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Michael Barone - 77¢ argument is bogus

An economist serving on a second-term president's Council of Economic Advisers might expect to weigh in on fundamental issues, restructuring the tax system or making entitlement programs sustainable over the long term. Barack Obama once talked of addressing such issues, and Republican leaders such as House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp are doing so.

But that's not what University of Michigan economist and CEA member Betsey Stevenson finds herself doing. Instead, she is defending the use of misleading statistics in support of legislation addressing a minor problem.

The legislation is Obama's latest pay equity measure, which failed to pass in the Senate last week. The misleading statistic is 77 cents, cited repeatedly by Obama as the amount women earn for every dollar earned by men.

When challenged on this by MSNBC's Irin Cannon, Stevenson admitted that the 77 cents figure is misleading. "If I said that 77 cents was equal pay for equal work, then I completely misspoke," she admitted.

"There are a lot of things that go into that 77 cents figure," she went on. "There are a lot of things that contribute, and no one's trying to say that it's all about discrimination, but I don't think there's a better figure."

Of course some people are trying to say that "it's all about discrimination"—starting with Stevenson's boss, President Obama, and including the political ad-makers preparing to cut 30-second spots accusing Republicans of a "war on women."

So Stevenson is fibbing about that. And when she says, "there are a lot of things that contribute" to male-female earnings disparities, she is indicating that she understands the weakness of using the 77 cents number.

This isn't controversial stuff. As my American Enterprise Institute colleague Christina Hoff Sommers writes in the Daily Beast, the 77 cents "does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week."

Those factors are acknowledged in a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics report cited by AEI scholars Mark Perry and Andrew Biggs in the Wall Street Journal. It shows that (a) men tend to work longer hours than women, (b) men tend to take riskier jobs with premium pay and (c) female college graduates tend to specialize in lower-paid fields than male college graduates.

As a result, the BLS concludes, women who worked 40-hour weeks earned 88 percent of what similar men did. Single women who never married earned 96 percent of men's earnings.
Stevenson concedes that not all the differential comes from discrimination or sexism. "Some of women's choices come because they are disproportionately balancing the needs of work and family," she told MSNBC.

By "disproportionately," she presumably means that more women than men choose to stay home to care for children. "Which of these choices should we consider legitimate choices," she asks, "and which of them should we consider things that we have a societal obligation to try to mitigate?"

This raises the specter of government bureaucrats intervening in marital decision-making, pushing more husbands to stay home with the kids. Even the Obama administration stops short of that.

The Democrats' problem is that sex discrimination by employers was outlawed by the Equal Pay Act signed by John Kennedy in 1963 — 51 years ago. To make "the war on women" an issue and rally single women to the polls, the Obama Democrats have had to concoct new legislation putting new burdens on small employers and ginning up business, as the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Act's extended statute of limitations did, for their trial lawyer contributors.

Such legislation attacks a problem very largely solved. The male-female pay differential for those working at similar levels has been reduced nearly, but not quite, to the vanishing point. Remaining differences result almost entirely from personal choices by women and men.

Those choices shifted sharply 40 years ago but haven't changed much lately. The percentage of mothers seeing full-time work as an ideal, Pew Research Center reports, was 30 percent in 1997 and 32 percent in 2012.

By any realistic standard the equal pay problem is minor, certainly in comparison to the growth-stifling effects of the current tax code and the unsustainable trajectory of current entitlement programs.

But this president, unlike his two predecessors, has chosen not to address such major problems in his second term. And so Betsey Stevenson has to defend the indefensible 77 cents statistic.

(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 Friday, 18 April 2014 10:24

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Sanborn — Is your realtor as dumb as a doorknob?

If someone refers to their realtor as being as dumb as a doorknob, there are several possible meanings. Today, well, he could be just not all that smart. But, in olden days, it could have meant that your realtor was just a quiet sort of guy.

The saying "dumb as a doorknob" appears to be derived from the saying as "dead as a doornail" which was used by literary English greats such as Shakespeare and Charles Dickens (in his well known "Christmas Carol.") Doornails were driven in to medieval wooden doors and bent over on the opposite site to strengthen the door. The nails were basically rendered "dead" and could not be removed. A doornail was also placed so that the doorknocker would strike it when a visitor announced they had arrived. Over time the nail or striker plate would wear out and the doorknocker would become a little more "dumb" (which also means silent, as in deaf and dumb.)

