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Tags: Walmart | Boosts | Home.Values | Christie Demands Tax Cuts | Atlantis | Taxpayers Still Support Tobacco Growers | Foie Gras Ban

Walmart Boosts Home Values; Christie Demands Tax Cuts; Atlantis Discovered

By    |   Sunday, 08 July 2012 04:22 PM EDT

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Headlines (Scroll down for complete stories):
1. Gov. Christie Battles Democrats Over New Jersey Taxes
2. Report: 'Britain's Atlantis' Found Under North Sea
3. Taxpayers Still Support Tobacco Growers
4. Surprise: New Walmart Stores Boost Nearby Home Values
5. Iran Blames Germany, France for Nuclear Scientist Killings
6. Lawsuit Targets Foie Gras Ban

1. Gov. Christie Battles Democrats Over New Jersey Taxes

New Jersey residents have the highest total tax burden in the country, and Republican Gov. Chris Christie and the Democratic-controlled legislature have competing plans to lower taxes.

But while Christie's plan calls for across-the-board cuts in tax rates, state Democrats — like those in Washington — seek to place the burden on the wealthiest residents.

New Jersey is ranked by the Tax Foundation as the state with the least favorable business tax climate. It has the second-worst property tax of any state, the third-worst individual income tax, the fifth-worst sales tax, and the 13th-worst corporate tax.

Christie has pushed for a 10 percent reduction in the income tax rate for all tax brackets, to be implemented over a 4-year period. The rate for the top bracket, those making more than $500,000 a year, would drop from 8.97 percent to 8.07 percent.

Also, the Earned Income Tax Credit would be increased from its current rate of 20 percent of the federal earned income credit to a new rate of 25 percent.

A bill in the state Senate would implement a homeowner income tax credit of 10 percent on property bills up to $10,000, also with a 4-year phase-in. But it would be limited to taxpayers with annual incomes of $250,000 and under.

A bill in the General Assembly is similar to the Senate bill, but it would impose a "millionaires' tax," raising the tax rate for those earning more than $1 million a year. The rate would jump from 8.97 to 10.75 percent.

Christie has vowed to veto any such tax increase. But Democrats have threatened to bypass the governor by putting the measure on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, according to the Tax Foundation.

A poll in January revealed that 58 percent of New Jersey residents support a millionaires' tax, and the state constitution requires only a majority of voters to pass an amendment.

"Regardless of their popularity, attempts to increase the tax burden on high-income individuals would be damaging to long-run growth in New Jersey," the Tax Foundation observed.

"Furthermore, taxes on high-income filers include business income, and raising taxes on this group would have negative effects on long-term economic growth."

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2. Report: 'Britain's Atlantis' Found Under North Sea

A vast, once-inhabited area that was submerged by the North Sea thousands of years ago has been discovered by divers working with oil companies and science teams from several British universities.

The underwater world, being called Doggerland and Britain's Atlantis, stretched from Scotland to Denmark when Britain was not an island but connected to the European continent. It was gradually submerged by water between 18,000 B.C. and 5,500 B.C., according to researchers.

"Divers from oil companies have found remains of a 'drowned world' with a population of tens of thousands, which might have once been the 'real heartland' of Europe," Britain's Daily Mail reported.

"A team of climatologists, archaeologists, and geophysicists has now mapped the area using new data from oil companies — and revealed the full extent of a 'lost land' once roamed by mammoths."

The melting of ice caps during a warm period raised sea levels and submerged the area, which was also hit by a "devastating tsunami," the researchers claim.

"People seem to think rising sea levels are a new thing, but it's a cycle of earth history that has happened many, many times," said Richard Bates of the University of St. Andrews.

"We have speculated for years on the lost land's existence from bones dredged by fishermen all over the North Sea, but it's only since working with oil companies in the last few years that we have been able to re-create what this lost land looked like."

The findings suggest a land with hills and valleys, large swamps and lakes, and major rivers, according to the Mail. As the sea rose the hills would have become islands.

Researchers are currently probing evidence of human habitation, including possible burial sites, although there is little such evidence remaining because much of it has eroded underwater.

An exhibit called Drowned Landscapes is now on display at The Royal Society in London.

The oldest surviving description of the "lost continent" of Atlantis was written by Plato around 360 B.C., and asserts that Atlantis sank into the ocean around 9,600 B.C.

Editor's Note:

3. Taxpayers Still Support Tobacco Growers

The federal government recently announced a new $54 million, 12-week campaign using TV spots to encourage smokers to give up the habit, and state and federal spending on anti-smoking efforts have topped $800 million in some years.

Taxpayers may wonder, then, why the latest farm bill approved by the Senate contains support for the industry responsible for the product targeted by those anti-smoking ads — tobacco farming.

From 1995 through 2011, the federal government paid out $1.329 billion in subsidies for the tobacco industry.

Farm subsidies include commodity payments, crop insurance, marketing support, and agricultural research, and total agricultural subsidies have topped $20 billion in most recent years.

In 2011 alone, taxpayers shelled out $191,218,926 in tobacco subsidies to 58,350 recipients, according to figures provided by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

North Carolina receives the largest share of the subsidies — 39.7 percent of the total or $528 million from 1995 through 2011 — followed by Kentucky at 28.7 percent.

Tobacco subsidies are, however, dwarfed by outlays for other agricultural products. Corn subsidies amounted to more than $81 billion from 1995 through 2011 — including $4.6 billion last year — while taxpayers picked up the tab for $34.3 billion in wheat subsidies, $32 billion in cotton subsidies, $26 billion in soybean subsidies, and billions more for other crops.

