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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

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Pat Buchanan - America's role in a darkening age

When, in the 1950s, Nikita Khrushchev said, "We will bury you," and, "Your children will live under communism," Eisenhower's America scoffed.
By 1980, however, the tide did indeed seem to be with the East. America had suffered a decade of defeats. Southeast Asia had fallen. The ayatollah had seized power in Iran. Moscow had occupied Afghanistan. Cuban troops were in Ethiopia and Angola. Grenada and Nicaragua had fallen to the Soviet bloc. Eurocommunism was all the rage on the continent.
Just a decade later, the world turned upside-down. The Berlin Wall fell. Eastern Europe was suddenly free. The Soviet Union disintegrated. China abandoned Maoism for state capitalism.
Now, 20 years on, the wheel has turned again — toward darkness.
No longer do we hear chatter about "The End of History" and triumph of democratic capitalism, of America imposing her "global hegemony" or leading mankind into "a second American century." The hubris is gone, and triumphalism has given way to anxiety, apprehension, alarm.
In an essay, "The Return of Toxic Nationalism," Robert Kaplan, a geopolitical analyst for Stratfor, writes that Western elites are even yet failing to see the larger, darker picture of our evolving world. These elites identify with the like-minded in other lands and "prefer not to see the regressive and exclusivist forces ... that are mightily reshaping the future."
Egypt and the Mideast offer "a panorama of sectarianism and religious and ethnic divides. Freedom, at least in its initial stages, unleashes not only individual identity but, more crucially, the freedom to identify with a blood-based solidarity group. Beyond that group, feelings of love and humanity do not apply."
This is "a signal lesson of the Arab Spring," and out of it will likely come an "Islamist-Nasserite regime" in Cairo.
"Asia is in the midst of a feverish arms race," writes Kaplan. Nationalism there is "young and vibrant — as it was in the West in the 19th and 20th centuries." Having consolidated the homeland, China is moving to annex her adjacent seas, and a formerly pacifist Japan is "rediscovering nationalism as a default option."
Nationalism is "alive and thriving in India and Russia," with New Delhi building armed forces that will be among the world's largest.
"Race hatred against Muslims is high among Russians, and just as there are large rallies by civil-society types, there are also marches and protests by skinheads and neo-Nazis, who are less well-covered by Western media."
A weakening European Union has spawned a "resurgence of nationalism and extremism in Hungary, Finland, Ukraine and Greece."
"We are truly in a battle between two epic forces," says Kaplan, "those of integration based on civil society and human rights, and those of exclusion based on race, blood and radicalized religion."
How should the United States deal with this darkening age?
"Because values like minority rights are under attack the world over, the United States must put them right alongside its own exclusivist national interests, such as preserving a favorable balance of power. Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation — and that is the only way we can lead with moral legitimacy in an increasingly disordered world."
But is this not itself utopian?
A great religious awakening is taking place from Morocco to Mindanao. If these hundreds of millions believe there is no God but Allah and he has shown the way to eternal life, why would they, why should they, tolerate pastors and preachers from heretical and false faiths?
How do we preach women's equality — an easy access to divorce contraception and abortion — to people who swear by a sacred book that says you kill people like that? How do we preach the blessings of racial and ethnic diversity to a world where, as Kaplan writes, ethnonationalism and tribalism are being embraced and people are willing to die to create nations where their own kind and their own culture are dominant if not exclusive?
Before we put our "values" up there with our vital interests, as the object of our foreign policy, what exactly are we talking about? Do Americans in the grip of a social-moral-cultural war even agree among themselves on "values"? Our First Amendment protects freedom of speech to call the Prophet vile names. Our freedom of the press protects pornography. Our freedom of religion means all religions are to be equally excluded from public schools.
Other nations believe in indoctrinating their children in their own beliefs and values. Where do we get the right to push ours in their societies?
When did the internal affairs of foreign nations become the portfolio of American diplomats? Did James Madison's first minister to Russia, John Quincy Adams, demand that Czar Alexander free the serfs?
"Without universal values in our foreign policy, we have no identity as a nation," says Kaplan.
But that is not our history. America has indeed been about ideas, but America is now and has always been about more, much more than abstract ideas.
(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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Pat Buchanan - Obama trying to hijack the American Revolution

