June 14, 2009

UK Paper Exposes US Proposal For Mass Bulldozing Urban Neighborhoods, And Replacing Them With …. Nothing

FlintBulldozedHousePic0609.jpgLeave it to the British press to once again do the job of real reporting that U.S. journalists apparently won’t do.

This time, it’s Tom Leonard at the UK Telegraph. From Flint, Michigan, he tells us of a “pioneering scheme” that involves tearing down entire neighborhoods and simply abandoning them — oops, I’m sorry, I meant to say, “returning them to nature.”

This is apparently what passes for sophisticated urban planning these days.

Here are key paragraphs from Leonard’s story. Especially note the breathtaking anti-progress hostility of the idea’s champion (bolds are mine; Getty picture at top right is from that story):

The government looking at expanding a pioneering scheme in Flint, one of the poorest US cities, which involves razing entire districts and returning the land to nature.

Local politicians believe the city must contract by as much as 40 per cent, concentrating the dwindling population and local services into a more viable area.

The radical experiment is the brainchild of Dan Kildee, treasurer of Genesee County, which includes Flint.

Having outlined his strategy to Barack Obama during the election campaign, Mr. Kildee has now been approached by the US government and a group of charities who want him to apply what he has learnt to the rest of the country.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

…. But Mr Kildee, who has lived there nearly all his life, said he had first to overcome a deeply ingrained American cultural mindset that “big is good” and that cities should sprawl – Flint covers 34 square miles.

He said: “The obsession with growth is sadly a very American thing. Across the US, there’s an assumption that all development is good, that if communities are growing they are successful. If they’re shrinking, they’re failing.”

Kildee’s odious “all development is good” characterization of those who might be less than pleased with his outlook shows that he has learned quickly from watching Dear Leader, the “master” of the straw-man argument. But you know what? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, in general, communities that are growing really are successful, and those that aren’t are indeed failing.

This is amazing. They’re not even interested in attracting industry, or in new developments to draw shoppers, or in convenient housing that might lure residents back into town, or even in park or recreational space. Kildee and those who agree with him, apparently including the President, prefer to do nothing and let the land sit abandoned — while they proudly survey the non-fruits of their non-accomplishment. Maybe they’ll hold reverse ribbon-cutting ceremonies. Flint’s festivities could be emceed by infamous former resident Michael Moore.

If there’s a virtue to doing nothing, it’s that the government won’t get involved in something ineffective and end up wasting tons of taxpayer money in the process.

President Obama in particular may remember one such project, made infamous by the Chicago Sun-Times and blogged on last fall by yours truly at NewsBusters, BizzyBlog, and elsewhere — namely the $100,000 Obama Gazebo (or, alternatively, the “Obamazebo“).

Now the same guy who couldn’t be bothered following up on a project he said he would “work tirelessly” to have built is in charge of our country’s $3-4 trillion federal budget, including an $800 billion alleged economic “stimulus.” Let 8,000,000 Obamazebos bloom.

Pardon me, I need a drink. ….

…. Okay. Of course, the better answer for these near-dead neighborhoods would be to to sell the abandoned properties to private owners and see what they can do with them on their own. That sounds like that’s the last thing Dan Kildee wants. Who needs progress anyway?

As to the U.S. media — Where were they when this “brilliant” idea was hatched, and why are they apparently not shamed at being scooped by a UK paper?

As to public policy — Who wants to bet against “stimulus” money finding its way towards some of these “demolish and do nothing” projects if Kildee’s proposal becomes a 50-city reality? That wouldn’t exactly be “stimulating,” would it?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Mandel: Watchdog of Our Tax Dollars

Filed under: Activism,Taxes & Government — Rose @ 9:25 pm

State Treasurer Boyce’s actions are exactly the kind that this state DOESN’T need.  From the Dayton Daily News:

COLUMBUS — As Ohio’s budget swells with red ink, state Treasurer Kevin Boyce spent $32,469 in taxpayer money on promotional items such as water bottles, grocery bags and pencils and plans to buy another $47,457 in swag plastered with his name.

Boyce defended the purchases as routine and said his marketing budget is about 30 percent less than what fellow Democrat Richard Cordray spent when he was state treasurer.

