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The Life of a Flintstone

 

Shawn Dixon
Author
Founder of Fli-Ladies Empowerment
Seniors out of Pittsburgh in front of Flint City Hall

A little about myself, my name is Shawn Dixon, raised in Flint,Mi, known world-wide for its “water crisis”. I founded Fli-Ladies Empowerment in 2015 once I wanted to do more to help out our low-income community, now being poisoned by its government. The non-profit org. will focus on the empowering of youth all over but mainly in Flint,MI.

The last of July 2016, I embarked on a journey through Flint, while chaperoning our out-of-town guests. For those who don’t know, Flint has been in a state of emergency for its water crisis since 2014, 1,167 days to be exact. That’s when state officials switched Flint’s main water source to the toxic Flint River without proper cleansing solutions. Since then our city has lost several lives due to legionnaires disease, we’ve finally had a few officials charged with alleged manslaughter in 2016 http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/health/flint-water-crisis-legionnaires-manslaughter-charges/index.html.  Enough about that, now back to the subject at hand.

Fli-Ladies Empowerment was contacted by Anita Moncrief of Solutions Institute with last-minute plans for me to assist with a group of kids out of Pittsburgh as they took a journey to learn more about the impoverished city of Flint. I had 4 days to set a plan, they already had plans for Friday so I set up Sat..   I began to set up a water distribution or water drop as we call it, for Saturday. Just so happens DeWaun E. Robinson already had an event “Tour de Flint” set up with a guest appearance by Freeway Rick Ross (ex-con and drug lord). Once I connected with a local water distribution center and obtained a donation of 2 pallets of water I then connected with DeWaun to host a water drop alongside him and his event.

Water Distribution during Tour de community.

 

 

Unfortunately, I’m still winding down from the non-stop events plus the holiday. I still have tons of photos, and videos to go through, please stay tuned and keep a lookout for ” the Life of a Flintstone” part 2. Then you will find the finer details of my weekend.

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Honoring Paris Accord Governors and Mayors Come Together in a Backlash to Trump’s Announcement

WASHINGTON — President Trump may be quitting the Paris accord on climate change — but forcing the rest of the nation to go along with him is proving more of a challenge.

Led by California, dozens of states and cities across the country responded Friday to Trump’s attack on the worldwide agreement by vowing to fulfill the U.S. commitment without Washington — a goal that is not out of reach.

The defiance is a signal to the world that the political forces behind America’s climate fight aim to outmaneuver this White House and to resume the nation’s leadership role when Trump changes jobs or changes his mind.

The pushback also reflects how far most of the country — including many Republican parts — already have moved in transitioning to cleaner energy, even as Trump works to slow that momentum.

“The American government may have pulled out of the agreement, but the American people remain committed to it — and we will meet our targets,” former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a special envoy for cities and climate change to the United Nations, said Friday after meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

It will be a heavy lift. States and cities would need to meet a pledge to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions to 26% below 2005 levels by 2025, America’s self-declared target under the deal.

Even with buy-in from the federal government, there were doubts about hitting that nonbinding target. Trump has made it a lot more complicated by spurning the accord — but not impossible.

California, the nation’s leader in emissions reduction, has already joined with New York and Washington state to build an alliance of states that will guide the nation to Paris compliance in the absence of leadership from the federal government.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is leading cities in a parallel effort that already has enlisted 150 members.

“Cities and states are already where most of the action on climate is,” the Democrat said Friday. “Our message is clear to the world: Americans are with you, even if the White House isn’t.… Trump’s move is going to have unintended consequences of us all doing the opposite of what the president wants. It will in many ways greatly backfire.”

Garcetti estimated that 70% to 80% of the work on reducing emissions is happening at the state and local level, regardless of federal policy. That includes renewable energy mandates set by utility commissions, fuel mileage standards and efficiency rules for appliances.

While mayors and governors can’t sign onto to the Paris agreement — only heads of state can do that — they can prove effective shadow participants. Many of them have forged close relationships with the key climate players in other countries over the years, signing their own climate pacts abroad and participating in various capacities in landmark climate negotiations, such as those that took place in Paris and Kyoto, Japan.

Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist, has already pledged to cover the $15 million the U.S. is reneging on by personally paying into the operations fund of the U.N. agency overseeing the Paris accord. He announced Friday that he would officially inform the U.N. that the U.S. will meet its emissions obligations, noting it is already halfway there — thanks to better fuel economy standards, the shale gas revolution and more renewable energy sources — and is positioned to step up its efforts without any help from Washington.

None of this is new for California. It was amid the climate inaction of President George W. Bush’s administration that the state passed AB 32, one of the world’s most aggressive climate change laws at the time. Decades before that, California imposed vehicle emissions standards before the federal government had any. In recent years, many other states have begun to compete with California in the race to reduce emissions.

“We have more rivals, if you will, with other states stepping up to act in this area,” said Mary Nichols, the state’s top climate change regulator.

Now the success of the renegade effort to bring the U.S. in compliance with the Paris accord will probably hinge on how much further California can push the nation. Even there, the Trump White House is angling to insert itself.

It is threatening to block California from implementing aggressive new fuel mileage standards. If the White House successfully follows through, that could jeopardize the ability of states and cities to meet the Paris climate action commitments, according to Michael Wara, a professor of energy law at Stanford University. Vehicles account for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions, and California has unique authority under the law to set mileage standards lower than the federal government’s. Under the Clean Air Act, other states can adopt those standards, and several have.

