Friday, December 30, 2005
Lynch has recently proposed a plan to lower the high school drop out rate, by raising the age that children must remain in school from 16 to 18. The compulsory attendance age of 16 was set in 1903. Lynch says that in 1903 teens could leave school and get good paying jobs in factories or on farms, which is no longer the case. Lynch and other supportive legislators point out the need for students to have more education on today’s high tech world. This issue is being examined around the nation, with some educators and politicians claiming that it’s too easy for students to drop out.
We can all applaud the Governor’s concern for the education of our youth, and wanting to decrease NH’s 3.8% drop out rate. It worries me that NH may attempt to solve a problem by focusing on the end result. Can we solve a problem by focusing on the end of it? What about the beginning and the middle? We talk a good game here about the importance of education, but the reality is a little different. NH ranks 49th in the nation in state funding of post-secondary education. UNH is the fourth most expensive state university in the country.
Everything in NH comes down to money. To keep kids in school, will require an honest appraisal of how we do education, and making some changes. This may require money. Some kids aren’t going to comply. Will we be willing to pay for additional truant officers? Are we willing to pay for tutors, counselors, or whatever is needed to help troubled kids through the educational system? Are we willing to fund after school programs to keep kids safe until their parents get home from work? We all know the answer – and it’s a resounding NO. If we were willing, we’d be doing it already. As long as we continue to fund education through the statewide property tax, children and education will continue to be the enemy.
Governor Lynch accepted a draft last week of the NH 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. The report was prepared by the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness. A one day survey last January identified 3, 278 people as homeless, on that particular day, and 978 of them were children. The average age of a homeless person in the US is nine. The report estimates that 20,000 people are homeless in NH at some point during the year. Once again, we can all applaud the Governor’s willingness to tackle this problem. Homelessness is all too often dismissed as not being a serious issue in NH. Nearly a thousand homeless children are very serious, especially with homelessness on the rise. Those numbers will only increase until we make a serious commitment to doing something about it.
Once again, everything in NH comes down to money. There’s a real shortage of affordable housing in this state. Towns don’t want apartment buildings or rental properties, because if kids move in, the town must pay for their education. Wages haven’t kept pace with housing costs. It’s a nasty circle, and there doesn’t seem to be any way out of it. As long as NH insists on the regressive system of taxation we currently enjoy, there is no real end to any of this. The housing problems are serious enough to make prospective businesses think twice about locating in NH. Where will their work force live? The ownership society is something much touted by the current administration, but with the cost of a home averaging out at somewhere around $300,000 the American Dream is dead in the water for a large segment of the population.
It’s great that Governor Lynch is getting the dialogue going about education and housing in our state. Sadly, conversation is likely to be as far as we go. Our legislature is filled with dinosaurs. For many of them, time stopped in 1950. These are not people who are suited (in many cases) to deal with the issues of today. Again, it all comes down to money. For $100 a year, we’re getting what we pay for. NH isn’t willing to change. Until we are, nothing will.
“The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post.” L. Thomas Holdcroft
Friday, December 16, 2005
During this holiday season, the Falwellian Christians are engaging in some loud public distraction. Jerry Falwell is encouraging his flock to boycott businesses that greet customers with “happy holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.” He is collecting money for a legal defense fund, the better to sue anyone who “tries to inhibit the liberties of our children and our families from worshipping and honoring the Lord, as we in
In my traveling around the state, I haven’t noticed any lack of Christmas going on. I hear plenty of Christmas carols on the radio, folks are shopping, folks are sending Christmas cards, and folks are even saying Merry Christmas to one another. Falwell and O’Reilly’s phony distraction crusade would be hilarious, if it weren’t so dangerous. The religious right has been trying to convince us of their persecution for years now. Whenever they are reminded that they share this country with people of other religions, they start sniveling about what victims they are. No one is persecuting them for practicing their religion. I haven’t seen or read about Christian churches being forcibly closed down by “libruls” or government agents. It’s smoke and mirrors, designed to keep the faithful busy, while Falwell, and the high mucky-mucks are busy building empires, raking in cash, and acquiring power.
