Froma Harrop - Do we really want to be saved from Amazon?

It's the darnedest thing. Only a select few sites grace the bookmark bar topping my Web browser. is one. And Amazon is the only retailer to make the cut.

That it lets me buy ant traps online in 40 seconds, gets them to my house in two days and charges a good price for it all is kind of miraculous, don't you think?

Funny. When Amazon hiked the annual cost of Amazon Prime — its "free" two-day shipping service, with some digital content added — to $99, many customers complained. Not I.

I love Amazon. I do, I do. Yet the company gives me the creeps in several ways.

Start with books. Amazon has sent most of the bookshops in which I happily lingered into oblivion. As it branched out into selling everything else, it impoverished the lovely little downtown stores selling shoes, printers, bug lights and dog collars — at least the ones Wal-Mart hadn't already obliterated.

The question is: When Amazon crushes what's left of the competition, will it then raise prices to gouging levels? That's what monopolies do.

But let's be positive again. Amazon commands so much of the market because it gives consumers like me low prices and good service. This is done at the expense of profit margins, which is why, despite Amazon's enormous revenue growth ($75 billion last year), its famously patient investors have yet to enjoy a gusher of reward.

I used to enjoy righteous indignation over Amazon's opposition to collecting the same sales taxes that retailers with a store, a warehouse or another physical presence in a state had to. That gave the Internet giant an unfair price advantage over local merchants.

Then what does Amazon go out and do? It turns around and supports an organized system for collecting online sales taxes.

It happens that this fit with the plan to place warehouses — Amazon calls them "fulfillment centers"! — all over the country to allow for fast delivery of stuff.

Thus, Amazon would have had to collect a lot of sales taxes anyway.
Amazon has entered the smartphone business. Its new Fire Phone has this neat feature: You point the phone at an object of desire. The phone will see it or hear it and then may help you buy it.

(My nightmare is directing the phone toward the sound of Schubert's 9th Symphony and finding I bought not the album but the Cleveland Orchestra.)

Yes, Amazon is into music streaming, and did I mention filmmaking?

It's also into taking over Seattle. The company just tossed another half-million square feet of Seattle office space into the cart. That's in addition to the 5 million-plus square feet it already owns or leases.

The company has come under considerable criticism for its behavior in a pricing dispute with Hachette Book Group, slowing the sales of the publisher's works. With Amazon so dominant in bookselling, this raises cultural concerns.

Some argue that Amazon is not the only mammoth stomping through the online jungle. Its advance may be checked by the likes of Wal-Mart and Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce titan.

But that wouldn't leave a lot of room for the indie booksellers still on Main Street, would it? And bless them for holding out.

Am I overthinking this? Perhaps my faith in the creative-destructive powers of capitalism is so weak that I can't conceive of other business models saving us from Amazon's dominion.

The other question is: Do we want to be saved? If the answer is no, then perhaps the time has come to just dump ourselves in the cart, click "Proceed to checkout" and be done with it.

(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.)

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Bob Meade - The birth dearth

Demographics are not an exciting subject, but they provide a road map to the future. That makes it a worthwhile study. It can tell you what countries are old and dying, and which are youthful and growing. It predicts which will have plenty of labor and innovation and which will seek youthful labor from outside their borders and will need the innovation and skilled resources from others. Demographics can also foretell which will be most likely to be the invaders, and which will be the victims. Those things and more can be assessed by looking at the distribution of youth and aged in the various countries.

Japan is in a very difficult situation as the median age of their population is 46.1 years. Their future is dependent on their youth where only 13.2 percent of their population is 14 years of age, or less. At the other end, 24.8 percent of the people are over the age of 65. Current information shows that there are now more deaths than births in the country of 127 million people; 9.4 people die and only 8 are being born. Japan has needed to import Koreans to fill jobs in their manufacturing facilities but, since Japan rarely ever makes any foreigner a citizen, the Koreans are not stakeholders in the country . . . they have no voice.

Very similar to Japan is Germany. It also has a median age of 46.1 years. Only 13 percent of its population is in the 14 years of age or less category, while 20.9 percent of the population is over 65 years old. German's birth only 8.4 children to replace the 11.3 that die. Germans rightly pride themselves on their engineering and technological skills. As their current population of 81 million people declines, there will probably be significant declines in the resources needed to turn their technological innovations into saleable products, thereby making it necessary to vie with other European countries that are looking to fill needed jobs with immigrants from the Middle-East.

