Thursday, June 25, 2015

Deliberately Decreasing Our Means

Every biennium the legislature creates a new state budget. This budget is required to be balanced every year. This happens no matter what party currently holds the majority in the House, the Senate, or the Governor’s office. Right now the legislature is winding down. The Committee of Conference reports will have been voted on by the time you read this.

As always, the most interesting item to watch is the budget wrangling. The House got started a bit late this year; probably because the O’Brienistas created so many diversions that everything was late. On days when the House is session, bills that will be coming up for a vote fall into two categories in the calendar: Consent and Regular. The Consent Calendar is comprised of bills that come out of committee with a unanimous vote to either pass or kill. They’re generally non-controversial, and are easily dispatched with voice votes. O’Brienistas made it a “thing” this session to yank as many bills off the consent calendar as possible, just to gum up the works and create delay.

Rep. Neal Kurk chairs the House Finance Committee. Kurk has long been a fiscal conservative, but generally someone who could be sensible when the situation called for it. This biennium apparently Kurk was so giddy at GOP control of both houses that he’s thrown caution and good sense out the window in favor of ideology. He partnered up with Free Stater Dan McGuire to create a hastily written budget that was guaranteed to ensure that NH would continue lose ground economically and hurt a lot of people along the way.

The original version included $88 million in DOT cuts, which meant rest areas and some bridges would be closed. Half the workforce would be eliminated. Federal funds would be lost, the widening of I-93 would be jeopardized, and some 2500 miles of roads and 1000 bridges would have been turned over to cities and towns to pay for. Apparently Meals on Wheels was a socialist program that needed to be cut, and Service Link was completely de-funded. Dan McGuire proposed $2 million in cuts to the NH Veteran’s Home, which would have resulted in 25 veterans losing their place to live. Some changes (the proposed cuts to the Veteran’s Home were too much for even the most rabid members of the right) were made, and eventually the budget found its way to the Senate. The Senate made some cosmetic changes and added business tax cuts. Because when you claim that there isn’t enough money to adequately fund the needs of the state, the only thing to do is cut revenue! 

A recent op-ed in the Laconia Sun penned by Senators Jeb Bradley and Jeanne Forrester claimed that the Senate decided to reduce business taxes at the end of the budget process. On January 8, Senator Bradley introduced a bill to lower the business profits tax (BPT). On January 8, a bill Bradley co-sponsored was introduced to lower the business enterprise tax. (BET).  Those bills were both passed by the Senate and Bradley tabled both. The intent from the very beginning of the session was to lower business taxes. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous at best. They’re telling us on the one hand that we must live our means while the other hand is slashing the means we live on.

The lowering of the BET and the BPT are touted as the way to bring business to our state. The fact that businesses actually want good infrastructure, lower utility costs, and an educated work force is lost on our representative ideologues, who are firmly steeped in the kind of economic policies that have failed to work since the Reagan administration. NH is a wealthy state, yet we refuse to raise sufficient revenues to fix the things that need fixing and invest in the future. As a result, we have the 11th worth infrastructure in the United States. Award winning NH civil engineer Darren Benoit tells us that if we start right now, it will cost us $1.5 billion to fix everything. NH also ranks at about 100th place out of the 50 states for state funding of our university system. We want an educated workforce, but we do not want to pay for it. If a budget is a statement of our values, than it’s painfully clear that the budget writers don’t value our state or its people.

The budget for tourism, the second largest industry in our state was level funded in this budget. This will not hurt the southern part of the state. It is likely to impact the North Country. Be sure to thank your GOP representatives for voting against the best interests of our area. It’s also worth pointing out that this budget fails to invest in repairing our state parks, something that would also benefit the tourist economy.  

A variety of self-congratulatory legislators are boasting that the substance abuse treatment budget was increased. It was but the Senate added those increases. They were not in the original House budget. The increases came about because even the most rabid ideologues couldn’t pretend that there aren’t significant numbers of young people dying from heroin overdoses.

Another aspect of all of this that goes unmentioned by our budgeteers is the downshifting of costs. Items the state doesn’t adequately fund (like infrastructure) get passed on to the counties and municipalities, which will likely be passed on to you, in the form of an increase in your property taxes.  

As I write this, the Governor has stated her intent to veto the budget unless changes are made. The NH GOP is wailing about the need to compromise. Their definition of “compromise” appears to mean that the House Republicans get to write the budget; the Senate Republicans get to change it, and the Republicans of both bodies compromise with each other in the Committee of Conference. The CoC process included the compromise of closed door meetings with Greg Moore of the Koch funded Americans for Prosperity. After all that internal GOP compromise (with a dash of Koch-promise) the Governor is expected to meekly sign it, displaying her willingness to compromise.

