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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fighting Urban Poverty Through Land Grants

Over the last half century, many of the older cities in America have built up a substantial inventory of abandoned buildings.  This problem is clearly worst in Detroit where the population has declined by roughly 60%.  Other large cities, however, share the problem.  One or two houses or stores in an area will be abandoned, those buildings become centers of urban decay and crime, and then larger areas around the abandoned building fall into the morass of decay.

A good example of this problem is the city of Philadelphia.  There are between 40,000 and 50,000 abandoned buildings in that city (depending on whose statistics one accepts).  These properties no longer generate tax revenues, are havens for drug users and other criminals and destroy the value of other properties in the neighborhood, thus increasing urban poverty.  Right now, the accepted method for dealing with these empty buildings is for the city to take them over through legal process and then, after clearing the title, to sell them on the market at auction.  In each of the last few years, Philadelphia has sold between 150 and 200 buildings in this way.  Clearly, the current method put in place by the liberal city government is not going to end the problem.  Even with no additional abandonments, it would take two centuries to get rid of all the abandoned properties in Philadelphia under the current practices.

A conservative plan to combat urban poverty and decay would be to allow individual initiative to be used to reverse the decline of these properties.  It would not be all that difficult to carry out.  Here are the steps to be followed:

1.  Buildings in arrears on property taxes would be identified by the local government. 

2.  Building owners would be notified and given one year or some other shorter time period to bring the taxes current.

3.  Uninhabited properties that are still delinquent in tax payments after a year would be put up for auction with the minimum bid being the amount of unpaid taxes plus interest and costs.  Sales made in these auctions would be final 30 days after the auction.  This would give the owners one last chance to retrieve the property from the sale.

4.  Any property for which no qualified bids are received would become property of the local government 30 days after the date of the auction.

5.  The city would then offer the properties free of charge to qualified applicants.  (Qualified  applicants would be all legal residents who have not received any other property under this or similar programs.)  In exchange for the property, the applicant would agree to bring the building back up to code standards, to live in the building for at least five years, and to pay the property taxes on a current basis during that time.  Taxes would be set at only 25% of the prior level during that five year period.  Applicants would also be required to keep the property free of criminal activities during the five years.

6.  If the applicant met these requirements, then at the end of the five years, the local government would transfer title to the property.

The program described above is far from unique.  Homesteading has been used many times previously in the USA.  Moving the program to urban areas has multiple benefits.  First of all, it gives people with no financial assets the chance to use their own work as a means to acquire a home of their own.  Second, these home owners will be much more interested in keeping the neighborhood (and their property) in good repair and safe.  Third, instead of having the housing stock of a city declining, the program could actually move towards a return of higher population.  The cities where the plan is tried will get higher tax revenues from properties which previously were nothing but a drain on the treasury.

So, this is a program that has little or not cost to the government associated with it while at the same time it has the chance to create significant wealth for many poor folks.


Here's Another Perversion of the Argument

Paul Begala is a frequently seen face on CNN.  Okay, what I meant was that if one watches CNN, Paul Begala is frequently seen.  After all, aside from people waiting for their plane in airports or sitting in bars where the TV is playing but the sound is off, there are only a few people who still watch CNN.  Let me put it this way:  there are probably more people who successfully signed up for insurance on the Obamacare exchange than who are watching CNN at this moment.  But I digress.  Let's get back to poor Paul Begala.

Begala wrote a column today headlined "With Food Stamp Cuts, GOP Turns Its Back on the Hungry".  In case the headline is not enough to understand Begala's point, his basic position is that the heartless Republicans in Congress have cut food stamps so that millions of hungry Americans can no longer qualify for the program and are starving as a result.  In Begala's column Republicans are evil and Democrats are the forces of good.  At stake in this epic battle of good vs. evil are the lives of millions who will otherwise die of starvation.

Now let's look at the facts:

1.  The food stamp program has not been changed this year.  It remains exactly where it has been for the last three years.

2.  The size of the food stamp program or SNAP as it is more properly known, grew by over 40% in just the first two years of the Obama administration when tens of millions of recipients were added to the program.  The limits of coverage were set by the Democrats, so if there are Americans starving due to lack of food stamps, they are starving because they fall outside the limits of Obama and those who Begala idolizes.