If Falwell and his ilk were at all what they claim to be, they’d be busily joining forces with Jim Wallis, and other religious leaders who, in this holiday season, are busy fighting the real war – the war on the American poor and middle class. This week, over 100 prayer vigils were held across the country, calling on Congress to soften their hearts, and not pass a budget that cuts programs like school lunch programs, food stamps, foster care, and low interest student loans. The Council of Churches is mobilizing clergy around the country to call attention to the fact that a budget is a moral document. No one will die if a store clerk says “happy holidays.” Children may very well die, without foster care funding, and without school lunches. The “war on Christmas” is a farce. The war being waged on the poor in this country is painfully real.
NH is not immune from distraction. The NH commission to study same sex marriage has proven to be another farce. It’s quite clear that the commission went forward with their findings fully in place before a single word of testimony was ever heard. Senator Jack Barnes called for amending the NH constitution, before the commission took even a minute to review their findings. He’s written to every town in the state, urging the selectmen to put two non-binding warrants on the ballot in March. One asking if voters favor same sex marriage (like
This is a nasty bit of politicking. What Barnes and his ilk hope to accomplish is whipping the GOP faithful into an anti-gay political frenzy during the 2006 elections, as a form of distraction. There are a lot of issues that should be discussed during the state elections, and certainly it’s in the best interest of the ruling party to keep them as quiet as possible. Political ethics, property tax, education, housing, development, and health care are important issues in our state – and an honest discussion about them won’t be flattering to the majority party.
NH voters are suspicious of constitutional amendments, as Jack Barnes may discover. Coos County Democrat reporter Edith Tucker summed up the feelings of many in the north country on “NH Outlook” when she said that folks in the north were more interested in whether people are good neighbors or not, and didn’t care much about sexual orientation. It is sorry, indeed, that the right is using this as an attempt to pit neighbor against neighbor, and keep the focus off legislative ethics or our unjust system of taxation.
The sky hasn’t fallen, since
Friday, December 02, 2005
Joy isn’t the word that folks who worked for Car Component Technologies (CCT) of
CCT’s parent company is American Remanufacturers Inc., based in
The state has responded very quickly to this situation. The Department of Employment Security (DES) waived the waiting period for unemployment checks. They opened the
To protect the interests of former CCT employees, at the behest of Governor Lynch, NH is intervening in the bankruptcy proceedings. Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and Labor Commissioner George Copadis filed an objection in the
Some of the CCT employees had gone to work there after the closing of the Jac-Pac plant in
I trust most readers will see the irony in the re-training money offered up by the federal Trade Act, since it is trade policies which caused the whole situation. As NH moves further into a service economy, I can’t help but wonder what kind of jobs these folks can be trained for. Some companies have come forward to offer former CCT employees jobs; Stonyfield Yogurt, Freudenburg- NOK, and Wal-Mart among them. There is some irony there – since Wal-Mart is stocked primarily with items made in
Manufacturing jobs are disappearing fast, in the
“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” John Maynard Keynes
Friday, November 18, 2005
Our health care system is collapsing, too. Over 48 million Americans have no health insurance, and that number is on the rise. The number of uninsured children is increasing, too. The number of Americans living in poverty is also on the rise, despite the much touted economic recovery. Most people have lousy health insurance, and are scared to death that they’ll get sick. The Medicare prescription drug plan is going into effect, a wonderful program that will help insurance and drug companies add to their profit margins, while adding an extra monthly “user fee” to folks living on fixed incomes, many of whom are already making some difficult choices between food, rent, and medication.
The solutions being proposed to these situations are things like privatizing Social Security, cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, low income student loans, and school lunch programs. We hear a lot of talk from our friends in
This past weekend, in
The consensus among the movie viewers in
Wal-Mart benefits so much from will hurt their image, and force them to change their behavior. The next time you hear DHHS Commissioner John Stephen complaining about Medicaid costs, be aware that in addition to Wal-Mart, some Dunkin Donuts, and Shaws employees are receiving Medicaid benefits in NH. Employees of the US Postal Service and the NH state government are, too.