This budget fails to address the needs of our state and blows a big hole in future budgets by cutting business taxes. It guarantees that nothing will ever get fixed properly, because we will have to live within our deliberately decreased means.

Published as an op-ed in the June 26 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Other Side Does It Too

Ethics: A social, religious, or civil code of behavior considered correct, especially that of a particular group, profession, or individual.

Consequence: something that happens as the result of a particular action or set of conditions.

Ethics issues and politics go together. Money and power corrupt. This is nothing new. What’s newer is our growing willingness to accept it, cry that both sides do it, and continue on with our political cynicism.

Famous ethics violators who are Democrats: Rep. Charlie Rangel of NY is a one-man personal finance disaster. Rep. Max Baucus nominated his girlfriend for a job in the Justice Department.   Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich went to prison for a variety of colorful offenses. Ohio Congressman James Traficant (of the large and defiant toupee) went to prison for taking bribes, racketeering, and filing false tax returns. Sen. Robert Menendez of NY has been investigated for taking improper gifts and taking action to benefit donors.

Famous ethics violators who are Republicans: Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois complained that he was too broke to pay child support, while loaning money to his Congressional campaign. Rep. Darrell Issa of California broke federal disclosure laws when he inserted information from a sealed wiretap application into the Congressional Record. Rep. Aaron Schock of Illinois resigned in March after we learned that he used taxpayer money to fund lavish trips. He’s the one who redecorated his Congressional office to look like Downton Abbey. Tennessee Rep. Marcia Blackburn has had problems with reporting campaign contributions and expenditures.

Other famous GOP ethics violators include: President Richard Nixon, President Ronald Reagan, and President George W. Bush.
There are seldom consequences for those who flout the law. None of the Republicans on my list spent time in prison. Only two resigned. Schock was in Congress long enough to get a pension. Nixon got his pension too.

On a local level, State Representative Gene Chandler had an ethics problem about 10 years ago, when it was discovered that he wasn’t reporting funds raised at his annual corn roast, when donors like RJ Reynolds were making contributions.  Chandler used this fund to pay for his living expenses, claiming he thought that was allowed. He also claimed he didn’t know he was supposed to report the fund, despite having been instructed to do so a couple of times by Speaker Donna Sytek. Former Carroll County Republican Chairman Maynard Thomson stepped down from his position just as the NH Attorney General’s office sent him a letter informing him that he’d violated the law with his improperly filed campaign expenditure reports. Thomson acknowledged that he’d done a sloppy job of reporting, but blamed the Democrats for reporting him. After all, someone with his (self-touted) superior intellect shouldn’t be expected to perform the same menial tasks that the peasants do. He’s busy! He’s important! Personal responsibility doesn’t apply to Republicans!

Our own NH Congressman Frank Guinta has a BIG ethics problem. The FEC released their report on Frank, wherein they found (in a rare 6-0 unanimous finding) that Frank lied about his magic bank account. The only support Frank has these days comes from the O’Brien wing of the NH GOP, where ethics are…how you say….fluid. Frank’s still digging himself in, claiming it was really his money, despite the fact that his name wasn’t on the account, the checks written by his mother had “LOAN” written on the memo line, and he has been able to produce no paperwork to prove he ever put anything into the account. Despite ongoing calls for his resignation, Frank has steadfastly refused. Given that he has to pay back his parents and pay the FEC fine, he can’t afford to resign. He’s also stated his intent to run again in 2016. Primary candidates are giving Frank a wide berth, not wanting his presence at their events, his endorsement, or anything to do with him.

Former State Rep. Fran Wendelboe came to Frank’s defense last week in the Concord Monitor. Her defense began with, “But Hillary.” She also went off into the land of how Republicans always take the high moral ground. We’ve certainly seen a lot of that recently, what with Josh Duggar and Dennis Hastert. When the best defense any politico has is “the other side does it, too” – you are not taking any kind of high ground. Taking the high ground is cleaning up your own side of the street, and holding your own folks accountable for their unethical and illegal behavior.

Former NH State Representative Maureen Mann recently modeled ethical behavior for us. She had a young man named Carl Gibson volunteering on her campaign during the special election in Rockingham Dist. 32. About a week into his work on her social media sites, he was fired. A month and a half later, he sent out a bogus press release claiming that the Republican candidate had dropped out of the race. When the NHGOP started their predictable cycle of wailing, Maureen joined them in calling for an investigation, saying that attempts to manipulate elections should not be tolerated. That didn’t stop the NHGOP for blaming her for his actions, even though she’d fired him over a month earlier. There is much to be suspicious in this act of deliberate sabotage, but I suspect we’ll never know if Mr. Gibson was paid to perform it or by whom.  

