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Michael Barone - Supreme Court offers mixed verdict - 752

This has been a big week for the Supreme Court. In four separate cases, it applied stricter scrutiny to racial quotas and preferences in higher education, overturned part of the Voting Rights Act, ruled unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act and dismissed an appeal of a case overturning California voters' ban on same-sex marriage.
At the same time, it pointedly declined to declare that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
There were victories and setbacks here for political and cultural conservatives and for political and cultural liberals.
Only one of the four cases was decided by the familiar 5-4 split between supposedly conservative and supposedly liberal justices. In the other three, as often this year, there were different lineups.
The common thread I see is that this is a court that has mostly tried to keep the three branches of the federal government and the states from interfering with each other.
This was arguably true in Fisher v. University of Texas, the case on racial preferences in college and university admissions. The decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who had dissented from the 2003 decision allowing quotas. But Kennedy declined to rule them out altogether, as Justice Clarence Thomas urged. Rather, Kennedy said courts should apply "strict scrutiny" to preferences that must be "narrowly tailored," as he argued in his 2003 dissent.
Justice Stephen Breyer, in the majority then, agreed with this narrowing, forming a 7-1 majority. Only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented.
Fisher may discourage schools from employing racial quotas, and it could lead them to consider giving preferences to disadvantage applicants not classified as black or Hispanic. That could result in less litigation.
The court did strike down a federal law in Shelby County v. Holder, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. That provision requires certain states and localities, based on low black turnout in elections between 1964 and 1972 (mostly but not all in the South), to get preclearance of any election law changes from the federal Justice Department.
The criteria make no sense today and Congress should write new ones, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote. The problem is that today black turnout rates are higher than white ones in Mississippi, while the state where they lag farthest behind is Massachusetts.
So Congress may not be able to come up with new criteria. That would mean less federal interference with the states. Individuals and the Justice Department can still sue to stop racial discrimination in voting where it exists under Section 2.
The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages authorized by states, and allows states not to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. It was overturned 5-4 in U.S. v. Windsor, written by Kennedy.
That means that same-sex couples can file joint federal tax returns and qualify for the spousal exemption in federal estate tax. It may mean that same-sex couples can get divorces in states that don't allow them to marry. It may overturn any state law barring same-sex couples from adopting children. Other wrinkles are left to the states to sort out.
But the court was unwilling to impose same-sex marriage on states that don't want it. That was the practical effect of Perry v. Hollingsworth, which left in place a California federal trial court decision overturning California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.
The state declined to defend the law on appeal, and the chief justice wrote that the private parties who appealed lacked the standing to do so. He got the votes of the unusual coalition of justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
Ginsburg supports Roe v. Wade but has spoken with some concern about the furor the court caused by legalizing abortion across the nation. She and some colleagues may have dreaded a similar furor if the court legalized same-sex marriage everywhere. The practical effect is that California now has same-sex marriage. But polls indicate that California voters stood ready to reverse Proposition 8's narrow 52 to 48 percent margin if the issue again got on the ballot.
These decisions, which tend to restrain branches of government from interfering with each other, were the product of no single coalition. No justice voted with the majority in all four cases, but each voted with the majority in two or three. A thought-provoking session.
(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 Friday, 28 June 2013 08:03

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Jim Hightower - Serve Wall Street or serve the poor?

