful head of steam." If the optimistic forecasts are accurate, it will mean more Americans find jobs in 2004 - something that has been more difficult this year. A stronger economy could also help lower the federal budget deficit, as government coffers grow from stronger tax collections and fewer unemployment payments. Altogether, it could help President Bush in his reelection bid.
I blame the Bush tax cuts.

Site Update
I haven't yet completed the move to my new URL, but there is progress to report. The design, by Todd Anderson, is still being tweaked. Meanwhile, Todd successfully imported all of my entries from this Blogspot-hosted blog into the new blog. Most of those entries are being held in "draft" status and won't be accessible at the new blog. But some will be made accessible over there, as I create a series of "greatest hits" packages. The first set to be made available are every post I made here regarding the spurious claim that President Bush was once "AWOL" from his Texas Air National Guard duties. You can access that list of posts here.


Rise of the Megachurch
The Christian Science Monitor has just published a story about the rise of the American megachurch.

In an era when small and medium-sized churches of almost every faith are losing members, megachurches continue to grow - last year by 4 percent. Their success is due in part to the ushering in of a new business-savvy approach to religion. But more important, experts say, these churches are thriving because of what's being ushered out. Gone are traditional religious dogma, rituals, and symbols, replaced by uplifting songs and sermons. Congregants are taught that - through God - they are victors, not victims. The messages are encouraging and easy to swallow, and no one is called a sinner. It's "Jesus meets the power of positive thinking."

"There's none of that old-time religion; none of that hell-and-damnation, fire-and-brimstone preaching," says Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. "The message tends to be more upbeat, one of empowerment. And it seems to be working. These churches are packed."

In 1970, there were 10 megachurches nationwide (defined as non-Catholic churches with at least 2,000 weekly attendants). Today there are 740, according to Church Growth Today, a Bolivar, Mo., organization. They appeal to people of all ethnicities: Lakewood attracts virtually equal numbers of blacks, whites, and Hispanics. The idea is to be inclusive and inoffensive. There's no talk of controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality. Organs have been replaced by electric guitars, hymns with rock-and-roll tunes. Nowhere is there a cross or a candle, and the language is contemporary, with not a "thee" or a "thou" to be heard.

"They have removed every obstacle that keeps people from coming into the Christian church," says Eddie Gibbs, a professor at the Fuller Theological Seminary. "Plus, they give people a feeling of anonymity. And that's particularly important to those who have been hurt or burnt out in smaller churches."
The story's weakness it surrounds the data with anecdotal descriptions of just one megachurch, Houston's 25,000-member Lakewood Church. Unfortunately, Lakewood is a good example of the extreme commercialization of some - but not all - megachurches. Most "megachurches" are smaller than Lakewood - a few thousand members - and most are far less commercialized. The megachurch nearest where I live has a small Christian bookstore inside its walls, but that's as far as the commercialization goes. The megachurch I attend doesn't even have that. And both of them preach the true gospel of Christ, not the watered down "health and wealth gospel" that some megachurches, sadly, spread.

Forbes had better coverage of megachurches back in October. I blogged it here.

Site Update
Todd Anderson of Popshot is making great progress on designing a new-and-improved look for HobbsOnline as I prepare to move this blog to BillHobbs.com and switch to the MovableType publishing platform.

For those readers who follow my blog primarily for items related to Tennessee public policy, the new blog will have a prominent "sub-blog" of all Tennessee-related postings.

I'll also be switching the blog's daily email alert service to a new provider, which means if you are currently a subscriber I need to know if you want to be included on the new list. If you don't, here's a simple way to let me know: Email me at bhhobbs-at-comcast.net or simply unsubscribe from the current email alert, which comes via bloglet.com and can be unsubscribed from via the link at the bottom of each day's email.

I hesitate to say exactly when the new site will launch, but it will be soon. Stay tuned...

I Found Fisk a Fund-Raiser
Fisk University, a small historically African-American college in Nashville, is looking for a new president, and the historically financially endangered school needs a strong fund-raiser, says today's Tennessean.

Almost since its founding 137 years ago, Fisk University has felt intense pressure to raise money. In 1871 the Fisk Jubilee Singers went on a world tour to keep the young Nashville school in business. Since then, financial difficulty has been more or less a constant for the small-but-scrappy university, which almost had to shut its doors in the early 1980s.

''Fisk and money problems, that's part of what it's all about,'' said Ray Winbush, former director of the Fisk Race Relations Institute. ''But the past 20 years, it's been in a crisis mode.''

With that in mind, Winbush and many other supporters believe Fisk's next president will have to be a superb fund-raiser. But other qualities - from a sense of the school's rich history to a vision of its brightest possible future, from a dynamic personality to an emotional toughness - also will be critical.
I have a suggestion: former University of Tennessee President John Shumaker. Yes, I know he was forced to resign after little more than a year at UT because of revelations about his misuse of his expense accounts and such, but the truth is John Shumaker is a great fundraiser. He's also greedy and likes to live lavishly, so Fisk ought to offer him a deal: a base salary, say, $100,000 a year, plus 10 percent of everything he raises up to $100 million, and 15 percent commission after that.

He needs a job, he's greedy, and he believes in paying for performance based on measurable goals. And Fisk needs money. It's perfect!

Meanwhile, you can support Fisk by buying In Bright Mansions, an excellent CD by the 2001-02 version of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. It's a rather incredible collection of a capella slave-era gospel music, recorded last year at the studios of Belmont University, also in Nashville.

Show Prep
HobbsOnline... now serving as show prep for talk radio hosts...

Actually, that's very cool.


Bag Naifeh
Frank Cagle says Jimmy Naifeh, the powerful Tennessee Democrat who, as speaker of the state House, tried to ram through an income tax, is vulnerable in the 2004 legislative elections. Let's hope he's right. Bagging Naifeh would send a powerful message to all legislators who still harbor dreams of enacting the unconstitutional tax.


Was Bush "AWOL"?
As the presidential campaign season heats up, you are sure to hear some Democrats charge that President Bush was, long ago, "AWOL" from his Texas Air National Guard duties - and imply also that he joined the guard to avoid Vietnam.

Their allegations simply do not hold water.

Last May I wrote several posts about the "Bush was AWOL" charge. Here are the links. Arm yourself with knowledge. You won't convince the hate-Bush crowd, but there are those in the middle who might not know what to believe. Assuring them of the truth may help assure they vote for George W. Bush in November. And just what are the facts?

Bush voluntarily joined a military unit part of which was at that very moment involved in combat in Vietnam. He learned to fly fighter jets. He served honorably and was well-regarded by his fellow pilots. He put in more than his required time of service. And he was honorably discharged.

Those are the facts.

The hate-Bush crowd likes to point to some missing paperwork and an aging colonel's inability to remember one man out of thousands, and claim it proves Bush served dishonorably and was "absent without leave." But paperwork snafus are as common in the military as guns. And the absense of evidence is NOT evidence of absense. The "Bush was AWOL" claim is so thin that the New York Times, hardly a bastion of Bush support, debunked and dismissed it.

Here are the links to my key blog posts from last May:
Link 1, May 7, 2003
Link 2, May 8, 2003
Link 3, May 8, 2003
Link 4, May 9, 2003
Link 5, May 12, 2003

UPDATE: This post was inspired by this debate at the History Channel's website, in which the Bush-haters are losing in part because their side claims Bush was not honorably discharged, and then post links to documents that say Bush was, in fact, "honorably discharged."


Tax Cuts Help The Economy
The booming economy is bad news, writes Alison Fraser of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation...

