Thursday, October 28, 2010

Living in the Past



The forum last week for NH House District One told us everything we needed to know about local candidates with the very first question. Moderator George Epstein asked the candidates if they thought civility was important. All of the Democratic candidates found civility to be very important. The Republicans did not. Perennial candidate Frank McCarthy stood up and began bellowing on a different subject entirely. In fact, none of the Republican candidates answered the question. Chandler blabbered about voting records, Umberger defended the ads of the Romance Novelist, and Pettingill (who is nearly as bellicose as Major Frank) attempted to claim that at least they (Republicans) are entertaining. There’s a reason why there are no Republican comedians, Laurie.

The Republican candidates proved that they could stay on message. Their message was taxes, taxes, taxes - and they stuck with it. They have no new ideas on how to do anything; they just know that lowering taxes and cutting spending will fix everything. I don’t remember their philosophy being any kind of a success in the late 1980’s, when there were few jobs to be had in the area. The GOP controlled legislature did nothing to restore industry to the north country. The wage scale has been unchanged for the 25 years I’ve lived here. Our GOP legislators fought strenuously against increasing the minimum wage. Like their national party, they believe in giving huge tax breaks to millionaires while gouging the poor folks and the middle class. The Tax Foundation report that they love to quote (erroneously) from finds that NH’s property taxes are the third highest in the nation. No wonder our GOP brethren don’t hand out copies of that report.

That same GOP controlled legislature did nothing to ensure that north country residents would have access to the kind of technology we need to be competitive in the global market. At the 2006 candidate’s forum, we learned that Gene Chandler doesn’t know how to use email. I’m guessing Major Frank can’t, either, since I couldn’t find an email address listed anywhere for him. He’d be a shoo-in for the Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, in a GOP controlled House. NH (and indeed the entire nation) has fallen far behind in the field of communications technology. Our Republican candidates have no plans, nor interest in doing anything about this. From listening to them, I know that the only thing that concerns them is no taxes and cutting spending.

Ooops, I forgot personal liberties. Major Frank made a point of yelling his support for personal liberties. “No one should be told they have to wear a helmet or a seatbelt.” That’s where his support for personal liberties ends. He shouted something derogatory about marriage equality toward the end of the forum. Like all Republicans, he’s in favor of personal liberties for white, heterosexual men. Women’s wombs are public property, and gay folks are a hated (despite all of the GOP closet queens) minority.
To my dismay, one of my colleagues here at the paper recently expressed his outrage that gay folks didn’t just sit back and wait till the country was ready to accept them. If we change “gay” to “black” or “women” how does that read? Yep, it’s a pity we didn’t wait till everyone was ready to end slavery, end prohibitions against interracial marriage, or end segregation. What a shame we didn’t wait till everyone was ready for women to vote. If we had, I’m certain I’d have other plans for November 2. Naturally the systematic oppression that the white, heterosexual males have experienced in our nation makes them well qualified to address the suffering of others.

Major Frank blustered his opinion that NH was the only state that raised its budget during the last biennium. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows otherwise. Eight other states increased their budgets: Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. That’s the trouble with mindlessly mouthing talking points. They aren’t necessarily correct. Just like that Tax Foundation report that shows NH’s business tax climate rates 7th in the nation. The GOP is still intent on telling us the report says otherwise. It’s like listening to Groucho Marx: “who you gonna believe? Me, or your own lying eyes?”

Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious moments of the evening came during the discussion of gambling. The Democrats were all either supportive of building casinos, or at least willing to consider it. Ed Butler pointed out that he supported bills during the last session, because after all, gambling is a business. The Republicans were all opposed. Chandler said that the projections are pie-in-the-sky and that gambling is bad in a recession. Umberger said that gambling is not a panacea that is going to solve all of our revenue problems. Major Frank hollered, “It makes me sick.” Pettingill described gambling as a regressive revenue source. This has to be a first in local candidate forum history – the Republicans were expressing MY views about gambling! But isn’t it a business? I thought the GOP was the business friendly party? Our candidates spoke incessantly about bringing business to NH – yet here they are sounding like nanny state pinkos! Isn’t gambling a personal choice? What about personal responsibility and liberty? And since when are Republicans opposed to regressive taxes?