The other massive source of greenhouse gases is power plants, and in that sector the U.S. continues to cut emissions significantly without the federal government.
Wara said natural gas prices had dropped so low that most states would probably meet the targets the Obama administration set for them through the Clean Power Plan — the signature federal climate action Trump has ordered dismantled.

Prices for solar and wind power are also plunging, leading to their proliferation even in states that are not aggressively mandating their use.
Experts caution that without the backstop of a federal commitment to Paris, the momentum could slow and the goal of defiantly meeting initial pledges in the accord could drift out of reach. An increase in natural gas prices or the price of solar panels, or a further drop in the cost of gasoline at the pump, could throw things off.

“I have no doubt we can achieve a lot,” said Jody Freeman, who advised former President Obama on climate change. “But it is challenging to match what would have been possible staying in Paris.”

Many politicians are trying. Among them is Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh — a city that Trump has said repeatedly he is putting ahead of Paris in his rebuke of the accord.

On the eve of Trump’s planned “Pittsburgh Not Paris March” on Saturday, Peduto announced a pledge to move his city to 100% renewable energy by 2035.
Trump’s “misguided decision to withdraw from the Paris climate [agreement] does not reflect the values of our city,” said Peduto, a Democrat.

Similar sentiments echoed across the nation.

“The City of Atlanta will intensify our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, work to cool the planet by two degrees, ramp up clean energy solutions and seek every opportunity to assert our leadership on this urgent issue,” Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement.

Even in areas elsewhere in the Deep South where Trump’s move was welcomed by Republican lawmakers, state policies that will spur significant emissions reductions are in place.

“Even the red state governments understand that the economic circumstances have changed and clean energy is at least as cheap as dirty energy,” said Kurt Ebersbach, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressed resolve to persevere with the Paris commitments by ordering, in Trump’s hometown of New York, One World Trade Center and the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens to be illuminated in green.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, also a Democrat, was visiting a Brooklyn neighborhood devastated by Superstorm Sandy when Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the climate pact on Thursday.

“All that occurred in that superstorm was because of climate change,” De Blasio said during the opening of a new ferry service in the low-lying Red Hook neighborhood. “We’ve already borne the brunt here in New York City. It’s only going to get worse if something is not done quickly to reverse the course the Earth is on.”

By Evan Halper
evan.halper@latimes.com

Times staff writers Barbara Demick in New York and Liam Dillon in Sacramento and special correspondent Jenny Jarvie in Atlanta contributed to this report.

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Americans Work Almost 4 Months Just to Pay Taxes

Tax Day 2017 has passed for individual taxpayers, but America’s tax bill is still due, and it’s a big one.

Americans will collectively pay close to $1 trillion more on taxes than will be spent on essentials like food, clothing, and housing combined.Taxpayers won’t pay off this year’s local, state, and federal tax burden totaling $5.1 trillion until April 23, or as the Tax Foundation calls it, Tax Freedom Day. That day, calculated annually, represents how long Americans work to pay local, state, and federal taxes for the year.

In 2017, it will take 113 days for taxpayers to pay the country’s tax burden, which includes $1.5 trillion in local and state taxes and $3.5 trillion in federal taxes, equaling 31 percent of America’s income. But that’s not all. If you include federal borrowing, which represents future taxes the government must collect to pay the bills, Tax Freedom Day would occur 14 days later this year on May 7.

To put this year’s total tax burden into perspective, the latest date for Deficit-Inclusive Tax Freedom Day took place during World War II almost three weeks later than this year’s date, occurring on May 25, 1945.

How Expensive is Government?

Americans will collectively pay close to $1 trillion more in taxes than will be spent on essentials like food, clothing, and housing combined.

The federal deficit is expected to shrink by $45 billion to $612 billion in calendar year 2017, but the track record over the past few decades is not comforting. The cost of the federal government has surpassed its tax revenues since 2002, racking up budget deficits exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012.

According to the Tax Foundation’s data, Tax Freedom Day has changed dramatically over the past century. Notice how the date of Tax Freedom Day correlates with significant expansions of government since 1900, especially when considering the deficit-inclusive figures:

Focusing on Deficit-Inclusive Tax Freedom Day, economic liberty in America shifted abruptly in favor of the government while Woodrow Wilson was president. Wilson ushered in the Revenue Act of 1913 which re-imposed the federal income tax after the ratification of the 16th Amendment, followed soon after by the creation of the Federal Reserve in late 1913, and both led the way for deficit financing that enabled U.S. entry into World War I.

After a subsequent reduction in federal tax burdens in the 1920s, the trend began to worsen considerably and hastened in the 1930s. American taxpayers then saw a substantial spike in government spending, deficits, and state power during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency and World War II.

Taxpayers saw a dramatic improvement in their financial freedom following World War II when overall tax burdens decreased in the 1950s, similar to the trend in the 1920s in the aftermath of World War I. But this new norm in the 1950s meant an additional two months of work to pay the government’s tax burden when compared to just a few decades prior. The overall trend, unfortunately, has been in the direction of Tax Freedom Day occurring later over the past sixty years, and considerably later compared to the trend of the past century, meaning less freedom from onerous taxation for Americans.

