Friday, March 30, 2012

Santa Monica Community College Trying Tiered Fee System

Most colleges around the country have been hit hard by budget cuts. The California State University System has chosen to limit the number of admissions for next year because of budget cuts. Community colleges in CA have been especially hard hit by budget cuts, so much that most have eliminated their winter term.

Santa Monica College in California is trying something unprecedented. From the New York Times:

This summer it will offer some courses for a higher price, so that students who are eager to get into a particular class can do so if they pay more.

Community colleges have traditionally been the place where those without the financial resources to attend a 4 year college could obtain a relatively inexpensive education.

A financial squeeze since the recession led first to a reduction of federal and then state financing for colleges and universities. Since 2008, California’s community college system has lost $809 million in state aid, including $564 million in the most recent budget, even as more students than ever before try to enroll.

“Every year we look around and think about how we can serve more students, but what we have now is not working,” said Chui L. Tsang, the president of Santa Monica College. “Literally thousands of students are missing out on opportunities we want to give them and have the ability to give them if we just had the money.”

California community colleges do have low tuition costs, especially compared to the rest of the country. The reasoning has always been that those low fees meant greater access to college for more students. Budget cuts are causing that thinking to change:

There’s a sense that if the colleges can generate the adequate income themselves, they may no longer be struggling with the lack of resources, because there is certainly a tremendous level of demand,” Dr. Douglass said. “It’s a much-needed conversation that we need to have — is it possible our tuition is too low? This is a very important move to push the envelope.”

It's also possible that if community colleges are forced to become income generating machines, a college education will become increasingly out of reach for low income and immigrant students.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Senator Harkin's Rebuild America Plan

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin announced a new economic plan he's calling the "Rebuild America Plan." From The Nation:

The legislation is divided into three basic categories: the first is proactive federal spending an action meant to boost the flagging economy. It includes:

$300 billion for roads, bridges, energy efficiency systems and other infrastructure

$20 billion in school modernization funding

Boosting funding for agencies that regulate trade, to better enforce fair trade policies

Funding to states to hire teachers, public safety workers and other public employees.

To help workers and families:

Increased child care subsidies for working parents

Ensuring that workers, particularly white-collar workers categorized as independent contractors, earn time-and-a-half overtime pay

Raising the minimum wage

Strengthening the National Labor Relations Act, making it easier for workers to join unions and increasing penalties on employers for blocking unionization.

To pay for the increased spending:

Raising the capital gains rate and closing the carried interest loophole

A Wall Street speculators tax, of three basis points on common financial securities trades

Ending tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs.

Senator Harkin is aware that such a proposal wouldn't fly in the current Congress. He does think that we need to stop thinking in Paul Ryan terms:

“I firmly believe that anyone running for election this year to the House or the Senate—if they take up this bill, if they take up the direction of this bill… I believe that will be a winning formula,” he said. “I think the American people are hungry, looking for some way out of this mess that we’re in and I think they’re saturated [with] these sort of quick-fix type things—that we can’t be bold, we can’t grow, we’ve got to, as the Ryan budget says, just keep shrinking and shrinking and shrinking.”

There are some options here that would create jobs by investing in fixing our broken infrastructure. There are options that would help struggling families get back on track.

We certainly need to discuss choices other than the current menu of attempting to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and middle class while continuing to shovel tax breaks at the wealthy.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

So Much for Democracy

We’ve all been hearing a lot lately about a number of state laws that seem to have sprung up overnight. Suddenly, Voter ID laws are all the rage. Same for the so-called Stand Your Ground laws that enabled the murder of a teenager last month in Florida. Are all of our 50 states so in synch that miraculously the same laws are created, nearly at once?

Not even close. A group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) created these laws, and a number of others. ALEC founded by Paul Weyrich, Henry Hyde and other swell guys like John Kasich, Jesse Helms, Jack Kemp, and Tommy Thompson. It is populated almost exclusively by right wing conservatives. ALEC is a group of 300 plus corporations who work together to create model legislation. They are funded by corporate donations. They pass the model legislation on to their 2,000 some odd state legislative puppets at their annual all-expenses-paid luxury retreat where the legislators can hang out with captains of industry, and prepare to move on into the lucrative world of lobbying. The puppets go back home and introduce the corporate written model legislation.

ALEC estimates it has over 1000 bills introduced in state legislatures each year, and that one in five of them pass. Naturally these are laws that benefit ALEC’s corporate members. One of ALEC’s big funders is the NRA, which is how the Stand Your Ground laws turned up in so many places, including NH. This is why, suddenly, Voter ID laws were turning up everywhere, including NH. NH has few documented cases of voter fraud, but suddenly, thanks to the 40+ ALEC puppets in the NH legislature, it was all the rage. As it happens, SB 318, the NH Senate voter ID law’s main sponsor, is Senator Sharon Carson. Carson is one of ALEC’s NH legislators, obediently doing the bidding of her corporate overlords.