The bottom line is simple. The GOP wants to take our country and our state backward. When they talk about sitting around the kitchen table cutting the budget, I’m reminded of former one term GOP governor Craig Benson who loved that analogy. Good old corrupt Craig, who gave us scandal after scandal, not to mention the highest paid state employee. We can indeed all sit down with our budgets and make cuts. There comes a point though, when no more cuts can be made. That’s when we rise from the kitchen table and go get a part time job to help supplement our income. NH needs a part time job. No matter what the regressives of the GOP tell you, we do have a revenue problem. We lack the maturity and the media to even have the discussion about the problems with our tax structure. We also have the very serious problem of being mired in the past. We who live in the north can see the problems created by climate change, yet our GOP legislators are in firm denial of science. Living in the past won’t take our state into the future.


"About the time we can make the ends meet, somebody moves the ends.” ~ Herbert Hoover


© sbruce 2010

This was published as an op-ed in the October 29, 2010 issue of the Conway Daily Sun.

Our National Shame

The increasing numbers of children living in poverty and the corresponding rise in the number of homeless families with children in our country is one of the dirty secrets left undiscussed in this ugly election season.

Homeless in Utah:

The lingering recession has taken a toll on Utah’s youngest residents, leading to a 48 percent increase in the number of homeless school-age children since 2008, according to state data released Wednesday.

That's pretty dramatic. The number of school aged homeless children has nearly doubled in 2 years. It's not a campaign issue. No one is talking about it. There's more outrage being expressed about Juan Williams getting fired by NPR.

In Nebraska:

The number of homeless students in Nebraska public schools increased 26 percent in the past school year as the limping economy forced more parents into shelters or other temporary living arrangements.

Schools reported 2,210 homeless students last school year, or 458 more than the year before, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

The Omaha Public Schools reported 661 homeless students last year, an increase of more than 20 percent.


In Colorado:

School District 51 identified 500 homeless children last year, and already 275 students have been identified the first quarter — “substantially higher than it's ever been at this time of year,” said prevention services coordinator Cathy Haller.

“We estimate (based on national statistics) at any given time there's another 20 percent (100 kids) not enrolled who should be,” Haller said.


Worst of all is this report on homeless children from the group First Focus:

Analysis of recently released federal data shows that the number of homeless children and youth identified in public schools has increased for the second year in a row, and by 41% over the past two school years.

You'd think this would make headlines.
You'd be wrong.

Seven states saw a decrease in the number of homeless school-aged children. The remaining 43 states saw increases. In some cases the increases were huge. Iowa saw a 136 % increase.

Finally, there's this PBS story about homeless children. It will make you weep.

It's shameful that this isn't even a topic in our upcoming elections. It's shameful that we aren't ashamed.


cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Beat Goes On

From kansascity.com:

Hawker Beechcraft distributed 60-day layoff notices to 350 salaried employees Friday and confirmed a timeline by which it will eliminate about 800 union jobs.

Beechcraft is eliminating union jobs, but the work will get done elsewhere:

Boisture said that the 820 Machinists union layoffs, announced last week, will be completed by August 2011 and the work will be transferred to plants in Mexico and third-party suppliers.

Meanwhile, at Xerox:

Xerox Corp., the printer and business-services provider, raised its 2011 profit forecast and said it plans additional cost cuts, including the elimination of 2,500 jobs.

Per-share profit next year, excluding some costs, will be $1.05 to $1.10, compared with the previous projection of at most $1.05, Norwalk, Connecticut-based Xerox said today in a statement. Analysts had estimated $1.08 on average.


Cutting jobs to increase profits - a familiar story.

Profit this year, excluding some costs, will be 92 cents per share to 93 cents, the company said, compared with analysts’ average estimate of 92 cents. Xerox’s adjusted per-share profit excludes items such as restructuring and acquisition costs.

In order to increase profits by roughly 10 cents per share, 2500 people will lose their jobs.



cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Digging Out, Digging In



All of the miners trapped for 70 days in the collapsed San Jose copper mine in Chile have been rescued. It’s a remarkable story. After the collapse of the mine in early August, they were assumed to be dead, since rescuers could not reach them at all. For two weeks, rescuers tried to get in there to get the bodies out. After drilling in some deep bore holes, the rescuers learned that the miners were still alive. After many logistical problems were overcome, by people working together, the 33 miners were all rescued. This wasn’t a scripted reality show, designed to tug at our heartstrings. This was the real deal – ordinary working stiffs who were part of an extraordinary series of events. We saw humans at their best, which made for quite a contrast to the current acrimonious election season in NH.

