Jim Hightower - Panama papers reveal scandalous hypocrisy

It's always educational to observe the behavior of wildlife in their natural habitat. For example, we learn that there's nothing more vicious than a wild animal that's cornered. I would add that there's nothing more devious than a top political or corporate official caught in a scandalous hypocrisy.

We're now bearing witness to this latter phenomenon, for a whole menagerie of political critters have recently been screeching and scrambling after being backed into a corner by the "Panama Papers." This is a trove of thousands of internet documents leaked to global media outlets, revealing that assorted billionaires, rich celebrities, corporate chieftains, and — yes — pious public officials have been hiding their wealth and dodging the taxes they owe by stashing their cash in foreign tax havens. Of course, we've known for a while that tax dodging is a common plutocratic scam, but the details from the leaked files of an obscure Panamanian law firm named Mossack Fonseca now gives us names to shame.

One is David Cameron, the ardently conservative prime minister of Britain, who has loudly declaimed tax sneaks in public. But — oops! — now we learn that his own super-wealthy father was a Mossack Fonseca client, and that David himself has profited from the stealth wealth he inherited from the elder Cameron's secret stash.

Trapped by the facts, the snarling, privileged prime minister used middle-class commoners as his shield, asserting that critics of his secluded wealth are trying to "tax anyone who (wants) to pass on their home... to their children." Uh-uh, David — we merely want to tax those who try to pass-off tax frauds on the public.

One of Cameron's partisans even claimed that critics "hate anybody who has a hint of wealth in them." No, it's the gross, self-serving hypocrisy of the elites that people hate. Yet now, doubling down on their hypocrisy, Cameron & Company have announced that they'll host an anticorruption summit meeting to address the problem of offshore tax evaders!

The global web of corruption involving thousands of superrich tax dodgers and money launderers that the Panama Paper reveal is an explosive scandal — yet, interestingly, very few names of the moneyed elite in our country have surfaced as players in Mossack Fonseca's Panamanian shell game. Perhaps U.S. billionaires and corporations are just more honest than those elsewhere.

Ha-ha-ha, just kidding! Not more honest, just luckier. You see, America's conniving richies don't have to go to Panama to set up an offshore flim flam — they have the convenience of hiding their money and wrongdoings in secret accounts created right here in states like Delaware and Nevada.

The "New York Times" notes that it's easier in some states to form a dummy money corporation than it is to get a fishing license. Indeed, the ease of doing it, and the state laws that provide strict secrecy for those hiding money, have made the U.S.A. a global magnet for international elites wanting to conceal billions of dollars from their own tax collectors, prosecutors ... and general public.

State officials in Delaware even travel to Brazil, Israel, Spain and other nations to tell "the Delaware story," inviting rich foreign interests to stash their cash in corporate hideaways that the state sets up, no questions asked. Likewise, Nevada flashes a dazzling neon sign inviting the global rich to incorporate their very own shell corporations there, promising — shhhh — "minimal reporting and disclosing requirements." The money-hiding industry is so hot in Nevada that it attracted none other than Mossack Fonseca to get in the action by opening a branch office there.

The law firm is being branded as a criminal enterprise for the rich. okay, but it shares that shameful brand with our own state governments.

(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".)

  • Category: Columns
  • Hits: 483

Sanborn — Sweet emotions

There were 78 residential home sales in March in the 12 Lakes Region communities covered by this report. The average sales price came in at $289,111 and the media price point was $195,950. That brings the total number of sales in the first quarter of 2016 to an even 200 at an average price of $301,551. There were 146 sales in the first quarter of 2015 at an average sales price $284,776. That's a 38 percent increase in total sales over last year so far, which means we are off to a pretty nice start!

If you like Aerosmith, you obviously like their song Sweet Emotions. It's a classic. Not sure what it is really all about, but I am sure that buying or selling a home has a lot of emotions involved in it and many of them are anything but "sweet." After all, it is the biggest financial transaction most people will ever make and money can make anyone crazy. It can be very stressful. There are all kinds of emotions wrapped up in a home buying/selling process and as real estate agents we are never quite sure which emotion a buyer or seller will have at any given time. There are many steps in a real estate transaction and with each gingerly step forward we brace for some sort of reaction that could range from a very reasonable reply to anger.

There seems to me to be two distinct kinds of buyers; those that want to buy a house because they just need a place to live and those looking to make an emotional connection with the property. The latter category of buyers could be a first time home buyer or they could be experienced buyers who are looking for that one special property that they really fall in love with.

