Friday, April 30, 2010

Budget Cuts Mean Long Lines at the DMV

(originally posted at Main St/

In San Francisco it can take weeks to get an appointment at the DMV:

Because of the state’s budget deficit, the number of personnel hours to manage California’s car culture has been reduced, while the workload has remained steady or increased. This has led to a shortage of resources at popular and convenient D.M.V. branches like San Francisco’s.

The D.M.V. processed 29.7 million licenses and identification cards statewide in 2009, up nearly 400,000 from 2008. But during the same period, to save money, the state has furloughed D.M.V. employees and closed offices the first three Fridays of each month, said George Valverde, director of the state D.M.V. “We’re losing about 15 percent of our available hours.”

The new reality of fewer open hours and a greater workload means that some problems that were once resolved quickly can now languish.


Technology has brought some needed relief: most D.M.V. business can now be done online — 9.4 million transactions were done online last year, a record, with a 20 percent increase in the first quarter of 2010, according to D.M.V. records.

But Armando Botello, a D.M.V. spokesman, said there remained a “digital divide” affecting poorer Californians who lack Internet access. In addition, Mr. Botello said, “a lot of people wait until the last minute” to pay D.M.V. fees — a situation perhaps exacerbated by the recession — and do not leave enough time to receive a license or vehicle registration renewal by mail.

Those who show up without an appointment can expect to stand in line for hours.

In North Carolina:

You don't just "drop by" the Division of Motor Vehicles in New Hanover County anymore. A visit could take you anywhere from three hours to most of your day.

It's 6:30 a.m., and people are lining up outside the DMV, hours before it even opens.

Many states have implemented furlough days for state offices. In Wisconsin a creative measure has been added in to the mix:

Titling and registration services are offered by many third-party partners such as some police stations, grocery stores and financial institutions around the state and can be found at the WisDOT web site.

Long lines and delays are happening all over the country. In Nevada:

Malone says a DMV visit that used to take an hour could now take more than three. He says the best way to do business with the DMV is to visit its web site first.

One reason service is even slower in Nevada is implementation of the Real ID Act:
Faced with stiff public opposition, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has withdrawn a proposal to immediately require motorists to get a new type of driver's license. Instead, the DMV will give motorists the option of either continuing with their current licenses or obtaining a license that complies with the federal "Real ID" act.

The Real ID Act was passed in 2005, but proved to be so cumbersome and expensive to adopt, that an extension was granted. The extension expired on Dec. 31, 2009. Now some of the states that did not opt out (at least 15 states
have refused to implement REAL ID) are attempting to implement this costly and time consuming new license, at a time when they can ill afford to do so.

While DHS estimated that the implementation of REAL ID will cost states $3.9 billion, Congress has appropriated only $200 million for state implementation.

It seems that attending to DMV business online is the best way to go, if that's an option. (some states are lagging behind in technology) If you do have to go to the DMV, be sure to call ahead, especially if you live in a state that didn't opt out of REAL ID, to try to schedule an appointment and make sure you bring everything you need.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

So Much for the Free Market

Public Service Company of NH (our state’s largest electric utility) is hoping to increase our electric rates. Their primary reason for this rate hike is that consumers have been using less electricity. Unitil Corp. is doing the same thing in the Seacoast area. They want a 9% increase, for the same reason. Remember those golden days of yesteryear when if you used less, you paid less? We should have realized those days were over when the phone company started tacking on a $3 monthly charge if you didn’t make enough long distance calls.

A biodiesel refinery in Nashua is awaiting IRS approval before finally beginning production. Batchelder Biodiesel Refineries is located in an old mill building near downtown Nashua. They will be turning “brown grease” from restaurants into biofuel. This means old fryolator oil will be turned into something useful, as opposed to going to the landfill. This is the kind of project we should be seeing more of. We have a vast, untapped, grease mine in our area.

The NRC finally had a public hearing about VT Yankee last week in Brattleboro. They were not welcomed with open arms. The general sentiment seemed to be that the NRC is an utter failure as an agency that is supposed to regulate nuclear power plants. This is true. They are. In the case of VT Yankee, the NRC seems to be trying hard to protect Entergy (the owner of the plant) and aid them in their ongoing attempts to keep leaks and their causes a secret. Entergy lied about having buried pipes at VT Yankee, but the buried pipe lie has also been used at the troubled Oyster Creek plant in NJ, and the Braidwood plant in Illinois.