A number of the Free State Project members, serving as GOP state representatives are also part of ALEC, which is more than a little hypocritical, given the philosophies they claim to espouse. State Representatives Jordan Ulery and Gary Johnson are the ALEC state chairmen for NH. The website: will provide you with a great deal of information about ALEC, and what they’re up to, including a look at the thousands of pieces of ALEC model legislation. This is government for the corporations, by the corporations – but hey, corporations ARE people after all. Just ask Willard.

The right to work law that the O’Brien junta worked so hard to pass last year was not a NH bill. It came straight from a special interest group in Virginia. Despite the trouncing that O’Brien took on that last year, he brought it back again this year, only to be trounced again. In other words, the legislature wasted more of our tax dollars and their time, on a bill that wasn’t going anywhere. So much for that laser-like focus on job creation.

The laser is still broken. This week, the legislature interfered in the business of women’s bodily autonomy and medical privacy, by passing HB 1659. The initial bill required a 24-hour wait for women to receive dishonest propaganda from an abortion provider, before she was able to have the legal medical procedure known as abortion. The bill was yanked back into committee, when they realized that they had nebulous threats of penalties, but that in their haste to ensure a lack of liberty for women, these felony charges had not been examined for legality or constitutionality. The provision for forcing literature explaining the link between breast cancer and abortion was removed – probably because the idea that our state would force women to hear anti-science lies became national news. The newly retooled bill was passed, and it still forces a woman to wait 24 hours to undergo a legal medical procedure. This means a loss of (at least) two days pay, and a great deal of repetitive traveling for women who live in the far reaches of the state. It’s also worth pointing out that this bill will cost NH taxpayers over $100,000 each year. Rep. Sandra Kearns of Rochester, proposed expanding the bill to include men with erectile dysfunction, but the Speaker claimed that was not germane. No man should have to wait 24 hours in his pursuit of a drug induced erection. It’s not proper, you see, to get between a man and his doctor. It’s also worth noting that the Free Staters and other faux libertarians who bleat non-stop about personal liberty all vote against it at every opportunity, when that liberty involves women.

Last week, Governor Lynch vetoed the unconstitutional House plan for redistricting (gerrymandering) the state. This week, O’Brien violated the state constitution to override a bill that violates the state constitution. This was by far the most blatant power grab made (thus far) by the O’Brien junta. The events included a last minute secret GOP caucus where a legal opinion was allegedly presented that gave the Speaker permission to override the state constitution’s strictures on providing proper notice. This act also violated centuries of established tradition. The minority party leadership was never given a copy of this legal opinion. The minority party asked for 15 minutes to caucus, but the Speaker refused. The real outrage isn’t so much that legislators didn’t get proper notice or a copy of the legal opinion. The real outrage is that we the people didn’t get any of this. By strong-arming the cowardly majority party and overriding the Governor’s veto, it is we the people who didn’t get a chance to address OUR elected representatives on this matter.

Ask your representatives why they all voted to bypass the constitution to override the veto of an unconstitutional redistricting plan – and make no mistake, in Carroll County, they all voted for this.

"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men." Abraham Lincoln

© sbruce 2012
published as an op-ed in the March 30, 2012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

h/t to World Fellowship for the graphic

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hiring Bias Against Long Term Unemployed Continues

Hiring biases are still in place when it comes to the long term unemployed. Some states are in the process of passing laws that would fine employers running help wanted ads that warn unemployed folks not to apply. That kind of overt action is increasingly difficult to get away with, but the same basic intent has moved underground. Recruiters and screeners who do the preliminary screenings for big companies are likely to screen the long term unemployed right out of the interview pile.

From the AP via Yahoo News:

Terri Michaels, who manages a Hartford employment firm that primarily staffs temporary employees, criticized hiring practices that screen out unemployed job seekers. Despite the policies of small staffing companies such as hers, some large employers have an unspoken policy against hiring applicants who've been out of work for two years or more because they want workers with a stable job history and recent references, she said.


Michaels said employers may use unemployment to weed out applicants for no other reason than to cut down a huge number of resumes for coveted job openings.

"When you have 14 million unemployed, everyone is applying for everything," she said. "You have to be somewhat discriminating."


A New Jersey lawmaker who co-sponsored the nation's only law barring ads that restrict applicants to those already with a job, agrees that job hunters need to show they've been active, even in unemployment.

"Don't sit at home. Make yourself available to your community," said Assemblywoman Celeste M. Riley.