Taxes Are Revolting, Why Aren’t You?

Tax burdens vary considerably state by state due to different tax policies and the progressive federal tax system. Each state has its own Tax Freedom Day which factors in local, state, and federal tax burdens for the taxpayers in their respective states.

The federal government claims a right to your earnings and livelihood, offering the ultimatum: your money or your life.States like Connecticut (May 21, #50), New Jersey (May 13, #49), and New York (May 11, #48) have higher taxes and residents earning higher incomes, so they celebrate Tax Freedom Day later than states like Mississippi (April 5, #1), Tennessee (April 7, #2), and South Dakota (April 8, #3), which bear the lowest tax burdens in 2017.

The introduction of the Wilson era federal income tax and the Federal Reserve allowed for expansive government power and deficit financing. This also shifted the primary means of funding the government to income taxes and away from tariffs, as had been the practice.

The federal government claims a right to your earnings and livelihood, essentially offering the ultimatum: your money or your life. Sheldon Richman wrote a book by that very title and argues that the income tax must be abolished altogether.

Reasonable people from various political viewpoints can disagree about how our tax dollars are spent or whether our earnings should be confiscated whatsoever, but Tax Freedom Day helps to put Americans’ overall tax burden into perspective. Furthermore, it highlights the paramount principle regarding the rights of individuals and government power:

If Americans are forced to work nearly one-third of the year just to pay taxes to the government, then how free are we?

Jared Labell


Jared Labell

Jared Labell is the Executive Director of The Libertarian Institute as well as Taxpayers United of America.

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The Elites in Washington, DC are Thriving

Every so often, I share an image that is unambiguously depressing. Usually, because it suggests that freedom is slowly eroding.

I now have another addition to that depressing list.

Just as the Minneapolis Federal Reserve has an interactive website that allows users to compare recoveries and recessions, which is very useful for comparing Reaganomics and Obamanomics, the St. Louis Federal Reserve has an interactive website that allows users to compare national and regional economic data.

And that’s the source of today’s depressing chart. It shows median inflation-adjusted household income for the entire nation and for the District of Columbia. As you can see, the nation’s capital used to be somewhat similar to the rest of the nation. But over the past 10 years, DC residents have become an economic elite, with a representative household “earning” almost $14,000 more than the national average.

By the way, I put quotation marks around “earning” in the previous sentence for a very specific reason.

There is nothing wrong with some people accumulating lots of wealth and income if their prosperity is the result of voluntary exchange.

It’s increasingly just a racket for insiders to get rich at the expense of everyone else.In the case of Washington, DC, however, much of the capital’s prosperity is the result of coercive redistribution. The lavish compensation of federal bureaucrats is a direct transfer from taxpayers to a gilded class, while the various lobbyists, contractors, cronyists, politicians and other insiders are fat and happy because of a combination of direct and indirect redistribution.

I should also point out that the entire region is prospering at the expense of the rest of the nation.

By the way, some people will be tempted to argue that rising income levels in DC are simply a result of gentrification as higher-income whites displace lower-income blacks. Yes, that is happening, but that begs the question of where the new residents are getting all their income and why the nation’s capital is an increasingly attractive place for those people to live.

The answer, in large part, is that government is a growth industry. Except it’s not an industry. It’s increasingly just a racket for insiders to get rich at the expense of everyone else.

Daniel J. Mitchell


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review.

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Trump’s Troubling Pick to Head Mental Health

So far, Donald Trump’s appointments have been a mixed bag. From Jeff Sessions, who wants to ramp up the misguided and counterproductive war on drugs, to Ajit Pai, who is bringing a badly needed respect for liberty to the FCC. One appointment I’m particularly concerned about, though, is Ellie McCance-Katz for Assistant Secretary of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

McCance-Katz has the support of the psychiatric community because she ascribes to the industry orthodoxy on mental illness, namely that it is the result of brain malfunction and should be treated with psychotropic drugs, irrespective of the wishes of the patients.

“Settled” Science

In a piece she wrote for the Psychiatric Times, she lambasted the agency she is about to join:

“There is a perceptible hostility toward psychiatric medicine: a resistance to addressing the treatment needs of those with serious mental illness and a questioning by some at SAMHSA as to whether mental disorders even exist—for example, is psychosis just a ‘different way of thinking for some experiencing stress?'”

But wait a minute, aren’t these the questions we should be asking? Isn’t the goal of science and medicine to seek truth and question authority? There’s an uncomfortable “settled science” element to her remarks that is reminiscent of the Climate Change movement. Any skepticism of official dogma is dismissed as heresy.

The goal of psychiatry should be to continue to advance our understanding of the mind.As recently as the 1970s, psychiatric orthodoxy held that homosexuality was a mental disorder to be corrected. Now it is regarded as a legitimate sexual preference. Might not the same mistake have been made for other forms of supposed-disorder?

It seems to me that the goal of psychiatry should be to continue to advance our understanding of the mind, not to purge anyone who questions the current state of knowledge.

Healthy Skepticism

It is fashionable in psychiatric circles to brand any skepticism with the loaded term “anti-psychiatry,” a movement with ties to Scientology. But this is basically ad hominem thinking, attempting to delegitimize the person as opposed to the idea.

There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of psychiatry’s current practices, with buying into the tenets of antipsychiatry.