But state Rep. Josh Mandel, R-Lyndhurst, who is running against Boyce, said, “While families and small businesses are tightening their belts, it seems outrageous that the treasurer is using the hard earned dollars of Ohio families to promote himself.”

And Catherine Turcer of Ohio Citizen Action, a good government watchdog, said just because other statewide officers spend budget money on promotion doesn’t make it right.

“So many office holders see this as a perk of incumbency without thinking through the cost to the taxpayers,” Turcer said.

Boyce, 37, who was appointed treasurer in January to replace Richard Cordray, is running statewide for election in 2010. His office is charged with collecting, investing and protecting state funds.

…Shortly after his appointment to the treasurer’s post in January, Boyce assembled a team of top aides pulled from Ohio Democratic Party, Columbus City Hall and politically connected families.

He hired Liam Shanahan — son of Strickland’s energy advisor Mark Shanahan and budget director Pari Sabety — into a $45,011-a-year job. Shanahan, 24, who previously worked at a zoo and water park, drives Boyce places and acts as an administrative assistant.

Boyce hired Jessica Ford, 22, daughter of former Toledo mayor Jack Ford, to run his Toledo community affairs office at an annual salary of $45,011. Early in his career, Boyce served as Jack Ford’s legislative aide in the Ohio House.

Elizabeth Luken, the sister of former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken, landed a $45,011-a-year job running Boyce’s Cincinnati community affairs office.

…And Boyce hired a former Ohio Democratic Party fund-raiser Lakshmi Satyanarayana, 23, as an administrative assistant to Culp and Deputy Treasurer Amer Ahmad. She is paid $35,006 a year.

Boyce also hired two friends from high school, a man who goes to his church, and several people from Columbus city hall.

Newton Burris, 36, who is paid $105,019 a year as the treasurer’s economic development director, played football with Boyce at Columbus East High School. Boyce’s scheduler and administrative assistant, Angela Burks, 36, who is paid $67,000, is another friend from high school. Boyce and Burks also knew one another at Columbus City Hall where Burks worked for the mayor while Boyce was a city councilman.

Derek Anderson, 32, who makes $100,006 a year as human resources director, attends St. Paul AME Church with Boyce.

…Mandel said given the state’s lowered bond rating and huge deficit, “it is imperative that the treasurer be someone who understands the importance of hiring well-trained, qualified professionals, not cronies and political friends.

Read about the reckless spending here.  I just LOVE how the Democrats have “Turned Around” Ohio (eyeroll).

Had enough ”hope & change?”  Good, go to Josh Mandel’s website & get involved!

California Considers Ditching Welfare (Update: Bonus Graphs)

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 11:20 am

CaliforniaBankrupt2009(image is from OrangeJuiceBlog.com)

Note: This column went up at Pajamas Media on Thursday, and was teased here at BizzyBlog with some additional historical perspective.
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They never really mended it, so they may be forced to end it. There’s a bigger message for all of us.
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California has proposed the previously and supposedly unthinkable: ending welfare.

Before you get too outraged (or perhaps excited), “welfare” specifically refers to a single but significant program known in the Golden State as CalWORKs. It is California’s version of the nation’s welfare reform effort. Known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children until 1996, traditional “welfare” changed its name to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) when Congress passed comprehensive reform. Then-President Bill Clinton, who had twice vetoed the legislation, finally signed it on the advice of then-adviser Dick Morris because “a third veto could (have) cost him the 1996 election.”

One has to go back to Ronald Reagan’s term as governor to find the last time this core entitlement program was really under control in the Golden State. As the late Paul Weyrich noted in a 2006 column, “Reagan managed significantly to cut welfare rolls while increasing support for those who really needed help.”

But by the mid-1990s, a mind-boggling 8% of the state’s residents, or almost 2.6 million people, were on the dole, almost double the percentage in the rest of the country.

Under welfare reform, the country’s bloated caseload dropped very quickly. In its first four years, about 2.5 million families came off the dole. In the vast majority of these families at least one adult entered the workforce. Huge numbers of formerly dependent tax consumers became economy-contributing taxpayers. This unprecedented mass transformation is an important but underappreciated element of the prosperity of the late 1990s.

