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Jim Hightower - Drones overhead are a danger, no matter their color

In a recent senatorial dustup, Sen. John McCain called Republican colleague Rand Paul one of "the wacko birds" of Congress.
McCain (who sometimes appears not too tightly wrapped himself) was giving Sen. Paul a tongue-lashing for having mounted a 13-hour, old-fashioned, stand-alone filibuster over the possibility that murderous drones could be used for targeted assassinations of Americans right here at home.
McCain said that the Kentucky senator's talk-a-thon had veered into the "realm of the ridiculous," adding, "I don't think (it) is helpful to the American people."
I hate to interrupt when one Republican solon is hammering another, but I'm siding with Paul. While I do think that plenty of the tea party senator's extreme right-wing stands are wacko, this isn't one of them. Unfortunately for America, powerful corporate interests are eager to reap billions in profit from the spread of drones across our land, and police agencies at all levels are drooling at the prospect of adding fleets of surveillance drones — including ones that will be weaponized to their arsenals. Indeed, what's really ridiculous is that so many other congress-critters have not been paying attention, speaking out and taking action.
Call it grandstanding if you want, but at least Paul took an actual stand. And, contrary to McCain's opinion, his stand was quite helpful to the American people. Thanks to Paul's attention-getting combination of principle, ego and chutzpa, the great majority of Americans heard for the first time that these inherently invasive, liberty-busting and potentially deadly drones are on the verge of being deployed domestically.
That's why the Congressional Progressive Caucus and such alert Democrats as Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon have joined in sounding the alarm and demanding a full public debate. As Paul says, "At least we need to know what are the rules." Before we let profiteers unleash this technology on Americans, bring the discussion into the open so the people can grasp the danger that these "Orwellian gnats" pose to our democracy.
Sen. Rand Paul is not the only speed bump slowing down the push by government contractors, police authorities and politicians of both parties to litter our nation's airspace with up to 30,000 of these surreptitious unmanned aircraft by year 2020. Inevitably, many of these will be used to spy on, invade the constitutional rights of and even fire on American citizens.
While the senator's outrage raised the drone issue to a new level of public awareness, opposition had already been percolating across the country, uniting such diverse constituencies as the ACLU and the tea party. Indeed, from city halls to Congress, many officials are working to ban or at least restrict drone deployment in our Land of the Free.
Clearly, the drone-industrial complex has a growing political problem. But, hey, in Corporate America, where there's a way, there's plenty of will. We're talking extremely big dollars here.
As reported by The New Republic, drone pushers at an industry confab (ominously titled "The Reapers Come Home") decided that theirs is merely an image problem, starting with the off-putting d-word itself.
"That term 'drone' kills us every time," moaned a police official who's been advocating the proliferation of the devices in police departments from coast to coast. Another pusher suggested to conferees that the menacing black color of the weapons is the problem. He noted that Seattle's police chief tried to get city officials there to okay drone use by making them appear less threatening. He had a black Dragon Flyer X6 repainted and rechristened it as "Soft Kitty 2000."
That didn't work in Seattle, but still, the droner-complex can be expected to launch a PR campaign that'll make you want to hug one of their machines. Already, the peddlers are describing a sky full of drones over your city as "a nice safety blanket." Good luck living under that.
(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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Michael Barone - Republicans grow less hawkish in wake of Iraq War