That's the latest trend in advice for the long term unemployed. Do volunteer work. The jury is still out on whether that actually helps anyone get paying work.

Connecticut lawmakers are proposing legislation that would ban discriminatory job ads, but may back off from a more far-reaching provision that would permit unemployed job seekers who claim discrimination to file a complaint with the state's human rights commission or sue in court.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association hates the lawsuit part of the bill, and is pressuring lawmakers to remove that part of the bill. The state's human right's commission isn't sufficiently staffed or funded to deal with a glut of discrimination cases, which can be very difficult to prove.

The National Employment Law Project, based in New York, wants states to add laws that do more than ban discriminatory ads. Laws should explicitly prohibit employers and employment agencies from eliminating from consideration candidates who are unemployed, the advocacy group says.

That seems like sensible policy. We also need a shift in societal attitudes. As long as pundits and politicos continue to blame the unemployed for being out of work, the discrimination will continue.

The nation is slowly moving in the right direction, which we can certainly all feel good about, but we can't allow the millions who remain unemployed to be forgotten.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Nassau County: Not Flush With Cash

Nassau County, NY has instituted a new fee that non-profits fear will wipe them out. CBS:

Schools in Nassau County have joined together to try and flush away a new fee they say will literally drain their budgets.

Every flush in every school could soon cost taxpayers, thanks to a new sewer use fee. However, school districts are fighting back against what they’ve dubbed a “toilet tax,” reports CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

The fee is one cent per gallon. Budget shortfalls have caused this creative attempt at ensuring the budget will be flush with cash.

The one penny-per gallon fee translates into hundreds of thousands of dollars for bigger school districts. For East Williston, it would amount to $87,000 this year alone.

“For us, it’s a large amount of money. It’s like a teacher salary,” East Williston Assistant Superintendent for Business Jackie Fitzpatrick said.

All puns aside, it really is a sad state of affairs when this kind of action seems like a good idea to generate sufficient cash to keep a county going.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Big Brother is Hiring You

There are questions we can all count on to be asked in interviews; questions about past jobs, experience, skills, and references. Some new questions are finding their way into the old stand-bys. From CBS news:

When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.

Justin Bassett said no. He told them he did not want to work for a company that would invade the privacy of their employees.

Not everyone can afford to say no.

Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.

"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled,


E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book "The Twitter Job Search Guide," said job seekers should always be aware of what's on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.

True - but then she went on to say:

"I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you're dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site," she said.

In other words: when you work for a company they own you, and you should expect no right to privacy.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

"Volunteering is coercion if you need a job," Andrews said.

We can expect to hear more about this trend in the coming months. Legislators in Maryland and Illinois are working on legislation to bar companies from asking for access to social networking sites, and other states will undoubtedly create similar laws. Do employees have a right to privacy? Does one sacrifice that right in return for a paycheck?

Stay tuned.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sluts and Silly Girlies

The GOP war on women continues. Far right bloviator Rush Limbaugh got himself into all kinds of trouble recently, when he called a college student a slut and a prostitute, for testifying before a Congressional committee about the medical benefits of birth control. Limbaugh basically told all of his viewers that this young woman is a slut who wants taxpayers to pay for her birth control. He also suggested that she has an awful lot of sex, requiring prodigious amounts of birth control. He also made the curious demand that if taxpayers were going to subsidize her birth control, that she post videos of all of this sex she’s having, so that Rush and his cohorts could view the videos.

Trouble is, Sandra Fluke wasn’t testifying about her own sex life, or asking for free contraception. She was speaking about women who require birth control pills for medical conditions. Despite the best efforts of the prodigious media liars of the right, the bill that would guarantee that insurance companies cover birth control for women has nothing to do with taxpayers. Limbaugh doesn’t seem to understand that birth control pills aren’t taken every time one engages in sexual congress. He seems to be confusing birth control with the Viagra he is known to travel with a prescription for, under an assumed name. And finally, I’d bet my life’s savings of $3.62 that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t watch heterosexual porn.

Thanks to Rush, we now know that any woman who uses birth control is a slut, and members of the Christian Taliban and the far right propaganda machine are all agreeing right along with Limbaugh. It’s by far the most interesting strategy I’ve seen in an election year: the deliberate alienation of slightly more than half of the voting population.

NH’s GOP clown car is racing down the same track. Executive Councilor Ray Wieczorek voted against funding Planned Parenthood in NH, making this comment: “If they want to have a good time, let them pay for it.” Yes, Ray, nothing says good time more than a mammogram or a pap smear. Of course, he was referring to the sluts who use birth control. One can only applaud Mr. Wieczorek for the decision NOT to run for another term.