The list of NRC failures is long. The folks at Beyond Nuclear have recently issued a report that documents 15 leaks from buried pipes at 13 different plants from March 2009 to April 2010. The report also shows that at least 102 reactors have had recurring radioactive leaks into the groundwater from 1963 to 2009. NH’s own Seabrook Station had a radioactive water leak (tritium) that was discovered in 1999. It was finally repaired in 2004. Seabrook Station has had other problems in the last decade. In 2005, we learned that the security fence surrounding the plant was inoperable. The perimeter intrusion detection system had not been correctly installed and was inoperable. The newly appointed Security Manager at the plant had no background in security, security guards (compensating for the lack of fence) worked excessive overtime, and the plant failed an NRC inspection and was declared inoperable, according to internal documents. As we all know, the plant was never shut down. Even though the plant failed the NRC inspection, and was declared inoperable – the NRC did not do the job of a regulatory agency, unless your idea of regulating means turning a blind eye to the situation and saying, “yeah, everything’s cool.” Florida Power and Light, a company that donates generously to NH campaigns, own Seabrook Station. They were one of former US Senator Bob Smith’s top 5 campaign donors, in fact. FPL also donated (albeit less generously) to Judd Gregg.

The reason we should all be concerned about the failure of the NRC as a regulatory agency is that Obama’s climate change/energy plan calls for the building of between 12 and 100 new nuclear power plants. Given the NRC’s already abysmal track record, we should be deeply concerned.

It is also interesting to note that the same forces that scream “socialism” at the slightest provocation have absolutely no problem with the socialist bailout of the nuke industry. Taxpayers subsidize the building of nuke plants, they subsidize the insurance of the plants, and the ratepayers/taxpayers subsidize the decommissioning and cleanup of the plants when they are finally retired. They also pay for the inflated cost of the power produced by these plants. The taxpayers do not see a return on this investment – since the profits go to the company and the shareholders. These same folks who are slavishly devoted to the free market don’t pay any attention to what that free market is telling them. The free market doesn’t support nuclear power. Until it does, the nuclear industry shouldn’t be getting socialist taxpayer bailouts.

"Taxpayers should not be held responsible for the failure of big business any longer. If a business is going to fail, not matter how big, let it fail." Frank Luntz , GOP slogan creator

This was published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun April 30, 2010

© 2010 sbruce

Short Takes

The number of unemployment claims has fallen slightly.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 11,000 to a seasonally adjusted 448,000 in the week ended April 24, the Labor Department said.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected claims to fall to 445,000 from the previously reported 456,000, which was modestly revised up to 459,000 in Thursday's report.


Though initial claims have resumed their downward trend interrupted by the Easter holiday, analysts worry the pace is too slow and underscores the fragility of private hiring.

Despite all of the manufactured controversy over the census, the Census Bureau reports the rate of returned forms is the same as in 2000, about 72%.

Beginning Saturday, 600,000 enumerators will go door-to-door to find the up to 48 million households that failed to respond.

A reminder of why the census is important:

Two Miners Missing in Kentucky. There was a collapse in the Webster County Coal Dokiti Mine:

Records show inspectors from the Kentucky Office of Mine Safety and Licensing have issued 31 orders to close sections of the mine or to shut down equipment because of safety violations since January 2009. Those records also show an additional 44 citations for safety violations that didn't result in closure orders.

This is why The Protecting America's Worker's Act pdf is crucial.

cross posted at Main St./

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Program funds available to Prevent Homelessness

First posted at Working America's Blog

Some help available for those on the edge of eviction. From the NY TImes

He could no longer pay even the rent on his cramped studio apartment — not on his $10-an-hour part-time job as a fry cook at a fast food restaurant.

Faced with eviction, he was staring last month at the imminent prospect of joining the teeming ranks of the homeless. His last hope was a new $1.5 billion federal program aimed at preventing that fate.


Much like the Great Depression, when millions of previously working people came to rely on a new social safety net for their sustenance, a swelling group of formerly middle-class Americans like Mr. Moore, 30, is seeking government aid for the first time. Without help, say economists, many are at risk of slipping permanently into poverty, even as economic conditions improve.