Our investigative bodies are either underfunded or inept. Investigations seldom involve consequences. Frank Guinta stood in front of television cameras last fall and called Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter a liar for saying there was an open FEC investigation into his campaign finances. We now know that it was Frank who was lying. He’s never apologized to our former Congresswoman. As is so often the case - there are no consequences for lying. We don’t seem to expect our politicians to behave ethically any more, and are far too willing to accept the mantra of “the other side does it too,” as some sort of justification.

The acceptance of ethical violations leads to cynicism, which leads to more voters failing to participate in our elections.

Will we have the courage to start cleaning up and expecting better?

The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home. – Confucious

This was published as an op-ed in the June 12, 2015 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

I'm Angry Still

Dr. George Tiller was murdered by a terrorist on May 31, 2009.

I was angry then. I'm angry still. Dr. Tiller was murdered inside his church on that Sunday morning by an anti-abortion terrorist named Scott Roeder. Roeder didn't have a job, yet somehow he managed to drive around Kansas gluing clinic doors shut and staying in hotels. Someone was supporting his work. 

In his car was the phone number of a woman named Cheryl Sullenger who is second in command at Operation Rescue. Sullenger is a convicted terrorist. Operation Rescue claims they didn't know anything about this. 

Someone was bankrolling him. And that's one reason why I'm still angry. To the best of my knowledge, there's never been any real investigation into what was very likely a conspiracy. For years, that ignoranus Bill O'Reilly brayed on his fake news program about "Tiller the killer." No one took that seriously, because FREEDUMB. Just like no one took the terrorist website that had photos of Tiller and his family, their address, and the address of their church. 

I said it in 2009, and I say it still - this is a murder that was allowed to happen. This was a murder that was "investigated" in the sense that they arrested Roeder outside the church. There were witnesses. That appears to be the extent of the investigation that was conducted into Tiller's death. 

I'm still angry. 

from 2009

from 2012

from 2013

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Ideology Over Ethics

Remember the government shutdown of 2013? Ted Cruz and his fellow Tea Party types obstructed the appropriation of funds to run the government for the fiscal year 2014. They were all bunched up about the Affordable Care Act, and used it as their excuse to put some 800,000 federal employees out of work and leave a million others wondering when they’d ever see a paycheck. They also used it as an opportunity to puff up their manly chests.

This is why I tell you that elections have consequences. When we elect people who say they hate gummint to BE the gummint, then this is what we get. A bunch of aging adolescents more interested in chestal puffery than doing the serious work of governing.

One of the consequences of the shutdown came at the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). What is the FEC?

From the website: In 1975, Congress created the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to administer and enforce the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) - the statute that governs the financing of federal elections. The duties of the FEC, which is an independent regulatory agency, are to disclose campaign finance information, to enforce the provisions of the law such as the limits and prohibitions on contributions, and to oversee the public funding of Presidential elections.

The FEC came about as a direct result of Watergate. The FEC publicly discloses where the campaign money comes from and where it goes.

Because of the government shutdown, all 339 FEC agency employees were furloughed. Months earlier, an independent auditor warned that the FEC’s information systems were at high risk for infiltration. And infiltrated they were. Chinese hackers launched an attack shortly after the shutdown. They crashed all of the computer systems – the computers that had all that information about where the money comes from and where it goes. There was nothing to prevent this from happening. No one was on duty, thanks to the folks who brought us the shutdown.

The FEC has been systematically defunded. The agency’s funding has been flat for five years. They have fewer staff now than in the last 15 years – despite the explosion in political spending. The analysts who read disclosure reports to check for compliance have a near quarter of a million page backlog. There are over 250 unresolved enforcement cases.

That’s why it took so long for the FEC to determine that Frank Guinta had broken campaign finance laws with his magic bank account and five years of ever changing lies. That’s why Frank Guinta was elected twice, in the face of those lies. We watched him stand in front of television cameras and accuse Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter of being a liar. There is no accountability or penalty for that kind of blatant dishonesty, far from it. The O’Brien rump caucus has lined up in support of Guinta. They never cared for him before, but now they figure if gummint says Frank is bad than Frank is good. We saw it in the responses to the Teletalk question “Should Frank Guinta Resign?” A number of people said no, because HILLARY. Ideology over ethics. Ideology over intellect.

Regulatory failures happen over and over. The environmental agencies that are supposed to look out for us have been pillaged and underfunded. The Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in Kentucky exploded and caused the death of 29 miners. This was after over a decade of safety violations that should have closed the mine down. The Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and spewing oil into the ocean for 87 days. The Deepwater Horizon had a spotty inspection record. None of the safety mechanisms in place to prevent the explosion or the oil spill worked.

