Thursday, July 28, 2011


A few weeks ago the Sun published a letter from a reader claiming he reads the “letters” I write, but finds they’re “getting boring.” The reader says that I complain about Republicans, what they are doing, and what is wrong. He suggested that I change the format of my “weekly rants” to identify problems and how to fix them. Well, thanks for asking. Let’s do some problem solving – but first, let’s clear up a few issues of semantics.

There’s a difference between an op-ed piece and a letter. An op-ed is an opinion piece that appears on the op-ed pages of a newspaper. I write opinion pieces that appear every other week, and I receive some financial remuneration for writing them. A letter is what the reader sent in to the paper, for which he received no financial compensation. Language is important. It’s important that we all understand the definitions of the terms we use. I’ll skip the lesson on the difference between identifying problems and “complaining about Republicans”, since those of the far right spectrum find those two things to be one in the same.

Speaking of ideology, as long time readers of this paper are aware, I was a Democrat. I ran for the NH House in 2002 as a Democrat, and I was active in party politics. I am currently registered as undeclared. The Democrats have joined the Republicans in moving further to the right, thereby leaving me behind. I’m an unabashed and unrepentant lefty. The rhetoric from the right on Democrats is comical. Obama is as much of a socialist as George W. Bush. A socialist would not put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block, as Obama has done, during the manufactured deficit crisis. Obama’s another corporate stooge - one that, has done a rather remarkable job of doing the work of the GOP for them. Looking at the array of circus performers running for president on the GOP ticket, one can only surmise that the corporate interests that control the Republican Party are aware of that. Obama’s the best thing that could have happened to them.

Moving into solutions: there is no deficit crisis. The same people that are crying the loudest are the ones who created the problem. The biggest drivers of the deficit are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, health care costs, and Medicare Part D. Our health insurance system is a huge driver of debt and deficit. We spend twice as much on health care as other industrialized nations. A big part of that is because instead of regulating the pharmaceutical industry the way civilized countries do, we actually provide these very profitable corporations with taxpayer funding. (A form of socialism, by the way.) Regulating the drug companies and creating a single payer health care system would move us into surplus. A single payer system would eliminate the need for Medicare and Medicaid. And while we’re on the topic of socialism, we should immediately end taxpayer subsidies to Big Oil, the most profitable corporations on the planet. No more offshore tax dodges either. Corporate America should be paying their tax bills.

The next very simple solution is to cut the defense budget in half. The US spends more than the rest of the world combined on defense. End the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and our participation in Libya immediately. The US has somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 military bases around the world. Shut ‘em down. Force the Pentagon to pass an audit, and account for the trillions that they’ve lost. The US is an empire in decline. Half of every tax dollar we take in goes to defense. If we don’t begin to invest in our own country, there will nothing here left defending.

Bust up the media monopolies. When giant corporations own the media, the press is not free. The free trade agreements need to go away, in favor of developing fair trade. We need to rebuild the US manufacturing sector. A vital economy depends on the production of goods. We need to regulate the financial sector. The deregulation that began during the Reagan years came to fruition with the collapse of our economy. Despite the heavy breathing from the far right and their media propaganda, librarians belonging to state employee unions did not destroy the US economy.

The most important thing we can do is put people back to work. At least 20% of the workforce is unemployed or underemployed. The far right ideologues can cut all the spending they want, but until there is revenue coming in, there can be no serious debt or deficit reduction. It’s simple: if people aren’t working, they aren’t spending. That spending is what keeps small businesses going. That spending is what creates jobs.

Congresswoman Mary Kaptur of Ohio is the sponsor of HR 494; aka The 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act. The original CCC was part of FDR’s New Deal, and was in place for nearly a decade. Those employed by the CCC built bridges and dams, planted trees, put out fires, and built 1000,000 miles of trails and roads. A revival of the CCC would be a huge investment in the future of our country, as well as an investment in US workers. There are countless bridges, roads, and dams in need of repair all over the country. A revived CCC could work on environmental projects: soil erosion, beach erosion, fighting insects killing our trees, and cleaning up our state and national parks. The new CCC could also refurbish schools, weatherize homes and buildings, and take on the project of wiring rural America for current and future technology needs. If we rely on the private sector to do that wiring, it will never happen. If the US hopes to remain at all competitive in an increasingly wired world, that wiring needs to happen. We’re already lagging far behind.

