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Jim Hightower - Dow doesn't do much for Doug

"It's a sign," exclaims a February Associated Press story — a sign that our economy is "healing." "It signals that things are getting back to normal," added a delighted market analyst. And a March 4 New York Times report heralded it as "a golden age."
The "it" they're hailing is the Dow, that mystical force believed by faithful Dowists to be "The Way" — the provider of good fortune, often bestowing its magical beneficence by magical means. The Dow Jones Industrial Average is the holy measure of corporate stock prices, and it is now smiling warmly on its acolytes.
Last week, the Dow Jones Average reached a new high, having regained every dime of the $11 trillion that Wall Street investors had lost in the 2007 crash. "Hallelujah," shout the devout. "All praise the Dow!"
Unless, of course, your wealth is dependent not on stock prices, but on wages. In that case, you're among the majority of Americans who're more concerned about the Doug Jones Average. Forget the buzz about "a golden age" — Doug, Darcy, Diego, Deewanna and all the other Joneses can't even afford to enter the Golden Arches, for they're still mired in the Great Job Depression that Wall Street's crash caused.
Washington rushed to the rescue of the financial elites, but the Joneses are still getting double-stiffed by Washington policymakers and by the very elites Washington continues to coddle. The GOP House refuses to talk about a minimal tax hike on the superrich, but members had no qualms about jacking up the payroll taxes on millions of workaday people.
Meanwhile, even as corporate profits have rocketed up by 20 percent a year since the end of 2008, the chieftains are still refusing to increase hiring and are holding down wages. As a result, the share of America's total income that goes to workers has now tumbled to the lowest level in nearly half a century.
United Technologies (one of the 30 corporations whose financial performances are measured to calculate the Dow Jones Averages) is a force in that knockdown. This industrial giant, fed a regular diet of fat government contracts, has enjoyed annual revenue increases of some $2 billion a year since 2005, yet rather than increasing its workforce, CEO Louis Chenevert is shedding workers.
Last month, only four days after announcing that United Tech's stock price had leaped to a record high, the corporation revealed that it will fire 3,000 employees this year, on top of the 4,000 dumped in 2012.
That is the harsh math behind such recent smiley-face headlines as this one: "Household wealth back at pre-recession levels." Oh, joy — we're all rich again!
Or not. The article attributes the gain in household wealth to "surging stock prices." But before you start ripping up your floorboards in hopes of finding your share of this bounty, read deeper into the article to learn that the Dow doesn't do much at all for the Doug. In fact, the wealthiest 10 percent of households own 80 percent of all corporate stocks.
Harsher yet is the way the corporate powers are treating those financially stretched Americans who're looking not for a bundle of wealth, but just a decent job. Today's massive backlog of unemployed and underemployed workers allows corporations to bring in hoards of top-quality applicants and literally toy with them. It's now common for a job-seeker to return five, seven, nine or more times to the same company hiring hall for senseless rounds of interviews — only to have the company whimsically decide not to fill the opening at all.
From Google to Starbucks, major corporations have roughly doubled the duration of their interview process in the last two years. The New York Times noted that one fellow seeking a video-editing job was run through a gauntlet of nine interviews and made to undergo a ridiculous battery of psychological and personality exams, along with a math quiz and a spelling test — after which the company simply closed the opening.
Insulting, yes, but expensive, too. The out-of-work interviewee has to pay for producing work samples and cover the cost of everything from dry cleaning to parking fees. The job-dangling corporation, on the other hand, can simply force existing employees to shoulder a heavier load, while it trifles with applicants looking for what is laughingly referred to in CorporateSpeak as "the purple squirrel" — an applicant too qualified to exist.
Even a dog knows the difference between being tripped over ... and kicked. The way workaday Americans are being kicked around today is revolting — both in the sense of being abhorrent and inevitably inducing a revolt.
(Jim Hightower has been called American's most popular populist. The radio commentator and former Texas Commissioner of Agriculture is author of seven books, including "There's Nothing In the Middle of Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos" and his new work, "Swim Against the Current: Even Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow".)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Froma Harrop - Demographic panic talk is just silliness

