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Froma Harrop - Feed the Beast with nothing

We know that about 20,000 pseudo-, semi- and real journalists "cover" Washington. We know that mid-December is slow-time in the nation's capital as the public turns its attention to the holidays. But big news or no, the scriveners tending political websites must still, as they say, "feed the beast" and take it out for a walk three times a day.

Hence the to-do about Vice President Joe Biden's latest "gaffe," an alleged sexist remark in Tokyo. Biden had asked women at an Internet company, "Do your husbands like you working full time?"

That was the length and breadth of it. I consider my sensitivity to patriarchal cuts fairly high-tuned, and honest, the comment would not have set off a bleep. After all, Japan remains a culture in which 60 percent of women leave their jobs when they have children. Presumably, their husbands are involved in the decision.

One imagines that husband-wife talks on whether a mother of young kids should work outside the house are held in Topeka, as well. The issue goes beyond concern about male dominance in decision-making. Rather, it centers on who will care for the little ones and create a civilized home life, which some people still care about.

It doesn't have to be the woman. I was reading this weekend about female hotshots on Wall Street, flying out of the house before dawn and jetting off to every continent while their highly competent husbands stay at home, getting breakfast into the children and dropping them off at day care before they pick up the dry cleaning. There are about five of those.

Many more couples in this country perform a stressful balancing act for sharing the duties — both breadwinning and domestic. If the workplace offered more time flexibility and day care were easier to find, the quality of American family life would improve considerably.

The question Biden might ask women in Topeka is whether their husbands would mind their not working the job they do — in addition to handling most of the child care and homemaking. And that's assuming there is a husband, which in America is more and more not the case for mothers of young children.
The chief reason for Biden's trip to Tokyo was security-related, to help ease tensions among Japan, South Korea and China. The side trip to the Internet firm was to show support for a Japanese government plan to draw more women into the workplace. Japan is experiencing a sharp drop in population, and women could ease the resulting labor shortage. Hence, the Japanese government has launched a program to help families balance the demands of parenting and outside work.

Which brings us back to Washington, passionately engaged in dissecting a "gaffe" unnoticed by about 99.9 percent of the American public. On CNN, Newt Gingrich denounced Biden for launching a "war on women," and Democratic National Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz punched back with counter-accusations against Republicans. Meanwhile, The Washington Post produced a fevered headline: "Out-of-context Biden comment to working women in Tokyo sparks firestorm back home."

The quality of the umbrage was so flimsy that the political posters quickly employed the time-honored trick of finding significance in the fact that they were discussing something of no consequence. Fine, keeps them busy.

But the giant stresses of juggling home life with job life remain an enormous concern from Topeka to Tacoma, Tempe to Tampa. Highlighting a government plan for easing those strains was what brought Biden to meet female office workers in Tokyo.

Let's make note of that plan — if only to fill the time as our political media wait to hear what crazy thing Joe Biden will say next.

(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.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 01:29

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Pat Buchanan - Reagan and the zebra

"Apartheid is an affront to human rights and human dignity. Normal and friendly relations cannot exist between the United States and South Africa until it becomes a dead policy. Americans are of one mind and one heart on this issue."

So said Ronald Reagan in his 1986 message to Congress vetoing the "sweeping and punitive sanctions" Congress was seeking to impose.

Reagan equated the sanctions to "declaring economic warfare on the people of South Africa." His Treasury Secretary James Baker said Sunday that Reagan likely regretted this veto. But having worked with the president on his veto message and address on South Africa, I never heard a word of regret. Nor should there have been any. For in declaring, "we must stay and build not cut and run" from South Africa, Reagan, whose first duty was the defense of his nation in the Cold War with the Soviet empire, saw not only the moral issue but the strategic imperative.

In 1986, there were 40,000 Cuban troops in Angola, where South Africa was a fighting ally and backer of anti-Communist Jonas Savimbi. In Zimbabwe, Robert "Comrade Bob" Mugabe, having butchered thousands of Ndebele of rival Joshua Nkomo, was communizing his country. Southwest Africa and Mozambique hung in the balance.Reagan was determined to block Moscow's drive to the Cape of Good Hope. And in that struggle State President P. W. Botha was an ally.

Second, as Reagan declared, the sanctions ban on sugar imports would imperil 23,000 black farmers, and cutting off Western purchases of natural resources would imperil the jobs of 500,000 black miners. "The Prime Minister of Great Britain has denounced punitive sanctions as immoral and utterly repugnant," said Reagan in July of 1986, "Mrs. Thatcher is right."