Thank God for Congress, right? When things get out of balance in America, we can always count on our legislative stalwarts to recalibrate the scales of justice.
Take greed, for example. The barons of Wall Street, whose raw greed and casino scams wrecked our real economy five years ago, are back to shoving great gobs of bonus pay into their pockets. Meanwhile, the middle class remains decimated, and millions of workaday Americans who were knocked all the way down into poverty are still stuck there. In this nation of fabulous wealth, our poverty numbers are shocking and scandalous: 50 million people are officially poor; another 51 million are "near poor." A third of our country!
You'll be pleased to know, then, that only last week, U.S. House members turned their legislative guns on the greed that's sapping the moral vitality of our society. Unfortunately, their aim was a bit off. Instead of popping the privileged, they hit the most unprivileged: families who need food stamps to make ends meet.
The food stamp program is out of control, they shrieked, noting that it's been expanding even as the unemployment rate has been coming down. Yoo-hoo, knuckleheads, the jobless rate has ticked down largely because job-seekers have become so discouraged by the absence of opportunities that they've quit looking. Plus, getting a job no longer gets you out of poverty — just ask the barista who's making your next latte about the joys of working for poverty pay. Food stamp rolls have reached record numbers, because — guess what? — there are record numbers of Americans in poverty!
Yet, the House called for cutting some $2 billion a year (and 2 million Americans) out of the program. On June 20, however, the members balked — not because the cut was too severe, but because it was not enough for tea party Repubs, who have been demanding a total food stamp gut job, proposing to slash the program by $25 billion a year.
Also, the GOP majority lost the votes of nearly all Democrats by adding a couple of fiendish amendments to punish poor people for the crime of being poor.
One was to put additional work requirements on families seeking the food benefit. "We cannot continue to deny able-bodied people the dignity of work," blathered a worked-up know-nothing named Steve Southerland of Florida. Then, Rep. Michele Bachmann had a tempest in her teapot of a brain, offering her support of Southerland's amendment in a sort of Biblical falsetto: "If anyone will not work, neither should he eat."
Hello, Michele — that's not exactly in keeping with the moral message of the Biblical Jesus. Nor is it in keeping with reality — today's poverty does not stem from any unwillingness to work. Indeed, millions of food stamp recipients are working, but not being paid enough to put adequate groceries on the family table. And many more are in desperate search for jobs that aren't there.
In fairness, though, let me note that House Republicans did try to give hard-hit families something extra in this legislation: drug testing. Following in lockstep with the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council — which has been peddling this vile, insulting slap at poor people all around the country — the House majority added a urine-test provision to its bill. That really puts the mean in "demeaning" — and this from small government poseurs who piously decry government intrusion into people's lives!
Once again, the tea party congress-critters should have used their ever-present Bibles for instruction, rather than just for thumping. They would've learned that Jesus, at the Sea of Galilee, distributed free fish and loaves to everyone there — with no pee-in-the-cup requirement. And if he had wanted to test whether anyone was on drugs, he would've passed cups to bankers first, then to lawmakers.
A society's response to poverty is one measure that speaks directly to its essential character. In particular, a wealthy society's nonchalant tolerance of poverty in its midst, the willingness of that society's leaders to disregard the spread of poverty and the callous calculations by some that it is permissible and even profitable to denigrate those mired in poverty — these are three flashing indicators of a meltdown in our society's moral core.
(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 Thursday, 27 June 2013 05:12

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Bob Meade - Help paying for Rx

There is a continuum of services available to help those in need of prescription medicines. Most assistance programs measure individual or household income based on the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) guidelines. Income is the determining factor in whether or not assistance will be provided . . . specifically, income as a percentage of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).
The individual poverty level for 2013 is $11,490. In multiple person households, add $4,020 for each additional person. For example, a family of four would have up to $23,550 in combined income and be considered at or below the poverty level. (http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/13poverty.cfm)
Virtually every drug company has what is called a Patient Assistance Program. The rules vary from company to company as most will allow income of 200 percent of the poverty level to qualify for free medicines, while some other drug companies allow up to 300 percent, and a few up to 400 percent of the FPL. Therefore, a family of four could have income at 200 percent of the poverty level ($47,100) and probably qualify for medicines from almost any pharmaceutical company. Qualifying income for a family of four at 300 percent would be $70,650, and at 400 percent $94,200. While these programs are not age dependent, some of the drug companies do require that those who are Medicare (Part D) eligible, first be denied "extra help" (low income support) from the Social Security Administration.
There is an excellent website — http://www.needymeds.org/ — that identifies drug companies, the medicines they manufacture, and the conditions each sets for providing patient assistance. Individuals who are Internet savvy, and who may be on a limited number of medicines, may access the Needy Meds website and get the information they need to manage their own applications. For most people, however, dealing with multiple drug companies, their differing requirements, and in some cases, differing ordering intervals, can get to be a bit confusing. Because of that, many people turn to programs like LRGHealthcare's Medication Connection Program, or the Medication Bridge Programs at other hospitals around the state.
The normal process for accessing one of these programs is for the Primary Care Provider (PCP) to refer the patient to the program at the medical facility to which he or she is associated, and to provide a copy of the patient's medication list. Once the referral is received, the program manager will send an application to the patient, along with a request for the financial and other information required by the drug companies who offer the medicines on the list the PCP has provided. When the program manager receives the information back from the patient, his or her experience can generally tell whether or not the patient meets the criteria specified by the drug companies involved. If it appears that they will accept the patient's application, the program manager obtains the necessary prescriptions from the PCP, arranges the information in the form and structure required by each of the involved drug companies, and sends it in to them. A patient's confidential file is then established and copies of all the pertinent information is retained. Upon approval from each involved company, the medicines for the patient are normally sent directly to the PCP's office, where the patient can pick them up. As most medicines are ordered in three month intervals, the PCP prescriptions usually call for a 90 day supply with three refills. The program manager establishes the re-order dates for each medicine, normally in a computerized file. The medicines are reordered at the appropriate time and, after the third refill is ordered, the re-application process is initiated. That process requires the patient to provide updated financial information to be sent to each of the involved companies.
There are a number of companies that offer drug discounts cards or coupons. Those who may have accessed the website for www.needymeds.org might have noticed a number of medicines that offered coupons. To view the entire list of coupons that are available that provide a discount, log into http://www.needymeds.org/coupons.taf?_function=list&letter=a. Needy meds also offers its own, free discount card that may be used, but there are a few restrictions, such as it can't be combined with insurance. For more detailed information log into http://www.needymeds.org/drugcard/index.htm .
A follow-on to this article will provide additional information on a number of addition resources that are available to help people receive their medicines. The article is planned to run on July 9.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 08:00

