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Diana Lacey - Laboring for less

Do you have a funny feeling that your paycheck isn't stretching as far these days? If you do, you're not alone.

Labor Day is an occasion for celebrating working people in this country. But sadly, N.H.'s workers are working harder, are more productive and yet aren't making a dime more. In fact, we're all making less. According to a just-released report from Sentier Research, the U.S. median household income is down more than 4 percent since the recession ended. Add that to what we lost during the recession itself, and we're all making 6.1 percent less than we were in 2007.

Especially hard-hit are families in which someone has been unemployed, in part because when they get back to work they're not making as much. One study indicates that jobs in categories that tend to pay low wages account for about six in ten of the new jobs added during the economic recovery. Five of the six fastest-growing jobs are in classifications that pay lower-than-average wages.

There is a special group of workers doing better than they were in 2007 though. CEOs got a 16 percent raise last year alone, according to the consulting firm Equilar. And earlier this week, it was announced that the nation's five biggest banks are on track to pay out at least $23 billion in bonuses this year (perhaps million-dollar paychecks don't go as far as they used to either). Big business is booming again and reporting record profits, but the gap between them and us is larger than ever because prosperity is not being shared broadly — it's intentionally being funneled to the top.

It doesn't have to be this way.

This Labor Day we should ask ourselves why we labor in the first place. For millions of Americans, we don't go to work every day as a labor of love — we go to earn a decent living, feed our families, build and keep a home, save for retirement, contribute to our communities and so much more. We labor for more, not less. No matter who you are, where you're from or what job you do, in this country everyone who works hard should be able to have a decent life. But it is going to take a lot of work — labor of love kind of work — to turn the current situation around. Workers of all stripes will need to raise their collective voices and demand that they share in the prosperity they create through their labor in this country. In the past few years, adjunct professors at the Community College System of New Hampshire and Plymouth State University did just that. They are now standing up and using their voices to bring home more to their families, not less. Their efforts will benefit their communities and the students they teach will learn that they too will need to take action for more, not less.

Why? Because those who possess the wealth and power are, for the most part, unwilling to change its distribution. Their control over the nation's economy has put the American middle class well on its way to extinction. The labor workers contributed generations before us to create the middle class can be taken for granted no longer by the majority of workers in this country. It is beyond time for workers to join forces and have their voices heard on the job, in neighborhoods and at the voting polls. Through working collectively, we can and must create a nation in which everyone can fully participate.

So this Labor Day, I hope you will take on a new labor of love. Making a personal commitment to end this labor for less economy is a good place to start. If you need help in learning more about the next steps to take, call a union member you know or call us.

(Belmont resident Diana Lacey is president of the State Employees' Association of NH/SEIU Local 1984.)

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 September 2013 08:44

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Susan Estrich - Chemical weapons

There have to be lines.

We are not in the business of regime change. We cannot be the world's police. There are civil wars we won't stop, abusive leaders we won't depose, corrupt governments we will decline to see as such.

But there have to be some things that even the worst and most abusive leaders cannot do with impunity, and using chemical weapons against their own people has to be one of them.

It's obviously not about numbers, because there are other ways and other means, and dead is dead, and sadly, innocent civilians are frequent targets in the many wars in the world that we don't and can't stop.

The irony of the current situation is that it is the military — and especially Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey — that has been very reluctant, hesitant and downright against American military involvement in Syria. Indeed, Sen. John McCain went so far (too far) as to suggest that Dempsey and the president are at fault for signaling to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that he could get away with this.

I don't think any such signal was given.

If others do, that is all the more reason why the line must be drawn.

Why are there certain weapons that must not be used? It is like the child's question at Passover. There are many detailed answers out there right now, but the shortest one is because a civilized world must mean something. Human life must have value.

And responsibility means something.

It is August in California, the last week before school starts. Who wants to think about this?

What has always astonished me about the newspapers from the 1930s is just how much information there is on the front pages about Hitler, tucked right in with the weather and sports.

Assad has the world's attention. He may or may not get away with this — and possibly for reasons having nothing to do with us and about which we can do nothing. We are not, after all, in the regime change business. Drawing lines in the sand is another matter.

Few things are as disturbing to watch as an anti-American demonstration in some city across the globe. And it is clear, you can see and hear, that they hate us — you and me, our families and our faiths, we who try so hard, so many of us, to be generous and tolerant and fair. And this, as my mother would ask, is what we get for it?

The United States will not be more popular with those who hate us if we stand up for what is right. They won't see it that way.

