Is Government Planning to Force You to Live in the City?

Was President Barack Obama beginning efforts to engage in social engineering when he formed a partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)?

That’s a question posed in a report compiled by Ronald D. Utt, Ph.D., of The Heritage Foundation after he received a press release from the two government agencies announcing the formation of their pact.

According to the release, the partnership was formed to create “affordable, sustainable communities.” Included among its many goals are projects to:

  • Develop a new cost index that combines housing and transportation costs into a single measure to better illuminate the true costs by “redefining affordability and making it transparent.”
  • Encourage transportation choice.
  • Require even more planning by the many federally funded regional planning entities that are already attempting to guide Americans toward a supposedly better life.

According to Utt, liberals have long—it began in the 1950s—held a bias against suburbanites and urban sprawl. They believe people should live in municipalities with strict zoning laws, impact fees and regulations to ensure something called smart growth while making greater use of public transportation and forgoing automobiles.

Data show that many Americans rejected that idea, preferring instead to move away from the city center where they found more affordable housing, better public services and education systems. What they sacrificed with longer commutes, they benefited from the savings in housing and what they believed was a more comfortable lifestyle.

Now advocates of the smart growth movement are taking a different tack, and they have enlisted the Federal Government in their efforts. Although reams of data exist showing that the cost of suburban living is comparable to—if not less than—living in a municipality, smart growth advocates contend the data overlook many hidden costs of suburban lifestyles. These asserted costs, according to Utt, rely on unsubstantiated allegations of greater infrastructure costs, environmental degradation and the high cost of automobile operation.

Smart growth advocates contend that essential services can better be delivered to Americans living in higher density developments—such as town houses and high rise apartments—through public transportation, thereby freeing commuters from their cars. Additional benefits come through the preservation of land, reduced carbon footprints, greater social interaction through forced proximity, and higher aesthetic standard in community and housing design as government planners and politicians assume greater responsibility for artistic choices, according to Utt.

The DOT’s own data, from a study conducted in 2004, shows that public transportation is not an inexpensive mode of transit, as its proponents claim, and in fact is far more expensive than travel by automobile. Begun as an annual report to Congress, the DOT was forced to cancel further studies after it revealed that public transit survives only on massive taxpayer subsidies that are generally hidden and excluded from any discussion of the costs and benefits of different modes of travel.

According to The Heritage Foundation, data from 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available) shows that the federal subsidy for public transportation was $165.61 per 1,000 passenger miles, while automobiles earned the federal government a profit of 93 cents per 1,000 passenger miles through federal fuel taxes.

Currently, HUD requires states, counties and cities to conduct five-year Consolidated Plans estimating housing status and needs, and DOT requires the federally funded Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) to develop Long-Range Transportation Plans and four-year Transportation Improvement Programs.

Yet, despite billions of dollars of spending on these plans, housing is less affordable than ever and traffic congestion is worse and infrastructure continues to dilapidate, Lott writes.

Now, through the partnership, the agencies have more money and more clout with which to press more of a smart growth agenda on the American people.

But the smart growth idea, writes Utt, exhibits a child-like faith in government planning, a concept that half the world quickly abandoned in the late 1980s when all of the formerly socialist countries (except, of course, for Cuba and North Korea) rejected state planning in favor of private-sector initiative, economic freedom and market solutions.

While some may hope this effort is nothing more than the President’s attempt to use the White House as a bully pulpit to encourage Americans to mimic the urbane lifestyle he experienced in an upscale Chicago neighborhood, the record of past such efforts by the federal government is more troubling, Utt writes.

In January 1998, President Bill Clinton’s Envi­ronmental Protection Agency threatened to with­hold federal transportation funds from the Atlanta region because it did not meet federal air-quality standards and said that it would agree to restore the funding only if the state of Georgia dramatically altered its land-use and transportation policies in ways similar to those characteristic of the smart growth polices that discourage single-family detached housing and encourage public transit use and investment. Georgia agreed to do this, at least through the waning days of the Clinton administra­tion, but soon abandoned the policies when leader­ship in Washington changed.

Carol Browner headed the EPA when the threat was imposed on Atlanta under Clinton. Today, she is assistant to the president for Energy and Climate Change. With the prospect of even worse to come from this new DOT-HUD partnership on sustain­able communities, Utt suggests that those who are skeptical of the President’s grandiose efforts at social engineering should be on the alert.

Conference touts offshore opportunities, while government vows clampdown

Conference touts offshore opportunities, while government vows clampdownBermuda has held a conference on wealth and asset protection, in particular in offshore jurisdictions. However, the event coincided with a new U.S. government warning against banks assisting tax evasion.

According to, the meeting of wealth management and protection experts aimed to "demystify" offshore banking and present the benefits of a well-crafted asset protection plans.

One of the speakers, representing Jyske Global Asset Management, suggested currency diversification away from the dollar and careful risk management were critical in today’s economic environment.

Another participant suggested considering life insurance policies.