For example, psychiatry holds that mental illness is like any other illness, that a disease of the mind is really a disease of the brain. But is there any conclusive evidence that gambling addiction is a brain disease? Is there any evidence that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder stems from a sick brain?

In fact, there isn’t. Excessive gambling and compulsive actions are observed behaviors, not medical pathologies.

Involuntary commitment is indistinguishable from kidnapping.Yet, the psychiatric profession bristles whenever anyone suggests that these behaviors may not be “an illness like any other” and insists that drugging patients is the proper course of treatment even when there is no chemical rationale for why a drug would help.

Dangerous Minds

McCance-Katz condescendingly mischaracterizes the opinions of the people she wants to replace, saying that they think “it’s abusive to impose our constructs of normal mental and emotional functioning even on seriously mentally ill people.”

In fact, what psychiatric skeptics define as abuse are those things which, without a doctor’s signature, would be unambiguous criminal activities.

Anyone concerned about liberty should be alarmed at the amount of power these laws give the state.

Involuntary commitment is indistinguishable from kidnapping apart from the legitimacy given to it by doctors and judges. Mandatory drugging is indistinguishable from assault apart from the fact that it has been made legal in certain cases.

The fact that these people, defined as the mentally ill not by themselves, but by others, are made to suffer such ignominious indignities, merely on the basis of a professional opinion should be worrying to anyone concerned with individual liberty.

Last year, SAMHSA opposed legislation that gave family members greater control over their relatives, to the point of violating their medical privacy and making decisions for them, even potentially having them committed, on the basis of some doctor deciding whether they are competent.

McCance-Katz worked at the agency at the time, and has not commented specifically on the law, but her comments in the Psychiatric Times indicate that she is unhappy with the way the agency has been run, and has expressed no concern for the potential rights violations the law creates.

Anyone concerned about liberty should be alarmed at the amount of power laws like these place in the hands of the state.

I’m not saying the status quo at the SAMHSA is a good thing; I am worried by any effort on the part of the federal government to meddle in the lives of people who have committed no crime.

But McCance-Katz’s approach to the treatment of mental illness is worrying in that she appears little concerned with individual rights, and unwilling to tolerate any diversity of thought.

To the extent that these offices should do anything, a question which is very much in doubt, they should focus on helping people who actually want help, and who ask for it, and not forcing drugs on those who do not want them.

Logan Albright


Logan Albright

Logan Albright is the Director of Research at Free the People. Logan was the Senior Research Analyst at FreedomWorks, and was responsible for producing a wide variety of written content, research for staff media appearances, and scripts for video production. Logan also managed the research and interviews with congressional candidates used for endorsements by FreedomWorks PAC. He received his Master’s degree in economics from Georgia State University in 2011, before promptly setting out for DC to fight for liberty.

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Flint mayor signed $67K PR contract to promote pipe replacement program

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More DEA Hypocrisy: Anti-Legalization Pharmaceutical Company Gets Schedule II Clearance for its Synthetic THC Drug

Last week, the pharmaceutical giant Insys Therapeutics scored a major victory when it was announced that their new synthetic THC drug – Syndros – was approved by the Drug Enforcement Administration for placement on Schedule II of the federal Controlled Substances Act.

According to Dr. Santosh Vetticaden, Ph.D., M.D., Interim CEO, and Chief Medical Officer at the company, “Insys is looking forward to bringing this new drug product to chemotherapy patients to help alleviate their nausea and vomiting and AIDS patients with anorexia associated weight loss, respectively.”

The irony of a synthetic version of cannabis – a Schedule I, “no known medical value” substance – being placed on Schedule II so it can help the very patients that cannabis itself has been helping for years is made even richer when you realize that just last fall Insys gave $500,000 to opponents of Proposition 205, a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana in Arizona.

But it gets better. Insys is the maker of Fentanyl, an opioid painkiller that has been linked to a rising number of overdose deaths around the country. Cannabis, of course, has never been linked to a single overdose death in 5,000 years of use.

Insys admitted in a 2007 SEC disclosure filing that legal natural cannabis would be a problem for them. “If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected,” they said.

Pardon my French, but no s***.

And if fighting against people being able to legally use a product that is far safer than yours as medicine didn’t tell you enough about the ethics of those who run Insys, how about this?

The company is currently under investigation for illegally marketing Fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin, which has been linked to the death of Prince last year.

In December, several executives at the company were arrested and the CEO was forced to step down after they were charged with using speakers fees to entice doctors to prescribe Subsys, a medication for cancer patients that contains Fentanyl.

Just a few years ago, the notion that big pharmaceutical companies were conspiring with powerful people in our government for the purposes of keeping cannabis illegal was considered to be a wild conspiracy theory. Now, it is out in the open and blatant.

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How Spontaneous Order Keeps Houston Affordable

A metropolitan economy, if it is working well, is constantly transforming many poor people into middle-class people, many illiterates into skilled people, many greenhorns into competent citizens. … Cities don’t lure the middle class. They create it.

– Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

If you follow urban issues in the press, you might be forgiven for thinking that there are only three cities in America: San Francisco, New York, and Portland. All three are victims of their own success, as rising demand for housing has increased rents to unsustainable levels. Despite their best efforts, from rent control to doublespeak “inclusionary zoning” mandates, middle- and lower-class households are increasingly forced to leave these cities as each progressively transforms into a playground of the rich.