Are Republicans no longer the party more inclined to military interventions and an assertive foreign policy?
It's a question raised by the enthusiastic response to Sen. Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster and to his not-very-interventionist foreign policy. It's raised also by House Republicans' willingness to accept the budget sequester, which includes defense cuts that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called "devastating."
Barack Obama thought those cuts would be so unpalatable that Republicans would agree to increase tax revenues to avoid them. A decade or two ago, that would have been true. Not so today.
And it's a question raised by the silence on the part of most Republican officeholders and the contrition of others on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. intervention in Iraq. Only John McCain and a few others have been defending a war that almost all Republicans and many Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, initially supported.
Historically, neither party has always been either hawkish or dovish. Democrats supported the Mexican war; Whigs were against.,Republicans backed Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War; many Democrats wanted a compromise peace. Republican supported the Spanish American War and suppression of the Philippine insurrection; Democrat William Jennings Bryan ran against "imperialism."
For half a century, Democrats were the party more supportive of military intervention. Democrat Woodrow Wilson, after winning re-election as the man who kept us out of war, called for a declaration of war against Germany six months later. He got it, with 50-some dissents. In the 1930s, Republican ranks included more isolationists than interventionists, and vice versa for Democrats. Franklin Roosevelt scrambled to send arms to beleaguered Britain and cut off oil sales (when the U.S. produced most of the world's oil) to hostile Japan. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, all but one member of Congress voted to declare war.
But some notable Republicans, including Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick and former President Herbert Hoover, charged that FDR had maneuvered us into what people today call a war of choice.
Democratic presidents led America into wars in Korea and Vietnam, with death tolls more than 10 times what we have suffered in Iraq and Afghanistan. That was the history Bob Dole was referring to when he talked of "Democrat wars" in the 1976 vice presidential debate. But by that time, the term was obsolete.
Only two Democrats (and no Republicans) voted against the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin resolution that Lyndon Johnson used as his license to send up to 550,000 U.S. troops to Vietnam. But by 1968, opposition to that war was welling up, primarily but not entirely within the Democratic Party.
LBJ was opposed by antiwar Eugene McCarthy and dropped out of the race. In 1972, Democrats nominated the dovish George McGovern. For nearly half a century, they have been the party less supportive of military intervention.
Not that Republicans have invariably supported it. Ronald Reagan aided the Nicaraguan Contras and intervened in Grenada but withdrew from Lebanon. He built up the military but didn't find much occasion to use it. George H.W. Bush got approval from the United Nations before asking Congress to authorize the Gulf War. George W. Bush sought U.N. approval for Iraq, too.
Democrats remained obsessed with Vietnam. Their speeches opposing Contra aid and the Gulf and Iraq wars were full of arguments more relevant to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution than to the issue at hand. Some Democrats disagreed. Bill Clinton used force (without U.N. approval) in Serbia and Kosovo. Almost all Democrats supported intervention in Afghanistan after 9/11. But almost all congressional Democrats tried to stop George W. Bush's successful surge strategy in Iraq. Hillary Clinton found cause to question the veracity of Gen. David Petraeus.
The surge came too late to salvage the reputation of the Iraq War. Polls now show majorities think it was a mistake. Most Republican politicians seem disinclined to suggest we should intervene anywhere else.
World problems loom: North Korea, Iran, Syria, North Africa. Barack Obama may choose to respond militarily. He has just beefed up missile defense in response to North Korea. If he follows up on his threat to attack Iran's nuclear program, we could have a 2016 presidential race in which Republican Rand Paul criticizes military action and Democrat Hillary Clinton defends it.
That would be a political turnabout as stark as in the 1960s. Could it happen?
(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

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Froma Harrop - Often you don't really need to see a MD

You want a routine checkup. Or your throat is sore. It's probably nothing, but you're concerned. Do you need a full-fledged MD with all those certificates and perhaps a God complex?
Even if you want to see a physician, there's a shortage of family doctors these days. And it will only get worse as the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) brings health coverage to 30 million more Americans. If you do have a primary care doctor, it may be hard to get an appointment.
A nurse practitioner may be in your future — if he or she is not already in your present. This is a kind of super nurse, who's gone through four years of nursing school plus at least two more years of training in diagnosing and treating disease. Nurse practitioners may specialize in women's health, pediatrics or cardiac care.
"A lot of people view them as a pretty obvious way to help deal with the number of people expected to get insurance," Joanne Spetz, professor at the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco, told me.
But the extent to which they can fill the gaps depends on where you live. States regulate health care, so the latitude given nurse practitioners varies widely.
In Missouri, for example, nurse practitioners may not see patients unless a physician is under the same roof. In New Mexico, by contrast, they don't have to work with a physician at all. In some states, they are restricted from prescribing narcotics. In others, they may prescribe certain kinds of narcotics and not others.
Western states tend to give nurse practitioners the greatest autonomy. Perhaps it's the libertarian spirit, or perhaps their vast rural areas, where doctors are few and far between. Colorado is considered "the cradle of nurse practitioner practice," according to Spetz.
A personal note: I went to a superb nurse practitioner for years, seeing the doctor she worked with only at parties. When I had a complaint she considered beyond her expertise, out came her pad and the name of a specialist to call.
Her accessibility was a big plus. She had time to shoot the breeze about my every little ache and whether running is bad for the knees.
Health economists see primary care providers as key to curbing medical costs. Americans overuse expensive specialists. For example, they run off to gastroenterologists and have endoscopes shoved down their throats when their problem is simple heartburn. Primary care providers could have saved these patients money, discomfort and anxiety by prescribing Tums as a first step.
"They know what they know, and they know what they don't know," Spetz said. "If a complicated diabetes situation is going on, they will send the patient to an endocrinologist."
We're talking money here, hence some heavy turf battles. The American Medical Association worries about nurses taking business from its doctor-members and lobbies in state capitals against giving nurse practitioners more independence. The AMA argues that patients' health may be jeopardized if doctors don't monitor nurse practitioners.
Obamacare provides some money for training nurse practitioners but sidesteps the matter of what role they might play. Early in the deliberations, there was reportedly talk of requiring states to give them more independence in return for Medicaid money. The AMA is said to have stopped that line of inquiry.
Cutting health care costs — and making health care services more convenient for consumers — demands moving basic medical services away from hospitals and, in many cases, doctors' offices. Sometimes we need a doctor; sometimes we don't. A well trained nurse practitioner can help point us in the right direction.
(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 - Death by (largely) self-inflicted wounds

