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Jim Hightower - Mean Team piles on jobless Americans

"Come on, team, let's get mean!"
This is not the chant of rabid football fans, egging on their favorite team to crush the opponents. Rather, it's the raucous war cry of far-out right-wing ideologues all across the country who're pumping up Team GOP to pound the bejeezus out of America's millions of unemployed workers. Far from a game, this is real, and it's a moral abomination.
I've been unemployed before, and I can tell you it's a misery — all the more so today, when there are far more people out of work than there are job openings. This leaves millions of our fellow Americans mired in the debilitating misery of long-term unemployment.
But that's not miserable enough for a feral breed of Ayn Randian political zealots who are lobbying Republican governors, legislators and congress-critters to punish the jobless for ... well, for their joblessness. In this perverse universe, the conventional wisdom asserts that unemployment benefits and other poverty-prevention programs are sapping our nation's vitality by allowing "moochers" to live the Life of Reilly and avoid work.
The GOP's budget demigod in the U.S. House, Rep. Paul Ryan, expressed this dogma in a fanciful homily deriding America's safety net as "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency." This from a guy whose family's wealth was gained from government contacts and who has spent practically all of his adult life in the sweet-swaying hammock of congressional privilege, presently drawing $174,000 a year from Old Uncle Sugar.
As ridiculous and just plain mean as this attitude is, it plays well in the insanity that now defines "the debate" in Republican primary elections. So, state-after-state (as well as Congress) are succumbing to this pound-the-poor, right-wing screed by frenetically slashing unemployment benefits.
Behind this faux-philosophical push are the smiling barons of corporate America. Without jobless payments, you see, desperate millions will be forced to whatever low-wage, no-benefit, dead-end jobs the barons design.
What's at work here is a profoundly awful ethical phenomenon that has seeped into the top strata of American society: Our nation's corporate and political elites have developed an immunity to shame. It has become morally acceptable in those lofty circles to enrich themselves while turning their backs on the rest of us. Even more damning, they feel free to slash America's already tattered safety net, leaving more holes than net for the workaday majority of Americans who've been knocked down by an ongoing economic disaster created by these very elites.
For a look at how shameful these privileged powers have become, turn to North Carolina. Until recently, this Southern state maintained a fairly moderate government with a populist streak, taking pride in its educational system and other public efforts to maintain a middle class. No more. A shame-resistant political leadership has recently taken hold, consisting of corporate-funded tea party extremists who loathe the very idea of a safety net.
The new bunch has been gutting everything from public schools to health care, and now they've turned on hard-hit citizens who're out of work. In a state with the fifth-highest jobless rate in the country, and with no recovery in sight, the right-wing governor and legislature recently whacked weekly unemployment benefits by a third, leaving struggling North Carolinians with a meager $350 a week to try to make ends meet, while simultaneously eliminating millions of consumer dollars that those families would otherwise be putting into the state's economy. Then, just to give the jobless another kick, the petty politicians cut the number of weeks people can receive unemployment aid.
This official minginess automatically disqualified the state from getting $700 million a year for long-term jobless payments from the federal government. Yet Gov. Pat McCrory issued a cockamamie, Kafkaesque claim that the gut-job ensures that "our citizens' unemployment safety net is secure," while providing "an economic climate that allows job creators to start hiring again."
Yeah, we'll all hold our breath until those "job creators" get going. Meanwhile, the GOP wrecking crew doled out a fat tax break for the corporate elites — for doing nothing. Take from the poor, give to the rich: backward Robin Hood. If ignorance is bliss, McCrory must be ecstatic.
Meanwhile, his shameless immorality has unleashed a growing storm of weekly demonstrations known as "Moral Mondays." For information about this remarkable citizens' uprising, link to the North Carolina Justice Center: www.ncjustice.org.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Pat Buchanan - Vital interests vs. democratic ideals

