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Froma Harrop - Dems should be nicer to the South

MOBILE, Ala. — It's been noticed by just about everyone except what we call the "liberal establishment" that of the eight Senate seats now up for grabs, four are in the South — Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina. H. Brandt (Brandy) Ayers, the publisher of The Anniston Star in Alabama, has certainly noticed the neglect. And boy, is he frustrated.

Ayers is both a staunch liberal and Southern to the core. If the Democratic Party wants to establish a healthy dialogue in the Southern states, he told me, it has to first say, "We like you." Liberals can't just sigh at the troublesome region's sharp move right and say, "That's a Southern thing."

Now pushing 80, Ayers has suffered many heartbreaks. He recounts them in a book, "In Love With Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal."

Southerners do know how to tell a story. How did a region once devoted to FDR and his New Deal turn into a conservative Republican stronghold? With eloquence and wit, Ayers describes the warring forces — above all, the central role of race. Key to this is understanding the Southern way of experiencing the universe.

Ayers was born into a bubble of Southern white privilege so tightly sealed he didn't know he was in it. In 1953, the headmaster at his Connecticut boarding school asked whether he had heard of a school desegregation case then winding through the Supreme Court. It was Brown v. Board of Education, and no, he hadn't.

"I ultimately chose the liberal side," Ayers said, "but it was long in coming."

Journalism was Ayers' calling, but he didn't stay north to become a Southern sage on The New York Times. He returned home, first as a reporter on The News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina. There he saw the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed and the birth of the "New South" — centered on the booming economies of Atlanta and North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.

His father died, and Ayers returned to Anniston to take over the family newspaper. "Home was on old South time," he recalls.
In 1965, a drunken gang of Ku Klux Klan members shot up a Pontiac carrying four black laborers from the late shift at a pipe factory. One of them, Willie Brewster, was hit and died. Ayers raised a $25,000 reward from local donors, who signed a full-page ad condemning the attack. These were tough days.

"The FBI told me not to go to certain places for beer after work," Ayers said, "and that the Klan had stolen an enormous cache of munitions from nearby Fort McClellan."

Alabama Gov. George Wallace, then a primitive segregationist, referred to The Anniston Star as "The Red Star."

Time moved on, and the South took on a mellower "Sun Belt" persona. "The South was a newly discovered kingdom," Ayers said, "where the sun shines and nobody is mean anymore."

But politically, the golden age of the New South — with its new people, new money and progressive governors — ended in the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. In Ayers' view, the all-Republican South was built on a core of racial resentment that pulled in many working-class Southerners.

Today's liberals add to his frustrations, especially their weak-tea prescriptions for confronting a growing economic insecurity.

"The liberalism of FDR's time was not an airy-fairy philosophy," Ayers said. "It was about something: a right to a job, a place to live, a bit of joy and self-respect."

Democrats need to channel that passion and return to the South. And it shouldn't be that hard. He concludes:

"The first rule of politics is showing up. The second is to be nice."

(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 Tuesday, 30 September 2014 10:02

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Sanborn — A tax on light and air

It almost goes without saying that we have some really exceptional and outstanding homes in the Lakes Region. They come in many different architectural styles and designs, use many different types of building materials and construction techniques, and vary tremendously in quality and price points. We live in an area of unique homes. You don't find many large tracts of cookie cutter residences here. But one thing that many homes have in common is the use of lots of windows.

Because we live in such a beautiful area with mountain and lake views most people will want to have as many windows as possible in order to enjoy those views. Homes are sited and constructed today making nature and the view the focal point. Walls of windows adorn lakefront homes, mountaintop retreats, homes in valleys looking up to the hills, or homes with pastoral garden views. Our surroundings are very important to us. Homes with lots of windows feel larger and are much brighter inside and most of the home buyers today desire that light and the airy feeling.

