Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Partisan Press

In this interest of full disclosure, there’s something I need to confess before I begin this editorial. If you’ve been watching television at all this week, you’re certainly up to date on the most pressing issue facing our nation right now – and before any accusations fly, I must tell you that I am NOT the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby. Whew- I feel so much better, and now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can proceed to other manufactured news.

A big manufactured news story in NH this week came from the Sunday Union Leader. The headline read, “Critics rap Shea-Porter over calls.” It seems our new district one Congresswoman has actually been returning calls to her constituents. Allison Scammon of Stratham (daughter–in-law of the GOP Scammons, who hosted Bush at their home in 2004) had called Congresswoman Shea-Porter twice a day. She was annoyed at the story about Shea-Porter’s staff serving cider to anti-war protestors in front of their office. She is annoyed about Shea-Porter’s stance on the war. Mrs. Scammon and the other woman in the story, Gail Giarrusso (a member of the Stratham town GOP committee) serve as greeters at Pease, greeting service members flying to or back from Iraq. Both had called Shea-Porter’s office. Rep. Shea-Porter actually returned those calls, despite the fact that these women obviously didn’t vote for her, or share her feelings about the war. This led to a big story in the UL, where Scammon complained that Shea-Porter was “trying to intimidate me, to stop my freedom of speech.” Poor, poor Mrs. Scammon. Where I come from, we consider returning a phone call “good manners.”

The Union Leader, a GOP mouthpiece, leaped all over the story, as one would expect. It was sad to see other papers just pick up the UL’s story and run it as if it were gospel. There is no investigative journalism going on in any mainstream NH publications. What is and is not reported in this state is done on a very selective basis. It was “news” when Shea-Porter’s staff served cider to anti-war protestors who were in front of her office. Somehow, it was not news on any number of occasions when protestors stood in front of former Congressman Jeb Bradley’s office, calling on him to take a stand to protect Social Security or to change the privatized Part D drug plan to actually be a real benefit to seniors. It was not news when a Social Security birthday cake was delivered to Bradley’s office last August, celebrating 71 years of protecting seniors from poverty. It was not news when a large group of protestors stood out on a very cold day in December, to protest the priorities in the president’s budget in 2005. Bradley’s staff made coffee and served it to those protestors. Oddly enough, the media was invited to every single one of those events – but somehow those weren’t deemed newsworthy. I know, because I wrote the press releases, and I was there for every single event. Apparently it is an outrage when a Democrat extends courtesy to the people standing in front of her office, but it’s not even news when a Republican does the same.

As regular readers know, I had plenty of criticism for former Congressman Bradley over the years. I made calls, I sent emails, I sent letters. I stood in front of his office. I asked him questions at the countless town hall meetings I attended. He never called me to discuss any one of the issues I was concerned about. As you may recall, he had his people write letters to the editor a few times in what could be regarded as an attempt to intimidate me and stop my freedom of speech. I mentioned the last letter in my October 5, 2006 editorial. Oddly enough, the UL was not interested in a Congressman working so hard to discredit a small town writer. But, a Congresswoman returning a phone call – now that’s real news – in the land of the partisan press, anyhow.

It’s pretty hard not to be offended, when that is your goal. Mrs. Scammon and Ms. Giarrusso had every intention of being offended by Rep. Shea-Porter. They were offended that she ran against Jeb Bradley, and even more offended when she won. They wanted to be offended, and they wanted everyone to know about it, so they called the Union Leader, a paper they knew would be only too happy to spread the news of their outrage, far and wide. They are very fortunate to have a partisan press to call. Those of us who aren’t Republicans don’t have a statewide paper (or any other paper) to call.

I can tell you with certainty that Congresswoman Shea-Porter was polite and respectful to those women. I’ve had the good fortune to know CSP for a couple of years now, and I’ve never seen her be rude to anyone. We met while attending Bradley’s town hall meetings, and she was unfailingly polite and friendly to Bradley – even though he was often reluctant to answer her questions. She’s a social worker – so she knows how to listen, and she knows how to talk to people – all kinds of people. We should be thanking our lucky stars every day that we actually have a congresscritter who is willing to listen to all of us – not just campaign donors and partisan pals.

By winning the election, Rep. Shea-Porter put a target on her back – that’s no surprise. Jeb Bradley plans to run again, and we’ve seen how nasty he can be in the past. Most of you will remember those nasty, sexist TV ads he ran against Martha Fuller Clark in 2002. We can expect to see more of the same – and worse as we lead up to the 2008 elections.
Most of the NH media will not challenge our critical thinking skills. It’s easy to find a media outlet that will tell us exactly what we want to hear. The real challenge is to try to filter through everything we read and hear, and discern the truth as best we can. We can also be aware that everything we read is not really news, that some of it is just manufactured partisan blather, or celebrity splooge. By November 2008, we’ll know a lot more about our new Congresswoman. We may even know who the father of Anna Nicole’s baby is.

