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by Taylor Kovar, KovarCapital.com

Hey Taylor: Are there any home improvement projects that actually “pay for themselves”? I never believe contractors when I hear that pitch, and yet I keep on hearing it so I’m wondering if it’s true in some cases. Can I break even with new windows or a better HVAC?

Hey Jeremiah: Can’t blame you for not taking every contractor at their word. However, I will side with some of them on this issue; if you buy the right product at the right time, you stand to get your money back over the course of a few years.

There are a lot of different variables, but you should start by considering these elements.

1. Utility savings. Naturally, whether or not an upgrade pays for itself will depend on the type of upgrade. If you install solar panels, you will save money on your electricity bill. Assuming you have a medium or large home and use a fair amount of electrical appliances, it’s not uncommon to save upwards of $200 a month. That means you’ll save around $10,000 in just four years ‑ and that’s not including the tax rebate you might be entitled to. You mentioned new windows, and the math can be broken down in a similar way. If you get quality, energy-efficient frames, most experts say you can reduce your utility bill by about 30%. If you live somewhere with extreme weather, cutting your utility bills by ⅓ makes a big difference and adds up over the course of a year. 

2. Resale value. It can be misleading to hear that something “pays for itself.” That phrasing makes a lot of people think the upgrade will be free and that’s definitely not true. However, a new HVAC unit, a remodeled kitchen, a renovated bathroom and any other home improvement projects should be viewed as investments. Once your house is paid off, it’s an asset, and the better it looks and functions as a living space, the more it’s worth. As long as you’re not getting swindled or paying for bad work, renovations can retain their value.

3. Maintenance Reduction. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, right? Paying for metal roofing that won’t need repairs after each storm doesn’t exactly pay for itself, but it could save you from countless repair payments that cost a fortune over time. The value of an upgrade often depends on what’s being replaced; don’t lose sight of that as a contractor or salesperson pitches some fancy, expensive renovation.

You aren’t being lied to every time someone says a renovation will save you money in the long run. Sometimes it’s not the case, but you shouldn’t dismiss the notion right away. It just depends on what you need fixed. Hope this helps!

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by John Stossel

        This week, American astronauts returned to earth. Their trip to the space station was the first manned launch from the U.S. in 10 years.
        By NASA? No. Of course, not.
        This space flight happened because government was not in charge.
        An Obama administration committee had concluded that launching such a vehicle would take 12 years and cost $36 billion.
        But this rocket was finished in half that time -- for less than $1 billion (1/36th the predicted cost).
        That's because it was built by Elon Musk's private company, Space X. He does things faster and cheaper because he spends his own money.
        "This is the potential of free enterprise!" explains aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin in my newest video.
        Of course, years ago, NASA did manage to send astronauts to the moon.
        That succeeded, says Zubrin, "because it was purpose-driven. (America) wanted to astonish the world what free people could do."
        But in the 50 years since then, as transportation improved and computers got smaller and cheaper, NASA made little progress.
        Fortunately, President Obama gave private companies permission to compete in space, saying, "We can't keep doing the same old things as before."
        Competition then cut the cost of space travel to a fraction of what it was.
        Why couldn't NASA have done that?
        Because after the moon landing, it became a typical government agency -- overbudget and behind schedule. Zubrin says NASA's purpose seemed to be to "supply money to various suppliers."
        Suppliers were happy to go along.
        Zubrin once worked at Lockheed Martin, where he once discovered a way for a rocket to carry twice as much weight. "We went to management, the engineers, and said, 'Look, we could double the payload capability for 10% extra cost.' They said, 'Look, if the Air Force wants us to improve the Titan, they'll pay us to do it!'"
        NASA was paying contractor's development costs and then adding 10% profit. The more things cost, the bigger the contractor's profit. So contractors had little incentive to innovate.
        Even NASA now admits this is a problem. During its 2020 budget request, Administrator Jim Bridenstine confessed, "We have not been good at maintaining schedule and ... at maintaining costs."
        Nor is NASA good at innovating. Their technology was so out of date, says Zubrin, that "astronauts brought their laptops with them into space -- because shuttle computers were obsolete."
        I asked, "When (NASA) saw that the astronauts brought their own computers, why didn't they upgrade?"
        "Because they had an entire philosophy that various components had to be space rated," he explains. "Space rating was very bureaucratic and costly."
        NASA was OK with high costs as long as spaceships were assembled in many congressmen's districts.
        "NASA is a very large job program," says Aerospace lawyer James Dunstan. "By spreading its centers across the country, NASA gets more support from more different congressmen."
        Congressmen even laugh about it. Randy Weber, R-Texas, joked, "We'll welcome (NASA) back to Texas to spend lots of money any time."
        Private companies do more with less money. One of Musk's cost-saving innovations is reusable rocket boosters.
        For years, NASA dropped its boosters into the ocean.
        "Why would they throw it away?" I ask Dunstan.
        "Because that's the way it's always been done!" he replies.
        Twenty years ago, at Lockheed Martin, Zubrin had proposed reusable boosters. His bosses told him: "Cute idea. But if we sell one of these, we're out of business."
        Zubrin explains, "They wanted to keep the cost of space launch high."
        Thankfully, now that self-interested entrepreneurs compete, space travel will get cheaper. Musk can't waste a dollar. Space X must compete with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and others.
        The private sector always comes up with ways to do things that politicians cannot imagine.
        Government didn't invent affordable cars, airplanes, iPhones, etc. It took competing entrepreneurs, pursuing profit, to nurture them into the good things we have now.
        Get rid of government monopolies.
        For-profit competition brings us the best things in life.
        John Stossel is author of "Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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by Walter E. Williams