Italy and Poland have similar demographics to Germany, but France and the United Kingdom have birth vs death rates of about 12 to 9. This plus may be due to the fact that both of those countries have growing immigrant Muslim populations. Russia only has 11.9 births for every 13.9 deaths, and their shrinking birth rate causes a long term problem as Russia has the largest land mass in the world to defend.

The United States and Canada are looking more and more like Europe as Canada's median age is 41.7, and in the U.S. it is 37.6. Canada's over 65 population is greater than its 14 and less age group, 17 percent vs. 16 percent. In the United States the numbers are 14 percent v. 19 percent as illegal immigrants have contributed substantially to the less than 14 year age bracket.

These mind numbing numbers are there for a comparison to the growth rates of middle-eastern countries. While Europe and the West, except Mexico, have median ages that range from the high 30s to the mid 40s, virtually all of the countries in the Middle-East have median ages in the 20s. What is also a striking comparison is that those countries have 14 years and under populations that range from 23.7 percent up to 36.7 percent, and their over sixty five people only account for 3 percent to 5 percent . . . over seven young people for every old person. That overwhelmingly Muslim population is growing at a faster rate than any group of countries. At this point in time, there are approximately 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. They are out-birthing other countries by at least a two-to-one ratio, and in many cases three-to-one.

The demographic tid-bits provide a couple of clues as to what's going to occur. The first concern is that aging populations and shrinking birthrates place an ever increasing burden on the social structures that exist. A large productive youth are needed to form the base of the pyramid, with a lesser number of aged people at the top of the pyramid drawing support from the broad base. In this country, our Social Security System was started with 17 contributors to the system for every one receiving a payment. Today, the number contributing for every one collecting is under three and within 20 years the contributors will be under two. While Social Security still has some government IOUs in that proverbial "lock-box", the system now pays our more than it takes in each year. In order to redeem those IOU's, the government must sell securities on the open market. This may not increase the deficit but it kicks the debt can down the road for future generations to pay and it inflicts a higher interest payment on the debt.

Medicare, which now has over $37 trillion in unfunded liabilities, will see that number grow as there are 10,000 "baby boomers" retiring every day for the next 18 plus years. Of course those liabilities will be foist upon our youth.

Perhaps the most alarming indicator of future events is occurring right now as we see the Middle-East in flames. What is not being talked about is that there are two powers engaged in a fight for dominance within the Islamic religion. Saudi Arabia is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, while Iran dominates the smaller Shia Muslim group. Iran has backed the terrorist group Hezbollah in the take-over of Lebanon, and has supported Syria in their defense against the rebel groups. It appears that the Saudi's have been providing the financial resources to rebel groups in this Shia-Sunni fight. But, as we have often heard, Muslim's say "The enemy of my enemy is my friend". If that holds true, one could expect that Shia and Sunni would fight as one against the West and Israel.

(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)

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Michelle Malkin - 'Lie, delay, deny'

"They don't care."

As Obama administration officials pivot like haywire jewelry-box ballerinas to divert attention away from the nationwide Veterans Affairs disgrace, a reader who has been fighting the system urged me to urge Capitol Hill and the American public to stay focused.

This former Special Forces soldier and medic served his country for 25 years. He worked in the health care field managing military field medical clinics. "I know how health care is supposed to run, even in austere or low-budget environments," he says. And in his nightmarish, ongoing experience, the VA is an epic, deadly, monstrous failure. He minces no words: "They're getting billions of dollars, and they treat veterans like s-t. There's no accountability, no buy-in, among civilian unionized employees. We mean nothing to them. It's like going to the DMV for your health care."

Over the past four years, the veteran tells me, he has been under direct VA care for two major line-of-duty-related injuries, including one combat-related injury. One of the medical centers that treated him — or rather mistreated him and maltreated him — is the Coatesville, Pa., VA. It's the same facility where four vets died due to medical malpractice, leading to nearly $1.4 million in settlements to vets' families, according to The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The harrowing cases included two fatal failures to monitor patients, improper management of a psychiatric patient, and wrongful diagnosis or misdiagnosis of a patient.

These details are all too familiar to my reader. "I have been misdiagnosed, had a missed diagnosis, and had delays of care lasting months," he says. "My records have been lost, changed, split and mismanaged." He has experienced firsthand the same "slow-walking" of care that millions of other VA patients have encountered and scores have died from — a systemic modus operandi of "lie, delay, deny."