The Republican National Committee has produced an "autopsy" on what went wrong in 2012, when the party failed to win the White House and lost seats in Congress. Yet, the crisis of the Grand Old Party goes back much further.
First, some history. The Frank Lloyd Wright of the New Majority was Richard Nixon, who picked up the pieces of the party after Goldwater's defeat had left Republicans with just a third of the House and Senate. In 1966, Nixon led the GOP back to a stunning victory, picking up 47 House seats. In 1968, he united the Rockefeller and Reagan wings and held off an October surge by Hubert Humphrey, which cut a 13-point Nixon lead to less than a point in four weeks.
In 1972, Nixon swept 49 states. The New Majority was born. How did he do it?
Nixon sliced off from FDR's New Deal coalition Northern Catholics and ethnics — Irish, Italians, Poles, East Europeans — and Southern Christian conservatives. Where FDR and Woodrow Wilson had won all 11 Southern States six times, Nixon swept them all in '72. And where Nixon won only 22 percent of the Catholic vote against JFK, he won 55 percent against George McGovern in 1972.
What killed the New Majority?
First, there was mass immigration, which brought in 40 to 50 million people, legal and illegal, poor and working class, and almost all from the Third World. The GOP agreed to the importation of a vast new constituency that is now kicking the GOP into an early grave. When some implored the party in 1992 to secure the border and declare a "timeout" on legal immigration to assimilate the millions already here, the party establishment repudiated any such ideas.
"We are a nation of immigrants!" it huffed. Well, we sure are now. And when amnesty is granted to the 12 million illegals, as GOP senators are preparing to do, that should advance the death of the GOP as a national party by turning Colorado, Nevada and Arizona blue, and putting even Texas in play.
Second came party acquiescence in dropping half the nation off the income tax rolls, while making half dependent on government for food assistance, income support, rent, health care and the education of their kids from Head Start through Pell Grants. Why should the half of America that pays no taxes but survives on federal benefits vote for a party that will cut taxes they do not pay but roll back benefits upon which they do depend?
Third, to accommodate its K Street bundlers, the GOP embraced globalism, empowering Corporate America to shed its U.S. labor force, move its plants to Mexico, Asia and China, bring its foreign-made goods back to the USA free of charge and pocket the difference. Profits, stocks, dividends soared. But the Reagan Democrats of industrial America — who paid the price in lost jobs and shuttered plants from the $10 trillion in trade deficits America has run since George H. W. Bush — have now gone home to the party of their fathers. And they are not coming back.
Fourth, rather than bringing the troops home after our Cold War triumph and telling our allies the free rides were over, Bush I and II went crusading for a "New World Order" to "end tyranny in our world." After three wars and half a dozen interventions, we are bankrupt at home and hated abroad. And Americans, sick of seeing their best and bravest brought home to Dover or being fitted at Walter Reed for prosthetic arms and legs, have twice voted for an ant-interventionist president.
Yet, one matter over which the GOP had no control is the triumph of the counterculture. What might be called the old morality — that abortion is the killing of an unborn child, an abomination, that homosexuality is unnatural and immoral — has been relegated by scores of millions, especially among the young, to the dark ages of the 20th century. Americans who adhere to this traditional morality, rooted in Christian tradition and Biblical truth, are culturally outgunned and may now be outnumbered. They may have lost America for good.
What can the GOP do about this? Nothing.
What will the GOP do? Probably what comes naturally — declare itself "tolerant" and respectful of all views, pro-life and pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and pro-traditional marriage.
Reality must be faced. A generation has grown up rejecting the truths that its grandparents lived. And while population growth among our native born halted decades ago, scores of millions have come in from abroad to fill the empty spaces. And they are still coming. They like what Big Government has to offer, and seem uninterested in what the GOP has to sell.
In that case, you try harder to sell your product, change your product, or go out of business. Yet, if the GOP changes its product, it may just lose its most loyal customers.
When the obituary of the party is written, the subhead will likely read "Dead of Self-inflicted Wounds."
(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 - PMI: Prime Minister of India