"Second Term Begins With a Sweeping Agenda for Equality," ran the eight-column banner in which The Washington Post captured the essence of Obama's second inaugural. There he declared: "What binds this nation together ... what makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago."
Obama then quoted our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Our "union," Obama went on, was "founded on the principles of liberty and equality."
Nice prose — and transparent nonsense.
How could the American Union have been founded on the principle of equality, when "equality" is not mentioned in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Federalist papers? How could equality be a founding principle of a nation, six of whose 13 original states had legalized slavery, and five of whose first seven presidents owned slaves all their lives?
What Obama preached in his inaugural was not historical truth but progressive propaganda, an Orwellian rewrite of American history.
Undeniably, the post-Civil War 13th, 14th and 15th amendments established an equality of constitutional rights. And from the Brown decision of 1954 through the civil rights acts of the 1960s, there was established an equality of civil rights. Black Americans were assured equal access to schools, public accommodations, the voting booth and housing. And Congress and the people overwhelmingly supported those laws.
But if the nation did not establish equality of constitutional rights until the 1860s and equality of civil rights until the 1960s, how can Obama claim that "equality" has been the feature that "makes us American" and "binds this nation together." How can he say that our commitment to equality is what makes us "exceptional" — when every Western country believes in equal rights for all of its citizens, and it was the French Revolution, not ours, that elevated "egalite" to a founding principle.
And when he says equality "is the star that guides us still," exactly what kind of equality is Obama talking about?
Answer: The equality of which Obama speaks is not an equality of rights but an equality of results, an idea that dates not to the Founding Fathers, who would have been appalled by the idea, but to the 1960s.
This equality is not a founding principle of the republic. It is ideological contraband. For such equality can only be achieved at the price of freedom, our true founding principle.
That idea that "all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still," said Obama in his inaugural, "just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall."
Astonishing. The president is here making the brazen claim that the roots of modern feminism and gay rights can be traced straight back to the Founding Fathers and founding principles of our republic. But how? The sanctum sanctorum of modern feminism is Roe v. Wade, the discovery of a constitutional right to an abortion. Yet, for every generation of Americans before 1973, abortion was a heinous crime.
And can anyone seriously argue that a barroom brawl with cops by homosexual patrons of Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in 1969 was but another battle in the long war for liberty begun at Lexington, Concord and Bunker Hill? How could that be, when the author of the declaration Obama cites, Thomas Jefferson, believed homosexuality should be treated as rape, and George Washington ordered homosexuals drummed out of his army?
What Obama was attempting at the Capitol, with his repeated lifts from Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, was to portray his own and his party's egalitarianism as a continuation of the great causes that triumphed at Yorktown and Appomattox. He is hijacking the American Revolution, claiming an ancestral lineage for his ideology that is utterly fraudulent and bogus.
Feminism, the gay rights movement and the post-1965 civil rights movement, with their demand for equality not simply of rights but of rewards, cannot be achieved without trampling on the freedoms for which the patriot fathers fought. And they cannot triumph without creating a permanent, mammoth and redistributionist state more powerful, intrusive and dictatorial than anything George III ever dreamed of.
The freedom of all Americans to compete academically, athletically, artistically and economically must inevitably result in an inequality of incomes, wealth and rewards. Why? Because all men and women are by nature and nurture unequal. Some are talented, ambitious, industrious, lucky. And in a free society, such men and women will always reap a disproportionate share of fame and fortune.
The only way to equalize rewards is to take from those who have earned and give to those who have not. And that requires the kind of redistributionst regime the Founding Fathers would have risen up against.
As Obama's America rises, the old republic falls.
(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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