In the latest polls, just 14 percent of all Americans approve of the job Congress is doing.
You might think that number would inspire fear in people who stand for reelection every two years. You might hope that members of Congress would see in such numbers a mandate to do better — to stop playing games (hello, Ted Cruz) and focus on actually getting things done.
There are at least two reasons for this. First, most Americans draw a line between the institution as a whole — which they disapprove of — and their own representatives. Second, and no doubt related, most members represent "safe" districts in which one or the other party dominates; most members have more to fear from primary challenges by ideologues in their own party (hello, tea party), which means that reaching across the aisle is riskier than destructive partisanship.
But what is good for individual members is not what is good for Congress as an institution, or for the country.
Indeed, after watching Cruz's non-filibuster filibuster, after hearing John Boehner tie defunding Obamacare (which is simply not going to happen) to keeping the government open, it's hard to believe that even 14 percent of all Americans could possibly approve of the way Congress is doing its job. And if all these machinations should lead to a shutdown of the government or a default by the United States, the bottom line is that no one should approve of what Congress is doing.
I visited the Capitol for the first time decades ago as a Girl Scout. We had our picture taken with our congressman. We sat in the gallery and watched a vote being taken. I was awestruck.
How lucky I was, a decade later, to be hired to work for the Senate Judiciary Committee, to rub shoulders with the giants of American politics, Democratic and Republican. I could think of nothing, and nowhere, that I would rather be. A little more than a year later, the Democrats lost both the White House and the Senate. Nonetheless, Sen. Strom Thurmond, the ranking Republican and a man who, in terms of ideology, could not have been further apart from Sen. Ted Kennedy, the committee chair, agreed that the committee should move forward with the nomination of my boss, Stephen Breyer, to serve on the United States Court of Appeals in Boston. That would not ever happen today.
I used to think money was the cancer that was threatening to destroy Congress. For most members, the next campaign begins the moment the last one ends; raising money occupies more time than any other activity. The way you deter someone from challenging you, either in the primary or the general election, is to raise a huge war chest that you actually don't need. What could be more debilitating?
Ugly partisanship. A complete absence of respect. The dominance of angry ideology and vicious and personal attacks.
We live in such a dangerous world, where we have so little control. We are vilified by those who would destroy everything we hold dear. We are hated by people who reject all of the values we hold dear. We face challenges that I could not have imagined.
We have real enemies.
I hate al-Qaida. I do not hate Ted Cruz or John Boehner. I disagree with them. There is a huge difference. We are all Americans. Sappy, but so important. The enemy is not Obamacare. The enemy is a terrorist group that attacked an upscale shopping mall on a Saturday morning in Kenya, a group that sends children with bombs strapped to their bodies out to kill.
Vigorous debate is essential to a healthy democracy. But when civil discourse gives way to ugly demagoguery, we put at risk the miracle that is our democracy.
(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, 27 September 2013 11:11
August was another banner month for residential home sales in the twelve communities covered by this report. There were 123 sales at an average price of $302,861. That's a pretty good number compared to just 93 sales last August even though the average is down from the $345,750 posted then. That brings the total of sales for the first eight months of the year to 679 at an average of $287,037 compared to 584 sales at an average of $296,262 for the same period in 2012.
As of January 1, 2014, the long awaited Fair Weight Housing Act will take effect. These federal consumer protection regulations are being implemented to ensure that home buyers can compare the costs of homes in an easy to understand format. Since the early days of home ownership, the general rule has been that heavier houses are worth more than lighter ones. One needs only to think back to their childhood and recall the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf at the door trying to blow the place down. As you most likely recall, neither the straw home nor the custom built stick home stood up as well as to the elements as the heavier brick home. Weight matters.
Today, things are a little more complicated, but it is still a well known fact (at least for the most part) that the heavier homes are worth more and are better built. The one notable exception to that is of course the mud hut category which will be granted a waiver on these regulations. Stop and think about it a second and you'll understand the basic premise here. Every building material that goes into making a better and more desirable home adds significantly to the home's total weight. Things like granite or marble countertops, tile floors and baths, hardwood flooring, beamed ceilings, wall to ceiling fireplaces, plaster walls, indoor pools, home theaters, and Jacuzzi tubs all add weight and cost to any home.