Understandably, the Muslim Brotherhood is enraged. Having won the presidency of Egypt in free and fair elections after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, President Mohammed Morsi has been ousted in a military coup and placed under house arrest. Brotherhood leaders, convicted of no crimes, are being rounded up.
They played by America's rules. Now, with America's blessing, they are being locked up by America's friends in Egypt's armed forces.
Nor is this the first perceived betrayal. When Hamas won the free elections demanded by George W. Bush, America refused to recognize their legitimacy and plotted the violent overthrow of Hamas in Gaza.
When Islamists swept the first round of Algerian elections in 1991, the regime, with the blessing of Bush 1, canceled the second round, leading to a guerrilla war that cost 100,000 to 200,000 dead.
If Muslims have come to believe that Americans preaching democracy are charlatans and hypocrites, do they not have a point?
U.S. foreign policy once seemed to make sense. We put vital interests ahead of democratist ideology. We stood by those who stood by us. We did not spend time inspecting the moral credentials of those who took America's side. We played the cards we were dealt in this world.
Gen. Washington danced a jig when he heard Louis XVI, a descendant of the Sun King, would support America's cause against our mother country.
In 1917, Woodrow Wilson took us to war "to make the world safe for democracy" as an associate power of five empires — the British, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese. At war's end, Wilson signed treaties that plundered the lands and colonies of the three defeated empires, for the benefit of the victorious empires.
In the Good War from 1941 to 1945 against the Nazis, our greatest ally was the mass murderer of Christians and democrats Josef Stalin.
In the Cold War, Dwight Eisenhower sanctioned the overthrow of democratic governments in Guatemala and Iran and their replacement by autocrats who would take our side in the struggle for the world.
We welcomed the Shah, Saudi kings and Gulf emirs. JFK welcomed the "Butcher of the Balkans," Marshal Tito, to the White House. President Nixon sided with autocratic Pakistan over democratic India — for Pakistan had sided with us.
Nixon went to Beijing to toast Chairman Mao, a monster as great as Stalin. Liberals sickened by our alliance with the "corrupt and dictatorial regime" of President Ngo Dinh Diem in Saigon were ecstatic.
The Nixon White House celebrated the overthrow of elected president Salvador Allende of Chile by Gen. Augusto Pincohet.
Among other U.S. allies in the Cold War were Asian dictators and generals Chiang Kai-shek of China, Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee of South Korea, and Suharto of Indonesia.
Portugal's dictator Antonio Salazar and Spain's Gen. Francisco Franco were loyal allies against Bolshevism. Mobutu Sese Seko was for 32 years our man in the Congo, as Emperor Haile Selassie was in Ethiopia.
Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak were American allies and dictators of Egypt from 1970 to 2011, until, in the name of our democratic ideals, we threw our flawed friend Mubarak to the wolves.
What is the cause of our present angst over what is happening in Cairo? Our democratist ideals appear to have been run over by U.S. armored personnel carriers driven by Egyptian soldiers trained by the U.S. Army. Whether or not our interests have been advanced, our ideals seem to have been wounded.
Behind our ambivalence and paralysis may be found several truths. First, the Cold War, the life-or-death civilizational struggle that defined our times, is over. No vital U.S. interest is at risk in Egypt to justify military intervention or the shedding of American blood.
This is thus their problem, not ours, most Americans believe, and our influence is receding there, even as that of the British, French and Russians did before us. Let them work it out.
Testifying to this truth is the tape of Secretary of State John Kerry inspecting his yacht off Nantucket as the Egyptian regime fell, and Obama, after a brief National Security Council conclave, heading off for the golf course on the July 4 weekend, then on to Camp David.
Today, from Egypt to Lebanon to Syria and Iraq, it is Islamist against secularist, Sunni vs. Shia, tribe against tribe, those in power against those who want power. The Arab Spring has ushered in the Arab war of all against all.
That year 1848, when all the thrones of Europe were shaken by revolution, was a similar time. And those wise old war hawks of 1812, Henry Clay and John Calhoun, found themselves again on the same side.
America, they said, should stay out.
"Masterly inactivity" is our role, said Calhoun. Added Clay, "Avoiding the distant wars of Europe, we should keep our lamp burning brightly on this Western shore as a light to all the nations than to hazard its utter extinction amid the ruins of fallen or falling republics."
(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, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - Good time for U.S. to lead from behind