But, what if the government taxed you on light and air? What if they taxed you on the number of windows you had in your home? Preposterous, you say? Well, if you had lived in England between 1696 and 1851 there was exactly that, a tax on windows. Its many opponents called it a Tax on Light and Air! The tax was enacted as a way around an income tax. Because windows were so expensive to make, it seemed only reasonable that the wealthy would have more windows than the poor folks. They started out with a flat-rate house tax of two shillings per house and then a variable tax on the number of windows over ten in the home. If you had over twenty windows you paid yet another rate. Over the years the number of windows where a tax was incurred was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825.

Now if that weren't bad enough, there was also a glass tax based on weight. This Glass Excise Tax was in effect from 1745 to 1845. It was originally a tax on raw materials only, but in 1811 it was changed to apply to the finished glass goods including everything from bottles to windows. So, in essence, homeowners with lots of windows were being taxed twice for the same thing. Though wildly unpopular, this did not stop the well to do from having large windows and custom built green houses. The affluent had the money and the more windows you had signified your wealth to the community.

Of course, the tax did have an effect on those least able to pay it. People avoided putting windows in new structures and they bricked up windows in existing buildings and painted them to look like windows. The use of "bulls-eye" glass became prevalent in this time. A piece of bulls-eye glass is very recognizable as it looks like...well, it looks like a bulls-eye. It comes from the process of making "crown" glass and it is where a glassblower's pontil (blowing tool) is attached to the glass. The glass is spun on a flat plate to make a sheet and when the tool is removed from the center of the pane it leaves a bulls-eye mark in it. That portion of the glass was deemed flawed and therefore not subject to the tax. You can't see through a bulls-eye window very well, but it does let light in. These windows were commonly used in the backs of houses or businesses as a cost cutting method.

With the invention of cast plate glass in 1848 windows became a lot less expensive. The continuous improvements and innovations in the glass making industry since then have changed the face of architecture worldwide. Today, walls of glass to bring in our astonishing views are commonplace. So while many folks now complain about a view tax, can you just imagine what would happen if we went back to a Tax on Light and Air?

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. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-677-7012

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 08:45

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Pat Buchanan - Is Burger King an economic patriot?

"Merchants have no country. The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains."

Jefferson's brutal verdict comes to mind in the fierce debate over inversions, those decisions by U.S. companies to buy foreign firms to move their headquarters abroad and renounce their U.S. citizenship — to evade the U.S. corporate tax rate of 35 percent.

U.S. executives who engineer these inversions are undeniably acting in the best interests of their shareholders and companies.

But are they also lacking in economic patriotism? Are they also guilty of economic treason against the nation that nurtured them? Are they, in the phrase tossed out by Barack Obama, "corporate deserters"? Adds our president, "I don't care if it's legal, it's wrong."

But are inversions wrong? Or are these relocations abroad neither more nor less moral than Boeing's decision to save hundreds of millions in labor costs by shifting 1,300 engineering jobs out of Seattle and Southern California to St. Louis, Charleston and Huntsville?

Is it morally permissible to leave your home state or region for economic reasons — as the textile mills left New England for the South — but unpatriotic to leave the land of your birth?

If so, was it not unpatriotic for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Fortune 500 to lobby for NAFTA and GATT so companies could shutter their factories here, lay off their U.S. workers, and move their production to Mexico and Asia?

Was it not unpatriotic of Congress and Presidents Clinton and Bush to facilitate the departure of tens of thousands of plants and millions of manufacturing jobs?

Where were the economic patriots then?

What has concentrated the mind here is the decision by Burger King, backed by shareholder Warren Buffett, to buy Tim Hortons in Canada. Burger King will move its headquarters to Canada, declare itself a Canadian company, and begin paying the Canadian corporate tax rate of 26 percent.

Ireland, with its 12.5 percent corporate income tax has proven a particularly attractive residence for companies shopping for lower tax rates. Before this year, Apple had used Ireland as a tax haven to shelter $40 billion in revenue.

Britain, too, has proven a magnet. U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer made a $118 billion bid this year for AstraZeneca so it could move its tax domicile there, but was rebuffed by the target company.

Forty-nine U.S. companies have completed tax inversions. Twenty more are looking at them. The prospect that a lame duck Congress may take up legislation to end the practice and stanch the bleeding of tax revenue from the U.S. Treasury could cause a stampede.
Treasury is talking of a December law, made retroactive back to May, to strip the tax benefits from inversions. The prospect that the loophole may disappear could accelerate corporate flight out of the high-tax USA.