The main thrust of the new regulations will be that all homeowners will be required to have unit price labels affixed to their homes in a prominent location showing their property's price per pound. You know, just like the supermarket. The location, weight, style, age, and price per pound of each home will then be entered into a national data base so consumers can compare costs in a given area or all over the country for that matter. These labels will be available through the newly created Residential Weight Watchers Board which will have at least one office in each community across the country.
Now, even though you may agree that this is a good bill, there are still a few kinks to work out and this will undoubtedly be a very expensive program to run. Unfortunately, the legislators did not read this massive 4,000 page bill before they passed it and people are just beginning to realize that there is not really a good system available to accurately weigh each house. Apple is currently working on an iPhone app but it may not be available for at least six months and unfortunately it won't work on Android Phones. They are still working on the infrared density measurement technology.
I did some research on line and found several web based companies that are also trying to provide solutions. A company called Movoto is working on a system to weigh houses using balloons, but they are having trouble with the standardization of the balloon size. For more info you can go to this website: http://www.movoto.com/blog/novelty-real-estate/balloons/ . Please note that the link has "novelty" in it, but this is no laughing matter.
Anyway, they have established a rough mathematical calculation for the weight of various homes that they will verify with the balloons once they get things a little more precise. For now you can use these figures to calculate the weight of your home:
200 pounds per square foot for a single-level home;
275 pounds per square foot for a two-level home; and
350 pounds per square foot for a three-level home.
They have established (inconclusively) that it takes 2,976,470,589 balloons to lift the White House and 500,800,000 balloons to lift the Playboy Mansion. There is some question over whether hot air would be used to lift the White House which might thrown off the calculations a bit.
Anyway, these new regulations will make it a lot easier for home buyers in the future if they can get the bugs worked out. Maybe, we should have just stuck the price per square foot? Nah! That would make too much sense...
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 9/22/13. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.
Last Updated on Friday, 27 September 2013 08:44
Like an estimated 22 million other Americans, I am a self-employed small-business owner who buys health insurance for my family directly on the individual market. We have a high-deductible PPO plan that allows us to choose from a wide range of doctors.
Or rather, we had such a plan.
Last week, our family received notice from Anthem BlueCross BlueShield of Colorado that we can no longer keep the plan we like because of "changes from health care reform (also called the Affordable Care Act or ACA)." The letter informed us that "(t)o meet the requirements of the new laws, your current plan can no longer be continued beyond your 2014 renewal date."
In short: Obama lied. My health plan died.
Remember? Our president looked America straight in the eye and promised: "If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor. Period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also lied when she pledged: "Keep your doctor, and your current plan, if you like them."
This isn't just partisan business. It's personal. Our cancellation letter states that Anthem is "not going to be selling new individual PPO plans." When we asked whether we could keep our children's doctors, an agent for Anthem told my husband and me she didn't know. The insurer has no details available yet on what exactly they'll be offering. We either will be herded into the Obamacare federal health insurance exchange regime (launching October 1), a severely limited HMO plan, or presented with costlier alternatives from another insurer. If they even exist.
My family is not alone. Across the country, insurers are sending out Obamacare-induced health plan death notices to untold tens of thousands of other customers in the individual market. Twitter users are posting their Obamacare cancellation notices and accompanying rate increases:
Linda Deright posted her letter from Regency of Washington state: "63 percent jump, old policy of 15 yrs. cancelled." Karen J. Dugan wrote: "Received same notice from Blue Shield CA for our small business. Driving into exchange and no info since online site is down." Chris Birk wrote: "Got notice from BCBS that my current health plan is not ACA compliant. New plan 2x as costly for worse coverage." Small-business owner Villi Wilson posted his letter from HMSA Blue Cross Blue Shield canceling his individual plan and added: "I thought Obama said if I like my health care plan I can keep my health care plan."
Few among Washington's protected political class are paying attention, because they enjoy their lucrative government benefits and are exempted from Obamacare's destructive consequences. But one of my state's congressional representatives, GOP Rep. Cory Gardner, also lost his individual market plan. Unlike most politicians on Capitol Hill, Gardner chose not to enroll in the federal health insurance program. He told me that he opted to participate in the private market "because I wanted to be in the same boat as my constituents. And now that boat is sinking!"
Gardner points to recent analysis showing individual market rate increases of 23 percent to 25 percent in Colorado. "After my current plan is discontinued," he wrote last week, "the closest comparable plan through our current provider will cost over 100 percent more, going from roughly $650 a month to $1,480 per month." He now carries his Obamacare cancellation notice with him as hardcore proof of the Democrats' ultimate deception.
