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Jim Hightower - Getting ahead on the backs of others

Having been raised in a small-business family and now running my own small outfit, I always find it heartwarming to see hardworking, enterprising folks get ahead.

So I was really touched when I read that, even in these hard times, one extended family with three generations active in their enterprise is hanging in there and doing well. Christy, Jim, Alice, Robbie, Ann and Nancy are their names — and with good luck and old-fashioned pluck, they have managed to build a fairly sizeable family nest egg. In fact, it totals right at $103 billion for the six of them. Yes, six people, 100-plus billion bucks. That means that these six hold more wealth than the entire bottom 40 percent of American families — a stash of riches greater than the combined wealth of some 127 million Americans.

How touching is that?

The "good luck" that each of them had is that they were either born into or married into the Walton family, which makes them heirs to the Walmart fortune. That's where the "pluck" comes in, for the world's biggest retailer plucks its profits from the threadbare pockets of low-wage American workers and impoverished sweatshop workers around the world.

Four of the Walton heirs rank as the sixth, ninth, 10th and 11th richest people in our country, possessing a combined net worth of $95 billion. But bear in mind that "net worth" has no relationship to worthiness — these people did nothing to earn their wealth; they just inherited it. And, as Walmart plucks more from workers, the heirs grow ever luckier. In recent years, while the wealth of the typical family plummeted by 39 percent, the Waltons saw their wealth grow by 22 percent — without having to lift a finger.

How odd then that the one-percenters (on in this case, the 1/100 of one-percenters) are hailing themselves as our country's "makers," while snidely referring to workaday people as "takers." With the Waltons, it's the exact opposite.

Indeed, you'd think that the Bentonville billionaires would realize that their fortunes are tied directly to these disparage. Apparently, they're unaware that America's economic recovery cannot truly be measured in the performance of the stock market but instead should be gauged by the sock market.

Most economists, pundits and politicos see today's boom in stocks and say: "See, the recovery is going splendidly!" But they should go to such stores as Kohl's, Target and even the Walton's very own Walmart and find out what's selling.

The answer would be socks. Even in the present back-to-school season (usually the second-biggest buying spree of the year), sales are sluggish at best, with customers foregoing any spending on their kids except for socks, underwear and other essentials.
This is not only an economic indicator but also a measure of the widening inequality in America. The highly ballyhooed "recovery" has been restricted to the few at the top who own nearly all of the stocks, get paychecks of more than $100,000 a year and shop at upscale stores. But meanwhile, the many don't have any cash to spare beyond necessities. Walmart's chief financial officer seems puzzled by this reality. There is, as he put it last week, "a general reluctance of customers to spend on discretionary items."

Golly, sir, why are those ingrates reluctant? Could it be because job growth in our supremely wealthy country has been both lackluster and miserly? Yes — jobs today are typically very low paying, part-time and temporary with no benefits. Mr. Walmart-man should know this, since his retail behemoth is the leading culprit in downsizing American jobs to a poverty level in order to further enrich those at the very top, including Christy, Jim, Alice, Robbie, Ann and Nancy. In recent months, corporate honchos at the Arkansas headquarters have directed Walmart managers not to hire at all or to concentrate on hiring temporary and part-time workers, while cutting the hours of many full-time employees

Since the Great Recession "ended" in 2009, Walmart has slashed 100,000 people from its U.S. workforce, even as it added some 350 stores. In addition, while the giant banked more than $4 billion in profit just in the last three months, the chieftains changed the corporate rules to make it harder and costlier for employees to get Walmart's meager health care plan.

Yet, executives wonder why customers aren't buying "discretionary" items. Hello — even your own workers can't afford to buy anything in the store besides socks.

(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, 28 August 2013 11:32

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Froma Harrop - We all need moderate Republicans

