March 31, 2007

Eminent Domain Victors’ Health Forces Sale

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 3:41 pm

This is sad:

A suburban Norwood couple who won a fight to keep the government from taking their home to make way for a $125 million complex of offices, shops and restaurants said Friday they were selling to developers because of poor health.

“I want everyone to know that we fought our battle because we deeply believe that it’s wrong for cities to force hardworking people from their homes just so politically connected developers can make money,” Joy Gamble said in a statement released by the Washington-based Institute for Justice, which represented her and her husband, Carl Gamble.

“We fought not just for us, but for every home and small business owner in Ohio and the rest of the country,” she said.

The Gambles, both in their late 60s, were forced to leave their home two years ago but always maintained that they planned to return. In July, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the seizure of their home was illegal because eminent domain – the process by which a government takes private property – had been improperly invoked to acquire land not strictly meant for public use.

Both Gambles have been diagnosed with cancer, the institute said, and Carl Gamble has been hospitalized since December with heart and lung problems. The couple agreed to sell their house to Rookwood Partners, the developer whose offer they had rejected, for $650,000 and to drop litigation regarding damage to the home since they moved out.

The Gambles had lived in the home for 35 years.

“The main thing that’s kept us going these past couple of years is the thought of moving back into our home,” Joy Gamble said. “Now, however, Carl will never be able to go back there because of his health, and I just can’t go back there without him.”

This would never have happened but for Ohio’s now-unconstitutional eminent-domain regime. Incredibly and outrageously, under that law, property owners who wanted to contest the taking of their property had to allow the property to be taken, and then sue to get it back. So the Gambles had to move, and therefore couldn’t be there to maintain the property or to keep it from being vandalized. The Gambles could, and by all rights should, be taking comfort and solace in 35 years of fond memories in their own home as they battle their health problems. That they cannot is disgraceful.

But thanks to the Gambles and the Institute for Justice, this “shouldn’t” happen to anyone else in Ohio. We won’t know for sure until the Ohio legislature hammers out new legislation to replace what has been declared unconstitutional and then gets Ohio governor Ted Strickland to sign it. Strickland is on the record as of about a year ago as being against eminent domain abuse.

The Gambles deserve our prayers, and our gratitude.

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UPDATE: NixGuy went to the Enquirer story on the Gambles’ situation. It noted that the $650,000 willing-buyer, willing-seller settlement is “$370,000 more than the value a jury had placed on their property in the early part of the court fight.” If the owners of the other 66 properties who sold had been able to stay in their homes and negotiate or resist, instead of having the obvious duress of having to move until they could contest the eminent domain hanging over them, the developers might have had to (read: SHOULD have had to) pony up another $20 million or so to acquire those properties at fair value.

UPDATE 2: Yes, I realize that Mr. Gamble is currently hospitalized. But if he recovers sufficiently, he might have been able to go back to the couple’s original home.

The New ACU Blogad about the Proposed Purchase of Texas Utilities

Filed under: Business Moves,Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 12:38 pm

If you support your humble servant by clicking on the American Conservative Union ad at the right, you will go to an excellent column by J. William Lauderback about the private-equity purchase of the public utility company Texas Utilities (TXU). The buyers are the famed investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company and another equity investor, Texas Pacific Group. Their intent is to buy TXU and divide it into three separate companies.

Lauderback’s main argument is that the Texas Legislature shouldn’t intervene in the transaction because it’s good for everyone. Fair enough, but I think readers should go read Lauderback’s full column, because he expresses what I think many will see as quite unorthodox reason as to why the deal is going to be so good for everyone.

Believe me, it’s worth a click-through to see what that reason is; it has profound implications if Lauderback is really correct, which is of course debatable. Speaking of debate, all are of course welcome to come back here and comment on Lauderback’s column if they are so inclined.

Steve Forbes Endorses Giuliani

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 9:50 am

It will not go unnoticed that Forbes’ endorsement studiously avoided commenting on the hot-button social issues that are causing and will continue to cause tension between Giuliani and the Republican party’s traditionalist base.

