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Archive for March, 2012

Fore!

This is what it looks like to get hit by a golf shot: Dustin Johnson hits camera tower with drive on 18 …

 

Fore!

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The hidden cost of rising gas prices …

Recently, gasoline thefts have been reported in the Rundberg/Parkfield area by Northeast Austin businesses. These types of thefts have been reported in the past and appear to be increasing. Business owners are advised to take precautions to secure company vehicles in such a manner that will not allow potential gas thieves to have access to large company vehicles or their gas tanks.

Yikes, that’s my area of town!

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Obama and the Democrats have been spending money like there’s no tomorrow, sinking the country deeper into debt than we’ve ever been before. Moreover, we’re getting nothing for our money. At least the New Deal gave us the San Antonio Riverwalk. The U.S. has already been downgraded, and is bound to be downgraded again if Obama is reelected.

Can’t Democrats do math? Don’t they realize that our present path is unsustainable? Some, undoubtedly, can’t and don’t. But I’ve thought for some time that the leadership knows that the current pattern of spending 40% more than the government takes in can’t continue. They also know that before long there will be a stark choice: cut spending back at least to 2007 levels, or raise taxes—massively, and on the middle class, since that’s where the money is. Of course, campaigning on a massive tax increase for everyone isn’t likely to work. So, they’re trying to maneuver the country into bankruptcy so that we have no choice.

I’ve been expecting this to remain a secret until after the election, when, suddenly, if Obama wins, he’ll propose a European-style VAT, and the Democrats will all say, “Of course! Europe’s way ahead of us on this. Adults have realized this was bound to come for a long time. Anyone who opposes it is in favor of bankruptcy, or wants vicious cuts that will hurt the poor.” The Seattle Times, however, has let the VAT out of the bag. They blame the debt problem on Bush, which is disingenuous. (They also seem not to realize that state and local taxes are deductible. Is no one at that paper familiar with a Form 1040?)  But they do recognize that reversing the Bush tax cuts and even raising taxes on the “rich,” however one cares to define it, would scarcely make a dent in the deficit. The solution: a value-added tax, which has the effect, essentially, of a national sales tax, but tends to have its full effects hidden from the consumer. It’s a politician’s dream: it raises large amounts of money while remaining mostly invisible to the voters.

At some point, Americans will have to engage in a grown-up discussion about a value-added tax, which is a kind of national sales tax. Critics on the right complain that it’s a sneaky way to fund government programs. Critics on the left grumble that it is regressive: It doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor shoppers.

To the left we say, if it funds government programs for the middle-class on down, its end results are progressive. That’s how Europe pays for its social safety net.

To the right we say, the VAT is a tax on consumption, not investment. That’s how your hero Margaret Thatcher pulled off cutting income taxes without bankrupting Britain. As prime minister in the early 1980s, Thatcher raised the VAT to 15 percent from two rates of 8 percent and 12.5 percent.

Expecting Obama to share stern truths before the November election may be unrealistic.

It certainly is.

What would a VAT do? The first and most obvious effect would be to raise the prices on almost everything by the amount of the tax—in Europe, usually 15-25%. But that’s just for starters. That price increase will depress economic activity and drive a lot of smaller firms and stores out of business. That will decrease supply, further driving up prices, while throwing people out of work, increasing demand for social services and forcing what might be an initially low rate up to European levels.

Here’s what I’ve seen in Denmark: the total effect of such a tax is gigantic. Prices there are 50-100% higher on everything (except leather jackets, which are for some reason fairly reasonable). You’d like a beer at the local bar? $8. A mattress? On sale, this weekend only, for $3,200. A new Mazda 6? $40,000. Energy prices? Insanely high. The effects ripple through the economy. A 2,000 square foot house in a distant suburb costs well over $1 million. The stores are mostly empty; so are the bars and restaurants, except in the most fashionable areas frequented by tourists. People dress in dark colors and don’t make eye contact with one another. I don’t think it’s just the Baltic weather. There is no sense of opportunity, no sense that the future might be better than the past. The entire nation becomes like a business with massive overhead costs; there’s no money left to take risks, expand, or do anything frivolous. The most one can hope for is to find a slot in the system. Many won’t. But even those that do just fill the slot; innovation is virtually impossible.