NH had a law in place that required contraception coverage in all health insurance plans. It was enacted during a Republican controlled legislature. However, the national fervor over insurance coverage for sluts got Speaker O’Brien all het up, and desperate to repeal this law. O’Brien and his trusty assistant, House Majority Leader DJ Bettencourt, enlisted the aid of the Manchester Catholic Diocese to write up a new law. A scant year ago, young DJ referred to Bishop McCormack of that same diocese as a “pedophile pimp,” because he spoke out against the punitive budget that the O’Brien junta passed last year. The diocese apparently doesn’t hold a grudge, at least not when they have the chance to write a law that would negatively impact women. Since the diocese is dabbling in politics and writing laws, they should lose their tax-free non-profit status, immediately.

The NH House has just passed HB 1659, a bill that stipulates that women must be “informed” before having the legal medical procedure known as an abortion. At least 24 hours before the procedure (necessitating two appointments, and for some women that means losing at least 2 days pay) the woman must be orally informed about a number of things by the doctor. At that same visit, she must be given a lengthy stack of materials, and she must certify, in writing, that she has been spoken to, and handed propaganda. The doctor must also fill out a checklist that goes in her file. In the event that a physician is performing a medically necessary emergency procedure, he or she must still fill out that same form that goes in the woman’s file. There are at least 12 strictures in the bill about the kind of material the woman must be given, including the stipulation that she is given a handout on the link between breast cancer and abortion. This is a link pushed by the anti-science Christian Taliban, but it is a link that has been debunked by actual scientists and medical professionals. The NH House has just passed a bill requiring that doctors LIE to women. There’s something we can all be proud of.

HB 1659 also stipulates that information be gathered and reported on by the physician to the state, including the age of the patient, any previous pregnancies or abortions, the nature of those abortions, the age of the fetus, and the location of the facility. This is just a hop, skip, and a jump away from printing the names of these women in the newspaper. I hasten to remind you - that all of this regulation is for a legal medical procedure. Clearly, the men of the O’Brien junta don’t believe that women have any right at all to medical privacy or bodily autonomy.

My late husband had multiple myeloma. For a time, he was taking Thalidomide, the drug that caused birth defects during the 1950’s. He had to go through a monthly reporting process to obtain the drug, which is highly restricted. That process was not nearly as onerous as the one that the NH House would like to force on women who are availing themselves of a legal, medical procedure.. Also, no one insisted that he be given false information about the effects of the drug.

It’s clear that the NH legislature feels that women are silly girlies who need their help in making medical decisions, though it’s hard to square it with their constant assertion of “less government interference” in our lives. Their goal would seem to be to shrink government small enough to drown in a bathtub and fit neatly into a uterus. If women are so stupid that we can’t make our own medical decisions, how can you trust us with these lives you pretend to be so desperate to protect?

Meanwhile, the NH unemployment rate is still 5.2%. In February 6, 338 initial unemployment claims were filed. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the number of people who are substantially underemployed and barely making ends meet. Ten percent of NH’s children live in poverty. Our state infrastructure is a disaster. But, hey – why worry about that? There are bedrooms and vaginas to police.

“NH House GOP Agenda ’12: Focuses squarely on getting the 38,000 of our friends and neighbors who remain unemployed back to work.” DJ Bettencourt, on Twitter, February 4, 2012.

New Bill Aims to Help Older Workers Fight Workplace Discrimination

In 2009, the Supreme Court eliminated something called "mixed motive" lawsuits against employers who discriminate against older workers, in the Gross v. FBL Financial Services decision. From Think Progress:

Employment discrimination cases are difficult to prove because the plaintiff ultimately must show what their boss was thinking at the time they were fired or demoted–it is illegal for an employer to fire a worker because they think the worker is too old or too black or too female, but not because they think the worker is incompetent or poorly dressed. Since workers don’t have ESP, the Supreme Court long ago put certain procedures in place to make sure that laws banning discrimination amount to more than just empty promises.

“Mixed motive” suits are an example of these procedures. To win a mixed motive case, a plaintiff had to prove that discrimination was one of the reasons behind their boss’ decision to fire or demote them. It was then up to their boss to prove that they would have made the same decision regardless of the worker’s race or gender or age. Workers are spared the nearly impossible task of having to prove that that their boss was thinking only of bigotry when they lashed out at their employee; and employers are given a fair chance to prove that discrimination is not the real reason why the worker was cast aside.

With the Gross decision, older workers suddenly have been forced to become mind readers. At a time when older workers face an uphill battle trying to keep or find jobs, this decision has made life even more difficult for them, while making it easier for employers to discriminate.