Moderate Republicans are, were, good things. I use the past tense "were" because as they became rarities, the centrists' chief function was preserving majorities in Congress for their radicalized party.
New England used to send lots of moderate Republicans to Washington. No more, and it's not because there aren't attractive Republican candidates. It's because the ones representing liberal-to-moderate regions became scapegoats at which party extremists directed their primal screams.
There arose the stupid "RINO (Republican in name only) Hunters Club," courtesy of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies. In 2005, Rush Limbaugh pounded away at Republican "traitors" in the Senate, adding that "they all happen to be from the Northeast, and they all happen to be moderates. They all happen to be liberals."
And now they all happen to be gone, except for a few exceptions. Thus, the Senate has a Democratic majority.
Defenders of the older, more marketable Republican brand are trying to curb the party's more feverish elements. In 2012, the enraged ones purged Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a revered statesman virtually assured of winning the general election. Instead, they chose a nominee expounding bizarrely on rape, and he lost to Democrat Joe Donnelly. And in 2010, similarly flawed Republican candidates saved the hides of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada and Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado.
Wily Democrats have fueled the self-destruction by piping money into the campaigns of the most unelectable Republicans, also known as Tea Party favorites. During the primary, American Bridge and other Democratic groups ran ads noting that Lugar had agreed to raise the debt ceiling, the only responsible stance but one right-wingers reviled.
Playing the hard-liners for fools is not a monopoly of the Democratic Party. In the final weeks of the close 2000 presidential election, Republican groups famously funneled money to third-party candidate Ralph Nader, whom some prominent and very naive left-wingers backed as preferable to the centrist Al Gore. The result was President George W. Bush.
As interest in the 2016 presidential race ignites, Republican reformers are turning uneasily to the electoral season's kickoff in Iowa: the Ames straw poll and the caucuses. Iowa is a swing state with registered voters divided equally among Democrats, Republicans and independents. But participants in the early Republican contests are heavy with hotheads eager to magnify their power.
The Ames straw poll is grossly undemocratic. Its participants last time around judged Rep. Michele Bachmann to be best-qualified to become president. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney stayed away from the fringe-dominated poll and became the party's nominee.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is back touring Iowa, as are the right-wing populists Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Some speculate that more viable Republican contenders, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, will choose to skip the pointless straw poll.
As Republican strategist Mike Murphy colorfully put it, the heavyweights may stay away and "let Santorum, Cruz and Bozo the Clown all fight it out."
Crashing respect for the straw poll threatens the caucuses that follow, themselves not a model of democratic procedure. Thus, some Iowa Republicans, led by Gov. Terry Branstad, want to get rid of it. This would deprive a small number of radicals the opportunity to commandeer a high-profile contest, which is the idea.
In a recent conversation, a rich benefactor of the Democratic Party stopped his usual attack on Republicans to express worry about the survival of their party. Moderates of all political stripes want a choice. Without responsible Republicans, the Democrats can get sloppy, and America's challenges go unmet.
A return of the Republican moderate would be good all around.

(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, 26 August 2013 09:50

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Michael Barone - Stop & Frisk doesn't target minorities, it protects them

New York City seems on the verge of making the same mistake that Detroit made 40 years ago. The mistake is to abolish the NYPD practice referred to as stop and frisk.

It's more accurately called stop, question and frisk. People were stopped and questioned 4.4 million times between 2004 and 2012. But the large majority were not frisked.

The effectiveness of this police practice, initiated by Mayor Rudy Giuliani in 1994 and continued by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is not in doubt. The number of homicides — the most accurately measured crime — in New York fell from a peak of 2,605 in 1990 to 952 in 2001, Giuliani's last year in office, to just 414 in 2012.

Nevertheless, the three leading Democratic mayoral candidates in the city's September primary all have pledged to end stop and frisk. And last week, federal judge Schira Scheindlin, in a lawsuit brought by 19 men who have been stopped and frisked, found that the practice is unconstitutional and racially discriminatory.

Bloomberg has promised to appeal, and several of Scheindlin's decisions in high-profile cases have been reversed. But the leading Democratic candidates for mayor promise, if elected, to drop the appeal.

The two leading Republican candidates support stop and frisk, but their chances of election seem dim in a city that voted 81 percent for Barack Obama in 2012.

What riles opponents of stop and frisk is that a high proportion of those stopped are young black and Hispanic males. Many innocent people undoubtedly and understandably resent being subjected to this practice. No one likes to be frisked, including the thousands of airline passengers who are every day.

But young black and, to a lesser extent, Hispanic males are far, far more likely than others to commit (and be victims of) violent crimes, as Bloomberg points out. I take no pleasure in reporting that fact and wish it weren't so.

This was recognized by, among others, Jesse Jackson, who in 1993 said, "There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start to think about robbery and then look around and see it's somebody white and feel relieved."

You can get an idea about what could happen in New York by comparing it with Chicago, where there were 532 homicides in 2012.

