January 20, 2017

Climate Change & the Difference of Just One Minute

At the Climate Depot website, Marc Morano reports that at noon today -- the exact time that Donald Trump was inaugurated as America's 45th president -- all references to so-called climate change were deleted from the White House website. Specifically, he noted:

"'At 11:59 am eastern, the official White House website had a lengthy information page about the threat of climate change and the steps the federal government had taken to fight it. At noon, at the instant Donald Trump took office, the page was gone, as well as any mention of climate change or global warming.'"

Morano went on to explain (see original post for embedded links):

"A climate of change! Perhaps the most stark contrast between the Obama administration and the Trump administration is on “global warming”. The climate differences were visible today as the White House website was scrubbed of all references to “climate change” at exactly noon today just as President Donald Trump was sworn in.

"Climate Depot statement: “Climate skeptics are thrilled that one of the very first visible changes of the transition of power between President Obama and President Trump is the booting of “climate change” from the White House website. Trump is truly going to make science great again and reject the notion that humans are the control knob of the climate and UN treaties and EPA regulations can somehow regulate temperature and storminess. Welcome to the era of sound science!” (Note: Skeptical Film ‘Climate Hustle’ Now Available As ‘Streaming Video On Demand’ to Greet Gore’s Sequel)

"Meteorologist and Weather Channel Founder John Coleman had one word to describe the White House climate website changes. ‘Hooray!,” Coleman, a climate skeptic, tweeted. (Also see: Weather Channel Founder: Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Sequel’ Will Be Another ‘Scientific Monstrosity’)

He includes a list of the webpages he links to.

Kudos to the small, but important, change about global warming made by Team Trump.

January 19, 2017

A Thought about Wealth

“Wealth is the product of man's capacity to think.”

~ Ayn Rand

Source: ThinkExist.com.

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In an article for Townhall.com almost two years ago, David Boaz, executive vice president at the Cato Institute, wrote:

"Like Ludwig von Mises and F. A. Hayek, (Ayn) Rand demonstrates the importance of immigration not just to America but to American libertarianism. Mises had fled his native Austria right before the Nazis confiscated his library, Rand fled the Communists who came to power in her native Russia. When a heckler asked her at a public speech, “Why should we care what a foreigner thinks?”, she replied with her usual fire, “I chose to be an American. What did you ever do, except for having been born?”

"George Gilder called (Rand's book) Atlas Shrugged “the most important novel of ideas since War and Peace.” Writing in the Washington Post, he explained her impact on the world of ideas and especially the world of capitalist ideas: “Rand flung her gigantic books into the teeth of an intelligentsia still intoxicated by state power, during an era when even Dwight Eisenhower maintained tax rates of 90 percent and confessed his inability to answer Nikita Khrushchev’s assertion that capitalism was immoral because it was based on greed.”

"Rand’s books first appeared when no one seemed to support freedom and capitalism, and when even capitalism’s greatest defenders seemed to emphasize its utility, not its morality. It was often said at the time that socialism is a good idea in theory, but human beings just aren’t good enough for socialism. It was Ayn Rand who said that socialism is not good enough for human beings.

"Her books garnered millions of readers because they presented a passionate philosophical case for individual rights and capitalism, and did so through the medium of vivid, can’t-put-it-down novels. The people who read Ayn Rand and got the point didn’t just become aware of costs and benefits, incentives and trade-offs. They became passionate advocates of liberty."

January 18, 2017

A Thought about Presidents and the Economy

"Presidential reputations rise or fall with gross domestic product. The state of the economy can determine if presidents are re-elected, and it shapes historical memory of their success or failure.

"In the news media, we often use the handover of power as the time for assessing the economic record of the departing president. (I’ve done it myself recently.) Some economists have predicted that the Trump administration could create the next recession or financial crisis. And scholars have studied the relative economic conditions generated by Republicans and Democrats for predictive meaning (Democrats have done better since World War II, they found)."

"But the reality is that presidents have far less control over the economy than you might imagine. Presidential economic records are highly dependent on the dumb luck of where the nation is in the economic cycle. And the White House has no control over the demographic and technological forces that influence the economy.

"Even in areas where the president really does have power to shape the economy — appointing Federal Reserve governors, steering fiscal and regulatory policy, responding to crises and external shocks — the relationship between presidential action and economic outcome is often uncertain and hard to prove."

