Friday, December 30, 2005

It All Comes Down to Money

Governor Lynch has been making headlines, recently. In a December 20 USA Survey Poll of nationwide gubernatorial approval ratings, Governor Lynch came in fifth place, with a 69 percent approval rating. Jodi Rell of CT was in first place with 77 percent approval, and in last place was Bob Taft of Ohio, with 17 percent approval. California’s Gropenator was in 46th place, with a 34 percent approval rating. Presidential hopeful Mark Warner of Virginia was in 7th place, with a 66 percent approval rating. Mitt Romney of MA (another presidential hopeful) was ranked in 32nd place, with a 49 percent approval. I approach polls with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it was interesting, and even a little surprising to see how popular Governor Lynch is. He’s certainly in good shape to begin his bid for re-election next year. No word yet on the likely GOP candidate. Will the GOP pit their best candidate, Bruce Keogh against the popular Lynch? We’ll find out in 2006.

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


Distractions are all around us. Much of my work is done at home, where distractions abound. It’s easy to find things that need doing (dustbunnies under the chair, dishes in the sink) when I should be making phone calls or writing work plans. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and faux news. We receive constant updates on celebrity gossip – I don’t know about the rest of you folks out there – but how can I be expected to go on when Nick and Jessica have split up? Sorting through all of the information is a chore, so much so that many seem to have given up. We’re not upset that we receive less coverage of world politics in our newspapers – after all – Brad and Angelina are going to adopt a baby – TOGETHER. That’s the kind of stuff that really matters.

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 America are constitutionally allowed to do.” Jerry, with the help of Fox News phonus bolonus Bill O’Reilly are trying to whip the faithful into a righteous frenzy of persecuted Christianhood, over the “liberal plot” to destroy Christmas.

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 Massachusetts) and another asking if they approve of civil unions (like Vermont.) He hasn’t yet heard from any towns, which seems to suggest that most towns have plenty of real business to deal with at town meeting, and no time or patience for the war on homosexuals.

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 Vermont and Massachusetts changed their laws. Lightening bolts didn’t strike when they chose to grant civil rights to our gay brothers and sisters. NH would be no different – but it would mean one fewer wedge issue for sleazy politicians to use.

America is addicted to wars of distraction.” Barbara Ehrenriech

Friday, December 02, 2005

No Joy for CCT Workers

It’s holiday time – time for the annual myths and warm fuzzies. We’ve paid homage to the Pilgrims; we’ve feasted, and perhaps spoken of gratitude. We’re heading toward Christmas, and folks will honor baby Jesus, Santa, and credit cards – the Christmas trinity. We will speak of the joy of the holiday season, even as many go into debt and spend time with relatives that make them want to slice their wrists. The joy of the holiday season is now irrevocably tied to one’s financial status.

Joy isn’t the word that folks who worked for Car Component Technologies (CCT) of Bedford will be using this year. The CCT plant in Bedford rebuilt axles for front wheel drive cars. They had a distribution center in Merrimack. CCT employed 560 people, who went to work on November 16, and were told they no longer had jobs. In NH, a company with over 100 employees is supposed to give 60 days notice before shutting down. Goodbye paycheck, goodbye health benefits – and hello to paychecks bouncing, vacation pay lost, and 401 (k)s being frozen. Oh – and happy holidays.

CCT’s parent company is American Remanufacturers Inc., based in Anaheim, CA. American Remanufacturers Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection/reorganization on November 7. There was nothing in their reorganization plan about closing plants or layoffs. CCT says they’ve been forced to close because they can’t compete with cheap Chinese imports. This means the employees are eligible for assistance under the federal Trade Act. This means that former employees will be eligible for additional weeks of unemployment, and up to $19,000 of training per person. The NH Congressional delegation is being asked to help speed this along.

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 Manchester office on a Sunday to help CCT workers. Other state agencies are helping folks apply for food stamps, and fuel assistance. Translation help is coming from the Latin American Center in Manchester. A large percentage of CCT employees speak Spanish, with smaller percentages of people who speak Bosnian or Arabic. Over 350 Thanksgiving dinner packages were handed out to former CCT employees, via the NH Food Bank, who were thrilled by the donations and support they received in the community.

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 US bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The state wants to reserve $1.4 million to cover potential claims from workers, which would ensure they were protected ahead of the other creditors of American Remanufacturers Inc.

Some of the CCT employees had gone to work there after the closing of the Jac-Pac plant in Manchester in 2004. CCT had a practice of hiring families, so now, in some cases entire families are out of work. They were given no warning, in fact, at the plant on November 16, everyone was told there was nothing to worry about. One man was even given a promotion to management. An hour-and-a-half later the employees were told they no longer had jobs. Not only was there no warning, the employees were flat out lied to.

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 China. It’s also ironic that our Congressmen are being asked to help speed along the assistance from the Trade Act, at the same time they have both voted for the budget reconciliation, which will cut programs like food stamps and Medicaid. The cuts may not come in time to hurt the former CCT employees, but the next round of “free trade” casualties may not be so lucky.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing fast, in the USA. GM and Ford are going to be closing plants and laying people off. It’s hard to feel too sorry for the companies, since they’ve essentially shot themselves in the foot by continuing to build big gas guzzlers. Companies like Toyota are still manufacturing in the US, but also opening new plants in Canada, because they have national health care. We are long overdue for a national discussion and evaluation of trade policy, economics, and health care. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen until many more people are hurt. No one really cares about the loss of $10 an hour manufacturing jobs in NH. When CEO’s begin to be affected, perhaps the conversation will begin.

“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