First time buyers need to be cautious that their emotions don't get in the way of common sense. Often a first time or novice buyer's excitement will cause him to overlook or discount issues that could have a monetary affect in the future. Just because a home has shiny new appliances, granite counter tops, and a fresh coat of paint it doesn't trump a poor location, poor design, or poor structure. The first time or novice buyer is also affected by fear of loss. They sometimes are afraid that they will not find another home as good as this one and that can cause them to make bad decisions.

An experienced buyer that is looking for that special home knows when he finds the right property. He feels that emotional tug that this is the right property, the holy grail of waterfronts, the dream home on the hill with panoramic views, and he just wants it. But then, usually but not always, emotion gives way to logic. In the logical world, if that special property has a price on it that does not make sense to a buyer he won't purchase the property or will make an offer based on logic rather than emotion.

On the seller's side, deciding to sell a home can be very emotional or it can be matter of fact. The matter of fact or business decision mode is much easier to deal with. The emotional seller with the "nicest house on the planet" can get be a tad more difficult when it comes to setting prices and dealing with offers. Want to see emotions from a seller? Give them a really low offer on their "nicest house on the planet" preceded always by the verbiage "I know this is not what you were expecting, but I have to present all offers." It will be like, as Stephen Tyler sings, "the backstage boogie set your pants on fire."

Another emotionally driven seller is one that has put thousands of dollars of improvements into a home without realizing that he won't recoup all of those costs in a sale. Properties that have been in a family for generations can create baggage for the current owner as well. Childhood memories, kids growing up at the house, holiday gatherings, and family weddings all create ties to a home that are sometimes hard to break but don't add value to a property.

Buyers often get stressed out, frustrated, and exhausted from just looking at houses. They sometimes doubt that they'll ever find something that they really like in a time frame they need to find it in. Sometimes they get scared and are afraid to fully commit to a purchase or fear they made the wrong decision when they have made an offer. That's the Dreaded Buyer's Remorse... yes, with a capital "D."

Sellers can have a bad case of remorse as well. Sometimes this is caused by the anxiety and stress of having to move, not finding what they had hoped to find for housing elsewhere, or a spouse just had second thoughts. You just hope that the seller's remorse happens not too far into the process rather than during offer negotiations.

Anger (or let's call it displeasure) can often flare up on both sides during the home inspection process when items are revealed that may need to be addressed. To paraphrase Tyler again: "You talk about things that nobody cares. You're wearing out things that nobody wears." It can sometimes get ugly. Sellers that look at the transaction as a business deal are likely to get through this part of the process much easier. Buyers have to realize they might not get everything they ask for to be fixed or addressed.

But, there are many happy and positive emotions, too, and those are the best. They are a real estate agent's true goal: to have a happy client or customer at the end of the process. This usually happens when buyers and sellers have an agent who they truly trust, who communicates well, explains the process, and guides them through to a successful transaction. I like the sweet emotions a whole lot more, don't you? Sing along... Sweeeeet Emotions...

P​lease 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 compiled using the NNEREN MLS system as of 4/19/16. ​Roy Sanborn is a sales associate at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 677-7012

  • Category: Columns
  • Hits: 504

Froma Harrop - The liberal silent majority

A few days before Bernie Sanders lost badly in the New York primary, 27,000 souls filled Washington Square Park, many wildly cheering him on. The political media consensus interpreted the scene as evidence of surging support for the senator from Vermont. It did not occur to them that:

— The crowd almost certainly included many Hillary Clinton supporters just out to hear what Bernie had to say — not to mention some stray Republicans.

— It included tourists who, on a pleasant spring evening, happened on an exciting event and hung around.

— Some attendees were Bernie backers who had neglected to register as Democrats in time for the Democratic primary.

— The numbers at Washington Square were dwarfed by the battalions of working-class New Yorkers juggling two children and three jobs. These mostly Clinton voters were unable to attend any rally.

This last group is the subject here. It is the silent liberal majority.

Richard Nixon popularized the term "silent majority" in 1969. He was referring to the middle Americans appalled by the Vietnam-era protests and associated social chaos. They didn't demonstrate, and the so-called media elite ignored them.

Today's liberal version of the silent majority is heavy with minorities and older people. Its members tend to be more socially conservative than those on the hard left and believe President Obama is a good leader.

Obamacare has brought medical coverage to 90 percent of the population, with the greatest gains among Latinos. Thus, a politician who repeatedly complains that this is "the only major country that doesn't guarantee health care to all people as a right" sounds a bit off.

Many political reporters belong to the white gentry that has fueled the Sanders phenomenon. Nothing wrong with that, as long as they know where they're coming from. But some don't seem to know about the vast galaxies of Democratic voters beyond the university and hipster ZIP codes.

In so many races — including those of the other party — reporters confine themselves to carefully staged political events and a few interviews with conveniently placed participants. From the atmospherics, they deduce the level of support for a particular candidate.

