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Froma Harrop - 'Baby Bust' baloney

America's alleged "baby bust" is pushing the country over "a demographic cliff." So argues Jonathan V. Last in The Wall Street Journal. Stacking one highly debatable claim on the next, Last builds a palace of hooey, in the basement of which sits a conservative agenda that's not very conservative.
Here are the agreed-on facts: America's fertility rate — the number of children born by the average woman — has dipped below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. Were it not for immigrants' having more children, it would be lower still. All arrows point to it going down further, as the Latino fertility rate plummets. (In Mexico, it's at the replacement level.)
All this is true, but where is the problem? The problem, says Last, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, is that "growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation." Sure, more people mean more Albert Einsteins, but they also mean more Jeffrey Dahmers.
My questions are these: Is today's America cleverer than 1954's America, when the population was 150 million smaller? Teflon, McDonald's and, er, the birth-control pill were all invented that year. By the way, how are Niger, Guinea-Bissau and Afghanistan, with the world's highest fertility rates, doing in the innovation department?
Last's effort to link a growing population with "conservation" is heroic but a crock. "America's environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable," he says, "even though our population has increased by more than 50 percent."
Actually, these improvements happened despite enormous increases in population. And the environment has gotten better only by some measures. Our growing human population continues to run over natural habitats, pushing many species into extinction.
There's also a bit of elder bashing. Last impolitely refers to aging boomers as "the bloated cohort of old people." Falling fertility can result, at least in the near term, in a society more weighted with the elderly, he notes.
The result is "capital shifts to preserving and extending life."
What's wrong with that? Developing drugs for Alzheimer's is also innovation. Why is spending our capital on health care less admirable than devoting it to smarter cellphones or new cable programs?
Meanwhile, a decline in the working population encourages the invention of labor-saving devices. Facing a sharp fall in population, Japan has become a leader in robot technologies.
I do not kid: Last worries that the Social Security safety net acts as a disincentive to have children. Traditionally, care of older people fell to grown-up children, he explains. Certainly, that's how it was done back on the farm in 1890.
Last speaks of vague proposals "to dismantle this roadblock." One would greatly hike the child tax credit. Another would exempt parents raising children from payroll taxes. The latter could be a slick way to defund Social Security, and thereby kill it.
Other prescriptions include a "welcoming attitude toward immigration and robust religious faith." The United States takes in more legal immigrants than the rest of the world combined. We're already welcoming.
And if by "robust religious faith" Last means strengthening respect for traditional marriage and the children born within it, that would be a positive thing. But for all the joys, raising children costs money, both in outright expense and a parent's lost potential income. In service to that higher mission, conservatives might consider dropping their habit of equating wealth with "success."
Ahhh, social engineering for conservatives. Putting the word "smart" before "pronatalist policies" does not make them something else.
My favorite proposal is improving highways to help families leave congested cities for lower-cost areas. Gosh, if there were fewer people, there would be less congestion, and no one would have to move.
(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 — What difference does it make?