Anyway, it appears that somewhere along the way (perhaps at a real estate closing) the saying morphed from "dead as a doornail" into "dumb as a doorknob." Either the agent said nothing at all or something really, really stupid and it stuck. I'm not sure. Regardless, both sayings have become widely used and adopted by the real estate industry.

That brings me to the most commonly overlooked but extremely important part of a house; the doorknob itself. Even though you touch this little mechanism many times every day, you probably don't give it a second thought. You just give it a twist and go in. But what if it wasn't there? Animal hides hanging in doorways come to mind.

Prior to door knobs in America, a simple thumb latch did the trick. Check out the late 18th century homes in the area and that's what you find if the home is original. Mortise type locks and handles were manufactured in Britain starting around 1790, but weren't used in America until the early 1800s. Most of the colonial period doors were 1 1/4" or less so it was impossible to cut out a section to hold the lock and handle. In the 1820s and 1830s doors became a little thicker and accommodated the bulkier mechanism. Ye olde doorknob flourished.

From 1830 to 1873, there were over 100 U.S. patents granted for door knobs. Door knobs were made out of wood, pressed and cut glass, ceramic, potter's clay, a composite of metal covered with brass or bronze, as well as other materials. One of my favorites has always been the mercury glass ones with the shiny mirror like finish. With improving technology and manufacturing capabilities it was not long before the simple door knob evolved to include locking mechanisms that we are so familiar with today.

If you are selling your home, something as simple as a tasteful new exterior door knob/handle and hardware can make a statement about what awaits prospective buyers when they enter. It can set the tone. Tasteful interior door knobs and door hardware can make a big impact on how a potential buyer perceives a home. The same is true, of course, with regard to the hardware and knobs used on kitchen and bathroom cabinetry. Step back and survey what you have. It does make a difference. And, if you are currently using animal hides for doors, you really need to visit Home Depot or Lowe's.

As of April Fool's Day, there were 845 single family residential homes on the market in the twelve communities covered by this market report. The average asking price was $498,472 with the median price point at $249,000. The current inventory represents a 9.8 month supply of homes on the market. Last April there were 944 homes available representing a 12 month supply so things are looking a whole lot better!

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 using the Northern New England Real Estate MLS System as of 4/1/14. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-455-0335.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 08:52

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Pat Buchanan - What would Reagan do?

President Reagan was holding a meeting in the Cabinet Room on March 25, 1985, when Press Secretary Larry Speakes came over to me, as communications director, with a concern. The White House was about to issue a statement on the killing of Major Arthur Nicholson, a U.S. army officer serving in East Germany. Maj. Nicholson had been shot in cold blood by a Russian soldier.

Speakes thought the president's statement, "This violence was unjustified," was weak. I agreed. We interrupted the president, who reread the statement, then said go ahead with it.

What lay behind this Reagan decision not to express his own and his nation's disgust and anger at this atrocity? Since taking office, Reagan had sought to engage Soviet leaders in negotiations, but, as he told me, "they keep dying on me."

Two weeks earlier, on March 10, 1985, Konstantin Chernenko, the third Soviet premier in Reagan's term, had died, and the youngest member of the Politburo, Mikhail Gorbachev, had been named to succeed him. Believing Gorbachev had no role in the murder of Maj. Nicholson, and seeking a summit with the new Soviet leader to ease Cold War tensions, Reagan decided not to express what must have been in his heart.

Which raises a question many Republicans are asking: What would Reagan do — in Syria, Crimea, Ukraine?

Is Sen. Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, or Gov. Jeb Bush or Chris Christie the candidate most in the Reagan tradition, the gold standard for the GOP?

We cannot know what he would do, as we live in a post-Cold War world. But we do know what Reagan did.

In the battle over the Panama Canal "giveaway," Reagan stood against Bill Buckley and much of his movement and party. "We bought it, we paid for it, it's ours, and we're gonna keep it," he thundered. The Senate agreed 2-1 with Jimmy Carter to surrender the Canal to Panama's dictator. Reagan's consolation prize? The presidency.

Reagan came to office declaring Vietnam "a noble cause" and determined to rebuild U.S. military might and morale, which he did in spades. His defense budgets broke the spine of a Soviet Union that could not compete with the booming America of the Reagan era. What's our strategy, his first National Security Council adviser Dick Allen asked him. Replied Reagan: "We win, they lose."

Reagan saw clearly the crucial moral dimension of the ideological struggle between communism and freedom. He called the Soviet Bloc "an evil empire." Yet he never threatened military intervention in Eastern Europe, as some bellicose Republicans do today.
Reagan would not be rattling sabers over Crimea or Ukraine.