Some $2.1 trillion in corporate profits, subject to U.S. taxation, is already being held abroad, parked, and not repatriated, lest the holders get hit with the U.S. tax rate. Some U.S. companies are borrowing these funds from abroad and deducting the interest payments.

At bottom, the inversions issue is not only about corporate tax rates and competitiveness, but also about loyalties in conflict.

Actor Gerard Depardieu renounced his French citizenship rather than pay the 75 percent income tax rate imposed by the Socialist regime of Francois Hollande. Though denounced, was Depardieu being disloyal to France, or to the Hollande regime and its socialist ideology? Can one love one's country and hate its government? In 1776, that was surely true of Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton and Washington. And their rebellion had something to do with taxation.

Are New York City cops and civil servants who retire and take their pensions to Florida being disloyal to the Empire State because they want to stop paying the 12 percent state-local income tax bite? When states like Texas eliminate corporate income taxes, are they engaged in beggar-thy-neighbor politics against fellow states of the Union?

"Taxes are what we pay for civilized society," said Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. But is Ireland less civilized than America because her corporate tax rate is one-third of ours?

Judge Learned Hand had another take: "There is nothing sinister in so arranging one's affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich or poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions. To demand more in the name of morals is mere cant."

To our transnationalists, Judge Hand got it right. But whether one is an economic patriot or a libertarian, to keep the U.S. corporate tax rate at the highest level in a global economy of ferociously competitive nations would appear to reflect the thinking of an incorrigibly stupid and stubborn government.

(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 Tuesday, 23 September 2014 09:48

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Michael Barone - Which is the weaker party?

Which of our two great political parties is the stronger? Maybe it makes more sense to ask which of the two is weaker.

The case that the Republicans are weaker is easy to state. Democrats have won four of the last six presidential elections, from 1992 to 2012, and won a plurality of the popular vote in a fifth. This is a vivid contrast from the period 1968 to 1988, when Republicans won five of six presidential elections.

The case that the Democrats are weaker is not much harder to make. Democrats have failed to win a majority in the House of Representatives, the branch of government closest to the people, in eight of the last 10 elections, from 1994 to 2012. That's quite a contrast from the period, from 1954 to 1992, when Democrats won House majorities in 20 consecutive elections.

But neither side is in as strong a position as the other was in the past. Republicans' presidential vote margins averaged 10 percent in 1968-88. Democrats' margins averaged 4 percent in 1992-2012. As for the House, Democrats won at least 243 seats in every election from 1958 to 1992. Republicans' peak between 1994 and 2012 was 242 seats.

An assessment of their strength going forward depends on how well they are succeeding in maximizing their vote in line with their historic character. For the two parties are not twins.

The Republican Party, through its 160-year history, has had a core support group which is thought of as typically American but which by itself is not a national majority: Northern Protestants in the 19th century, married white people in America today.

The Democratic party, over its 182-year history, has been a collection of out groups, often with little in common, but with majority potential when they stick together: Catholic immigrants and white Southerners in the 19th century, blacks and gentry/university liberals today.

Barack Obama and the Democrats amassed a 53 percent majority in 2008, the largest in 20 years, but barely kept it together in 2012, when he won 51 percent — the first American president re-elected with a reduced percentage of the vote.

Obama Democrats maximized turnout among heavily favorable groups — blacks, Hispanics, unmarried women. They also got small majorities from traditional Midwestern Democratic constituencies — union members and retirees in Ohio and Michigan, dovish-minded German- and Scandinavian-Americans in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

But those margins are tenuous.
Democrats' green-tinged opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline and hostility to fracking may hurt in the manufacturing belt, just as their "war on coal" has delivered the Jacksonian belt from western Pennsylvania southwest to Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas to Republicans. Military involvement in the Middle East may dampen dovish turnout.
Republicans have different challenges. The party is united in opposition to Obama policies, and differences over tactics have become muted as Republicans have recoiled from the backlash they suffered after the 2013 government shutdown. Splits over foreign policy have tended to disappear in the wake of the ISIS beheadings.