The vet gets a catch in his voice as he relates a horrible anecdote. After refusing to return to the Coatesville facility and seeking treatment at another VA clinic one day, he became nauseous.

Instead of allowing him to lie down on a gurney, a nurse made him vomit outside so he wouldn't soil the bed. He believes the office was open not to treat patients, but as a front for nurses to pick up extra shifts. He has encountered similar degrading and condescending treatment across the VA system.
When he appealed for help and advocacy within the system, the veteran was met with a stone wall of "Not My Job"-ism. Through denials of care, contraindicated medications, repeated mistakes and delays of pharmacy items, he endured callousness, humiliation and stigmatization. "When I get angry, they call me 'crazy.'" Classic blame-the-victim tactics from the VA abusers.

Big Government politicians want to throw more funding at the VA, as usual. The veteran offers a scathing reality check: "There is ample money to address the needs of American veterans," he says. "The problem is far deeper and more dangerous than just secret waiting lists. The VA almost killed me; my health is worse now than it was when I entered care; my quality of life and living conditions have been nothing short of horrific as I have waited years for adjudication of my benefits case, which in the end was botched."

Again, the vet refuses to candy-coat the roots of the festering VA scandal: "The problem is not just waiting lists. It is utter fraudulent expenditure of enormous budgets, not on veterans, but on overpaid lazy, surly civilian employees that often make it clear that a) they do not like veterans and b) that the veteran is actually a nuisance. The problem is endemic, at every level, in the VA. The unfortunate fact of the matter is this: Veterans have become incidental to the process at the VA."

The system is "an enormous cash cow, warehousing tens of thousands of overpaid employees" who "keep the gravy-train rolling." The vet has a plea on behalf of all of his brothers and sisters who are drowning in the VA's "lie, delay, deny" abyss:

"Please, don't let this die."

(Syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin is the daughter of Filipino Immigrants. She was born in Philadelphia, raised in southern New Jersey and now lives with her husband and daughter in Colorado. Her weekly column is carried by more than 100 newspapers.)

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Sanborn — Hog pens and Garage Mahals

Bike week is here again and all that noise and rolling steel makes all good men think about buying a new home with a big garage to keep their toys in...or, at least a couple might. A good garage to house your hog, rat rod, SS Supersport, or that shiny new Corvette is right up there – high on the list of must-haves for many a road warrior. A man needs space. Two garage bays might not do it. You need at least three or four. Heated, preferably.

What's hog or hemi worthy that's on the market right now? Here are a few recommendations to ponder.

Up at 160 DW Highway in low tax Center Harbor, there's an oversize two bay heated garage with a car lift so you can do all necessary repairs without lying on your back. There's also a one car detached garage that's perfect for storing all that extra stuff you've accumulated and can't part with. You know like old car fenders, bumpers, and extra wheels and such. As an added bonus, there's a charmingly updated 1912 vintage, four bedroom, two bath home with 1,992 square feet of living space to roam around in when you aren't in the garage. It features natural woodwork, wainscoting, pocket doors, and oak flooring. There's a bright and sunny kitchen with a breakfast nook, a great room, large dining room, and screened porch with cathedral ceilings. The wrap-around porch would be perfect to sit on and watch the bikes roll by. This home sits on a potentially sub-dividable 9 acre lot and is in a commercial zone so maybe that bike shop you've always wanted to open might work here? This property is priced at $319,000 and is assessed at $301,300. Could be Hog Heaven?

Over in Gilford at 65 Savage Road (now, that's a great street name for a biker to live on!) there is what is billed as a "magnificent 4 bay OVER SIZED garage!" Not only that, there is another two bay garage under one of the two homes on the property PLUS a three stall storage lean-to. How great is that! Wait, it gets even better. The 2,300 square foot main house has three bedrooms, two baths, large living room with gas fireplace, a sun room, PLUS a MAN CAVE in the basement! The second house has 924 square feet with one bedroom which is perfect for your in-laws (or outlaws) when they come to visit. And finally, this property is located at the end of a dead end road on 26 acres! How's that for privacy? Dead on, right? This property is priced at $399,900 and is assessed at $376,800. Go check it out.