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Pat Buchanan - Let Allah sort it out

On U.S. military intervention in Syria's civil war, where "both sides are slaughtering each other as they scream over an arbitrary red line 'Allahu akbar' ... I say let Allah sort it out."
So said Sarah Palin to the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. And, as is not infrequently the case, she nailed it.
Hours later, Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times, at length, echoed Palin: "Those who are urging the U.S. to get more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict now are living in the past."
Four fundamental changes make it "no longer realistic, or even desirable, for the U.S. to dominate" the Middle East as we did from the Suez crisis of 1956 through the Iraq invasion of 2003.
The four changes: the failures of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, the Great Recession, the Arab Spring and emerging U.S. energy independence.
Indeed, with $2 trillion sunk, 7,000 U.S. troops dead, 40,000 wounded, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead, and millions of refugees, what do we have to show for this vast human and material waste?
Can a country with an economy limping along, one that has run four consecutive deficits in excess of $1 trillion, afford another imperial adventure?
On the Shiite side of the Syrian civil war are Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Hezbollah and Syrian President Bashar Assad. On the Sunni side are the al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, Sunni jihadists from across the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Is victory for either side worth yet another U.S. war?
Ought we not stand back and ask: What vital interest is imperiled here?
And even if Americans favor one side or the other, how lasting an impact could any U.S. intervention have? The region is in turmoil.
Since the Tunisian uprising that dethroned an autocratic ally, dictators have fallen in Egypt and Libya. There have been a Shiite revolt in Bahrain, a civil war in Yemen and a civil-sectarian war in Syria that has cost 90,000 lives. Iraq is disintegrating. Al-Qaida is in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb region and Mali.
Now the muezzin's call to religious war is heard.
"How could 100 million Shiites defeat 1.7 billion (Sunnis)?" roared powerful Saudi cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, calling for a Sunni-Shiite war. Al-Qaradawi denounces Assad's Alawite sect as "more infidel than Christians and Jews" and calls Hezbollah "the party of the devil."
"Everyone who has the ability and has training to kill ... is required to go" to Syria, said al-Qaradawi.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban have made a comeback, and the United States is negotiating with the same crowd we sent an army to oust in 2001. And the press reports we will be leaving behind $7 billion in U.S. military vehicles and equipment when we depart.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the most successful Turkish leader since Kemal Ataturk, appears to have lost his mandate, with hundreds of thousands pouring into streets and squares both to denounce and to defend him.
The United States, says Rachman, "has recognised that, ultimately, the people of the Middle East are going to have to shape their own destinies. Many of the forces at work in the region — such as Islamism and Sunni-Shia sectarianism — are alarming to the West but they cannot be forever channelled or suppressed."
Did those clamoring today for intervention in Syria learn nothing from Ronald Reagan's intervention in an earlier Arab civil war, the one in Lebanon? Result: 241 dead Marines, the U.S. Embassy in Beirut bombed and hostages taken.
Reagan left office believing his decision to put Marines in Lebanon was his greatest mistake. And to retrieve those hostages, he acceded to a transfer of weapons to Iran, an action that almost broke his presidency.
Yet it is not only in the Middle East that we are "living in the past," in a world long gone. As Ted Galen Carpenter writes in Chronicles, under NATO we are committed to go to war with Russia on behalf of 27 nations.
If Russia collides with Estonia or Latvia over the treatment of their Russian minorities, we fight Russia. For whose benefit is this commitment?
Today Japan spends 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. Yet the USA is committed to go to war to defend not only the home islands but the Senkaku islets and rocks in the East China Sea that China also claims.
Are the Senkakus really worth a war with China?
NATO was established to defend Europe. Yet Europe spends less on its own defense than we do. Sixty years after the Korean War, we remain committed to defend South Korea against North Korea. Yet South Korea has an economy 40 times as large as North Korea's.
Former Rep. Ron Paul asks: Why, when U.S. debt is larger than our GDP and we are running mammoth annual deficits, are we borrowing money abroad to give away in foreign aid?
Good question. As for those ethnic, sectarian and civil wars raging across the Middle East, let Allah sort it out.
(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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Sanborn - Don't be derogatory...