Bad news, that is, for those who have continued to insist, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, that the tax cuts approved earlier this year aren't working. The critics are running out of negative spin.

For example, when the news came last month that economic growth in the third quarter of the year had surged to 8.2 percent - the best growth we've seen in nearly 20 years - they had a ready retort: It's a "jobless recovery."

Not anymore. Are we where we should be? No. But we're moving there at a remarkable pace. More jobs are available, and fewer people are in the unemployment lines. And the evidence indicates that this crop of good news promises solid economic growth throughout next year and likely the year after that. The recession is finally behind us. And now, fortunately, so is the slow growth that has marked the recent recovery.

Job growth has increased over the last four months, and we've added 328,000 new jobs to the economy. In related good news, the unemployment rate has slipped to 5.9 percent, erasing the poor performance of the last year.

What's significant about these figures is their signal that the economy is not merely poised for recovery, but in the midst of it. Job growth is usually the last patch in the economic recovery quilt. These patches now all appear to be in place. With few exceptions, economic indicators are up across the board.

Indeed, the stellar growth of last quarter outpaced the expectations of even the most optimistic forecasters. Three sources of growth in particular show why the recovery is structurally sound and why we can expect continued growth.


Many factors are involved, of course, but critics cannot ignore the fact that the tax cuts are working. They built a foundation for bringing the recovery full swing by providing incentives for businesses to expand and invest. Tax relief has lowered the cost of capital and made existing enterprises more profitable and investment and expansion more attractive.
The Bush Boom gains momentum... I'd blame tax cuts, but Fraser already did.

Nowehere But Here
This kind of story happens nowhere on earth but in the United States of America.

Before the civil war in the 1990s, most Bantu, as did Ader, eked out an existence as farmers living in huts without running water, electricity, flush toilets or televisions. Few ever attended school. The Aders are among many who have arrived malnourished.

Ader's wife, Fatuma Abdi, has had to learn how to use a stove instead of firewood and a dishwasher for plates, frying pans and forks the family never owned before. Her children have overcome their suspicions of packaged pretzels. Abdi, 24, who keeps her father's name in Bantu tradition, says she felt like crying with joy when she first understood disposable diapers never had to be washed.

Outranking all of those modern novelties, however, is this one:

''None of my children have cried of hunger here,'' said Ader, 36, through a translator as he watched his boisterous 2-year-old son wrestle an older brother to the carpeted floor of their two-bedroom apartment near Murfreesboro Pike.

By 2005, the United States plans to resettle about 12,000 Bantu across the country, according to the U.S. State Department.


Ader has just been here a month. He anticipates learning English and getting a job before his next child is born in May. This one will be Bantu-American. The child can be president, Ader said.
Here for just one month, doesn't speak the language, and finds modern gadgetry confusing. But he already knows that his unborn child can one day become anything it desires, in America.

Read the whole thing.

Iraq Update
A fascinating story in the Washington Post about the five families with close ties to Saddam Hussein that are believed to be directing and funding the ongoing terrorist attacks against the U.S. forces that liberated Iraq from Saddam's murderous regime.

Now, U.S. officers said they suspect the resistance may be running low on funds because Hussein partisans have recently been selling off some of their properties, even hawking household items. At the same time, some local guerrillas are demanding higher pay, military officers said.

Hickey said the ambush last month of two U.S. convoys bringing new Iraqi currency to Samarra was carried out by insurgents badly in need of cash. The subsequent firefight left 54 guerrillas dead, according to U.S. military officials.
I remain amazed that the media, in reporting on that Samarra firefight last month, paid little attention to the fact that the convoy was carrying currency to banks. I first read that fact in the British news media, and could only conclude one thing: the terrorists launched a massive attack on the convoy because they needed to steal the cash, ergo, they must be running low on funds. Today's WaPo story confirms as much.

The WaPo story, as noted above, also says some of the guerillas are demanding higher pay for the attacks. This suggests that, while on the one hand the financiers of the terror attacks are running low on money, the risk to those who carry out the attacks is growing, and the guerillas are seeking a pay raise to reflect that growign risk.

Read the whole Washington Post story and you'll realize that Iraq indeed is becoming a quagmire. For the "insurgents."

UPDATE: Here's another story about Saddam's life on the run.


Merry Christmas
The greatest true story ever told:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" - which means, "God with us."

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: "'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'" Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: "He will be called a Nazarene."
- Matthew 1:18 - 2:23, New International Version


Libya Blames Bush
Is Libya's decision to open the doors to weapons inspections and dismantle its weapons programs a victory for years of international diplomatic pressure and economic sanctions - or a capitulation to the Bush-Blair policy of confronting rogue states and terrorism-supporting regimes with the threat of force? From the London Telegraph, a priceless quote from the Libyan dictator Col. Moammar Gaddafi:

"I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid."
As Michael J. Totten says, that settles that.

The Bush Boom Rolls On
Kevin Hassett says the Bush Boom is on:

One of the striking regularities in the economic data is the recurrent propensity of incumbents to do very well in elections when the economy is doing well. As Yale economist Ray Fair and a number of others have found, there is a strong and statistically significant relationship between economic data and electoral outcomes. The evidence suggests that voters give Presidents in particular a great deal of credit or blame for the state of the economy.

If that pattern continues, President Bush will be a very happy man next year. This week's final GDP report for the third quarter indicated that GDP growth was indeed as fast as preliminary estimates suggested, with blockbuster growth in consumer and business spending driving growth above 8 percent. A number of details below the top line suggest that the economy's momentum will sustain itself in the fourth quarter and into next year.
Hassett says Bush's tax policy has added about 1 percent to GDP growth over the last two years. Given that - until the 8.2 percent growth in the third quarter - the post-Clinton-recession economy was struggling to generate any meaningful GDP growth, that's significant.

More Dancing With Dean
Yesterday, I linked you to an Arnold Kling article that asserted that Howard Dean is the creation of the organizaton that backs him, the hood ornament on the Left's vehicle for change. Now, Dean essentially admits it in his own words in a piece by Gary Wolf in the December issue of Wired titled How the Internet Invented Howard Dean. Excerpt:

It is 83 days before the Iowa caucuses, and I'm sitting at a small table on a private jet above Colorado getting a pure dose of Internet religion from Howard Dean. "The Internet community is wondering what its place in the world of politics is," Dean says. "Along comes this campaign to take back the country for ordinary human beings, and the best way you can do that is through the Net. We listen. We pay attention. If I give a speech and the blog people don't like it, next time I change the speech."

... Naturally, bloggers everywhere are thrilled. Even those who hate the candidate love the way the campaign is being managed. "I'd vote for SpongeBob SquarePants over Howard Dean," writes Derek James in his political blog, Thinking as a Hobby. But Dean's organization, James admits, is being run "in a very smart, very democratic way." Bloggers are fascinated by Dean for philosophical and also parochial reasons. They feel they have a right to be proud. Dean has become the front-runner by applying their most cherished rules for attracting attention and building a social network on the Internet.

"We fell into this by accident," Dean admits. "I wish I could tell you we were smart enough to figure this out. But the community taught us. They seized the initiative through Meetup. They built our organization for us before we had an organization."
Dean isn't a candidate of core beliefs, he's a chameleon changing his stripes - and his speeches - to give the audience what it wants. Kling was right - Dean's campaign represents a dangerous slide toward mobocracy.