Yet there is a fourth city, a city which must not be named except to be derided as a sprawling, suburban hellscape. This fourth city has managed to balance a booming economy, explosive population growth, and affordable housing. This city has—as cities have for thousands of years—steadily grown denser, more walkable, and more attractive to low-income migrants seeking opportunity. This city is Houston, and it’s well past time for her to come out of the shadows.

Explosive Economic Growth, Booming Population, Functioning Housing Market

Before jumping into the nitty-gritty of how Houston has handled explosive growth in the demand for housing, it is worth first getting a handle on the magnitude of the challenge facing the city. When many people think of the Houston economy, they understandably think of large energy companies. Indeed, energy companies dominated Houston’s economy for much of the last century and continue to play a major role today. But in the years following the 1980s oil glut, Houston’s economy has been diversified in large part by startups and emerging small businesses. Mixing the Lone Star State’s light regulatory touch with the inherently entrepreneurial spirit of domestic and international migrants, Houston and other Texas cities have shot to the top of entrepreneurship rankings like the Kauffman Index. These entrepreneurs aren’t just wealthy oil barons in bolo ties either; Houston ranks high among cities in creating brand new entrepreneurs, well above cities like Portland and New York City.Almost like an Econ 101 practice problem, booming demand for labor at all skill levels has translated into wage growth in Houston.

Supplementing this healthy, emergent economic development has been a deluge of existing companies arriving in Texas from high tax, high regulation states like California and Illinois. Between 2008 and 2014 alone, 219 California companies moved to or expanded in Texas. Houston’s high number of engineers per capita and affordable energy have attracted manufacturing in particular, turning the city into the third largest manufacturing hub in the country.

Almost like an Econ 101 practice problem, booming demand for labor at all skill levels has translated into wage growth in Houston comparable to affluent cities like San Jose, Boston, and New York. Adjusting average annual wages for the cost of living, including consumer prices and services, utilities, transportation costs, and—most importantly—housing, Houston tops the list of all major US metropolitan areas. This shouldn’t be written off as torturing the numbers, either. This means middle- and lower-class Houstonians enjoy a higher standard of living than even their higher paid counterparts in high-cost cities on the West Cost and in the Northeast.

This blend of good governance, high real wages, and an urban ethos described by researchers at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research at Rice University as “tolerant traditionalism”—an attractive mix of conservative personal values and toleration on social issues—has attracted hundreds of thousands of new residents over the past two decades. From 2014 to 2015 alone, the Houston metropolitan area welcomed 159,083 new residents, far more than any other city outside of Texas.  The city is projected to pass up Chicago by 2025, bumping America’s “Second City” from third to fourth largest in the country. Ample opportunities for new immigrants from across Latin America and Asia have transformed the city into one of America’s most diverse metros, offering a glimpse of America’s dynamic demographic future. Houston has also grown into a magnet for domestic migration. Since 2010, the city has welcomed nearly 100,000 black residents fleeing untenable rents along the West Coast and economic stagnation in the Midwest in what some are calling the “Third Great Migration.”

Even while experiencing much milder population growth, cities along the coasts have struggled to get a handle on exploding housing costs. Between January 2014 and January 2016, median home values in Portland, San Francisco, and New York City increased by an average of approximately $188,000. During the same period, in which Houston experienced a population boom far outpacing any other city in absolute terms, the median home value in Houston increased by approximately $9,000. Even expanding out to account for a recent downturn in oil markets, the median home values only increased by $28,000 between January 2012 and January 2016. It’s not just houses either; even beyond luxury cities along the East and West coasts, Houston remains one of the most affordable Sun Belt cities for renters. So what gives?

The Fruits of Market Urbanism

Houston’s remarkable affordability might seem strange to policymakers in high-cost cities along the East and West coasts. After all, the city has no rent control, whether of the now-discredited twentieth century kind or the new, shiny, equally counterproductive “inclusionary zoning” kind. Houston has less public and subsidized housing than the other top five major US metros. The fact is that Houston’s affordability doesn’t flow from top-down plans or strict land-use regulations. Rather, its affordability flows precisely from its lack of top-down plans or strict land-use regulations.

A growing consensus of economists and policymakers have argued for permitting more development in order to meet rising demand for urban living. The challenge facing high-cost cities is not their remarkable economic success and the subsequent rise in demand for housing—this is precisely the kind of success cities should yearn for—but their ongoing commitment to an out-of-date planning regime designed to keep cities frozen in amber. In its most extreme form, cities like San Francisco continue to enforce startlingly low densities in and around downtown despite burgeoning demand. Yet even in comparable Sun Belt cities friendly to new development, including Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix, much of the city is zoned and regulated in a way that effectively mandates low densities and prohibits urban, mixed-use development.


The kind of unpredictable diversity that calls to mind Jane Jacobs’ Hudson Street: a TV station and a US Secret Service office nestled among a beautiful neighborhood mixing single-family homes and apartments. (Google Maps)

Where nearly every other city attempts to tightly control emergent urban growth and restrict the mixing of urban uses, Houston has adopted what Justin Fox of Bloomberg View recently described as “zoning lite.” As researchers at the Wharton School have pointed out, Houston has some of the least restrictive land-use regulations in the country. Houston never adopted the bundle of orthodox urban planning policies that made spontaneous urban development impossible, and insomuch as Houston implemented land-use regulation, many of these rules have been liberalized in recent years. The city famously never implemented use-based zoning, a policy that mandates the separation of residential, commercial, and industrial activity, and effectively bans traditional urban development and forces automobile dependence on residents. This means that urban land in Houston can naturally shift alongside changing market demands, enhancing the flexibility of housing markets and empowering residents and business owners to collectively determine the right mix of uses in a decentralized process.