If you drove to work today, did you worry about too few cars on the road? Do you wish more people were waiting in line at the public tennis courts? Are you eager to see new housing developments replace your favorite truck farm?
If your answer to all three questions is "no," you're like most people. And America's falling fertility rate would seem to have its benefits. But if you're scraping for new ways to undermine Social Security and Medicare, portraying this demographic reality as a major disaster offers new opportunity to stampede the public into turning against these entitlements.
Here's the argument: In 1950, we had almost 17 workers for every retiree. Now the ratio is 2.8 workers for every beneficiary. By 2030, it will be only 2.0 workers for every retiree. Social Security and Medicare are doomed, so let's pull the plug now.
Let's not. Why will follow, but first some background. The fertility rate is the number of children women bear over their lifetime. Rates are falling almost everywhere. They're down in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Mexico is now at the replacement level.
How do you keep programs like Social Security going when the ratio of workers to beneficiaries keeps dropping? Productivity. Productivity measures a worker's output in a unit of time. If computers help a worker produce four car batteries in the time it took to make two, that worker's productivity has doubled.
Productivity gains traditionally result in higher pay for workers (though workers have seen little of those benefits recently). This is why Social Security remains afloat as the ratio of workers to retirees continues downward. Also helping, Social Security payroll taxes were raised in the early 1980s to provide a cushion of savings for now, when the baby boomers start retiring.
As for the future, Dean Baker at the Center for Economic Policy and Research supplies the math. If productivity grows at an average rate of 1.5 percent a year, as it has over the last two decades, productivity will be almost 40 percent higher in 2035 than it is today. Thus, workers in 2035 will be spending only about a quarter of their productivity-driven pay increases on retirees and keeping the rest. Not a bad situation.
Baker also reminds us that the ratio of workers to retirees is expected to stabilize around then for the rest of the century, while productivity will continue to grow. So the demographic heavens are not crashing down on Social Security.
Medicare is a somewhat different story. Its rising costs need curbing. But even here, there are many ways to cut waste. We don't have to eviscerate the program with voucher schemes or turn it into welfare through means-testing.
Scaremongering over demographics is a divide-and-conquer strategy: Convince younger workers that they are paying for plush programs sure to collapse by the time they get old, and they'll bring them down. And as a double-scoop, say that these programs make the "demographic winter" worse by having government replace the children who traditionally supported their elders. For example:
"The most insidious effect of the Social Security and Medicare regimes is that they actually (SET ITAL) shift (END ITAL) economic incentives (SET ITAL) away (END ITAL) from having children," Jonathan V. Last, a writer for the conservative Weekly Standard, says in his book, "What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster."
Here's a counter-argument: These programs reassure parents bearing the considerable expense of raising children that they won't be destitute if they can't save enough for their old age.
But love or hate these programs, setting off false alarms is not an honest way to win converts. Today's demographic changes require adjustment, not running-in-the streets panic.
(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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Pat Buchanan - Who speaks for the GOP now?

Last Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul rose on the Senate floor to declare a filibuster and pledge he would not sit down until either he could speak no longer or got an answer to his question about Barack Obama's war powers. Does the president, Paul demanded to know, in the absence of an imminent threat, have the right to order U.S. citizens killed by drone strike on U.S. soil?
By the time he sat down, 13 hours later, Paul had advanced to the front rank of candidates for 2016, and established himself as a foreign policy leader whose views must be consulted equally with those of John McCain.
How did he pull this off?
First, Attorney General Eric Holder arrogantly refused to rule out the possibility that President Obama could order execution by drone-strike of U.S. citizens, even here in the United States. When Rand demanded to know what Holder was talking about, all across America people tuned in. Here was a deadly serious issue: Had we, in our determination to prosecute the war on terror ferociously, begun to sacrifice our constitutionalist rights?
Libertarians, conservatives and liberals have all grown alarmed at the steady expansion of drone attacks from the Af-Pak to Yemen and Somalia and Lord knows where else, and from bin Laden jihadists in Afghanistan to Islamist propagandists like Anwar al Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, both U.S. citizens, in Yemen. Whom do we have a right to kill? Americans are asking. What are the borders of the battlefield upon which we may designate an individual an enemy and kill him without warning?
Has America become part of that battlefield? Paul asked.
After hours of speaking, Paul had attracted a vast audience on C-SPAN and Twitter. Soon, colleagues who do not share all of his libertarian views — Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas — came down to the floor to speak for Rand and give him time to rest on his feet.
To see these new Republicans standing by Rand Paul presented the image of a band of brothers standing up for principle. Rarely has this Republican Party looked better than it did on Wednesday.
Then to the well of the Senate marched Rand's Kentucky colleague, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, to bestow his benediction. It was "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Schmaltzy, perhaps, but in a cynical age, inspiriting.
What made Rand's presentation so appealing was that he began it alone, inviting the mockery of the media. Second, it was done with simplicity and dignity, without histrionics or demagoguery. Third, it was evident that a genuine principle of Rand's philosophy was at stake. Finally, like his father Ron and Jimmy Stewart, Rand has a bumpkin quality that fairly drips honesty and sincerity. Agree or disagree, it is hard not to like the guy.
But the play would have been incomplete without the foils.
Thursday morning, John McCain, fresh from putting on the feed bag with Barack at the Jefferson Hotel, where he exited flashing his thumbs-up on how wonderfully the dinner had gone, came to the floor to declare himself disgusted with Sen. Paul and to pronounce his filibuster "ridiculous." McCain was followed by Lindsey Graham, who lectured the senators who stood by Paul that he did not recall them being exercised about drone strikes when George W. Bush was president.
McCain and Graham both seemed deliberately to miss the point.Paul was not attacking the use of drones against enemies on a battlefield. He wanted to know if Obama now regarded America as a battlefield, and if he regarded U.S. citizens as possible enemy combatants who may be targeted and killed without due process of law.
Paul's victory was conceded when a letter arrived from Holder conceding that he and the president now agreed with Sen. Paul.
What Paul achieved in a half day of speaking from the Senate floor is astonishing. There is a new tent pole in the GOP that stands as tall as any of the rest. McCain and Graham, who are routinely trotted out by Big Media to speak for the party — can they any longer claim to do so?
Last week, they seemed isolated. And, on the weekend, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy declared Paul's performance "fantastic," and backhanded the Republicans who attacked him.
Paul himself handled McCain's insults well. "I treat Sen. McCain with respect," he told Mike Huckabee. "I don't think I always get the same in return."
Henceforth, be the issue sending weapons to Syrian insurgents, or launching a war on Iran, the media will have to consult Sen. Paul, who can credibly claim to speak for a large segment of the GOP.
The hegemony of the neocons and the lockstep conformity of a vast a slice of the GOP that cost Reagan's party its primacy during the Bush wars, seems to be coming to an end.
(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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Roy Sanborn - Real Estate Internet dating