The question is whether the modern-day safety net has enough money and the right initiatives to aid those who need it most. The answer could shape whether a considerable slice of the American population will recover from the trauma of recent years, and how long that will take.


“Nationally, homelessness has now reached crisis proportions not seen since the Great Depression,” says Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

The severity of the situation prompted the Obama administration to create the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing program within the $787 billion economic stimulus package. The program rests on the assumption that intervention is the best course because once people become homeless, the odds and costs of regaining their lives escalate sharply.

One of the goals of this program is to help prevent even more people from losing their housing. The US has a higher level of homelessness right now than we had during the Great Depression. The funds are administered federally through the HUD program, but each state seems to have a different system for distributing funds. Every state has a housing authority, and their websites are the best way to find out how the program works in your state.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

More Job Losses Coming

First posted at Working America's Blog

A big round of teacher layoffs is coming. From the NY Times:

School districts around the country, forced to resort to drastic money-saving measures, are warning hundreds of thousands of teachers that their jobs may be eliminated in June.

The districts have no choice, they say, because their usual sources of revenue — state money and local property taxes — have been hit hard by the recession. In addition, federal stimulus money earmarked for education has been mostly used up this year.

As a result, the 2010-11 school term is shaping up as one of the most austere in the last half century. In addition to teacher layoffs, districts are planning to close schools, cut programs, enlarge classes and shorten the school day, week or year to save money.


Tolleson Union High School District is laying off 207 employees, including 34 classroom teachers, to balance a budget hit by state funding cuts, climbing expenses and the March failure of a crucial budget override election.

That's nearly 19 percent of the district's workforce.


Dozens of Cedar Rapids School employees learned on Friday they will no longer be with the district.
The school board approved cutting 60 positions earlier this week, including 23 teachers.


The Cleveland school board appears ready to lay off more than 650 teachers union members.


The cash-strapped Flint school district will lay off 261 teachers at the end of the year.
The Flint Community Schools Board of Education approved the layoffs Wednesday night.

These cuts are also affecting state colleges and universities. In New Jersey:

Facing record deficits, Gov. Chris Christie has proposed cutting $173 million in state aid to universities, a nearly 8 percent reduction. New budget language released last week also included a surprise cap on tuition proposals, further squeezing the bottom lines at state colleges and universities.

The first battle will take place Wednesday afternoon in Trenton, during an Assembly budget hearing on the governor’s proposals. The stakes are high for the universities, which have endured cuts in state aid for seven of the past 10 years, according to union officials.
"Immediate effects include larger class sizes, fewer faculty hires, fewer class offerings, cutbacks in services and hours, and cutbacks in technology purchases and facilities renovations," the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities said.


As universities across the nation face budget shortcuts, Georgia is trying to meet the demands of a $385 million budget cut from the state’s higher education budget.

Chancellor Erroll B. Davis, responsible for the 35 public colleges and universities in Georgia, says that in order to meet this budget cut, the colleges and universities would have to increase tuition by 77 percent. Chancellor Davis, along with other university presidents in the state of Georgia, is attempting to discuss specific budget cuts, rather than have the state House-Senate joint budget committee make budget cuts wherever they choose.

A survey of community college presidents finds that as unemployment rises, so does the enrollment at community colleges. At the same time, these schools are facing significant budget cuts.

It's all grim news on the education front. That's why the Local Jobs for America Act is so important.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Continuing GOP Trivialization of Rape

On April 15, the NH GOP and the NH Tea Party (which are the same thing as far as I can tell) got together and had some anti-tax rallies around the state. These brave folks nobly protested having to pay taxes. Events took place at Market Square in Portsmouth, Victory Park in Manchester, the NH State House in Concord, and the town docks in Wolfeboro.

All of these locations have something in common - they're public! Paid for by the taxes the teabaggers were complaining about. Irony sticks her head in the oven, once again.

The Concord Monitor had a story about the various events. The CM quoted GOP gubernatorial candidate Jack Kimball:

In Concord, gubernatorial candidate Jack Kimball drew cheers with an anti-tax message. He decried the state's taxation of business while criticizing its relatively low level of services.

"I don't mind paying my fair share, folks," he said. "I don't think any of us do. But I do mind when I'm raped. It's awful."