Also today... Franklin Foer says Dean's antipathy toward religion will make it nearly impossible for him to win a general election against George W. Bush.
This is, for better or worse, an openly religious country that prefers its politicians to be openly religious, too--a trend that has only become more pronounced in recent national elections. A 2000 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 70 percent of Americans want their president to be a person of faith. This religious vote isn't just concentrated in Southern states that a Democrat has no chance of carrying. It also saturates the Midwest, where Dean would have to win to have a chance at the presidency. (According to the American Religious Identification Survey, only about 15 percent of respondents in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois describe themselves as nonreligious.) Indeed, in the last five presidential elections, the candidate who more aggressively conveyed his religiosity (whether honestly or not so honestly) won. Seen in this light, a popular contest between Dean's secularism and George W. Bush's heartfelt faith could be, well, no contest. And the same, in turn, could be true of the election.
Dean switched denominations because of a dispute over a bike path.


Best of Luck, Phil
Phil Valentine, the popular Nashville radio talk show host whose crusade against the proposed state income tax helped defeat it several times, is leaving WLAC 1510-AM, his home of five years, in order to write a second book. His first book, From the Heart: The ABCs of Reality in America, is selling well.

Valentine also plans to launch a nationally syndicated radio show.

Here's how The Tennessean reported it:

With hopes of taking his popular radio talk show to a national stage, Phil Valentine has announced his resignation from NewsRadio 1510 WLAC after five years of afternoon discourse. In that time Valentine has become a local conservative icon, known especially for his influential on-air campaign against an income tax in Tennessee. In the past year his afternoon show has drawn more local listeners per week than national pundits Rush Limbaugh and G. Gordon Liddy, he says. After his final broadcast tomorrow, Valentine plans to write a second book and pursue national syndication. WLAC has not made plans yet for Valentine's 2-6 p.m. time slot.

''If I'm going to step out and be a national player in talk radio, now's the time to do it,'' Valentine said yesterday. ''The show has been doing so well at a local level that it's time to start branching out, and I just didn't feel so comfortable that WLAC was going to be the place to do that.''
A few thoughts. During much of the four-year income tax battle, I wrote a weekly newspaper column, first for the now-defunct weekly In Review, and then for the Nashville City Paper, from which sprang this blog. Often, I wrote about the income tax and the state budget, and Phil graciously read many of them on air. That lead to numerous on-air appearances on Phil's show, including from Legislative Plaza during some of the horn-honking anti-tax rallies. Great fun.

Some believe talk show hosts espouse views chosen to attract listeners, and perhaps some do. Not Phil Valentine. He truly believes the things he says on the radio, and his beliefs spring from bedrock values and principles. That, I believe, is why his show became the number one radio show in Nashville. That I believe, is also why it won't be long before the Phil Valentine Show is syndicated and slotted on stations coast to coast.

Phil, I wish you the best of luck.

Now, a word of advice for WLAC. Hire another local conservative talker. You've got the audience already - don't drive them away by hiring some liberal or some mushy moderate. Don't blow it.

And hire someone new - not some local conservative retread. And hire someone who understands the Internet and can incorporate it, via a weblog, into their radio show. Imagine a radio talk show host who not only interacts with callers but also interacts via the comments feature on a blog and can link listeners to source materials and related news, commentary and content via a blog.

It would be powerful stuff.

Howard Dean has been caught lying about his family's connection to the military. Dean tried to pass off his dead brother - a civilian anti-war activist killed by, ironically enough, communist troops in Laos in 1974 - as a member of the military. Disgusting.

Dancing with Dean
Arnold Kling says left-wing militants are using the Internet as their vehicle to take over the Democratic Party - and Howard Dean is their hood ornament.

Howard Dean emerged as a candidate of the left-wing militants the way that the Cha-Cha Slide emerged as a staple on the Bar Mitzvah circuit. It's not that the Cha-Cha Slide means something to Jewish culture. It's just that there is a Bar Mitzvah circuit that needs a silly dance. When the Macarena craze finally died out - thank goodness - something else came along to take its place - unfortunately.

The political movement of affluent, college-educated, angry liberals needed a candidate for the same reason that Bar Mitzvah DJ's need a way to pull people onto the dance floor. Howard Dean is the left's Cha-Cha Slide.
And he and his Internet-fueled campaign are hastening the nation's dangerous slide toward mobocracy, says Kling. Read the whole Kling.

Some Potentially Good News
Here's some potentially good news for small business:

A web site has been developed to help small-business owners, state legislators and activists push for business-friendly regulations on the state level. The Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, which developed the site, has been pushing for state legislation that would require agencies to consider the impact of regulatory mandates on small firms before passing such measures.


This Would Suit Me Fine
Chuck knows what I really want for Christmas.
Click here, scroll down.

Ninth Circuit Screws Up the Internet
Writer and venture capitalist J. William Gurley explores the dangerous ramifications of a little-noticed decision by - of course - the ever-screwy U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision, issued Oct. 6 in the case of Brand X Internet v. the Federal Communications Commission, "has the potential to delay the progress of the Internet in the United States by certainly years and potentially decades," says Gurley. "Through its actions, the 9th Circuit has 'invited' the 50 independent and natural bureaucratic state-based public utility commissions directly into the fold of the Internet."

The case deals with whether cable lines that deliver Internet service can be considered a "telecommunications service" or not – a crucial distinction because Congress and the FCC allow states to regulate "telecommunications services," but bar them from regulating or taxing "information services." The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declared it had the power to ignore the FCC.

The potentially devastating impact, according to Gurley:

Apply regulation to the world of the Internet, and you lay the foundation for things such as e-mail taxation, instant-messaging taxation, VoIP taxation, per-minute fees, bandwidth monitoring and controlled pricing. And once again, read "increased" pricing at something like 5 percent per year. Requiring Internet service companies to interact with 50 different state agencies every time they tie their shoe will undoubtedly add costs and complexities to their lives, which will in turn result in higher costs and slower innovation and deployment. California consumers, already accustomed to paying the highest gas prices in the country, will quickly enjoy the highest Internet fees as well.
Even if Congress moves to restore the moratorium on Internet access taxes, that doesn't guarantee government won't find a way to tax it anyway.

HobbsOnline News
I have registered BillHobbs.com and will be moving this blog there sometime after the first of the year. Todd Anderson of PopShot has volunteered to design the new HobbsOnline. Stay tuned...

Carnival of the Capitalists
This week's Carnival of the Capitalists, a roundup of economics and business bloggage, is up over at The Bejus Pundit. I have no entries in this week's CotC, but my most recent economics-related posts from last week are here and here.


Glenn Reynolds has a very comprehensive round-up of reaction and analysis of Libya's decision to give up its weapons-of-mass-destruction program. Libya's decision is an unqualified foreign policy triumph for the Bush administration. Don't be surprised, though, to hear Howard Dean soon explain why it hasn't made America safer.


Strategerical Successfullness!
There is now no denying that President Bush's foreign policy is working. Libya is giving up its WMD programs. "Not surprisingly, the White House described the surprise announcement as a victory for Mr. Bush in facing down rogue states developing such weapons," says the New York Times.

Indeed it is.

UPDATE: THe Coalition of Bah Humbug says Libya giving up its WMD programs is not a big deal.

UPDATE: From the New York Times: "British officials said that Sir Nigel Sheinwald, Mr. Blair's national security adviser, and Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, were involved in intense negotiations with Libyan officials in the days leading up to Libya's declaration. " Go Condi!!!


Merry Christmas Winter
A preacher wonders what happened to Christmas:

Santa is still strong this time of year. So are Rudolph, Prancer, and the other reindeer. Frosty is good. I've even seen larger-than-life replicas of The Grinch of Whoville. But it seems increasingly difficult to find shepherds and angels. Where are the Wise Men? What became of Joseph and Mary? Does anyone else recall when Jesus was center stage during this holiday season?