When Senator Johnson asked Secretary of State Clinton about her department's time line reporting of the Benghazi attack, she responded with what can best be described as faux outrage, as she said (paraphrasing), what difference does it make if it was in response to the video or if it was some guys out for a walk who decided to attack the consulate and kill four Americans.
That outrageous and insensitive response was used to shield Ms. Clinton from providing an honest answer to the senatorial committee and the American people. An honest answer may have shown that information on the attack was withheld or manipulated to shield the president during an election period.
Secretary Clinton's callous response prompts other similar "What difference does it make?" questions. For example:
What difference does it make that, after almost four months, the current administration has still not provided Congress or the American people with an honest report on who crafted the words that Ambassador Rice said on five different Sunday morning talk shows?
What difference does it make that the administration told the world the attack was prompted by an obscure U-tube video that almost no one watched? And, what difference does it make that the person who produced that little video has been put in jail for exercising his free speech?
What difference does it make that the survivors of the Benghazi attack have not been identified and have, apparently, been hidden away so as not to give their report on what actually happened?
What difference does it make that an ambassador of the United States was repeatedly raped and his body dragged through the streets of Benghazi? (Note: the American press disputes reports by the French and Lebanese press of the rape.)
What difference does it make that during a presidential debate, a CNN reporter, in an effort to support the president, misrepresented what he had previously said?
What difference does it make that the D.C. Circuit Court has ruled the president has violated the Constitution with his unlawful "recess appointments"?
What difference does it make that the president has chosen not to comply with court rulings concerning the recess appointments and his arbitrary decisions during the gulf oil spill, choosing to continue operating illegally while appealing the court's rulings?
What difference does it make that the president continually works to by-pass the legislative process through use of departmental regulations and executive orders?
What difference does it make that the president's Justice Department has arbitrarily decided what duly enacted laws they choose not to enforce?
What difference does it make that the president has made two appointments to the Supreme Court, one of whom had no judicial experience and the other with some experience but a history of having her rulings overturned on appeal over 60 percent of the time?
What difference does it make that the president chose to bypass constitutional restrictions and opted to impose regulations on religious organizations that would require them violate their principles and their religious beliefs?
What difference does it make that the president uses the nationwide broadcast of his State of the Union message, to single out and try to humiliate the Supreme Court justices?
What difference does it make that the president's own party in the Senate has refused to meet its budgetary obligation for four years?
What difference does it make that college professors are actively trying to get the citizenry to ignore or scrap the Constitution?
What difference does it make that the regulations for the Affordable Care Act (a/k/a ObamaCare) already exceed thirteen thousand pages and it is estimated it will take up to 10 years to complete writing all the regulations that will be enforced?
What difference does it make that the Affordable Care Act includes sixteen thousand new Internal Revenue Service agents to ensure all taxes associated with the act are paid?
What difference does it make that businesses are changing workers hours simply because they can't afford the cost of full time employees under the Affordable Care Act?
What difference does it make that the middle east and Africa are virtually in flames and we simply watch as tens of thousands of people are getting slaughtered?
What difference does it make if our country continues to incur trillions of dollars of deficits?
What difference does it make that fewer people are in the workforce now than when President Obama took office?
What difference does it make that citizens have seen their home value plunge 30 or 40 percent?
What difference does it make if the fourth estate, the free press, has forgotten the "who, what, when, where, how, and why" of reporting, preferring to be sycophants rather than reporters?
What difference does it make if the president attacks and wishes to silence the non-sycophant elements of the press?
What difference does it make if the separation of powers is ignored and the Executive Branch assumes dictatorial powers?
There's more, but what difference does it make?
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

Last Updated on Monday, 04 February 2013 21:48

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Jim Hightower - Jamie gets punished