This week a bill was filed to attempt to remedy that decision. From Think Progress:

A bill introduced Tuesday by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) will overturn Gross and restore to older workers the same ability to fight discrimination that they agreed before a 5-4 Supreme Court took it away from them. Although many Senate Democrats have long supported undoing the justices’ mischief in this way, this is the first time a Republican has signed on to the effort — Grassley’s endorsement of the bill is a hopeful sign that it could become law.

Overturning the Gross decision would make it easier for older workers to fight discrimination in the work place. It's certainly a hopeful sign that this is a bi-partisan effort, which certainly makes it more likely that the bill could actually pass. This is worth keeping an eye on.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Texas Voter ID Law Deemed Discriminatory

On March 12, the US Dept. of Justice blocked the new Texas voter ID law. From Ari Berman in The Nation:

The Justice Department today blocked Texas’s new voter ID law, which is among the toughest in the country, under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, noting that “over 600,000 registered voters do not have either a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by [the Department of Public Safety]—and that a disproportionate share of those registered voters are Hispanic.”

The data provided by the state of Texas on two different occasions shows that Hispanic voters are more likely than white voters to lack the ID now required to cast a ballot. The law was clearly intended to benefit Republicans; for example, a handgun permit is considered an acceptable form of ID but a university ID is not.

That really says something about what the state of Texas values.

For those voters who lack the proper ID, obtaining the correct documentation can be a difficult task. Texas is required to provide a free ID to voters, but an applicant must possess supporting documentation in order to qualify. “If a voter does not possess any of these documents, the least expensive option will be to spend $22 on a copy of the voter’s birth certificate,” DOJ writes. That expenditure can be rightly construed as a poll tax, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited.

Moreover, getting that ID from the DMV is not as easy as you’d think. Hispanics in Texas are twice as likely as whites to not have a car. There are DMV offices in only eighty-one of the state’s 254 counties. Not surprisingly, counties with a significant Hispanic population are less likely to have a DMV office, while Hispanic residents in such counties are twice as likely as whites to not have the right ID. “During the legislative hearings, one senator stated that some voters in his district could have to travel up to 176 miles roundtrip in order to reach a driver’s license office,” wrote DOJ.

So, you get a "free" ID, but the cost of obtaining that free ID is pretty high. Paying for a pricey birth certificate, and taking the time off from work to travel hundreds of miles to the DMV is expensive. It seems likely that it's intended to keep folks from getting the "free" ID.

The state hasn't publicized the new law to make voters aware of it, nor have they trained poll workers to handle the changes brought about by the new law.

Meanwhile, the push for Voter ID laws continues around the country. The legislatures in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and NH will all be voting soon on ID laws.

And just to point this out, while Texans can used a concealed handgun permit as an ID at the voting booth, that's not cheap either:
A new permit costs $140, discounted to half price ($70) for seniors and the indigent.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, March 09, 2012

Vermont Speaks

From The Nation:
By Thursday morning, sixty-four towns reported they had moved to amend the US Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United ruling—as well as the false construct that says, in the words of Mitt Romney, “corporations are people, my friend.”

“Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Town Meeting Day voters understood that corporations are not people,” declared US Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, a champion of his state’s uprising against corporate personhood. “The resounding results will send a strong message that corporations and billionaires should not be allowed to buy candidates and elections with unlimited, undisclosed spending on political campaigns.”

Vermont is a refreshing bastion of sanity - especially for those of us who are from NH - and dealing with the O'Brien junta.

The Assault on Women's Health Care Continues in NH

NH Senate Passes Voter ID Bill

The NH voter ID bill has just cleared the senate. From the Nashua Telegraph:

“This bill is very workable,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “It does not disenfranchise any voters. It does not create a single barrier. What it does do is ensure our elections are clean. As long as you are who you say you are, you will not have a problem. If not, then don’t try to vote in New Hampshire.”
Unlike other failed voter ID bills of the past, this bill permits those without an ID to vote. They would have to sign a challenged voter affidavit under penalty of perjury.

NH has same day voter registration, and anyone who registers on election day is required to sign a domicile affidavit. Of course this article doesn't point out that NH doesn't have voter fraud issues, either.

Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, said up to 5 percent of voters could be disenfranchised by this mandate.
“There have been no indications of anything approaching widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire,” Merrill said. “There are approximately 50,000 residents of our state without photo identification, which is roughly the population of an entire state Senate district. This bill threatens the Constitutional right to vote for thousands of citizens without any clear evidence of a problem.”

Given that this is a highly partisan issue, the chair of the NH GOP disagrees:
Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald disagreed and noted that in the state’s presidential primary, conservative activists were able to successfully pose as deceased voters and initially obtained ballots at targeted polls in Nashua and Manchester.