Did I just say "holiday season"? Why, there's another evidence of our loss. What used to be "Merry Christmas!" is now more often just "Happy Holidays!" A penchant for political correctness has taken us to the point that strangers to our culture would hardly guess there was once a religious motif to this time of year.

Rethinking DLs for Illegals
There's some movement in Tennessee's legislature to revamp a law that lets illegal immigrants get driver's licenses. Democratic leaders in the state House are working with Gov. Phil Bredesen's administration on legislation to address changes in Tennessee driver license requirements, while Republicans are pushing bills in the state House and Senate that would require would-be drivers to produce Social Security numbers or immigration documentation to obtain a Tennessee driver’s license. The good news is Democrats - who have previously fought any attempt to bring a measure of sanity to the state's dangerous handing out of licenses to illegal immigrants without sufficient security safeguards such as reliable identity verification - appear to finally be moving a little in the right direction. And Gov. Bredesen appears open to discussing changes in the law, which was passed in the summer of 2001 and removed the requirement for Tennessee motorists to have a Social Security number.

State Rep. Donna Rowland (R-Murfreesboro), who sponsors the House bill increasing the requirements, says those who are illegally in the country shouldn’t be issued a driver license by the state. "This law was passed in a pre-911 world," said Rowland. "California recently repealed a similar statute."

Warnings, Worries and War
This report about intelligence intercepts suggesting possible threats to New York and other cities (wuth new York possibly targeted by a female suicide bomber) may prove to be another false warning. But one day it won't be. We're at war, and we will be hit again.

Name This Blog
I am considering renaming HobbsOnline and moving it to a real .com address (off the blogspot server!) and maybe even switching over to MovableType as my publishing software. Any suggestions for a new name for my blog? I've been toying with variations using the word "context" because I write a lot about journalism. If you have a suggested name, please leave it in the comments. There's no prize 'cept the satisfaction you'll get if I pick the name you suggest. (FYI: I'm also considering separating the Tennessee-centric coverage to its own blog.)

Thanks to all who have hit my Amazon tip jar or donated via PayPal in the past couple of weeks - your generosity is appreciated and I hope I continue to provide quality bloggage for your reading pleasure. Thanks, also, to the many fine bloggers who have recently linked to various posts here, including Damian Penny, Matthew J. Stinson, Jeff Brokaw, Solomonia, the Astonished Head, Kevin Cole, Cox & Forkum, Darren Kaplan, Donald Sensing, Glenn Ryenolds, and Kesher Talk.

Quote of the Day
Can you guess who said this:

Saddam Hussein was Iraq's number one weapon of mass destruction, and his arrest represents a major victory for human rights and international law. ... Lest we forget, had those who opposed the war gotten their way, Saddam would still be in power, would still be tormenting the Iraqi people, would still be financing Palestinian terrorists, and would still be threatening peace, human rights, and democracy, along with America's vital interests, in the Middle East.
Answer: a group of Democrats, believe it or not, who seem to have been reading my blog.

I wrote back in June
In the end, it was the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein itself that was the weapon of mass destruction. And in the post-9/11 world, the only sane course was to remove that weapon of mass destruction from power. ... Some have seen the graves, while others refuse to see the truth: Saddam was Iraq's weapon of mass destruction.
Or maybe they were reading Ken Adelman.


Howard Dean's Saddam Spin
Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has been rightly lambasting for asserting last Sunday that the capture of Saddam Hussein had not made America safer, isn't backing down. Instead, he's subtly shifting the definition of "safer" to imply that we are not a bit safer until the War on Terror has been completely won.

"The capture of one bad man doesn't mean the president and Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terrorism," he said. Real dangers ranging from stateless terrorists to North Korea's capacity to make nuclear weapons remain, he said, and must be confronted.

"The truth is, Americans are no safer from these serious threats than they were the day before Saddam Hussein was captured. We are no safer today than the day the planes struck the World Trade Center."
But that's not what he said on Sunday. On Sunday, he said the capture of Saddam had not made American any safer, period. But of course it DID make America safer - from Saddam.

Yeah, Saddam had been reduced to a dirty bum hiding in a hole in the ground, but he was a well-financed bum, with $750,000 in cash, connections to anti-American terrorist groups in Baghdad, and no reason not to find ways to harm Americans and America. We are safer today because there is now NO chance Saddam will take some of his fortune and give it to al Qaeda to finance another major attack on America. No, capturing Saddam didn't solve the problem of stateless terrorists or resolve the problem of North Korea's nuclear program. But, then, no one has claimed it did.

Dean has built a straw man when he says "The capture of one bad man doesn't mean the president and Washington Democrats can declare victory in the war on terrorism." But neither President Bush nor any Democrats I've heard have claimed "Saddam-in-a-cell" equals "Final-victory-in-War-on-Terror."

Dean knows that, just as he knows it is absurd on its face to claim capturing Saddam hasn't made America at least a little bit safer. But by redefining "safer" to mean that the War on Terror must be completely over, and all outstanding issues, problems and threats resolved, Dean has created a bizzaro world where he can dismiss any progress by saying it has not made us safer because some other threats remain.

Kevin Drum is making fun of pre-war intelligence reports that claimed Iraq had both biological and chemical weapons and could deliver them to cities along the Eastern seaboard via unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones.

Just in case you've forgotten, the picture above shows the fearsome Iraqi drone in all its glory, duct tape and all. Another triumph of American intelligence.
Yeah, Kevin, you are right. A cheap flying drone held together with duct tape could never ever threaten the East coast. Thinking otherwise would be like ... well ... like believing 19 men armed only with box cutters could destroy two 100-story office buildings. You are so right, Kevin - it would be absurd to be concerned.

Look, in the post-9/11 world EVERY scrap of intel suggesting a threat must be treated as serious until proven otherwise. Saddam WAS building drones to deliver chemical weapons, period. In hindsight we know the capability was not well-developed, but hindsight is always 20/20. In a post-9/11 world, NOT reacting preemptively to such intel is simply too dangerous. At least some of us believe that way. Others believe as Kevin does - that it makes more sense to wait until the enemy's technological capabilities ARE sufficient to kill tens of thousands of Americans, and that we have ironclad proof the enemy is on the verge of launching an attack. But that risks acting too slowly to prevent another horrific attack like September 11, 2001, when they killed 3,000 Americans, armed only with box cutters.

It's Working
Proponents of regime change in Iraq, including President Bush, said that removing Saddam and planting seeds of democracy would foster positive change throughout the Middle East.

It seems to be working:

RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – The capital is abuzz. Everywhere, it seems, from sidewalk cafes to women's salons behind closed doors, Saudis are talking about societal changes. Religious extremism and democratic and educational reforms, as well as women's issues, are paraded for public discussion in what has long been one of the most tight-lipped and tightly controlled lands in the Middle East. While actual political reform may be moving at a snail's pace by Western standards, the new degree of openness is earthshaking here.

"There is a dialogue in society," says Khaled al-Maeena, editor in chief of Arab News, an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia. "Newspapers are flourishing. Papers are talking about accountability, corruption, leaders not being up to the mark, women, children, and empowerment."

A leading indicator, says Mr. Maeena, was a Nov. 28 commentary by Mansour al-Nogaidan, a reformed militant Muslim and Saudi columnist, published in The New York Times. The article bluntly questioned the Saudi government-sanctioned extremist religious culture - and was widely reproduced here. "I think the whole of Saudi Arabia read it and is talking about it," Maeena says.
Meanwhile, in Iran, the mad mullahs running that nation have relented to Washington's demand for real inspections of their nuclear facilities.

