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Jim Hightower - Law-paid workers; high-flying executives

Sometimes it pays just to go away. You could ask Jim Skinner about that. He was CEO of the hamburger behemoth, McDonald's, pulling down a hefty $8.8 million in pay. Last year, though, Skinner retired, and, rather than getting a gold watch, he was given a load of gold — so large that even a Brink's armored truck would have been too small to haul it all away. His salary of $753,000 was the least of it. The Big Mac chain also served up $1.7 million to the chief in stock and $3 million in option awards. Then it slathered on another $10.2 million in retirement pay. All that was topped by a super-rich dessert: $11.6 million in "incentive pay."

What? Why does a guy with millions already on his food tray need any incentive to do his job? Maybe because Skinner found it hard to stomach the biggest part of his job, which was to pay poverty wages to McDonald's workers, shove thousands of them onto food stamps and other programs paid for by taxpayers, and lobby aggressively to prevent any increases in the minimum wage or any tax hikes on uber-rich elites like him.

It's dirty work, but Skinner did it, finally skipping away with a 2012 pay package totaling $27.7 million. Yet, in the phantasmagoric plutocracy of CorporateLand, too much is not enough. Last year, for the first time ever, the 10 highest-paid CEOs in America hauled in at least $100 million each, even as the great majority of workaday families have lost income.

This gaping (and ever-widening) inequality is the greatest threat to our society's cohesion. Too few people now control an unconscionable and untenable share of America's money and power, using it to grab more of both for themselves. They can build a $100-million wall, but it won't be high enough to hide their greed from the rest of us.

But there's an added dimension to this inequality that you might find especially interesting: Not only are low-wage corporations overly generous to their top dogs, but so are you and I. For example, I'm sure you'll be as delighted as I am to know that we — all of us taxpayers together — contribute day-in and day-out to the very big global cause of Supersizing McDonald's.
The world's largest hamburger chain is a particularly needy charity case, because without your and my generous tax support, the Big Mac bosses in charge would have to pay a living wage to their 860,000-plus American workers. But, thanks to us, the $27 billion-a-year hamburger-flipping flim flammers can get away with paying poverty wages — and then send their workforce to get food stamps, Medicaid, child welfare payments, public housing and other tax-funded poverty benefits. This public subsidy of the Golden Arches adds up to a very golden $1.2 billion a year. What a creative business plan! Who says giant corporations aren't enterprising?

Well, sniff the chain's top executives; we operate on razor-thin profit margins, so we can't afford to throw money at workers. Really? Last year's $5.6 billion in profits doesn't sound thin to me. Also, note that McDonald's more than tripled the pay of its new CEO last year, elevating him from $4.1 million to $13.8 million.

But what really galls its workers (whose low wages and forced part-time schedules mean they average less than $12,000 a year) is that the taxpayer-subsidized profiteer laid out a fat $35 million in October to add a brand new executive jet to its corporate fleet. This one is a "Bombardier 605" with the full package of luxurious amenities, and it cost $2,500 an hour to fly it.

Just flying one hour on the Bombardier cost more than the combined hourly wages of more than 300 McDonald's workers. Remember, you're subsidizing this. Aren't you just "Lovin' it," as the chain's ad slogan puts it? To tell McDonald's CEO that this is immoral, go to OurFuture.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, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Susan Estrich - Bigger problem lurking for Obamacare

Martin Short had the best line at Saturday night's Governors Awards presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: "President Obama said if you like your Oscar, you can keep it."

Presumably, Angelina Jolie will. When a Hollywood crowd (full of Democrats) roars, you know that a complete screw-up by the administration has fully entered the popular culture.

The issues now aren't just fixes — and those won't be easy. The issue is also blame — or rather, responsibility. And even more, principle.

I don't blame Obama for the problems with the website. Yes, the buck stops there, and it certainly was a blunder for which his administration is clearly responsible. But I would bet you any amount of money that every time the president asked about the status of the website, he was told that things were moving along just swimmingly. Problems, sure, but that they were being addressed.

Nobody likes to tell presidents bad news. My bet is that the people who were talking directly to him didn't themselves know the nature of the problems. And before you use this as an excuse to condemn government, remember that the private sector was involved, as well.

But the really good news is that the website problems can be fixed. This is technical stuff, and already there are signs of improvement. There is no question that the administration bungled the rollout, should've done better, should've known and admitted and taken responsibility. But that crisis will pass.