The ads are everywhere. Thanks to the Citizens United decision made by the far right activist judges of the Supreme Court, there’s no limit to the money that can be funneled into shadow groups that don’t have to identify themselves or their donors. The abhorrent US Chamber of Commerce being a perfect example. They’ve promised to spend $75 million on ads attacking Democrats. Their money comes from corporate donors spread all over the world. As many feared, the Supreme Court paved the way for foreign business interests to influence US politics. The ads are all similar, all dishonest, all spewing one sided political vituperation. What we don’t see is them taking on any of the corrupt or crazy Republicans running for office, and this year we certainly have a bumper crop.

Thanks to Christine O’Donnell, anti-masturbation crusader and candidate for US Senate in Delaware, I’ve decided that every political ad should begin with the candidate gazing into the camera saying, “I am not a witch.” Teabaglican Carl Paladino, candidate for governor of NY has been a fiesta of crazy. First we learn that his family values are so deep and vast that he had to spread them out, simultaneously, over two families! Later, speaking from atop his lofty family values soapbox, he spoke about the evils of homosexuality. Then we learned that his nephew owned a series of gay bars that Paladino had invested in. Oops.

Speaking of oops, a number of NH Republican candidates have had recent, unattractive revelations. Poor Frank Guinta is still being dogged by his magic bank account that funneled some $350,000 into his campaign. (Not the paltry $250,000 that I reported in my last column.) Guinta is moaning about that mean ole Carol Shea-Porter picking on him. What he fails to acknowledge, is that it was members of his own party, during the primary that started questioning his financial shenanigans. Former NHGOP party chair Fergus Cullen wrote about it in the Union Leader. Guinta’s former employer, State Senator Jeb Bradley told Politco.Com in August that if Guinta didn’t have an explanation for that money, he should drop out of the race. Guinta still doesn’t have an explanation that rings true, but he’s blaming the Democrats for his failure to come clean.

Charlie Bass and Kelly Ayotte are both on the hot seat as well. Kevin Landrigan of the Nashua Telegraph reports on Bass’s problem. It seems Bass championed parts of the Renewable Energy Security Act (RESA) provisions of the 2005 energy bill. The parts that provided tax credits for companies like his nephew’s. He even set up a meeting between the company president and Bush’s Energy Secretary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Bass bought $500,000 worth of stock in his nephew’s company – before Bass left office. Bass claims that he never set up that meeting between the company president and Secretary Bodman, (even though it was written up in the company newsletter) and that he bought the stock after he left office, and he can prove it. It’s the same old revolving door politics we’re all so sick of. No wonder he wants to get back to Washington.

We also learned, via some recently revealed emails between Ayotte and political operative Rob Varsalone, that her first thought, on hearing of Michael Brigg’s murder was the opportunity to use it for political gain. Ayotte was still Attorney General, after promising Governor Lynch she would serve a full term if he reappointed her, but this terrible crime provided her with an opportunity to grandstand in public, via the death penalty. After the case was concluded, she broke her promise to the governor (and the people of our state) and announced she was running for office. This week, 10 former NH prosecutors (including former AGs and US AGs) criticized her for politicizing the death penalty.

Our local state races my not be quite as colorful, but thanks to the best efforts of romance novelist/ Carroll County GOP Chair Maynard Thomson, there’s plenty of vituperation. On October 1st, the long string of ads in the Conway Sun began. This full-page ad was expensive, full of typical Thomson florid prose, plenty of Sloganese, and unintentionally humorous. Toward the end of the pretentious blather was a bolded banner announcing, “OUR PROPOSAL.” My dictionary defines a proposal as a suggestion, or a plan put out for consideration. The GOP proposal was not a plan or a suggestion. It was five points of criticism of Carroll County’s four Democratic State Reps. The criticism was not limited to state business. The romance novelist tried to link our state reps to Pelosi, Reid, and “Mr. Obama.” Thomson lacks sufficient politeness to give the President of the United States the courtesy of his title.

That’s it in a nutshell, really. The local GOP doesn’t respect the people of Carroll County enough to be honest. They don’t have a plan, so they’re just offering a lot of wordy criticism. No new ideas, just the same old thing they’ve always offered. “NO TAXES. CUT SPENDING.” A return to the past. Remember the Developmental Disabilities Wait List? That was the waiting list that numbered in the hundreds, of folks with developmental disabilities waiting for services in NH during the years of GOP control in Concord. Few things could be more shameful than that list. NH doesn’t spend money on “radical social programs.” Third world countries provide better social programs than the state of NH does. Their goal is to move NH backward; interfering in marriages, and robbing women of reproductive choice, while re-installing corn bandit Gene Chandler as speaker of the house.