As of March 1, 2013 there were 900 residential homes for sale in the Lakes Region of N.H. communities listed in this report. The average asking price stood at $503,883 and the median price point was $249,900. The current inventory level equals a 12 month supply of homes on the market which is a whole lot better than the 994 listings and 15 month supply as of March 1, 2012.
An associates told me the other day that a buyer she was working with thought that looking for a property online was a bit like Internet dating. The buyer had asked about some properties and the agent clued her in to some issues that weren't readily apparent from the info and pictures on the MLS. Buyers often find a property online that they think they love only to be heartbroken when finally seeing it in person. Could that sweetheart of a home turn out to be just a cheap, boorish date?
It got me thinking about how it might be possible to improve on the various real estate websites and take the guesswork out of finding the right home or agent to work with. Imagine, you want to buy a house and you need to find a real estate agent to help you. Right now you usually ask someone you know who they have used, or grab a real estate magazine to pick out the most handsome guy or the prettiest gal, or you go to websites like REALTOR.com to read agent bios. Just so you know, real estate agents write these glowing bios about themselves so they tend to be a bit aggrandizing to say the least. We have had years of experience in describing run down mobile homes so that you envision them as palaces so we are also pretty good at describing ourselves. It is also common practice among real estate agents to use photos of themselves when they were 10-15 years younger, 25 pounds lighter, and had more hair. No wonder you are shocked when you finally meet your agent for the first time.
What if there was website called Matched.com where buyers and sellers could go to find a date, I mean agent, and live happily ever after in real estate bliss. This will be accomplished by utilizing a very complete and in-depth interview process and a detailed personal profile. Once a buyer or seller completes the questionnaire, a proprietary software program using a top secret algorithm will match the starry eyed buyer or seller with the perfect mate, I mean agent. Actual present day photography will also be used to eliminate those unpleasant and awkward first encounters.
For example, if a buyer is new to the area and his personal profile shows that he has a hard time making decisions, he will likely be paired with a new agent that is hungry for work, needs to learn the inventory, and owns a Prius as this buyer is likely going to look at 35-40 homes. Say a home seller is a survivalist and his fortified compound might just scare most agents. He would be paired with a like minded NRA member with a four wheel drive pickup truck, Jeep, or better yet a blacked out Hummer. If an elderly couple is looking for a retirement home, Matched.com doesn't hook them up with a some young techie agent. No sir, they would get an agent that would enjoy an afternoon nap in the car with them or the early bird special down at Friendly's. A crusty, cantankerous, million dollar buyer or seller would be paired with a very patient agent with good listening skills as nothing he has to say would matter anyway. See, perfect matches every time.
The eHomeny.com website is going to be THE place for buyers to find their perfect home online. There will be no surprises here as all properties will be presented in a complete, truthful, and un-enhanced manner that gives the buyer the best, scratch that, the most truthful on-line representation possible. The online dating site "eHarmony®" boasts that you would "get deeply matched with singles based on 29 Dimensions®." Well, eHomeny is going to be better, having 32 Dimensions® (all of theirs, plus the lot acreage and width and length of rooms). All sellers will have to fill out an exhaustive property profile that goes far beyond that four page State of NH Seller's Property Disclosure currently used. In addition, an eHomeny representative will certify the accuracy of the property profile with the eHomeny Gold Seal of Approval.
This profile gets into things like "What does the home smell like?", "Has duct tape been used to make any home repairs?", "How many packs of cigarettes did you smoke per day in here?", "Are the neighbors a pain?", "Rate the road noise," and "When was the last time you cleaned the shower stall?" The eHomeny representative would take external pictures facing away from the house in all directions so you can see the redneck roadhouse or the sewerage plant next door. A video tour of the ride to the property from the nearest Dunkin' Donuts would also be provided to show you what you will have to pass by on the way.
A used NASA computer running an outdated CIA software program will match the 32 Dimensions of information gathered from the buyer with homes providing a perfect match every time. The average time to find a home now will be two days thereby lessening the demand on gasoline and lowering fuel prices worldwide. eHomeny will benefit sellers regardless of whether the property is beautiful or a real plain Jane. There are buyers out there that are extremely fussy and then there are those that could care less where they live as long as the house is cheap to heat and it's not too far from a Cumby's or Wal-Mart. Then there are properties where the only buyer would have to be a blind fool from California with lots of money. The eHomeny's Compatibility Matching System will find the proverbial arse for every seat... I mean house. You'll feel like you are on a honeymoon right from the start.
These new sites really will take the guess work out of internet home shopping! You deserve to experience the joy and excitement of falling in love with an agent and a home with whom you share true compatibility. Would you like to fill out a questionnaire?
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 as of 3/1/13 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 Saturday, 09 March 2013 00:32