There is a far bigger problem lurking. On its face, it's the "cancellation" issue. Some, maybe most, of the policies being canceled were relatively less expensive policies that provided fewer benefits than those required by the Affordable Care Act. Now, some of us might say good. People need more benefits. Some people had lousy policies because they were the only ones they could buy, and some people had them because they were what they could afford, and some people had them precisely because they were cheap and were all they thought they needed or could afford. They need preventive care and pregnancy care and mental health services and the like.
But here's the rub: All of those things cost money. And there are two possibilities. If you're actually poor or close to it, the government will pay for most or all of those benefits, which is great for you but might be a budget buster for the country. If you're like most people, however — which is to say not poor-poor but definitely on a budget, paycheck to paycheck and all — the cancellations raise a much more fundamental question. Who knows best about how you should spend your money: you or the government?

If that sounds like a political slogan, that's because it is — or rather, it was. Ronald Reagan, 1980. That's how he described the difference between Republicans and Democrats. He wanted to cut taxes because he thought you knew best. The Democrats wanted to raise them because we thought we did.

I'm old enough to remember who won that one, and it was very painful. Ironically, it didn't really apply to the tax cuts Reagan was proposing, which in turn caused huge deficits that we all had to pay for. But (I'm sad to say) it sort of does make sense in understanding what's going on with these subpar policies.

Take the example of the young woman, very entrepreneurial, just bought her first condo, does my makeup every Saturday at Fox. She calls me her surrogate mother. I give advice. Some of it she follows. She is in her 20s and in good health and is more responsible than most young people her age. She has insurance, but it's one of those policies. It doesn't cover pregnancy, and drug coverage is limited. Basically, it's good for a catastrophe. Other than that, she doesn't go to the doctor much and pays when she does.

Now they're canceling that policy and offering her one that costs three times as much and includes a lot of services she doesn't think she needs. And here's the rub: She's probably right. She probably won't use them. Instead, her premiums will be used to support older people who need more services than, frankly, they could ever afford.

She can't remember Reagan, and she can't understand why the government thinks it knows better how she should spend her money than she does. I cringe when I hear that. Worked last time.

(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 Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - Stay the course

The bungled launch of the federal health insurance website has unleashed significant disorder — but not everywhere. Life remains calm in many states that set up their own health care exchanges. Some are so confident of the rightness of the health care reforms that they're rejecting President Obama's proposal to let people keep their inadequate health insurance policies.

"We will not be allowing insurance companies to extend their (substandard) policies," Washington state's insurance commissioner, Mike Kreidler, announced in no uncertain terms.

To recap, insurers canceled several million plans that failed to meet the higher standards of the Affordable Care Act. That left many policyholders angry. Anxiety rose as those in states relying on the federal exchange couldn't get on HealthCare.gov to see their alternatives (which might include pleasant surprises). Facing a revolt by purple-state Democrats, Obama said he'd give states the option of letting people keep their substandard policies.

The public is confused. Insurers are confused. Insurers are also upset because the move messes with the stability of the new insurance pools. The pools stay strong by combining the young and vigorous with the old and sick. The banned bare-bones policies attract the healthy, though many are rip-offs worse than no insurance at all.

Again, the craziness is mainly confined to states that didn't set up their own exchanges. Most state exchanges are humming along, forcing rationality and cost curbing into their health care. Vermont and Rhode Island have joined Washington in saying "no, thanks" to the president's offer. No doubt others will join them.

"My jaw dropped" on hearing Obama's announcement, Kreidler told The Seattle Times. He added the obvious: "Insurance only works if you have a robust pool of good and bad risk."

By the way, about half of the 290,000 Washington residents who received cancellation letters will apparently qualify for subsidies to help buy insurance through the state exchange. Some may learn they can get more for less.
Of course, those in states dependent on the federal website can't see what's out there. Strange that red-state politicians, wedded to the idea that D.C. can't do anything right, left the job of setting up health care exchanges to the federal government. Several are now being forced to extend their high-risk pools — programs for sickly people rejected by private insurers. They are supposed to be phased out under Obamacare.

So Republican Gov. Scott Walker was only half-right when he complained, "In Wisconsin, we are taking action to protect our citizens from the federal government's failure." He neglected to include Wisconsin's failure to set up its own program.

We know what's going on. Most Republicans will not accept the reforms — a virtual carbon copy of conservative blueprints, including former Gov. Mitt Romney's plan in Massachusetts — because Obama wanted them. The politics are so perverse that they'll subsidize the health care of elderly billionaires, the destitute and prisoners but not the working poor and struggling middle class.