~ Neil Irwin

Source: his New York Times column, "Presidents Have Less Power Over the Economy Than You Might Think," posted 1/17/17 at The New York Times.

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Neil Irwin is a senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, where he writes for The Upshot, a Times site for analysis of politics, economics and more.

January 17, 2017

Real Estate Assessments Up: Residential 2.3%, Hotels 6%

The Arlington Sun Gazette reports on Arlington County's 2017 real estate property assessments, which were released last Friday., writing:

"Modest assessment increases in both the residential and commercial segments of the  real estate market were reported by Arlington government officials on Jan. 13. But property owners will have to wait until later in the spring to see what their 2017 tax bills will look like.

"The average assessed value of all residential properties – single-family, attached and condominiums – for 2017 is $617,200, up 2.3 percent from $603,500 a year before. That increase seems in line with the local real estate market, which saw relatively strong sales in 2016 but no great bump up in average prices.

"The average assessment on commercial property in the county rose 3.4 percent, with about half the increase due to new construction and much of the rest due to higher assessments on hotels. The apartment and office-building sectors were relatively flat."

The weekly newspaper also points out that in "most jurisdictions, where commercial property represents a quarter or less of overall assessed value, Arlington’s tax base is roughly evenly split between residential and commercial."

Arlington Countty's January 13 press release is here. It says "property values up modestly," and includes five bullet points:

  • Overall increase of 2.9 percent
  • Average residential property up 2.3 percent, to $617,200
  • New constructions slightly boosts office value, up 0.6 percent
  • 6 percent growth in existing hotel property values
  • 2017 assessments available online at 11 p.m. Friday, Jan. 13

The press release also notes the following about commercial property assessments:

"Commercial properties, including office buildings, apartments, hotels and retail, increased 3.4 percent. The increase was fueled by 1.6 percent growth from new construction across the commercial sectors and by 14.6 percent growth in existing hotels, reflecting the strength of Arlington’s tourism market. Existing office property values remained flat, while existing apartments increased 1.9 percent — these two sectors represent 82 percent of the commercial tax base."

In addition, the press release provides the following information about the FY 2018 budget outlook:

"Arlington, like all local governments in Virginia, relies heavily on revenue generated from real estate property taxes to fund services to residents, tourists and employees of the businesses located here.

"As the County develops its Fiscal Year 2018 Budget (the fiscal year runs from July 2017 through June 2018), it faces pressures from Metro and from Arlington Public Schools. As the County continues to experience population growth, particularly along the Metro corridors, and growth in student enrollment, there is increasing demand for existing and new services and for new facilities.

"Maintaining the Metro system is critical for the economic health and growth of our community and for Arlington’s environmental sustainability. With the Washington Metropolitan Transportation Authority (WMATA) facing unprecedented budget pressures and maintenance needs, we expect contributions from local jurisdictions to significantly increase in FY 2018, putting more pressure on our budget. Arlington will continue to work closely with WMATA and our jurisdictional partners to resolve WMATA’s budget gap.

"The challenge facing the County and Schools as they approach the FY 2018 budget is that revenue is expected to be less than projected expenditures."

Finally, the county makes the following points about real estate assessments:

"Real estate assessments are appraisals. They are the County’s opinions of value for each parcel of real property in Arlington. The assessments are made using accepted methods, standards and techniques of the real estate appraisal and assessment profession. For more information, visit the County webpages on real estate assessments." (embedded link from the original). Information about assessment appeals can be found there.

Will wonders never cease? Once again, the Arlington County Board looks set to read a windfall from the rising assessments, which is exactly why local jurisdictions in Virginia are required to compute -- before budget adoption in the Spring -- an effective tax rate increase.

Given the implications for taxpayers, Growls readers may want to direct questions to the Arlington County Board. Just click-on the link below:

  • Call the School Board office at (703) 228-6015

And tell them ACTA sent you.

January 16, 2017

Dead People Doling Out Food Stamps

At the Washington Free Beacon last Friday, Elizabeth Harrington reported the findings of a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General report, writing, "Dead retailers redeemed more than $2 billion worth of food stamps, according to a new audit."

She explains, writing:

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s inspector general reviewed billions of transactions through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. It found that thousands of stores authorized to accept food stamps were using the Social Security numbers of deceased persons.