3.  There are two plans in Congress to reduce the size of the food stamp program now that the economy is no longer in total crisis.  The first plan to cut the program is that of the Democrats in the Senate.  Gasp!!!  Let me say that again so that someone can tell Begala.  One of the two plans to cut food stamps is being pushed by the DEMOCRATS in the Senate.  (I hope Begala does not pass out on hearing this.)  The other plan is put forward by the Republicans in the House. 

4.  The difference between the Democrat plan and the Republican plan is that the Democrats want to spend two percent more over the next decade on this program.  That was not a typo.  The difference is TWO PERCENT of ten years. 

So what do these facts mean?  The answer is simple.  There is very little difference between the plan of the Democrats to cut food stamps and the Republican plan to do the same.  Begala make the claim that only 57% of hungry Americans will qualify for the program under the Republican plan.  He omits the corresponding point that using his logic, only about 57.5% of hungry Americans will qualify for the program under the Democrat plan.

There are certain issues about how the food stamp program will be run which divide the Democrats and the Republicans in Congress.  Like most of the liberals in the media, however, Begala cannot be bothered to debate the actual issues.  Instead, he perverts the argument into one where Republicans are in favor of starvation for the poor and Democrats are their saviors.  Like most of these perverted arguments, Begala's reasoning is actually just a pack of lies.  With this kind of conduct, however, Begala is doing his best to make sure that the real issues are never considered.  We just continue with gridlock.  No improvements are made because few folks even know what the real issues are.

Oh well, at least Begala is on CNN.  I suppose he figures that if he has to suffer he might as well try to make the rest of us join him.


Friday, November 29, 2013

The Evil of Walmart

Since it is Black Friday again, it is time for the annual protests against the low wages paid by Walmart.  This year, there were protests in a few places around the country.  Organizers had called for protests at 1500 stores; the got something closer to 15 stores where protests occurred.  On top of the tiny size of the protests, there was also news that many of the people attending had actually been paid to show up.  One interesting fact:  the folks who turned out to protest the low wages at Walmart were paid less per hour to protest than the average Walmart worker.

The real question presented to America is this:  are you willing to pay higher prices for groceries, clothing and other goods so that workers at Walmart can make higher wages?  After all, the price of the products sold and the cost of the labor at the stores is inextricably linked.  Nevertheless, we hear about polls in which folks are asked if they support a higher minimum wage; nothing is ever said about the consequences of that increase.  We also hear about polls asking whether wages at Walmart should be raised, again without mentioning the consequences of such a raise.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not taking a position one way or the other on the level of wages paid to Walmart employees.  I admit that I do not know enough about the subject to have a firm opinion.  I do know, however, that all the hype about the supposed protests today and the seemingly neverending polling on the subject is totally distorted.  It is meaningless to poll about just the benefits without mentioning the costs.  A poll which asks Americans if it would be good to cure cancer would get 99% support (with 1% saying no just to be difficult.)  A poll, however, which asks whether it would be a good idea to tax each individual in the country $20,000 so that cancer could be cured would not get such high support.  I do not even know if it would get a majority.  Similarly, a poll which only asks about some people getting raises is sure to get overwhelming support.  Only once the costs of those raises are also included can we get a picture of the real opinion.

It is just another perversion of the argument by the left.


The Search For Intelligent Life

Over the last few decades, huge sums of money have been spent as part of SETI, the search for signs of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.  It seems to many that it is time to refocus this effort.  We would all be better served if researchers started instead to look for signs of intelligent life in Washington.

In just the last week, the Obama administration decided to delay the small business exchange for Obamacare for a year without postponing the new insurance requirements for small business.  What this means, in a nutshell, is that Obamacare will still mandate the cancellation of millions upon millions of small business policies, but the mechanism in Obamacare which was supposed to enable all those companies to find new insurance easily and in an inexpensive manner will not be working this year.  That will leave tens of millions of small businesses trying to use a greatly overburdened existing system to get new insurance for all these employees.  Can you say CHAOS?

At the same time, Obama announced a deal with Iran about which Teheran already says Washington is lying.  Obama has made a big deal about an agreement without the two sides even being able to agree what is actually in that agreement.  Can you say IDIOCY?

I could go on and on down the list.  The point is that it has been quite a while since the federal government did something that seemed even somewhat intelligent.  There may be some sort of intelligent life in Washington, but, if so, it is being suppressed.


More Nonsense About Voting "Restrictions"

In my years as an adult, I have lived in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut.  All three are so called "blue" states, and none of the three have early voting.  If I want to cast my vote, I have to show up on election day or else vote ahead of time by absentee ballot.  Is this voter "suppression"?  I don't think so, and neither does the media.