That leaves Republicans this year well-positioned to hold their House majority and with a better than 50 percent chance for a Senate majority. They are very far, however, from selecting a presidential nominee, with no clear leaders among a dozen or so potential candidates. And while they've consolidated their party core, they're very far from coming up with a set of policies that can appeal to a majority of voters.

Ideally, every party wants a nominee to produce a platform, a set of policies, that works in the primaries, works in the general election and works in governing. That's easy to say, but hard to do. Candidates feel pressure to move toward the wings in primaries, toward the center in the fall election, and toward acquiescence to the status quo once in office.

Conservative thinkers of varying stripes, including some officeholders and presidential potentials, have been producing innovative policies that don't simply copy platforms of the past. Attractive new ideas will likely find their way into candidates' platforms and debates.

Republicans face an uphill task in getting their ideas out because of the hostility or incomprehension of old-line media. They have a lot of hard work ahead of them, with no guarantee of a successful outcome. As for Democrats, they face issues with potential fractures in their disparate top-and-bottom coalition.

So which party is weaker? Your call.

(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 Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00

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Sanborn — Zombie foreclosures

It seems there was a surge in residential home closings in August in the twelve Lakes Region communities covered by this report. There were 133 transactions last month at an average price of $321,824. In August 2013 there were 123 sales at an average price of $302,861. For the first eight months of the year, there were 603 sales at an average price of $316,015 compared to 679 sales at an average of $287,037 for the same period in 2013. So while we are behind a little on total sales this year, the average sales price is up just a bit.

According to the MLS data there were just six bank owned sales in August. That compares to 13 bank owned in August 2013 and 15 in August of 2012. So that's a pretty good improvement on that front.

With regard to bank owned property, I heard a term on the radio this week that I don't think I had ever heard before. It's called the "Zombie Foreclosure" and the announcer on the radio promised a full report on it after the break. I am a fan of the Walking Dead so I think I would have remembered it if I had heard "Zombie Foreclosure" before, but with so much find stuff on the news sometimes things slip by. According to the teaser on the radio, apparently Zombie Foreclosures are a big problem in certain parts of the country. All I could think of was trying to kill one of these staggering, putrid domiciles with a bow and arrow like Daryl does on the Dead. How many arrows does it take to kill a four bedroom colonial, you would have to ask?

A Zombie Foreclosure home is not really dead, so don't confuse it with a dead listing which is bad enough. If you don't know what a dead listing is you can ask your real estate agent to explain it to you or look for my article around Halloween. A Zombie Foreclosure happens when a homeowner gets a notice that he is going to be foreclosed on so he packs up his stuff and moves out leaving the house unattended. Then the lender unexpectedly decides not to foreclose. No, it wasn't a sudden fit of compassion. The lender may just have had too much inventory on the books or the cost associated with that property is so high that they don't want the property back.

It is hard to believe, but apparently lenders are not required to let homeowners know that foreclosure proceedings have been halted. I suspect some homeowners didn't send the lender a forwarding address anyway! In any event, the owner is gone and unaware of the situation. The unattended house falls into that Zombie state of disrepair and the owner, who is probably living somewhere outside of Vegas by now, starts incurring additional penalties, fees, and additional property taxes that can severely affect his credit. Not a pretty picture, kind of gruesome actually.

I don't know if there are many Zombie Foreclosures in the Lakes Region right now. An article I read on the internet said that there are over 160,000 Zombie Foreclosures nationally with Florida seeming to top the list of places where they occur with over 55,000 owner vacated homes. I think it has something to do with the heat and humidity down there or perhaps the elderly owners just went out for the early bird special, got confused, ended up on I-95 and are still driving somewhere. Who knows? Let me know if you find a Zombie Foreclosure in Laconia, I wanna see what one looks like.

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 9/15/14. Roy Sanborn is a realtor at Four Seasons Sotheby's International Realty and can be reached at 603-677-7012

Last Updated on Friday, 19 September 2014 07:55

Hits: 351

 
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