He's referring to James O'Keefe (an acolyte of the late Andrew Breitbart) who is most famous for the "pimp" sting on ACORN, with highly edited film footage. It would be so much easier to take McDonald's outrage seriously if O'Keefe and his pals were actually prosecuted for attempted voter fraud. There's been no suggestion of that from the NH GOP.

Now that this bill has cleared the Senate (which has behaved slightly more responsibly over the last 2 years than the NH House) it goes back to the House, which is eager to pass the bill.

Photos will be taken at the polling places, which means a cost to the taxpayers, and more work for the community volunteers who run elections in NH small towns. As has so often been said, this is a solution in search of a problem. It also seems to be a rather blatant attempt at disenfranchising voters before the elections in November.

In June of last year Governor Lynch vetoed a Voter ID bill. The old bill was rewritten, so desperate is the NH legislature to pass a Voter ID bill.

Thirty-three states have introduced Voter ID laws this year. Coincidence? Hardly. It's another gift from ALEC.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Teacher Morale at its Lowest Point in 20 Years

The results of a new teacher survey, from New York Times

The slump in the economy, coupled with the acrimonious discourse over how much weight test results and seniority should be given in determining a teacher’s worth, have conspired to bring morale among the nation’s teachers to its lowest point in more than 20 years, according to a survey of teachers, parents and students released on Wednesday.

More than half of teachers expressed at least some reservation about their jobs, their highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989, the survey found. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, citing concerns over job security, as well as the effects of increased class size and deep cuts to services and programs. Just three years ago, the rate was one in four.


More than 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said the schools where they teach had undergone budget cuts last year, and about as many of them said the cuts included layoffs — of teachers and others, like school aides and counselors. Roughly one in three teachers said their schools lost arts, music and foreign language programs. A similar proportion noted that technology and materials used in the schools had not been kept up to date to meet students’ needs.

In most places, teachers have to live in fear of losing their jobs every single year. That's a level of uncertainty that only the truly dedicated would endure. It's disheartening to read that one in five teachers surveyed are considering leaving the profession in the next few years.

Given the increased pressure to evaluate teachers, while budgets are being slashed, and class sizes are increasing - and add the anti-union/anti-public employee sentiment coming from some quarters, and the results of this survey can't come as any surprise.

Link to the survey.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Corporations May Not be People in Vermont

All over the state of Vermont, voters at town meeting will vote on resolutions calling for an amendment to the US Constitution stipulating that corporations are not people.

Town meeting is a form of very localized government that began in Massachusetts during the colonial era. Residents of small towns would meet annually to address the issues of importance to the town. Schools, sanitation, epidemics, roads (both building and maintenance) and the town budget and taxes. In Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and some small towns in Massachusetts, town meeting is still an annual event. In Vermont town meeting is held on the first Tuesday of March.

Town meeting is when towns vote on the annual budget, and make decisions about funding infrastructure projects. Town meeting is also when candidates for town office are voted in. All voters have a say, and are welcome to participate in town meeting. Every article on the warrant (the list of issues that will be discussed) is subject to debate and amendment. The meeting is run by a moderator (also an elected official), and most moderators use a combination of Robert's Rules and their own. Forgive me for getting nerdy, I live in NH, and I'm something of a town meeting geek.

In any case, today in Vermont, voters in many towns will be voting on the resolution to amend the Constitution. From The Nation:

Communities across the Green Mountain State will go on record—“In light of the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that equates money with speech and gives corporations rights constitutionally intended for natural persons…”—“to urge the Vermont Congressional Delegation and the U.S. Congress to propose a U.S. Constitutional amendment for the States’ consideration which provides that money is not speech, and that corporations are not persons under the U.S. Constitution…”

The Vermont communities that move to amend the Constitution will not be the first in the country to do so. A year ago, Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison and surrounding Dane County voted overwhelmingly to support proposals to amend the Constitution so that the money power does not overwhelm democracy.

Since then, legislatures in two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) and counties, cities, villages and towns across the country have endorsed amendment proposals. Members of Congress, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, have begun to propose such amendments.

This seems to be turning into a movement.

According to a new poll by the Castleton Polling Institute, 76 percent of Vermonters favor amending the Constitutional to limit spending on political campaigns. Notably 57 percent of Vermonters who identify as Republicans support such an amendment.

It's easy to write Vermont off as a small state full of Volvo driving, Birkenstock wearing, latte drinking liberals, but that's not the case. There are plenty of old-school Republican yankees populating the state. That over half of the state's Republicans support the amendment is important. This is an issue of crucial importance to our democracy - and to that end, it's fitting that Vermonters are using the oldest US form of government to decide to propel it forward.

For more on town meeting: VT town meeting guide from the VT Secretary of State.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Teacher Layoffs Keep Coming

The US economy does seem to be doing better, albeit very, very slowly. With approx. 20% of the population either unemployed, or underemployed, states are still confronting budget deficits.