        I doubt whether any American would defend the police treatment of George Floyd that led to his death. But many Americans are supporting some of the responses to Floyd's death -- rioting, looting, wanton property destruction, assaults on police and other kinds of mayhem by both whites and blacks.
        The pretense is that police conduct stands as the root of black problems. According to the NAACP, from 1882-1968, there were 3,446 black people lynched at the hands of whites. Today, being murdered by whites or policemen should be the least of black worries. In recent times, there is an average of 9,252 black-on-black murders every year. Over the past 35 years, that translates into nearly 324,000 blacks murdered at the hands of other blacks. Only a tiny percentage of blacks are killed by police. For example, in Chicago this year, there were 414 homicides, with a total of 2,078 people shot. So far in 2020, three people have been killed by police and four were shot. Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald reports that "a police officer is 181/2 times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer." Crime is a major problem for many black communities, but how much of it can be attributed to causes such as institut!
 ional racism, systemic racism and white privilege?
        The most devastating problem is the very weak black family structure. Less than a third of black children live in two-parent households and illegitimacy stands at 75%. The "legacy of slavery" is often blamed. Such an explanation turns out to be sheer nonsense when one examines black history. Even during slavery, where marriage was forbidden, most black children lived in biological two-parent families. Professor Herbert G. Gutman's research in "The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom 1750-1925" found that in three-fourths of 19th-century slave families, all the children had the same mother and father. In New York City, in 1925, 85% of black households were two-parent. In fact, "Five in six children under the age of six lived with both parents." During slavery and as late as 1920, a black teenage girl raising a child without a man present was a rarity.
        An 1880 study of family structure in Philadelphia shows that three-quarters of all black families were nuclear families. There were only slight differences in family structure between racial groups. The percentages of nuclear families were: black (75.2%), Irish (82.2%), German (84.5%) and native white Americans (73.1%). Only one-quarter of black families were female-headed. Female-headed families among Irish, German and native white Americans averaged 11%. According to the 1938 Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, only 11% of black children and 3% of white children were born to unwed mothers. As Thomas Sowell reported: "Going back a hundred years, when blacks were just one generation out of slavery, we find that census data of that era showed that a slightly higher percentage of black adults had married than white adults. This fact remained true in every census from 1890 to 1940."
        The absence of a father in the home predisposes children, especially boys, to academic failure, criminal behavior and economic hardship, not to mention an intergenerational repeating of handicaps. If today's weak family structure is a legacy of slavery, then the people who make such a claim must tell us how it has managed to skip nearly five generations to have an effect.
        There are problems such as grossly poor education, economic stagnation and poverty that impact the black community heavily. I would like someone to explain how tearing down statues of Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson and Confederate generals help the black cause. Destruction of symbols of American history might help relieve the frustrations of all those white college students and their professors frustrated by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump. Problems that black people face give white leftists cover for their anti-American agenda.
        Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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by John Stossel