When Gen. Jaruzelski's regime smashed Solidarity on Moscow's orders, Reagan refused to put Warsaw in default on its debts. But he did deny Moscow the U.S. technology to build its Yamal pipeline to Europe. Given Europe's dependency today on Russian gas, a wise decision.

When the Soviets deployed triple-warhead intermediate-range missiles in Eastern Europe, the SS-20, Reagan countered with nuclear-armed Pershing II and cruise missiles in Western Europe. Only when Gorbachev agreed to take down all the SS-20s, did Reagan agree to bring the Pershings and cruise missiles home.

When Gadhafi blew up a Berlin discotheque full of U.S. soldiers in retaliation for the Sixth Fleet's downing of two Libyan warplanes, Reagan sent F-111s in a reprisal raid that almost killed Gadhafi.

Ronald Reagan believed in the measured response.

He hated nuclear weapons, "those god-awful things," he used to say, and seized on the idea of a missile defense, SDI. And while he was ready to trade down offensive missiles, when Gorbachev at Reykjavik demanded he throw the Strategic Defense Initiative into the pot, Reagan got up and walked out.

Would Reagan go into Syria? Almost surely not. On the last day of his presidency, he told aides the worst mistake he made was putting U.S. Marines into Lebanon, where 241 Americans perished in the terror bombing of the Beirut barracks.

He had no problem working with flawed regimes, as long as they stood with us in the cause that would decide the fate of mankind.

The East-West struggle was the top priority with Ronald Reagan, which is one reason he vetoed sanctions on South Africa.

Whatever her sins, Pretoria was on our side in the main event.

But while Reagan would not challenge Moscow militarily in Central Europe, he provided weapons to anti-Communist guerrillas and freedom fighters in Afghanistan, Angola and Nicaragua to bleed and break the Soviet Empire at its periphery and make them pay the same price we paid in Vietnam.

Reagan was an anti-Communist to his core, having fought them in the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s. But he was never anti-Russian, and wanted always to keep the channels open. He ended his presidency as he had hoped, being cheered while strolling through Red Square with Mikhail Gorbachev.

Ronald Reagan never wanted to be a war president, and there were no wars on Reagan's watch. None. The Gipper was no neocon.

(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 Friday, 18 April 2014 03:23

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Susan Estrich - Obamacare needs to be fixed

As I walked into the pharmacy, the technician who has kept track of all of my prescriptions for years was on an endless call trying to figure out who is going to deliver her baby and where.

The good news: Her new plan, which fully complies with the Affordable Care Act, provides much more comprehensive coverage and lower co-pays than the one she used to have.

The bad news: Neither the obstetrician who has taken care of her for the past six months nor the hospital where she had planned to give birth are covered by the plan.

Ouch.

Now, this young woman is really good at dealing with insurance companies. It's what she does all day long — getting prescriptions approved, figuring out why they aren't being approved, going back and forth with doctors and insurance companies about what they will and will not cover. No neophyte, she.

And as I signaled her that I could wait, that she should finish her conversation, she never lost her cool. Me, I would have been a wreck if someone had told me six months into a pregnancy that the doctor with whom I had developed a close and trusting relationship or the hospital that I had always relied on were no longer on my list, and that my choices — within any reasonable geographic distance — basically came down to six doctors I'd never heard of and a hospital I'd never set foot in.

She was not a wreck. But she wasn't happy. Who would be? Six months pregnant and interviewing doctors who are themselves overwhelmed because they are, in fact, on so many plans.

Now that the website is working and the administration is taking credit for hitting its sign-up goal and former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (who is hardly the only one at fault for all the "hiccups" or "potholes" or just plain mistakes along the way) has taken her leave, now the hard part starts.

Exactly what kind of care are people going to receive under the Affordable Care Act? And who is going to provide it?

Who knows? Certainly not most of the doctors I talk to.

I walked into one practice last week that has four doctors, and there was a big sign at the front about which doctor you could see based on which plan you are on. Not surprisingly, the most senior doctor was only seeing Medicare patients and people like me, with pre-existing, employer-provided, expensive group plans.
I walked into another practice, and the rule was basically pay as you go. No lines there.

At the hospital where I get tests, there was a big sign advising patients to call a toll-free number to find out whether the plans they are considering would allow them to continue using the hospital. The short answer is that many of them don't.