"[A]n insurance policy is merely a tax-deferred investment vehicle," said Colin Bowen from Isle of Man Assurance Group, quoted by the website.

"They can help you protect your capital, make estate preparations, maximize tax efficiency and diversify your holdings," he added.

An insider with offices in Western Samoa, Anguilla and Belize talked about "smart" approaches to offshore investments that include contacting regulators and licensing agencies in the jurisdiction where the investor hopes to set up the trust.

However, those who would like to transfer their assets offshore would be well advised to consider the U.S. government’s pledge to go after undeclared profits shielded in tax havens.

According to the New York Times, the IRS is preparing to pursue foreign banks suspected of facilitating tax evasion by wealthy Americans.

The Swiss bank UBS has already been forced to pay U.S. authorities $780 million in fines and promised to identify some of its American clients.

ATF: Tax proposal ‘will kill U.S. jobs’

Tax proposal 'will kill U.S. jobs,' according to the ATF President Obama has vowed to raise more than $200 billion through a crackdown on what he called corporate tax loopholes, causing the anger of many in the business community.

Americans for Tax Reform (ATF) has given voice to that criticism by enumerating some of the "job-killing" provisions of the current tax code.

Quoting OECD statistics, it says the U.S. has a combined marginal corporate rate of nearly 40 percent, the highest in the developed world.

It also claims America is one of the few countries that double-taxes the international profits of its companies, although there are regulations, such as the deferral provision, that allow companies to avoid this double taxation until they repatriate the profits to the U.S.

The organization concludes that if Obama follows through on his plan to scrap the deferral rule without lowering the corporate rate or reforming the tax code, American companies will set up permanent foreign headquarters, taking jobs and capital with them.

Obama has said the money is needed to narrow the yawning budget deficit that is projected to reach $1.8 trillion this year.

He has also suggested that removing incentives for U.S. companies to move their operations offshore to avoid paying corporate income taxes will encourage them to create more jobs in America, spurring economic growth.

Desperate times call for meditation

Desperate times call for meditation As anxieties associated with the bad economy are adding to the stresses of daily life, health experts have suggested powerful natural techniques that can help people get through difficult periods.

One such non-drug therapy is meditation, which has grown out of ancient spiritual traditions and has been attracting growing numbers of followers in recent years, according to U.S. News and World Report.

Practitioners have praised its effectiveness on calming nerves and improving mood, and there are various techniques to choose from, depending on individual needs, the article says.

They include mindfulness meditation which focuses on awareness and acceptance of the present moment, transcendental meditation and compassion meditation whose goal is to foster a feeling of loving kindness toward others.

The article also discusses growing evidence supporting the value of meditation as a health resource. Studies have shown meditation and other relaxation techniques work in cells, turning off genes that are associated with inflammation, cell aging and free radicals.

It has also long been known to help battle eating disorders, substance abuse, ease chronic pain and reduce blood pressure.

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health estimates some 9.4 percent of adults surveyed in 2007 had tried meditation at least once during the previous 12 months, a significant increase from 7.6 percent in 2002.


Anti-tax group criticizes budget’s energy provisions

Anti-tax group criticizes budget's energy provisions According to the calculations by Americans for Tax Reform (ATF), the energy provisions in President Obama’s FY 2010 budget could result in an increase in the tax burden of as much as $10,000 per person each year.

The organization based its estimates on the tax increase costs of the carbon tax, Section 199 repeal and other energy tax hikes added together.

"When President Obama told the American people that he wasn’t going to raise taxes on over 90 percent of the population he lied," says Grover Norquist, president of ATF stressing that everybody uses energy, not just the rich.

Referring to the elimination of Section 199 for energy companies, Narquist adds, "If the President wants to eliminate an income tax cut for companies that create jobs in America and call it a ‘loop-hole closer’ instead of a direct increase in income taxes that will be passed onto every American family then he is insulting all of our intelligence."

Section 199 of the Internal Revenue Code allows for tax deduction for companies which engage in production within the U.S.

ATR is a non-partisan coalition of taxpayers and taxpayer groups who oppose all federal, state and local tax increases


Pension plans improve in April

Pension plans improve in April Bank of New York Mellon Asset Management has reported the funding status of U.S. pension plans improved by 3.9 percentage points last month.

According to the company, the increase was driven by a second consecutive month of strong performances by global equity markets.

Assets for a typical portfolio increased 6.7 percent in April, compared to the 1.4 percent gain in liabilities during the month. For the year to date, the funding ratio for the typical plan is up 9.5 percentage points, as represented by the BNY Mellon Pension Liability Index.

Peter Austin, executive director of BNY Mellon Pension Services, the pension services arm of BNY Mellon Asset Management also noted that corporate bond spreads, while narrowing in April, continue to be above average past levels.

"We continue to be wary of narrowing corporate spreads, which have the potential to increase liabilities," he said, adding, "At that point, plans will need additional help from equities to protect their funded status or they will need to be particularly astute in managing their exposure to liabilities through effective asset allocation."

The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation is a financial services company operating in 34 countries. It has $20.2 trillion in assets under custody and administration, $928 billion in assets under management, services more than $11 trillion in outstanding debt and processes global payments averaging $1.8 trillion per day.

Survey: Herbal menopause treatment growing popular with doctors

Herbal menopause treatment growing popular with doctors, says surveyWith hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increasingly discredited, healthcare providers have become supportive of the use of the black cohosh extract as an alternative to treat menopausal symptoms, according to a new study.

Black cohosh is a perennial woodland plant native to the eastern parts of North America, and its root has long been used to prepare herbal supplements and remedies.

Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, clinical professor of gynecology at the Yale School of Medicine, who designed the survey, says 63 percent of respondents admitted discussing the use of the extract with their doctors, and nearly 54 percent said their physicians were ‘supportive’ or ‘very supportive’ of the therapy.

"We hypothesize that the reason for the high level of support among healthcare providers was because the black cohosh extract is the most widely researched non-pharmaceutical therapy for reducing menopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and occasional irritability," says Minkin.

The primary reason women said they used black cohosh was to avoid HRT after recent scientific studies have linked it to an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.

Results of the web-based survey of 692 women were presented at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists annual meeting in Chicago.

Who Wants to Confiscate Your 401(k) and IRA?

If you’re like most people who are planning for retirement you have been socking away your money in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) or 401(k) plan.

And when the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached 14,198.10 on Oct. 11, 2007, you thought you were set. The Dow was running up. Your retirement funds were growing. Everything looked good.

Then stocks began a downward slide that turned into a cliff dive by the following spring as the full extent of the financial crisis came to light. To make matters worse, the market then showed what it thought of the efforts of Congress and the President (both Bush and Obama) to stem the crisis—it tanked.

Fast forward to March 6, 2009. Stocks hit their lows and your retirement funds had dropped by 40 percent to 60 percent.

Now your retirement years no longer look quite so rosy. You’re thinking you may have to work an additional 10 years just to build that nest egg back to October 2007 levels.

Well, don’t fret, help is on the way. The same entity that’s done such a great job of managing Social Security may soon be managing your personal retirement plan.

Congressional Democrats have been holding hearings to decide what to do to help Americans prepare for retirement. Their conclusions: It might be a good thing for the government to eliminate tax breaks for 401(k)s, IRAs and similar retirement accounts, confiscate them and convert them to universal Guaranteed Retirement Accounts (GRA) managed by the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Now unions are joining the bandwagon. Ross Eisenbrey, vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), was quoted in a union publication saying that he supports a plan to centralize all retirement plans for American workers. His plan includes private 401(k)s and IRAs.

What he wants is for the government to confiscate your private retirement plan and set up a government pension system for everyone similar to the European system. And as is usual with grand government schemes nowadays, individual choice no longer applies.

The SEIU, by the way, is one of the nation’s largest labor unions and it invested heavily in getting President Barack Obama elected. Plus, the union is working with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare on the plan.

In other words, the SEIU carries a lot of clout with this President and Democrat-controlled Congress.

But the SSA hasn’t done such a great job managing Social Security. According to the Congressional Budget Office, Social Security outlays will exceed revenue in 2019, and Social Security funds will be exhausted in 2049.

So, for a 20-year-old just entering the job market who will pay into the system for 40 to 45 years, there is no hope of recovering that money when he or she retires.

There is currently no bill in committee or before Congress to set up a GRA. But the fact that it’s being discussed in committees and pushed by Big Labor should be enough to frighten you.

It’s time to consider, if you haven’t already, your financial plans for your retirement years—whether you are 20, 70 or somewhere in between. Is it time to cash it out? That’s for you to decide along with a tax or financial advisor, as the penalties for early withdrawal are oppressive.

Regardless, as the Federal Reserve prints dollar upon dollar to fund its economic stimulus Ponzi schemes, gold as an investment looks better and better.

Report: Wages, employment for legal workers grew after raids

Wages, employment for legal workers grew after raids, says report A report by the Center for Immigration Studies has examined the impact of the 2006 raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies of six meatpacking plants owned by Swift & Co and noted an improvement in the legal workers’ situation in the aftermath.

The report, entitled The 2006 Swift Raids: Assessing the Impact of Immigration Enforcement Actions at Six Facilities, says meatpacking workers’ wages, adjusted for inflation, fell by 45 percent between 1980 and 2007. In addition to that, some 23 percent of Swift’s workers were illegal immigrants.

Jerry Kammer, a senior research fellow at CIS and author of the report, writes that all six facilities resumed production on the same day as the raids and returned to full production within five months, an indication the plants could operate at full capacity without the presence of illegal workers.

A crucial finding, however, suggests that after the raids the number of native-born workers increased significantly, and at the four facilities for which the researchers were able to obtain information, wages and bonuses rose 8 percent on average with the departure of illegal immigrants.

The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research organization that examines the impact of immigration on the U.S.