This is what happens when we take away the funding and the fangs of the regulatory agencies. Corporations do not police themselves. They will do anything to avoid paying for their mistakes, especially those that require a huge cleanup. Their interest is in making money, and the occasional environmental disaster shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with that pursuit.

Very few politicians regulate themselves.  With the influx of money generated by the Citizens United decision (because free speech is mighty expensive) involved in the political process, we should all be concerned about the intentional (for what else can it be?) dismantling of the FEC.

It’s easy to dismiss the concerns about money as a federal elections issue. Trickle down economics has been an abysmal failure, but trickle down campaign money is proving quite successful. As we all know, the NH House is populated with 400 “volunteer” legislators. They earn a stipend of $100 a year and mileage reimbursement for their service. It used to be that a run for the NH House meant raising somewhere between $500 and $1000. Candidates needed signs and handouts for voters. Those days are over, as we learned during a recent special election for the NH House, in Rockingham District 32.

The special election was needed because the guy who was elected went to work for Frank Guinta (KARMA!) before he was ever sworn in. Former State Rep. Maureen Mann was uncontested in the Democratic primary. The GOP primary came down to two college students. One was arrested for violating a protective order shortly before the election. The other candidate, Yvonne Dean-Bailey, won the primary. Miss Dean-Bailey is a student at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She’s one of the angry young libertea Republicans given special attention because she puts the rare female face on that brand of ideology.

Miss Dean-Bailey’s campaign for the NH House was amazingly well funded. She was the beneficiary of over $10,000 in PAC money alone. A young libertarian millionaire from Texas has a PAC that provided over $4,000 for mailings. He has no ties to NH. He is, however, more than willing to help buy a fellow ideologue a seat in a volunteer legislature.

Special interests expect a return on their investment. We should be concerned about that on every single level of our government. We need regulatory agencies to police those who lack integrity, but have plenty of cash. Pay to play is not democracy.

If there was one decision I would overrule, it would be Citizens United. I think the notion that we have all the democracy that money can buy strays so far from what our democracy is supposed to be. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This was published as an op-ed in the May 29, 2015 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Governor Hummer Still a Bummer

The NH Senate has decided that the best thing we can do for our economy is to slash state spending on infrastructure and education, then give tax cuts to business. 

Today in a Senate hearing: 


Planet Fitness officials say they will move their headquarters out of state to avoid paying high taxes when they go public.
Senate Republican leaders today propose and a panel endorsed a tax break for any firm in the same position.
The change would exempt the ownership of a limited business partnership from having to pay taxes on profits from the sale of shares made when it took the company public.
Backing the Planet Fitness bid at a public hearing on the tax break was former Gov. Craig Benson.
Benson failed to mention he had served on the company’s board and recently was described in published reports as "one of the leading Planet Fitness Club owners.”
Craig Benson was so unpopular and corrupt during his only 2-year term that he failed to be reelected. 
This is a guy who had brilliant ideas like closing down the notches in winter, so that we wouldn't spend so much on plowing. That those are the ONLY access roads to the north didn't seem occur to him. He got stuck in traffic one day, so he shut down the Hampton toll booth. He illegally dredged in front of his oceanfront house in Rye. 
For a Republican governor not to get a second term in NH is telling. 
Senate President Chuck Morse says any elected leaders should be responsive to this request.
"Any citizen who called and said they were moving 500 jobs to another state, myself, the governor, the speaker would have reacted,’’ Morse said.
The CEO of Planet Fitness is threatening to move his HEADQUARTERS out of state. It seems unlikely that 500 people work at the headquarters. 
The state of NH should not negotiate with hostage takers. Tell Governor Hummer he's still a bummer. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

NH House Republicans Fail to Support Nursing Mothers

This week in NH, we saw Republicans congratulating themselves on being "women friendly" because 19 year old college student Yvonne Dean-Bailey was elected to the NH House in a special election.

At the same time, this week the House Commerce committee voted to retain SB 219, a bill that would require businesses to provide a space other than a toilet stall, for nursing mothers to express breast milk. 

They voted to retain the bill because they lacked the courage to kill it outright. They knew it would be seen for what it is - a failure to support women and children. A failure to live up to their own oft-touted family values. They knew it would be seen as another instance of the GOP war on women. 

This is the party that loudly proclaims to speak for the unborn - yet here we see how little interest they have in providing even a modicum of support for even the newly born. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Meter is Running in Rockingham 32

The newly purchased elected State Representative from Rockingham Dist. 32 sent out an email today to humbly express her gratitude to her new constituents, and promise to do a fine job of representing them. 

Well, no, not exactly. The Beholden lets all of her contributors know that the meter is running, so kindly keep the money flowing.