Froma Harrop - Let's break from identity politics

Both parties sort voters by color and gender. Though there's nothing new about promoting solidarity on the basis of genetics, it can get old really fast.

One sees some utility in this brand of politicking, especially for Democrats. The party of Donald Trump has done its darnedest to offend the growing Latino electorate. But Republicans will get smart about this and reverse course.

Even Trump? Especially Trump. As Trump continues his pivot to normality, his campaign will take a long shower and start making nice to women and Latinos — some of whom have shown interest in him, if only he'd stop attacking them.

Memory is short, and Trump's skill at self-mockery could ease the transition. With his support of programs that help the working class, Trump could pick off chunks of the Democratic coalition.

Note that the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce invited Trump to join a candidates forum in Washington (which he did not attend). While in no way an endorsement, this is not how one treats the devil.

Democratic strategists expect America's rapidly growing Latino and Asian populations to guarantee their electoral success. But history shows demographic firewalls crumbling as descendants of recent immigrants become culturally indistinguishable from the older European stock.

Meanwhile, the seeming obsession with minorities and women sends a "don't bother" sign to the white working class. Hostility toward dark people doesn't adequately explain why so many struggling whites have decamped for the Republican side.

Consider how a white working guy might respond to a headline like this one: "White Man or Black Woman? Senate Race Tears at Maryland Democrats."

The subject is the Democratic Senate primary race pitting Rep. Donna Edwards against Rep. Chris Van Hollen. The "conflict": Edwards, a black single mother, may be an attractive candidate, but Van Hollen has a long record as an effective progressive in Washington. There is no reason for liberals to abandon him unless they think race and gender are reason enough.

Emily's List apparently thinks so. Dedicated to promoting female candidates who support abortion rights, Emily's List has put its resources behind Edwards. Many contributors who've worked with Van Hollen are fuming, as well they might.

There's no item on the liberal women's agenda that Van Hollen has not championed, and, you know, there are other issues. There was a time when female candidates were a rarity, but that time has passed — and so has any rationale, frankly, for Emily's List.

Move on to the U.S. Supreme Court. President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to fill the seat held by the late Antonin Scalia. According to a Washington Post analysis, "some top Democrats" are complaining that Obama threw away a "golden opportunity" by opting for "a mild-mannered white man."

"If he had picked an African American, a Latino or even an Asian candidate — and especially a woman," the unnamed Democrats (allegedly) told the writer, "he could have helped energize the coalition that got him reelected in 2012 and arguably pushed his nominee onto the court."

Set aside the reality that Republican leaders in the Senate have vowed to stop any Obama nominee. Ponder how such messages rile not only white men but also nonwhite men and women who regard themselves as intellectual equals (or superiors) to the sitting members and not tokens.

Trump's magic formula has been to crush a political correctness that habitually puts white men in the stocks while breaking with the Republican Party on positions that hurt the working class. A toned-down Trump would move from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane threat for Democrats. And identity politics would not be their friend.

(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)

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Michelle Malkin - Yes, we need a Candian border wall

Canada's sloppy, rushed and reckless Syrian refugee resettlement program is America's looming national security nightmare.

Donald Trump shouldn't just be promising to build a Mexican border wall. He (and any other sovereignty-minded presidential candidate) should be vowing to rebuild the decimated "wall" of first-line watchdogs, field enforcement and patrol officers on our northern border.

The urgency could not be greater.

The Canadian liberal government has fast-tracked tens of thousands of Syrian Muslims into its country over the past five months and now plans to double its interim 25,000 goal by 2019. The bleeding-heart Canucks are forging ahead despite reports this week of the country's failed $16 million screening program to stop Islamic terrorists from slipping through the cracks.

Multiple databases are not interoperable. Information is outdated or useless. Canadian agents are delivering incomplete background checks too late to matter, anyway. Result: garbage in, garbage out, and untold numbers of unvetted refugees from jihad hotbeds on the loose at our doorstep. (As if the 1,500 Syrian refugees a month that the U.S. State Department is directly importing here through November aren't enough of a security headache!)

