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Jim Hightower - Do more than the minimum on minimum wage

"In the wealthiest nation on earth," President Obama declared in his State of the Union speech, "no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty."
Right! Way to go! Not only does his call to raise America's minimum wage put some real pop in populism, but it could finally start putting some ethics back in our country's much-celebrated (but rarely honored) "work ethic." Kudos to Obama for putting good economics and good morals together — and for putting this long overdue increase on the front burner.
But then came the number: $9 an hour. Excuse me, Mr. President, but if you're going to bother making the fight, why start out with a number so low that many minimum-wage employees would still "have to live in poverty"?
About 60 percent of America's lowest-paid workers are women, including single moms struggling awfully hard to make ends meet. Yet, at your $9 an hour level, a single woman with two children, would, in fact, be paid a poverty wage. And, since you would slowly phase-in the increase, she wouldn't even be paid that until nearly two years from now.
Yes, nine bucks is a buck-seventy-five better than the current low wage of high misery, but it doesn't even elevate the buying power of our nation's wage floor back to where it was in 1968. Nor, by the way, does it match the $9.50-level you pledged to push in 2008 when you were running for president.
This is not merely about extending a badly needed helping hand to people struggling to work their way out of poverty, but it's also about enabling them to give a bottom-up jolt of new energy to our economy, which it desperately needs.
Ironically, while super-rich corporations are hoarding trillions of dollars in offshore accounts, refusing to invest in our nation, minimum-wage workers will invest every extra dollar they get in America — spending it right where they live on clothing, food, transportation, health care and other needs.
A 2011 Federal Reserve study found that a $1 hike in the minimum wage produces an additional $2,800 a year in spending by each of those households — so this is no time to shortchange these workers.
Yes, I know that congressional Republicans' idea of governing is, first, to snap a sharp "No," and only then ask what the proposal is. So, at the direction of corporate lobbyists, they were bleating a loud negative to any wage hike — and when Obama proposed $9, GOP House leader John Boehner jumped on it like a gator on a poodle.
Incredibly, he claimed that raising the wages of our country's most poorly paid workers would hurt — guess who? — America's most poorly paid workers! This disingenuous pitting of poor people against themselves is derived from a corporate manufactured political myth that hiking the minimum pay squeezes small-business owners to the breaking point, "forcing" them to fire employees or even go bankrupt. "When you raise the price of employment," Boehner grumped, "guess what happens: You get less of it."
Well, guess again, John. That "job killer" fable has been debunked again and again by real world experience. Over decades, the pay floor has constantly been elevated by Congress, states and cities, and the great preponderance of studies show that it causes little to zero negative impacts on job numbers, but very positive results for employee morale, productivity and turnover. It also tends to generate a nice income boost for — guess who — small businesses, as wage earners spend their increase in pay in the local economy.
Obviously, the major impact of the raise is to lift incomes of about 18 million hardworking people being paid at or near the minimum. This allows them to save enough to make a down payment on a used car or to enroll in a couple of community college classes. Plus, it gives at least a token nod to the essential need of bridging America's dangerously widening chasm of economic inequality.
The real shame in the Republican leader's attack is not its flagrant dishonesty, but the raw disdain that it flings at low-wage workers. The hidebound "no's" in our society — including Boehner, Mitt Romney, the Koch brothers and Wall Street billionaires — see working people in terms of their price tags, not in their value. This dehumanized contempt for the working class not only stains these corporate elitists, but it also holds back America's phenomenal economic potential — and this contempt of America's workaday majority is social dynamite.
While those power elites say "no," the American people overwhelmingly say "yes." A poll last June found that seven out of 10 of us — including a majority of Republican women (but not men) — favor raising the minimum wage above $10 an hour. So, Mr. President, this is not a time for meek proposals. Think big, and take it to the people.
(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, 21 February 2013 21:12

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Pat Buchanan - Who killed the middle class?

"It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class."
So said Barack Obama in his State of the Union.
And for one of his ideas to reignite that engine, Republicans applauded.
"And tonight, I am announcing that we will launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union — because trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs."
One wonders if any of those in the hall who rose robotically at the phrase "free and fair" were aware of the trade results just in from 2012. What were the 2012 figures for the European Union? U.S. exports to Europe fell, imports from Europe rose, and our trade deficit with the EU shot up 16 percent to $116 billion. We ran a trade deficit with Italy of $20 billion, with Ireland of $25 billion, with Germany of $60 billion. The Europeans are eating our lunch.
What about South Korea, the country with whom we signed a free-trade deal in 2012? U.S. exports to Korea fell last year, and due to a surge in imports our trade deficit in goods with South Korea soared 25 percent to $16.6 billion. Seoul's trade minister who cut that deal and cleaned our clock should get a medal and the kind of bonus Americans reserve for people like hedge fund managers and the folks who ran Fannie and Freddie.
And Japan? Last year, Nippon ran a $76 billion trade surplus with the United States, second largest of any country. But that is insufficient for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has bullied the Bank of Japan to drive down the yen 20 percent against the dollar in three months — to increase exports to America and cut imports. Look for the U.S. trade deficit with Tokyo to explode.
What about that NAFTA treaty the establishments of both parties heralded in the Clinton era? How has that worked out for Uncle Sam? Last year, the United States ran a trade deficit of $32 billion with Canada and twice that, $61 billion, with Mexico.
What was America's overall trade position in 2012? We ran a global trade deficit in goods of $736 billion. That is 5 percent of the U.S. economy. We are hemorrhaging jobs, factories, wealth.
In banking, consulting, lawyering — i.e., services — we had a nice surplus. That's what we Americans do now.
Since Bush 1, when some of us began to argue loudly that a mindless ideological pursuit of free trade would imperil America's industrial base, the total of U.S. trade deficits in goods with the world is approaching $10 trillion — 10 thousand billion dollars!
Might this humongous dumping of foreign goods into the U.S.A., killing our factories, and the liberation of our transnational elite to close plants, outsource production, and bring foreign-made goods back free of charge into the U.S. market, have had something to do with killing the middle class? The U.S. median income stopped growing in the mid-1970s, the same time we began to run 40 straight years of ever-expanding trade deficits.
And how are we doing with China?
Well, if one reads the weekend Wall Street Journal, Feb. 9-10, on page A3 in the lower left-hand corner is a box with a story headlined, "Trade Gap Shrinks 21 Percent as Oil Imports Decline." A positive headline, but about December only. In the 10th paragraph, however, was this tiny item: "Although the trade deficit with China narrowed 15.5 percent in December ... the year-long deficit grew to a record."
"Grew to a record"? What did that mean? Elsewhere, one learns that the U.S. trade deficit in goods with China was not only an all-time record, but the largest between any two nations in the history of the world — $315 billion. China now exports 6.3 times as much in manufactured goods to the United States, $417 billion's worth, as we export to China. Over two decades, Republicans in the lead, America granted Beijing most favored nation status, then permanent normal trade relations. Then we squired Beijing into the World Trade Organization.
And since the courtship began, the trade surpluses China has run with the United States have enriched, empowered and emboldened her so that, today, brimming with ethnonational arrogance, China has laid claim to all the islands in the South and East China seas and is telling the U.S. Navy to stay out of the Yellow Sea and Formosa Strait. And the free-trade fanatics responsible for building up this Asian colossus challenging us in the Pacific now tell us we must "pivot" — i.e., shift — our planes, ships and troops out of Europe and the Mideast to Asia and the Western Pacific to contain the mighty and mammoth power their stupidity created.
Every nation seems to understand what our baby boomers were never taught. A trade balance is a measure of national power that reliably identifies rising and falling nations.
(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 — Amazon rules the sales tax avoidance jungle

SEATTLE — Lunch hour in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Workers walk dogs they can take to the office. Lines form in hip restaurants. Something big is going on here, but the only sure sign of a major employer is the many blue ID cards hanging out of jackets.
The corporate master here is Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. Amazon does not put its name on its collection of new buildings in these once-grungy environs, not even the trademark smile logo. The reason for this faux secrecy remains subject to speculation.
Anyhow, the king of cyberspace commerce chose a city tied to its identity as a liberal and quirky center of tech savvy. It revels in bistros serving locally grown arugula to young creatives eager to reunite with their corgis. But underneath these soft atmospherics stands a corporation in iron battle against paying state taxes and dismissive of hometown philanthropy, as described in a Seattle Times series, "Behind the Amazon.com Smile."
Something tells me that Amazon founder and corporate mastermind Jeff Bezos would not dislike that contrast. After all, the company's business model is based largely on taking the "local" out of shopping.
Amazon's aversion to paying taxes would play well in conservative America, except for this: The new "Red State model" is to rely less on state income taxes and more on sales taxes. A 1992 Supreme Court decision, written with mail-order merchants in mind, frees cyber-retailers from having to collect sales taxes in states where they do not have a physical presence.
So, with a few exceptions, Amazon does not burden out-of-state shoppers with sales taxes. This gives it a significant advantage over brick-and-mortar stores that must tack on such taxes. Amazon understandably likes it that way.
But this is a major-league problem in states dependent on sales taxes — especially as online shopping gains retail market share.
In Kansas, Louisiana and Nebraska, for example, Republican governors want to cut or banish their states' income taxes and replace the lost revenues with higher sales taxes.
On this matter, Amazon can play rough. South Carolina offered Amazon $33 million in free land, property-tax cuts and payroll-tax credits to build a warehouse there. It even exempted the company from Lexington County "blue laws," thus letting the warehouse stay open on Sunday mornings.
But Amazon wanted more. It wanted immunity from collecting the 6 percent sales tax on stuff bought by South Carolinians, something the state would be entitled to once Amazon had a warehouse there. The state legislature rejected that request, at which point Amazon stopped construction on the facility and threatened to abandon the project. The state then gave the company a five-year exemption on collecting sales taxes.
Amazon has gone so far as to give its employees color-coded maps, dividing the United States between green and red states. In this case, the red stands not for Republican, but states where the presence of Amazon workers might unleash a tax liability. The employees must seek special permission before venturing into the red areas.
King County is known for strong corporate philanthropy — led by Microsoft, Boeing and Nordstrom — but Amazon has been a relative no-show on contributions to Seattle-area causes. Amazon argues with some reason that it contributes valuable jobs. Yes, but so do the others.
The museums, the symphony and other civic amenities help make Seattle the cultural cauldron from which Amazon finds its cool people. Meanwhile, the laws protecting Amazon and other online retailers from having to collect sales taxes are helping bankrupt many other local governments.
Sure, Amazon is a great success story and has a right to think itself special. It just shouldn't be that special.
(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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Roy Sanborn - Expect the unexpected

It seems like every day you hear about something unexpected happening. Like the unexpected rise in unemployment claims, or the unexpected drop in the nation's gross domestic product, or that the Pope unexpectedly is going to step down. Well, two out of three have pretty much become expected. But just to keep it rolling, unexpectedly there was only one waterfront home sold on Lake Winnipesaukee in January. I expect that kind of thing on Squam or Winnisquam (which also only had one sale,) but not on Winnipesaukee. This is not the way we should be starting off the New Year after finishing up 2012 with an unexpected 22 percent increase in waterfront sales over the prior year.
The only sale on Winnipesaukee in January was at 11 Craig Way in Tuftonboro near Melvin Village. This is kind of a neat property as it consists of a vintage 1935 main home and two cottages on a .41 acre lot with 95-feet of frontage, a beach, a 40-foot dock, and southwesterly sunset views. There wasn't a lot of info given on the MLS sheet but the pictures revealed that the charming main cottage has cathedral ceilings, a rustic knotty pine interior, a large brick fireplace, two first floor bedrooms plus two more in the loft, and a great deck. The two three bedroom cottages seemed to be a little more modern but also are very appealing... at least from the pictures. We'll get back to that in a moment. The listing agent noted that it was unknown if the cottages were year round or seasonal, but I would bet the lack of insulation and heating systems might limit the usage to the summer months. If you thought otherwise, you would be unexpectedly leaving for warmer places come November. This property was originally listed at $625,000 and was on the market for 215 days before finding a buyer at $535,000. The tax assessed value is listed at $761,800.
The only sale on Winnisquam was at 20 Winnicoash St. in Laconia. Look for a Winnebego in the yard. I don't really expect one to be there, but I liked the near-alliteration. This home is a turn of the century, three bedroom, two bath New Englander with 1,624-square-feet of living space. This charming older home has a newly remodeled kitchen, a formal dining room, hardwood floors, a new roof (so if it leaks, well that's unexpected,) a one car garage, and a nice lawn leading down to 78-feet of frontage with sunset views and a new dock. This home was on the market for 210 days starting at $525,000, then was reduced down to $449,000, and sold for an even $400,000. The tax assessment was shown as $487,400.
There were no sales on Squam Lake in January which was kind of expected given the few sales we see up there.
There are some other things in real estate that are definitely not unexpected anymore: (a) low ball offers, (b) low appraisals, (c) appraisals being rejected due to totally unexpected issues in underwriting, and (d) buyers being vaporized by unseen forces. These examples have all gone from the realm of unexpected to almost always expected.
But there are still some unexpected things going on. Buyers often find the unexpected when they go to look at property. Like finding a badger in the basement or a home that is much nicer on the inside than the outside (or vice versa.) Many times the pictures on the MLS don't reflect how really nice or how disappointing a property might be. Real estate agents have an amazing knack for making homes look really nice in pictures. Consequently, you should go see a property in person before you rule it out. And remember, never judge a book by its cover. For example, some buyers might have ruled out this home after they did a drive by. But a good REALTOR® would have encouraged them to go inside because he had seen it. See, you must always be prepared for the unexpected...
Please feel free to visit ww.lakesregionhome.com to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled as of 2/13/13 using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Roche Realty Group and can be reached at 603-677-8420

Last Updated on Friday, 15 February 2013 23:19

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Michael Barone - Gangster government operates above the law

The presidents' State of the Union addresses are delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives in the Capitol. The classical majesty of this building where laws are made symbolizes the idea that we live under the rule of law.
Unfortunately, the 44th president is running an administration that too often seems to ignore the rule of law.
"We can't wait," Barack Obama took to saying after the Republicans captured a majority in the House and refused to pass laws he wanted. He would act to get what he wanted regardless of law.
One example: his recess appointments in January 2012 of three members of the National Labor Relations Board and the head of the Consumer FinancialProtection Bureau. Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that the NLRB recess appointments were unconstitutional.
The decision, written by Judge David Sentelle, noted that the Constitution speaks of "the recess," not "a recess," and reasoned that it could only be referring to the recess between annual sessions of Congress.
Obama, like many presidents before him, interpreted the phrase as referring to any recess during which Congress is not in session. But he went one step further. When Harry Reid became Senate majority leader in 2007, he started holding pro forma meetings of the Senate every three days and stating that the Senate was not in recess. George W. Bush, who had made recess appointments before, stopped doing so.
Bush took the view that, since the Constitution says that each branch of Congress makes its own rules, the Senate was in session if the Senate said so. Obama took the view that he would decide whether the Senate was in session. Who cares what the Constitution says?
As Sentelle pointed out, Obama's view would entitle the president to make a recess appointment any time the Senate broke for lunch. "This cannot be the law," the judge wrote.
Critics of his decision argue that under it the recess appointment power would be vanishingly small. But under Obama's view, the Senate's power to advise and consent could effectively vanish. The Framers contemplated that the Congress would take long recesses (as for many years it did) and that it could take months for senators to return to Washington to act on appointments. It's plausible that the Framers would have considered recess appointments unnecessary in an era of jet travel. It's not plausible that they would have approved of getting rid of the Senate's power to vote on appointments altogether.
Meanwhile, decisions of the NLRB and the CFPB are in legal limbo, pending a Supreme Court decision. Hundreds of thousands of people and are affected and millions of dollars are at stake. There is a price for not observing the rule of law.
There are other examples. For several years, the Obama administration has refused to obey a law requiring the president's budget to be submitted on a certain date. As Budget Director, Treasury nominee Jack Lew refused to obey the law requiring him to issue a report in response to the trustees' report on Medicare.
During the 2012 campaign, the Pentagon told defense contractors not to inform employees that they may be laid off if the sequester took effect as required by the WARN Act. They were even told that the government would pay any fines for not complying. What law authorizes that?
Similarly, Health and Human Services has stated that the federal government can fund health insurance exchanges run by the feds for states that refuse to create their own exchanges. But nowhere does the Democrats' hastily crafted ObamaCare legislation say that.
In spring 2009, we got our first glimmers of this modus operandi. In arranging the Chrysler bankruptcy, administration officials brushed aside the rights of secured creditors in order to pay off the United Auto Workers. University of Pennsylvania law professor David Skeel pointed out that this violated the standard rules of bankruptcy law established, interestingly, during the New Deal.
"We have just seen an episode of gangster government," I wrote at the time. "It is likely to be a continuing series."
It looks like that's one prediction I got right. This president, like all his predecessors since Woodrow Wilson started delivering these speeches in person, looks magnificent in the temple where laws are made. But he doesn't seem to consider himself bound by them.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 341

 
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