If you are sensitive to stories of human suffering and economic hardship, let me warn you that the following report contains material that could be upsetting, so discretion is advised.
It's about a fellow named Jamie. He lives in New York City, and he has recently had a very rough go with a large financial institution. Such behemoths can be heartless, so as you can imagine, it's tough to stand up to them. The giant in this case is JPMorgan Chase, Wall Street's biggest bank, and it went after poor Jamie Dimon hard. In the end, the bank took more than half his income.
It was a bitterly painful experience, but thanks to the indomitable human spirit, Jamie's story has turned from sad to uplifting! Yes, he was down, but not out. Luckily, he had something big going for him in this fight: JPMorgan is his bank. I don't mean he banks there; he's the CEO.
On Jan. 16, it was announced that JPMorgan's board of directors had docked his pay, awarding him some $12 million less this year than he was given a year ago. Ouch! But there's no need to cry for Jamie. He still is hauling home $11.5 million.
Yet Wall Streeters are all atwitter about the haughty CEO getting his comeuppance (though I guess getting his pay cut in half would more properly be termed a "come-downance").
He certainly did have a very bad year in 2012. He presided over a stunning $6.2 billion loss by the bank's chief investment office, due to finagling or incompetence, or both — federal authorities are still investigating. But the high-rolling denizens of Wall Street were shocked by the level of punishment meted out by the bank's board, widely condemning it as harsh. However, Dimon himself merely said of the board's action: "I respect their decision."
Of course he does! He walked away with his job intact, an $11.5-million wad in his pocket and a sly grin on his face. Many investors and bank regulators (not to mention us commoners) don't consider that level of "punishment" to be much of a deterrent to the kind of executive narcissism and too-big-too-fail carelessness that characterizes today's Wall Street elite.
JPMorgan's board told regulators it didn't consider canning the chief because he had "accepted responsibility" for the management failures that led to the shocking losses.
Wow! He cost the bank's investors six big ones, but by saying, in effect, "my bad," his bungling still is rewarded with an outsized paycheck. And, get this, $10 million of the $11.5 million he got was awarded to him as a bonus!
What a wonderful morality tale this is for America's children. If you make a mess of something, boys and girls, just tell your parents to give you the Jamie Dimon punishment.
Incredibly, the bank's 12 board members are now actually puffing out their chests and celebrating themselves as a bold governing body. The unanimous vote to slash Dimon's pay, they say, shows that — by gollies — we're an effective, take-charge watchdog, keeping the top management of the nation's biggest bank in check. That they can even say something so absurd speaks volumes about the laissez-faire myth that the corporations don't need government regulation, since they have private boards to oversee them.
Perhaps you're asking yourself: "Who are these toothless watchdogs?" Well, Dimon, himself, is one of them (it's always useful to be a member of the board that oversees you — and nearly all big corporations allow their CEOs to serve as directors).
Most of the other 11 members of Dimon's board are multimillionaires who are current or former top executives of such corporate powers as Boeing, ExxonMobil, Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and NBC. Fellow corporatists are eagerly sought out by CEOs to serve on their corporate boards because they're trusted members of "The Top Suite Club." They identify with one of their own and share the top dog's sense of entitlement, so they are predisposed to lavish lots and lots of the shareholders cash on The Boss.
Lee Raymond, the former CEO of Exxon, is one of JPMorgan's most influential directors. He heads the compensation committee of the board and was in charge of giving Dimon his "haircut." But Raymond is congenitally soft on CEO pay, because he was a spectacularly paid chieftain whose grasp of compensation propriety has no connection to the real world.
In his 13 years at the helm of the oil giant, he pocketed a total of $686 million in pay. That's $144,000 a day! Plus a car. Then he got a retirement package worth another $400 million.
"Corporate governance" is a joke, but it's not at all funny. By pampering top executives, these brother-in-law boards are dangerously exacerbating income inequality in America. The joke's on us.
(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 Monday, 04 February 2013 21:42

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Roy Sanborn - 2012 Home Sales Report

We finished off 2012 with a somewhat lackluster December that produced only 57 residential sales in the Lakes Region communities covered in the report. The average sales price for the month came in at $315,391 with the median price point at an even $200K. This is considerably lower than the total of 73 homes sold December 2011 and not what we were hoping to see. But even with the poor ending 2012 was a pretty good year in terms of the overall activity. Residential home sales increased from 773 sales in 2011 to 915 transactions in 2012 which is a 19 percent increase in total sales! That's the really good news.
The not so great, but not so terrible, news is that for the year 2012 as a whole the average sales price slipped only a little bit to $302,188 from $306,460 posted in 2011. The median price point also slid from $190,000 to $182,000. This just confirms what we had been seeing all year long. Prices are down some and more lower priced homes are selling then the higher priced ones which also contributes to the lower average. A look at the breakdown of what is selling by price reveals that 55 percent of the sales last year were below the $200,000 mark. That's up from the 50 percent for that price category on 2011.
The total number of sales in the higher price ranges did increase slightly but the actual percentages of the total count in those categories went down compared to 2011. Also, as expected, the chart below shows that the more expensive a home is, the longer it is likely to be on the market. Homes under $100,000 sold in an average of 118 days on the market and those over $400,000 took almost twice as long to sell. When you factor in that many of the higher priced homes have been listed multiple times, the number of days on market is much higher. Still, 27 percent or 245 of the homes that sold went under contract in 30 days or less. So homes can be sold relatively quickly if the conditions are right.
Are home prices slipping in all communities or are any rebounding?
In the peak sales year of 2007, the average price for the homes sold in our 12 communities came in at $398,717. The $302,188 average sales price last year represents a 24 percent drop from that peak. The least affected town seems to be Moultonborough where the average sales price for the year was $616,539 which is only 1.1 percent off the $623,483 average posted in 2007. Moultonborough is one of the six towns in our report that had an increase in the average price over the prior year. Alton's average jumped from $314,528 in 2011 to $379,050 last year, but is still 30 percent off the 2007 average of $542,151. Obviously, these two communities represent towns with a heavy dose of waterfront sales which have been a little more stable than the residential sector. The four other communities that saw average price increases in 2012 were Center Harbor, a very slight increase in Gilmanton, New Hampton, and Sanbornton. Even with an increase of $25,000 in the average price in Center Harbor that town is still 52 percent off its peak of $711,083 when there were numerous waterfront sales in that town.
While we are not going to get back to 2007 sales levels and prices any time soon (and probably shouldn't), hopefully, our total sales numbers will continue to increase in 2013, the inventory will stabilize, and prices will stop sliding down this slippery slope we've been on. All we need is to have some consumer confidence return to the market and some sign of economic improvement. I'll get to work on that we should have a pretty good New Year!
Please feel free to visit ww.lakesregionhome.com to see more year end data, carts, and graphs. Data was compiled as of 1/22/13 using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System. Reports are also available by email. Roy Sanborn is a REALTOR® at Roche Realty Group and can be reached at 603-677-8420

