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September 30, 2014

Economic Indicator Shows Local Region 'Treading Water'

Regular reader of Growls know we've been growling about economic indicators since everyone seems to cite only those which support their own views of the economy. For example, we growled on August 11, 2014 over President Obama's use of economic indicators to show the U.S. economy had improved since his election in 2008.

Then this weekend, President Obama was interviewed by CBS television's Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes,  Ed Morrissey of Hot Air summarizes a portion of the interview. Here's his lede:

"Another nugget from Barack Obama’s interview with 60 Minutes is making the rounds today, but it’s less surprising than one might think. Steve Kroft challenged the President to make a midterm pitch for his party, and Obama responded by insisting that the nation is better off today than it was six years ago. He acknowledged, though, that most people don’t “feel” it."

Here's a transcript of the interview provided by CBS.

Also, we growled on September 27, 2014 because of an analysis by the ranking member of the U.S. Senate's Budget Committee showing that "1 of 4 Americans in prime working years are not employed."

Consequently, we couldn't pass up the online report in the Arlington Sun Gazette yesterday, which showed "regional income treading water since end of recession." Here's much of their report:

"The metro area’s 2013 median household income of $90,149 was down from the inflation-adjusted $90,316 that households earned in 2010, the first year the region and the nation came out of recession.

"The new figures were reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, based on its American Community Survey.

"The report found that the median earnings for male full-time, year-round workers in the Washington metro area were $67,216 in 2013, with women trailing at $56,168.

"In the metro area, those living at or below the poverty line represented 8.5 percent of the total population, up slightly from the 8.4 percent reported in 2010. A total of 11.1 percent of children were living at or below poverty in 2013, up from 10.7 percent. In each case, the Census Bureau said the increases were not statistically significant.

"Across the region, 11.4 percent of the population did not have health insurance in 2013, down  from 12.3 percent in 2010. The percentage of residents with private health insurance (76.6 percent in 2013) was down slightly from 76.9 percent in 2010.

Readers of Growls who are concerned about the economy, jobs, and economic growth are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

September 29, 2014

GSA Travel Card Fraud Continues Despite Calls for Reform

In a Washington Examiner story posted today, Sarah Westwood reports that "GSA travel card fraud, abuse still a problem despite repeated reform calls."

According to Westwood:

"A General Services Administration watchdog said significant risks remain for fraud and abuse in the agency’s charge card program despite multiple calls for its reform in recent years.

"A report released Monday by the GSA's inspector general said the agency has yet to establish an effective system for providing explanations for questionable purchases by its employees and for cutting off the accounts of those who no longer work at the federal government's housekeeping agency."

And about those repeated calls for reform, Ms. Westwood reported a few examples:

"GSA travel spending came under fire in 2012 when a report revealed officials had charged hundreds of thousands of dollars in frivolous expenditures to their travel cards for a 2010 Las Vegas conference. Former GSA Regional Administrator Jeffrey Neely, who oversaw the conference, was indicted last week by a federal grand jury on multiple charges involving improper travel expenses.

"The GSA introduced the current charge card system, under which travel expenses are billed, in 1984 in order to streamline the government’s purchase process.

"While the charge card program is administered by the GSA, more than 350 federal entities use the system. Individual travel card users are technically liable for their own expenses while on official business, but they are routinely reimbursed by their departments and agencies.

"In March, the Washington Examiner reported postal service officials had used their travel cards to withdraw cash for gambling, pay themselves salary advances and even to let their children go bowling.

"But abuse of the travel card system isn’t limited to the post office or the GSA; reports have found evidence of such fraud across the federal government for years.

"In 2008, the Government Accountability Office released a report saying 41 percent of all government purchases made using travel cards could not be properly verified. Two years later, another GAO report found that 10 percent of cardholders made a “delinquent” purchase at least once.

"For example, a Treasury Department inspector general report found an office within the department shelled out more than $13,000 on a trip to Hawaii.

"In order to secure approval for the trip, officials lied to the Office of Public Affairs by saying Hawaii was the best location for an awards ceremony — not Minnesota or South Dakota, the other places under consideration — because their director already had speaking engagements on the books in Hawaii for the week of the ceremony. The report reveals this was not the case.

"Snippets of internal emails included in the report showed Treasury officials discussed the unfavorable “optics” of the Hawaii trip in the face of increased congressional scrutiny of travel spending before green-lighting the expense anyway."

If such fraud is occurring in federal agencies, and since those agencies are populated by employees living in and around the Washington, D.C. region, one could assume such activity is occurring in local governments in the Washington, D.C. region. 

Internal audits are designed to thwart the occurrence of fraudulent activity. An example of such an audit is this one conducted by the internal audit office of Fairfax County government of procurement cards. See also the four pages devoted to internal auditing in the FY 2014 Alexandria City's budget. However, if the organization's internal audit function is not adequately staffed, or even left unstaffed, or even if the function is staffed appropriately, but is not sufficiently independent, then taxpayers are not likely to learn if there is any fraudulent activity.

We've growled before about the need for a strong internal audit function on several occasions, most recently on August 4, 2014 when we learned that Arlington County reportely hired an internal auditor although to our knowledge, the auditor has not yet come onboard. We also note the Arlington County Board adopted the following guidance (in note #33 in its "guidance and notes") with the FY 2015 Adopted Budget:

"Internal Audit – The County Board fully supports the County Manager’s plans to enhance the County’s internal audit program and the expansion of the County’s ethics program, including the addition of an ethics and fraud hotline.  The enhanced audit function should follow best practices in auditing.  The Board directs the County Manager to provide an interim report by October 31, 2014, and an assessment of whether the audit function should be independent and to whom it should report by January 2015."

Growls readers interested in transparency and a strong internal audit function are urged to weigh-in with your opinions and thoughts to the Arlington County Board. And perhaps one day you may be able to read an audit report identifying whether any Arlington County procurement cards have been used fraudulently. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following hotlink, or just call:them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 28, 2014

Feel Better Since the Bus Stop Cost Only $881,933?

Remember Arlington County's infamous $1 million, so-called 'SuperStop' bus stop that received worldwide notoriety in 2013? We last growled about this county boondoggle most recently on May 13, 2014 after the Washington Post's Patricia Sullivan reported the bus stop program's cost would be reduced by 40% with each of the the remaining 23 vanity bus stops costing between $362,000 and $579,000 each.

However, we also growled that the natives didn't seem to be buying what the county poohbahs were selling since an online poll at ARLnow.com had recorded 1,465 votes as of a few minutes ago with 78.77% (1,154 votes) still considering the bus stops too expensive.

Here's how ARLnow.com's Ethan Rothstein, on Wednesday, September 24 introduces a new chapter in the saga of the $1 million bus stop:

"The $1 million “super stop” at Columbia Pike and S. Walter Reed Drive – the exorbitant price tag for which became national news – was so expensive because of poor communication, an independent review found.

"The review, conducted by CliftonLarsonAllen, found that a “lack of clear communication between County and WMATA staff” and “poor execution of construction performance” were the main reasons the prototype took so long, and cost so much to build.

"That poor execution includes the bus stop not being built to what was designed, including glass panels being produced at the wrong size; curbs being built at the wrong height and having to be redone; and a four-year delay in getting approval from the Virginia Department of Transportation.

"According to the report, the initial budget of $2.15 million was supposed to cover three “super stops.” There was no communication between the county and WMATA over any change in the budget when plans for the two that were never built were ultimately scrapped. On Dec. 22, 2011, the county informed WMATA that it wanted to cease site work for the two other stops, called Dinwiddie West and Dinwiddie East."

The Arlington Sun Gazette report on Wednesday channeled the reporting from ARLnow.com.

Patricia Sullivan of the Washington Post included reporting on this county snafu in her Columbia Pike streetcar story, which we cited in our September 24, 2014 Growls.

Never fear, however. An Arlington County press release said the county is now managing the bus stop project, or as they call it, the "transit station project." Moreover, the press release said:

"Arlington County’s award-winning planning policies are transforming Columbia Pike into a more transit-oriented Main Street with more mixed-use development, more housing, better public spaces and more walkability. Central to these efforts is the County’s plan for increasing transit availability and options along the Pike."

Mr. Rothstein includes a curious comment by County Manager Barbara Donnellan in his story for ARLnow.com, writing:

"This project was an exception for Arlington,” Donnellan said. “We have a solid record of delivering large, complex projects in a timely, cost-effective manner… Unfortunately, work on the Walter Reed prototype began in 2007 at a time when WMATA was scaling back its capital improvement management program, and the project suffered as a result. Delivery was further complicated by the fact that several entities were involved. With the completion of this thorough review, we are confident that we are well positioned to effectively deliver the transit stations that the Pike needs, and continue to rebuild the Pike’s transportation infrastructure.”

The Manager's comment is especially curious to long-time Arlington County residents who may remember the bridge in Rosslyn that actually went nowhere. Remember the advice about "cutting once, but measuring twice?" Seems the two spans never connected. Unfortunately, the cost to Arlington taxpayers will never be known since the telltale documents were ordered sealed.

So that no one forgets this fiasco, High Beam Research, citing a Washington Post article, dated April 16, 1993, has this excerpt:

"The Arlington County Board voted last night to abandon plans to complete a trouble-plagued bridge in Rosslyn and to use the road instead for a park and theater.

"Under the plan, a developer will pay $500,000 to help complete the Loop Road Bridge structure, which has been unable to carry cars because of structural defects.

"The developer - owner of the Freedom Forum building at 1101 Wilson Blvd. - also agreed to create a privately maintained park atop the bridge, which crosses Wilson Boulevard near North Kent Street . . . ."

Even more curious, though, is that although the County Manager has admitted the initial SuperStop or bus stop "cost too much," and although the cost of the prototype has been adjusted down from $1 million to $881,933, the remaining 23 bus stops will still cost just over $539,100 each ($12.4 million divided by 23 bus stops). Call me old-fashioned, but spending an estimated $539,133 for a bus stop still "costs too much" to use the Manager's terminology. Or is this just another case of liberals redefining the English language?

Growls readers are urged to weigh-in with your opinions and thoughts about Arlington County's $12.4 million renamed transit station project. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following hotlink, or just call:them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 27, 2014

More on Those Economic Indicators (GDP vs. Jobs)

Since everyone seems to use their own economic indicator of how well the economy is doing, we've started growling about them, going back at least as early as March 1, 2014, but also August 11, 2014 and September 5, 2014. (A search of Growls will find many others, however).

