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Froma Harrop - Seniors don't deserve discount via economic policy

We've seen senior discounts for buses. We've seen senior discounts at movie theaters. We've seen senior discounts in supermarkets.

Most make some sense, helping businesses attract older customers at slow times when others are working. What makes no sense whatsoever is applying senior discounts to economic policy.

Older Americans vote, and nowadays they tend to vote Republican. Clearly, there's political hay to be made framing President Obama's economic proposals as attacks on seniors. But the results can be odd, especially when the fault Republicans find in one Obama plan conflicts with a fault they find in another.

For instance, you have Peter Morici, an economist at the University of Maryland and a sometime presence on Fox News Channel, strangely suggesting that Obama's proposal to raise taxes on the overseas earnings of American businesses would be "a stealth tax on the elderly".

The argument appears in a column with the superbly loony headline "Tax Grandma to Fund the AFL-CIO?"


Here's how Morici gets there: Companies such as General Electric, Ford and Procter & Gamble earn profits abroad. Many retirement portfolios contain their stocks. Therefore, new taxes on those companies' overseas profits would be taxes on retirees.

One might ask why stock portfolios owned by retirees should be of more concern than stock portfolios owned by others. The answer is politics and the partisans' hope that working people aren't listening in.

What does any of this have to do with the AFL-CIO? Thanks for asking. Morici explains that the taxes would go to fixing roads. Unionized workers would get jobs doing that. America would have better roads and more well-paying jobs — but where's the upside?

(To digress, one hopes that older Americans will rebel to being referred to as grandmas and grandpas. No one belittles 40-somethings by calling them all mommies and daddies.)
This argument goes contrary to earlier Republican complaints about the Federal Reserve's policy to keep interest rates low. You see, many seniors put their money in interest-bearing investments, such as CDs and bonds. Lower interest rates reduce the income from them.

Republicans from Paul Ryan to Mitt Romney hollered about the alleged unfairness of low rates. Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee accused then-Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke of "throwing seniors under the bus".

The point of low interest rates was to breathe life into a moribund economy. The looser monetary policy is credited with boosting the prices of stocks — stocks like GE, Ford and Procter & Gamble.

So what will it be, higher interest rates to provide more income to elderly savers or lower interest rates to help elderly stock investors? The answer should be "not applicable." Economic policy should concentrate on economic growth, not age of investor.

Just as they twist the terms "family farm" and "small business," many on the right try to make "retiree" a stand-in for "struggling old people". Some members of all those categories are struggling, true. But hedge funders own family farms; law firms are small businesses; and many retirees are very rich.

Even less-than-rich retirees are pursuing lives of leisure, their medical costs covered in large part by younger taxpayers. And federal and state tax codes already offer a variety of special breaks for people of a certain age.

So this idea that retirees are being "punished" when some change in policy affects a broadly owned investment is on the wacky side. Investment income, such as that from stocks, is already more lightly taxed than the middle-class salaries earned by the sweat of someone's brow.

Most younger Americans, one assumes, are not following the pity party for retired investors. They're too busy working.

(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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Forcing PSNH to sell off those 12 power plants is going to cost us all

To The Daily Sun,

Wouldn't you agree that our electrical power generation is a major part of the bedrock of our modern society?

We've all experienced power outages. Do you enjoy having no power? Wrapping up in blankets with a candle may be fun for an hour but, really, power outages are a serious mess for everyone, each time they occur.

So, wouldn't it make sense, if our public utility company, PSNH, has nine hydroelectric power plants and three fossil fuel plants, all sited, designed, built and paid for over the past century, and has kept them updated with the latest improvements, as they've become available, and PSNH wants to keep them in service for their source diversity and because they feel the plants are "an insurance policy against price spikes," shouldn't they be left alone and allowed to do their job, keeping their power flowing to us? This is so important that it bears repeating: PSNH believes these 12 plants will help to protect New Hampshire citizens against price spikes.

With all the decades of PSNH's experience, providing us with power, shouldn't we give them the benefit of the doubt that they know something about power generation, distribution and costs? Aren't they in the best position to have continuously studied whether their power plants are cost effectively producing power, and whether that will continue to be the case?

Well, it may be PSNH knows more about the subject than the individual legislators who ran the state Legislature in the previous session, but those legislators had the power to pass a bill to force the Public Utility Commission (PUC) to force PSNH to sell off all 12 of those plants as soon as possible, and they did passed that very bill. The legislators' supposed rationale at the time was that if PSNH kept running those plants, they would eventually have to charge people higher rates.

Isn't the cost of almost everything going up, continuously? And even as the rates creep upward, and the world becomes an ever crazier place, don't you take some comfort in the fact that we in New Hampshire have 12 diversely-sited and diversely-fueled power plants on our own soil, owned by PSNH? And just maybe those nine hydroelectric plants, being a "green" source of power, cost a little more to run than other power plants (or maybe not), but every time there's a power outage, I'm happy to remember the water keeps perpetually running over those river dams, and as soon as the power lines are again intact, that power, generated by flowing water will once again surge through our lines. And, as a consumer, I see those plants as our home-grown insurance, and they're paid for and they're doing their jobs.

And, as for the three fossil fuel plants, I really believe I remember reading that they are fueled by United States-sourced fuel. I think there's one oil, one coal and one gas. Isn't it smart to have diversity to keep down price spikes during these shifting times?

But while those previous legislators' supposed rationale was that this sell-off would eventually save us money, the immediate sell-off their legislation requires will immediately produce a $435 million loss (Reference: Laconia Daily Sun, Associated Press (AP) article, Saturday, January 17, 2015, page 15), which will fall to all New Hampshire electricity consumers to pay off — now. Maybe those legislators didn't realize their actions would create a $435 million immediate loss. (Maybe they thought it would generate a profit). If so, all the more reason to reverse that legislation

Further, I'm fully aware that our power is part of the grid that comes from all across New England. But then, I am reminded by the recent big blizzard, that there are times we, in New Hampshire, may become cut off from power generated in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, or Vermont, due to storm damage to the lines coming in from those other states. In this last storm Massachusetts and Connecticut took the big hit. Our power generation from our 12 plants continued to flow out to all of us, here, in New Hampshire. And, it would also continue to flow out to anywhere else in the New England grid where the power lines remained intact.

Remember, years ago, the big "brown-outs" that spread out from big metropolitan centers and how people, way out in other states, far from the source of the power problems, suddenly lost power. We need our plants and we need our legislators to know we want that previous legislation reversed — now.

Please help. Contact all our New Hampshire state representatives and senators. And get the word out to people you know to spread the word to all our media: newspapers, TV and radio, that this is a big issue and we want to see more coverage of it.

Carol Grasso


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