Rape is a serious, violent crime. For an aspiring politician to trivialize this crime to score cheap political points is offensive. I hope that Mr. Kimball never encounters a stranger who puts a gun to his head and rapes him. I hope that he's never beaten up and gang raped by a group of men. I'm certain that Mr. Kimball wouldn't be so damn cavalier about the crime of rape if he'd actually experienced it.

The CM got a lot of emails from readers about Mr. Kimball's statement - and so he felt compelled to go on the defense:

“I used the term ‘rape’ talking about taxation at the Tea Party in Concord. I think the Concord Monitor took the remark out of context and there has been a lot of negative reaction. People that know me know that I don’t say things to purposefully hurt people.
“I want to apologize to anyone that is offended. My remark was clearly not intended to offend people. People should watch the video and see what actually happened. I’m sorry to those that were offended, I will choose my words better next time.”

GIven that he admits to using the term rape to describe taxation, it's hard to imagine how the paper took his remarks out of context. This is the thing - we have free speech. When we engage in public speech - we may be held accountable for what we say. This is when we have to take personal responsibility (an anathema to the GOP) when we employ that free speech.

All Jack Kimball had to say was, "Hey, I made a poor choice of words, and I certainly didn't intend to trivialize a violent crime in order to score cheap political points" and I'd be congratulating him. Instead, he's blaming the Concord Monitor and offering up a forced and insincere apology.

The rape analogy is a common GOP rhetorical device.
Barack Obama and the Date Rape of America by David Kupelian. Grover Norquist referring to bipartisanship as date rape. Rush Limbaugh equating extramarital affairs to date rape.

Last year we had a number of GOP rape apologists who were in favor of the US doing business with military contractors that require employees to sign contracts saying that they can't sue the contractor in the event of being gang raped by their fellow employees. NH's own Judd Gregg was one of those men.

One in six women is raped during her lifetime. One in four women on college campuses. One in three women serving in the US military in Iraq is going to be raped by a fellow soldier. One in 33 men will be raped in his lifetime. This cheap hyperbolic device adopted by the right wing hate media and their acolytes is an insult to every single person who has ever survived the very serious CRIME of rape.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Hypocrisy - It's the New Black

The Drudge Report blew the dog whistle, and the right wing media leaped to attention. For days we’ve been hearing of how “half the people in the US don’t pay taxes” with accompanying shrieks and embellishments. Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity are all in a lather as they bellow about this, while trying to pretend that they represent the common man. Yep, they’re just like you – provided you make upwards of $20 million a year.

The story is misleading. Cable news is great for producing slogans, and abysmal at providing context. The story neglects to mention payroll taxes, state income taxes, or property tax. Very few are getting away without paying something. Some of the best tax cheats are found in Corporate America. The dog whistle brigade failed to mention that Exxon Mobil had ZERO US income tax liability in 2009. They had such massive profits that they paid out $15 billion in income taxes to other countries, but not a dime of that came to Uncle Sam. That’s the same kindly uncle who subsidizes them with US tax dollars. Rather than pay the freight here at home, they choose to use offshore tax dodges in the Cayman Islands.

Exxon Mobil will have to cough up $32 million for underpaying royalties on natural gas produced from federal and Indian leases, from 1988-1999. The company claims they didn’t do this intentionally. This puts them in the company of Shell, Unocal, Texaco, and Chevron, all of whom had previously made settlements. It seems there’s a whole lot of unintentional going on in the land of Big Oil.

President Obama is talking about cutting $38 billion in subsidies for oil and coal out of the budget. Fossil fuels get a total of $70 billion in subsidies a year, with the lions share going to oil. This means that you and I are helping some of the wealthiest corporations in the word to get even wealthier. These same corporations use tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of US taxes. Our reward for this taxpayer largesse is available for discovery at your local gas station. That thank you note is inching up to $3 a gallon. Big Oil isn’t happy at the thought of losing part of the free ride gravy train, and has begun running ads calling this an “energy tax.” They’re earning record profits, but still have their hand out to Uncle Sam. You’d think the tea partiers would be shouting “socialism” from the rooftops, but you’d be wrong about that.