UPDATE: Paul Greenberg on what the capture of Saddam means for the War on Terror:
Psychologically everything has changed. ... Saddam can now be seen for what he is: a cornered rat. ... There are some things that not even whatever remains of his Baath Party will be able to depict as a great victory. Saddam has been denied even martyrdom. ... Throughout the Middle East, terrorism has been dealt a psychological blow. Difficult and uncertain as this post-war has been, here is another sign that the Americans, for all our naive faith in freedom and democracy, are serious about this. Iraq will not be another Somalia or Lebanon, where Americans lost heart and crept back to what we only thought was safety. Saddam Hussein's capture represents a victory on the most decisive front, the home front. The Vietnam Syndrome has been dealt another blow. Morale back home took a leap up with the news; it was suddenly a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

The capture of Saddam Hussein was not just a singular feat in itself, but it was a good omen for the war on terror in general. Americans are learning to excel at it, too. Even more impressive than American triumphs in combat has been the armed forces’ flexibility, their willingness to adapt to new and ominous threats, to learn from setbacks, adopt new tactics and fight a new kind of war.

Bush Boom Update
The Bush Boom is rolling along, and one of the nation's leading economists thinks President Bush's economic policies are setting the state for another long period of economic growth. Today's good economic news:

More good news for the U.S. economy emerged on Thursday with a trio of reports showing a fall in claims for jobless benefits and a climb in two broad indexes of economic health.
Also, the Joint Economic Committee of Congress is reporting that jobless claims are trending downward, inflation is low by historical standards, and housing starts remain strong.

And economist Larry Kudlow is praising the non-inflationary Bush Boom, saying:
It's a business-led scenario this country hasn't seen in many years, and it could mean another 8-to-10-year prosperity cycle is on the way. ... In effect, America's businesses are producing at a torrid 8 percent rate without generating any inflation. Keynesian demand-siders who believe that growth causes inflation should take their models out behind the barn and shoot them. As profits and production continue to rise, more jobs and higher worker incomes will spur a new round of consumer spending this winter and spring. Supply creates its own demand. Bush administration supply-siders who argued in favor of permanent tax incentives to grow the investment side of the economy are being proven exactly right.
I'd blame the Bush tax cuts, but Kudlow already did.

A Good Day
HobbsOnline had a lot of visitors yesterday - 4,372 unique visitors, including 2,839 first-time visitors. A normal day around here is in the 550-800 range for unique visitors. Numbers are rising generally because of increased inbound links and referrals from other blogs, though yesterday's surge was a classic Instalanche. Whether you're a new reader or a long-time reader, I hope you'll stick around and let me know what you think.

Healthcare Reform Update
The Joint Economic Committee, an agency of Congress, has released a report on how the the federal health benefit tax exclusion distorts the health insurance market and has promoted employer-provided insurance, but hindered market-based cost controls and individual choice. Press release here. Eight-page PDF File: How the Tax Exclusion Shaped Today's Private Insurance Market

Iraq/Al Qaeda Link Update
Newsweek is reporting that the memo alleged as proof that lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta was in Iraq the summer before the September 11 attack is a "probably a fabrication."

Note the word "probably." Also note that if the document is a fake, it proves only that the document is a fake. It does not prove or disprove the larger question of whether Saddam's regime had ties to al Qaeda. Anti-war lefties dancing and celebrating and firing their rhetorical AK-47s in the air in celebration of this Newsweek story would be wise to remember this:

One of the more interesting pieces of postwar evidence was uncovered in Baghdad by reporters for the Toronto Star and London's Sunday Telegraph. The February 19, 1998, memo from Iraqi intelligence, in which bin Laden's name was covered over with Liquid Paper, reported planned meetings with an al Qaeda representative visiting Baghdad. Days later al Qaeda issued a fatwa alleging U.S. crimes against Iraq. At about the same time, a U.S. government source tells Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard, Iraq paid bin Laden deputy Ayman Zawahiri $300,000.
To my knowledge, the document uncovered by the Toronto newspaper reporter is not thought to be a fake.

The anti-war lefties also should re-read this post from mid-November, which linked to and excerpted from stories in the New York Times and the Weekly Standard about a Senate Intelligence Committee memo outlining the long list of clues strongly suggesting ties between Saddam and al Qaeda generally - and possibly even between Saddam and the September 11 attack specifically.

Massive TennCare Fraud
Tennessee politicians have told taxpayers for years that fraud is not a major problem with TennCare, the state's mutated Medicaid program. After you read this story in today's Jackson Sun, you'll know not to believe them. The story reports on the federal charges filed against two men in a $650K fraud case involving TennCare -though, strangely, the story never calls the program by that name. Instead, the paper refers to TennCare only generically as the state's "Medicaid Waiver" program. But that's TennCare - the state has a federal waiver to operate its Medicaid program differently than other states. The two men face multiple federal charges in connection with an alleged money laundering and Medicaid fraud scheme that netted more than $650,000.

Cedric R. Deadmon, 36, was charged by a federal grand jury on Wednesday for establishing a non-existing company along with Isaac J. Williams, 39, of Nashville, that sought out state contracts through the Department of Finance Administration and Division of Mental Retardation Services. They then allegedly obtained monies through the state's Medicaid Waiver program by submitting false and fraudulent billings. The indictment is based on activities beginning in 1997 until May 1999.

The men allegedly received $650,342.62 from the state, getting "large checks" from the state between December 1998 and April 1999. The case was investigated by the Internal Revenue Service and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Perhaps if the Sundquist administartion had cracked down on TennCare fraud, this massive theft of taxpayer money would have been prevented. Oh well. At least the Bredesen administration is working seriously on TennCare reform.

UPDATE: A Bredesen administration official may be floating a trial balloon about possibly scrapping TennCare.

Blogging for Freedom
Michael Silence, a reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, has a good story today about the growth of blogging in Iraq. Includes comments from Tennessee bloggers Glenn Reynolds and Donald Sensing, as well as media blogger Jeff Jarvis, who comments...

...This is a media revolution. The people now own the printing press and the power that goes with that.
Also covering the growth of Iraqi blogging is the Seattle Times.

Recommended Blog
Add the Adam Smith Institute Blog to your daily blog-reading routine. It's the blog of the Adam Smith Institute in London, which bills itself as "the UK's leading innovator of practical market-economic policies." Named for
Adam Smith, the great Scottish philosopher and economist best known for writing the book The Wealth of Nations, touting the virtues of free trade and market economics, the Institute has for 25 years been on the front lines of the global movement towards free markets, public-sector reform, and free trade. The blog's listed in the Economics section of my blogroll. I was reminded of it via a "Merry Christmas" email from an Institute employee who is a regular reader of my blog. Just another chance meeting in the blogosphere.


The Bike-Path Left
Mark Steyn on Howard Dean:

On Osama bin Laden, he's Mister Insouciant. But he gets mad about bike paths. Destroy the World Trade Center and he's languid and laconic and blasé. Obstruct plans to convert the ravaged site into a memorial bike path and he'll hunt you down wherever you are.
Steyn artfully dissects and devastates Dean and the irrelevant "micro-politics" of the "Bike-Path Left" he represents. Read the whole thing.