Welcome to the shakedown period. Welcome to the host of problems that need to be fixed.

While Republicans keep railing against Obamacare, the reality is that it's not going to be repealed, at least not as long as Barack Obama is in the White House. And if you ask me, not afterward, either.

I don't know anyone with a 20-something-year-old on their plan (which you couldn't do before) or with a pre-existing condition (And who, after a certain age, doesn't have some pre-existing condition?) who is yearning to go back to the bad old days when gastritis, not to mention heart disease or cancer, could make you uninsurable. There are many features of the new system that most of us would agree are better than those of the old one.

But not all. The business of what doctors you can see, what hospitals you can use — very big problem. The waiting lines for doctors who accept all kinds of plans — very big problem. The confusion and expense of having a "new" plan that costs more because it covers services you don't need and at the same time forces you to leave the doctors who know you — not so good.

"Mend it, don't end it" used to be the Clinton administration's slogan about affirmative action.

Obamacare should not be repealed, and it won't be. But it needs to be fixed, and that's not a problem the IT guys and girls can solve. So fasten your seatbelts. We're in for some rocky times, and the politicians and leaders who focus on trying to solve the problems, rather than trying to score points off of them, are the ones who deserve our support.

(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 Thursday, 17 April 2014 10:43

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Froma Harrop - Lessons not learned in Boston bombing

Airport gift shops throughout New England are piling "Boston Strong" T-shirts in vivid colors. "Boston Strong" became a rallying cry of solidarity after the terrorist bombing last year at the Boston Marathon.
As the anniversary of the attack — and the next race on April 21 — approaches, emotional coverage of the event and aftermath is reaching feverish levels. A multipage spread in The Washington Post, "How Boston Stayed Strong," heaves with charged language: "harrowing," "carnage," "horrific."
So it's really odd to see these pained reminiscences alternating with rebukes of a National Security Agency surveillance program designed to prevent such assaults. Actually, the disconnect is something to behold.
One hears Rep. William R. Keating, D-Mass., complaining that federal agencies could have prevented the bombing. They did not heed warnings from Russian intelligence that one of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was becoming radicalized.
But nine months earlier, Keating voted for the Amash amendment, which would have closed down the NSA's collection of phone and other records. (It bears repeating that the agency may not listen in on the actual content of such communications without a court order.)
Fortunately, it was defeated by a coalition of Republicans and Democrats ready to brave the hysteria — unleashed by ambitious populists and conformist media too lazy to examine the realities of national security in the age of widespread spy technology and terrorists armed with explosive devices far scarier than weaponized pressure cookers.
So what will it be? Are Americans to rely on Russian spies, with their own agendas, to keep them safe? By the way, the Russian security apparatus is famously insensitive about people's privacy.
Okay, but what good is the NSA program if it didn't catch the Tsarnaev brothers before they acted? Bad question. The agency doesn't "see" everything.
"No, NSA ops should not have been expected to 'catch' Tsarnaev online, because that's just not how NSA does its job," John Schindler, intelligence expert at the U.S Naval War College and former analyst at the NSA, told me.
"(The) FBI would have had to have tipped NSA off first, as seems not to have happened. Ball to FBI."
The NSA said it did use the program to rule out the likelihood of a second strike in New York City.
Meanwhile, Americans must better steel themselves against terrorism. Only three people died in the marathon bombing. I hesitate to use the word "only,'' because every death was a tragedy, and dozens of others were grievously wounded.
But during this month's Afghan elections, at least 47 people were killed. And terrorists across the globe are massacring innocents by the dozens on a daily basis.
When a cafe is bombed in Israel, the blood is immediately scrubbed away, and shattered windows are replaced. By the next day, the place is open again for business. Shrugging it off lessens the bombers' reward in inflicting pain.
By contrast, Boston virtually shut down for days after the bombing. Cellphone service choked. Bostonians were rushed indoors. There was no Amtrak and almost no taxis. Schools and businesses closed.
Of course, the NSA should not be allowed to do anything it wants. Nor should we ignore the potential for abuse, given the march of progress in photo recognition software, DNA analysis and such.
But that Americans are shuffling aside the memory of Sept. 11, 2001 — the outrage that launched the NSA program — is a wonder. The idea that we are magically protected seems a weird offshoot of "American exceptionalism."
Deep thinking on how we can confront the threat of terrorism is in order for the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing. Grown-ups can work with nuance.

(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 Monday, 14 April 2014 08:29

Hits: 253

 
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