“Not every bit of news should be published. Rather must those who control news policies endeavor to make every item of news serve a certain purpose.” Joseph Paul Goebbels

Thursday, February 08, 2007

NH Senators Fight to Perpetuate Poverty

The 110th Congress got off to a busy start, with the new House laying out an ambitious 100 hour agenda of bills they wanted to pass. At the top of the list was increasing the federal minimum wage. The pundits want you to believe that the reason the Democrats won so big in November was because of the war in Iraq. The war was a part of the Republican rout, but domestic issues played an important part, too, especially here in NH. The minimum wage was one of those issues that was important not only in the federal campaigns but in state campaigns as well.

The federal minimum wage has not been increased for ten years. Those of us who aren’t CEO’s or US Senators are aware that during the last decade, the cost of living has increased dramatically. The Carsey Institute recently found that there are at least 4000 minimum wage workers in NH. Some are young folks working at their first jobs, but many are not. According to the National Women’s Law Center, nearly two thirds of all minimum wage workers are women. Three quarters of those women are over the age of 20, and 35 percent of them work full time. It’s an estimated 15 million Americans working for the minimum wage, across the country – the same nation oft-touted as the wealthiest country in the world.

A person working full time at the current minimum wage will earn $10, 3000 a year. That’s below the federal poverty guidelines. According to the 2006 NH Basic Needs and Livable Wage Study, a single person in NH needs to be making $10.42 an hour to get by. A single parent with 2 children needs to be earning $19.50 an hour, and in a two parent family with two children and both parents working, both parents need to be earning $11.69 each. This isn’t living high on the hog, folks. No exotic vacations, no imported champagne. This is what folks need to be able to afford child care, food, health care, clothing, rent, utilities, transportation, and minimal personal expenses. There isn’t any potential for savings in those wages.

The NH Livable Wage study also found that the costs of basic needs are increasing in our state. Child care costs have increased by 88 percent in the last five years. The cost of health insurance has risen 103 percent in the last seven years (more in the north country), rent and utilities have increased by 35 percent in the last six years. The average costs of child care and health insurance have increased faster than the NH median family income. For many working families, health care consumes 23 percent of their budget.

The House passed a stand-alone increase in the federal minimum wage, one that would bump it up from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour over a two year period. This bill ran into trouble in the Senate, however. The GOP minority unveiled their new strategy for working for we the people in the next two years; death by amendment, and threatening filibuster. Yes, the filibuster is back! It was bad two years ago, when the Democratic minority was threatening to use it against appointing Attila the Hun to the federal bench, but now, in the hands of those same Republicans who cried out against it, it’s good again.

The Senate was outraged at increasing the minimum wage. These same Senators who pass a tax cut for the wealthiest one percent without blinking an eye, are horrified at the very thought of increasing the minimum wage to somewhere above the federal poverty line. These same Senators have received a pay increase of $30,000 during the last decade, while the minimum wage stagnated. During the debate on the minimum wage, one of the amendments proposed would eliminate the federal minimum wage altogether! If this passed, the minimum wage would revert to the state mandated minimum. In Kansas, that would be $2.62 an hour. Mississippi, Tennessee, and Louisiana have no minimum wage laws. Many states have no minimum dollar amount specified; just automatically use the federal minimum wage. NH is one of those states. There were 28 Senators who voted for this nasty bit of business – and our very own NH Senators Gregg and Sununu were two of them. Not only do these men want to keep low wage workers earning below federal poverty lines, they’d happily allow states to pay workers even less!

Judd Gregg has consistently been one of the loudest voices against increasing the minimum wage. In 2006 he said, “If you start losing jobs because you raise minimum wage too quickly, too fast that small employers can’t afford it, that’s going to have an effect on people’s opportunity to work.” Hmmm. Given that he also votes for cuts to the same social programs that minimum wage workers are eligible for, one wonders what he expects people to do? Apparently there’s still plenty of room under NH bridges for low wage workers to go live under.

Senator Gregg, on the other hand, won’t be going to live under a bridge any time soon. He is a millionaire many times over. You may recall that he even won the Powerball lottery in 2005, for $830,000. With his salary (increased automatically every year) and assets, he could be earning $1,000 an hour or more. It’s no wonder that he’s so clueless about the lives of low wage workers. He’s never been one and certainly has no empathy for them – after all, he made his money the old fashioned way – via lucky spermatozoa.

The Senate did finally pass a version of the minimum wage increase, one that calls for $8 billion in tax breaks for businesses. Their idea seems to be to cut the funds going into the federal coffers thereby ensuring those minimum wage workers don’t game the system by applying for food stamps. In the wealthiest nation in the world, we wouldn’t want to make sure that everyone has a roof over their head and food in their belly – not when we have countries to invade, wars to start, and weapons to build.

“One thing the Reagan years have accomplished is to take away the sting and shock of seeing homeless people in a land of plenty. The juxtaposition of extreme poverty and extreme wealth no longer seems obscene because it’s so familiar.” The late, great Molly Ivins