This bill is the best idea that will never go anywhere, because of far right ideology. The far right believes that only the private sector creates jobs, a mission they’ve been failing in since the Reagan administration. The far right is under the impression that only the private sector creates REAL jobs. Those folks who are unemployed (and the numbers are growing) tend to look at a paycheck as a paycheck. A CCC revival would also be a huge benefit to returning veterans.

It is not banks or military might that made this a great country. This country is great because of the land itself and the people who live on it. Investing in what has makes our country great will lead to creating those dreamy private sector jobs, and build a stronger future for all of us.

Aren’t you glad you asked, Carl?

published as an op-ed in the 7-29-11 Conway Daily Sun newspaper
© 2011 sbruce

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Voter ID in Wisconsin: an Onerous Process

Check out this video from the blog defendwisconsin. A Wisconsin blogger made this video when she took her son to the DMV to get a voter ID:

This story in Businessweek is the perfect companion piece:

Gov. Scott Walker's administration is working on finalizing a plan to close as many as 10 offices where people can obtain driver's licenses in order to expand hours elsewhere and come into compliance with new requirements that voters show photo IDs at the polls.

Some legislators think there's some politics at play:
One Democratic lawmaker said Friday it appeared the decisions were based on politics, with the department targeting offices for closure in Democratic areas and expanding hours for those in Republican districts.

The recently enacted state budget requires that DMV driver license and ID card services be offered in all 72 counties at least 20 hours a week. Currently, only 30 counties have offices that meet that 20-hour requirement.

The DMV claims that closing these offices will ensure more office hours in the districts where the offices are kept open.

Starting next year, voters must present a valid driver's license or other acceptable photo identification in order to vote. Critics of that new requirement have said it would be unconstitutional if courts determined voters couldn't easily access DMV centers where they can obtain the ID cards required in order to vote.

From the Chippewa Herald:

Wisconsin’s bill, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, would cost more than $5.7 million to implement. The measure would require voters to use a driver’s license, state ID, military ID, passport, naturalization papers or tribal ID at the polls. Student IDs would be allowed, but would have to include a current address, birthdate, signature and expiration date. Currently no college or university ID used in the state, including UW-Madison, meets those standards.

Wisconsin is spending millions to implement a voter ID, to address non-existant voter fraud, during a time where budgets are cut, and teachers are being fired. It's interesting that the bill specifies that Student ID's would be allowed, but none of the colleges have student ID's that meet the standards. That, coupled with DMV office closings could make a cynical person think that Governor Walker wants to disenfranchise certain voter groups - like students, seniors, the disabled, homeless, and those who live in traditionally Democratic districts.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, July 22, 2011

NH Rep Jokes About Shooting Union Members

Once again, a state legislator makes me proud to be from NH. Rep. Lynne Blankenbeker is a nurse in the Navy Reserves, and currently at Fort Dix.

A Republican New Hampshire state representative who touted her handiness with a gun and said labor unions "better not F#%k" with her is insisting that she never meant to advocate violence toward anyone.

From the email:
I am a truck commander on a hum vee for convoys. I had to learn how to drive both day and at night with night vision goggles. My vehicle has a rhino (no, not a RINO) on it to trip IEDs before my vehicle reaches it. Today I got to be the gunner which was fun. The .50cal is quite a gun! I was never ascared of the unions but they better not F#%k with me again!!! Just saying.

Naturally, she's using the "I was just joking" defense. Nurses always joke about guns...oh, wait. No, they don't. Most nurses aren't all that keen on guns, because they see too many gunshot wounds.

Rep. Blankenbeker made the news earlier in the year, when she appeared on a NH television program and stated that she didn't believe that Osama bin Laden was actually dead, because her superior officers
hadn't let her know.

From the NH Legislator's Handbook:
Elected members shall maintain professional conduct while serving as state legislators and, at all times, shouldconductthemselves inaway that exhibits the utmost respect for their elected office, their constituents and the people of the State of New Hampshire. Members should be aware that they are constantly under public scrutiny.