To the gasps of local hospital officials, many Republican governors refused to expand Medicaid to more low-income people, though the feds would have paid for nearly all of it. Only 25 states have agreed to the expansion, most run by Democrats.

One prays that the federal government will get its act together soon. In the meantime, let's put things in perspective. As Jonathan Gruber, the MIT economist who helped design the Massachusetts and federal reforms, said on Fox News Channel, we should "stop panicking over days and weeks."

Also note that for every American with a canceled policy, there are 10 uninsured Americans. Many are suffering and will be saved by this law.

What can we say but, "Stay the course." Stay the course.

(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 Monday, 18 November 2013 09:38

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Sanborn – October waterfront sales report

There were 15 waterfront homes sold in October 2013 at an average price of $1.1 million. There were eight sales over the million dollar mark with one exceeding the $2 million price tag. That's a pretty good month in anyone's book. This brings the year's total thus far to 118 sales at an average price of $945,118 compared to 103 sales at $1,056,837 for the first ten months of 2012. That's a 14 percent increase in total sales but a drop of 10 percent in the average sales price.

The highest sale in October on the big lake was at 11 Mallard Way in Moultonborough. This Skiffington, Adirondack style home has 7,500 square feet of living space to get lost in, six bedrooms including the first floor master suite, eight baths, a gourmet chef's kitchen, a great room with wood cathedral ceilings and a floor to ceiling stone fireplace, a family room in the basement, and a fabulous screen porch with its own fireplace. The home sits on a 1.1 acre level, well landscaped lot with 160' of frontage with gorgeous long range sunset views. There's plenty of dockage, a breakwater, and a heated three car garage for the toys. The property was listed at $2.799 million and sold at $2.6 million after only being on the market for one day. I presume it was listed with a ready and willing buyer in hand. It is currently assessed at $2,747,700.

The median price sale was at 140 Scenic Drive in Gilford. This 3,675 square foot, open concept contemporary home has absolutely gorgeous views of the lake and the mountains beyond. It was built in 1972 and features five bedrooms, four baths, cathedral ceilings, stone fireplace, and a wonderful deck overlooking a great back yard. The house sits on a .72 acre lot with 190' of frontage, a breakwater, and a double U-shaped dock. Fantastic frontage and a great location. This home did need a little TLC. It was listed back in Feb 2010 at $1.19 million and finally sold for $1.05 million after a total of 683 days on the market. It is currently assessed at $755,000.

The lowest priced waterfront sold in October was at 902 Rattlesnake Island. This was really more about the lot as the 168 square foot cabin clearly wouldn't hold much more than a box of rattlesnakes. The .78 acre lot has 101 feet of frontage, a breakwater, and a dock. Now all you need is a sleeping bag. The property was listed at $105,000 and sold for $94,000 after 35 days on the market. It is assessed at $119,700.

There were two sales on Winnisquam in October. The property at 87 Tucker Shore Road in Belmont sold after 925 days on the market. It was listed back in January 2011 for $369,900, was re-listed and reduced to $339,000 and sold at $323,000. It is currently assessed at $337,100. This property consists of a 1950s vintage, 1,056 square foot, three bedroom cottage on a .11 acre lot with 50' of frontage and a dock. The other sale was at 76 Black Brook Road in Meredith . This 3,007 square foot contemporary home was built in 1902 but is thoroughly modern and tasteful. It has four bedrooms, two of which are suites, three and a half baths, two fireplaces, a cathedral ceiling living room, family room, and eat-in kitchen. The home sits on a beautifully landscaped, 1.77 acre lot with an amazing 300' of frontage. This property was offered at $829,000 and sold for full price going under contract in just eight days. It is currently assessed at $672,900.

There were three sales on Squam; 16 Grapevine Cove in Holderness at $385,000, 74 Mountain Ivy Lane in Holderness at $1,338,000, and 186 Metcalf Road in Sandwich for $1.9 million. The Metcalf Road property is a 1,800 square foot, three bed, two bath, farmhouse style home built in 2002 on a 2.9 acre lot with 373' of frontage and two docks. There is a separate guest cottage with a bath, a large barn, plus a small outbuilding by the lakeside that houses a sauna. Sounds perfectly Squammie to me...

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 11/12/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 15 November 2013 07:19

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Pat Buchanan - A deal with Iran? Or war with Iran?