Fair enough, but there is no disputing that Giuliani has a proven record of being in charge of a government and practicing the fiscal principles of Ronald Reagan, with predictably outstanding results (bolds are mine):

Mr. Giuliani entered office in 1994 with a $2.3 billion budget deficit handed to him by his predecessor, Mayor David Dinkins. Liberal conventional wisdom held that the only way to close the gap was to raise taxes while cutting back on basic city services such as sanitation. The new mayor rejected this advice–in fact, he famously threw the report recommending tax hikes in the trash!

Instead, he set out to restore fiscal discipline to the “ungovernable city”–and achieved results that Reagan Republicans can applaud.

In his first budget address Mr. Giuliani explained that he would “cut taxes to attract jobs so our people can work.” While lots of politicians make promises about cutting taxes Mr. Giuliani delivered, overcoming the initial resistance of the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council. He ultimately prevailed 23 times, including cuts in sales, personal income, commercial rent and hotel occupancy taxes. He understood that these taxes were not revenue producers, but counterproductive job killers.

When he left office after eight years, New Yorkers had saved over $9 billion, while enjoying their lowest tax burden in decades. The private sector, which had been hemorrhaging hundreds of thousands of jobs in the years before he took office, produced over 423,000 new jobs. Meanwhile the unemployment rate was cut in half. Businesses responded to Mr. Giuliani’s reforms by returning to the center of city life.

So when he talks about his belief in supply-side economics, its not just theory, it’s a plan he has already succeeded at putting into action. He’s seen the results of supply-side economics first hand–higher revenues from lower taxes.

(Giuliani’s) first budget cut spending for the first time in the city since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s–and over the course of his administration he controlled the city’s spending while federal government spending grew by over 40% and average state spending ballooned by over 60%. Mr. Giuliani always made fiscal discipline a priority: instructing city commissioners to cut agency budgets even when the deficits had turned to surpluses.

Mr. Giuliani set out to cut the size of city government, insisting that New York should live within its means. New Yorkers saw their quality of life improve with more effective delivery of services while the bureaucratic ranks were being thinned by nearly 20,000–a near 20% decrease in city headcount, excluding police officers and teachers. He increased the number of cops and teachers because he understood that public safety and quality education are what we expect in return for our tax dollars, not partisan job protection or union featherbedding. As mayor, he proved that government can be smaller and smarter–more efficient and more effective.

Rudy Giuliani can unite the Republican Party and restore our traditional claim as the party of fiscal conservatism. He has already proven he can stand up to liberal special interest groups and achieve tax cuts, even with a Democrat-controlled City Council. That’s the kind of leadership we need in Washington. That’s the kind of leadership that will inspire the next generation of the Reagan Revolution. And that’s why America’s Mayor should be America’s next president.

I’m left wishing Rudy could spend about six months fixing the fiscal, crime-laden mess in Cincinnati first.

Positivity: Pair Nabs Cuffed Man

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:49 am

From Chillicothe, OH:

A man served a warrant at Chillicothe Municipal Court failed in his escape Thursday afternoon when bystanders banded together and successfully caught him.

Peter Ziskowski, 23, of Cincinnati, said he and his friends were at Gourmet Grounds, 23 S. Paint St., when they saw Robert Wright, 37, of 188 Sycamore St., run out of the Ross County Courthouse with handcuffs on.

“It was kind of crazy,” he said. “There was an officer chasing him and he slipped and fell. Before he got up, (Wright) was already at the corner of Main and Paint.”

Ziskowski said that was the point when he took off running, cutting Wright off about two blocks up Main Street.
Justin Lynch, 17, of Chillicothe, was on Ziskowski’s heels during the pursuit. He said he also saw the officer fall.

“As soon as I saw him, we both started running at the exact same time,” he said.

Ziskowski said a driver also offered assistance.

“There was a guy in a pickup truck turning into the alley. When he saw me running, he backed up to stop him,” he said, adding he pinned Wright between himself and Lynch and the truck.

Lynch said he was glad he helped.

“It was a pretty interesting day. It was pretty exciting,” he said. “It’s not an everyday thing.”

Law enforcement arrived a few minutes later at about 1:47 p.m.and transported the man to the Ross County Jail.

According to Chillicothe Police Chief Jeff Keener, Wright was at the court for a pre-trial. When officials detained him on the warrant – which was for falsification – he ran from them.