Gradual densification underway in Uptown, far from the 20th century downtown. Without parking requirements, it’s unlikely lots and garages would take up so much space. (Google Maps)

Houston has also benefited from a liberal approach to urban density, which was kicked into high gear by reforms in 1998. Nearly two decades ago, Houston policymakers dramatically eased density controls within the 610 loop, breaking the city down into “urban” and “suburban” classifications. In urban areas, regulations controlling lot coverage, setbacks, and height limits were significantly liberalized and in some cases eliminated altogether. The most visible result of this hands-off approach to land-use regulation has been the proliferation of high-rise developments both in downtown and the mini-downtowns scattered in and around Harris County. Yet possibly more important are the coveted “missing middle” developments underway across the city. Ranging from duplexes to live-work units, these developments offer an attractive compromise between the walkability of high-density environments and the human scale of low-density developments. Such developments, alongside innumerable apartment and mixed-use developments, are helping to keep desirable neighborhoods like Montrose, Midtown, and the Heights accessible to normal Houstonians. This explosion in medium-density, infill developments has turned Houston into a national leader in new multifamily units, creating a greater diversity of housing options than nearly every other Sun Belt city. These developments are helping to preserve and expand access to urban living in Houston, and they’re possible thanks in large part to the city’s lack of centralized urban planning and relatively light regulation of land-use.

New “missing middle” development within biking distance of downtown. (Google Maps)

The fruits of Houston’s unique approach to urbanization are also evident in the city’s lack of interest in aesthetic control. While many cities require design or aesthetics-oriented architecture reviews for most developments to take place, Houston places no such burdens on new building. This live-and-let-live approach to urban development gives residents, developers, and business owners the freedom to experiment with new designs. The result is a kind of “tolerant traditionalism” physically manifested, as architectural styles playfully mix within neighborhoods. A stressful experience, perhaps, for the orthodox planner who prefers conformity and order, but an exhilarating experience for residents who appreciate the spontaneity and novelty offered by urban life.

Beyond allowing diverse and exciting streetscapes, Houston’s lack of design-oriented, top-down planning has allowed the emergence of multiple urban centers. Where many US planners continue to plan cities around an industrial era model of one urban center—typically a twentieth century downtown—Houston enjoys multiple downtowns. In Metropolitan Revolution, researchers Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley describe how Houston’s lack of centralized planning has allowed the gradual development and densification of distinct urban centers. As Katz and Bradley describe in the book, urban centers like Gulfton and Pasadena gradually developed from low-density neighborhoods optimized for middle-class whites into mixed-use, medium-density neighborhoods optimized for newly arriving immigrants. Where the conventional planning regime that controls most US cities would have required hundreds of hours of hearings, committees, and paperwork, Houston’s liberal approach allows communities to organically change and adapt to shifting community needs.

The magic of toleration manifests itself physically in odd neighbors on W Mckinney Street: Intriguing, unconventional townhouses sit next to… (Google Maps)


…a beautiful, conventional single-family home. Houston’s light regulation of design allows for residents with different conceptions of the good life to peacefully live alongside one another. (Google Maps)

 

None of this should be taken to mean that Houston is perfect. As Stephen Smith and Daniel Hertz have rightly pointed out, regulations related to mandatory parking minimums, minimum lot sizes, and wide minimum street widths have served to restrict urban development and make Houston more spread out than it naturally might have been. More troublingly, the city has opened up opportunities for neighborhood majorities to push for mandated increases in minimum lot sizes and various historical preservation restrictions, potentially creating a two-tiered system of development restrictions in affluent neighborhoods and a relaxed approach everywhere else.

State subsidized enforcement of private covenants likely exacerbates this issue. To be sure, these problematic policies probably need to go. But the presence of these lingering restrictions above all speaks to the potential of even partial liberalization of urban land-use controls. Insomuch as Houston has adopted a market urbanist approach, it has resulted in a city that is more affordable than cities along the East and West coasts and denser and more walkable than most other Sun Belt cities, all while offering unparalleled economic opportunities for middle- and lower-class residents.

But What About Transportation?

Aside from “sprawl,” the other stereotype typically associated with Houston is endless traffic. While the city diverged with orthodox urban planning, it unfortunately fell in line with orthodox transportation planning. Like most other US cities, Houston spent most of the second half of the twentieth century building a congested web of freeways and expressways. Combined with policies like wide minimum street widths and mandated parking spots, the public provision of unparalleled and unpriced road capacity helped to build a city largely dependent on the automobile.

Houston has opted to take a back seat to residents, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups in cultivating economic development.