        I laughed when I saw The Washington Post headline: "Minneapolis had progressive policies, but its economy still left black families behind."
        The media are so clueless. Instead of "but," the headline should have said, "therefore," or "so, obviously."
        Of course, progressive policies failed! They almost always do.
        "If you wanted a poster child for the progressive movement, it would be Minneapolis," says Republican Minnesota Senate candidate Jason Lewis in my new video. "This is the same city council that voted to abolish the police department."
        The council, which has no Republicans, spends taxpayer money on most every progressive idea.
        They brag that they recycle most everything. They have a plan to stop climate change. They tell landlords to whom they must rent. They will force employers to pay every worker $15 an hour. They even tell supermarkets what cereal they must sell.
        Despite such policies, meant to improve life for minorities and the poor, the Minneapolis income gap between whites and Blacks is the second highest in the country.
        While that surprises the media, it's no surprise to Lewis, who points out, "When you take away the incentive for work and savings and investment, you get less of it!"
        Exactly. When government sends checks to people who don't work, more people don't work. Guarantees like a high minimum wage raise the cost of potential workers, so some never get hired. High taxes to fund progressives' programs make it difficult for businesses to open in the first place.
        Lewis says; " I've been touring businesses that were burned. They did not mention global warming, recycling or the environment one single time. You know what they say? Give me low taxes and give me public order."
        Lewis says Minnesota is now a "command and control economy. ... They're not even shy about it. (Congresswoman) Ilhan Omar said we need to abolish capitalism!"
        Not exactly. But Omar did call for "dismantling the whole system of oppression," including America's economic systems that, "prioritize profit."
        Lewis says she wants to create "equal poverty for everybody."
        No, I push back, "She thinks her ideas will lift everybody up."
        "Show us, Ilhan," he responds. "Where has it worked? Everything that you're proposing hasn't worked!"
        He's right.
        But Cam Gordon, a current Minneapolis councilman, tells me the city's economic "disparities were caused by a long trail of historic racism."
        He tweeted: "Time to end capitalism as we know it."
        He says that would be good because "We could have more democratic control of our resources." Cam Gordon is the kind of guy who gets elected in Minneapolis.
        "Every alternative to capitalism brings stagnation and poverty," I say to him.
        Gordon answers, "I think we can take care of each other better."
        Lewis points out that before COVID-19, "the people gaining the most were at the bottom end of the wage scale. Women, Hispanics, African Americans were gaining the most. A rising tide truly lifts all boats."
        He's right again. In the past 50 years, while progressives attacked profits, capitalism -- the pursuit of profit -- lifted more than a (SET ITAL)billion(END ITAL) people out of extreme poverty.
        When I point that out to Gordon, he simply ignores my point about fabulous progress around the world and says: "The problem with capitalism as we know it is this idea that we have to have constant growth. ... Capitalism got us the housing crisis right now and ... climate change. It's actually going to destroy the planet."
        Sigh.
        His Green Party's "community-based economics" would give the community control over private property. Seems to me like community-based economics is just another way to say socialism. That's brought poverty and tyranny every time it's been tried.
        "When socialism fails," says Lewis, "the apologists always say, 'We just didn't do it enough, just didn't do it the right way.' (But) it's always failed."
        Sadly, today in America, the progressives are winning.
        John Stossel is author of "Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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by Walter E. Williams

    The Confederacy has been the excuse for some of today's rioting, property destruction and grossly uninformed statements. Among the latter is the testimony before the House Armed Services Committee by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley in favor of renaming Confederate-named military bases. He said: "The Confederacy, the American Civil War, was fought, and it was an act of rebellion. It was an act of treason, at the time, against the Union, against the Stars and Stripes, against the U.S. Constitution."
    There are a few facts about our founding that should be acknowledged. Let's start at the beginning, namely the American War of Independence (1775-1783), a war between Great Britain and its 13 colonies, which declared independence in July 1776. The peace agreement that ended the war is known as the Treaty of Paris signed by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, John Jay and Henry Laurens and by British Commissioner Richard Oswald, on Sept. 3, 1783. Article I of the Treaty held that "New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States."
    Delegates from these states met in Philadelphia in 1787 to form a union. During the Philadelphia convention, a proposal was made to permit the federal government to suppress a seceding state. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, rejected it. Minutes from the debate paraphrased his opinion: "A union of the states containing such an ingredient (would) provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a state would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound."
    During the ratification debates, Virginia's delegates said, "The powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression." The ratification documents of New York and Rhode Island expressed similar sentiments; namely, they held the right to dissolve their relationship with the United States. Ratification of the Constitution was by no means certain. States feared federal usurpation of their powers. If there were a provision to suppress a seceding state, the Constitution would never have been ratified. The ratification votes were close with Virginia, New York and Massachusetts voting in favor by the slimmest of margins. Rhode Island initially rejected it in a popular referendum and finally voted to ratify -- 34 for, 32 against.
    Most Americans do not know that the first secessionist movement started in New England. Many New Englanders were infuriated by President Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase in 1803, which they saw as an unconstitutional act. Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, who was George Washington's secretary of war and secretary of state, led the movement. He said, "The Eastern states must and will dissolve the union and form a separate government." Other prominent Americans such as John Quincy Adams, Elbridge Gerry, Fisher Ames, Josiah Quincy III and Joseph Story shared his call for secession. While the New England secessionist movement was strong, it failed to garner support at the 1814-15 Hartford Convention.
    Even on the eve of the War of 1861, unionist politicians saw secession as a state's right. Rep. Jacob M. Kunkel of Maryland said, "Any attempt to preserve the union between the states of this Confederacy by force would be impractical and destructive of republican liberty." New-York Tribune (Feb. 5, 1860): "If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861." The Detroit Free Press (Feb. 19, 1861): "An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful, could produce nothing but evil -- evil unmitigated in character and appalling in extent." The New-York Times (March 21, 1861): "There is a growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go."
    Confederate generals fought for independence from the Union just as George Washington fought for independence from Great Britain. Those who label Robert E. Lee and other Confederate generals as traitors might also label George Washington a traitor. Great Britain's King George III and the British parliament would have agreed.
    Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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