March 30, 2007

Couldn’t Help But Notice (033007)

If you’re a lawyer, Chubb says blogging makes you uninsurable (HT Techdirt).

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In Paris, rioting is back in fashion again (HT Atlas Shrugs; more here). My guess is that in the US, underplaying the story is also back in vogue.

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Reason 13,248 for the Fair Tax: All right, the questions used to reach the conclusion were shaky, but I believe the conclusion would stand even if the questions had been more predictable — According to Accounting Web, 8 in 10 people need professional help to fill out their income tax returns.

Notice I didn’t say that they GET the help.

In 2007, this is ridiculous. People have better things to do than spend hours filling out IRS forms that even a genius can barely understand. And many studies have shown that even “expert” tax return preparers often get it wrong.

With a Fair Tax, there wouldn’t BE an income tax return, and as they say, April 15 would just be another spring day. Go to the link to learn more.

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Andy at Buckeye Ag has some sharp opinions (here and here) on the announcement by Burger King that it will begin buying eggs and pork from suppliers that don’t confine their animals. As he notes, this appears to be a cynical and opportunistic competitive tactic that gives ground that should never have been ceded to people who ultimately want the eating of meat banished from the earth.
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Though the company says they’ve only given up on Manhattan, New York City appears to think it’s too good for Wal-Mart. Pretty funny, considering that even far-lefties acknowledge that there is very little difference between Target and Wal-Mart in the areas they claim to be most concerned about. Yet the Big Apple has plenty of Target stores, and Target appears to have avoided the unpleasantness Wal-Mart has endured. This 2005 Times article (4th paragraph from the end) says that “There are five Target stores in three New York City boroughs: the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens….”

More on the Gratis Card

Filed under: Business Moves — Tom @ 6:15 am

This new business was first mentioned at this post about Biz Weak-covered items last week (2nd item; name of card added at original post for continuity).

If successful, the Gratis card and its support system are going to take a meat ax (long overdue, in my opinion) to the interchange fees that merchants pay to credit card issuers when a customer uses a credit or debit card.

Current interchange rates are roughly 2% – 5%, depending on the size of the merchant. A $100 purchase from a small merchant using American Express probably costs the merchant close to 5%, which a $100 purchase using a Visa card at Wal-Mart probably costs the rough-and-tumble retailer a bit less than $2. These costs are not visible to consumers, because the agreements merchants enter into with issuers prohibit them (the merchants) from offering cash discounts.

Gratis promises huge cost savings; it also appears there will be space saved in consumers’ wallets:

GratisCard Inc. will charge 50 basis points on each transaction (That 0.5% — Ed.). The card will be targeted at merchants that process low-value payments. GratisCard says the card requires no incremental investment by merchants since its software works with magnetic stripe and barcode scanners, or simple numeric keypads. The Company also noted its system will reduce transaction time with average processing speed of 30 milliseconds. As a credit card or prepaid card the initial market will be consumers with poor to medium credit. For consumers, GratisCard says the new card can aggregate prepaid and credit cards, as well as other loyalty cards so there is only one card to manage.

If the company’s heavy-hitter backing and seasoned management are any indication, Gratis has to be rated as having a fair chance to succeed. If there’s a downside, it may be that merchants may will look at that 0.5% fee and decide that it costs more than that to accept cash (it probably does), and thus refuse to accept anything that isn’t plastic. If “no cash” becomes widespread, Brinks and other armored truck businesses may have very big haircuts looming on the horizon.

‘Voting with Feet’ Continues in Cuyahoga and Hamilton Counties

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:10 am

From the Associated Press last Thursday:

Cleveland, its close suburbs shrinking

3/22/2007, 5:38 p.m. EDT
CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland and its Cuyahoga County suburbs have been losing population at a pace only exceeded by Detroit’s Wayne County and the Gulf Coast region devastated by hurricane Katrina in 2005.

U.S. Census Bureau population estimates also show Cincinnati’s Hamilton County shrinking and Columbus and Franklin County growing slightly.

Cuyahoga’s population dropped 1.2 percent, from 1,330,428 to 1,314,241, between July 2005 and July 2006. Hamilton County’s dropped 0.7 percent, from 828,487 to 822,596.