Now, if you are in need of space for eight cars or, oh...about 50-60 motorcycles check out the property at 10 Corliss Hill Road in Meredith. There you'll find a 34' x 62' garage/barn with 10' high doors, 12' high ceilings, and 400 amp electrical service. The listing says that there's enough cleared land for pasture and paddocks but we are talking iron horses here not hay eating ones. There's also a heated two car garage that is attached to a very, very nice 4,270 square foot, four bedroom, two and a half bath cape constructed in 1999. This high quality home has a beautiful kitchen with granite and stainless steel, a bright and sunny living room with fieldstone hearth and soapstone wood stove, a first floor master suite, sun room, and lower level media and exercise rooms. After a long day riding on the trail... I mean the highway, you can come back home and jump in the heated saltwater pool and then have a drink on the patio by the cabana. The garage (and house) sits on a very private 28.7 acre lot so you can whoop it up a little if you want. This ride is a custom and is offered at $585,000.

There were 98 residential home sales in May 2014 in the twelve communities covered in this Lakes Region real estate market report. The average sales price came in at $310,392 and the median price point was $214,000. Last May there were 99 homes sold at an average of $303,580 and a median price point of $192,500. There have been 321 sales this year through May 31 at an average price of $302,308 compared to 347 last year at an average of $259,832. Now if a few of the visiting bikers would purchase a home we could catch up...

Please feel free to visit to learn more about the Lakes Region real estate market and comment on this article and others. Data was compiled using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 6/18/14. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

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Jim Hightower - New normal is not normal

Have you noticed "the powers that be" employ an entirely different standard for measuring the health of America's job market than they use for the stock market?

They're currently telling us that, "The job market is improving." What do they mean? Simply that the economy is generating an increase in the number of jobs available for workers. But when they say, "The stock market is improving," they don't mean that the number of stocks available to investors is on the rise. Instead, they're measuring the price, the value of the stocks. And isn't value what really counts in both cases? Quality over quantity.

Employment rose by 217,000 jobs in the month of May, according to the latest jobs report — and that brought us up to 8.7 million. That is how many new jobs the American economy has generated since the "Great Recession" officially ended in 2009 — and it also happens to be the number of jobs that were lost because of that recession. You can break out the champagne, for the American economy is back, baby — all of the lost jobs have been recovered!

You say you don't feel "recovered"? Well, it's true that the U.S. population has kept growing since the crash, so about 15 million more working-age people have entered the job market, meaning America still has millions more people looking for work than it has jobs. And it's true that long-term unemployment is a growing crisis, especially for middle-aged job seekers who've gone one, two or more years without even getting an interview, much less an offer — so they've dropped out of the market and are not counted as unemployed. Also, there are millions of young people who are squeezed out of this so-called recovery — the effective unemployment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds is above 15 percent, more than double the national rate of 6.3 percent.

But take heart, people, for economists are telling us that full employment may be right around the corner.
Is that because Congress is finally going to pass a national jobs program to get America working again? Or could it be that corporate chieftains are going to bring home some of the trillions of dollars they've stashed in offshore tax havens to invest in new products and other job-creating initiatives here in the USA?
No, no — don't be silly. Economists are upbeat because they've decided to redefine "full" employment by — hocus pocus! — simply declaring that having 6 percent of our people out of work is acceptable as the new normal. And you thought American ingenuity was dead.

Now, let's move on to the value of those jobs that have economists doing a happy dance. As a worker, you don't merely want to know that 217,000 new jobs are on the market; you want to know what they're worth — do they pay living wages, do they come with benefits, are they just part-time and temporary, do they include union rights, what are the working conditions, etc.? In other words, are these jobs ... or scams?

So, it's interesting that the recent news of job market "improvement" doesn't mention that of the 10 occupation categories projecting the greatest growth in the next eight years, only one pays a middle-class wage. Four pay barely above poverty level and five pay beneath it, including fast-food workers, retail sales staff, health aids and janitors. The job expected to have the highest number of openings is "personal care aide" — taking care of aging baby boomers in their houses or in nursing homes. The median salary of an aid is under $20,000. They enjoy no benefits, and about 40 percent of them must rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet, plus many are in the "shadow economy," vulnerable to being cheated on the already miserly wages.

To measure the job market by quantity — with no regard for quality — is to devalue workers themselves. Creating 217,000 new jobs is not a sign of economic health if each worker needs two or three of those jobs to patch together a barebones living — and millions more are left with no work at all.

(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".)

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