Yesterday, Forbes staffer Samantha Shart reported on the latest re-estimate of the U.S. GDP, writing:

"On Friday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its third estimate of real gross domestic product for the second quarter of 2014 — covering April, May and June of this year. The release showed output in the U.S. increasing at an annual rate of 4.6%. This is relative to the first quarter when real GDP declined a sharp 2.1%.

"The revision is up from BEA’s 4.2% second estimate released last month as well as its 4% advance estimate out in July . . . ."

But even the chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers recognized there is still much work to do, as the introduction to his blog entry took note yesterday:

"Today’s revision confirms that economic growth in the second quarter was strong, and other recent data suggest that this momentum has continued into the subsequent months. While these indicators demonstrate that the economy has come a long way in recovering from the Great Recession, there is more work to do to both boost growth and ensure that growth translates into greater financial security for working families. The President will continue to do everything in his power to support investments in job creation and encourage higher incomes for workers."

However, as Peggy Noonan pointed out in her op-ed in this weekend's Wall Street Journal ($-paywall), "What progress can be claimed in the economy is tentative, uneven, feels temporary. True unemployment is bad and people who have jobs feels stressed and hammered by costs."

Consequently, it was disconcerting to read an American Thinker item today by Rick Moran that said: "An eye-popping figure from the Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee; 23.2% of workers between the ages of 25-54 are unemployed or out of the labor force." Moran included the following excerpt from reporting by the Weekly Standard's Daniel Halper:

"There are 124.5 million Americans in their prime working years (ages 25–54). Nearly one-quarter of this group—28.9 million people, or 23.2 percent of the total—is not currently employed. They either became so discouraged that they left the labor force entirely, or they are in the labor force but unemployed. This group of non-employed individuals is more than 3.5 million larger than before the recession began in 2007," writes the Republican side of the Senate Budget Committee.

"Those attempting to minimize the startling figures about America’s vanishing workforce—workplace participation overall is near a four-decade low—will say an aging population is to blame. But in fact, while the workforce overall has shrunk nearly 10 million since 2009, the cohort of workers in the labor force ages 55 to 64 has actually increased over that same period, with many delaying retirement due to poor economic conditions.

"In fact, over two-thirds of all labor force dropouts since that time have been under the age of 55. These statistics illustrate that the problems in the American economy are deep, profound, and pervasive, afflicting the sector of the labor force that should be among the most productive."

Halper and Moran both use the following chart, which originated with staff of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee ranking member, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama):

As Peggy Noonan asserted about the economy, " Americans are less optimistic than they've ever been in the modern era, with right-track/wrong-track numbers upside down. Scandals, war, uncertain leadership—all this has yielded a sense the whole enterprise of the past six years just did not work."

Rick Moran's outlook is no better. He concludes by writing:

"One caveat to (the Weekly Standard/Budget Committee) report: As good paying jobs have disappeared, a lot of those productive workers have taken their talents and expertise and are working as independent contractors, consultants, or have started their own small businesses. Many of them had no choice, given the labor situation. But as bleak as those numbers appear to be, the future looks even more stark. It's hard to see where jobs paying wages that would allow workers to support their families in a middle class lifestyle are going to come from."

Is it any wonder that Americans question the reported unemployment rate -- the August unemployment rate was reported as 6.1%, as reported by the Washington Post? Rather, they sense the "true unemployment" rate is much higher.

September 26, 2014

CAGW Names September Porker of the Month

"Porker of the Month is a dubious honor given to lawmakers, government officials, and political candidates who have shown a blatant disregard for the interests of taxpayers."

In a press release yesterday, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) "named Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner its September Porker of the Month for CMS’s dismal record on financial accountability, coupled with the virtual dismantling of one of the federal government’s most effective improper payment recovery programs."

CAGW justified their selection by writing:

"A September 23, 2014 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ nonpartisan watchdog agency, highlights CMS’s inability to properly account for $3.7 billion in expenditures associated with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The GAO was unable to independently verify the reliability of the financial information provided by CMS due to a flawed recordkeeping system.  Medicare is plagued with the highest reported amounts of improper payments of any federal program, and the Medicare Trust Fund, already in the red and on track to reach insolvency by 2026, needs every penny it can get to continue meeting the needs of current beneficiaries.

"The GAO report comes on the heels of an August 29, 2014 CMS decision that offers acute care and critical access hospital providers an opportunity to settle all medical claims pending at the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) level of appeals for 68 cents on the dollar.  These claims were previously rejected by recovery audit contractors (RACs) for being medically unnecessary, and they contribute significantly to Medicare’s dismal improper payment record.

"On July 8, 2014, the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW) sent a letter to members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging to clarify some common misconceptions about Medicare’s RAC program, a highly successful post-payment auditing tool used to reduce improper payments in Medicare. The letter reiterated the important role RACs play in identifying areas vulnerable to improper payments.  Figures released by CMS on September 1, 2014 revealed that RACs have returned more than $8.9 billion to the Medicare Trust Fund and more than $700 million to providers since 2009.

"In the statement released on Labor Day weekend, CMS encouraged hospitals to “make use of this administrative agreement mechanism to alleviate the administrative burden of current appeals on both the hospital and Medicare system.”  A December 13, 2013 CMS report found that RACs have an average accuracy rate of 95.2 percent, while only 7 percent of all RAC determinations are overturned on appeal.  CMS’ capitulation on the appeals process not only means potentially hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in losses to taxpayers, but it also eviscerates a highly successful post-payment audit process.  Given these realities, the decision to appease disgruntled and non-compliant hospitals is not only egregious, but completely irresponsible.

“The GAO report underscores the imperative for CMS bureaucrats to work harder to prevent the hemorrhaging of taxpayer dollars.  That means developing and maintaining a rational recordkeeping system to track detailed financial information, as well as broadening the scope of the RAC program, one of the most successful tools to protect taxpayers and Medicare beneficiaries from rampant improper payments,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz.

Kudos to Citizens Against Government Waste for their continuing efforts to root out government waste, fraud and abuse.

September 25, 2014

Another Look at Arlington County Board's Streetcar Decision

Kenric Ward, Virginia Bureau Chief of Watchdog.org, reports the "Arlington streetcar moves amid rising costs, controversy" in a story today at the online Watchdog news source.

This post supplements yesterday's Growls about two items that were decided by the Arlington County Board at their Tuesday evening recessed meeting.

Following is how Ward begins his reporting:

"An opponent says it’s “a long way from being done,” but a controversial streetcar project with a ballooning $560 million price tag got another push from the Arlington County Board on Tuesday.

"Rolling over objections from Independent board member John Vihstadt and Democrat Libby Garvey, the panel voted 3-2 to award a $26 million contract to HDR Engineering, Inc., for streetcars to serve Columbia Pike and Crystal City.

“The board majority is playing that old quiz show game ‘Beat the Clock’ — trying to rush the signing of contracts and agreements before the streetcar’s low popularity sinks even further, and before the Nov. 4 county board election,” said Vihstadt, who was elected on a streetcar-skeptic platform earlier this year.

"Joe Warren, a member of the Arlington Transit Advisory Committee, called Tuesday’s action “outrageous,” and said he was surprised by the amount of funds authorized.

“The only amount that has been publicly revealed was about $8 million for design and engineering,” Warren told Watchdog.org.

"Vihstadt calls the 7.6-mile streetcar venture “a fiscal and transit albatross” that will clog streets and increase taxpayer debt, with guaranteed delays adding to the cost."

And much of that money will be used for what? Ward writes:

"According to the latest streetcar staff report, the engineering contract of $26,003,721 includes more than $5.3 million in “optional” tasks for public “outreach” materials and $2.7 million for “contingencies.”

Pray tell, what is public outreach? Sounds like they're going to use taxpayer dollars to convince taxpayers that taxpayers need the Columbia Pike streetcar. Do I have that about right?

Read the remaining details of Kenric Ward's report here.

Growls readers are urged to weigh-in with your opinions and thoughts about the $333 million streetcar project. Or $560 million according to this report. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following hotlink, or just call:them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 24, 2014

Arlington County Board Takes Next Step on Streetcar Project

At their recessed meeting Tuesday evening, the Arlington County Board took a step forward on their $333 million vanity project, the Columbia Pike streetcar. But as reported by Scott McCaffrey in today's Arlington Sun Gazette, "opponents still have window of opportunity."

Here's the introduction of McCaffrey's reporting on the County Board's streetcar actions:

"Arlington County Board members on Sept. 23 approved funding for preliminary engineering work on the Columbia Pike streetcar project, but the expected timeline still gives opponents the chance to kill the project if they can wrest control of the County Board in November 2015.

"In a split, and expected, 3-2 vote, board members OK’d a contract worth up to $26 million for HDR Engineering to provide a host of services related to both the Columbia Pike and the Crystal City streetcar projects.

"HDR was one of two firms that bid on the project, county officials said.

"The contract includes $16.66 million in engineering funds for the Columbia Pike project. Under an agreement with Fairfax County, Arlington is responsible for 80.4 percent of total costs of that project, or just under $13.4 million of the new contract, counting both potential optional tasks and a 15-percent contingency.

"According to county staff, preliminary engineering work is slated to take about 18 months, pushing it into 2016. That would give streetcar opponents one chance – in November 2015 – to oust enough pro-streetcar County Board members to stop the project.

"If anti-streetcar, independent County Board member John Vihstadt wins re-election this November, anti-streetcar advocates would need to win one of the two seats on the November 2016 ballot in order to attain a majority on the five-member board. If Vihstadt loses to Democrat Alan Howze – who is generally supportive of the streetcar project – the anti-streetcar contingent would need to win both seats in 2015."

Actually, there were two streetcar related items on the Board's recessed agenda. For agenda item #58, the Board voted unanimously to amend a $5.6 million multimodal improvements contract. (of Board's September 23 recessed agenda here; associated press release here). The second was item #59, the $26 million streetcar engineering contract, which the Board approved by a 3-2 vote (Board's recessed agenda here; and here's the associated press release).

Later in his report, McCaffrey added:

"In dueling statements released after the County Board vote, the two County Board combatants staked out familiar territory.

"Vihstadt suggested Fisette, Hynes and Tejada were trying to convince the public that the project is unstoppable.

“The board majority is playing that old quiz show game ‘Beat the Clock’ in trying to rush the signing of various streetcar contracts and agreements before the streetcar’s low popularity sinks even further, and before the Nov. 4 County Board election,” he said. “They want to feed the narrative that the streetcar is a ‘done deal’ and that it is too late to turn back.”

McCaffrey also reported on the $5.6 million multimodal contract award here.

Patricia Sullivan reported on the Board's 3-2 decision for the Washington Post, adding this quotation by County Board member John Vihstadt

“The jury is still very much out on whether the streetcar will have a positive or negative impact on affordable housing,” Vihstadt said. “The board majority is playing the old quiz show game of beat the clock. . . . They want to feed the narrative that it’s too late to turn back.”