It seems unlikely that Rep. Blankenbeker will be asked to resign. House Speaker O'Brien needs her vote if he's ever going to overturn Governor Lynch's veto of the right to work law passed this session. Besides, she was only joking. It's okay to threaten union members with gun violence as long as it's "joking."

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Justice for Some

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) may see their budget slashed to 1999 levels. LSC supports 126 legal aid organizations around the country. Legal Aid programs help low income folks access legal representation. At a time when more people than ever before qualify for legal assistance, under proposed budget cuts, the programs will lose 26% of their funding. These programs are already underfunded, and unable to help about half of the people who call them, because they lack resources.

From MoJo:

Already, the legal-aid nonprofits supported by the LSC are slated to lose a total of 445 staff members, including 200 lawyers, by the end of 2011, according to a survey of the groups. Last year, 63 million people—an all-time high—qualified for their help, an increase of 11 percent from the year before. "This is not the time to undercut the fundamental American commitment to equal justice for all," says Legal Services president James Sandman.

"There is never a convenient time to make tough decisions," counters Frank Wolf, chair of the House subcommittee responsible for the LSC’s budget. "But the longer we put off fixing the problem, the worse the medicine will be…The bill represents our best take on matching needs with scarce resources."

Heald says she understands the need to cut spending, but explains that legal services has a "preventive effect" that actually saves money for the states. Housing a family in a homeless shelter in Maine for just two or three weeks is five to ten times more expensive than supporting a lawyer who can help keep the family in stable housing, she says. "And that's just the cost of the shelter nights, and not the cost on all the other supportive systems a family might need."

There's a great deal of short sighted slashing going on in these budget cuts. If these program cuts are enacted, states will end up (as Ms. Heald points out) paying the pound of cure, when it would have been far cheaper to pay for the ounce of prevention.

Perhaps even worse is the damage this does to our national ideal of "justice for all." This just serves to further the cynical view (already in place) that justice is only available to the wealthy.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Stampeding for Section 8 Vouchers in Dallas

Thousands of people were waiting in front of the Jesse Owens stadium in Dallas to fill out an application for Section 8 housing vouchers, an assistance program that would help them pay their rent. Some people waited all night. Others arrived at 4 am. At 6 am, officials decided it was time for everyone to line up. There was a stampede. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt.

From the Dallas Morning News:

Applicants on Thursday ranged from young single mothers pushing strollers to older adults with nothing but a small Social Security income. Many in line have jobs but barely earn minimum wage.

While a few people brought water and umbrellas to cope with the summer heat, the increasingly hot sun became a problem for some.
Using a cane, Jackie Barrett slowly walked to the front of the line to get help around 8 a.m. The Lancaster woman said she could not stand in line any longer. She had arrived about 4 a.m. County officials provided immediate help to disabled people.

Single mothers with babies in strollers and elderly people were standing in line for hours just to fill out an application. Could this county have created a more degrading and inhumane method of "helping" people?

One resident did not get the chance to apply at all. Claudia Marshall said she is disabled and could not leave her home to apply.
Thompson, the county’s director of health and human services, said anyone could send a representative. Marshall, who called The Dallas Morning News, said she had no one to send.

Why isn't this being done online? And why isn't there outreach available for those folks who are disabled?


Thompson said he would reassess the county’s process after news reports of the stampede. He said the county did not allow people on the facility property because officials did not want overnight camping. Still, he admitted that the county could not prevent people from arriving the night before.
“This is what you have to go through,” Thompson said. “It’s like when someone wants to get tickets to a sports event or the latest iPad.”

Well no. It's not like that at all. Tickets to sports events are a luxury purchase. Housing is a basic human need.

That this man sees them as the same thing is troubling, especially given his position as the county director of health and human services. Would he want his grandmother treated this way?