"Are we truly helping the black people of South Africa — the lifelong victims of apartheid," said Reagan in his veto, "when we throw them out of work and leave them and their families jobless and hungry in those segregated townships? Or are we simply assuming a moral posture at the expense of the people in whose name we presume to act?"

Zulu Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi had come to see Reagan to implore him to block sanctions, as they would harm his people.

Alan Paton, author of "Cry the Beloved Country," the conscience of South Africa, wrote: "I am totally opposed to disinvestment ...

 primarily for a moral reason. Those who will pay most grievously for disinvestment will be the black workers of South Africa. I take very seriously the teachings of the Gospels, in particular the parables about giving drink to the thirsty and the food to the hungry. I will not help to cause any such suffering to any black person."
"Nor will we," declared Reagan.

He cited an African leader who described South Africa as a zebra: "If the white parts are injured, the black parts will die, too."

The greatest forces for equal opportunity, higher wages and better working conditions in South Africa, said Reagan, are the U.S., British, French, Dutch and German businesses. Sanctions will force them to divest, depart and sell out to Afrikaners at fire-sale prices. How does this help the black majority?

Calling capitalism "the natural enemy of such feudal institutions as apartheid," Reagan noted it was not in the Great Depression but in the prosperity of the 1960s that segregation collapsed in the USA.

While decrying the Pretoria regime's repression, Reagan also attacked "the calculated terror by elements of the African National Congress — the mining of roads, the bombing of public places" and the "most common method of terror ... the so-called necklace. "In this barbaric way of reprisal, a tire is filled with kerosene and gasoline, placed around the neck of an alleged collaborator and ignited. The victim may be a black policeman, a teacher, a soldier, a civil servant — it makes no difference, the atrocity is designed to terrorize blacks into ending all racial cooperation and to polarize South Africa as a prelude to a final climactic struggle for power."

In his speech Reagan called specifically for Nelson Mandela's release, and the release of all political prisoners. Not for four years would Mandela be let go. But when he was, he, like Reagan, recognized that just as Xhosa and Zulu built South Africa, so, too, had 5 million Boers and Brits. And peace between them — reconciliation, not reprisals, not revenge — was essential if the promise of the country was to be realized.

Undeniably, the American right was suspicious of Mandela and an ANC that condoned and practiced terrorism in the struggle for power, and aligned with enemies like Moammar Gadhafi and Fidel Castro. Yet, in the last analysis, Ian Smith, the World War II Spitfire pilot and last ruler of Rhodesia, got it right: "I was right about Mugabe, but wrong about Mandela."

As for Reagan's veto, issued in the face of a certain override during a major epidemic of moral posturing, it was both courageous and correct. No regrets needed.

(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Sanborn – Love it or list it

As of December 1, 2013, there were 987 single family residential homes on the market in the twelve communities covered in this Lakes Region real estate market report. The average asking price was $495,189 and the median price point stood at $249,995. Last December there were 1,023 homes on the market with an average asking price of $498,763. The current inventory level represents an 11.5 month supply of homes on the market.

There are dozens of home improvement and real estate shows on TV these days and many of them are generally pretty informative and entertaining. You can learn how to do everything from the common household repair, to totally renovating a home, to making a fortune flipping houses... well, maybe breaking even flipping houses. One of my favorites lately is Love It or List It on HGTV. It is a pretty neat concept where homeowners that have outgrown their current residence have the opportunity to get their home remodeled to meet their needs while also shopping for a new home that might work better for them. The show is set up as a competition between the designer in charge of the remodel and the real estate agent charged with finding the homeowners some new and better digs. But rarely does anything go smoothly and there are a couple of flaws in the show that are a little misleading and always make me chuckle.

It doesn't take long for you to realize that the show is not based in the United States. It's actually a little north of here, in Toronto and that's not bad as the Canadian housing market is pretty strong. The Canadian accent is clearly the main tip off along with the architectural style of the homes which is slightly different than down here. The high prices of the homes might be another giveaway. It seems that most of the homes are in the $750,000 to $1.5 million for something not all that terribly grand.

There doesn't seem to be a shortage of people that have out grown their homes in Toronto. Seems like storage is always a big issue as stuff is always piled high and rooms are cluttered. There never seems to be enough bedrooms for the kids or bathrooms to go around. Enter Hilary Farr, the designer, and David Visentin, the agent. They get a list of the homeowners' must-haves for the renovation as well as what they would need in order to be enticed to move to a new home. They also get a budget for the renovations and for the new home. That's the easy part. Things generally unravel quickly from there.