The Bush Boom Rolls On

A Gary Varvel cartoon from the Indianapolis Star, via Sean

Here's how USA Today reported the latest economic data (which I also mentioned on the blog yesterday):

A trio of economic reports out Tuesday, including one showing an unexpected drop in inflation, indicate the economy is rushing ahead with little threat of overheating. Housing starts hit another peak last month, while industrial production surged at the fastest pace in four years and retail prices fell.
USA Today notes that housing starts rose 4.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual 2.1 million rate, the highest level since 1984. Hmm. 1984. Lessee. That year keeps coming up in coverage of the economy, with various pieces of surging economic data described as being the "best" since that year.

There was this report about the Conference Board forecasting the economy next year will turn in its best performance since 1984. And of course there was this report about how the economy's 7.2 percent 8.2 percent growth in the third quarter was the best performance since 1984. And there was this report from a group of University of Michigan economists predicting the U.S. economy will see its strongest growth since 1984 next year, with GDP growing by 5.1 percent.

Of course, as I mentioned here, all this good news. The best economy since 1984 is causing Democrats to rethink their campaign rhetoric now that the campaign climate reminds many of, well, of 1984, when a rapidly reviving economy helped Ronald Reagan win re-election in a landslide.

I doubt it will work for the Democrats. I think we're going to see the best result of a Republican presidential re-election campaign since ... 1984.

[Cross-posted at BlogsForBush]

Progress in Afghanistan
Afghanistan is on the road to progess. Literally.

The Things We'll Soon Learn
Some wags on the Left theorize that the U.S. will never allow Saddam Hussein to come to a public trial, because it would expose past U.S. business dealings with Saddam. The notion is stupid on two counts. First, those past business dealings are already well-known. Second, compared to many other countries, those past business dealings are rather minor. The following is excerpted from a book review of Kenneth Timmerman's 1991 book The Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq:

According to Timmerman, each of the players had a not-very-secret agenda: Saddam was determined to destroy Israel and be master of the Arab world; the governments of France, Germany, South Africa and Brazil were in it for big money; Egypt, Argentina, Italy, Britain and a host of others were in it for the smaller money left behind; the Soviets had their view of the world; and the Americans played regional balance-of-power against Iran, particularly during the second term of the Reagan presidency. And behind all of them were their defense industries, tying their products to their countries' perceived "national interests."

The companies involved, according to Timmerman, read like a "Who's Who" of international business. Timmerman makes the case that all were knowingly involved. Many of the affected companies will, surely, try to defend their actions.

German companies involved in the arming of Iraq included the NUKEM nuclear consortium, and its parent company, Degussa, as well as Messerschmidtt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB), Thyssen Rheinstahl Technology, and Preussag AG. All told, more than 100 German companies were involved - dozens of which maintained offices in Baghdad. The German connection was instrumental in creating Iraq's poison gas and nuclear capabilities. And German companies and technology were used to extend the range of the Iraqi SCUD missiles which hit Israel and Saudi Arabia.

French companies involved in the arming of Iraq include Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation, Snecma, Matra, Thompson-CSF, Aerospatiale, and many others. The Institut Merieux built the first Iraqi bacteriological laboratory. Several French government agencies were also involved including the Office Generale de L'Air and the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique.

Belgium's Sybetra used no fewer than 50 subcontractors from Belgium, France and England to build the Akashat/Al Qaim chemical plant in Iraq.

Also involved in arming Iraq are firms from Italy, Austria, Britain, Brazil, South Africa, and many others. The United States had an on-again-off-again relationship with Iraq. While Iraq was on the State Department's list of countries supporting terrorism, very little happened; but even then there was tension between the Department of Commerce (supporting ever-increasing trade with Saddam) and the Department of Defense (wanting to restrict sales of military-related technology).

The U.S.-Iraq Business Forum, a group promoting American trade with Iraq includes such notable firms on its membership roster as General Motors, Fisher Scientific, Lockheed, Caterpillar, Westinghouse, AT&T, Pepsicola International, Phillip Morris International and all the major American oil companies. The Forum lobbied Congress to ease trade and technology restrictions on Iraq and they were often successful. The United States supplied billions of dollars worth of agricultural credits (freeing Iraqi oil revenues to be spent on arms) and frequently permitted the sale of U.S. technology applicable to weapons research and development programs to Iraq.

Timmerman documents it all - including the role of Banca Nazionale da Lavorno (BNL) in Atlanta, which financed the agricultural credits and billions in other arms purchases.

The Death Lobby drips with cynicism. Jacques Chirac, the Gaullist Prime Minister of France, bade Saddam and his entourage farewell after a 1975 trip by announcing that French policy "is dictated not merely by interest, but also by the heart. France deems it necessary to establish relationships between producers and consumers on terms that best conform to the interests of both parties." In this case, French interest is solely money.

The Franco-Iraqi Nuclear Cooperation Treaty of 1976 included the clause that "all persons of the Jewish race or the Mosaic religion" be excluded from participating in the program, in either Iraq or France.

The German government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl faced and ignored specific information about illegal sales of German chemical capabilities. More than ignored - the German government issued a permit stating that "according to current rules, machinery, electrical equipment, regulation, measuring and testing instruments for a research, development and training institute with eight main sections, name: Project Saad 16, do not need an export permission." Saad 16 is one of Saddam Hussein's primary nuclear weapons research centers.
How nice. The French government agreed to an official policy of anti-semitism in order to help Saddam build a nuclear weapons program Saddam may well have used one day to vaporize Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reported the following back on June 18, 2001:
Two American arms control experts, combing through unpublished reports by a disbanded arms inspection commission, say they found evidence that Iraq continued to buy prohibited weapons or parts long after United Nations sanctions were imposed in 1990.

Many of the purchases appear to have been made in Central and Eastern Europe, the experts, Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control in Washington, and Kelly Motz, a project researcher, say in a new independent report. They found documents concerning illegal sales or potential sales by companies in Ukraine, Belarus and Romania. Among the purchases made by the government of Saddam Hussein were missile components and high-technology machine tools.

In the past, United Nations arms inspectors for Iraq had been reluctant to identify countries in public reports, in part because there have also been suspicions of illegal trading by companies in Russia, a powerful member of the Security Council.
According to this NYT story and graphic, Germany supplied 50 percent of Iraq's needs for its nuclear weapons program, while just 3.5 percent came from the United States.

Jim Dunnigan over at StrategyPage.com long ago exploded the myth that the U.S. armed Saddam:
When Iraq was on it's weapons spending spree from 1972 (when its oil revenue quadrupled) to 1990, the purchases were quite public and listed over $40 billion worth of arms sales. Russia was the largest supplier, with $25 billion. The US was the smallest, with $200,000. A similar myth, that the U.S. provided Iraq with chemical and biological weapons is equally off base. Iraq requested Anthrax samples from the US government, as do nations the world over, for the purpose of developing animal and human vaccines for local versions of Anthrax. Nerve gas doesn't require technical help, it's a variant of common insecticides. European nations sold Iraq the equipment to make poison gas. [Via CommandPost.com]
Saddam's conventional weaponry was largely French, Russian and Chinese.

It's one of the common refrains of the anti-war crowd, the claim that the United States "created" Saddam Hussein by providing him weaponry for the Iran-Iraq war. It's a lie. The three biggest sellers of arms to the Hussein regime from 1973 through 2002 were ... drumroll.... Russia, China and France, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Those three countries combined sold Saddam 82 percent of his weapons during that period. The United States sold him 1 percent. Chart here.

Remind me again - which members of the U.N. Security Council promised to veto any resolution authorizing the use of military force against Saddam Hussein? Oh, that's right. Russia. China. And France.