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Froma Harrop - Taxes are up & the sky is still there

"Most of the media is so sold out to Obama that they're missing the obvious," Jim DeMint said on Fox News only last week. "The policies the president has in place, especially the tax increases that just got in, are going to hurt our economy, probably actually bring it down." The former Republican senator from South Carolina was speaking as president-elect of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
DeMint made this remarkably dire prediction seven days before the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high. The employment numbers remain weak, but they, too, are improving and helping raise confidence levels, especially in the housing market.
By the time you read this, stocks may have gone higher or lower. And a raft of additional good and bad economic news will have marched across the Bloomberg screens. But we can count on one constant: Jim DeMint will be wronger than Captain Peter Wrongway Peachfuzz.
His lightning bolts did provide some stereophonic balance to President Obama's over-the-top warnings of grievous suffering should the sequester go into effect, a process that also began last week. Then, from the speaker on the right, came the not very relevant point that the tax hikes would take more money out of the economy than the forced spending reductions. "It's a whopping $149 billion in taxes vs. $85 billion in spending," complained Heritage spokesman Robert Bluey.
One wishes the bumper sticker could be widened to include these thoughts: For starters, the higher taxes plus the sequester equal significant deficit reduction, something conservatives purport to want. Also, combining new tax revenues with spending cuts would seem a balanced approach.
One can't repeat often enough that the stock market and economy took off after Bill Clinton's 1993 tax hike on upper incomes.
Ignoring that evidence, the right persists in replaying the old videotape that higher taxes inevitably lead to economic desolation.
"Higher taxes will hinder economic growth," Heritage said back in 1993. They "will shrink the tax base and reduce tax revenues." They will "result in larger federal budget deficits." Newt Gingrich, off by about 180 degrees, confidently predicted that the tax increase "will in fact kill the current recovery and put us back in a recession." As we know, the opposite happened.
Certainly, other things helped create Clinton-era budget surpluses. The dot-com boom raised stock-market wealth, and defense spending went down. But the bottom line remains: By the end of Clinton's eight years, there were 23 million new jobs and average weekly wages were up 21 percent.
And here's the kicker: The booming economy made the richest Americans even richer. They did better after paying Clinton's higher taxes than they did in the George W. Bush era, when their tax rates were lower.
As noted, many other factors add to or subtract from the economy's health. Right now, the Federal Reserve's low interest rates are helping boost investment. Housing seems to be perking up. And the American economy was bound to eventually recover from the depths.
It's obvious, though, that Obama's tax increases, including a few fees on health care, are not blowing up the economy. It's amazing that guys like DeMint can go on Fox year after year and make the same crashingly silly predictions — and that Heritage hasn't stopped him. (The Washington Post last December predicted that DeMint, a tea party hero, would give Heritage a "sharper edge." I don't think "sharp" is quite the word.)
As for the allegedly falling sky, all you have to do is look up. Some taxes have increased, and the sky's still there. Not only that, it's getting bluer.
(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 Thursday, 07 March 2013 23:52

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