During its first six years, welfare rolls came down in California at about the same rate as the rest of the nation. By the end of 2002, the number of families and total caseload in the state were down 47% and 55%, respectively, compared to 52% and 57% for the rest of the US. But as noted, California was starting from a much larger base. The state’s family and caseload declines should have been much, much steeper, and weren’t.

After that, while the rest of the country improved, California first mostly treaded water, and then slid seriously backwards. The following graphs compare what has happened since 2002 in California with the rest of the U.S. (all figures are as of year-end except 2008, which is as of September 30; source data is at this U.S. Office of Family Assistance link):

CaliVsUSwelfareGraphs0609

The first graph shows that while the percentage of the population on welfare in the rest of the U.S. has declined by over one-third since 2002, California’s percentage has actually increased. The state’s welfare dependency rate has gone from double to well over triple that of the rest of the country The second graph shows that while welfare caseloads in the rest of the U.S. have dropped by almost 30% in the past 5-3/4 years – continuing to drop even during last year’s difficult economy — California’s caseload has actually increased by about 10%. A June 4 Sacramento Bee report tells us that 525,000 families, yet another 27,000 more than last September, are now on CalWORKs.

As a result, though it has only about 12% of the country’s population, California’s share of the total U.S. welfare recipients has risen from 22% in 2002 to 32% today. The state has a whopping 869,000 more people on the dole than it would if it mirrored the rest of the country.

There is no defensible reason why the California’s caseload should be so obviously and seriously out of whack.

Is it because of immigration, legal or otherwise? No way. The percentage of the population on welfare in Texas and Florida less than half of what it is in the rest of the country excluding California.

Could it be the state’s stratospheric cost of living? Nope. While above the national average, the percentage of the population on the dole in New York State, which of course includes the country’s most expensive city, is only 1.3%.

Is it the economy? Nice try; no sale. As shown, welfare rolls have continued to fall elsewhere. Additionally, in the year ended September 30, 2008, the number of TANF recipients in the economic basket case known as Michigan dropped by 16%, or over 30,000.

Sadly, it is much more likely that the state’s political establishment, Democrat and Republican, as well as its social services bureaucracy, have both resisted the fundamental national reforms passed 12 years ago at nearly every possible turn. Misplaced compassion here, and surely in other areas, has ultimately led to the state’s budgetary brick wall.

The fact that California is at least semi-seriously considering ditching CalWORKs entirely should serve a warning to Washington political elites, as well as to the rest of us, who inexplicably keep returning most of them to power in every election. For generations, Democratic and Republican administrations have let demographic time bombs like Social Security and Medicare grow in explosive potential. What little tweaking has occurred almost always involved tax increases. Fundamental reforms such as individually controlled Social Security investment accounts and medical savings accounts have been either furiously resisted or watered down to the point of ineffectiveness.

In the not-too-distant future, barring the unexpected appearance of political will, when these and other time bombs amounting to over $50 trillion dollars detonate, it will be decades too late for tweaks, and years too late for fundamental reforms. As with CalWORKs, discussions will commence not about mending, but ending.

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UPDATE: Here are two additional graphs that I considered overkill for the Pajamas column, but that can be posted now:

CaliAndUSwelfare0609addlGraphs

The first shows year-by year increases in California’s welfare population as a percentage of the entire country’s. It has gone from 22% to 32% in less than six years. The second shows that the number of persons in the average welfare family is higher in California than in the rest of the country, more than likely meaning that welfare mothers in the state are consistently having more babies than those in the rest of the country.

George Will on Appropriate ‘Judicial Activism’

In the wake of the Chrysler hijacking, Will nails it:

Controversy about the judiciary’s proper role is again at a boil because of a Supreme Court vacancy, and conservatives are warning against “judicial activism.” But the Chrysler and GM bailouts and bankruptcies are reasons for conservatives to rethink the usefulness of that phrase and to make some distinctions.

Of course courts should not make policy or invent rights not stipulated or implied by statutes or the Constitution’s text. But courts have no nobler function than that of actively defending property, contracts and other bulwarks of freedom against depredations by government, including by popularly elected, and popular, officials. Regarding Chrysler and GM, the executive branch is exercising powers it does not have under any statute or constitutional provision. At moments such as this, deference to the political branches constitutes dereliction of judicial duty.

What Will describes as a clarified definition of “judicial activism” for sound bite purposes is really best described as “doing their constitutional jobs.”