Poverty is not a crime, and the increasing numbers of people who need help in this terrible economy should not be treated like criminals.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The End of the Empire

Under President George W. Bush, the debt ceiling was raised 7 times. There was no fanfare. No Congressional standoff. It was not a big, international news media story for months. In fact, many of the same Congressmen who have become preening deficit peacocks are the same people who voted for that debt ceiling increase all seven times. Charlie Bass is one of those newly minted peacocks. He never voted against a bloated defense budget, or military appropriations bill. He never voted against increasing the debt ceiling, and never voted against any Bush budget. During the 4 years that he was out of Congress, he developed a very particular sense of amnesia, one that has managed to erase any memory of all those votes; thereby eliminating the need to take any responsibility for his role in the mess we’re in today.

Despite the massive hype, the deficit and the debt aren’t actually the most important problems we face. Unemployment is by far the most important problem that needs fixing. Over 25 million people are out of work. That hurts the economy far more than the deficit, because, obviously, people who aren’t working aren’t spending. There are millions of houses sitting empty, growing mold, because there are millions of people who can’t afford to buy them – because they’re out of work. This should be the national priority, not all of this endless nattering about the deficit by a bunch of childish individuals, most of whom need to be fired. Mitch McConnell says he doesn’t see anything getting done as long as THIS president is in the White House. That means that a bunch of overgrown and overpaid boys are refusing to do what’s right for their districts and the country, because they’re intent on playing king of the hill with the guy in the White House. If they bothered to look at how the folks back home feel about this, they might be concerned with saving their jobs instead of behaving like blockheads. Both Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass have approval ratings that have gone below mere single digits, and into the land of the minus.

Polls show that the folks back home are opposed to cutting Social Security and Medicare. John Boehner often talks about what “the American people want.” He knows what he wants and what his funders want. He knows what rich white folks want. Other than that, he has no idea. He’s so insulated from reality that he might as well be on another planet, one populated by a weepy, orange race. He and McConnell have repeatedly shown that they have no intention of compromising or working with their fellow legislators. They want what they want, and that’s all there is to it. The best interests of the top 1% are being well represented. The rest of us can just go stand in a bread line.

What’s wrong with the economy and the country isn’t going to be fixed by cutting programs that keep the elderly from eating cat food. If the deficit peacocks were serious, they’d be insisting that we get out of the countries we’re occupying, cut the defense budget in half, and start investing in America. Our politicians love to talk about “American Exceptionalism.” It sounds pretty until you realize that the only things the US is number on in any more are weapons sales and military spending. While we cling to the last gasps of our dying empire, the rest of the world is eclipsing us in education, health, and infrastructure. If these folks really were the patriots they claim to be, they’d be insisting we invested in our own country, instead of pouring money into failed nation building in the Middle East. Sadly for us, they aren’t at all what they claim to be. Their sole interest is representing the wealthiest segment of the population. When the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech it wasn’t difficult to see what would be coming next. As Bill Maher said recently, “government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.”

It’s the teaconomists who are the most destructive force. While real economists are clear that defaulting on US loans would result in some dire consequences, teaconomist Michelle Bachman says that’s just not true. Given a choice between the Nobel Prize winner and Bachman, whose personal economy came largely from gummint farm subsidies and gummint subsidies to her husbands “pray the gay away” counseling practice, I’ll take the Nobel Prize winner. Teachelle says, “We won’t raise the debt ceiling.” Her party says, “We won’t raise the debt ceiling unless you give us everything we want.” Suddenly, if they get what they want, raising the limit is okay. That tells you all you need to know about the seriousness of these negotiations. This is clown school. They’re playing chicken, and haven’t yet begun to understand that if the US does default and there are dire consequences, they’re going to be taking the blame for being recalcitrant children. Obama’s a fool to try to negotiate with hostage takers and terrorists – and that is what today’s GOP has become. If he makes a deal with them, they learn that they can have tantrums and get their way. It’s just like dealing with a 3 year old in a supermarket. If you cave into a tantrum, you’ve created a monster.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, some 20 percent of the population is either unemployed or underemployed. With many states facing budget shortfalls, cuts are being made that eliminate jobs. Teachers, librarians, firefighters, cops, and other public sector employees are getting pink slipped left and right. The teaconomists of the GOP howled that the lousy employment numbers were Obama’s fault. The complicit media blamed the deficit. The teaconomists are under the impression that gummint jobs aren’t REAL jobs. Millionaires create REAL jobs, which is why we can’t raise their taxes. Of course, the unemployment numbers aren’t aware of these fine distinctions, so that when unreal teachers and cops lose their jobs, the silly unemployment system counts them. Surely those Bush tax cuts will kick in and save us all any day now. Just because they haven’t worked in over a decade is no reason to lose faith now. These same folks are still under the impression that Reagan-style supply side policies will work one day, too. The only way it works is if you’re one of the top 1% wage earners. Everyone else just gets trickled on, with the stream growing ever weaker, the lower down the income scale it goes.