Maryland announced that its post-Obamacare individual market rates could also rise by a whopping 25 percent. The National Association for the Self-Employed is recommending that its small-business owners and freelancers plan for at least a 15 percent increase nationwide. One of the reasons for those rate hikes, of course, is that Obamacare's mandated benefits provisions force insurers to carry coverage for items that individual market consumers had deliberately chosen to forgo.
Americans who had opted for affordable catastrophic coverage-style plans now have fewer and fewer choices. This includes a whole class of musicians, photographers, artists, writers, actors and other creative people who purchased health plans through the individual market or through small professional organizations. As St. Vincent College arts professor Ben Schachter reports in the Weekly Standard, groups like the College Art Association, Modern Language Association and the Entertainment Industry Group Insurance Trust are dropping their plans. Young, healthy members of these groups "are far more likely to see their rates go up — or to face the individual mandate penalties."
Thanks to Obama, access is down. Premiums and health care spending are up. Research and development on lifesaving drugs and medical devices are down. Hours and benefits have been cut because of Obamacare costs and regulatory burdens by at least 300 American companies, according to Investor's Business Daily. And the Obamacare layoff bomb continues to claim victims.
Obamacare is destroying the private individual market for health insurance by design, not accident. For hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of self-employed job creators, three fundamental Obamacare truths are becoming as clear as Obama's growing nose: 1) You can't keep it. 2) We're screwed. 3) The do-gooders don't care.
(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)
Last Updated on Thursday, 26 September 2013 08:18
The bluebirds of happiness are chirping away in our nation's treetops these days, for America is now in the fifth year of economic recovery. Let's all sing "Happy Days Are Here Again," for stock prices are reaching record highs, corporate profits are soaring, and even the unemployment numbers are on the mend.
But wait, what's this? Down below the treetops, way down there at the grassroots, poverty not only persists, but is spreading. Also, America's income disparity is worsening as middle-class workers are pushed into lower-wage jobs and poor people are pushed out entirely. Far from "Happy Days," joblessness among our lowest-income families is now the worst on record, having reached the staggering rate of 21 percent.
The plight of the poor in our Land of Plenty is so dramatic that even the Republican leaders of the U.S. House have noticed them and are reaching out with open hands. Unfortunately, they are not offering a helping hand to the needy, but a cold, hard slap in the face. On Sept. 19, in a gratuitous act of political pettiness and human callousness, the GOP slashed $4 billion-a-year out of the food stamp program. Well, they explained, the food stamp subsidy just keeps expanding, despite the recovery our economy is enjoying, so we have to stop the excess.
Apparently these Congress critters never even visit reality. Hello, boneheads — the program has expanded only because all of the "recovery" benefits went to the privileged few at the top, with those at the ground level losing income, thus having to reach desperately for food stamps as a life preserver. In fact, the program lifted about four million Americans above the poverty level last year and kept millions more from sinking deeper into destitution. It's a safety net that's been working exactly as it's supposed to — and GOP ideologues don't want government programs that work.
Also, just for the hell of it, these laissez-fairyland Dickensians added insult to the injury that their cuts would cause for millions of America's hard-hit people.
They tacked on a provision to let the meanest of states force the needy families to submit to humiliating drug tests as the price of obtaining food for their families.
In case you're wondering just how far Republican lawmakers have wandered into the wacky weeds of far-right ideology, note the babbling of Rep. Paul Ryan. Chairman of the House budget committee, this champion of extreme austerity has pushed feverishly for gutting the food stamp program. Why? Because, he rants, it's a government giveaway that turns our safety net into "a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency."
A hammock? Food stamp allotments average under $4.50 a day. As for "able-bodied people," does he not know that two-thirds of the program's benefits go to children, the elderly and disabled people?
In a society of gross and growing economic disparity, with mass unemployment and underemployment, food stamps are a minimal measure of our humanity and social morality. Forget the Paul Ryans — here's the guy we should be listening to: "Excuse me if I use strong words," he recently said, "but where there is no work there is no dignity ... We don't want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm."
Pointing directly at the wealthiest elites who push relentlessly to shred government safety nets and make workers powerless, he declared: "(Widening disparity) is the consequence of a world choice, of an economic system that brings about this tragedy, an economic system that has at its center an idol which is called money." Such worship of mammon, he added, creates an economic culture that throws away the well-being of the many to enhance the fortunes of the few. "We have to say no to this throwaway culture. We want a just system that helps everyone," he concluded.