May was a great month for residential home sales with 99 transactions at an average price of $303,580 and a median price point of $192,500. That just edges out last May's total of 97 sales at an average price of $251,717. That's pretty darn good, but I wanted to break that elusive 100-sales-in-a-month mark! Couldn't one other person have bought a home!?! As usual, the majority of the sales are still below that $200,000 price point as buyers take advantage of the bargains currently available in the Lakes Region.
Unfortunately, we are still seeing a number of homes going to foreclosure or being sold as short sales. In the towns listed in this report, there were 72 bank owned homes sold plus nine other properties sold through the short sale process through the first five months of the year (at least according to the MLS). That represents about 23 percent of all the sales. In typical government fashion, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae have come up with a term for foreclosures, short sales, and bankruptcies; they call them "Derogatory Events". Now, I think I would have called it something different instead. The definition of derogatory includes; degrading, demeaning, disparaging, slighting, and uncomplimentary. After all, aren't we supposed to be a kinder, gentler, and politically correct nation now? As any school child (used) to know, if you said something derogatory to someone you could end up standing in the corner instead of going out to recess.
Well, it's kind of the same thing with Fannie and Freddie backed loans if you've done something "derogatory" such as a short sale. Except you stand in the corner a lot longer when it comes to getting financing for a property again. I am not sure that all home owners understand this. Some may think that a short sale doesn't affect their ability to get a loan down the road, but it does. Fannie and Freddie have guides and matrixes explaining the rules and time lines that apply to borrowers that have had a "derogatory event" or "financial mismanagement" problem. They might even have drones but that's another issue entirely.
For example, to get financing from Freddie you will have to wait four years to get another loan and the loan to value ratio would be a maximum of 90 percent. Fannie can provide financing at 80 percent loan to value after two years or 90 percent loan to value mortgage after four years. This is, of course, dependant on your credit scores. The majority of conventional loans do follow Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae guidelines, but some lenders may have stricter requirements and their own credit overlay, so Freddie and Fannie's "wait-times" are the minimum. And, should you want to buy a vacation home or income property you'll have to wait seven long years so don't think you're going to run out and start a real estate empire anytime soon.
So, what if there are "extenuating circumstances?" Well, you won't have to stand in the corner quite so long if something bad happens that was well beyond your control; like the loss of a primary income earner or a long term uninsured disability. But even that has to be very well documented. I think they ask for your dearly departed to be brought into their office and propped up in the corner. Extenuating circumstances does not include a decline in market conditions and the fact that your home lost a third of its value. Something like, "It's not my fault. My dog ate my homework" just doesn't cut it either. Should you be able to convince them of circumstances extraordinaire, both Freddie and Fannie can reduce your time in the corner to two years with a maximum of a 90 percent LTV mortgage.
Now apparently the FHA criteria are a lot more lenient and say that you may be eligible for a new loan after just one year. Remember the key word in that sentence is "may" and while the FHA rules "may" allow it many lenders that write the FHA backed loans could be a little more than reluctant to write such a loan.
I am not saying that a home owner in distress should avoid a short sale. He just needs to be aware of what happens after. The consequences for a short sale are certainly less than a seven year waiting period resulting from a foreclosure under the Freddie Mac guidelines. That's more like a very, very long detention. My best tip for you is to behave yourself, don't be derogatory, and stay in school.
Thanks to my friend Jennifer McCall at Merrimack Mortgage in Meredith for schooling me on this issue...
And, oh yes, she says they change the rules all the time so check with your lender if you are currently still in the corner.
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 6/19/13. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 290

 
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