The whole system has broken down to the point where it probably can’t be fixed. The teadious anti-education, anti-science, anti-everything except tax cuts for the wealthy, ideology of the right isn’t going to bring us into a productive future. We need strong people with a vision for what that future might be, ready to work on implementing it. Instead we have clownish cartoon characters, playing to the silly gossip media. Are those tumbrels I hear in the distance?

“If monarchy is corrupting - and it is - wait till you see what overt empire does to us.” Daniel Ellsberg

Published as an op-ed in the July 17, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.
© sbruce 2011

Respect Your Elders? Not So Much

State budget cuts almost always mean that those budgets are balanced on the backs of the poor and the elderly; those most in need of services themselves. Many states and municipalities are drastically cutting their home health care budgets for seniors, because they aren't required programs. These same states are cutting their Medicaid budgets as well, which means more seniors and people with disabilities will wind up in nursing homes - even though living on their own is cheaper. The logic is stupefying.

From the

"Just because you cut the budget doesn't mean their needs go away," said Anita Bradberry, executive director of the Texas Association for Home Care & Hospice Inc.

Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays for medical and long-term care for the poor and disabled, is required to help fund nursing homes but not home care and community services.

Because the programs are not required, most states first look at cutting home health care funded through Medicaid, even though such programs are much cheaper than nursing homes.

Then there's this story from Strafford County, NH. In Foster's Daily Democrat:
"It'll be the first time since 1972 that we will have to institute a waiting list," said Strafford Nutrition Meals on Wheels Director Emily Sylvain, the day before her new fiscal year kicked in on July 1.

The nonprofit agency, which, according to Sylvain, has had annual level funding from state and federal sources of $516,000 for the past 12 years, is now having to deal with the loss of $75,000 in county funding.

A waiting list. For elderly people to get meals. I'm so ashamed for my state.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Right to Work Candidate Loses NH Special Election

Last week, NH had yet another primary, for another special election caused by the resignation of yet another errant representative. From WMUR:

Hampton police said Rep. Gary Wheaton, R-Seabrook, was charged Tuesday morning after an officer tried to pull him over for speeding on Route 1 near the Route 101 interchange.
Police said Wheaton made a U-turn and went around a construction barricade when the officer tried to pull him over. When Wheaton stopped and the officer approached his car, Wheaton identified himself as a state representative and made some other comments to the officer, but police wouldn't say what those comments were.

Then there's this:
Wheaton said that he does not want to accuse anyone, but he's concerned that the traffic stops happened because he is a Republican who voted against collective bargaining.
"Any of those stops could conceivably be police officers knowing that I'm a Republican and I'm voting against what they want," he said. "So there's always that chance or that possibility. I can't accuse without evidence.

Wheaton didn't get pulled over for being a scofflaw. He got pulled over because the union thugs were out to get him. He has no legal complaint, so he chooses the passive aggressive accusation method.

That's not the best part though. Wheaton decided to run in the very special election he caused. This did not please the folks who are cognizant of how much work (and expense) goes into a special election. From theNewburyport Daily News:
State Rep. Koko Perkins, R-Seabrook, said Wheaton's decision to run after resigning because of legal problems is "absolutely absurd." Legislators must be held to a higher standard than most because they're entrusted with making the laws, he said.