Instead of moving to fortify our northern border, Washington is diverting our boots on the ground and downsizing our fleet of surveillance pilots in the skies. Turnover is high, morale is low, and the jihadists' path to illegal entry has never been smoother.

In Plattsburgh, New York, 45 miles from Syrian refugee dumping ground Montreal, the Customs and Border Patrol's air branch has been slashed from 25 pilots down to a shocking six in the last three years. Shifts have been reduced to bankers' hours, while terror plotters and smugglers never rest. Members of Congress have been alerted to the perilous impact of downsizing, but have done nothing (except, that is, to fully fund the White House refugee resettlement racket).

In Montana, Reuters reported earlier this year, our federal enforcement force is still so understaffed that the Border Patrol depends on 100 private citizen ranchers along the northern border to police the U.S.-Canada boundaries.

Of 21,000 total Border Patrol agents, only 2,100 are assigned to the northern border. There are only about 300 agents guarding the entire northern border at any one time. That's less than the number of Capitol police on duty to protect the Capitol complex in D.C. alone, Buffalo, New York, sector Border Patrol agent Dean Mandel of the National Border Patrol Council pointed out to Congress.

Little has changed since Border Patrol agents in Washington state first told me 15 years ago of vast, abandoned sectors protected by nothing but orange rubber cones — even in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Little has changed since the 9/11 Commission spotlighted multiple al-Qaida operatives involved in cross-border traffic and incursions (both legal and illegal) from Canada.

Little has changed since the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported in 2011 that a measly 32 miles out of the 4,000-mile border was deemed secure by Border Patrol agents heavily dependent on non-DHS personnel for support.

A U.S. source who works for the Department of Homeland Security on the northern border told me last week that there remain vast "no-go zones" in his upstate New York sector that stretch for miles unpoliced — such as the smuggler-friendly Akwesasne reservation, where Mohawks are notoriously hostile to our Border Patrol, Air and Marine operations, and field operations agents.

"There's a gigantic hole on our northern border," my source described, where "people from countries of interest are crossing" into America. "Special interest countries," as the U.S. Army War College Guide to National Security defines it, are those "designated by the intelligence community as countries that could export individuals that could bring harm to our country in the way of terrorism."

"Yes, I've personally seen them. Every day. We call them 'gotaways,'" my source sighed. These newest border-jumpers are detected (by high-tech cameras and motion sensors), but neglected because the core national security mission is not a priority and no one's around to act on the alerts.

On the southern border, "gotaways" spiked 100 percent between 2011 and 2013. This year, as illegal trespassers from dangerous special interest countries have increased through Mexico, a Border Patrol whistleblower told Congress two months ago that his supervisors ordered agents to fudge data on "gotaways" by omitting them from data reports.

Think the same whitewashing is going on up north? You betcha.

As the disgusted northern border CBP official told me: "The attitude is no paperwork, no problems." No problems, of course, until that one ISIS operative toting a dirty bomb in his bag rolls right across the wide open U.S.-Canadian border — detected, but neglected — and our government's malign neglect blows up in our faces.

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

 

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Sanborn — Sweet emotions

There were 78 residential home sales in March in the 12 Lakes Region communities covered by this report. The average sales price came in at $289,111 and the media price point was $195,950. That brings the total number of sales in the first quarter of 2016 to an even 200 at an average price of $301,551. There were 146 sales in the first quarter of 2015 at an average sales price $284,776. That's a 38 percent increase in total sales over last year so far, which means we are off to a pretty nice start!

If you like Aerosmith, you obviously like their song Sweet Emotions. It's a classic. Not sure what it is really all about, but I am sure that buying or selling a home has a lot of emotions involved in it and many of them are anything but "sweet." After all, it is the biggest financial transaction most people will ever make and money can make anyone crazy. It can be very stressful. There are all kinds of emotions wrapped up in a home buying/selling process and as real estate agents we are never quite sure which emotion a buyer or seller will have at any given time. There are many steps in a real estate transaction and with each gingerly step forward we brace for some sort of reaction that could range from a very reasonable reply to anger.