Thanks in part to Houston’s decision to forgo conventional urban planning, many traditional urban developments were able to survive and reemerge—likely an important factor in the city’s high Walkscore among Sun Belt cities. To supplement existing walkability and accommodate rapidly rising demand among young Houstonians for walkable communities, the city adopted a Complete Streets ordinance in 2013. The policy requires that all new and redeveloped roads be designed in a way that accommodates pedestrians and cyclists of all ages. Houston City Hall even invited chief walkability evangelist Jeff Speck to speak earlier this year, responding positively to low-cost, high-value ideas like adding street trees, installing protected bike lanes, and converting downtown roads from one-way to two-way. The city also adopted its first bike plan in early 2016, declaring its intent to build 300 miles of “high comfort” bikeways.

High density office space, apartments—and yes, parking—playfully mix. A Whole Foods sits in the middle, easily accessible to pedestrians and cyclists in the surrounding area. (Google Maps)

Houston has also started taking the need for transit seriously. Last year, the city transformed its bus system into a high-frequency grid without increasing operating costs, substantially increasing the feasibility of car-free living. While the city has unfortunately taken an antagonistic approach to ride-sharing services, local jitney services—private buses operating on fixed routes with fixed rates—have emerged to supplement the city’s public bus system. The planned expansion of bus rapid transit—essentially buses operating as light rail—offers an attractive way of addressing commuter traffic without the enormous costs and inflexibility associated with light rail transit.

Of course, not everyone can or will ditch their car for bicycles or buses and improved pedestrian, cyclist, and transit infrastructure can only do so much to address traffic congestion. In fact, Texas may soon have something to learn about traffic management from states like California and Oregon. In recent years, the two West Coast states have started experimenting with mileage-based fees, an alternative to the regressive gas tax that would charge road users based on actual mileage travelled. When combined with congestion pricing, a mileage-based system offers incentives for road users to find ways to avoid driving when road demand is high and shift necessary trips to when road demand is low. While observers often assume that Houston’s traffic jams are the byproduct of unrestrained markets, it is ironically the lack of a market for road use that puts publicly-owned roads in a tragedy of the commons situation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, many US cities have a lot to learn from Houston. With tight development restrictions, out-of-date urban planning regimes, and burdensome regulations forcing middle- and lower-class Americans out of West Cost and Northeastern cities, Houston’s mix of affordable housing and economic opportunity is more valuable than ever. As other cities have attempted to maintain tight, centralized control on urban and economic development—exemplified by a recent push by Dallas to shutter local businesses in order to attract chains—Houston has opted to take a back seat to residents, entrepreneurs, and civil society groups in cultivating economic development and crafting urban communities.

Some continue to blame Houston’s unique approach for everything from flood damage—as if imposing side setbacks and keeping delis out of neighborhoods would avoid statewide flooding—to remaining pockets of poverty within the city. Certainly some form of citywide coordination on data collection and service allocation in pursuit of efficiency and equity makes sense. Yet past attempts to impose greater centralized urban planning on Houston have been defeated by overwhelming working-class opposition every time. Those residents know something many in the urban planning world don’t. It is well past time that we start taking Houston’s success seriously.

Nolan Gray


Nolan Gray

Nolan Gray is a contributor to Market Urbanism and a graduate student in city and regional planning at Rutgers University. His research interests include land-use regulation, economic development, and urban planning theory. In addition to writing, Nolan also hosts the Market Urbanism Podcast. He is originally from Lexington, Kentucky.

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Trillions in Debt and We’re Just Scratching the Surface

As the federal debt has gone from astounding to unbelievable to incomprehensible, a new problem has emerged: The US government is actually running out of places to borrow.

How Many Zeros Are in a Trillion?

The $20 trillion debt is already twice the annual revenues collected by all the world’s governments combined. Counting unfunded liabilities, which include promised Social Security, Medicare, and government pension payments that Washington will not have the money to pay, the federal government actually owes somewhere between $100 trillion and $200 trillion. The numbers are so ridiculously large that even the uncertainty in the figures exceeds the annual economic output of the entire planet.

Since 2000, the federal debt has grown at an average annual rate of 8.2%, doubling from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in the past eight years alone. Who loaned the government this money? Four groups: foreigners, Americans, the Federal Reserve, and government trust funds. But over the past decade, three of these groups have cut back significantly on their lending.

Foreign investors have slowed the growth in their lending from over 20% per year in the early 2000s to less than 3% per year today. Excluding the Great Recession years, American investors have been cutting back on how much they lend the federal government by an average of 2% each year.

The Fed is the only game left in town.

Social Security, though, presents an even bigger problem. The federal government borrowed all the Social Security surpluses of the past 80 years. But starting this year, and continuing either forever or until Congress overhauls the program (which may be the same thing), Social Security will only generate deficits. Not only is the government no longer able to borrow from Social Security, it will have to start paying back what it owes – assuming the government plans on making good on its obligations.

With federal borrowing growing at more than 6% per year, with foreign and American investors becoming more reluctant to lend, and with the Social Security trust fund drying up, the Fed is the only game left in town. Since 2001, the Fed has increased its lending to the federal government by over 11% each year, on average. Expect that trend to continue.

Inflation to Make You Cry

For decades, often in word but always in deed, politicians have told voters that government debt didn’t matter. We, and many economists, disagree. Yet even if the politicians were right, the absence of available creditors would be an insurmountable problem—were it not for the Federal Reserve. But when the Federal Reserve acts as the lender of last resort, unpleasant realities follow. Because, as everyone should be keenly aware, the Fed simply prints the money it loans.

A century of arguing about how much to increase spending has left us with a debt that dwarfs the annual economic output of the planet.