Hilary comes up with a renovation plan for the homeowner to approve and sets to work ripping, tearing, and rebuilding. Now Hilary is good at what she does, very good. But I always wonder why she gets herself into the same mess show after show. It seems like in every renovation she does, there are hidden issues that cost more to correct than was budgeted. This leads to her trying to get more money from the unhappy home owner or more likely cutting back on the project which doesn't go over well either. Could the lack of proper budgeting be just a ploy to cause television discourse and increase ratings?

Agent David doesn't have it easy, either. They say he is one of the best real estate agents in Toronto and I believe it. From what I can see he is very personable, works extremely hard, listens to his clients, and does everything to make them happy. I'd hire him in a minute if he could just say "about" instead of "aboot." His problems usually stem from the fact that only one of the spouses wants to move, neither can agree on a new location, and both have different wish lists (That's no different down here south of the border.) So he shows his clients two or three great homes. Just to make the plot thicker, there's always one home they really love, but it is way over their budget (it is Canadian money, so it doesn't seem real anyway.)

Once the renovation work is done everyone meets back at the ranch and the homeowners get to see their newly remodeled home. It is always a stunning makeover and the owners are amazed and thrilled even though she didn't get that first floor powder room or he didn't get that office space he so desperately needs.
The homeowners then have to decide whether they are going to "Love" their home "or List It," but before they do David shows them one more listing; what their own home is worth now that it has been remodeled. Amazingly, their home's value always seems to increase about $30,000 more than the cost of the renovations! In the real world you just don't get over 100% ROI on remodeling your home! I really think there should be a disclaimer on the show; "Do not try this at home!" Some viewers have blogged that the homeowners don't pay for the labor costs of the renovations and that could be true, but I'd like to know for sure. I do know that if they "Love" the remodel that's the end of the story. But, what happens if they "List It?" Can they actually "Sell It" for David's quoted new value? And will the dream home that they want to buy still be there if they do? That, I am betting, might even be a better show...
Please 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 was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 12/1/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 06 December 2013 10:53

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Susan Estrich - All things that can go wrong

You may remember hearing about the Montana judge who sentenced a former high school teacher who admitted to raping a 14-year-old student to 30 days in prison. As if that wasn't bad enough, he blamed the victim, who committed suicide before the case could go to trial.

In the latest chapter of this unusually ugly story, Judge G. Todd Baugh has now admitted to the Montana Judicial Standards Commission that he should not have said that the teenager appeared older than 14 and was "probably as much in control of the situation" as the rapist. In response to a complaint against him filed by the state chapter of the National Organization for Women (which released his response), the judge apologized for those comments, writing that he was "sorry I made those remarks. They focused on the victim when that aspect of the case should have been focused on the defendant."

Actually, the whole case should have focused on the defendant. Blaming the victim, much less a dead 14-year-old victim, is inexcusable at any stage. The teacher, 54-year-old Stacey Dean Rambold, pleaded guilty. How do you get from there to 30 days?

"I believe this sentence to be fair, imposed impartially, and without bias or prejudice," Baugh wrote in response to the complaint. "I did not impose this sentence without weighing the relevant factors, and did not impose this sentence based on some misguided attempt to blame the victim."

The bias or prejudice part was a response to the NOW complaint that the judge had acted as he did because the victim was female and Hispanic. The judge's answer presumably means that he would treat the rape of a young white teenage boy equally cavalierly — although his record on cases involving young male victims is actually much tougher.

I've long defended giving judges discretion in sentencing so that the punishment can fit both the crime and the criminal. Discretion in the criminal justice system, it has been noted by many over the years, is like toothpaste in a tube: Squeeze at one point, and it just shows up somewhere else.
When legislatures pass mandatory sentences or embrace three strikes or two strikes or other politically appealing slogans that should not be enacted into law, they just transfer the discretion from the judge at the sentencing stage to police and prosecutors who decide what to charge and what plea to accept. I prefer that judges make those decisions, not only because they tend to be more experienced than prosecutors, but also because their decisions are more transparent. Sentences are imposed in open court, subject to scrutiny. At least there is that.

What happened in this case illustrates all of the things that can go wrong. The rape took place in 2007. The teacher was charged in 2008 with three counts of rape. In 2010, the victim committed suicide, and the prosecution, apparently concerned that the case would be hard to prove without her testimony (even though she was 14 at the time and the age of consent in Montana is 16), allowed the teacher rapist to enter a sex treatment program and agreed to dismiss the case if he completed treatment.