There seems to me to be two distinct kinds of buyers; those that want to buy a house because they just need a place to live and those looking to make an emotional connection with the property. The latter category of buyers could be a first time home buyer or they could be experienced buyers who are looking for that one special property that they really fall in love with.

First time buyers need to be cautious that their emotions don't get in the way of common sense. Often a first time or novice buyer's excitement will cause him to overlook or discount issues that could have a monetary affect in the future. Just because a home has shiny new appliances, granite counter tops, and a fresh coat of paint it doesn't trump a poor location, poor design, or poor structure. The first time or novice buyer is also affected by fear of loss. They sometimes are afraid that they will not find another home as good as this one and that can cause them to make bad decisions.

An experienced buyer that is looking for that special home knows when he finds the right property. He feels that emotional tug that this is the right property, the holy grail of waterfronts, the dream home on the hill with panoramic views, and he just wants it. But then, usually but not always, emotion gives way to logic. In the logical world, if that special property has a price on it that does not make sense to a buyer he won't purchase the property or will make an offer based on logic rather than emotion.

On the seller's side, deciding to sell a home can be very emotional or it can be matter of fact. The matter of fact or business decision mode is much easier to deal with. The emotional seller with the "nicest house on the planet" can get be a tad more difficult when it comes to setting prices and dealing with offers. Want to see emotions from a seller? Give them a really low offer on their "nicest house on the planet" preceded always by the verbiage "I know this is not what you were expecting, but I have to present all offers." It will be like, as Stephen Tyler sings, "the backstage boogie set your pants on fire."

Another emotionally driven seller is one that has put thousands of dollars of improvements into a home without realizing that he won't recoup all of those costs in a sale. Properties that have been in a family for generations can create baggage for the current owner as well. Childhood memories, kids growing up at the house, holiday gatherings, and family weddings all create ties to a home that are sometimes hard to break but don't add value to a property.

Buyers often get stressed out, frustrated, and exhausted from just looking at houses. They sometimes doubt that they'll ever find something that they really like in a time frame they need to find it in. Sometimes they get scared and are afraid to fully commit to a purchase or fear they made the wrong decision when they have made an offer. That's the Dreaded Buyer's Remorse... yes, with a capital "D."

Sellers can have a bad case of remorse as well. Sometimes this is caused by the anxiety and stress of having to move, not finding what they had hoped to find for housing elsewhere, or a spouse just had second thoughts. You just hope that the seller's remorse happens not too far into the process rather than during offer negotiations.

Anger (or let's call it displeasure) can often flare up on both sides during the home inspection process when items are revealed that may need to be addressed. To paraphrase Tyler again: "You talk about things that nobody cares. You're wearing out things that nobody wears." It can sometimes get ugly. Sellers that look at the transaction as a business deal are likely to get through this part of the process much easier. Buyers have to realize they might not get everything they ask for to be fixed or addressed.

But, there are many happy and positive emotions, too, and those are the best. They are a real estate agent's true goal: to have a happy client or customer at the end of the process. This usually happens when buyers and sellers have an agent who they truly trust, who communicates well, explains the process, and guides them through to a successful transaction. I like the sweet emotions a whole lot more, don't you? Sing along... Sweeeeet Emotions...

P​lease feel free to visit www.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data compiled using the NNEREN MLS system as of 4/19/16. ​Roy Sanborn is a sales associate at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 677-7012

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Jim Hightower - Panama papers reveal scandalous hypocrisy

It's always educational to observe the behavior of wildlife in their natural habitat. For example, we learn that there's nothing more vicious than a wild animal that's cornered. I would add that there's nothing more devious than a top political or corporate official caught in a scandalous hypocrisy.

We're now bearing witness to this latter phenomenon, for a whole menagerie of political critters have recently been screeching and scrambling after being backed into a corner by the "Panama Papers." This is a trove of thousands of internet documents leaked to global media outlets, revealing that assorted billionaires, rich celebrities, corporate chieftains, and — yes — pious public officials have been hiding their wealth and dodging the taxes they owe by stashing their cash in foreign tax havens. Of course, we've known for a while that tax dodging is a common plutocratic scam, but the details from the leaked files of an obscure Panamanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca now gives us names to shame.

One is David Cameron, the ardently conservative prime minister of Britain, who has loudly declaimed tax sneaks in public. But — oops! — now we learn that his own super-wealthy father was a Mossack Fonseca client, and that David himself has profited from the stealth wealth he inherited from the elder Cameron's secret stash.

Trapped by the facts, the snarling, privileged prime minister used middle-class commoners as his shield, asserting that critics of his secluded wealth are trying to "tax anyone who (wants) to pass on their home... to their children." Uh-uh, David — we merely want to tax those who try to pass-off tax frauds on the public.

One of Cameron's partisans even claimed that critics "hate anybody who has a hint of wealth in them." No, it's the gross, self-serving hypocrisy of the elites that people hate. Yet now, doubling down on their hypocrisy, Cameron & Company have announced that they'll host an anticorruption summit meeting to address the problem of offshore tax evaders!

The global web of corruption involving thousands of superrich tax dodgers and money launderers that the Panama Paper reveal is an explosive scandal — yet, interestingly, very few names of the moneyed elite in our country have surfaced as players in Mossack Fonseca's Panamanian shell game. Perhaps U.S. billionaires and corporations are just more honest than those elsewhere.

Ha-ha-ha, just kidding! Not more honest, just luckier. You see, America's conniving richies don't have to go to Panama to set up an offshore flim flam — they have the convenience of hiding their money and wrongdoings in secret accounts created right here in states like Delaware and Nevada.

The "New York Times" notes that it's easier in some states to form a dummy money corporation than it is to get a fishing license. Indeed, the ease of doing it, and the state laws that provide strict secrecy for those hiding money, have made the U.S.A. a global magnet for international elites wanting to conceal billions of dollars from their own tax collectors, prosecutors ... and general public.

State officials in Delaware even travel to Brazil, Israel, Spain and other nations to tell "the Delaware story," inviting rich foreign interests to stash their cash in corporate hideaways that the state sets up, no questions asked. Likewise, Nevada flashes a dazzling neon sign inviting the global rich to incorporate their very own shell corporations there, promising — shhhh — "minimal reporting and disclosing requirements." The money-hiding industry is so hot in Nevada that it attracted none other than Mossack Fonseca to get in the action by opening a branch office there.

The law firm is being branded as a criminal enterprise for the rich. okay, but it shares that shameful brand with our own state governments.

(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

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Does staging your home make sense?

LAKES REGION PROFILES by Mary O'Neill, Sales Associate at Roche Realty Group

 

In the movie "Funny Farm," Chevy Chase plays an ex-New York City sports writer trying to sell his home in a small New England town to an urban couple who have dreams of relocating to the country. Chevy sets up his property to imitate pages right out of Norman Rockwell's illustrations with everything from freshly baked muffins on the kitchen table to a deer running across the backyard on cue. The result was the buyers could envision their dream home and made an offer over full price for the house, furniture, and even the old dog. If you want to sell your home, you do not have to go to these extremes. But Chevy had it right – staging your home so potential buyers can picture themselves living there is worth the effort.

A survey by Stagedhome.com found that 94 percent of homes that were staged sold on average in one month or less, spent 80 percent less time on the market, and sold in an average of 35 days compared to 175 days for non-staged homes. This is an important consideration since the longer a home is on the market, the lower the price will be. According to the National Association of Realtors, homes that sold after four weeks on the market sold for 6 percent less than those that sold in the first four weeks (Resource Realty Services). If a house has not sold, most sellers reduce the price after about a month on the market. The first price reduction is usually around 10 percent. So for a $250,000 house, the price reduction is $25,000. The average cost of professional staging ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 (Smith, Kiplinger.com). Had the homeowners staged their $250,000 house at a cost of $3,000 and sold within the first month on the market, they would have been $22,000 ahead.