So you'd think. This special election has been fraught with foolishness. Another of the GOP contenders was Max Abramson, who was also recently indicted on 8 counts of felony reckless conduct. From the Newburyport Daily News:
In late December, Abramson, a member of Seabrook's Budget Committee, was arrested following a report of gunfire on Charles Henry Way and charged with unauthorized use of firearms, reckless conduct and prohibited sales of alcohol.

Further investigation into the happenings of the night were undertaken by Seabrook police, who charge that Abramson, who has a permit to carry a handgun, fired it into his home's ceiling during a party that night.

The special election took place last week, and the results have really shaken up the GOP establishment in NH. From the Nashua Telegraph:
Seabrook firefighter Kevin Janvrin won the five-way GOP primary over favored Hampton Falls businessman Lou Gargiulo by 118 votes.

Firefighter? As in....union? Say it ain't so! The NH GOP big guns were behind Hampton Falls businessman Lou Gargiuolo. So were the out of state special interests:
The New England Right to Work Campaign also weighed in for Gargiulo, hoping to add to the total needed for House Speaker William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, to override Gov. John Lynch’s veto

Members of the current legislative majority are already getting ugly about this:

House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt’s Facebook Wall:
Rochester Republican Rep. Fred Leonard: “He deserves no support from the NHGOP … this guy is poison and we should turn our backs on him.”
Londonderry GOP Rep. Al Baldasaro: “Does anyone know if Kevin was a registered Democrat before he ran as a Republican? I too have concerns on why he ran because he is not happy on what we have been doing at the state house. Hmmm, am I missing something here?”

Yes, Al, you are missing something. The voters aren't happy with what you and your anti-union fellow legislators have been up to this session. They made it clear in May by electing Jennifer Daler in a special election held in Speaker O'Brien's district. They've made it clear by voting for Kevin Janvrin in Seabrook. It's no surprise that voters would reject two shady candidates with legal problems. Gargiulo had the full weight of the NH GOP establishment, AND the special interests behind him, and he still lost. There are a few more special elections coming up. Perhaps after a few more routs, these legislators will start hearing what the people are saying.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Hopelessness of Austerity

From the NY Times:

WILMINGTON, N.C. — When Engine 5 pulled up to a burning house on Woodlawn Avenue early on March 19, the firefighters were told that a man might be trapped in the back left bedroom. As two firemen trained a hose toward that corner, Capt. Don Ragavage crawled through smoke and flames to search for the missing resident.

It was an inopportune moment for the water pressure to plummet. But that is what happened when Engine 5’s motor, strained to the limit by 16 years and more than 100,000 miles of hard service, abruptly sputtered and died.

Fortunately, another truck was available to replace the old one, and it turned out that the missing resident wasn't home. This time there were no injuries or deaths. The chief had been lobbying for a new truck for years.

As cities and towns make the decisions NOT to replace old, and failing equipment, it's only a matter of time before injuries and deaths occur. As the budget cuts get deeper, terrible decisions are being made in municipalities around the nation.

From MoJo:

To help close a budget gap, Philly announced it will shutter 26 elementary- and middle-school cafeteria kitchens, many of them "in the city's poorest neighborhoods," reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. The affected schools "will switch from food prepared in the school by cafeteria workers to meals cooked, plated, and frozen several days before consumption and trucked in from a warehouse in Brooklyn, N.Y."

Not having to maintain functioning kitchens and pay workers to staff them will shave $2.3 million from the city's budget—but won't go very far toward decreasing its $629 million deficit. And the collateral damage will likely be large. To wit:

• An untold number of kitchen workers are tossed off the city's payrolls and into the city's already-swollen ranks of the unemployed. They'll adjust their spending accordingly, putting yet more pressure on the local tax base.

This move also hurts local food suppliers and distributors. In a bad economy that might just be the tipping point for those companies going under. And of course the prepackaged food will be the kind of food that contributes to childhood obesity.

The most important point is this:

And as the University of Texas economist James K. Galbraith has demonstrated numerous times over the past year (most recently here), the most-dire problems facing the nation are the related ones of underemployment and underinvestment in vital infrastructure, not budget deficits or the national debt.

The spending cuts serve to put more people out of work. What we need is investment in the future - not a return to the breadlines of the Great Depression.

cross-posted at MainSt/