Ethan Rothstein's report for ARLnow.com can be found here.

Growls readers are urged to weigh-in with your opinions and thoughts about the $333 million streetcar project. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following hotlink, or just call:them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 23, 2014

A Thought on Socialism and the Damage It Does

"Socialism is damaging in many ways. It wrecks economies and batters the quality of life. It corrupts, dehumanizes and makes people worse.

"This isn't partisan rhetoric but a fact confirmed recently by a study that compared people from a communist regime to those from a more capitalist system.

"We find," says a group of international researchers, "that individuals with an East German family background cheat significantly more on an abstract task than those with a West German family background.

"The longer individuals were exposed to socialism, the more likely they were to cheat on our task."

~ Editorial, Investor's Business Daily, August 6, 2014

And that's not all the damage that is done, as the editorial reminds us, writing, "The researchers further remind us that socialist regimes suppress speech, engender social distrust, create economic scarcity and breed moral hypocrisy."

The editorial page of Investor's Business Daily is well-worth bookmarking.

September 22, 2014

Telling Us What We Already Knew?

A story in the Metro section of yesterday's paper edition of the Washington Post told Arlingtonians that "Arlington (is) growing more unaffordable as housing costs rise." The title of the story in the the online edition was somewhat different. It said, Arlingtonians worried about housing costs as rents rise while salaries stagnate." The story was reported by Patricia Sullivan.

The was no misunderstanding the meaning of the Post story, however. In the sub-headline, it said, "Buyers and renters fear being squeezed out; forum is set for Monday" and re-emphasized that later in the article with a pull-out quote:

"Arlington home prices rose 140 percent and rents jumped 91 percent in the past decade, a study shows."

The headline from a story reported almost one-year ago by Ms. Sullivan was even more graphic:

"Housing costs outpace wages in Arlington"

More information and "key reports" in the county's so-called affordable housing study can be found here, and includes the poll of Arlington residents that is the focus of yesterday's Washington Post report. The county also has an even more expansive page of affordable housing information here that even tries to define the meaning of affordable.

The latest Washington Post story focuses on a poll that was completed earlier this year. Ms. Sullivan reports:

"This year, a telephone poll of 1,744 adults in Arlington revealed the fear, particularly among renters, of being forced out of their housing in the next five years because of rent increases. They have little hope of finding a replacement home in the county within their budget. The poll, based on a random sampling with a margin of error of 2.3 percent, was taken between April 23 and June 12.

"According to the poll, most renters would like to buy a home in the county, but fewer than half think they will be able to afford it. A significant minority — 37 percent — say their current housing costs are unaffordable, in part because they are spending more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing. One in 5 spend more than half of their income on housing.

"Arlington’s home prices rose by 140 percent and its rents jumped 91 percent in the past decade, the study shows. Average monthly rents in 2012 ranged from $1,422 for an efficiency to $2,782 for a three-bedroom apartment, and costs have risen since then.

Arlington is spending more than $57 million for ­affordable-housing assistance in a variety of forms, and it negotiates with developers to set aside some of the new construction for affordable units.

"Ninety-three percent of those polled want housing assistance for persons with disabilities; 92 percent want the county to help seniors age in place; 91 percent support providing homeless shelters; and 90 percent agree that taxpayers should help low- and ­moderate-income families with children in local schools to remain in the county."

It seems that all these polls are telling us much the same thing. Arlington County is an expensive place to live, but do we really need an expensive poll of Arlington residents to tell us that? Yesterday, we growled about a survey showing the Washington, D.C. area is not the best place for retirees. Sounds as if some of the Arlington County Board masterminds are trying to justify more spending for their so-called affordable housing.

As Ms. Sullivan reports, "The poll showed that residents want the county to do more about affordable housing." However, it seems that Arlington County taxpayers are already doing a lot about so-called affordable housing. Or is spending $57 million, as she reports in the immediately following sentence, just chopped liver?

Although it is expected the County Board will place great weight on the poll of Arlington residents, we encourage all Arlington taxpayers and residents to review the affordable housing study, and provide the five members of the Arlington County Board with your thoughts. Since the final report will be completed between now and June 2015, Arlington taxpayers may be able to significantly influence the final product by becoming involved in the affordable housing study working group. The next meeting will be Thursday evening, September 25, 2014 at Central Library.

Growls readers who believe that Arlington County is already doing enough for affordable housing are urged to contact the Arlington County Board. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following hotlink, or just call:them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 21, 2014

Washington Area not Best Place for Retirees

A news item earlier this month in the online Arlington Sun Gazette discussed a recent survey by WalletHub.com, which advertises itself as "the social network for your wallet."

You can find the report, titled, "2014′s Best and Worst Places to Retire," here. Their purpose:

"To help Americans find the best places to retire, WalletHub analyzed the 150 largest cities in the United States across 25 key metrics. They range from cost of living to job prospects for workers aged 65 and older to the availability of recreational activities. The study also includes an examination of each city’s quality of life and health care conditions. By highlighting the most retirement- and wallet-friendly cities, WalletHub aims to ease the process of finding a new place to call home."

Here's the lede from the Sun Gazette story:

"The voluminous talk among regional leaders about “aging in place” appears to be coming up against the reality that the D.C. area isn’t the best spot in the nation to spend one’s golden years.

"At least not according to one recent survey."

The Washington, D.C. area ranked 128th among the 150 cities ranked by WalletHub. Also, "(a)mong Virginia cities, Chesapeake ranked 55th nationally, followed by Richmond at 59th, Virginia Beach at 67th and Norfolk at 73rd."

So much for the free spenders on the Arlington County Board, and our three Big Spender members of Congress.

September 20, 2014

Could Faulty Climate Science Keep Millions in Dark?

The lead story on the front page of the Commentary section of yesterday's Washington Times argues that an "awareness grows that faulty science would keep millions in the dark." Written by two leading global warming skeptics -- solar physicist Willie Soon and Christopher Monckton, former expert reviewer for the U.N's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- they note that India's new prime minister Narendra Modi, along with China's president Xi Jinping and Germany's chancellor Angela Merkel, would not be attending Tuesday's climate summit in New York under the auspices of the United Nations.

This story argues, "We’re way more screwed than we were the last time the U.N. had a big climate meeting." It was written by Ben Adler of the Seattle-based Grist, which thinks of itself as "a source of intelligent, irreverent environmental news and commentary."

Back to reality, though. Here's the main thrust of the argument made by Soon and Monckton:

"Environmentalists have complained about Mr. Modi’s decision. They say rising atmospheric carbon dioxide will cause droughts, melt Himalayan ice, and poison lakes and waterways in the Indian subcontinent.

"However, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has already had to backtrack on earlier assertions that Himalayan glaciers would be gone within 25 years, and the most comprehensive review of drought trends worldwide shows the global land area under drought has decreased throughout the past 30 years.

"The spiritual yet down-to-earth Mr. Modi knows that 300 million Indians still have no electricity. His priority is to turn on the lights all over India. In Bihar, four homes in five are still lit by kerosene.

"Electric power is the quickest, surest, cheapest way to lift people out of poverty, disease, subsistence agriculture and childhood death — thereby stabilizing India’s population, which may soon overtake China’s.

"The world’s governing elites, however, no longer care about poverty. Climate change is their new focus.

"For instance, in late August, the Asian Development Bank predicted that warmer weather would cut rice production, rising seas would engulf Mumbai and other coastal megacities, and rainfall would decline by 10 percent to 40 percent across in many Indian provinces.

"Garbage in, gospel out. In truth, rice production has risen steadily, sea level is barely rising, and even the U.N.’s climate panel has twice been compelled to admit that there is no evidence of a worldwide change in rainfall.

"Subtropical India will not warm by much. Advection would take most of any additional heat poleward. Besides, globally there has been little or no warming for almost two decades. Climate models did not predict that, casting doubt on all of the U.N. climate panel’s “projections.” The panel, on our advice, has recently all but halved its central estimate of near-term warming.

"Sea level is rising no faster than for the past 150 years. From 2004 to 2012, the Envisat satellite reported a rise of one-tenth of an inch. From 2003 to 2009, gravity satellites actually showed sea level falling. Results like these have not hitherto been reported in the mainstream news media."

Since virtually all of the gloom and doom that is spouted by the likes of Al Gore and his ilk are based on climate models, it's worth noting what Soon and Monckton have to say about them:

"Governments also overlook a key conclusion from the world’s modelers, led by Fred Kucharski of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics: “The increase of greenhouse gases in the 20th century has not significantly contributed to the observed decadal Indian monsoonal rainfall variability.”

"Not one climate model predicted the severe Indian drought of 2009, followed by the prolonged rains the next year — a one-year increase of 40 percent in most regions. These natural variations are not new. They have happened for tens of thousands of years.

"A paper for the scientific journal Climate Dynamics co-authored by B.N. Goswami, recently retired director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, shows why the models relied upon by the U.N. climate panel’s recent assessments predict monsoons inaccurately.

"All 16 models examined have the same fatal flaw: They predict rain too easily, by artificially elevating air and water masses in the atmosphere.

"Models are not ready to predict the climate. Misusing computers to spew out multiple “what-if” scenarios is unscientific. This approach simply means “if all our unproven assumptions are correct, this could happen.”

Perhaps an even better essay on global warming appears in the Review section of this weekend's Wall Street Journal. Written by Steven Koonin, undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Obama's first term. He also was a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech. He argues that "climate science is not settled," and adds in the subtitle, "we are very far from having the knowledge needed to make good policy." His observations about the climate models are very close to those of Soon and Monckton:

"For the latest IPCC report (September 2013), its Working Group I, which focuses on physical science, uses an ensemble of some 55 different models. Although most of these models are tuned to reproduce the gross features of the Earth's climate, the marked differences in their details and projections reflect all of the limitations that I have described. For example:

• The models differ in their descriptions of the past century's global average surface temperature by more than three times the entire warming recorded during that time. Such mismatches are also present in many other basic climate factors, including rainfall, which is fundamental to the atmosphere's energy balance. As a result, the models give widely varying descriptions of the climate's inner workings. Since they disagree so markedly, no more than one of them can be right.

• Although the Earth's average surface temperature rose sharply by 0.9 degree Fahrenheit during the last quarter of the 20th century, it has increased much more slowly for the past 16 years, even as the human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide has risen by some 25%. This surprising fact demonstrates directly that natural influences and variability are powerful enough to counteract the present warming influence exerted by human activity.

