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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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Steve Norton & Daniel Barrick - Redefining New Hampshire's Economic Advantage

What is New Hampshire's strategy for economic growth? Does it center on high-tech manufacturing? Tourism? The "green" economy? Is it focused on attracting young professionals and families to the state? Or cater to our growing retiree population? What role should the state's colleges and universities play in this?

For a long time, the state enjoyed relative prosperity without needing a clearly defined economic strategy. With high rates of in-migration, a clean environment, a comparative advantage in tax structure, and proximity to the Boston metropolitan area, New Hampshire benefited from decades of strong economic growth. But with fewer people moving into the state in recent years, New Hampshire's decision-makers realize they need to craft a conscious strategy to maintain our many economic and quality of life advantages.

For the past six months, the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies has been sifting through dozens of measurements of New Hampshire's economy and business climate. Our goal: To devise a more data-based method of understanding the state's strengths and challenges, and how those stack up to the rest of the country. We tried to cover a wide range of measures: college-going rates, real estate prices prices, bridge and road conditions, business taxes, energy prices, volunteering rates, health care costs, and dozens more. And we compared New Hampshire to our New England neighbors, as well as a handful of competitor states that are faring well in post-recession world.

What does the data tell us? As a snapshot of current conditions, our numbers indicate that New Hampshire is doing quite well in many measures of economic health. But many of the areas where New Hampshire excels — high levels of home ownership, high levels educational attainment and high rates of health insurance coverage, among others — point to past or current conditions. In other words, they are the result of policies and trends that have been in place for some time but don't necessarily guarantee much about the economy of coming years.

By contrast, in many of the more "future-oriented" measures — average student debt loads, growth in the 35-to-44-year-old share of the population, housing costs, and the rate of college-going among high school graduates — New Hampshire rates much less favorably. Why is this worrisome? Many of these measures are directly linked to the state's ability to attract and retain young people and arm them with the skills needed to compete for good jobs in coming years.
In addition, and perhaps more troubling for short-term economic planning, New Hampshire ranks poorly on several measures of business costs, including energy and health care expenses.

Any economy is a complicated system of shifting, inter-related factors, and reducing it to a handful of data points over-simplifies matters. But this data should help provoke discussion around the question of what New Hampshire's economic goals and priorities should be. The answer to that, in turn, will be determined by figuring out how and against whom New Hampshire is competing for economic growth and human capital. Do we want to emphasize luring businesses with our highly-educated, flexible workforce, despite high business costs? Do we want to cast a wider net, and compete against states like Colorado, Utah and Virginia, which are attracting skilled young professionals looking for places that offer high wages and a high quality of life? And what specific industries might offer us the best competitive advantage?

At the same time, policymakers will want to focus on indicators specific to the state's local economies, as some measurements may tell a more useful story when measured at the regional level. For instance, the statewide data about college attainment levels obscures vast differences across New Hampshire, with much higher rates of college attainment in the state's southern tier and lower levels in the North Country and rural areas. If policymakers want to attract employers to particular regions of the state, they must acknowledge the specific challenges posed by these varying levels of education, among other factors.

There are several existing initiatives across the state grappling with these very issues, including attempts at developing stronger partnerships between community colleges and local employers, incentives to develop "green" start-up companies, and efforts to increase New Hampshire's homegrown science, technology and engineering workforce.

Of course, no one approach will meet all of New Hampshire's economic needs. But identifying policies that address real needs as reflected in objective data is a place where any conversion about the state's future needs to start.

(Steve Norton is executive director and Dan Barrick is deputy director of the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies. The Center is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization that pursues data-driven research on public policy. Established in 1996, the Center's mission is to raise new ideas and improve policy debates through quality information and analysis on issues shaping New Hampshire's future. Its work includes research on the state budget, public school funding and health care finance. More information at nhpolicy.org.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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