The world won't be safer. Iran is threatening that if we attack they'll attack Israel, and Israelis are trying on gas masks, and by the way, what about Egypt?

Obama almost certainly will be attacked at home from all directions, as he usually is these days, for doing too little and too much, too soon and too late, for trying to find some balance in debates, which increasingly lack any at all.

So what?

I keep thinking about the young American men and women, somewhere in the world, who will be sending out the message loud and clear that there are some lines that cannot be crossed with impunity, some rules that even lawless regimes must follow, and that somebody, somewhere, actually does give a damn.

Godspeed to them.

(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 Friday, 30 August 2013 10:42

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Michael Barone - FDR made big government look easy

Evidence of the astonishing incompetence of the Obama administration continues to roll in.

It started with the stimulus package. One-third of the money went to public employee union members — a political payoff not very stimulating to anyone else. Billions went to green energy loans, like the $500 million that the government lost in backing the obviously hapless Solyndra.

Infrastructure projects, which the president continues to tout, never seem to get built. He's been talking about dredging the port of Charleston, for example, to accommodate the big container ships coming in when the Panama Canal is widened.The canal widening is proceeding on schedule to be completed in 2014. The target date for dredging the port of Charleston: 2024.

Then there's Obamacare. Barack Obama has already said the administration will not enforce the employer mandate, will not verify eligibility for insurance subsidies and will not require employer-provided policies to cap employees' out-of-pocket costs. The Constitution's requirement that the president take care to faithfully execute the laws apparently does not apply.

Obamacare administrators continue to miss deadlines set by the health-care law — 41 of 82 of them, according to Forbes' Avik Roy's reading of Congressional Research Service report.

Then there's the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law. According to the law firm Davis Polk, the administration as of July had missed 62 percent of the deadlines in that law.

All of which indicates incompetence in drafting or in implementing the legislation — likely both. We have a president who delights in delivering partisan speeches to adoring audiences but doesn't seem interested in whether his administration gets results. But I blame someone else, someone who has been dead these last 68 years. I blame Franklin D. Roosevelt. I blame Roosevelt for making big government look easy — and politically rewarding.

He set an example that most of his successors — Obama is just the latest — have a hard time duplicating.

Roosevelt certainly had his defects. As his best and generally admiring biographer Conrad Black notes, he was devious, largely ignorant of economics, cruel to subordinates, vacillating on many issues. But he had a great gift for picking the right person for the right job — if he thought the job was important.

For the unimportant jobs — well, anyone politically useful would do and, if the job suddenly became important, the appointee would be sent off on some diversionary errand.
Roosevelt's knack for picking the right man (or right woman: Frances Perkins was a fine secretary of labor) is the central theme of Eric Larrabee's wonderful 1987 book, "Commander in Chief."

Larrabee shows how FDR selected the unflappable George Marshall to organize a vastly expanded Army, the splenetic Ernest King to lead an aggressive Navy, the grandioloquent Douglas MacArthur to dramatize the side conflict in the South Pacific and the emollient Dwight Eisenhower to hold together fractious Allied coalition forces. No other president has made such excellent military appointments right off the bat.

Roosevelt's knack is apparent in domestic appointments, as well. He picked social worker Harry Hopkins to run a winter work relief program in late 1933. In two weeks Hopkins had 4 million on the payroll. When spring came, Roosevelt ordered the program shut down. In two weeks, the payroll was down to zero.

After that, Roosevelt trusted Hopkins to deal with political bosses — and with top-level negotiations with Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin during World War II.

Interior Secretary Harold Ickes, Hopkins's bureaucratic rival, was a stickler for detail and scourge of graft. But he spent billions bringing in big projects under budget and on time.

Roosevelt picked some good regulators, too — stock speculator Joseph Kennedy to set up the Securities and Exchange Commission, Utah banker Marriner Eccles to run the Federal Reserve.

FDR's knack for choosing the right person for important jobs resulted from some unknowable combination of knowledge and intuition. It also showed an overriding concern for getting results.

It's not clear that Barack Obama shares that determination. In his defense, he has made some high-quality appointments, and Roosevelt's administrators did not face today's tangle of legalistic requirements and environmental restrictions.

But New Deal legislation tended to run dozens of pages rather than thousands. And some unworkable laws were overturned by the Supreme Court.

Roosevelt's example shines through history. But Obama's continuing stumbles show that it's a hard — and politically damaging — example to follow. Big government these days is harder than FDR made it look.

(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 Thursday, 29 August 2013 08:14

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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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