Thanks to Saddam's regime, Iraq owes billions to France, Germany and Russia. For what? For weapons and for components needed to develop weapons of mass destruction. A public trial may well allow the world see the real reason France, Germany and Russia actively opposed efforts to remove Saddam from power.

For that reason, I have a hunch France might try to derail a trial, perhaps by proposing Saddam be sent into exile to live out his days incommunicado under armed guard, in exchange for providing the world with information as to the whereabouts of the weapons of mass destruction, and a full accounting of the regime's trail of mass murder. France will argue that the information is more valuable than revenge via execution, and Russia and China will nod and agree with the proposal - but it will really be all about covering up their complicity in arming and propping up one of the worst mass-murdering tyrants in world history.

UPDATE: Tim Blair has some related thoughts - and don't miss the many good and pithy comments.

History Lesson
Lee Harris explains the roots of the Iraq war:

This is something that most liberal critics of the second Iraq war would like for us to forget - that this war is part of a historical process that began with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and cannot be understood apart from it. Before they can condemn the second Iraq war as an act of aggression, they had best go back and reflect on the origins of the first Iraq war. The first Iraq war began because one man, Saddam Hussein, wished to acquire the oil fields of his neighbor, and he used the army that he had built up with his country's own oil revenue in order to do this. Had he been permitted to succeed in this venture, it is certain that he would have used this new source of revenue in order to build up an even larger army that he could have then used to gobble up all the other militarily weak but oil rich Arab states in his vicinity, including Saudi Arabia, until the day arrived when he controlled all the oil fields of the middle East, at which time he could have commanded a virtually unlimited source of revenue that he could have directed to whatever aggressive purposes he thought best - a rather large amount of power to put into the hands of "a vile monster."

… Now let us suppose that, back in 1991, the American President and the American public had said, "Saddam has done nothing to us. He has only invaded a far away insignificant little country -- what difference can this possibly make to our own well being?" What would have happened then? Is it remotely conceivable that the rest of the world would have lifted a finger to stop Saddam Hussein, if the United States had been itself unwilling to shoulder the bulk of the burden of defeating him?

… Which leads us to something else we forget, namely, that unless America had acted then, no one would ever have known what a paper tiger Saddam Hussein's army really was, and today, rather than being a powerless old man held captive by the United States, Saddam Hussein would have been sitting on top of the world, his vast armies undefeated and his oil revenues sufficient to buy an arsenal of WMD's.

And, yes, all of this could have easily happened without Saddam Hussein having ever done a single thing to hurt a single American.
Read the whole thing.

Germany Surrenders
Like France before it, Germany now has agreed to forgive some of Iraq's massive debt. Hmm. Just last week we were being told that the Bush administration's decision to bar French and German companies from bidding on U.S.-funded Iraq reconstruction projects was a bad bit of political strategery that would cause the French and the Germans to balk at helping Iraq by forgiving some of its massive debt. What changed? Oh, yeah. That was before we captured Saddam Hussein. I can just imagine the conversations between U.S. envoy James Baker and French President Jacques Chirac, and then between Baker and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder:

Baker: Forgive Iraq's debt.
Chirac: Non!

Baker: We just arrested Saddam, who you've been in bed with for years. Forgive Iraq's debt.
Chirac: Oui!


The Comfy Chair Revolution
At the UN's Internet summit in Geneva in recent days - you know, the one where Iran's president defended his country's censorship of the web, and where delegates discussed Internet governance and other issues - one of the biggest issue was how to fund extending the technology and benefits of the Information Age to countries too poor to get wired.

Seems there was plenty of money already to make special chairs for the conference that looked like giant computer keyboard keys. The UN can't stand up to the likes of Saddam Hussein. But by golly you need specially made iconic plastic chairs, they're the multilateral organization to turn to.

Whither the WMD?
John Hawkins reveals the truth about the weapons of mass destruction.

Worst case scenario, it's like we stopped a serial killer before he could kill again as opposed to actually catching him with a body in the basement.
Answers all questions. Clip 'n' save.

How to Lose the War
A Democrat makes the case that anti-war candidates are helping our enemy. Here's an excerpt of Orson Scott Card's piece in the Wall Street Journal:

And the most vile part of this campaign against Mr. Bush is that the terrorist war is being used as a tool to try to defeat him - which means that if Mr. Bush does not win, we will certainly lose the war. Indeed, the anti-Bush campaign threatens to undermine our war effort, give encouragement to our enemies, and cost American lives during the long year of campaigning that lies ahead of us.


When did we lose the Vietnam War? Not in 1968, when we held an election that hinged on the war. None of the three candidates (Humphrey, Nixon, Wallace) were committed to unilateral withdrawal. Not during Nixon's "Vietnamization" program, in which more and more of the war effort was turned over to Vietnamese troops. In fact, Vietnamization, by all measures I know about, worked.

We lost the war when the Democrat-controlled Congress specifically banned all military aid to South Vietnam, and a beleaguered Republican president signed it into law. With Russia and China massively supplying North Vietnam, and Saigon forced to buy pathetic quantities of ammunition and spare parts on the open market because America had cut off all aid, the imbalance doomed them, and they knew it.

The South Vietnamese people were subjected to a murderous totalitarian government (and the Hmong people of the Vietnamese mountains were victims of near-genocide) because the U.S. Congress deliberately cut off military aid - even after almost all our soldiers were home and the Vietnamese were doing the fighting themselves.

That wasn't about "peace," that was about political posturing and an indecent lack of honor. Is that where we're headed again?
But, hey, if it puts Dean in the White House, the anti-Bushies will be happy, right? Read the whole thing.

Bush Boom Update
More good economic news today as the Bush Boom gathers momentum. Among the positive data: a report that showed a bigger-than-expected rise in industrial output; another that showed lower-than-expected consumer price inflation as the cost of energy, clothing lodging and furniture all fell, pushing inflation to a nearly 38-year low; and a strong rise in housing starts.

Steyn on Saddam
Mark Steyn mulls Saddam's inglorious capture and the prospects for a trial:

For months the naysayers have demanded the Americans turn over more power to the Iraqis. Okay, let's start by turning Saddam over to the Iraqis. Whoa, not so fast. The same folks who insisted there was no evidence Saddam was a threat to any countries other than his own and the invasion was an unwarranted interference in Iraqi internal affairs are now saying that Saddam can't be left to the Iraqi people, he has to be turned over to an international tribunal.

You can forget about that. The one consistent feature of the post-9/11 era is the comprehensive failure of the international order. The French use their Security Council veto to protect Saddam. The EU subsidises Palestinian terrorism. The International Atomic Energy Agency provides cover for Iran's nuclear ambitions. The UN summit on racism is an orgy of racism.

All these institutions do is enable nickel'n'dime thugs to punch above their weights. The New York Times, sleepwalking through the 21st century on bromides from the Carter era, wants the UN to run Saddam's trial because one held under the auspices of the Americans would "lack legitimacy". Au contraire, it's the willingness of Kofi Annan, Mohammed el-Baradei, Chris Patten, Mary Robinson and the other grandees of the international clubrooms to give "legitimacy" to Saddam, Kim Jong-Il, Arafat, Assad and co that disqualifies them from any role in Iraq. I've come to the conclusion that the entire international system needs to be destroyed.