The whole tea party phenomenon would be hilarious, if there weren’t open racism, bigotry, and undercurrents of violence. Where were these tri-corner hats wearing patriots when George Bush was driving the US economy into the toilet? Driving up the deficit with war spending? Where were these protestors when Bush added a huge government agency – the Dept. of Homeland Security? These big gummint decriers didn’t utter a peep when Ole White George made big gummint even bigger. It’s even harder to take them seriously when you look at them. Many of the members of the mostly white crowds are obvious recipients of Social Security and Medicare.

There was a big tea party event in Boston this past Wednesday. David Abel of the Boston Globe wrote my favorite story about it. He spoke to a protestor who is an Air Force retiree, who is angry about the “move toward socialism.” Naturally he receives veteran’s benefits and health care. From the government. Abel quoted him as saying, “Where does it say in the Constitution that there’s a mandate for all Americans to have health care?’’ he said. “This bill will ravage the health care that I get.’’ Abel also wrote about Valerie and Rob Shirk, who drove up from Connecticut to this event. The Shirks brought along their 10 children, so that they could hear Sarah Palin speak about the evils of “government run health care.” Mrs. Shirk commented that the problem with this country is too many people looking for handouts. The Shirks get Medicaid for their 10 children. Yes, Medicaid, as in government subsidized health care. From David Abel’s story:

“When asked why her family used state-subsidized health care when she criticized people who take handouts, Valerie Shirk said she did not want to stop having children, and that her husband’s income was not enough to cover the family with private insurance.
“I know there’s a dichotomy because of what we get from the state,’’ she said. “But I just look at each of my children as a blessing.’’”

Once again, folks like the Shirks are all for getting their own government subsidized health care. They just don’t want anyone else to get anything. Valerie Shirk doesn’t see anything wrong with asking taxpayers to pony up to pay for her need to overpopulate. She doesn’t see herself as “asking for a handout” or somehow shirking her responsibility. As is the case for so many of these newfound patriots, it’s okay when they do it.

In other words: socialism is okay when it comes to Big Oil. The rest of the time, the dog whistler media will use the term incorrectly. Handouts are bad, except when they go to tea partiers.

Hypocrisy. It’s the new black.

© sbruce 2010 This was published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun on April 16, 2010.

h/t to David Abel of the Boston Globe.

h/t to Joel Pett, the terrific cartoonist for the Lexington-Herald Leader in KY

Speaking of Taxes

Adam Weinstein at Mother Jones writes about corporate tax cheat Exxon Mobil:

So, good news and bad news. The good news is, oil megacorporation ExxonMobil had such a profitable year in 2009, it contributed $15 billion to the world's tax coffers.

The bad news: Not a cent of that went to the IRS.

Oh dear.

By contrast, the nation's largest corporation, Wal-Mart, paid $7.1 billion globally in taxes, and the lion's share of it—$5.9 billion, or 83 percent—went to the US government.

How do they do this? From Forbes:

Exxon tries to limit the tax pain with the help of 20 wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that (legally) shelter the cash flow from operations in the likes of Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi. Exxon has tens of billions in earnings permanently reinvested overseas.

Exxon spokespeople did contact Weinstein to tell him that they expected to have significant US federal income tax liability for 2009, but that they did not intend to disclose what that amount would be.

Meanwhile, President Obama wants to remove some $38 billion in subsidies to Big Oil and Big Coal. From Treehugger:

I know, it seems like a no-brainer--and it should be. Why, exactly, do we need to be spending billions of dollars a year to help the biggest companies in the world make billions of dollars? And yes, as reductive as that statement appears, that is precisely what's going on. Taxpayer money goes toward giving oil companies tax breaks, deductions for drilling, and other expenses--even though companies like Exxon have posted record earnings in the last couple years.

The removal of these taxpayer subsidies is being portrayed by the fossil fuels lobby as an "energy tax."

To summarize: Companies like Exxon Mobil are weaseling out of paying US taxes, by using offshore tax dodges. We the taxpayers are subsidizing their labors, while they earn record profits. I saw the their thank you note yesterday at the gas station - it read "$2.86 per gallon."

cross posted at Main St/

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's National Library Week

National Library Week is being observed this year from April 11-17. National Library Week was first observed in 1958, and has since become the traditional week to celebrate all libraries, whether they be public, academic, or special collections. The theme this year is: Communities Thrive @ Your Library. The American Library Association (ALA) points out that libraries are at the heart of their communities.