"Yet the models famously fail to capture this slowing in the temperature rise. Several dozen different explanations for this failure have been offered, with ocean variability most likely playing a major role. But the whole episode continues to highlight the limits of our modeling.

• The models roughly describe the shrinking extent of Arctic sea ice observed over the past two decades, but they fail to describe the comparable growth of Antarctic sea ice, which is now at a record high.

• The models predict that the lower atmosphere in the tropics will absorb much of the heat of the warming atmosphere. But that "hot spot" has not been confidently observed, casting doubt on our understanding of the crucial feedback of water vapor on temperature.

• Even though the human influence on climate was much smaller in the past, the models do not account for the fact that the rate of global sea-level rise 70 years ago was as large as what we observe today—about one foot per century.

• A crucial measure of our knowledge of feedbacks is climate sensitivity—that is, the warming induced by a hypothetical doubling of carbon-dioxide concentration. Today's best estimate of the sensitivity (between 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit) is no different, and no more certain, than it was 30 years ago. And this is despite an heroic research effort costing billions of dollars.

"These and many other open questions are in fact described in the IPCC research reports, although a detailed and knowledgeable reading is sometimes required to discern them. They are not "minor" issues to be "cleaned up" by further research. Rather, they are deficiencies that erode confidence in the computer projections. Work to resolve these shortcomings in climate models should be among the top priorities for climate research.

"Yet a public official reading only the IPCC's "Summary for Policy Makers" would gain little sense of the extent or implications of these deficiencies. These are fundamental challenges to our understanding of human impacts on the climate, and they should not be dismissed with the mantra that "climate science is settled."

The conclusion in Soon and Monckton's essay, consequently, is well-worth considering:

"Misuse of climate models as false prophets of doom is costly in lives as well as treasure.

"To condemn the poorest of India’s poor to continuing poverty is to condemn many to an untimely death. Mr. Modi is right to have no more to do with such murderous nonsense. It is time to put an end to climate summits. On the evidence, they are not needed."

Readers are encouraged to read both of the essays in their entirety. And a HT to Steven Hayward at Power Line who says about Steven Koonin's essay, "You owe it to yourself to read the whole thing (especially his very good summary of the serious limitations of the computer climate models)."

Some readers of Growls may be wondering why we're growling about global warming. According to Larry Bell, in Forbes magazine on August 23, 2011, citing both the General Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Research Service (CRS):

"The U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) can’t figure out what benefits taxpayers are getting from the many billions of dollars spent each year on policies that are purportedly aimed at addressing climate change.

"A May 20 report noted that while annual federal funding for such activities has been increasing substantially, there is a lack of shared understanding of strategic priorities among the various responsible agency officials. This assessment agrees with the conclusions of a 2008 Congressional Research Service analysis which found no “overarching policy goal for climate change that guides the programs funded or the priorities among programs.”

"According to the GAO, annual federal climate spending has increased from $4.6 billion in 2003 to $8.8 billion in 2010, amounting to $106.7 billion over that period. The money was spent in four general categories: technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, science to understand climate changes, international assistance for developing countries, and wildlife adaptation to respond to actual or expected changes. Technology spending, the largest category, grew from $2.56 billion to $5.5 billion over this period, increasingly advancing over others in total share.  Data compiled by Joanne Nova at the Science and Policy Institute indicates that the U.S. Government spent more than $32.5 billion on climate studies between 1989 and 2009. This doesn’t count about $79 billion more spent for climate change technology research, foreign aid and tax breaks for “green energy.”

And that doesn't include what the states and local governments have spent. For example, Virginia's Arlington County has likely spent more than $1 million for it's so-called Community Energy Plan.

September 19, 2014

A Thought on Greed

In yesterday's "Notable & Quotable" column, the Wall Street Journal ($-paywall) asks, "Why is the term applied almost exclusively to those who want to keep what they've earned?" Their answer comes from Thomas Sowell's 1995 book, The Vision of the Anointed.

"Among the many other questions raised by the nebulous concept of "greed" is why it is a term applied almost exclusively to those who want to earn more money or to keep what they have already earned—never to those wanting to take other people's money in taxes or to those wishing to live on the largess dispensed from such taxation. No amount of taxation is ever described by the anointed as "greed" on the part of government or the clientele of government. . . .

"Families who wish to be independent financially and to make their own decisions about their lives are of little interest or use to those who are seeking to impose their superior wisdom and virtue on other people. Earning their own money makes these families unlikely candidates for third-party direction and wishing to retain what they have earned threatens to deprive the anointed of the money needed to distribute as largess to others who would thus become subject to their direction. In these circumstances, it is understandable why the desire to increase and retain one's own earnings should be characterized negatively as "greed," while wishing to live at the expense of others is not."

~ Thomas Sowell

September 18, 2014

Arlington County Has No 'Taxpayer Friends' in Congress

On June 7, 2014, we growled about the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste's (CCAGW) 2013 Congressional Ratings, which highlighted the voting records of all 535 members of Congress. The report has been issued since 1989, and identifies members with voting records that helped protect and save the taxpayers’ money. The bottom line was that we growled:

"Not only does Arlington County have no Taxpayer Heroes, or even Taxpayer Friendly members of Congress, all three of Arlington County's members of Congress -- Senators Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) and Representative Jim Moran (D) -- received scores of 13% from CCAGW, earning each of them a ranking of ''hostile.'"

The National Taxpayers Union released their annual scorecard of the 1st Session, 113th Congress on Tuesday, which "shows a failing Senate and a House divided." Each of Arlington County's members of Congress -- Senators Tim Kaine (D) and Mark Warner (D) and Representative Jim Moran (D) -- earned a grade of F, which NTU labelled as Big Spenders. Here's how NTU described their overall analysis (press release here; ratings and other details here):

"In total, for the First Session of the 113th Congress, 58 lawmakers attained scores sufficient for an “A” grade (a minimum score of 83 percent in the House and 90 percent the Senate) and therefore won the “Taxpayers’ Friend Award.” In fact, this is the first time in NTU’s Rating history that the House attained a 50 percent or better average for three consecutive years.

"Yet, a startling 204 Senators and Representatives were tagged with the title of “Big Spender” for posting “F” grades (24 percent or less in the House and 16 percent or less in the Senate). The record of 267 was reached in both 2008 and 2009."

NTU points out that "(a) Member of Congress’s Taxpayer Score reflects his or her commitment to reducing or controlling federal spending, taxes, debt, and significant regulations." Here's a bit more on NTU's taxpayer scores:

"The Taxpayer Score measures the strength of support for reducing spending and opposing higher taxes. In general, a higher score is better because it means a member of Congress voted to spend less money.

"The Taxpayer Score can range between zero and 100. We do not expect anyone to score a 100, nor has any legislator ever scored a perfect 100 in the multi-year history of the comprehensive NTU scoring system. A high score does not mean that the member of Congress was opposed to all spending or all programs. High-scoring members have indicated that they would vote for many programs if the amount of spending were lower or if the budget were balanced. A member who wants to increase spending on some programs can achieve a high score if he or she votes for offsetting cuts in other programs. A zero score would indicate that the member of Congress approved every spending proposal and opposed every pro-taxpayer reform."

As noted above, all three members of Arlington County's Congressional delegation were rated as Big Spenders for their voting record in the 1st Session of the 113th Congress. Their scores:

  • Senator Tim Kaine -- 11%
  • Senator Mark Warner -- 14%
  • Representative Jim Moran -- 20%

In the Senate, a score of 90% or higher was needed to earn an A, i.e., Taxpayer Friendly, while a score of 15% or lower received an F, i.e., Big Spender. In the House of Representatives, members earned an A with a score of 83% or higher while members were rated Big Spenders for scores of 24% or lower. The three highest scoring members in each house were:

  • Senate: 1) Jeff Flake (R-Arizona); Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma); and Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
  • House: 1) Tom McClintock (R-California); Justin Amash (R-Michigan); and John J. Duncan (R-Tennessee)

In our June 7 Growls, we noted that according to BrainyQuote.com, Ralph Nader reportedly said, "The only difference between the Republican and Democratic parties is the velocities with which their knees hit the floor when corporations knock on their door. That's the only difference." However, we said that when members of Congress are compared on their voting records, differences between the two parties become clearer. For example, the party scores for the 1st session of the 113th Congress in the annual ranking's were:

Senate

  • Average Democrat --  9%
  • Average Republican -- 81%

House

  • Average Democrat --  21%
  • Average Republican -- 75%

So bookmark this Growls, and before going to the polls on November 4, 2014, take a look at the NTU and CCAGW annual ratings. Decide if you want the incumbent to continue or do you want someone who will vote more to your liking. If the incumbent is not running for reelection, decide which candidate will best be Taxpayer Friendly or a Taxpayer Super Hero.

Kudos to the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) for their efforts in compiling the annual scorecard, which allows taxpayers to hold their members of Congress accountable.

September 17, 2014

Some Thoughts on Constitution Day

'Today, Sept. 17, 2014, marks the 227th anniversary of the signing of our Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. You can honor the day by reading it. It’s up to “We the People” to hold our elected representatives accountable for failing to honor their oaths," reports Patriot Post.

They also report that Mark Alexander, executive editor and publisher of Patriot Post provides "an extensive archive of columns on the Constitution as it relates to various subjects over the years. And he’ll be writing more today." You can find it here.

Two quotes from today's Washington Times:

1. The first is from the column by Thomas V. DiBacco, professor emeritus at American University:

". . . In recent polls, only about 40 percent of Americans could name the three branches of government set forth in the Constitution. About three out of every four didn’t know the length of a U.S. senator’s term, and 71 percent were unaware that the supreme law of the land was, in fact, the Constitution. Only about half of respondents knew that a two-thirds vote in Congress was required to overturn a presidential veto. And, of course, these polls test only the knowledge about the original Constitution and not the 27 amendments that have been ratified.

"The problem is that contemporary educators are loathe to rely on rote and memory for students, with the latest fad, as reflected by the Common Core standards adopted by most states, emphasizing problem-solving. That may well be good for some subjects, but there is a font of knowledge that must be put to memory, no matter that this can be readily accessed by students through computers and the like. Moreover, memory training has an enormous benefit for the developing mind as well as for keeping it supple during the aging process.

"The Constitution should be the most revered and understood document in United States history. It is the shortest and oldest of similar documents among major world powers. John Adams put it best by noting that it is the “greatest single effort of national deliberation that the world has ever seen.”

2. The second is from the column by Dr. Ben S. Carson, author and retired neuosurgeon:

"On this Constitution Day, a wonderful holiday created with bipartisan support just a few short years ago, let’s recommit ourselves to rereading and appreciating our Constitution and ensuring that our children and our children’s children grow up with the same appreciation we were given. Familiarity with the greatest ideas ever created for preserving liberty will breed appreciation. Appreciation will help us all overcome the ignorant political correctness of a few media elites and governing officials who seem to dismiss the fundamental principles of a government that respected liberty first and foremost."

Hillsdale College has a new and free online course, "The Presidency and the Constitution," which focuses on how Progressives have transformed the Presidency and subverted liberty. According to Hillsdale College, it's "an issue that's becoming more and more important in an age of unprecedented executive orders and agency regulations." The course is free, and lasts ten weeks. To register, click here.

Finally, in an e-mail today. the Claremont Institute provided several "essential readings" from their archives:

  • From their Spring 2012 Claremont Review of Books, essays by John Marini and James W. Ceaser. Then a response. See their Upon Further Review section for a response by Jean M. Yarbrough, Bradley C.S. Watson, Michael M. Uhlmann, and Jeremy Rabkin.
  • CRB editor Charles Kesler's 2009 classic, The Conservative Challenge, which assesses election of Barack Obama "and how conservatives ought to use the high ground of constitutionalism to combat liberalism under our 44th president."

If you're looking to expand your reading, visit the Claremont Institute's blog, Library of Law and Liberty.

Kudos to Patriot Post, Hillsdale College, and the Claremont Institute for their outstanding work educating us about the American Founding.

September 16, 2014

A Thought on Economic Growth

"In 1900, we had no airplanes, no computers, no cellphones, no internet. We had only rudimentary versions of cars, trucks, telephones, even cameras. As Stephen Moore and Julian L. Simon report in their underappreciated work, It’s Getting Better All the Time: 100 Greatest Trends of the Last 100 Years,

“It is hard for us to imagine, for example, that in 1900 less than one in five homes had running water, flush toilets, a vacuum cleaner, or gas or electric heat. As of 1950 fewer than 20 percent of homes had air conditioning, a dishwasher, or a microwave oven. Today between 80 and 100 percent of American homes have all of these modern conveniences.”

"Indeed, in 1900 only 2% of U.S. homes enjoyed electricity.

"Moore and Simon explain that the real difference between 1900 and today is that real per capita GDP in the U.S. grew by nearly 7 times during that period, meaning the American standard of living grew by that much as well. Such continued, sustained economic growth would solve every real problem America faces today."

~ Peter Ferrara

Source: His 6/29/14 Forbes column, ""Room To Grow" Blind To The Most Important Issue For The Middle Class -- Economic Growth."

September 15, 2014

America Ranks 32nd in Tax Competitiveness. Could be Worse?

The Tax Foundation released their 2014 International Tax Competitiveness Index (ITCI) today. In the lead editorial today, the Wall Street Journal ($$$) calls the index "a new global benchmark." The Tax Foundation says "(t)he ITCI attempts to determine which countries provide the best tax environment for investment and business growth and development."

Here's how the Tax Foundation introduces the ITCI in the executive digest:

"The Tax Foundation’s International Tax Competitiveness Index (ITCI) measures the degree to which the 34 OECD countries’ tax systems promote competitiveness through low tax burdens on business investment and neutrality through a well-structured tax code. The ITCI considers more than forty variables across five categories: Corporate Taxes, Consumption Taxes, Property Taxes, Individual Taxes, and International Tax Rules.

"The ITCI attempts to display not only which countries provide the best tax environment for investment but also the best tax environment to start and grow a business."

In taking note of the harm the current tax code does to the U.S. economy, the WSJ editorial says:

"With the developed world's highest corporate tax rate at over 39% including state levies, plus a rare demand that money earned overseas should be taxed as if it were earned domestically, the U.S. is almost in a class by itself. It ranks just behind Spain and Italy, of all economic humiliations. America did beat Portugal and France, which is currently run by an avowed socialist.

"The Tax Foundation benchmark compares developed economies with large and expensive governments, but the U.S. would do even worse if it were measured against the world's roughly 190 countries. The accounting firm KPMG maintains a corporate tax table that includes more than 130 countries and only one has a higher overall corporate tax rate than the U.S. The United Arab Emirates' 55% rate is an exception, however, because it usually applies only to foreign oil companies."

In explaining why the United States' tax competitiveness ranks so low, the Tax Foundation identifies the following three key findings:

  • The largest factors behind the United States’ score are that the U.S. has the highest corporate tax rate in the developed world and that it is one of the six remaining countries in the OECD with a worldwide system of taxation.
  • The United States also scores poorly on property taxes due to its estate tax and poorly structured state and local property taxes
  • Other pitfalls for the United States are its individual taxes with a high top marginal tax rate and the double taxation of capital gains and dividend income.

Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journal says things could be worse, writing:

"The Tax Foundation benchmark compares developed economies with large and expensive governments, but the U.S. would do even worse if it were measured against the world's roughly 190 countries. The accounting firm KPMG maintains a corporate tax table that includes more than 130 countries and only one has a higher overall corporate tax rate than the U.S. The United Arab Emirates' 55% rate is an exception, however, because it usually applies only to foreign oil companies.

"The new ranking is especially timely coming amid the campaign led by Messrs. Obama and Schumer to punish companies that move their legal domicile overseas to be able to reinvest future profits in the U.S. without paying the punitive American tax rate. If they succeed, the U.S. could fall to dead last on next year's ranking. Now there's a second-term legacy project for the President."

To see just how bad America's tax competitiveness is, consider that Greece ranked #27 with a score of 53.3. The top and bottom five of the 34 OECD countries ranked by the Tax Foundation were:

  • Top Five: Estonia (#1 -- score of 100.0); New Zealand (#2 -- 87.9); Switzerland (#3 - 82.4); Sweden (#4 - 79.7); Australia ($5 - 78.4).
  • Bottom Five: Spain (#30 - 50.8); Italy (#31 - 47.2); United States (#32 - 44.6); Portugal (#33 - 42.9); and France (#32 - 38.9).

Since tax competitiveness is such an important factor in the overall economy and jobs, two of the four most important problems identified by Americans in a recent Gallup poll -- see our September 11, 2014 Growls -- the topic should be most important in the candidates debates leading up to the November 4, 2014 general elections.

According to Arlington County's Office of Voter Registration, Tuesday, October 14, 2014 is the last day to register for the November 4 general elections.

Readers of Growls who are concerned about the economy, jobs, and America's tax competitiveness are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

Finally, kudos to the Tax Foundation, and to Kyle Pomerleau and Andrew Lundeen for creating the ITCI.

September 14, 2014

A Thought on Liberty and ObamaCare

"Millions of Americans have lost the liberty to select their own type of health insurance, purchased on their own volition to best match their own assessments of their particular needs. Obamacare — the federal government’s redistributive effort to equalize health care for all — sought to destroy the liberty of many millions in order to ensure a state-directed sameness in care for all. Note also how a redistributive plan that spiked costs, reduced care, and so far has taken away more health coverage than it has provided is named the “Affordable Care Act.” Better to call it the the “Unaffordable Uncaring Edict.”

~ Victor Davis Hanson

Source: His January 14, 2014 column, "The Idol of Equality," posted at National Review Online.

September 13, 2014

Call for a Stronger Arlington County Gifts Policy

On Thursday, the ARLnow.com news site reports that "Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt is calling for a stronger gifts policy for county government employees and officials."

ARLnow.com goes on to report:

"The county’s current Code of Ethics says that county workers should “ensure that no favors, gifts, gratuities or benefits are received for actions taken.”

"Additionally, conflict-of-interest rules state that county employees “may not accept personal gifts, gratuities, or loans from organizations, businesses, or individuals with whom the employee conducts or will conduct official County business.”

"(The rule does not apply to “articles of negligible value that are distributed to the general public,” “social courtesies which promote good public relations,” and “obtaining loans from regular lending institutions.”)

"Vihstadt is calling for a specific $100 gift limit from any source, in addition to prohibiting gifts given in exchange for official actions."

ARLnow.com reproduces Vihstadt's press release. Here is a portion:

"Vihstadt, an Independent running for re-election Nov. 4, said, “Arlington must signal its commitment to foster the highest standards of ethical conduct” in the wake of the convictions of former governor Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen on multiple corruption charges.

“To start, the County should consider adoption of a $100 value limit on gifts from any source per year, and provide that in no instance shall a board member or county employee accept a gift given for services performed within the scope of an employee’s duties or given with intent to influence one’s actions” he added.

"The current county ethics policy places no dollar limit on gifts to board members or employees. Vihstadt also noted that the current ethics policy describes “principles” of proper conduct. “This is more limited than what I am calling for, which is (a) a rule and not a principle and, (b) I prohibit anything intended to influence – not just items received for actions taken.”

"Vihstadt noted that Arlington Public Schools adopted a similar provision effective July 1, and that Gov. Terry McAuliffe has likewise taken comparable strong steps for himself and senior staff in Richmond."

Kudos to Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt for proposing a stronger county gifts policy, and for pointing out the Arlington Public Schools have already adopted a stronger provision.

Growls readers who believe that Arlington County needs a stronger ethics policy are urged to contact the Arlington County Board. You can e-mail the County Board by clicking-on the following hotlink, or just call:them:

  • Call the Board office at (703) 228-3130

And tell them ACTA sent you!

September 12, 2014

Arlington Public Schools Enrollment Still Rising

Last Saturday we growled about a report by Katie Watson of Watchdog.org's Virginia Bureau regarding the estimated increase of 2,800 undocumented children in Virginia classrooms, which will cost Virginia taxpayers about $54 million.

Then on Wednesday of this week, in a story posted at Townhall.com, Watson reported that Fairfax County is planning to ask the federal government to reimburse the county "$14 million for educating undocumented kids." Specifically, Watson reports:

"Fairfax County Public Schools is bearing the fiscal brunt of educating about half of the roughly 2,000 undocumented minors who have been placed with sponsors — usually family members — in the commonwealth since January."

So, in this week's Arlington Sun Gazette comes the news that public school enrollment in Arlington County is "still on rise." According to Scott McCaffrey:

"Arlington school officials anticipate they will have 2.7 percent more students in classes by the end of September than they did a year before, continuing the long-term trend toward higher enrollment.

"Superintendent Patrick Murphy told School Board members Sept. 4 there were 22,906 students in kindergarten through 12th grade on the first day of school. Factor in the 1,050 pre-kindergarten students who will trickle into the system during the month, and the 23,956 expected students will be up from 23,316 a year ago and 22,657 two years ago.

"The latest projection is down slightly from the 24,213 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade that the school system had projected several months ago. Murphy said the situation remains “very fluid and dynamic” and will remain so until a final count is established at the end of the month.

Sept. 30 is the day each year that school systems across the commonwealth submit their official enrollment figures to the Virginia Department of Education."

McCaffrey's report is silent on whether APS received any undocumented students that resulted from the so-called border crisis, which involved mostly younger Central American children, that was in the news much of the 2014 summer. Based upon the relative size of the Fairfax and Arlington County school districts, one could expect APS to have received more than 100 undocumented students. If we learn that APS received any of those students, we will update this Growls appropriately. As noted in McCaffrey's reporting; however, a clear picture probably won't emerge until the September 30 reporting date.

September 11, 2014

Americans Dissatisfied with Government and Economy on 9/11

In a poll released yesterday, Gallup's Rebecca Riffkin reports, "the issues Americans most commonly mention as the nation's top problems are dissatisfaction with government and the economy, followed closely by unemployment and immigration. Although down slightly after an initial spike in July, mentions of immigration remain elevated." (HT CNS News)

By way of background, Riffkin reports:

"Four percent of Americans currently mention terrorism as the most important problem facing the U.S. Although low on an absolute basis, it is the highest percentage naming this issue since May 2010. Mentions of terrorism have been near 1% for the past four years.

"Relatively few Americans -- usually less than 0.5% -- mentioned terrorism as the most important problem facing the U.S. prior to 9/11. But that changed quickly after the 9/11 attacks. Mentions jumped to 46% the month after the attacks, the highest percentage Gallup has found for terrorism since it began asking Americans monthly to name the most important problem facing the nation in March 2001.

"Mentions of terrorism have spiked several times since 2001, generally in reaction to new threats or potential attacks. The most recent surge, to 8% in early 2010, came after the "Christmas Day bomber" failed to blow up a commercial U.S. flight. Each spike since 2001 has been smaller than the one before, and mentions have been lower in the months afterward."

The following chart appeared in Ms. Riffkin's report for Gallup:

The bottom line, according to Ms. Riffkin? "The economy or dissatisfaction with government may trump terrorism as the most important problem at the moment, but many Americans still see terrorism as a threat that must be dealt with, even 13 years after 9/11."

In the CNS News report today, Susan Jones also points out:

"Another Gallup Poll, conducted during the same Sept. 4-7 timeframe, overwhelmingly chose Republicans as being better able to protect the U.S. from international terrorism and military threats.

"Fifty-five percent of Americans chose Republicans, while 32 percent chose the Democratic Party.

"This is the widest Republican advantage in Gallup's history of asking this  question since 2002," the poll noted."

For more information about who Americans trust to fight terrorism, see this NewsMax report.

If you are concerned that members of Congress may not fully appreciate the nation's priorities, you are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

September 10, 2014

A War on Inspectors General? Hiding Waste, Fraud, and Abuse?

A front-page, above the fold, story in today's Washington Times warrants the attention of every American taxpayer and citizens concerned with fiscal responsibility in the federal government. In his lede, Phillip Swarts' reports:

"The Justice Department’s internal watchdog offered Congress fresh evidence Tuesday that the Obama administration is failing to meet its promises of transparency, accusing department officials of interfering with his independent investigations into employee wrongdoing.

"Inspector General Michael Horowitz told House lawmakers that Justice officials have declined to turn over documents and delayed cooperation with his investigators, undermining their role under the law to provide independent oversight to an agency with far-reaching powers to arrest or sue Americans, prosecute crimes and guard against terrorism.

"Access by inspectors general to information in agency files goes to the heart of our mission to provide independent and nonpartisan oversight,” he said."

Swarts later adds this:

"House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, said no one should stand in the way of investigators working at the behest of Congress and the American people.

“The conduct of meaningful oversight by any office of inspector general depends on complete and timely access to all agency materials and data,” he said.

"Mr. Goodlatte said attempts by certain offices to hinder investigations show “an agency that believes the OIG must ask for and receive permission to review DOJ data and material.”

And also reports this:

"Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, whose group investigates public corruption, called the inspector general’s finding unsurprising.

“The Department of Justice is notorious for refusing to follow transparency laws,” he said, noting that Congress already has held Mr. Holder in contempt once for refusing to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious scandal."

In addition, Swarts wrote:

"Mr. Horowitz also noted that the Justice Department investigators also have had trouble gaining access to documents about Operation Fast and Furious, run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Under the operation, designed to track guns to Mexican drug cartels from 2006 to 2011, federal agents lost control of the firearms and essentially gave weapons to dangerous criminals.

"Mr. Horowitz said the inspector general’s work is important to ensuring responsible, representative government."

Meanwhile, at the American Thinker blog today, Rick Moran follows-up on a question raised earlier, i.e., whether the Obama administration has a "war on inspectors general," writing:

"Thanks to Ed Lasky, American Thinker has been in the forefront of efforts to publicize this administration's "War on inspectors general." Lasky has written about numerous examples of how department officials in the Obama administration have blocked, slowed, or otherwise interferred in IG investigations. Several IG's have been fired after revealing uncomfortable truths about corrupt administration cronies and officials.

"Lasky detailed some of these efforts to hide the truth just last month."

Read Moran's post for the gory details. In summary, Moran writes:

"Do we detect a pattern here? Absolutely. Any potentially damaging information that would not reflect well on a specific department or the administration as a whole is given the slow motion treatment. We saw the same thing at the Treasury Department when the fraud associated with the stimulus bill was being investigated. Getting to the bottom of corruption in this administration is like pulling teeth - slow and painful. Even when the IG's finish the investigation, their recommendations to fix the problems are rarely adopted.

"Given the number of IG and investigator vacancies, a suspicious person might think that the Obama administration was trying to hide waste and fraud in the various departments.

"But we're not suspicious, are we?"

Taxpayer friends of Growls who are concerned that federal inspectors general are truly independent and are truly "junkyard dogs," as they were generally regarded when initially created more than 35 years ago are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

September 09, 2014

A Thought on the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare)

"The Affordable Care Act is weakening the economy. And for the large number of families and individuals who continue to pay for their own health care, health care is now less affordable."

~ Casey B. Mulligan, professor of economics, University of chicago

Source: His September 9, 2014 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (behind WSJ's $$$ paywall).

The op-ed, entitled "The Myth of ObamaCare's Affordable, is well-worth reading in its entirety. Casey Mulligan is the author of the new e-book: "Side Effects: The Economic Consequences of the Health Reform" (JMJ Economics, 2014).

September 08, 2014

Unemployed More Likely to be Shopping than Job-Hunting

At CNSNews.com, Ali Meyer reports the unemployed are "more likely to go shopping on average day than look for job." Is this a great county, or what? According to Meyer:

"Only 18.9 percent of Americans who were unemployed (in surveys conducted from 2009 through 2013) spent time in job search and interviewing activities on an average day, according to BLS. Yet 40.8 percent of the unemployed did some kind of shopping on the average day--either in a store, by telephone, or on the Internet. 22.5 percent of the unemployed, according to BLS, were shopping for items other than groceries, food and gas."

Meyer explains the study conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by writing:

"The BLS conducts a study called the American Time Use Survey (ATUS) which tracks how Americans spend their time doing various activities during a given day. “The goal of the survey is to measure how people divide their time among life’s activities,” explains the BLS. “Individuals are randomly selected from subset of households that have completed their eighth and final month of interviews for the Current Population Survey (CPS). ATUS respondents are interviewed only one time about how they spent their time on the previous day, where they were, and whom they were with.”

Additional details from the BLS study provided by Meyer include:

"While only 18.9 percent of the unemployed said they spent time during the previous day in job-search and interviewing activities on an average day, the survey shows that when someone was looking for a job they spent an average of only 2.48 hours of the day doing so.

"An unemployed person—on the average day—was more likely to spend time on shopping, sports and recreation, socializing and leisure, than they were searching for and interviewing for a new job, according to BLS.

"According to BLS, 96.7 percent of the unemployed spent time during the average day participating in “socializing, relaxing, and leisure” activities and spent, on average, 5.93 hours on those activities—or more than twice the number of hours they spent job searching.

"Only 71.9 percent of the unemployed washed, dressed and groomed themselves on the average day, according to BLS. That means that 28.1 percent of the unemployed did not wash, dress and groom themselves on the average day."

Meyer includes the following chart in her report:


For more on federal welfare, see Michael Tanner's article at the Cato Institute's Downsizing the Federal Government project. At Watchdog.org, Tom Blumer explains the Obama administration's plans to eliminate the welfare to work requirement in Ohio. Finally, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Michigan) explains in a Fox News op-ed the welfare to work requirement was successful, and why the plan to change it must be stopped.

Taxpayer friends of Growls who are concerned about America's unemployed and the lack of incentives to become gainfully employed are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

September 07, 2014

GAO Finds Cost of Renewable Fuel Standards Outweigh Benefits

Taxpayers for Common Sense (TCS) reports, "A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reviewed seven Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs)." According to TCS:

"A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report reviewed seven Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regulatory Impact Analyses (RIAs) and found that they had not always followed Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance or consistently taken in account regulations’ full costs and benefits. One of the seven rules GAO examined was implementation of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), a federal mandate for production of renewable fuels. GAO confirms what TCS has said for years - that the costs of the RFS outweigh its benefits – but many of these costs weren’t considered when EPA implemented the most recent RFS regulations after it was expanded in 2007.

"For more than a decade, biofuels were sold as a way to help achieve American energy independence, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and spur rural economic development. However, as yet another nonpartisan analysis confirms, biofuels will continue to fall short of achieving these goals while spurring numerous unintended consequences, costs, and long-term liabilities. The mandate has spurred production of mature biofuels such as corn ethanol and soy biodiesel but failed to create a market for next-generation biofuels that don’t compete with the food supply, drastically reduce GHG emissions, and protect water and air quality."

TCS identies six specific criticisms made by GAO:

  • RFS costs outweigh its benefits:  “EPA estimated net benefits of the [RFS] ranging from $13 to $26 billion. The measure does not include the costs of investments needed to increase renewable fuel production. The agency estimated those capital costs to total $90.5 billion through 2022.” So, the net costs of the RFS, as calculated in 2010, range from $64.5 to $77.5 billion.
  • Water quality costs:  “EPA quantified some adverse water quality effects of the RFS but did not monetize these effects.”
  • Discount rate:  “EPA did not clearly present its discounted estimates of benefits and costs using both rates [required by OMB], making it difficult to discern whether the agency used a consistent rate in the calculation.”
  • Relevance of the regulatory analysis:  Unlike other regulations requiring RIAs, “EPA officials said the [RFS RIA] played no role in selecting a regulatory approach because the approach resulted from a congressional mandate included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.” In other words, the huge time and effort spent calculating the costs and benefits of the RFS had no impact on EPA’s final decisions in implementing the federal mandate.
  • Problem statement:  EPA explained “the need for the proposed rule…but did not describe the problem the rule intended to address.”
  • Consideration of alternatives:  “EPA presented information for only the selected option,” but no alternatives.