That's more than in New York, even though New York's population is three times as large.
One Chicagoan who supports stop and frisk is the father of Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old girl shot down a week after singing at Barack Obama's second inauguration. "If it's already working, why take it away?" he told the New York Post. "If that was possible in Chicago, maybe our daughter would be alive."

Chicago and New York both have tough gun control laws. But bad guys can easily get guns in both cities.

The difference, as the New York Daily News's James Warren has pointed out, is that frequent stops and frisks combined with mandatory three-year sentences for illegal possession of a gun mean that bad guys in New York don't take them out on the street much.

Stop and frisk makes effective the otherwise ineffective gun control that Bloomberg so strongly supports.

An extreme case of what happens when a city ends stop and frisk is Detroit. Coleman Young, the city's first black mayor, did so immediately after winning the first of five elections in 1973.

In short order Detroit became America's murder capital. Its population fell from 1.5 million to 1 million between 1970 and 1990. Crime has abated somewhat since the Young years, but the city's population fell to 713,000 in 2010 — just over half that when Young took office.

People with jobs and families — first whites, then blacks — fled to the suburbs or farther afield. Those left were mostly poor, underemployed, in too many cases criminal — and not taxpayers. As a result, the city government went bankrupt last month.

New York has strengths Detroit always lacked. But it is not impervious to decline. After Mayor John Lindsay ended tough police practices, the city's population fell from 7.9 million in 1970 to 7.1 million in 1980.

Those who decry stop and frisk as racially discriminatory should remember who is hurt most by violent crime — law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods, most of them black and Hispanic, people like Hadiya Pendleton.

(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Sanborn – Sales are up, but not prices

OK! Finally, there were over a hundred residential homes sales in one month in the towns covered by this report. There were 110 in July, to be exact, at an average sales price of $299,469. This may not be exactly a watershed moment in the Lakes Region real estate world, but it has been a long time since this happened. Last July there were just 70 sales at an average price of $260,113 so that's a healthy 57 percent increase.

Year to date sales of residential homes are up 13 percent with 556 sales through the end of July compared to 491 for the same period in 2012. The average sales price for the first seven months of the year comes in at $283,536 which is a just a bit lower than the $286,898 for the same period last year. Despite all the news reports on TV of the real estate market getting hot and prices increasing, it should be noted that real estate is a very local phenomena. While some areas may be seeing big bumps in selling prices and multiple offers, that just isn't happening in the Lakes Region. If you are thinking of listing your home to sell, don't get all excited thinking you can ask more for your property than you could a year ago. It is still a buyer's market in this neck of the woods and may be for some time. The good news is that the total number of residential sales has increased and that should help whittle down the inventory.

As usual, most of the high end sales last month were waterfront properties. There were, however, some pretty nice homes off the water that found new owners. Some took a while longer to sell than others, though. Take, for example, the property at 141 Riverwood Drive in New Hampton. This custom contemporary cape was built in 2004 and has an amazing, high quality 7,187 square feet of living space with all the bells and whistles. There is a gourmet kitchen featuring gorgeous cabinetry, high end appliances, granite counters, a great room with the requisite stone fireplace, a first floor master suite, four guest bedrooms, and a man cave over the garage that most guys can only dream about. This home was listed way back in June of 2009 for $699,000 and has been on the market every year since. It was relisted this year at $579,000 and had several price reductions down to $399,000. It finally sold at a higher price at $455,000. I expect there might be a long story about why it sold higher than the asking price, but it cannot be anywhere near as long as the 1,179 days it was on the market. The home is assessed at $761,080 so I'd say the buyer got a great deal.

A Victorian with a contemporary flair at 1525 NH Route 140 in Gilmanton, NH also sold last month. This 4,745 square foot beauty was built in 2002 and has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, gourmet kitchen, two fireplaces, master suite, den, bonus room, custom woodwork, and more. It was originally listed at $590,000 in December of 2009 and was on the market 270 days then. It came back on the market in April of 2012 for $485,500 and sold for $404,900 after another 417 days on the market. Time and (less) money fix everything. This home is currently assessed at $495,520.