It’s a dry, numbers-driven report, so let’s refresh: People vote with their feet and abandon where they live because of crime; high taxes; poor schools; and, in some cases, lack of open space. It would be nice to think that Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland, or Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati, are doing something about these problems. Whatever they are doing, if anything, is not enough.

At the LA Times, Agenda Journalism Never Sleeps

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:05 am

Patterico has the goods: on the Times’ latest effort to create something out of nothing in the US Attorney firings non-event:

The editors of the L.A. Times know that fired U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins disputes the central premise of an article they published, about whether his dismissal was tied to a political investigation.

They know it — but their readers don’t. And they have decided to hide this fact from their readers.

The paper reported that Cummins feared there was a connection between his firing and an investigation he had conducted. Cummins has since unequivocally said that he does not fear that, and knows of no possible connection. He believes he was misquoted. Even if he wasn’t, he says, the quote did not accurately state his beliefs, as should have been clear from the context of the conversation.

No matter. The paper has decided to leave its readers in the dark.

Read the whole thing. Why anyone parts with real money to read a paper, or advertise in one, that carries out studied and deliberate deceptions such as what is described above is beyond me.

Positivity: Survival Miracle at Sea (Two Weeks)

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From the Courier Mail in Australia:

A MISSING medical team has been found alive 400km from where they disappeared after their boat drifted for more than two weeks off Indonesia.

“(Friday) night Doctor Juliana Carolus and friends, who were missing since February 28, were found alive in the Dobo waters,” ministry of health official Rustam Pakaya told AFP.

Carolus, head of the health office in the Tanimbar isles, with five of her staff, left on a speedboat on February 27 from the town of Saumlaki on the way to Kormomolin, about two hours away by speedboat.

The Dobo waters, where they were found, are about 400km away from where they set off.

The group was reported to have been found by fishermen, floating near the Papua mainland. They are all reported as being well.

March 29, 2007

Final 4th Quarter GDP Growth Comes in at 2.5%; It’s Past Time to Address the Obstacles to Higher Growth

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 8:50 am

The advance release in January had 4th quarter 2006 GDP at 3.5% — and there was dancing in the streets.

Thanks to very large and unanticipated inventory reductions during the period (meaning that fewer goods were being produced than originally estimated), the February estimate for 4th quarter 2006 GDP growth was 2.2% — and there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Expectations ahead of yesterday’s announcement were for no change.

So what was the final number? A bit of a surprise: 2.5% (related CNN report is here). The revision occurred mostly because inventory additions (due to more goods produced) were a bit higher than estimated a month ago.

The last strong quarter of GDP growth was 2006′s first quarter (5.6%), which enabled calendar 2006 growth to come in at a respectable (but not by much) 3.3%, despite growth during the past three quarters that has been decidedly unimpressive (2.6%, 2.0%, and today’s final 2.5%). At some point, one would hope that someone in Washington starts to notice that Sarbanes Oxley is beginning to hold the economy back in a very big way, especially now that the full impact of the law is being felt down to the mid-caps and small-caps.

How quaint it is that SarBox’s Republican co-author recently admitted that it was “rushed” and “flawed,” before he left his handiwork behind and went into the private sector for a cool $10 million a year (last item at link). The incredibly complicated and time-wasting disclosure requirements relating to executive compensation that are kicking in this year also aren’t helping.

Meanwhile, Ireland, the low-tax shining star of the European Union, reported GDP growth of 6% last year. Just about every other large country in the sluggish-for-years EU would be thrilled if their GDP came in above about 2.5%. Our performance should be closer to Ireland’s than it is to the EU-PU countries. That it is not is unacceptable. Supply-side tax cuts, while wondrous in their impact, can only do so much for growth in a stifling regulatory environment.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (032907)

Iowa Voice (HT Ace) reports on a major New York Times correction. Zheesh. At long last, have they no shame?

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This could be “the longest-running Internet breach ever” (HT Information Week e-mail).

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Ohio has quite a bit of catching up to do in venture capital, if this chart from a Global Insights/National Venture Capital Association study is any indication:

NVCAchart2005_issued2007

Notable absences: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nevada (Nevada because it has been putting on airs about being a place where techsters can land if they get tired of California’s high cost structure and punitive taxation).