It can't be repeated often enough that a passionate vote counts no more than one cast with quiet consent or even resignation. Here are three examples of political analysts forgetting this:

Commenting on the lively debate in Brooklyn, columnist Frank Bruni concluded that the Sanders camp is "where the fiercest energy in the party resides right now." How did he know? "It was audible on Thursday night, in the boos from the audience that sometimes rained down on Clinton."

So, how many people were booing? Three? Four? Who were they? They possibly could have been Hillary people trying to summon sympathy for their candidate (which the booing undoubtedly did).

The day after the packed Sanders rally in Greenwich Village, CNN looped videos contrasting that massive turnout with the much smaller group listening to Clinton in the Bronx. That's as deep as this story went.

Early this month, New York magazine posted a piece titled "In the South Bronx, Bernie Sanders Gives Clinton Cause for Concern." The reporter's evidence was a sizable and "raucous" Sanders rally headlined by a handful of black and Latino celebrities.

We await the magazine's follow-up analysis on how Clinton won 70 percent of the Bronx vote. Someone must have voted for her.

This is not to chide the Sanders campaign. Its job was to create an impression of mass support for its candidate — and job well-done. Rather, it's to remind the media that there's a huge electorate outside the focus of managed campaign events. And silent majorities, by their very nature, tend not to get noticed.

(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.)

  • Category: Columns
  • Hits: 430

Does staging your home make sense?

LAKES REGION PROFILES by Mary O'Neill, Sales Associate at Roche Realty Group

 

In the movie "Funny Farm," Chevy Chase plays an ex-New York City sports writer trying to sell his home in a small New England town to an urban couple who have dreams of relocating to the country. Chevy sets up his property to imitate pages right out of Norman Rockwell's illustrations with everything from freshly baked muffins on the kitchen table to a deer running across the backyard on cue. The result was the buyers could envision their dream home and made an offer over full price for the house, furniture, and even the old dog. If you want to sell your home, you do not have to go to these extremes. But Chevy had it right – staging your home so potential buyers can picture themselves living there is worth the effort.

A survey by Stagedhome.com found that 94 percent of homes that were staged sold on average in one month or less, spent 80 percent less time on the market, and sold in an average of 35 days compared to 175 days for non-staged homes. This is an important consideration since the longer a home is on the market, the lower the price will be. According to the National Association of Realtors, homes that sold after four weeks on the market sold for 6 percent less than those that sold in the first four weeks (Resource Realty Services). If a house has not sold, most sellers reduce the price after about a month on the market. The first price reduction is usually around 10 percent. So for a $250,000 house, the price reduction is $25,000. The average cost of professional staging ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 (Smith, Kiplinger.com). Had the homeowners staged their $250,000 house at a cost of $3,000 and sold within the first month on the market, they would have been $22,000 ahead.

Whether you have your house staged professionally or tackle it yourself, here are some tips commonly given for doing the job:
1. Thin out and reorganize furniture to maximize space and light. Too much furniture or furniture too big for a space makes a room feel smaller. Furnishings should not obscure a buyer's view of focal points such as scenic vistas, fireplaces or built-ins. Numerous or disparate pictures on walls can make a room feel cluttered. In an article by Michael Estrin for Bankrate.com, one recent buyer was quoted as saying that if the house "was cluttered and messy, my brain just shut off." It might be tempting to only thin out and organize what is immediately visible, especially if you are still living in the house you are trying to sell. But it is helpful to have areas behind closed doors tidy as well. Most buyers are looking for space and storage. If they open cupboards or closets and find them jammed with stuff, it gives the impression there is not enough space. On the other hand, buyers can find it challenging to envision a room's function when it is completely devoid of furnishings. Staging can show how a house could function for the potential buyer and gives each room a clearly defined purpose.
2. Neutralize. Most buyers respond to neutral colors, and a fresh coat of white or cream-colored paint is one of the easiest and most rewarding improvements. At the same time, it can be detrimental to "over-neutralize." Every room painted white can be bland. Within every color family there are neutrals – such as soft blues, greens and grays – and these colors can be employed to create a calming designer atmosphere. From there the décor can be upped a notch by incorporating pops of color in artwork, rugs, pillows, and other accessories.
3. Focus on the most important areas. For almost all buyers, this means the kitchen and bathrooms. If cabinets are dated, a coat of paint goes a long way toward making the space new and inviting. Other inexpensive updates include replacing cabinet doors and switching out lighting fixtures and window treatments.
4. Clean. One thing buyers definitely notice is dirt and grime. Elbow grease can add more value to a home than almost anything else. It might seem obvious, but dusting cobwebs in corners, scrubbing floors and washing windows go a long way toward making a home more appealing. Unkempt rooms can make buyers wonder if there are problems behind the walls that have not been addressed as well.
5. Depersonalize the space. This usually involves removing family pictures, excess books, clothing, cosmetics, toys and other personal items. Depersonalization might also extend to painting – the bright red walls in your bedroom might not make the best first impression.
6. Do not forget the details. While cleanliness and order is the goal, the house should not look sterile. Strategic accessories create a cozy atmosphere. Place a few books on the coffee table, add an accent piece along with neatly arranged books on a shelf, and hang a few pieces of attractive art on the wall. Professionals also recommend having a plant or two (providing the plants are real) so the home gives the impression that someone actually lives there.
7. Amplify your curb appeal. Professional stager Kelly Gardner says, "Buyers make up their mind in the first 30 seconds as they approach the front door" (Gaskill, 2013, Houzz). Simple updates can include painting the front door, changing a weathered light fixture, cutting back shrubbery, laying mulch, adding potted plants, replacing the mailbox, power-washing the siding and defining a front walkway. Increasing curb appeal is especially important since many potential buyers do a drive-by before they ask to see a property.
8. Help buyers visualize. Buyers can have a hard time visualizing a space. This is true whether the house is completely empty or full of furniture and accessories. A survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors found that 81 percent of real estate agents believe staging helps buyers visualize the property as their future home. Forty-six percent of agents said it makes buyers much more willing to walk through a home they saw online (Kasperski, 2015, realtor.org). And since more than 90 percent of potential buyers look at homes online first, staging can significantly increase the number of buyers coming to view a property.