The old saying “if we keep on doing what we always done, we’ll keep on getting what we always got” has never been truer. We’ve all been hurt by the high cost of gasoline, and we’re all approaching the winter with trepidation about the cost of heating our homes. Our elected officials are responding to this crisis by slipping a provision to drill in ANWR into the budget. Studies by the Dept. of Energy show that drilling in ANWR will reduce the cost of a gallon of gas by about one penny in 20 years. Clearly that’s not the solution to our energy gluttony. Conservation would go a long way – increasing the CAFÉ standards for US vehicles to 40 mpg would reduce our oil consumption by 6 million barrels of oil every day. Our national fuel economy is actually worse today than it was 20 years ago, yet we hear nothing of conservation. Instead, we have US automakers continuing to churn out SUVs and giant trucks as though we had an endless supply of oil. The foreign oil market will become increasingly tight as we compete with the growing energy needs of
I was sorry to see that the town of
“Corporation, n., An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” Ambrose Bierce
Thursday, November 03, 2005
A new coalition, the NH Water Table, sponsored a conference called “Protecting New Hampshire’s Water” last month in
The world is running out of fresh water. There are already countries in water crisis, including 22 African countries, and two-thirds of northern
The large groundwater withdrawals for water bottling sales are exacerbating the problem.
Bottled water sales have skyrocketed in the last decade. Bottled water is being marketed as being superior to tap water, even though what’s in that bottle may be tap water sold to consumers as “fresh from a mountain spring” at a thousand times the cost of tap water. The bottled water industry is almost entirely unregulated, unlike municipal water supplies, where the water quality is monitored constantly. The idea is to create a suspicion of publicly owned water suppliers, and encourage the belief that bottled water is better and safer. A generation of kids is growing up with the belief that water is something you buy in a plastic bottle at the store. The bottled water companies are making obscene profits and creating obscene amounts of garbage. Every day over 30 million plastic water bottles are discarded. Only 1 in 10 makes it to recycling, the rest go into the landfill – where the chemicals in the plastic break down and contaminate the groundwater.....and the cycle continues.
The Poland Spring water bottling operation in Fryeburg has been a controversial topic now for some time. Fryeburg recently enacted a temporary ban on issuing permits for large scale groundwater extractions. It’s a smart move – given that most towns haven’t factored water extraction into their planning processes or town ordinances. That 6 month moratorium will give the town a chance to study the subject, and reflect seriously on water and the future. The towns on the NH side of the border should be watching this issue, and planning in their own communities.
Poland Spring is owned by the Nestle Corporation, a company with a long, disgusting record of violating human rights around the world. Nestle earns over $4 billion a year selling baby formula. They aggressively market their bottle feeding formulas as superior to breast milk in third world countries. Often they give out free samples to new mothers in the hospital. The mothers leave the hospital, with their own milk dried up, and are now forced to buy the formula and mix it with water, and in many cases that water supply is contaminated. A recent independent audit of Nestlé’s conduct in
Castle Springs Bottled Water Company was a small, locally owned operation in Moultonborough. Two years ago, it was purchased by Crystal Geyser Roxanne, a
Something else for towns and states to consider is that trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA provide foreign countries the opportunity to sue if we create “barriers to trade.” In other words, if a town attempts to pull out of a water deal with a CAFTA country, they can sue for the loss of their profits. Our NH Congressional delegation all voted for CAFTA, by the way. Welcome to the wonderful world of globalization.
Water – we need to act now to protect it. The
“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Thomas Fuller
Saturday, October 08, 2005
NH politics are like smoking crack – addictive. Once upon a time I didn’t pay attention; I found national politics more interesting and relevant. Many folks only pay attention to elections every four years, and I was one of them. Those days are long gone; during the last decade I picked up the pipe, and became fully hooked on the interesting and sometimes bizarre world of NH politics.