The Chilean miners were lucky. They got out of the hole. NH Republicans just keep digging further hoping to return our state (and our country) to the failed policies of the past.


This appeared as an op-ed in the October 15, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun


© sbruce 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pharmaceutical Sticker Shock

Prescription abandonment is becoming increasingly common. From the WSJ:

Growing numbers of Americans with health insurance are walking away from their prescriptions at the pharmacy counter, the latest indication that efforts to contain costs may be curbing health-care consumption.

A review of insurance-claims data shows that so-called abandonment—when a patient refuses to purchase or pick up a prescription that was filled and packaged by a pharmacist—was up 55% in the second quarter of this year, compared with four years earlier.


Given the state of the economy and the precarious finances of so many Americans, this really shouldn't come as a surprise.

Many are for drugs crucial to people's health, such as antibiotics like Levaquin, and Nexium for bleeding ulcers, but customers balk when told their share of the price, Mr. Tucker said.

"They just say, 'I can't afford it. I can't get it.' And they turn around and walk away," he said.

Mark Spiers, chief executive of Wolters Kluwer, points to efforts by employers and health plans to control fast-growing health-care spending by shifting more costs to consumers. The out-of-pocket costs, combined with people's sense they can't afford it, is causing some to make "real consumption choices about prescriptions versus other goods for their home," Mr. Spiers said.


Let me translate that. People are making the choice to feed their children, rather than fill their own prescriptions.

Big Pharma is retaliating by blaming insurance companies:


So with less people going to their physician, with higher co-pays, and with the prescription abandonment rate are record levels are insurers are essentially ensuring higher health costs down the road ? That’s what happens when people don’t take their medications or visit their physicians for physicians or medical problems that could become worse by avoiding diagnosis and treatment.
Right now pharma is at the mercy of both empowered consumers and insurers. People are starting to ask themselves “do I really need this Rx ?” DTC marketers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to get people to ask for an branded Rx but that is not enough anymore. Prescription assistance programs usually are not that effective for the broader audience because these people don’t qualify for help. Some drug companies are offering “discount cards” but in order to make their reach broader they are going to have to make these programs turn key, like Pfizer’s Lipitor prescription discount card.


Get out your tiny violin. The drug companies spend zillions on marketing (thanks to the taxpayers) but the ungrateful consumers just aren't paying the inflated brand name prices any more.

We have the highest prescription drug costs in the world, despite the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is heavily subsidized by we the taxpayers.Other countries choose to regulate drug prices, to keep drugs affordable. Between the inflated drug prices and rapidly increasing cost of health insurance, the US seems determined to keep our low ranking in world health. Remember this guy?




cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Time for Guinta to come clean


NHPR does actual reporting! They looked for facts!

Frank Guinta's $350,000 magic bank account.

Despite the best efforts of the NH media, this story about Guinta is finally rising to the top, the way scum often does.

Toss Frank a bar of Ivory, and tell him it's time to come clean.

Ivory Soap: unlike Frank Guinta, it's 99% pure.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Jailed for Being Poor

From Truthout:

Two reports published by NYU's Brennan Center for Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal a rising trend of patently unconstitutional practices in cash-strapped states, where a growing number of impoverished people are jailed for being unable to pay their legal fees - including charges for use of public defenders, a guaranteed right in the United States. The resurgence of these draconian "debtors' prisons" has been documented in at least 13 of the 15 states with the largest prison populations in the country, including California, Arizona, Michigan and Alabama.

"Incarcerating people simply because they cannot afford to pay their legal debts is not only unconstitutional but also has a devastating impact upon men and women whose only crime is that they are poor," said ACLU senior staff attorney Eric Balaban.


Increasingly, being poor is treated as a crime:

Kawana Young, a 25-year-old single mother in Michigan, was told after the fact that her community service hours would not satisfy her debts because she had volunteered with a nonprofit organization. Young has since been jailed five times for being unable to pay her fees.

How does that help pay the fines? Am I missing something here?
Nope, I guess not:

Judge Calvin Johnson, who served for 17 years in the Criminal District Court or Orleans Parish, said that regularly sentencing defendants in a "fine or time" method could have cost the city more than it collected. "30 days or $100 - that was something I heard every day," said Johnson in the ACLU report. "Now, how can you describe a system where the city pays $23 a day to the Sheriff to house someone in jail for 30 days to collect $100 as anything other than crazy?"