TCS concluded with the following observation:

"Adding insult to taxpayer injury, aside from this government mandate, biofuels also enjoy an array of federal subsidies, a variety of other supports including USDA bioenergy subsidies, and special interest tax breaks. So-called tax extenders will likely be considered later this year, providing an opportunity to debate whether biofuels subsidies should receive another short-term lifeline or be ended once and for all."

The GAO report (GAO-14-519), "EPA Should Improve Adherence to Guidance for Selected Elements of Regulatory Impact Analyses" is available here. (Includes a 1-page "highlights page.") GAO explains why they did the study:

"Federal regulations, especially those addressing health, safety, and the environment, can generate hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits and costs to society annually. Various statutes, executive orders, and OMB guidance direct federal agencies to analyze the benefits and costs of proposed regulations. These analyses—known as RIAs—can also provide affected entities, agencies, Congress, and the public with important information about the potential effects of new regulations.

"According to OMB, EPA regulations account for the majority of the estimated benefits and costs of major federal regulations. GAO was asked to review EPA's RIAs for recent regulations. This report examines how EPA has used RIAs during the rulemaking process and the extent to which EPA adhered to OMB guidance on selected elements of RIAs for recent rules. GAO reviewed RIAs from a nonprobability sample of seven recent air, water, and other environmental regulations, assessed them against relevant OMB guidance, and interviewed agency officials."

Taxpayer friends of Growls who are concerned about the regulatory burden on  American taxpayers are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

September 06, 2014

New Undocumented Students to Cost Virginia Schools

Katie Watson, an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org's Virginia Bureau, reported this week that "Virginia classrooms this school year will include as many as 2,800 new undocumented children costing state taxpayers $54 million." (HT Townhall.com)

Watson provides this additional context:

"The cost for school-eligible children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border and have been released in Virginia — oftentimes extended family members — is among the highest per-capita in the nation, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform. FAIR, a research group opposed to illegal immigration, said the feds reimburse the state and localities about 10 percent.

"If you’re doing the math, that works out to nearly $20,000 per student. Why so high? In a nutshell, it costs more to document underprivileged students for whom English is a second language.

“The reason these kids are more expensive to these school districts is because many have limited English skills,” Bob Dane, communications director for FAIR, told Watchdog.org. “…There’s a lot of catch-up, there are a lot of cultural hurdles.”

In addition, Ms. Watson reports:

"For school administrators, teaching children who come to the U.S. without proper papers isn’t new, as interviews with school officials around the state show. But Dane said that doesn’t mean it’s easy — especially when state and local budgets are already strapped.

"FAIR analyzed Department of Homeland Security figures and education funding formulas in all 50 states to develop its estimates.

"The 37,000 unaccompanied children placed by the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services around the country will cost the nation’s taxpayers up to $761 million for the 2014-15 school year, FAIR says.

"But a new report from Pew Research Center shows 56 percent of Americans favor allowing undocumented children to attend public schools while they await deportation hearings; 40 percent are opposed and the rest don’t know.

"FAIR says Virginians already spend about $1.2 billion a year teaching about 95,000 children of illegal immigrants, although it doesn’t make a distinction between children born in the U.S. and children born in other countries who come to the U.S. The law does make a distinction."

In closing her report, Watson quotes FAIR's communications director, Bob Dane, who says:

“We all want compassion for the illegal alien kids, but I think we understand that kids in the classroom aren’t’ getting a fair shake at a good education when the classrooms are crowded, the teachers are burdened, and English becomes a challenge,” Dane said."

Fox News' Mike Emanuel sums up the situation this way:

"What was a crisis on America's southern border is now turning into a major challenge for school administrators across the country.

"Tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors have crossed into the U.S. in recent months, and those not being held in health department-run facilities have in many cases been sent to live with sponsors, who are typically extended family members. As the new school year begins, the children, who in many cases don't speak English and have limited reading skills, are showing up for class.

"This has raised questions in local districts about the strain it could put on teachers.

"They may have only gone to 2nd or 3rd grade, have limited literacy in their first language. That does create a different kind of teaching impact on a school than our traditional immigrant families," Anne Arundel County, Md., administrator Kelly Reider told Fox affiliate WBFF.

Other officials, including the mayor of Lynn, Mass., have traveled to Washington seeking answers from the Obama administration.

"I love the fact that Lynn is a diverse community," Mayor Judith Flanagan Kennedy said. "By speaking out about this, I have been called a racist, I have been called a hater. That is not the case. I'm simply looking at this from the point of view of the economic impact it has had on my city."

Since it's likely that much of that $54 million cost for educating these illegal immigrant children will be paid for by all Virginia taxpayers through the Commonwealth, it's worth noting that Virginia is already expecting a budget shortfall over the next few years as we growled on August 15, 2014.

You can access the entire FAIR report here.  The following map from the FAIR report shows the estimated cost by state of providing K-12 education to the unaccompanied alien children who illegally crossed the U.S. border.

Taxpayer friends of Growls who are concerned about America's open borders, and the costs that imposes on American taxpayers, are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

September 05, 2014

So Much for the President's Economic Indicators

Last month we growled (August 11, 2014) about President Obama and his economic indicators. The president followed-up on the success of his economic prescriptions on Labor Day, as evidenced by a New York Daily News' headline, "(President) Obama, (Vice-President) Biden tout economic gains to union crowds in fiery Labor Day speeches." Specifically, the Daily News said:

"The President, speaking at LaborFest in Milwaukee, and the Vice President, speaking at Detroit’s annual Labor Day parade, both passionately pointed to economic progress in campaign-style rallies designed to pump up their party ahead of the fall midterm elections."

Facts don't seem to favor the president, however. Yesterday, the Washington Times' Jennifer Pompi reported:

"Under President Obama, the richest 10 percent were the only income group of Americans to see their median incomes rise, according to a survey released this week by the Federal Reserve.

"The Fed data covered the years 2010-2013, during which period Mr. Obama constantly campaigned against income inequality and won re-election by painting his Republican rival as a tool of Wall Street plutocrats.

“Data from the 2013 [Survey of Consumer Finances] confirm that the shares of income and wealth held by affluent families are at modern historically high levels,” the report said in noting that the median income fell for every 10-percent grouping except the most affluent 10 percent.

“The 2013 SCF reveals substantial disparities in the evolution of income and net worth since the previous time the survey was conducted, in 2010,” the report stated. The SCF is conducted by the Federal reserve triennially and compiles information about family incomes, credit use, net worth and finances."

Later, Pompi added this:

"The survey also found that family in the middle income bracket (40th to 90th percentiles) saw “very little” change in average real incomes and still have not recovered losses from 2010 and 2007. Families at the bottom of the income distribution continued to see “substantial declines” in average real incomes, a continuing trend from the previous two surveys."

Meanwhile, the Washington Examiner carried an Associated Press report yesterday, which included this:

"The Fed said that incomes declined for every other group from 2010 to 2013, widening the gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.

"The report found that median incomes, adjusted for inflation, for the top 10 percent rose 2 percent, to $223,200 from $217,900. Median income fell 4 percent for the bottom 20 percent, to $15,200 from $15,800.

"For the middle 20 percent, incomes dropped 6 percent, to $48,700 from $51,800."

The Associated Press report provided the following details:

"The Fed survey found that the median income for all families stood at $46,700 in 2013, down 5 percent from 2010. The median is the point where half make more and half make less. But the average income for all families rose 4 percent to $87,200. The average is higher than the median because of the large incomes of the wealthiest Americans.

"Average incomes declined for the poorest families, continuing a trend that had been observed in the Fed's 2007 and 2010 surveys."

A Bloomberg news report quoted Barclay's chief U.S. economist:

“What we have seen in recent years is the polarization of the labor market” as job growth is skewed toward the highest and lowest skill levels, hollowing out the middle, said Dean Maki, chief U.S. economist at Barclays PLC in New York. “That seems to be coming through in the Fed data.”

Additional reporting includes Reuters, New York Times, ABC News, and Fox Nation.

Taxpayer friends of Growls who are concerned our political elite are failing to address economic growth, jobs, tax simplification, reduction of needless regulation, and going all-out to recover America's energy resources are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you.

UPDATE (9/13/14): At the American Spectator, Ralph Reiland, professor of free enterprise and an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, also questions the credit the president takes in shining an approving light on selected economic indicators. For example, Reiland writes:

"Rep. Kevin Brady, (R-TX), chairman of the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, summarized the U.S. economy’s subpar recovery several months ago, in May: “Our economy has a real GDP growth gap of $1.5 trillion in this recovery compared with the average of other post-1960 recoveries. And that has left us with a private-sector jobs gap from the end of the recession of 5.7 million jobs.”

"Specifically related to the cause of the economy’s poor levels of job creation and household income growth, an August 25 report in Forbes by economist John Goodman documented via Federal Reserve surveys that Obamacare is a key reason for the nation’s persevering joblessness and declining levels of inflation-adjusted household income.

"Three Federal Reserve Banks — in Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta — have released business surveys that confirm what many of us have been predicting,” Goodman reported. “The new health law is discouraging a significant number of firms from hiring and is also pushing workers into part-time rather than full-time jobs.”

Based on its August 2014 survey of manufacturers, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia reported that 18.2 percent of employers said they cut workers because of the Affordable Care Act versus 3 percent who hired more."

Reiland's article is well-worth reading in its lentirety for its wealth of information.

September 04, 2014

Arlington County Board Candidates Continue Streetcar Debate

On Tuesday evening, the Arlington County Civic Federation held their annual forum for elected officials, and candidates who want to be elected officials at Virginia Hospital Center. In one of the debates, independent Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt continued debating Democratic candidate Alan Howze squared off on the issue of whether Arlington County should construct the Columbia Pike streetcar.

Here's how the Arlington Sun Gazette's Scott McCaffrey began his online report yesterday:

"Arlington County Board contenders John Vihstadt and Alan Howze got down into the weeds of the Columbia Pike streetcar debate as the general-election campaign season kicked off Sept. 2.

"Vihstadt and Howze sparred less on their broad views – Vihstadt opposes the project, Howze supports it with some reservations – but over specifics, ranging from how to power it to the annual operating cost if and when it’s up and running.

"The Nov. 4 general election will be a rematch of the April special election, where Vihstadt, running as an independent “fusion” candidate, defeated Democrat Howze.