Over the course of this week alone, some 255 teachers and school employees are on the verge of losing their jobs, mostly in small California school districts.

In the Beaumont school district of California 42 teacher layoffs are projected.

The Plainfield, IL school district is cutting 64 jobs in order to eliminate a $3.2 million budget deficit. This district has eliminated 280 jobs during the last 3 years.

The Mt. Diablo school district in Concord, CA approves 89 teacher layoffs.

In Porterville, CA as many as 60 layoffs are being projected, due to a looming $7 million budget deficit.

Then in the private sector: gloomy projections from Massachusetts. Federal budget cuts could bring about the loss of some 50,00 jobs over the next decade. From the Boston Globe:

Automatic across-the-board cuts are scheduled to start in 2013 unless the deeply divided Congress agrees to a better deal to lower the national debt. The automatic cuts would reduce federal spending by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years by slashing the defense budget and support for other programs, including Medicare.

Such reductions could hurt industries that have helped the state recover from the recent recession faster than the rest of the nation, according to the UMass analysis. Roughly half of the jobs the state would lose would be in defense, health care, and professional and technical services.

While the gains in employment are good news, and the economy seems to be tentatively moving in the right direction, these stories indicate that both state and federal budget shortfalls will mean continued job losses, largely in the public sector.

cross-posted at MainSt/

No Room for Education in the Clown Car

The O’Brien leadership team of the NH House of Representatives continues to insist that job creation is their top priority this year. Nothing on the docket of proposed bills backs up their claims. They’re intent on wrestling control of women’s bodies away from them, divorcing gay couples, making NH a right to work state, removing local control from towns and school boards, taking over for the judicial branch, and eliminating public education. It seems that these legislators believe that corporate America is dying to relocate to states without an educated work force, and a 19th century infrastructure.

This has a great deal to do with the influence of Free Staters, teabaggers, and John Birchers in our legislature. These people are opposed to all things public, and their influence in the Republican Party is pushing the party even further to the right. They hate public education, public libraries, and public property. Their idea of education is a child being homeschooled by an obedient, pregnant, stay at home mom, who isn’t taking jobs away from the men who are entitled to them, or using birth control.

These are the same people who rewrote Ronald Reagan’s history, turning him from an unindicted co-conspirator into a saint. They’ve also rewritten the Bible, the Constitution, and are now hard at work on rewriting US history. They venerate the founding fathers – but they love the founding fathers of their imagination. They stick their fingers in their ears, shouting “la-la-la” when the founder’s support for public education is mentioned. Jefferson and Adams were both big proponents of public education. “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,” opined Jefferson.

There have been at least 50 anti-education bills filed by NH legislators over the last biennium. Last year’s HB340 stipulated that you’d get a tax credit if you kept out of school. The Defending NH Public Education website is packed full of information about all of these bills, including where they are in the committee and hearing process. They’ve analyzed the votes by all 400 legislators and come up with a report card on education voting. In Carroll County, Representatives Fleck and Knox earn a grad of B. This is the highest score for a Carroll County representative. Representatives Umberger, Scala, and Schmidt all earned C’s. Reps Babson, McConkey, and Merrow all earn D’s. Gene Chandler, Betsey Patton, and Jeb Bradley all receive an F grade for their votes on education. One would think there couldn’t be anything lower than an F – but one would be wrong. Representatives Pettengill, McCarthy, and Tregenza all scored an F minus. Tregenza, by the way, is a substitute teacher in the Madison public school system.

Governor Lynch has endorsed CACR12, an amendment to the NH constitution that would take the courts out of education altogether, and put the legislature in charge. The current legislature is the best possible argument against this amendment.

This same legislature has tried to opt out of No Child Left Behind, a mandate that brings some $70 million a year to the state. The loss of that funding would create a budget hole that would be filled by….your property taxes. There was a lot of noise generated about this in NH’s mostly right wing media, which caused the O’Brien junta to lay this bill on the table. It will undoubtedly be back. All of their worst ideas come back, again and again.

NH ranks 50th in the nation for state support of public education. It’s always a treat to realize that Mississippi is more concerned about education than New Hampshire is. We also rank 50th in the nation for state support of our university system. The current legislature is doing its level best to eliminate all state funding for our university system.

The legislature passed HB 542, and mustered up enough votes to override Governor Lynch’s veto. This new law allows parents to demand an alternative curriculum for anything they find objectionable. In a class of 30 students, that could be a whole lot of alternative. What will happen when the class is tested, if different students have different information on particular subjects? How will this affect these kids later on, when they’re interested in going to college? Professionals with degrees in education will undoubtedly be forced to teach anti-evolution and Holocaust denial alternatives. It seems the libertarian crowd (an estimated 150 legislators) has hit on the idea of lawsuits as a means for defunding state government.