A Fed loan devalues every dollar already in circulation, from those in people’s savings accounts to those in their pockets. The result is inflation, which is, in essence, a tax on frugal savers to fund a spendthrift government.

Since the end of World War II, inflation in the US has averaged less than 4% per year. When the Fed starts printing money in earnest because the government can’t obtain loans elsewhere, inflation will rise dramatically. How far is difficult to say, but we have some recent examples of countries that tried to finance runaway government spending by printing money.

From 1975 to 1990, the Greek people suffered 15% annual inflation as their government printed money to finance stimulus spending. Following the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia printed money to keep its government running. The result was five years over which inflation averaged 750%. Today, Venezuela’s government prints money to pay its bills, causing 200% inflation which the International Monetary Fund expects to skyrocket to 1,600% this year.

For nearly a century, politicians have treated deficit spending as a magic wand. In a recession? We need jobs, so government must spend more money! In an expansion? There’s more tax revenue, so government can spend more money! Always and everywhere, politicians argued only about how much to increase spending, never whether to increase spending. A century of this has left us with a debt so large that it dwarfs the annual economic output of the planet. And now we are coming to the point at which there will be no one left from whom to borrow. When creditors finally disappear completely, all that will remain is a reckoning.

Antony Davies


Antony Davies

Antony Davies is an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University in Pittsburg.

 

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Indiana Used Stolen Funds to Pay Law Enforcement

There is a very clear reason as to why law enforcement has so diligently defended the routine use of civil asset forfeiture: it’s extremely profitable.

A recent federal audit of Indiana law enforcement agencies has shown just how beneficial this practice has been to its officers by revealing that the state used more than $400,000 of seized assets to pay for salaries, “fringe” benefits, and overtime pay.

This controversial practice has earned the nickname policing for profit.As lax as the federal guidelines on asset forfeiture are, using seized funds to pay for personnel is strictly prohibited. But that didn’t stop Indiana law enforcement from finding creative ways to move the money around.  

Policing for Profit

The controversial legal tool of asset forfeiture allows police officers and other law enforcement entities to seize money and physical property from anyone suspected of wrongdoing.

Unfortunately, as the Drug War and the War on Terror have both escalated over the last decade, national security has trumped liberty and the threshold for determining suspicious behavior has been lowered to include just about anyone.

Conveniently enough, routine traffic stops now frequently turn into “suspicious” situations as soon as the officer on the scene discovers that the driver is carrying large amounts of cash. This is precisely why the practice earned the nickname policing for profit. Since officers are “entitled” to keep a portion of the spoils, there are very few safeguards in place to protect innocent people from becoming victims of institutionalized highway robbery.

Officers of the law are profiting from the theft of innocent Americans.While many states have been successful in placing limitations on this practice over the years, the federal Equitable Sharing Program provides a loophole, allowing state law enforcement to act on behalf of the federal government, in exchange for a cut of the forfeited property, which is usually around 80 percent.

It was this same federal asset forfeiture program that allowed Indiana law enforcement to pay its officers with stolen money.

The Innocent Pay the Price

According to the federal guidelines on the Equitable Sharing Program, state agencies are prohibited from using forfeited funds to pay personnel costs “so that the prospect of receiving equitable sharing funds does not influence, or appear to influence, law enforcement decisions.”

This makes perfect sense; after all, it would be unjust to give officers incentive to accuse innocent people of criminal acts, since they stand to directly benefit from the situation.

While this safeguard may seem like a solid checks-and-balances system on paper, it hasn’t done much to stop local departments from using the money at their own discretion, which has often meant using it to pay for its officers’ salaries.

The federal guidelines do allow for one exception to the salary rule, however: if the funds are used to pay for the wages of an officer who has stepped in to replace a vacancy left by another officer leaving to join a special task force.

While this was true of an officer in Henry County, Indiana, the department had been using forfeited funds to pay the replacement over $40,000 more than the officer he was replacing. Since the base salary was, in fact, “allowable” or under the federal guidelines, the Inspector General only marked the extra $40,000 as “unallowable” on the part of Henry County.

Civil asset forfeiture will always be ripe for abuse.However, a recent Washington Post investigation found that 81 percent of those who have had money or property stolen through asset forfeiture have never actually been charged with a crime. Considering this, it is appalling that law enforcement is using this money to fund even a cent of their personnel costs at the expense of innocent bystanders.

No matter how the federal guidelines are framed to prevent abuse, at the end of the day officers of the law are profiting from the theft of American people, many of whom will never get their day in court because there were never any official charges filed.

In addition to the overpaid officer, the Inspector General found $165,000 of “unallowable” expenses within the state’s expenditures. This included an instance in Richmond County, where a $91,000 salary was being funded solely by forfeited funds. Henry County, as it turns out, had transferred around $380,000 to other departments and counties. Richmond was just one of several recipients.

Unfortunately, this federal program is not likely to go away anytime soon. Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions has been a huge advocate for this program which he believes to be integral to maintaining domestic law and order.

However, as Indiana’s audit has demonstrated, civil asset forfeiture will always be ripe for abuse because the entire system relies on incentivizing police officers to steal from those they have sworn an oath to protect.

Brittany Hunter


Brittany Hunter

Brittany Hunter is an associate editor at FEE. Brittany studied political science at Utah Valley University with a minor in Constitutional studies.