Two other facts cited by the Mercatus Center: 62 percent of farms in the United States did not collect subsidy payments from 1995 through 2011, and 10 percent of farms collected 75 percent of all subsidies.

Subsidies during that period ranged from $25.8 billion in Texas to, curiously, $231,479 in the District of Columbia.

Editor's Note:

4. Surprise: New Walmart Stores Boost Nearby Home Values

A new study refutes the commonly held view that opening a Walmart store lowers the value of nearby properties — instead, it actually raises home values.

In a research paper by Devin G. Pope of the University of Chicago and Jaren C. Pope of Brigham Young University, the authors state: "Walmart often faces strong local opposition when trying to build a new store. Opponents often claim that Walmart lowers nearby housing prices.

"In this study we use over one million housing transactions located near 159 Walmarts that opened between 2000 and 2006 to test if the opening of a Walmart does indeed lower housing prices."

The researchers found that a new Walmart store increases housing prices by between 2 and 3 percent for homes located within half a mile of the store.

They also found that the values of houses located between half a mile and one mile from the store rise 1 to 2 percent.

The increase in values was even more pronounced for those 86 cases in which the new store was a Walmart Supercenter.

The researchers stressed that through a number of statistical tests they were able to conclude that the data support a casual interpretation — that is, the opening of the Walmart store directly led to the rise in housing values.

Walmart currently operates more than 4,400 retail facilities in the United States alone, and employs almost 1.4 million people. Surveys indicate that 84 percent of American households shop at Walmart in a given year, and 42 percent report they are regular Walmart shoppers.

"The benefits to quick and easy access to the lower retail prices offered by Walmart" and to the stores that "naturally agglomerate nearby," the authors conclude, "appear to matter more to households than any increase in crime, traffic and congestion, noise and light pollution, or other negative externalities that would be capitalized into housing prices.

"This result is useful to policymakers that consider passing zoning regulations and other laws that could affect Walmart's ability to build new stores within their jurisdiction."

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5. Iran Blames Germany, France for Nuclear Scientist Killings

Iran has now spread the blame for assassinations of its nuclear scientists, asserting that German and French intelligence agencies were also involved in the killings.

The Islamic Republic previously accused Israel, the United States, and Britain of plotting the assassinations to set back its uranium enrichment program, which Western powers suspect is designed to develop nuclear weapons.

At least four scientists associated with Iran's nuclear program have been assassinated since 2010. Most recently, chemistry engineer Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed on Jan. 11 with a bomb fixed to his car by a motorcyclist in Tehran.

The United States has denied a role in the killings, while Israel has declined to comment.

Iran's Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, referring to the killings, said on Friday: "We saw connections with the information services in Germany, France, Britain, Israel, the United States and regional intelligence agencies."

His statement came days after the European Union imposed a new ban on the import, purchase, and shipping of Iranian oil. Tougher U.S. sanctions went into effect on June 28.

Oliver Thraenert, head of the Zurich-based Center for Security Studies, said that "by accusing Western states of involvement in the assassinations, Moslehi could be signaling his opposition to any deal with them on the nuclear issue," the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

Thraenert said: "It might be the case that behind these allegations is an internal fight about whether Iran should seek a compromise with the Western countries. If you accuse a nation like Germany or France of being behind these assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, of course it is obvious that you cannot strike a deal with those countries."

In a survey conducted in Iran by the Islamic Republic of Iran News Network this week, more than two-thirds of respondents opted for "the suspension of uranium enrichment in exchange for the gradual lifting of sanctions," in answer to the question: "Which way do you prefer to confront the unilateral sanctions of the West against Iran?"

Nearly 20 percent favored closing the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for the sanctions.

Editor's Note:

6. Lawsuit Targets Foie Gras Ban

Three plaintiffs have joined together in a lawsuit aimed at striking down a California law outlawing the sale of foie gras, the nation's first state-sanctioned ban on the traditional French dish made from goose or duck livers.

The legislature passed the ban in 2005 with the rationale that the method the French call "gavage" — force-feeding the birds through a tube several times a day to fatten their livers to 10 to 12 times the normal size — is cruel and torturous. The ban went into effect on July 1.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on July 2 maintains that the law is unconstitutional, vague, and interferes with federal commerce laws, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction to freeze the law until the suit is heard in court.

"I think the injunction will help [free] chefs from the risk of unknowingly breaking the law, and give our legislators time to fix it," said Sean Chaney, executive chef and co-owner of Hot's Restaurant Group Inc., a Los Angeles restaurant group that is one of the plaintiffs in the suit. "There's so much vagueness in the whole thing."

The other two plaintiffs are a Canadian duck-farming trade organization and a New York producer of duck delicacies.

Others also are beefing about being force fed the law.

"I don't need the California state legislature or a bunch of vegan terrorists telling me what I can and cannot eat," said David Kinch, the chef-owner of Manresa, a restaurant in Los Gatos, Calif. "It should be a question of personal choice."

The lawsuit states: "The statute defines 'force feeding' as using a process that causes a bird to 'consume more food than a typical bird of the same species would consume voluntarily.' In practice, the vagueness of this purported standard makes it impossible for anyone to know at what point a particular bird has been fed 'more food' than the law allows."

Many animal groups want a nationwide ban on foie gras, according to the Chronicle. Chicago outlawed it but overturned the law in 2008.

Other measures taking effect in California on July 1 include two bills aimed at reducing bullying and one to improve hygiene in tattoo parlors.

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Sunday, 08 July 2012 04:22 PM
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