HB 219 would take all authority from the NH Dept. of Education and give it to the state legislature. Again: the current legislature is its own best argument against this. Something they won’t tell you: the NH Dept. of Education sets higher standards than the federal government. Instead of high standards, this legislature filed HB 39, a bill to actually lower education standards.

HB 1607/SB 372 are essentially the same thing: a voucher program. In other words, it takes money from the public schools and diverts it to private, religious, and home schooling. There is no provision in the current draft for academic accountability. The NH Constitution is also quite clear that no public monies will be used to fund religious education.

Both HB 1607 and SB 372 are right out of ALEC, which is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is a group of some 300 corporations that drafts model legislation, and relies on the 2,000 legislative members to push the legislation in their states. Theirs is a far right agenda, funded largely by conservative donors like the Koch brothers, the Coors family, and the Sciafe family. ALEC was formed in 1973, and has largely operated in secret, up till now. This voucher bill isn’t a NH bill at all. These are bills presented by puppets in all 50 states, doing the bidding of their corporate overlords.

Who are the NH puppets? The sponsors of HB 1607 are Representatives Bettencourt, Hill, Smith, McGuire, Speaker O’Brien, Tucker, Bates, Silva, and our own Gene Chandler. Sponsors of SB 372 are Senators Forsythe, Bragdon, Carson, DeBlois, Groen, Lambert, Luther, Sanborn, White, Gallus, and our very own Jeb Bradley.

If you care about education, it’s time to start paying close attention.

For more information on NH anti-education bills:
For more information on ALEC:

“The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one square mile without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves.” President John Adams

© sbruce 2012
This was published as an op-ed in the March 2, 2012 edition of the Conway NH Daily Sun newspaper.

A Look Back at the "Mancession"

In 2010, there were many handwringing stories by the mainstream media about the "mancession." Their view was that men were losing their jobs, while women were doing just fine. Much pearl clutching about the future ensued, where some breathlessly wondered what if this was the new economic reality - a world where women actually dominated the work place.

Naturally, the "mancession" ended as quickly as it began. By January 2011 the media was reporting upon its demise, as I did, here at Working America. In May of 2011, I wrote about the 'womancession" that was going to be created by federal and state budget cuts to k-12 education, and other public sector jobs. Because I really hated the phonied up "mancession," in both pieces I made a point of saying things like this:

Out there in the land of working families, the cutesy terms created by the media are meaningless. What these families know is that if both partners lose their jobs foreclosure and homelessness are moving ever closer.

Now, over a year later, The Nation takes a look at the great "mancession" and how women are faring in this economy:

So what happened to the “mancession” once the recovery officially began in June 2009? Women’s unemployment has continued to rise as men have gained their jobs back. Women gained less than 8 percent of the 1.9 million jobs added, and now men’s and women’s unemployment rates have converged at 7.7 percent. Public sector layoffs have hit women particularly hard. Across the country, women have lost 414,000 government jobs, many due to teacher layoffs. As of October, 300,000 educator jobs had been lost, accounting for over half of those lost at the local government level.


But women were stuck in disposable, low-income jobs long before the recession. One of the trends that got Rosin excited is that women dominate many of the industries projected to grow over the next decade, including retail sales and healthcare. It’s true that women disproportionately hold retail sales, home health and personal care jobs, all of which are set to see the most growth. But these jobs not only pay poorly and have few benefits; they are also unstable and are poorly protected by labor laws or unionization.


If women are thriving in growing industries, they should also be proportionally represented in the higher ranks of these companies. But that’s not the case. In healthcare, only 16.4 percent of Fortune 500 companies’ executive officers are women; only 18.7 percent of executive officers in retail are women.

According to research done by Catalyst, an organization focused on women in business, this is evidence that a broken “pipeline” isn’t moving workers from the lower ranks to upper-management jobs. Women make up about half of middle management, an impressive statistic when one considers that they made up about a third of the entire workforce just sixty years ago. Yet they only count for 14 percent of executive officers in Fortune 500 companies, 16 percent of board seats in those companies and just a measly 3.6 percent of CEOs. On top of this, only 7.5 percent can be counted among the top earners at these companies. Research does not suggest that women are dropping out of the race for these higher-earning jobs. As Ilene Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, put it to me, “Often women get stuck having to prove themselves over and over again. That’s a block; they’re not going up.”

In other words, when men are losing good paying jobs while women are keeping their lousy jobs, it's a "mancession." When the men go back to work at good paying jobs, and the women are still stuck in lousy jobs, it's a non-story. It's just business as usual.