I don't suppose that's a priority of the Bush Administration, or at least not until the second term. But he's in no hurry to return to the Security Council fairyland of make-believe resolutions that never get enforced. On Sunday morning, his speed-call list was restricted to the Coalition of the Willing – the prime ministers of Britain, Australia, Poland, Italy and Spain. He seems to be roughing out the contours of a new club here: dictatorships need not apply, but nor need those democracies that serve as the dictators' front men in polite society (are you listening, Jacques?).
Typically excellent stuff from Steyn, so read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Saddam's oldest daughter, Raghad (rhymes with Bag Dead, I think), wants her daddy tried before an international tribunal rather than an Iraqi court, and vows to hire the best attorneys for her dad. My money's on Mark Geragos...

Frogs Hop On Bandwagon
France is making a move to mend fences with the U.S, reports the AP, noting that the French government said yesterday it will work with other nations to cancel billions of dollars in Iraqi debt and that Saddam Hussein's capture will open the way toward mending relations with Washington. Interesting that - in the same week the Bush administration barred the French from bidding on Iraq reconstruction contracts, and then arrested their former business partner Saddam Hussein, the French are coming around to doing things our way. Of course you knew they would. They always surrender to whoever they think is going to win.

UPDATE: Blogs for Bush points out that, of course France suddenly wants to forgive Iraq's debts - because a lot of the debt is from weapon sales. "No doubt nations will be willing to do whatever Bush wants now that we have Saddam. Who knows what stories Saddam has in his mental repository," says Blogs for Bush.

To Iraq
''Crazy'' is a word Rita Salman has heard a lot these days when she tells people she's taking her daughter to Iraq. Read the whole thing

91 Thanks
A big "Thank you" the to 91 people who voted for HobbsOnline as "Best Media/Journalist Blog" in Weblog Awards That's only 6.2 votes shy of 10 percent of the votes of winner James Taranto, who writes the "Best of the Web" blog at the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com. HobbsOnline ... 10 percent as Popular as the Best of the Web. Heh.


Carnival of the Capitalists
The 11th installment of Carnival of the Capitalists, a weekly roundup of business and economic bloggage, is up over at the samaBlog. I forgot to contribute to it this week, but if I'd remembered I'd have submitted this or this. To submit your best bidness- or econo-bloggage for inclusion in next week's CotC, send a link to capitalists-at-elhide.com, with COTC in the subject line.

So Much for Economic Liberty
From a recent edition of Hardball:

Chris Matthews: "Do you think a person has a right to work somewhere if they don’t want to join a union?"
Howard Dean: "I do. No, wait a minute. I don’t."

DEAN: I hate right-to-work laws. And let me tell you why it’s OK to be forced to join a union. The union is out there negotiating for your wage increases. Why should you get a free ride? Why should you should be able to go to work for that company, get the same benefits as everybody else who paid their union dues and you paid nothing? That’s why I’m against right-to-work laws.


DEAN: But I do believe it’s important for states to be able to make their own laws.

MATTHEWS: You understand why a libertarian would disagree with you, right? A libertarian would think they had a right, he or she, to work where they can do the job.

DEAN: Yes, but why should they-but why should they get the benefits of everybody else who is paying dues and get a free ride?

MATTHEWS: Because it's a free country.
Matthews is right, it IS a free country, though Dean seems to think that, when it comes to your economic liberty, that's a bad thing. Right to work laws are a cornerstone of individual economic liberty. They protect individuals from forced unionization and forced conscription of a portion of their wages for union dues. Howard Dean stands ready to strip Americans of that protection and force Americans to submit to collectivization instead. [Hat tip: Dean Esmay]

Joe Blow 2
Joe Lieberman on Howard Dean:

I fear that the American people will wonder if they will be safer with him as president if Howard Dean cannot understand why the capture of Saddam Hussein has made America safer.
Aw, leave him alone, Joe. The Deanie Baby probably still doesn't know if Iraq is better off with Saddam in prison - or in power, filling fresh mass graves.

Trying Saddam
You will here over the coming weeks and months increasing calls from the Left for Saddam to be tried by the recently created International Criminal Court. There are a number of reasons for this, and Big Media coverage will focus on the ICC's lack of a death penalty. But that won't be the main reason Euro-leftists and anti-Americanistas push for Saddam to be tried before the ICC. No, they'll be pushing that because it the ICC is the wrong court if you want justice for Saddam, but the right court if you want to cover up the complicity of France and others in Saddam's reign of terror. Amir Teheri explains:

Their suggestion is prompted by two considerations. First, the United States is not included in the ICC, and thus would not be able to play a part in interrogating Saddam. The second is that the ICC would not be able to try Saddam for all his crimes since July 17, 1968, the date at which his Ba'ath Party seized power in a military coup d'etat. (The ICC's remit is limited to crimes committed since its own creation in 2002).
In other words, trying Saddam before the ICC virtually guarantees no evidence of France's long history of support for Saddam will come out, and most of Saddam's war crimes and crimes against his own people would also not be on the docket. Watch for Jacques Chirac to push heavily for an ICC trial.

Congratulations, Safaa
I have at various times in the past two years published this photo, by Tennessean staff photographer P. Casey Daley, showing little Safaa Albadran, 4, outside the Nashville Convention Center under a banner held by her father Karim, an Iraqi immigrant who opposes Saddam Hussein’s government, left, proclaiming Saddam: Out - Democracy In.

The photo was taken more than a year ago, when President Bush was in town for a political fundraiser. Also outside the convention center that day: About 300 anti-war protestors, many in need of shower, deodorant and haircut, holding signs calling Bush a terrorist because he favored the removal from power of a mass murderer who would have ordered Safaa and her father killed and buried in a mass grave if they'd held that sign up outside the Baghdad Convention Center.

I would dearly love to know what Safaa's father is thinking today, to feel the joy he must feel now that Saddam indeed is out, and Democracy indeed is on its way in. And I would love to know if Safaa understands that the flag she clutched that day is the flag under which her home country was liberated, so that no more little girls like her will be executed and buried in mass graves because their mommy or daddy criticized the tyrant.

Congratulations Safaa and Karim.

Preventing War
Polls show the American people increasingly support the war in Iraq, much to the chagrin of your average Democrat running for president who isn't named Joe Lieberman.

I support it too.

I support Bush's call and actions to spread it to the Middle East. A freer, more democratic Middle East will be more prosperous and produce fewer terrorists, and fewer Americans will die in Islamist terror attacks. Fewer Muslims will die, too, because if Islamist terrorists ever did use a WMD - a suitcase nuke, a bio weapon, a chemical weapon, a dirty bomb - to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, the only possible response from the U.S. would be the vaporizing of the main capitals of the enemy. Baghdad. Tehran. Damascus. Maybe even Riyadh.

We will have no choice - if the enemy starts to slaughter us with WMDs, we will have to use even greater force - and that means nuking whole cities, killing millions in an eye-blink. The alternative would be to sit, do nothing, and be slaughtered.

I'd rather us go in now, kill a few thousand terrorists and Iraqi Baathist dead-enders, lose only a few hundred Americans (as tragic as that is for them and their loved ones) and prevent a far more horrific future by planting democracy and creating a new ally in the middle of the Middle East - and setting off a wave of change in the Middle East that will turn the Islamic world from its current, suicidal, direction.

I supported the conventional-arms invasion of Iraq now so we won't have to defeat Iraq later by killing tens of millions of people with horrific weaponry.

Because of what we did to Saddam now, in the future - say, 25 years from now - no one will ever ask a question like this:

If you could go back in time, knowing Saddam was going to give those Russian suitcase nukes to al Qaeda, who used them to vaporize Israel (6 million dead) and take out New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago (100 million dead,) would you have supported stopping him before it got that far?
If you could go back to 1935 and take out Hitler, would you?

This year, with this murderous dictator, we did.