Am I the only one who thinks that is exactly what's wrong with prosecutorial discretion?

He didn't complete the treatment, and so they reinstated the charge, and he pleaded guilty last April to a single count of rape. The prosecution asked for 20 years with half suspended. The judge decided that was too much (this is what is wrong with judicial discretion) and sentenced him instead to 15 years in prison, and then suspended all but 31 days of the sentence and gave him credit for the one day — one day — he had already served.

But here's the kicker. The sentencing took place back in August. The outcry began in September. But it took the attorney general of Montana until last week to ask the Supreme Court of Montana to overturn the sentence because it is woefully too short.

I wish I could believe it is just a coincidence that the criminal justice system shows itself at its worst in a rape case with a 14-year-old female victim. I don't.

(Susan Estrich is a professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California Law Center. A best-selling author, lawyer and politician, as well as a teacher, she first gained national prominence as national campaign manager for Dukakis for President in 1988.)

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 December 2013 10:05

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Jim Hightower — Watering the weeds & pulling the flowers

December is a time of many holiday feasts — which makes it a good time to remember family farmers and the tremendous contributions they make to our country, culture, taste buds and tummies. But not all farmers contribute equally, which is why I'm sending out this special holiday sentiment to one group of unique agriculturalists: Thbbllllttttt!

That raspberry goes out to 50 billionaires who've been farming the U.S. farm subsidy program for years, harvesting a cornucopia of taxpayer cash for themselves or their corporate empires. They include top executives or owners of such diverse entities as Chase Manhattan Bank, Chick-fil-A, DISH Network, Fiji Water, Hyatt Hotels, Microsoft and Victoria's Secret. The diligent watchdogs of the Environmental Working Group matched the "Forbes 400" list of richest Americans with a farm subsidy database to unmask these Gucci-wearing Old MacDonalds. E-I-E-I-O, what a rip-off!

Among the richest of these faux-farmers are three Walmart heirs, whose personal wealth totals $100 billion. Then there's investment huckster Charles Schwab, sitting on a $5 billion wad of wealth, yet pumping half-a-million dollars worth of rice subsidies into his California duck hunting resort. Also, corporate take-over artist Henry Kravis, who has amassed some $5 billion in wealth, took more than a million dollars from us to subsidize safflower, sunflower and other crops raised on two of his ranches.

Especially jarring is the presence of such multibillionaire right-wingers such as oil and entertainment tycoon Philip Anschutz and nuclear waste mogul Harold Simmons. They've expressed disdain for government spending on poor people and other "takers," yet they've gladly taken more than $500,000 each in farm payments.

Actually, the Working Group's tally understates the total haul by these mega-rich tillers of our public treasury, for many also harvest crop insurance subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. But Congress did them the favor of outlawing any disclosure of this list of names to the public, even though it's our money they receive. In fact, the most valuable ag asset that these billionaires have are the Congress critters who pull their legislative plows and carry this farm abundance to them.
Congress is a very poor gardener, for it keeps watering the weeds and pulling the flowers. A conference committee is presently meeting in Washington to hash out a new, five-year farm bill — and what a hash they're making of it!

For some 40 years, one of the most beneficial flowers in the farm-bill garden has been the food stamp program, a symbiotic benefit for poor people who need the food and farmers who need the income they derive from sales generated by the program. Since 2008, when Wall Street crashed our economy, this flower has been especially worthy, keeping millions of knocked-down families from plunging into full-tilt poverty. Yet, with joblessness still raging unabated and poverty increasing, Congress cut $5 billion from food stamp benefits on Nov. 1, and the House now wants to yank an additional $40 billion from it during the next 10 years. Also, in a nasty, gratuitous slap at these hard-hit families, house leaders want to force them to submit to drug testing to receive food.

Meanwhile, the same gardeners are watering the farm program's noxious weeds. Specifically, they're expanding the $14 billion-a-year crop insurance subsidy, turning it into a guaranteed farm income. And guess who'll get the bulk of the benefits? While the House intends to make food stamp recipients prove that their incomes are low enough to qualify for those meager payments, the crop insurance handout requires no means testing and has no limits on how much recipients can get. This means that billionaires, who're only incidental "farmers," will be among the biggest beneficiaries.

You shouldn't be punished for being poor, and you shouldn't be subsidized if you're a billionaire. To help plant some seeds of common sense in American farm policy, contact the Environmental Working Group: ewg.org

(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".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 December 2013 09:07

Hits: 255

 
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