Residential home sales in the Lakes Region towns covered by this report in February were not very spectacular. There were just 46 homes sold at an average price of $268,188 with a median price point of $169,000. We had 59 sales last February but with a lower average price of $209,025 and a lower median price point of $145,000. Sixty six percent of the sales were below the $200,000 mark. It is really great to see the average sales price up for the month and there was a big cheer in the press about it, but on a rolling 12 month basis our average sales and median price is still a bit lower than the previous 12 months. I wish we could get both the ying and the yang going in the right direction every month, but that might be asking for a little too much.
So what is PMI? PMI stands for a lot of things. There's the Prime Minister of India who everyone knows is Manmohan Singh, a household name... maybe in New Delhi. In business, it stands for Phillip Morris International, in the computer world it can stand for Portable Management Interface, and there are those in certain circles that recognize it as the Plumbing Manufacturers International association. In the wonderful world of real estate PMI stands for Private Mortgage Insurance which is exactly that; a privately issued insurance policy that partially protects the lender who has loaned money to a homebuyer who could not come up with a 20 percent down payment to buy a home. While PMI is an additional cost, it has helped many buyers get into a home who otherwise would not get a loan. After all, lending someone a couple hundred grand to buy a home when the buyer has only a few thousand dollars, a ball of lint, and a marble collection as a down payment does not seem like a wise investment for any bank or mortgage company.
In today's market, a majority of the loans we see are FHA and require only a 3.5 percent down payment. These loans do not have Private Mortgage Insurance, but rather a type of Mortgage Insurance (MI) backed by good old Uncle Sam (MI also stands for Mission Impossible...which it would be for some home owners without it.) Historically, homeowners that have FHA loans and were in their homes for five years had been able to get rid of their MI Premium when the value of the property they purchased reaches 78 percent of the loan (LTV.) That happens as the principal is paid down or when the value of the property increased (remember the good old days?) The problem is that the FHA is still on the hook for the full amount of these federally insured loans even after the MI is cancelled upon reaching that 78 percent Loan to Value. One government analysis showed that 10-12 percent of the claims come after the MI is cancelled, leaving Uncle Sam holding the proverbial bag of do-do. The "claims" really means that someone lost their house. In order to avoid these losses, any loans registered with HUD after June 3, 2012 will require the borrower to pay PMI for the entire life of their loan. The only exception is if the borrower puts at least 10 percent down and then the MIP will last for a minimum of 11 years. That may seem like a big deal, but it really isn't as most homeowners will end up refinancing anyway or perhaps even selling and buying another home down the road.
Maybe the bigger news is that as of April 1, 2013 FHA is also going to increase the size of its bite on the Mortgage Insurance Premium by 10 basis points or by .10 percent. Right now, FHA has an upfront MI Premium of 1.75 percent and a monthly MI Premium of 1.25 percent. On a $150,000 home purchase this is what the MI looks like: The buyer is required to have a 3.5 percent down payment or $5,250, making the base loan amount of $144,750. The upfront MI Premium of $2,533.13 is added to that making the total loan amount of $147,283.13. This is not really an out of pocket upfront cost as it is rolled into the loan so the buyer doesn't really feel it. The current monthly MI Premium of 1.25 percent of the loan amount in this case would be $147,283.13 X 1.25 percent or $1,841 per year or $153.42 per month. After April 1, the rate becomes 1.35 percent which increases the monthly premium to $165.69. So basically, it's another $12 out of a buyer's pocket every month on this size loan. Now that may not be earth shattering by itself, but nothing else is going down in cost either!
What else can you do? There are other options out there such as Rural Development loans which have a 2 percent upfront "guarantee fee" and only a .40 annual MI rate so that may be a better option for some buyers. There are some programs on conventional loans where lenders pay the PMI but the borrower pays a higher interest rate which can also save you some money. VA loans have no PMI so perhaps you can do a short stint in the Navy, see the world, and then buy a house. To qualify for a lower PMI rate on a conventional type loan you need to have a good credit score and the bigger the down payment you have the better. How do you completely avoid PMI or MI? The best way, obviously, is to scrimp and save to get the 20 percent down payment that once was the standard for buying a home. Hey, we all know how easy it is to save, right?
Thanks to Jen McCall at Merrimack Mortgage for clarification on mortgage insurance and invaluable insight about Manmohan Singh. 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 3/18/13 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, 22 March 2013 10:11

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