That's the powerful moral voice of Francis, the Catholic Church's new Pope. He ended his comments with a fiery prayer calling on people to oppose the "cult of money" and asking God to "teach us to fight for work." Amen.
(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
In the fall of 1956, Nikita Khrushchev threatened to rain rockets down on London for the British invasion of Suez and sent his tanks into Budapest to drown the Hungarian Revolution in blood. He blew up the Paris summit in 1960, banged his shoe at the U.N., and warned Americans, "We will bury you!" He insulted John F. Kennedy in Vienna, built the Berlin Wall, and began secretly to place missiles in Cuba capable of annihilating every city in the Southeast, including Washington.
Those were sobering times and serious enemies. Yet in the Eisenhower-Kennedy years, living under a nuclear Sword of Damocles unlike any the world had ever known, we Americans were on balance a cool, calm and collected crowd.
How then explain the semi-hysteria and near panic in circles of this city over the possibility President Obama might meet with President Hassan Rouhani and hold negotiations over Iran's nuclear program? We hear talk of Hitler in the Rhineland, of a new Munich, of America failing to act as Britain failed to act, until, back to the wall, it had no choice but to fight. The old Churchill quotes are heard once again.
But is the Ayatollah Hitler? Is Rouhani von Ribbentrop? Is Iran the Fourth Reich? Should we be very very afraid?
Iran, we are told, is the most dangerous enemy America faces. But is this true?
Depending on one's source, Iran's economy is 2 to 4 percent of ours. After oil and gas, its big exports appear to be caviar, carpets and pistachio nuts. Inflation is unbridled and Iran's currency is plummeting.
Here is the New York Times last month: "Rouhani's aides describe Iran's economic situation as the worst in decades. ... The signs of woe abound. Lacking money, Iran's national soccer team scrapped a training trip to Portugal. Teachers in Tehran nervously awaited their wages, which were inexplicably delayed by more than a week. Officials warned recently that food and medicine imports have stalled for three weeks because of a lack of foreign currency."
Should Iran start a war, the sinking of its coastal navy would be a few days' work for the Fifth Fleet. Its air force of U.S. Phantoms dating to the Shah and few dozen MiGs dating to the early 1990s would provide a turkey shoot for Top Gun applicants. In 30 days, the United States could destroy its airfields, missile sites and nuclear facilities, and impose an air and naval blockade that would reduce Iran to destitution.
And Iran is not only isolated economically. She is a Shia nation in a Muslim world 90 percent Sunni, a Persian nation on the edge of a sea of 320 million Arabs. Kurds, Azeris, Arabs and Baluch make up close to half of Iran's population. War with America could tear Iran apart.
Why then would Tehran want a war — and with a superpower?
Answer: It doesn't. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has attacked no nation and gone to war once — to defend herself against Saddam Hussein's aggression that had the backing of the United States.
In that war, the Iranians suffered the worst poison gas attacks since Gamal Abdel Nasser used gas in Yemen and Benito Mussolini used it in Abyssinia. Iran has thus condemned the use of gas in Syria and offered to help get rid of it.
Last year, Iran's departing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who frightened so many, made a simple logical point about Iran's supposed bomb program: "Let's even imagine that we have an atomic weapon, a nuclear weapon. What would we do with it? What intelligent person would fight 5,000 American bombs with one bomb?"
Yet, still, the beat goes on. "There is no more time to hold negotiations," says Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, Iran is only six months from developing an atom bomb. Yet the New York Times reports Monday, "American intelligence experts believe Iran is still many months if not years away from having such a weapon." Time to clear this up.
Congress should call James Clapper, head of national intelligence, and pin him down publicly on these questions:
Has Iran made the decision to build an atom bomb? Does Iran even have all the ingredients for a bomb? If Iran made a decision to build a bomb would we know about it? And how long would it take for Iran to build and test a nuclear device?
Americans were misled, deceived and lied into one war. Let's not follow the same crowd into another.
Obama is being urged not to meet with Rouhani, as the man has a checkered past. Yet U.S. presidents met three times with Stalin, three with the Butcher of Budapest, once with Chairman Mao. Compared to these fellows, Hussein Rouhani looks like Ramsey Clark.
Query: If Iran has the scientific and industrial capacity to build a bomb — and all agree it has — what could conceivably be the reason Iran has not yet done so?
Perhaps, just perhaps, Iran doesn't want the bomb.
Talk to the man, Mr. President.
(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