A spectacular, custom built 4,868 square foot contemporary at 32 Harvest Run in one of Gilford's most desirable neighborhoods also found a buyer after 291 days on the market. This high quality home left little to be desired with its great floor plan, gourmet kitchen, granite countertops, beautiful oak trim and flooring, fireplace, sun room, media room, and a spacious first floor master suite plus four guest rooms upstairs. This home was listed at $660,000, reduced to $599,900, and sold for $550,000 after 291 days on the market plus another 118 days under contract. This property is assessed for $495,500. Obviously, the quality was recognized by the buyer.
Up in Gunstock Acres in Gilford, a mountaintop retreat at 30 Ridgeline Loop also took almost a year to sell. This 4,505 square foot, three bedroom, two and a half bath contemporary home was built in 1985 and is spectacular but the amazing panoramic views undoubtedly sold this home. The home has a gated entrance (no, not on the front door, in the driveway!), a great room with cathedral ceilings, exposed beams and fireplace, an upscale kitchen with granite counters, birch flooring, beautiful natural woodwork, master suite, gym, sunroom, and large deck overlooking the lake. There's also a two car detached carriage house plus an attached five car garage just in case. This is a home to entertain in and the party won't stop if the lights go out because a whole house generator ensures that you can party on. This home was listed for $849,000, was reduced to $799,000, and sold for $640,000 after 330 days on the market. It is currently assessed at $525,700.
So, it's pretty easy to see that all of these homes were on the market for extended periods of time and they all took sizeable price reductions to finally get a buyer. Do you think these sellers would have been ahead of the game and had a little less stress in their lives if they had listed lower to begin with?

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 8/18/13. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 23 August 2013 08:24

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Susan Estrich - Evil comes in all colors

The three Oklahoma teenagers were, according to official reports, "bored." So they decided to do something: kill the guy who jogged past them. They got in the car, followed him and did just that.

The district attorney described the youngest, the 15-year-old, as having treated the murder as a "joke." He reportedly danced as he was booked. The 16-year-old, supposedly the one who pulled the trigger, showed no emotion when he was charged with first-degree murder. Only the 17-year-old, who is supposedly cooperating, broke down — and only when the prosecutor referenced the "very, very lengthy prison sentence" he is facing. "I didn't pull the trigger," he said. So what?

Okay, I'll play carefully. Assuming the facts presented without contradiction to the court to be true, these boys are evil and should rot in hell for what they did.

Now, to get even uglier. The (alleged) killers are African-American. The victim was a young Australian baseball player who attended college in Oklahoma and had just visited his girlfriend. He had a bright future.

The three beasts (again, assuming these facts to be true) are not star athletes and college students. Their lives, I'm sure we will be told, are empty and hopeless.

I don't know whether you call this a "hate" crime or not. That would turn on whether epithets were uttered, whether the victim was selected because of his race, all of that. It really doesn't matter. It doesn't get much uglier than the unprovoked, cold-blooded murder of an innocent victim chosen at random.

Anyone who was the least bit outraged by the killing of Trayvon Martin should be screaming bloody murder right now.

What makes me wonder whether they will?

Mr. President, some thoughts, please? Can you identify with the parents of the kid who went for a jog and ended up dead? No, he doesn't look anything like you would have at 15, at least judged from the color of his skin, but that isn't what matters, is it?
The real point is that these hooligans — the 15-, 16- and 17-year-old — also bear no relationship to our president when he was that age.

Evil comes in all shapes and sizes and colors, and when we see it, we need to call it for what it is.

News accounts say the two younger boys have had hard lives. The mother of the 15-year-old is in jail. Last year, the 16-year-old lost both his stepfather and his brother. Illness? Murder? Plainly, loss did not make them better people. Perhaps the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Is that cruel? Sure. But we are talking here of pure evil.

Plenty of kids grow up surrounded by all forms of depravation, and yet they would never kill a person to fill a boring day. They know, deep down, the difference between good and evil. Plenty of kids grow up with bad parents and bad families and bad problems, but they don't go shoot a baseball player out for a jog to make their day. It's not black or white. Evil doesn't have a color. Evil is evil.

Then there's the guns issue. An Australian politician and gun-control advocate is already calling for a boycott of tourism to America to protest the killings. It is important to know how these beasts got the gun or guns they used. (According to authorities, they were on their way to another home to commit another murder when they were apprehended.) No responsible gun owner could possibly agree that these beasts had any right to possess a weapon.

But at the end of the day, they did. And they should pay for it for the rest of their lives.

(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

Hits: 248

 
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