Whether you have your house staged professionally or tackle it yourself, here are some tips commonly given for doing the job:
1. Thin out and reorganize furniture to maximize space and light. Too much furniture or furniture too big for a space makes a room feel smaller. Furnishings should not obscure a buyer's view of focal points such as scenic vistas, fireplaces or built-ins. Numerous or disparate pictures on walls can make a room feel cluttered. In an article by Michael Estrin for Bankrate.com, one recent buyer was quoted as saying that if the house "was cluttered and messy, my brain just shut off." It might be tempting to only thin out and organize what is immediately visible, especially if you are still living in the house you are trying to sell. But it is helpful to have areas behind closed doors tidy as well. Most buyers are looking for space and storage. If they open cupboards or closets and find them jammed with stuff, it gives the impression there is not enough space. On the other hand, buyers can find it challenging to envision a room's function when it is completely devoid of furnishings. Staging can show how a house could function for the potential buyer and gives each room a clearly defined purpose.
2. Neutralize. Most buyers respond to neutral colors, and a fresh coat of white or cream-colored paint is one of the easiest and most rewarding improvements. At the same time, it can be detrimental to "over-neutralize." Every room painted white can be bland. Within every color family there are neutrals – such as soft blues, greens and grays – and these colors can be employed to create a calming designer atmosphere. From there the décor can be upped a notch by incorporating pops of color in artwork, rugs, pillows, and other accessories.
3. Focus on the most important areas. For almost all buyers, this means the kitchen and bathrooms. If cabinets are dated, a coat of paint goes a long way toward making the space new and inviting. Other inexpensive updates include replacing cabinet doors and switching out lighting fixtures and window treatments.
4. Clean. One thing buyers definitely notice is dirt and grime. Elbow grease can add more value to a home than almost anything else. It might seem obvious, but dusting cobwebs in corners, scrubbing floors and washing windows go a long way toward making a home more appealing. Unkempt rooms can make buyers wonder if there are problems behind the walls that have not been addressed as well.
5. Depersonalize the space. This usually involves removing family pictures, excess books, clothing, cosmetics, toys and other personal items. Depersonalization might also extend to painting – the bright red walls in your bedroom might not make the best first impression.
6. Do not forget the details. While cleanliness and order is the goal, the house should not look sterile. Strategic accessories create a cozy atmosphere. Place a few books on the coffee table, add an accent piece along with neatly arranged books on a shelf, and hang a few pieces of attractive art on the wall. Professionals also recommend having a plant or two (providing the plants are real) so the home gives the impression that someone actually lives there.
7. Amplify your curb appeal. Professional stager Kelly Gardner says, "Buyers make up their mind in the first 30 seconds as they approach the front door" (Gaskill, 2013, Houzz). Simple updates can include painting the front door, changing a weathered light fixture, cutting back shrubbery, laying mulch, adding potted plants, replacing the mailbox, power-washing the siding and defining a front walkway. Increasing curb appeal is especially important since many potential buyers do a drive-by before they ask to see a property.
8. Help buyers visualize. Buyers can have a hard time visualizing a space. This is true whether the house is completely empty or full of furniture and accessories. A survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that 81 percent of real estate agents believe staging helps buyers visualize the property as their future home. Forty-six percent of agents said it makes buyers much more willing to walk through a home they saw online (Kasperski, 2015, realtor.org). And since more than 90 percent of potential buyers look at homes online first, staging can significantly increase the number of buyers coming to view a property.

Whether purchasing a first home, second home, or vacation getaway, buyers are investing in a dream. Staging allows them to imagine themselves and their things in a home. For more suggestions on staging, contact your local professional stager or real estate agent – or watch Funny Farm and try a few of Chevy Chase's novel ideas.

 

Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market. Mary O'Neill is a Realtor at Roche Realty Group in Meredith & Laconia, and can be reached at (603) 366-6306, rocherealty.com

 

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