"Leading from behind" would seem the right place for America to be in the complex crisis engulfing Egypt. But critics want President Obama up front, telling the Egyptians what's what.
Sen. John McCain complains on a Sunday talk show that Egypt's second coup in 2 1/2 years is "a strong indicator of the lack of American leadership, and influence, since we urged the military not to do that." The Arizona Republican goes on to insist that the leadership deficit is wrecking the whole Mideast. Citing the troubles in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, McCain says, "When American doesn't lead, bad things happen."
Now, can we seriously believe that a call from the president, even a stern call, would stop the whirlwind of conflict in Egypt? Sure we could threaten the $1.5 billion we give them in annual aid, but the new people in charge say they intend to reset the democracy and are friendlier to the United States. That's not going to happen.
In Egypt we saw a democratically elected president deposed for undemocratic behavior (and incompetent governing). A tough call for us, but must the United States publicly pick sides in a struggle that (a) we cannot control and (b) U.S. participation only complicates?
Naturally, both sides blame America, insisting that U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson is plotting with their foes. The following quotes from The New York Times show our dilemma:
Mona Mohammed, a bank clerk supporting the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi: "The ambassador is part of a conspiracy against Egypt and its people."
Mohammed Amr-All, a professor at a pro-Morsi demonstration: "The ambassador meets with the opposition and supports them."
Back in the United States, Patterson's to blame, as well. Conservative David Brooks writes: "She tried to build relationships with whoever is in power. This created the appearance that she is subservient to the Brotherhood. It alienated the Egyptian masses."
Of course, building relationships with whoever is in power is an ambassador's job, and Morsi was elected. And what about the pro-Muslim Brotherhood masses now protesting the Morsi ouster? Clearly, there are masses for every viewpoint.
Writing in The New Republic, Marc Tracy offers an "appropriate liberal response." That would be "making clear that we value democracy," while using the tools of diplomacy "to put ourselves and our allies in more certain positions when democracy, as it inevitably does, winds up giving us unwelcome surprises."
You wonder what "more certain positions" would be in the case of Egypt's unfolding chaos. Perhaps they don't exist — or put another way, the position we should have taken will be revealed by history, long after the dust settles on the tragic convulsions in Egypt.
The European Union is quietly talking to all sides, as is the Obama administration. But Obama's cautionary approach is not the American way, says a punditry frustrated that we aren't using our power to do whatever. Perhaps it should be in certain disordered situations, which describes almost every Mideast crisis. To do otherwise means choosing from equally unattractive options and taking the inevitable blowback from the side we don't seem to be supporting — which, as we see in Egypt, tends to be both sides.
More McCain: "Morsi was a terrible president. Their economy is in terrible shape thanks to their policies. But the fact is, the United States should not be supporting this coup."
The fact is, we are not supporting the coup. As Obama told a National Security Council meeting over the weekend, "The United States is not aligned with, and does not support, any particular Egyptian political party or group." Lack of leadership? No, the only sensible response at this time.
(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 - Help paying for Rx - Part 2

For those people who are on Medicare, "Part D" offers the ability to select a drug insurance plan from any one of a number of providers. The options, or variables, are many. Some plans offer relatively low monthly premiums, but others are quite expensive. Some offer lower premiums but have higher deductibles. Co-pays vary as well. For these reasons, Medicare has developed an excellent website (http://www.medicare.gov/part-d/index.html) where individuals can compare insurance company coverage and cost, based on the medicines the individual is taking.
Most people have heard about the coverage gap, commonly called the "donut hole" in Medicare Part D. When a person has incurred $2,970 in drug costs during the year (which is the combined cost paid by the insurance company and the policy holder), they then go into the coverage gap. While in the gap, their co-pay for brand name drugs will be 47.5 percent of the drugs retail cost, and 79 percent of the price for generic drugs. This continues until a total value of the drugs purchased amounts to $4,750. At that time, what is called "catastrophic" coverage takes over and co-pays are reduced dramatically . . . until the new year, when the whole process starts anew.
For those people with limited resources, Social Security offers what is called "Extra Help", or low income support for the individual's Part D insurance. To qualify, an individual's income must be $17,235 or less, $23,265 if married and living together. If qualified, a modest monthly premium is provided, co-pays are reduced, and the coverage gap is eliminated. Social Security indicates that the "Extra Help" provision can save a person an average of about $4,000 per year. For more information about this program you can access this website, http://www.ssa.gov/prescriptionhelp/ .
The statewide Service Link organization has an office in Laconia. They are an excellent resource serving the Belknap County area, and they have assisted countless citizens in their Medicare Part D search process. They may be reached at 528-6945. As a side note, while Medicare Part D has a defined enrollment period at the end of the year, there are some situations that allow individuals to enroll in a plan beyond the open enrollment period. For more information you may contact Service Link or access the following website, http://www.medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/11219.pdf
Medicaid, also called Title XIX, provides health coverage to children, pregnant women, parents, seniors and people with disabilities. The minimum income level for eligibility is 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL). However, in calculating eligibility the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) takes into account all income and assets, and a series of deductibles, to arrive at individual or household eligibility. If approved, the person/family may be eligible for doctor, hospital, dentist, vision, and other medical benefits, including prescription medicines. Those who think they may qualify for Medicaid benefits, may call New Hampshire's DHHS office at 1-800-852-3345 X5254. For those who are internet savvy, there are a number of internet links. However, the most direct link, and the quickest to determining possible eligibility is https://nheasy.nh.gov/ . This site is very user friendly and can provide you with an answer as to whether or not there's a possibility you may qualify for cash assistance, medical services, food stamps, or Medicare.
It is recommended that families with children under the age of 19, who do not have health insurance, either call DHHS at the above number, or access the Internet link to determine if, based on their income, they might be eligible to qualify for the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Depending on household income, insurance may be provided at partial or no cost for children's coverage.
Those who qualify for Medicaid may receive their prescription medicines as part of that program. This website will link the reader to more information on eligibility and benefits. http://medicaid.gov/medicaid-chip-program-information/by-topics/eligibility/eligibility.html
Another very useful discount program is called RX Outreach. It is a non profit organization, a fully licensed mail order pharmacy, that offers prescription medicines to uninsured and underinsured individuals and families, as well as those who have limited prescription drug coverage. They are often used by those who either fail to qualify for direct help from a drug company, or the medicines they need are not part of a drug company's patient assistance program. The reader may access this website, http://www.rxoutreach.org/ .
Walmart gained some recognition for their pharmacies when they came out with their program to provide a large number of generic medicines, charging $4 for a one month supply, $10 for three months. Once a drug company's patent expires on its brand name drug, other companies can provide their generic version of that medicine. Walmart's list of available generic medicines can be viewed by connecting to their internet website, http://i.walmartimages.com/i/if/hmp/fusion/customer_list.pdf Some other companies are offering prescription discount plans similar to Walmart's. You may access the Kroeger, Target, and Hannaford's drug plans via this website, http://www.ehow.com/info_8078094_stores-4-drug-plan.html.
In summary, there are some excellent resources available to the people in Belknap County. Service Link, at 528-6945, is a good place to call when you don't know who to call. The need for medicines can be addressed in any number of ways but the first one to talk to should be your Primary Care Provider. She or he can often determine the path you need to take in obtaining your medicines. The Department of Health and Human Services covers a wide range of support services for those with limited income and resources.
A following column will deal solely with a variety of benefits veterans have earned.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Monday, 08 July 2013 09:00