That’s our future, America. At least, it’s the future that Obama and the Democrats have planned for us. Ironic, isn’t it, given that Europe is demonstrating for us, as we speak, that even that bleak future is unsustainable. High unemployment, massive deficits, falling birthrates, economic decline—that’s what socialism brings in its wake. In Virginia Postrel’s phrase, it’s an enemy of the future. Well, of course it is—the future brings uncertainty, and that’s what socialism, in a misguided attempt to usher in a paradise on earth, tries to eliminate.

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I don’t remember another President who encouraged hate directed at private citizens and political opponents. Nor do I remember a party, at any time, being as cynical, hypocritical, and hate-filled as the Democratic Party today.

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From KLBJ 590AM here in Austin:

The Austin Police Department says monitoring the Occupy Austin Movement cost the department over one point one million dollars.  Assistant Chief David Carter says they have used over 26 thousand man hours. Carter says they made 136 arrests during the occupation that lasted from October 6th, 2011 through February 3rd, 2012.  KLBJ’s Carol Nelson reports Occupy Austin has indicated they will be occupying the South by Southwest Music Festival.

I attended several Tea Party events in Austin, at the Capitol Building and Zilker Park among others, and $1.1 million would have been about $1.1 million more than was needed for security, cleanup, or law enforcement. How can Occupy even pretend they are valid at that price tag? What a bunch of parasites.

The SXSW music festival, which ties up Austin downtown into knots anyway, doesn’t need those Occupy Jackwagons mucking things up further.

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Robert F Kennedy Jr has some classy remarks on twitter about a sitting US Senator,

“call girl”, and “prostitute”, but not slut. The left’s silence will be deafening.

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Here’s the point I’ve been driving at in this series of posts. The federal definition of poverty, the chattering class’s concern with inequality, the Democrats’ interest in a vastly expanded welfare state, and various other memes are inaccurate and in fact absurd when applied to most of the country. A family at the “poverty” level can in fact afford a rather nice house in most parts of the country. In New York and Washington, however—the very places that government officials and media people live and work—things are very different. A family at the poverty level interested in buying a house has almost nothing to choose from in those cities, and the little that is available is not in very good repair. Here are examples of what I could find in New York City:

And here examples from Washington:

The exorbitant cost of living in those cities means that there is an obvious divide between the affluent and the not-so-affluent. It means that it is very difficult indeed to live in those cities on a relatively low income. And it means that politicians and media figures find it very hard to conceive how people can live on an average income, let alone one a standard deviation below the mean. That leads to all kinds of policy mistakes. It also leads to discussions in the media that have little to do with the circumstances most Americans face.

The irony, of course, is that the liberal policies that have governed cities such as New York and Washington for decades are partly responsible for the circumstances people face in them.

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So far we’ve been looking at cities. Let’s see what a family at the federally defined “poverty” level can afford in the country—in this case in northwest Pennsylvania. There are many excellent options.

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A family at the “poverty” level in Phoenix can do amazingly well if they can take advantage of short sale opportunities provided by the depressed housing market. There are lots of excellent choices. Some of them are truly stunning.

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Wow! By popular demand—really, one friend’s request—I looked at real estate in Detroit to see what a family at the federally defined “poverty” level could afford there. I don’t know Detroit, so I can’t judge neighborhoods. But in the $75,000–110,000 range you can find PALACES in Detroit. To wit:

And these aren’t fixer-uppers; they’re beautiful inside. Here’s an example:

As I said: Wow. What does it say about Detroit that such houses can be had for so little money? It makes me want to start investing in real estate.

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