Last Updated on Friday, 01 February 2013 23:25

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Susan Estrich - Real love not limited to opposite-sex couples

The briefs opposing gay marriage in the two cases currently under consideration in the Supreme Court are strange to say the least. Unlike past battles, the briefs do not argue that homosexuality is immoral. Major step forward. Sex is fine. Marriage is the problem.
Why? In short, because gay partnerships do not produce unwanted pregnancies.
Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples is justified because it "reflect(s) a unique social difficulty with opposite-sex couples that is not present with same-sex couples — namely, the undeniable and distinct tendency of opposite-sex relationships to produce unplanned and unintended pregnancies. . . Unintended children produced by opposite-sex relationships and raised out of wedlock would pose a burden on society."
You read that right. Limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples prevents out-of-wedlock births. "It is plainly reasonable for California to maintain a unique institution (marriage) to address the unique challenges posed by the unique procreative potential of sexual relationships between men and women." Since same-sex couples "don't present a threat of irresponsible procreation," they don't need to get married.
Respectfully, this makes absolutely no sense. For one thing, heterosexual marriage does not prevent children from being raised by unwed mothers. If only. For another, the fact that gay couples do not have unintended pregnancies is hardly a reason they should not be allowed to marry. If only those who could have children were allowed to marry, there would be no reason to allow any woman over a certain age to marry.
And yet we do. Of course we do. My two favorite stories in last Sunday's New York Times Style Section, which reports on weddings and relationships (I am not the only one who calls it the ladies' sports page), report on late-life marriages.
In one, there is a beautiful picture above the wedding announcement of a 97-year-old bride (she is keeping her name) and her 86-year-old groom, a widow and a widower who met five years ago.
The other is a first-person account by Eve Pell, who married when she was 71 and her husband-to-be was 81, titled "The Race Grows Sweeter Near Its Final Lap." They met when he was 77, because they belonged to the same running club, and she devised a plan with a mutual friend to invite him to a screening at the friend's home. Very "seventh grade," she wrote. "We had nothing to do but love each other and be happy. ... We followed our hearts and gambled, and for a few years, we had a bit of heaven on earth."
Neither of these marriages, like so many others, was necessary to serve the state's interest in promoting two-parent families. They were based, pure and simple, on what Pell calls "one of the most precious blessings available to human beings — real love."
Nearly half a century ago, the Supreme Court held that this blessing should not be limited to couples of the same race, as it had been in Virginia. In 2013, it is time for the Supreme Court to hold that it should not be limited to opposite-sex couples, any more than real love is.
This court does not want to be remembered as the court that decided the Dred Scott decision of its time: a case that held that a slave could not sue in federal court for his freedom, a case that is regarded in retrospect as one of the lowest moments in the history of the Supreme Court. I think the Chief Justice John Roberts knows that. I think Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the landmark opinion in Lawrence v. Texas striking down Texas' sodomy laws, knows that.
I think the opponents of gay marriage are fighting a battle they will not win, and the weaknesses in the briefs filed by these distinguished lawyers reflect that.
(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 Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

Hits: 497

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