Bizarro world cropped up recently, with our Congressional delegation urging Executive Councilman Ray Burton to resign. I’ve been to dozens of Congressman Bradley’s town hall meetings in the last six months. He’s been asked plenty of questions that he gladly passed back to state officials, as being out of his jurisdiction. I find the federal delegation’s sudden involvement in state affairs interesting. It’s also heavy handed, bullying, and obnoxious. Why is the federal delegation getting involved in trying to force the resignation of a member of their own political party? Could it be that on a state level, so much bad behavior has been ignored, that our state elected officials don’t have much credibility?
In April 2005, Representative Chris Doyle of
Do not; (I repeat – DO NOT) take this as a defense of Ray Burton’s extremely bad judgment in hiring and retaining Mark Seidensticker. Ray’s done a fairly decent job in the north country. He’s been very good on health care issues, and I’ve actually heard him admit that NH has a revenue problem. He’s not a barking lunatic right winger, which may be part of the reason his own party is trying to eat him. I’ve disagreed strongly with him on some issues. He’s a Republican, and it’s no secret that I’d be happy to see fewer of them in office in our state. It is very interesting that a bunch of politicians who could care less about the north country unless they want our votes, are suddenly all concerned about ethics and impropriety. They’ve certainly turned their back on plenty of criminal behavior and gross ethical violations. The rallying cry around
Bills held over from last year will be coming back to haunt us in 2006. One such bill is HB16, a bill that would urge our Congressional delegation to support plans to privatize Social Security. It’s been retained in the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee. Now that we’re facing at least $200 billion in costs to rebuild
The NH Commission studying same sex marriage voted this week to recommend an amendment to our state constitution, defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. Senator Jack Barnes made the motion to recommend to the legislature that they pass this amendment on to voters next November. Senator Barnes admitted that the amendment is not likely to clear the Senate, and would not have much of a chance in the House – but he wanted each legislator to have a chance to take a public stand prior to the 2006 elections.
This is so blatant – and so vile – using a civil rights issue to whip bigots into the voting booth is a shameful tactic. Shame on Senator Barnes and those who voted in favor of this nasty piece of business: Representative Paul Brassard, Commission Chair Rep.Tony Soltani, Commission Vice-Chair Scott Earnshaw, Jack Fredyma, and Commission Clerk Rep. Maureen Mooney. To contact the commission with your comments, send emails to the clerk at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” Gunter Grass
Friday, September 23, 2005
The legislature will also be contending with everything that was held over in committee from last session. One such bill is HB39, “An Act relative to sex education in public schools.” This bill is aimed at turning comprehensive sex education into an abstinence only program. NH has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Last year DHHS received a big chunk of cash from the federal government for having such a low teen pregnancy rate. What we’ve been doing has obviously been working rather well – so it’s ironic (and moronic) that the response to success is to attempt to institute the sort of programs that are failing teens around the country.
There’s plenty of evidence that abstinence only programs aren’t working. Study after study shows that teens were more sexually active after going through abstinence only programs.
A report issued by Rep. Henry Waxman of
HB39 stipulates that “Pupils shall be provided with statistics based on the latest medical information citing the failure and success rates of condoms in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” If this information is coming from one of the aforementioned programs, it’s very likely to be false, and may actually result in kids engaging in unprotected sex – which will in turn result in actually increasing the teen pregnancy rate.
No one ever worries about kids getting too much exposure to math. Teaching algebra doesn’t result in the fear that kids will want to stay after school and figure out pi equations on the blackboard, or go into nerdy math careers. Despite all evidence to the contrary – the fear continues to be perpetuated that educating kids about their bodies, sexuality, and responsibility will result in unrestrained sexual activity, and orgies all over town. Teaching fear and repression has never worked. There was at least one pregnant girl in my little pre-Roe vs. Wade high school. There were even pregnant girls in the idyllic 1950’s. They just got shipped off to relatives for the duration – while discreet adoptions were arranged, or they had illegal abortions.