Whether purchasing a first home, second home, or vacation getaway, buyers are investing in a dream. Staging allows them to imagine themselves and their things in a home. For more suggestions on staging, contact your local professional stager or real estate agent – or watch Funny Farm and try a few of Chevy Chase's novel ideas.

 

Please feel free to visit www.rocherealty.com to learn more about the Lakes Region and its real estate market. Mary O'Neill is a Realtor at Roche Realty Group in Meredith & Laconia, and can be reached at (603) 366-6306, rocherealty.com

 

  • Category: Columns
  • Hits: 610

Susan Estrich - Why Democrats love Bernie Sanders

Why do Democrats love Bernie Sanders? Okay, it's not just because he's "cute" (as some younger voters are calling him). In point of fact, could someone tell me when 74-year-old bald Jewish men became America's symbol of "cute"? Larry David pulls it off, but I'm not so sure about Bernie Sanders.

It is also not the case that the only reason, or even the primary reason, that people are voting for Sanders is because of some grave, if not fatal, flaw in Hillary Clinton's candidacy.

That's not fair to Clinton, and it's certainly not fair to Sanders.

My sense is that most of the people who are voting for Bernie Sanders are doing so for the reasons voters usually do: They think he understands their problems; and he gives voices to their concerns. And this is taking place in the context of a nominating process that, on the Democratic side (sorry, my Republican winner-take-all friends, who used to mock us for the tedious aspect of our process), is absolutely and intentionally structured to advantage insurgent candidates and make it more, not less, difficult for the winner to win.

Can I say it? Sanders is more liberal than Clinton. Sanders' assault on Wall Street would, depending on who you talk to, either destroy the American economy or at least change it radically. Clinton is not a radical. She has also spent too much time in Washington trying to actually get things done to run around with "pie in the sky" promises of free college for everyone, along with a chicken in every pot. We can't afford to send every student to college for free. Some of them don't belong there. Many of them have taken loans that they can and should pay back for the sake of the next generation.

He is also a very likable guy: from all appearances a smart, well-meaning and decent man, who actually believes in what he says. And unbridled by the need to do it, or even show how he would, he speaks with great sincerity of the land of opportunity he hopes to keep building. I'm glad he's in the Senate, and I can imagine a 30-year-younger version of myself (slightly deluded into believing that women had achieved equality) being attracted to a candidate who doesn't have to choose his words carefully or think three steps ahead about diplomatic consequences because no one in the Kremlin is really paying attention — not like they are paying attention to Clinton and, God help us, Donald Trump.

So the fact that Sanders is doing well in processes that are as skewed to the left (as the Republican processes are skewed to the right) should not cause waves of panic among the Clinton faithful. Sure, it is right to ask whether his success should cause Hillary-ites to carefully examine weaknesses in her campaign. But it is just plain wrong to assume that because a well-meaning socialist could defeat Clinton in a low-turnout caucus filled with true believers she is vulnerable to Trump or Ted Cruz in a general election.

(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.)

  • Category: Columns
  • Hits: 542