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Voters in Quebec: Secession, Seschmession.

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Another in a long line of CEOs doing his level best to discredit capitalism.

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Speaking of capitalism, the next time someone lectures you about evil, right-wing capitalists who take advantage of others’ misfortunes without so much as a twitch of conscience, point to this (HT The New Editor via Instapundit). I got to the last step before the final okay at the “entrepreneur’s” secure site to confirm that it is NOT a gag. How utterly without humanity and compassion can you be to actually promote a $26 T-shirt by saying that it “will let everyone finally have a good chuckle about the White House spokes liar’s probable fatal cancer”? How sad is it that there is probably a niche market of people who would do something like this (HT Instapundit) who would likely find such a T-shirt “funny”?

Update: Cal Thomas — “The Tony Snow I Know.”

WSJ: Kudos for KIPP — a School Choice Success Story (UPDATE: WSJ on Ohio Obstruction)

Filed under: Education,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 6:14 am

A Monday subscriber-only Wall Street Journal editorial runs down an example of the kind of success Ohio will be missing out on if school choice programs are gutted, as is being proposed:

Kudos for KIPP
March 26, 2007

Rare is the occasion when these columns have reason to applaud more spending on public schools. But news that the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) will receive $65 million to create new schools in Houston is worth a standing ovation.

KIPP academies are charter schools, which are public schools freed from the grip of the public education bureaucracy. Charter schools can employ lengthier school days and longer school years than union work rules typically allow. They can pay teachers based on skills and performance rather than seniority. And charter school principals can fire and replace staff who are underperforming.

In return for such liberties, charter schools are held accountable for producing results in the classroom. And no charters in the country have made better use of their independence than KIPP. The brainchild of two Teach for America alums, Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, the first KIPP school was started in Houston in 1994. There are now 52 schools nationwide serving 12,000 kids. More than 80% of KIPP students are low income and 95% are black or Latino, yet they regularly outperform their traditional public school counterparts in math and reading tests. Waiting lists are commonplace.

Why would anyone want to cut Ohio kids in failing school systems out of such an opportunity?

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UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal weighs in hard on the school-choice assault by Ohio Governor Ted Strickland in a Thursday subscription-only editorial:

Job One in Ohio

….. For the most part, however, charters are thriving in Ohio and many of them have waiting lists for admission. Large-scale research on charter performance is spotty. But a recent study by the Buckeye Institute found that students in Ohio charters performed better on six of nine academic measurements in math and reading than kids in traditional public schools. This was despite spending less money per pupil and having less-experienced teachers.

Mr. Strickland’s other excuse for this assault on school choice for the poor is that the state needs to save money. Yet the voucher program costs a mere $13 million out of a $53 billion state budget that includes big new spending increases on education and bonuses for the public-school bureaucracy. The Columbus Dispatch reports that from 2001 to 2006, spending per pupil in Columbus schools rose to $11,918 from $9,078. As everywhere, the problem in Ohio schools isn’t money; it’s the status quo of union-enforced mediocrity.

We’d have thought that with Ohio’s many other problems, a new Governor would have better things to do than deny opportunity for poor kids to escape the worst schools in the state.

The best question for those who don’t see (or don’t want to see) the need for school choice is, “If these alternatives are such a bad idea, why are so many people trying to get into them?”

Example: In a subscriber-only editorial Wednesday, the Journal noted the observations of a person who saw first-hand the Harlem Success Academy lottery (bolds are mine) –

The public charter school, which opened last year, is holding an admissions lottery at 6 p.m. to fill 105 kindergarten slots for next year from the 500 or so families who’ve applied for them. Harlem Success was founded by Eva Moskowitz, a reform-minded Democrat who formerly served as a New York City Councilwoman specializing in education issues.

In an interview this week, Ms. Moskowitz described the naked emotions on display at such lotteries, which are a common method for deciding who gets to attend these independently run public schools. “I thought I knew a lot about school choice and ed reform,” she said. “But until I’d done the lottery last year I didn’t understand the desperation.”

“Unlike their middle-class counterparts who can use real estate to determine where their kid is going to school, my exclusively black and Latino parents’ only option is to go through this process. And literally, people are praying and shaking and hoping to get into a school.