What the abstinence only proponents refuse to acknowledge, is that abstinence is, in fact, taught in comprehensive sex ed programs. We would all like to see kids wait until they’re older, and more responsible to begin having sexual relationships. Not everyone will heed that advice, as history shows us. Isn’t it better for those kids to at least have some preparation beyond “just say no?” We don’t just put a kid in a car, give ‘em the keys and say – go ahead and drive. We give them an education to prepare them for the reality of what happens behind the wheel. Shouldn’t we do the same with sex education?
NH has been successful in reducing the teen pregnancy rate – so to change what is working, to what is proven not to work is a concept I find utterly mystifying. HB39 is sponsored by Rep.Russell Albert of
Abstinence only programs are politically and religiously motivated. They aren’t based in reality – they don’t care about teens, and above all – they don’t work! Do we really want to ruin young lives with this socio-political experiment? Please contact your state reps and urge them to just vote no on HB39.
Friday, July 29, 2005
With skyrocketing fuel prices, one would think this would be a great time to form a sensible national energy policy that would lessen our dependence on oil, and encourage conservation. One would be wrong. The energy bill being crafted by our elected officials is anything but sensible, and actually increases our dependence on oil, while decreasing protections to our supply of clean water. The current energy bill is a valentine for oil and utility companies. The oil and utility companies have spent $367 million lobbying Congress in the last 2 years. Their reward for this persistence is $3.2 billion in new tax breaks to the oil and gas industries, $2 billion in funds to study ultra-deepwater research companies are already pursuing without our tax dollars, $125 million to reimburse oil and gas producers for 115% of the cost of reclaiming and closing orphaned wells. Even as we taxpayers are being asked to subsidize oil companies, they are enjoying record profits. Oil industry CEO’s received a 109.1% increase in their salaries, between 2003 and 2004.
The bill’s total package of tax breaks for energy companies comes in at around $11.5 billion. The Bush administration had recommended a paltry $6.7 billion in tax breaks. At a time where energy is increasingly needed, and record profits are being amassed by energy companies, one wonders at this corporate welfare. One doesn’t wonder for long, because in addition to the money spent on lobbying, Texas based Exxon Mobil contributed $935.266 to federal candidates for the 2004 elections, more than any other oil company. Chevron contributed $498,992 to candidates in 2004.
One of the most egregious provisions in the proposed House energy bill, would have allowed oil companies to duck out of their responsibility for clean up in areas contaminated by gasoline additive MTBE. The additive has polluted drinking water across the nation, including NH. Some members of the House put together a deal that would relieve the oil companies of any direct responsibility for MTBE cleanup – those poor beleaguered oil companies raking in record profits right now. These representatives suggested a plan that would allow polluters to put a small percentage into a special trust fund, and the rest of the tab would be picked up by the taxpayers. NH is in the process of suing some of these oil companies, which makes it all the more surprising that NH Rep. Charles Bass was one of the supporters of the deal to let polluters off the hook, at taxpayer expense.
The last energy bill before Congress didn’t pass, because of the contention over MTBE. Our entire delegation voted against the energy bill because of it. This year, Bass peeled off, and decided to cast his lot with Texas Reps. Joe Barton and Tom DeLay, who represent the state that is home to the polluters responsible for destroying drinking water in NH. Bass claimed that being on this committee allowed him a voice to help NH. It’s hard to envision how the plan was actually helping NH. Making taxpayers pay for the reckless disregard shown by the oil companies is a curious way of “helping” NH. The only beneficiaries are the oil companies, and the
Why would Bass go against the best interests of his state? A look at his 2004 campaign donations may offer some insight. In a list breaking down contributions by business sector, electric utilities ranked seventh place in donating money to Bass, and oil and gas came in 20th place. Bass also received a tidy sum from Tom DeLay’s
The energy bill doesn’t address conservation in a meaningful way, does not raise CAFÉ standards for fuel efficiency, and calls on utility companies to be getting 10% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. This would be laughable if we weren’t seeing the fallout from our national energy policy right here in NH. While driving to
“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” George Washington