These are undoubtedly some of the same states that are hurting for revenue. As I've said before - I did fail remedial math in high school - but as bad as I am at math, even I can see that increasing the number of people in prison is not a way to save on the state budget.


cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Jobless Claims Drop

From CNN Money:

The number of first-time filers for unemployment benefits fell to 445,000 in the week ended Oct. 2, down 11,000 from the week before, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

The number was lower than economists' forecasts of 455,000, according to consensus estimates by Briefing.com, but it still fell in a range that analysts say points to weakness in the job market.


and after a little bit of a tapdance, at the very end of the article:

On Friday, Wall Street will turn its attention to the government's monthly jobs report. Economists polled by Briefing.com forecast the report to show the economy added no jobs in September, and that the unemployment rate ticked up to 9.7% from 9.6% in August.


What they're trying hard not to come out and say is: while there was a slight drop in the numbers of folks who filed unemployment claims, the unemployment rate is still going up.

In other, related, bad news, cities in financial trouble are looking for state funds. From the NY Times:

Across the country, a growing number of towns, cities and other local governments are seeking refuge in similar havens that many states provide as alternatives to federal bankruptcy court. Pennsylvania will have 20 cities and smaller communities in its distressed-cities program if Harrisburg receives approval. Michigan has 37 in its program; New Jersey has seven; Illinois, Rhode Island and California each have at least one. This is on top of troubled housing, power and hospital authorities.

The increasingly common pleas for state assistance — after two relatively quiet decades — reflect the yawning local budget deficits that have appeared in the last two years.


and

Worse yet, the municipal requests for state assistance could spell problems for already beleaguered state finances. One head of a municipal bond trading desk at a major Wall Street firm said he worried more about problems bubbling up from the local level than he did about the possibility of a sudden state collapse.

If the downturn is prolonged and deep, and local governments fail to act aggressively, he said, dozens of small communities could be pushed into the arms of a state, weighing it down so much that it, too, would need a bailout. Something like that happened in Arkansas during the Great Depression, causing the only default by a state on general-obligation bonds in United States history.


Until jobs begin to appear in huge numbers, tax revenues are going to continue to drop, and demand for services will continue to rise. There doesn't seem to be any willingness on the part of the media or amongst our elected officials to acknowledge how desperate the situation really is, never mind propose any solutions.


cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Monday, October 04, 2010

National News Updates

Corporate America is taking advantage of low interest loans, and sitting on the money till the economy improves. From the NY Times:

Companies like Microsoft are raising billions of dollars by issuing bonds at ultra-low interest rates, but few of them are actually spending the money on new factories, equipment or jobs. Instead, they are stockpiling the cash until the economy improves.

The development presents something of a chicken-and-egg situation: Corporations keep saving, waiting for the economy to perk up — but the economy is unlikely to perk up if corporations keep saving.


and

American corporations have been saving more money since the financial collapse of 2008. But a recent rush of blue-chip bond offerings — including a $4.75 billion deal last month by Microsoft, one of the richest companies in the world — has put even more money in their coffers.

Corporations now sit atop a combined $1.6 trillion of cash, a figure equal to slightly more than 6 percent of their total assets. In the first quarter of this year it was 6.2 percent of assets, the highest level since 1964, when it was 6.4 percent.


They aren't hiring, though. As I wrote about back in July, some of these corporations are using this opportunity to cut jobs, force unions to make concessions, and still make a tidy profit for the shareholders.

Still we keep hearing that the private sector is our best hope for job creation.

US transportation system failing, warns a story in today's WaPo:

The United States is saddled with a rapidly decaying and woefully underfunded transportation system that will undermine its status in the global economy unless Congress and the public embrace innovative reforms, a bipartisan panel of experts concludes in a report released Monday.

U.S. investment in preservation and development of transportation infrastructure lags so far behind that of China, Russia and European nations that it will lead to "a steady erosion of the social and economic foundations for American prosperity in the long run."


Which reminded me of Laura's post last month, where she mentioned President Obama's proposal to invest $50 million in updating road, rail, and air systems.

Think of the jobs that would be created! Instead, we're being held hostage by myopic people who are more interested in scoring political points than actually solving the very real problems that face this country.


cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Call to Action

Many great speeches were given at the recent Carroll County Democrats Grover Cleveland dinner/fundraiser, but this call to action may have been my favorite: