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Froma Harrop - U.S. & Canada: Together at last?

What country do Americans overwhelmingly like the most? Canada.

What country do Canadians pretty much like the most? America.

What country has the natural resources America needs? Canada.

What country has the entrepreneurship, technology and defense capability Canada needs? America.

Has the time come to face the music and dance? Yes, says Diane Francis, editor-at-large at the National Post in Toronto. Her book "Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country" is both provocative and persuasive.

"The genius of both societies is that they are very good at assimilating people from all over the world," Francis told me. "So why can't they do it themselves?"

Relatively small differences are why. Canadian intellectuals have long portrayed the United States as their violent, unruly twin. Many conservatives in this country, meanwhile, deride Canada as the socialistic land of single-payer medicine, gun control and other heavy regulation.

"I don't buy the narrative of American exceptionalism or Canadian superiority," says Francis, a dual citizen (born in Chicago). "Both have good points and bad points."

Americans close to the border already think a lot like Canadians, she notes. Some northern states actually have more liberal laws and lower crime rates than Canada's. "They are more Canadian than Canadians."

But set aside these "local" considerations. There's a big, scary reason the countries should merge: to create a united front against outside aggressors, especially China and Russia. These countries' sights are set on Canada's rich and poorly defended open spaces.

"Neither nation upholds the same values as Canadians or Americans," Francis writes, "and they represent Trojan horses that are eager to partition an already weak, fragmented Canada."

She goes on: "China has targeted Canada for years because of its enormous oil sands, its undeveloped resources, its dominant Arctic position, its backdoor entry into the U.S. market and technology sector, and its vast landmass capable of supporting millions more people."
For example, China's state-run oil company was able to buy Nexen, the Canadian oil giant, for $15 billion — despite loud public opposition and warnings by Canadian intelligence. China got a trade deal giving it special market access for 31 years, while Canadians are still banned from buying China's iconic corporations.

Meanwhile, the melting Arctic is exposing massive resources. Canadian blood pressure rose when Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov announced, "The Arctic is Russian" — and then his sub planted a Russian flag on the seabed.

Canada can hardly defend its territory in an age of resource grabbing while ranking 14th in defense spending and 74th in military manpower. Only the United States can do that, which, of course, it's been doing all along. Americans are tiring of providing free rides to other countries.

The United States and Canada could reach the altar by several paths. One would start with a single currency, move to a customs union and end at political union. Europe is already at monetary union. "The countries have different health care systems, different taxes, but there's no border."

What does each partner have to offer? "Canada's best assets include its resources, stability and banking system, its strong relationship with the United States and an educated, law-abiding people," according to Francis.

America offers a culture of risk taking and entrepreneurship. It leads the world in technology and defense.

"There's no excuse for two countries as similar as us to not get rid of the border after 26 years of free trade," Francis says.

A merged Canada and U.S. would occupy more land than Russia or all of South America. It would become an energy and economic powerhouse less subject to foreign intrigue.

And few countries would mess with either of us.

(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, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Bob Meade - How frail is our Constitution?

Our Constitution was written by men who had lived under tyranny. They fought against unfair taxation without representation. They yearned for independence and the freedoms that would stem from it. They wanted a government that would do the bidding of the people, and a government structure that would inhibit power. They believed as Lord Acton had said, that . . . "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

The combination of their courage and their brilliance forged a document that spread power through three co-equal branches of government, as a way to avoid tyranny from a singular force. Changes would be slowed by the process, with split legislative branches having to reach compromise on the laws they would present to the Executive branch for signature and approval. And, if the people affected by the changes didn't agree, they could petition the third branch, the Judiciary for a redress of their grievances, and that branch would be apolitical and decide based on the law's constitutionality. That system worked well and contributed largely to the overwhelming success of our country . . . becoming the richest, the most powerful, the most generous, and the most free that the world has ever known.

Perhaps the most often overlooked feature however, is that the "separation of powers" worked because each branch respected the role of and need for the other. Our government was never intended to give one branch, or one individual, or one political group all the power. To do so would confirm, sadly, Lord Acton's wisdom. To do so would also put us on a course of diminishing freedoms and, as they diminished, they would be replaced with tyranny.

But now, we are beginning to see the frailties of our constitution. We see that if we begin to remove the respect by one branch towards another, we not only have differences between the three governmental structures for all the world to see, we evolve a distrust among the people, the citizens, who begin to "choose sides" based on their personal interest or gain, and not necessarily for the good of the country.

Some examples of constitutional frailty: The Tenth Amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." This important Amendment was intended to keep the power close to the people the government was to serve. Over time, those "States Rights" have been whittled away as the federal government imposes itself into areas not granted to it by the Constitution. One example is in education where, since 1977, the federal government has built an ever growing bureaucracy that has been imposing itself into what is constitutionally, within the purview of the States. As membership in teachers' unions has grown, so have the ranks of teachers. As a youngster, everyone in my family entered first grade at age five. At graduation from high school, the class was made up of 16 and 17 year olds, with a few who may have been "held back" being a year older. Gradually, as unions pushed to increase their ranks, the "need" for a kindergarten became the thirteenth grade and increased teachers' positions by over 8 percent. During that time, our reading-math-science scores have declined, not improved. Now the federal government is pushing for what they call the "common core" curriculum, and is also making a hard drive to start children in school at the age of four, throughout the country. It seems like there is an executive branch desire to reward failure with more union membership and, perhaps, another year of federalized student indoctrination. If the states don't fight for their rights guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment, will we see a continuing decline in our academic results? Probably!

Another example of our constitutional frailty can be seen in the executive branch's cabinet structure. The Justice Department reports to the executive branch, the president, and is responsible to see that the laws of the land are enforced. In other words, what has been enacted by the Congress, signed into law by a president, and has not been challenged and found to be in violation of the Constitution, is to be enforced by the Justice Department. However, we have seen numerous instances where this has not been done. We have also seen where the current department head has been less than forthcoming in answers to congressional oversight committees, and has been chastised by the courts for not being truthful when seeking approvals to wiretap a member of the press corps, and his family and business associates. Who prosecutes the prosecutor?

And yet another in a long list of potential examples is the executive branch signing a law that included specific dates of action, and then arbitrarily waving conditions of the law for selected groups, and changing specified implementation dates without ever having the law modified. Should not the Justice Department take some action for the laws being violated? Shouldn't the House and the Senate be granted "standing" so that they could bring those actions to the court when the Justice Department fails to do so?

Our Supreme Judicial Court is supposed to rule on a law's constitutionality. If that were so, would we have a clear left-right partisan divide, with issues of great importance being decided by a "swing vote" justice? Would we permit a Justice to openly state that he looks to see how jurists have decided similar cases in other, non-Constitutional countries? Would we put on the court a Justice with no previous experience as a jurist?

There are many examples of the frailty of our Constitution, of how it can be twisted and abused. But that frailty can be overcome if people, especially our politicians, put country before party. Otherwise, tyranny awaits.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Monday, 07 April 2014 08:11

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Jeane Forrester - Why I voted against 4¢ hike in gas tax

Just recently I received an e-mail from a constituent asking me to oppose Senate Bill 367, which called for raising the gas tax in New Hampshire. He gave some compelling reasons for his argument (including the concern that as the I-93 expansion gets the bulk of funding, our rural roads and bridges are suffering). On the other end of the spectrum, there have been pleas from the Commissioner of the N.H. Department of Transportation (NHDOT) to not only raise the gas tax, but to also support the passage of gambling — both to be used as revenue sources to fund NHDOT.

I think everyone agrees that good roads and bridges are critical to our safety, quality of life, and overall economy. And not unlike many other states across the country, New Hampshire faces some real challenges in determining how to fund our transportation system in a fair and cost effective way. With limited resources, we need to manage the maintenance and repair of existing infrastructure and determine what projects are a priority.

As background, New Hampshire has two road systems, each funded differently. Our turnpike system has about 89 miles of highway and 164 bridges and various toll plazas. The Turnpike Fund provides revenue for this system through tolls and is in good financial shape. (There have been two toll increases in recent years.)

The other road system includes about 4,300 miles of state roads and 2,129 state bridges. The sources of revenue to pay for this system are road tolls (aka the gas tax), motor vehicle related fees and surcharges (e.g. registration fees), and federal funds. The Highway Fund is the sole source of revenue for funding the maintenance of the state's highway infrastructure, as well as the construction projects contained in the state's Ten Year Transportation Improvement Plan.

In addition, under state statute, towns and cities collectively receive 12 percent of the preceding year's total road toll and motor vehicle fee collections. Finally, there is a diversion of highway funds to other agencies including the Department of Safety, the Judicial Branch, the Department of Justice, and the Highway Safety Agency. (In the 2016/17 NHDOT budget projections, the diversion amounts to $83 million and $85 million respectively (Projected Highway Fund revenue for 2016/17 is $231.9 million and $231.3 million respectively).

For the period 2006 through 2015, total spending by the NHDOT increased by over $120 million. Fueled by a historic spike in road construction projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), unprecedented bonding for capital projects, and increased operational expenses, the NHDOT total spending climbed nearly 20 percent over the last decade. Salaries and benefits are budgeted to increase approximately 12 percent over the next two years alone, costing $26 million. Employee benefits are among the fastest rising pieces of the NHDOT budget. While personnel expenses have actually fallen slightly from their peak during ARRA, benefits continue to rise.

According to NHDOT current projections, the Highway Fund will be cumulatively negative $50.8 million by the end of fiscal year 2016 and by $103.1 million by the end of fiscal year 2017, just in the operational portion of their budget. The department also estimates the cost of certain capital projects (completion of I-93, paving, state bridge program, etc.) could add approximately $100 million per year.

While Senate Bill 367 (the 4 cent increase in the gas tax) attempted to solve the NHDOT funding problem, it unfortunately fell short of the mark. SB-367 was estimated to raise $32 million annually, which would not even cover the operational shortfall that NHDOT projects, let alone fund any additional capital projects. Based on NHDOT projections, in order to cover the anticipated operational costs and fund $100 million in additional capital related projects per year, it would take an approximate $0.20 increase in the gas tax beginning in fiscal year 2016 for the Highway Fund to end the fiscal year 2016-2017.

Further, transportation experts agree that the traditional per gallon gas tax is not a long-term sustainable funding source. For nearly a century, gas taxes helped build America's transportation system. But today, gas tax revenues are declining. Americans are reducing their gas consumption by driving less and when we do drive, we are using fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles more frequently.

The need for infrastructure improvements far outpace the funding available and raising taxes amid the specter of a still struggling economy is burdensome. Rather than pass a tax that does little to address the projected shortfalls, we need a thoughtful and comprehensive solution.

To that end, I have co-sponsored legislation (SB-416) with Sens. Bradley, Morse, and Odell to prohibit certain allocations of highway funds and to establish a committee to study methods of maintaining highway fund integrity. Once this committee is established, it should look at setting priorities (a fix-it-first before starting new projects approach), Best Management Practices (e.g., vendor contracts, latest technology, etc.), and private-public partnerships, as well as possible revenue sources.

As always, I want to hear from you. If you have a concern you'd like to share, an event you'd like me to attend, or a problem you think I might be able to help with–please call or e-mail (271.4980 [o] or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ). If you would like to subscribe to my e-newsletter, visitwww.jeanieforrester.com and sign up.

(Republican Jeane Forrester of Meredith represents District 2 in the N.H. State Senate.)

 

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 09:06

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Susan Estrich - Our democracy shouldn't be for sale

The Supreme Court has done it again. By a 5-4 vote, with the court's five Republican appointees on one side and the four Democratic appointees on the other, the court struck down limits on total contributions to federal campaigns that have been enforced and were specifically upheld in 1976. What the 1976 court saw in Buckley v. Valeo as a "quite modest restraint upon protected political activity" that serves "to prevent evasion" of the limits on contributions to campaigns, the 2014 court has now held violates the fundamental protection of political speech enshrined in the First Amendment.

The arms race for money is not completely out of control. Sure, an individual still can only give $5,200 to an individual candidate ($2,600 for the primary, and $2,600 for the general) and is limited to $32,500 to national party committees, $10,000 to state and local committees, and $5,000 to other committees. But whereas the old law limited contributions to federal candidates and committees to $74,600 every two years, now there are no total limits at all.

For most of us, of course, these limits are meaningless. How many people can afford $74,600 in political contributions? We are in the world of the 1 percent already. But now those 1 percenters can give millions or tens of millions. Already maxed out on one committee? Believe me, someone will create another. There is no limit to the avenues to contribute and no law against it, thanks to the Supreme Court.

Does it matter? Of course it does. Sure, having more money is no guarantee of victory. But between having more and having less, every candidate alive would rather have more. And they are grateful, most grateful, to have more, however it comes in — including from other candidates and their funds, committees, the party, supposedly "independent" groups and individuals. Very grateful. You don't get a picture in a silver frame when you give this kind of money. You get access and a hearing and maybe a feather on the scale — not something anyone can prove, but enough for it to be a wise business decision and not just an expression of constitutionally protected political beliefs.

And while it is certainly true that both political parties play this game, it is not true that everyone does. As former Sen. Bob Dole famously observed decades ago, every business interest may have a political committee, but poor children don't. There are no million-dollar donations coming in from single mothers struggling to make ends meet, from homeless families seeking shelter, from the 99 percent of Americans who don't even earn enough to make this new decision of any immediate significance to them.

As for the argument that disclosure solves all problems, reality is to the contrary. Oh, once in a while we hear a story about a clumsy contribution from someone who is seeking federal funds at the very same time. Sophisticated donors don't make that mistake. They've figured out ways to avoid disclosure altogether through supposed "grassroots" committees that are anything but.

Moreover, disclosure is a one-day story at best: an enterprising reporter digging through FEC reports trying to match names and companies and issues. But very few people are around for or follow up on the calls and meetings that happen months later. Moreover, the very goal of many big donors is nothing: forestall legislation to assure that nothing is done when something should be. How do you follow that?

Democracy should be sacrosanct. It should not be for sale. The venerable principle of "one person, one vote" is essentially meaningless when a tiny percent of all Americans, by writing checks and forming supposedly independent and grassroots committees, can and do wield undue influence on the process and its elected beneficiaries.

I certainly support the Founders' vision of an independent judiciary: appointed, not elected, and serving for life. But on days like today, I can't help but wonder whether the five-man majority might see things a little bit differently if they had to raise money — and be beholden to moneyed interests — in order to win and keep their jobs.

(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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Sanborn — Realtors have cure for log cabin fever

There were 54 residential home sales in February, 2014 in the twelve thriving Lakes Region communities covered in this real estate market report. The average sales price came in at $332,695 and the median price point stands at $214,500. Last February there were just 46 transactions at an average price of $268,188.

A guy walked into our office last week and I could tell right away he was extremely ill. He appeared very agitated, irritated, and almost delirious. A vein was practically bulging out of his forehead; he was perspiring and muttering somewhat incoherently. I immediately recognized that he was suffering from both Type I and Type II Cabin Fever. We see that a lot this time of year. It is almost an epidemic.

Type I Cabin Fever is probably the more common of the two types this time of year; especially after the gloomy, cold, and snowy winter we have had. Generally speaking, those afflicted suffer from moderate to severe depression, bouts of uncontrollable anger, and nightmares that you are in an Expedia commercial. This type of Cabin Fever can be treated easily by extended vacations to warmer climates and liberal amounts of alcoholic beverages. These are usually prescribed together.

Type II Cabin Fever is somewhat rarer and afflicts those with a pent up desire to get back to basics and live a simpler life in a rustic log cabin. Type II is harder and much more expensive to cure and unfortunately is not covered by the Affordable Care Act. There's a lot of anxiety associated with Type II, sometimes to the point of being totally debilitating. It can sometimes be put into remission by extended stays in the Alaskan wilderness, but generally it will come back after returning from the wilds.

The only real cure is to buy a log cabin and live in it until all of the symptoms subside. Right now there are over a dozen log cabins available in Belknap County alone ranging from as little as $134,900 all the way up to $1.15 million for those most seriously afflicted. Here are a couple of homes that might provide relief.

One cabin that looks really nice is at 296 Knox Mtn. Road in Sanbornton. This is a 2,574 square foot, high quality, four bedroom, two bath home. It has Brazilian walnut floors, custom kitchen with granite counter tops, a great room with cathedral ceilings and a gas fireplace, a finished basement, loft, and a great wrap-around porch. Built in 2007, it sits on a nicely landscaped half acre lot and is offered at $325,000. There's also an additional 62 acres of land available for $125,000 if you are extremely contagious and don't want to spread the disease.

The cabin located at 1069 Route 140 in Gilmanton also looks like a cure. It has 2,682 square feet of space, three beds, three baths, a great room with a massive stone fireplace, first floor master, eat in kitchen with silestone counter tops, lots of windows to brighten things up, and a farmer's porch. The house sits on a 5.18 acre lot with mountain views. The property is on the market for a mere $349,000 which is a lot cheaper than intensive care these days.

I was going to tell you about this nice water access log home down at 57 Loon Cove in Alton which would have provided intense therapy, but before I could finish writing this it went under agreement. This home was built in 1986 and has 1,984 square feet of living space, three bedrooms, and two baths. It has a well appointed kitchen with center-island that flows into a large dining area, the requisite great room with cathedral ceilings, skylights, floor to ceiling brick fireplace, all wood interior, game room in the basement, and a farmer's porch. This home might not be right on the water, but there is a golf cart path that leads to the lake where there is 150' of frontage and a deeded dock. The house sits on a .69 acre landscaped lot. It was listed at $328,000. While your cabin fever might still be raging, at least one other person is cured. That's what we realtors do: cure people...

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 2/1/14. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 04 April 2014 05:49

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