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Roy Sanborn - Zesty estimates (July Currents)

There were 1208 residential single family homes for sale in the 12 area towns covered by this report as of July 1. The average asking price was $496,188 with a median asking price point of $259,948. That means that there are slightly over 600 homes available under $260K so there are plenty of affordable homes out there as the summer sales season kicks into gear. Our current inventory level represents a 15.4 month supply of homes available compared to the 18 month supply we had last July.
In the wonderful world of real estate, the website with the most amount of traffic is Zillow. It has over 15 million unique monthly visitors per month! Zillow lists not only homes for sale by real estate agents, but also homes for sale by owner, foreclosures, and rentals. It claims to have over a million listings on the site but I didn't count them.
Like most real estate websites, Zillow has a lot of information on it including area demographics, school information, home buying and selling advice, and mortgage information. It can help you find a real estate agent and even lists home service providers in your area. One feature I liked was that the site shows pictures of remodeled rooms and provides estimated costs to construct. It's a good place to get some remodeling ideas if you are looking to improve your property...
The site also provides "Zestimates" which immediately made me think of an advertisement for as zesty ranch salad dressing. But no, it is a "zesty estimate" of your home's value in todays marketplace. That's pretty amazing considering Zillow has never seen your home. Zillow relies on tax information as being correct which we know isn't always the case. And the tax information doesn't necessarily give a true picture of the quality and condition of a home. Therein lies the problem. Sometime buyers and sellers rely on this information as being gospel, true, and accurate. I think most people would agree that it is pretty hard to give the true value of a home without seeing it in person. Heck, it is even difficult for agents and appraisers that have actually been to a home to value it when there have been very few sales in an area to utilize as comparable properties.
Zillow bases its Zestimates on information it has electronically gathered and compares it to other properties that have sold in the area. I guess there is a secret algorithm or two involved as well, but it is mostly utilizing averages. The accuracy of these Zestimates is actually scored on the website if you look far enough to find it. In areas where there is a lot of data, sales, and where homes might be a little more cookie cutter (not sure where that is, though) the accuracy improves. In places like good old N.H. the accuracy is a little less.
Zillow has a four star rating system to denote the accuracy of the Zestimates. The best, or four stars, denotes that a high percentage of the Zestimates done for the transactions in any given area were within 5 percent of the sales price. Three stars would mean they were within 10 percent of the sales price and two stars means within 20 percent. No star means they couldn't do an area due to lack of info.
Belknap County has a two star rating. The Zestimates here were within 5 percent of the actual sales price only 21 percent of the time. They were within 10 percent of the correct sales price 40.6 percent of the time and within 20 percent of the correct price 69 percent of the time. Conversely this means that 79 percent of the time they were more that 5 percent off the correct price, 60 percent of the time they were off by more 10 percent, and 31 percent of the time they were off by more than 20 percent.
The accuracy of the Zestimates was better in Southern N.H., with Sullivan County doing the best with a four star rating where 35 percent of the time the estimates came in with 5 percent of the sales prices. Strafford, Rockingham, and Hillsboro Counties all rated three stars.
So what does this all mean? Don't rely too heavily on the price estimates in Zillow, particularly if you are buying a property. Rely on the advice of a zesty real estate agent that knows the market and can advise you on the property based on his knowledge of the comparable properties he has seen. Also, if you are selling your home you should go in and check the value listed for your property. You can claim your listing so that you can correct errors, add info about improvements, and comments about your property to perhaps improve the value shown for your home. Now that's really kinda zesty isn't it?
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 7/1/13. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Saturday, 06 July 2013 12:02

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