Sadly, in many communities, the heart is being shut down. Communities around the country are facing difficult budget decisions, and in many cases, libraries are being closed down, or their budgets cut. This comes at a time when library use has greatly increased. Folks are looking for how-to books, using the internet services, or taking out books, puzzles, CDs, and movies.

Paul LeClerc, President of the New York City Public Library writes about how the proposed $33 million budget cut will affect libraries in New York City:

* 6 million fewer visits made to NYPL libraries next year - 1 million fewer by children and young people

* 5 million fewer items circulated - 1.7 million to children

* $9 million less with which to purchase books and other materials

* 1.5 million fewer computer sessions

* 17,000 fewer programs and classes, serving 500,000 fewer people

* tens of thousands fewer people helped with job searches, tax preparation, retirement planning, voter registration, and starting a business

What would also be lost with a $33 million cut is hope to the economically disadvantaged, inspiration to the new immigrant, and a safe and nurturing place for those in need. Most importantly, libraries provide an essential tool - knowledge - to everyone who enters, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity.

Boston is likely to close 4 branch libraries. In Florida the state legislature is considering ending state aid to libraries.
In Phoenix the library is facing a 21.4 % budget cut, which would mean that 6 out of 15 branches would close.

These are difficult and painful decisions being made in communities. Getting involved can make a difference. In Charlotte, NC the library board voted to keep their libraries open:

- The Mecklenburg County Library Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to cut salaries and lay off 84 people instead of closing 12 library branches.

The board discussed three options at a special meeting Wednesday to make up a $2 million budget shortfall.

One option included closing 12 of the county's 24 libraries. The board decided last week that would be the best option, but public outcry forced the board to reconsider.

"The community response to the library's plight has been nothing short of overwhelming," said library director Charles Brown.

"The people have spoken and clearly and loudly they have said the library is a very valued institution," said board member Robin Bransterom.

Clearly this came at a cost, but it does keep all of the libraries open, and it shows that library users can have a real impact on these decisions in their communities. This blog post has been making the rounds in my state, and serves as a gentle reminder of why libraries are so important:

Libraries aren't just about book lending. They are the heart of most communities. They are the one place in any community that you can go all year, rain or shine, rich or penniless. They are the one place in communities that provide fair and equal access. They don't discriminate. They don't judge. They give over and over and over.

And now is when they are needed most desperately. Now is when they provide the most valuable services. Now is when, even if a state or county is so far in the red they feel they'll never get out, now is when libraries should be getting the green light to extend their hours, not have them taken away. Without libraries, the economic divide in our communities grows even wider. Please. If the library in your community is in danger, speak up. If you can help any library that's in trouble, please do it. This is about kids, babies, new moms and dads, unemployed parents, a lonely retired person who needs weekly or daily interaction and reading material to get them through the week. It's about keeping communities intact. Your community. My community. It matters.

To learn more about how to help, the folks at Save are working to help folks from around the country to coordinate and share information.

cross posted at Main St/

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Fighting Unemployment Claims - a Booming Business

One relatively new industry is booming, even in this economy. Talx helps Fortune 500 companies fight unemployment claims.

Talx, which emerged from obscurity over the last eight years, says it handles more than 30 percent of the nation’s requests for jobless benefits. Pledging to save employers money in part by contesting claims, Talx helps them decide which applications to resist and how to mount effective appeals.

The work has made Talx a boom business in a bust economy, but critics say the company has undermined a crucial safety net. Officials in a number of states have called Talx a chronic source of error and delay. Advocates for the unemployed say the company seeks to keep jobless workers from collecting benefits.

That's the point, of course. The fewer claims a company is paying, the lower their unemployment tax is. The goal is to make the process of fighting for unemployment onerous enough that the person gives up, thereby saving the company money. The Fortune 500 company. Companies like Wal-Mart:

Advocates for the unemployed cite cases like that of Gerald Grenier, 47, who spent four years as a night janitor at a New Hampshire Wal-Mart and was fired for pocketing several dollars in coins from a vending machine. Mr. Grenier, who is mentally disabled, told Wal-Mart he forgot to turn in the change. Talx, representing Wal-Mart, accused him of misconduct and fought his unemployment claim.