Now let's switch the focus to North Carolina, a state that is most accurately called a "red" state.  There is a Republican governor and legislature.  North Carolina has early voting.  If you want to vote in that state, you can show up on any of ten days prior to election day.  But get this!  North Carolina passed a law in the last year that cut the number of early voting days from 17 to 10 while lengthening the hours on those ten days when polling is open.  So voters in North Carolina have ten times the number of days on which to vote compared to voters in PA, NY or CT.  Is this voter "suppression"?  The answer is a loud yes according to the liberal media. 

So how can it be that a state which lets folks vote on ten days is engaged in voter suppression while states that allow voting on just one day are not?  Even in the minds of the liberal media, it must be hard to justify that one.  Nevertheless, the crazy drumbeat of voter suppression is still coming loud and clear from this crazies.

But wait there's more.  North Carolina, just like Connecticut, requires a photo ID when voting.  Once again, the requirement in North Carolina is voter suppression while the one in Connecticut is unremarkable.  Again, the liberal media does not even try to differentiate between the two states.

So let's go to a third issue.  Fully forty states do not allow registration to vote at the polls.  Ten states, including North Carolina, allow people to register and vote on the same day.  In North Carolina, however, such registration and voting must be done during the ten days of early voting.  North Carolina used to allow registration and voting on election day, but just did away with that because it resulted in too much delay to the heavier crowds on election day.  So who is engaged in voter suppression; the forty states (including all of the bluest states) that do not allow same day registration or North Carolina which allows same day registration for ten days but not on the eleventh (election day.)  In the crazy world of liberal media, North Carolina is the answer.

The sad thing is that the left and their allies in the media seem to think that they can basically say anything and get away with it.  That is completely wrong.  Oh, there are a few idiots who the left can fool all of the time.  Nevertheless, we need to educate America to understand the full extent of the dishonesty of the left and the media.  We cannot allow the perversion of debate that seems to be the non-stop effort coming from the left.


More Presents on Black Friday

Since today is Black Friday, I thought I would put another gift idea out there.  My suggestion is jewelry from a company called Adornia.   The Adornia web site is filled with reasonably priced jewelry that are perfect gifts for the women on your list.  I just bought five piece there for five different women and girls which I know will be major successes.  For the next four days, they are even running a promotion at the Adornia site which gives you $50 off if you spend over $100.

The key here is this is all real jewelry (not costume) but it is priced below comparable sites for the same sort of items.  I recommend it.  Here is the link.


Empathy or Encouragement

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote a column about the need for empathy in America.  In his view, the problems of poverty are severe and hit children disproportionately, so we all must care more about the problem.  In his view, those who see so called poverty programs as not productive are social darwinists.  In Kristof's view, those who oppose the current anti-poverty agenda want only the strong to survive, whether or not the anti-poverty programs actually work.

This is yet another example of a leftist who perverts the debate so that the real issues are not considered.  The debate is not a question of whether or not we should help poor children.  There must be people opposed to doing so, but they are a tiny minority whose voices are rarely heard.  The actual debate, the one that Kristof seeks to suppress, is HOW do we best help poor children.  I have been writing about conservative anti-poverty proposals for a while now, and Kristof does not want to have to deal with issues like those.  (No, I am not suggesting that Kristof has to answer my blog, so no need for those email, please.)

Ask yourself this question:  What behavior is encouraged when the state provides increased payments to a poor drug addicted woman each time she has a child?  The answer is obvious; we get what we pay for, another child.  But these are children born to mothers who are incapable of caring for them.  They are refugees at birth, devoid of good homes, good care, and most prospects for a successful life.  Kristof argues that empathy requires us to provide even more for these children and their mothers, but his appeal is nothing except pure emotion.  Does it make sense for us to increase the policy that helps cause the problem, or should we perhaps look for another solution, one that would lessen the cause of the problem rather than promoting it?

The distortion of the issues has allowed the left to control the debate for many decades.  Too many conservatives have hidden from this debate, afraid that they might be called heartless or uncaring.  The result has been a "War on Poverty" which after the expenditure of literally trillions of dollars has left us with a society with more people in poverty than was the case when Lyndon Johnson first declared that so called war.  The anti-poverty programs of the left have not worked.  The data is all there.  It's time for a change in strategy.