"An audit released Thursday found instances of potential fraud where the Food and Nutrition Service issued food stamps through stores that claimed to be owned by children or the dead.

“We found that 3,394 authorized SNAP retailers (retailers) used Social Security Numbers (SSN) that matched SSNs of deceased people,” the inspector general said. “Additionally, 193 retailers listed owners who were not at least 18 years of age. While FNS did have some controls to edit or verify SNAP retail owner information, these controls were not adequate to ensure owner information accuracy.”

"Between October 2013 and June 2015, the inspector general identified 3,394 stores owned by 1,819 people who were using SSNs listed on the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File.

“These 3,394 retailers redeemed about $2.6 billion in SNAP benefits,” the inspector general said. The 193 businesses that reported child owners redeemed $41 million in food stamps.

 “Without accurate retail owner data such as birth dates and SSNs, [the Food and Nutrition Service] FNS has little assurance that retailers are who they say they are,” the inspector general said. “This could leave the program open to abuse by disqualified individuals and others wishing to hide their identity for possible fraudulent purposes.”

For context, Harrington provided the following program information:

"An average of 46 million Americans receive food stamps every month through the food stamp program, which costs $70 billion per year.

"For the audit, the inspector general reviewed roughly 280,000 retailers responsible for 1.56 billion food stamp transactions worth $23 billion."

In conclusion, Harrington wrote:

"The government said it is reviewing the 1,819 owners using the SSNs of dead people.

"So far the department has reviewed 147 owners and removed 122, or 83 percent, from the program.

"Of the remaining stores, seven are no longer authorized to redeem food stamps for other violations. Eighteen cases were found to be valid; in some of these cases, the business owner had died but the business was still operated by the deceased owners’ spouse."

The entire USDA Inspector General 29-page report is available here. The OIG also wrote in their audit:

"(Food & Nutrition Service) uses two information systems to administer SNAP—STARS and ALERT. Both systems should reflect the same monetary data. However, we found that, of the 243,595 retailers authorized during the period of our review, 241 retailers recorded different monthly transaction totals in the two systems. For the 21 months of data we compared, these discrepancies totaled about $43 million.

"FNS generally concurred with our recommendations and OIG was able to accept management decision for all 7 recommendations."

If you have a few minutes, write your member of Congress. Tell them the food stamp program needs to be run like a business. Contact information is available at the Library of Congress' Congress.gov. Taxpayers living in Virginia's Arlington County can contact:

  • Senator Mark Warner (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-2023
  • Senator Tim Kaine (D) -- write to him or call (202) 224-4024
  • Representative Don Beyer (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

Ask for a written response. And tell them ACTA sent you.

January 14, 2017

A Thought on Bureacracy and Capitalism

"What must be realized is that the strait jacket of bureaucratic organization paralyzes the individual’s initiative, while within the capitalist market society an innovator still has a chance to succeed. The former makes for stagnation and preservation of inveterate methods, the latter makes for progress and improvement. Capitalism is progressive, socialism is not.

"The champions of socialism call themselves progressives, but they recommend a system which is characterized by rigid observance of routine and by a resistance to every kind of improvement. They call themselves liberals, but they are intent upon abolishing liberty. They call themselves democrats, but they yearn for dictatorship. They call themselves revolutionaries, but they want to make the government omnipotent. They promise the blessings of the Garden of Eden, but they plan to transform the world into a gigantic post office. Every man but one a subordinate clerk in a bureau, what an alluring utopia! What a noble cause to fight for!

"Against all this frenzy of agitation there is but one weapon available: reason. Just common sense is needed to prevent man from falling prey to illusory fantasies and empty catchwords." (emphasis in the original)

~ Ludwig von Mises

Source: his 1944 book, Bureaucracy. (see the 1/8/17 Carpe Diem post for the embedded link to the e-book).

HT Mark Perry's 1/8/17 Carpe Diem blog at the American Enterprise Institute.

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Ludwig von Mises was one of the last members of the original Austrian School of Economics. He earned his doctorate in law and economics from the University of Vienna in 1906. One of his best works, The Theory of Money and Credit, was published in 1912 and was used as a money and banking textbook for the next two decades. Encyclopedia at tthe Library of Economics and Liberty.

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Items in Growls are written by individual ACTA members and do not necessarily represent the views of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, Inc. Please send comments about Growls to The Growl Meister