"At the annual Arlington County Civic Federation candidate forum, Vihstadt said he had little use for Howze’s proposal to use renewable-energy sources to power the streetcar line, calling it “an unproven technology” that would add to operating costs."

The two candidates also debated is issue of operating costs. According to McCaffrey:

"The two also sparred over the operating costs. Vihstadt said the county government’s adopted capital-improvement plan called for an additional $5 million a year to pay subsidies for the streetcar, which would run about five miles from Pentagon City west to Baileys Crossroads.

“That’s going to have to be funded by our tax dollars,” Vihstadt said.

"True enough, but increasing modern-bus service, which Vihstadt supports, also would require additional annual taxpayer subsidies.

"Howze said the total operational costs of the two systems might be “not that far apart.” The actual figures aren’t known, as the county government has not developed a financial plan for the streetcar, and isn’t studying the bus option."

McCaffrey spells out the importance of the Tuesday, November 4, General Election, explaining:

"A Howze victory likely would end the streetcar debate, which has been the county’s largest political battle since a proposal in the 1990s to locate a Major League baseball stadium in Pentagon City. A Vihstadt victory likely would lead to continued battles into 2015, when the seats of two pro-streetcar County Board members (Mary Hynes and Walter Tejada) are on the ballot.

"The board currently is split 3-2 on the streetcar, with Hynes and Tejada joined by County Board Chairman Jay Fisette and Vihstadt allied with Libby Garvey.

"That 3-2 majority over the summer approved a new financing plan for the Columbia Pike streetcar, one that eschews federal funding and relies more on dollars from the state government and the business community to get the project, now estimated to cost $350 million, built."

The deadline to register for the November 4 general election is Tuesday, October 14. More information such as sample ballots, voter ID, etc., is available at the Office of Voter Registration. Or call 703-228-3456.

Additional reporting on the Vihstandt vs Howze debate was provided yesterday by Andrea Swalec at ARLnow.com.

September 03, 2014

Some Thoughts on Bipartisanship

A frequent topic of discussion recently has been that democracy is in crisis because of Congressional dysfunction. Most recently, the topic was raised by Rep. John Delaney (D-Maryland) in a Washington Post opinion piece, where he wrote:

" . . . Our electoral process has created perverse incentives that have warped our democracy and empowered special interests and a vocal minority. Congressional dysfunction is the logical result of closed primaries, too many gerrymandered one-party seats and low-turnout elections."

And in the Oneida New York Daily Dispatch last week, Darlene Superville of the Associated Press reported on President Obama's comments at a fundraiser outside New York City. She wrote:

"President Barack Obama blamed dysfunction in Congress on a Republican Party he said is captive to an ideologically rigid, unproductive and cynical faction, as he urged like-minded Democrats on Friday to show up for November’s midterm elections.

"Addressing Democratic donors at a barbeque outside New York City, Obama said Republicans had realized that blocking all progress led Americans to become cynical about government. Republicans consider that “a pretty good thing” because they don’t believe in government to begin with, Obama said."

Finally, at last night Arlington County Civic Federation candidates' debate, the five candidates who are vying to replace U.S. Representative Jim Moran mentioned Congressional dysfunction several times.

But members of Congress from both the Democratic and Republican side of the aisle can work together. As proof, we have a report from The Center for Public Integrity where Alexander Cohen writes (HT Mark Levin Show, September 3, 2014):

"Gazprombank GPB (OJSC), a Russian bank targeted with sanctions by President Obama over the Ukraine crisis, has hired two former U.S. senators to lobby against those sanctions, according to a new disclosure filed with the Senate.

"Gazprombank is controlled by Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom, the country’s largest gas producer; it supplies about a third of Europe’s natural gas.

"In a filing submitted Friday and effective that day, former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., and former Senator John Breaux, D-La., are listed as the main lobbyists under the Gazprombank account for the firm Squire Patton Boggs, lobbying on “banking laws and regulations including applicable sanctions.”

Cohen added the following background information in his report:

"Gazprombank GPB (OJSC) is a subsidiary of Gazprombank, Russia’s third largest bank. On July 16th, the U.S. Treasury Department added it to a list of Russian firms barred from debt financing with U.S. institutions.

"Lott and Breaux left public service almost a decade ago and are among more than 300 members of Congress who’ve become lobbyists, and begun petitioning former colleagues on behalf of clients, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2008, they started a lobbying firm with their sons, Breaux Lott Leadership Group, which was acquired by D.C.-lobbying powerhouse Patton Boggs in 2010. Patton Boggs merged with Squire Sanders to form Squire Patton Boggs in June.

"Gazprom has been in the news a lot. In July, The Permanent Court of Arbitration, an intergovernmental organization located in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled that the Russian government should reimburse $50 billion to certain shareholders of former Russian oil company Yukos. The tribunal said the government, in a series of actions starting in 2003 “accompanied by serious due process violations,” had dismantled and seized the assets of Yukos and transferred them to Gazprom and state-run oil company Rosneft.

"Last month, Russian gas firm OAO Novatek retained Washington, D.C., public relations firm Qorvis to lobby the administration and Congress after one of its largest shareholders, an associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin, was similarly targeted for sanctions by the United States."

So it seems that politicians of differing persuasions can work together when it is in their best interest although not necessarily in the best interest of America or the American people.

Taxpayers reading Growls who are concerned that 300 former members of Congress have become lobbyists are urged to contact their members of Congress. Information is available at Thomas (use left-hand column). Readers living in Virginia's Arlington County, should 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 Jim Moran (D) -- write to him or call (202) 225-4376

And, tell them ACTA sent you. And kudos to Alexander Cohen and the Center for Public Integrity for publishing news that Gazprombank has hired former U.S. Senators Breaux and Lott.

September 02, 2014

Sarah Palin's "Best Quote" from CPAC 2014

"I do not like this Uncle Sam. I do not like his health care scam. I do not like — oh, just you wait — I do not like these dirty crooks, or how they lie and cook the books. I do not like when Congress steals, I do not like their crony deals. I do not like this spying, man, I do not like, ‘Oh, Yes we can.’ I do not like this spending spree, we’re smart, we know there’s nothing free. I do not like reporters’ smug replies when I complain about their lies. I do not like this kind of hope, and we won’t take it, nope, nope, nope."

~ Sarah Palin

Source: "The Twenty Best Quotes of CPAC 2014," John Hawkins, Townhall.com.

September 01, 2014

President Reagan's Message on Labor Day 1981

Below is President Ronald Reagan's Message on the Observance of Labor Day, dated September 4, 1981 (available at the University of California -- Santa Barbara's American Presidency Project) HT Editorial Page, Washington Times.

"Samuel Gompers, one of the first labor leaders in this country, said that Labor Day was a time to pledge ourselves to an even greater effort in the coming year. Samuel Gompers knew that the key to a prosperous future is to have faith in it, and that's why for him, Labor Day stood for a celebration of tomorrow's promise and possibilities.

"Today, as we set our minds to a new season of work, we begin what I hope will be a new age of the American worker, an age in which all of us again are free to prosper.

"Together, we've swept away many government-created obstacles to our prosperity. In our fight against inflation and high interest rates, we enacted the largest budget cuts ever considered by the Congress. We produced the first real tax cut for working men and women in nearly 20 years. We slowed the pace of Federal rulemaking. We saw to it our money supply followed a pattern of slow, stable growth. (emphasis added)

"These dramatic changes in economic policy—the tax and budget legislation I signed a few weeks ago—are the dynamic result of millions of individuals coming together, committed to preserving a society where we can each seek our own goals, assured of the freedom to climb as high as our own drive, ambition, and talent can take us. (emphasis added)

"Let me make our goal in this program very clear: jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs. I see the creation of 3 million more jobs by 1986, in addition to the 10 million already expected. I see an era in which wage earners will be taking home more money in real dollars and an era in which fewer of us will be looking for work. Our policy has been and will continue to be: What is good for the American worker is good for America. (emphasis added)

"We built this great Nation, built it to surpass the highest standards ever imagined, through the hard work of our people. I would match the American worker against any in the world. The people whose labor fuels our industry and economy are among the most productive anywhere.

"But too many Americans don't have a job, and too many Americans who do, don't have the tools they need to compete. Past, stagnated policies have made it too difficult to modernize and too risky to expand. Our people, our workers, have cried out for change, and in the last 7 months have achieved an historic reversal of the failed policies of an era gone by. We returned to the principles that made us great. (emphasis added)

"Legislation now in effect has dawned a new age for American workers, an age in which once again we are free to achieve all that we can. To cite one example: This recent legislation passed by the Congress as part of our economic recovery plan makes it possible for American workers currently participating in company pension plans to expand this coverage with their own individual retirement plans. This is only one of many new exciting possibilities opened for American workers.

"All of us must take advantage of the incentives for savings, investment, and hard work that have been restored. I urge American workers who traditionally saved to make their families secure to do so again. I urge American investors who traditionally took risks to make a profit to do so again. I urge American workers to save and invest, because I believe that when our economic program takes full effect, Americans again will be rewarded for working extra hours or assuming more responsibility. (emphasis added)

"In a few short months we've accomplished much. But merely signing legislation is not going to bring about an instant cure. We're only beginning a recovery that will take many long months. We're only beginning to emerge from an economic crisis still gripping the rest of the world.

"In Poland, where the grocery shelves are bare, the state ideology dictates more rationing of scarcity while workers take to the streets in protest over these restrictions. It is a stifled economy. A government official there said the crisis of depression is deepening in Poland, and they still do not have a way out.

"Well, as President Eisenhower told us once: A crisis can be deadly when inert men are smothered in despair. But a crisis also can be the sharpest goad to our creative energies, particularly when we recognize it as a challenge and move to meet it in faith, in thought, and in courage. We must act today in the name of generations still to come.

"As we work to solve our economic problems, let us tap that well of human spirit. We'll find more than strength of retubers(sic) and strength of resources, we'll find strength of individual determination. We will find the strength of mutual trust. For too many years now, we've trusted numbers and computers. We've trusted balance sheets, organizational charts, policies and systems. We've placed trust in rules, regulations, and government dictates. Well, I think it's about time that we placed trust in ourselves and in each other.

"I'm confident in our ability to work together, to meet and surmount our problems and accomplish the goals we all seek. Now, I know that we can't make things right overnight—but we will make them right. Our destiny is not our fate; it is our choice. I ask all Americans, in these first, crucial months of recovery, to join me with confidence as we strike out on this new path to prosperity."

While there's no going back to the future, is it too much to wish we could find someone with at least some of the qualities of President Reagan to vote for come the November 2016 general election?