After Mr. Grenier waited three months for a hearing, Wal-Mart did not appear. A Talx agent joined by phone, then seemingly hung up as Mr. Grenier testified. The hearing officer redialed and left an unanswered message on the agent’s voice mail. The officer called Mr. Grenier “completely credible” and granted him benefits.

Talx appealed, claiming that the officer had denied the agent’s request to let Wal-Mart testify by phone. (A recording of the hearing contains no such request.) Mr. Grenier won the appeal, but by then he had lost his apartment and moved in with his sister.

During times of economic peril, there are always those who profit from the misery of others.

cross posted at Main St./ blog

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Updates and Accountability

Town meeting has taken place in those NH towns that still use it. Some of the SB-2 towns still have not concluded their governing process. Conway will have voting on April 13, from 8 am to 7 pm, at the Community Center. By now, we’re all familiar with the warrant article that an ideologue from Windham (by way of Massachusetts) managed to get placed on the warrants of some NH towns. This article asked voters to approve a resolution that would be sent to State Reps, Senators, the Speaker of the NH House, and the Senate President, urging them to support a constitutional amendment that would allow us to vote on the definition of marriage.

We’ve all read that the ideologues claim some sort of victory, because the resolution did pass in some towns. What they haven’t done is tell the whole story – because the whole story robs them of victory.

According to the good folks at Granite State Progress, there are 221 towns in NH that allow petitioned warrant articles. The folks at Let NH Vote tried to get petitions for articles in all of these towns. They were unable to find even 25 people to sign this petition in 73 towns. This also excluded NH’s 13 cities. So, 86 towns (37%) did not even discuss this.

Of the 148 towns that do allow petitioned warrant articles, 139 towns have dealt with it. There are 9 more towns (including Conway) that will be voting on it in April. So far, 33 towns refused to vote on it, thereby killing the petition. And 47 refused to vote on it, by tabling or amending the language to kill the petition. In other words, 80 communities have rejected the vote to discriminate, and 59 communities passed it. This is a far cry from the victory claimed by Let NH Vote. Of course, LNV claimed to be concerned with “letting the people vote” and not bigotry, and they claimed to be a grassroots group, when in reality, they were a front group for the National Organization for Marriage (which is itself a front group for the Mormon Church) and the Cornerstone Policy Research Group, NH’s own religious right lobbying group.

The petition made it on to the warrant in Jackson. The petitioners asked for a secret ballot, which requires another petition, and at least 5 of the signers of the secret ballot petition must be present. It was the final (39th) article on our warrant, and only 4 of the 7 who signed the petition were present. Apparently sleep won out over bigotry. The secret ballot failed. A number of folks spoke against the article, and very few made the case for it. Certainly not the full 25 who signed the original petition. A few voices supported it. The majority voted against this odious business. As I pointed out at the time – this is not the business of our town. We gather at town meeting to determine how we allot our resources, and how we govern our town. We do not gather together to figure out whose rights to take away.

The ideologues claim that we should get to vote on this. They ignore the fact that we live in a representative democracy. They ignore history. From the very beginning, over half the population of this nation was denied the right to vote. The Constitution was never put to a popular vote, nor was the Bill of Rights. Nor was the decision to end slavery, or prohibitions against interracial marriage. I haven’t heard from anyone who is getting divorced because gay folks can get married. Despite all the language from the haters about “cheapening the institution of marriage” they aren’t getting divorced in droves. Rush Limbaugh is about to embark upon his 4th marriage, on July 4. If he hasn’t cheapened the institution, no one can.

In other news, VT Yankee has finally plugged up their tritium leak, which was coming from the underground pipes that Entergy claimed did not exist. On the heels of that announcement came another – that the plant is leaking Cesium-137, a far more radioactive substance. Initially the plant tried to suggest that the Cesium was from weapons testing in the 50’s and Chernobyl, but the VT Health Department disagreed, seeing as how the radioactive waste turned up 15 feet underground. Entergy plans to clean it up, along with the tritium. Entergy even announced their intent to become a leader in solving the ongoing problem of tritium leaks that plagues so many US nuke plants.