If Bibi Netanyahu succeeds in closing down America's diplomatic path to detente with Iran, only the road to war will remain open.

Which is exactly what Bibi wants. For what terrifies Tel Aviv, and rattles Riyadh, is not a U.S. war with Iran, but the awful specter of American rapprochement with Iran, a detente.

Thus, when France's foreign minister torpedoed the deal John Kerry flew to Geneva to sign, France soared in neocon esteem. The "cheese-eating surrender monkeys " of 2003 who opposed the Iraq war suddenly became again the heroes of Verdun and the Marne. "Vive La France" blared the Wall Street Journal editorial declaiming, "Francois Hollande's Socialist Government has saved the West from a deal that would all but guarantee that Iran becomes a nuclear power."

Did Hollande really save the West? Or did he just rack up points with the Saudi princes for when the next big arms contract comes up for bid?

What is going on is a gravely serious matter. If the Netanyahu cabal succeeds in sabotaging U.S. negotiations with Iran, it is hard to see how we avoid another war that could set the Persian Gulf region ablaze and sink the global economy.

And just what is it that has Netanyahu apoplectic? A six-month deal under which Iran would freeze all enrichment of uranium, in return for a modest lifting of sanctions, while the final agreement is negotiated. The final deal would put permanent limits and controls on Iran's nuclear program to ensure it is not used to build bombs And there would be more and more intrusive inspections.

How would this imperil Israel? Iran today has no atom bomb. Has never tested a bomb. Has never exploded a nuclear device. Possesses not a single known ounce of 90 percent enriched uranium, which is essential for a uranium bomb. Nor does Iran have enough 20 percent uranium to make a bomb. And part of the stockpile it did have has been converted into fuel rods. There are inspectors in all of Iran's operating nuclear facilities.

The Ayatollah has declared a fatwa against nuclear weapons. The Hassan Rouhani regime says it has no nuclear weapons program. And U.S. intelligence agrees with Iran. All 16 U.S. intelligence agencies in 2007, and, again, two years ago, said, with high confidence, that Iran has made no decision to build a bomb and has no nuclear weapons program. How would new restrictions and reductions on an Iranian nuclear program that has never produced an ounce of weapons-grade uranium, let alone a bomb, threaten Israel, with its hundreds of atom bombs?

"You can't trust the Iranians. They're lying about their nuclear program," says Lindsey Graham.
Is U.S. intelligence also lying? Ten years ago, it turned out Saddam was telling the truth and it was Lindsey's friends doing the lying about Iraq's WMDs. Looks like the same old crowd up to the same old tricks.

To abort Obama's Iran initiative, Bibi is moving on four tracks. First, get Congress to accept Israel's nonnegotiable demand that "Iran must give up all enrichment, shut down all nuclear facilities and ship all enriched uranium abroad" before any sanctions are lifted. This is an ultimatum masquerading as a negotiating position. Acceptance would entail an Iranian surrender Rouhani could never take home. It is a deal killer. Everyone knows it, even the Republicans now embracing the Israeli position as their own.

Second, persuade Israel's collaborators in Congress to impose harsh new sanctions, rub Iran's nose in them, and scuttle the talks.

Third, arouse Jewish communities worldwide to pressure home governments to block any deal.

Sunday, Bibi told the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of North America that what Kerry was prepared to sign was a "bad and dangerous deal" that threatened Jewish survival, and, "on matters of Jewish survival, I will not be silenced." Bibi intends to use the explosive issue of imperiled Jewish survival to break Obama and Kerry and force them to abandon their Iranian initiative.

Finally, the Israeli lobby is behind the push by Lindsay Graham and Rep. Trent Franks to have Congress preemptively surrender its war powers, by authorizing Obama to launch a war on Iran at a time of his own choosing, without any further consultation with Congress.

Remarkable. Self-proclaimed constitutional Republicans are about to vote Barack Obama a blank check for war.

What the GOP fears is another episode like the one last summer where America rose as one and told Congress not to authorize any war on Syria. A panicked Congress capitulated, and there was no war.

Today, though Obama and Kerry insist "all options are on the table," Obama has no more authority to attack Iran today than he did Syria last summer. Hill Republicans seek to remedy that by a preemptive congressional surrender of their war power.

One wonders if Netanyahu and his amen corner in Congress have considered the backlash worldwide should they succeed in scuttling Geneva and putting this nation on the fast track to another Mideast war Israel and Saudi may want but America does not.

(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, 13 November 2013 08:44

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