Meanwhile, in an effort to shore up support for the aging, leaky, nuclear power plant, the NRC announced that they’d be having a meeting to discuss VT Yankee. The meeting would not be in Vermont, nor would it be open to the public. It was scheduled to be in Keene, NH, and attendees would be invitation only. Thanks to the immediate intervention of folks like Congressman Paul Hodes and Senator Bernie Sanders, the NRC quickly reconsidered the plan to have a secret meeting. The new meeting date has not been announced, but the meeting will be open to the public.

Regular readers are familiar with the regular rants of Maynard Thomson, mostly aimed at me. During his brief time as a Sun columnist, Mr. Thomson sheathed his poison pen, but since he opted to spend more time with his family, he’s back to belittling my intelligence and my writing skills. Like Congressman Hodes and Senator Sanders, I believe in transparency, and the right to know. Readers should know that Mr. Thomson has sent me a few behind-the-scene epistles over the years. The most recent one came last spring. Thomson (who was an attorney before he began writing romance novels) threatened to sue me, if I didn’t apologize for something I’d written, and then suggested I meet him for coffee or a drink. Since it was his own regrettable lack of reading comprehension that predicated his threats of legal action, I encouraged him to bring it on. I know two other women who have received similar billet-doux. One accused a Jewish female friend of being anti-Semitic, and the other was a thinly veiled blackmail attempt (if you don’t do what I want, I’ll do this). To the best of my knowledge, he’s never sent anything of the sort to any of my male colleagues or letter to the editor writing friends. My reply to Thomson was posted on my blog, on October 14, 2009. Barring future threats, this is my final word on this subject.

“ACCOUNTABILITY, n. The mother of caution” Ambrose Bierce

© sbruce 2010 This was published as an op-ed in the April 2, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun.

Census 2010

It's April 1, the day that we are supposed to stop pushing that census form into the procrastination pile, actually fill it out, and return it.

So far, some midwestern states are way ahead of the rest of the country in getting those forms done.

With Thursday dubbed Census Day — the day the questionnaires are meant to capture as a snapshot — South Dakota, Wisconsin, Nebraska, North Dakota and Iowa are ranked the top five states by federal officials, because they have the highest participation rates in the census so far. People can send in the forms until mid-April, but the Midwest’s cooperativeness might rightly worry other regions.

After all, the census guides the federal government on decisions with lasting impact — like how many representatives states will have in Congress and how much federal money they win for their roads.

In the rural areas of Mississippi census workers and community groups are trying to improve the rate of census form returns.

Issaquena County and the entire Delta is plagued by poverty and illiteracy. People mistrust census takers for a variety of reasons, including a belief that the government is trying to catch them doing something illegal like misrepresenting the number of people in their household, which could affect benefits like food stamps, said Calvin Stewart, a Rolling Fork alderman, teacher, high school sports referee and spokesman for the town’s new antilitter campaign.

and more:

Mr. Stewart, the alderman, said he had been frustrated by Rolling Fork’s inability to win government grants, and said he believed an accurate census would help. Using maps that show which areas were undercounted 10 years ago, he has worked enclaves of elderly residents and poor apartment complexes, explaining again and again why the census is important.

In NY City volunteers are working to help cut through language barriers and suspicion, in order to get census forms filled out.

The work of volunteer groups helping the census is critical, and their success has often been measured in small victories. It might take hours to persuade Mexicans who illegally share an apartment on Staten Island to put all of their names on the form or days to persuade day laborers in western Queens that they should participate in the survey.

Illegal immigrants must be told, sometimes repeatedly, that the Census Bureau does not share information about individuals with any other government agency. And some immigrants and other New Yorkers need an explanation about why their taking a few minutes to fill out a form could translate into better schools, hospitals and transportation.

There's an undercurrent of suspicion of the 2010 census, which has been aided and abetted by folks like Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachman and Fox entertainer Glenn Beck.

Beck worried that by not filling out the Census the government could take away his gun. Bachmann also continued to claim that the Census information could used to put Americans into internment camps.

Sigh. Census numbers help target needed funds for schools, hospitals, and roads. Census numbers determine how voting districts for states are configured. Those numbers can lead to redistricting, and more representation in Congress. Census data is a building block for research, reports, and writing on all manner of subjects.

For a look at what the census is all about, check out the Census 2010 website. You still have time to fill out that form. A few minutes of inconvenience for you may translate into funds to meet the needs of your community.

cross posted at