Thursday, March 07, 2019

Rentpocalypse NH




Art by Lalo Alcarez


In Oregon last month, Governor Kate Brown signed a statewide rent control law. Like many states, Oregon has a shortage of rental properties. This law caps annual rent increases to seven percent plus inflation, which amounts to a limit of about 10 percent this year. It also exempts new construction for 15 years, and landlords may raise rent if renters leave. This isn’t doing a whole lot to help anyone, which is why landlords didn’t fight it. They were more afraid that the state would remove the current ban on local rent control policies. It will do little to help those who are at the low end of the income scale, who will continue to spend upwards of half of their income on rent.

The budget calculation formula from the 60’s that is still in use today, warns that we should spend no more than 30 percent of our income on rent. Anyone who spends more than that is considered “cost burdened.” Anyone spending 50 percent or more is considered “severely cost burdened.” It is not the wealthy that are “severely cost burdened.” It is your barista, the clerk at the cash register, the server taking your order, the person stuffing you into a chairlift, the person who cares for your grandmother - the workers of the service economy that we all rely on. It might also be your grandmother. Elderly people are a fast growing segment of the homeless population. 

A 2018 report by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority found that NH has a rental property vacancy rate of 1.96 percent. A vacancy rate of 4-5 percent is considered a balanced market for supply and demand. The survey found that the median rent for a 2 bedroom apartment has increased 19 percent over the last five years. In Carroll County that increase was 11.7 percent. It was 31 percent in Coos. The last recorded vacancy rate for Carroll County was 1.4 percent in 2016. The sample rate has been too small for the study for the last two years. 

The 2018 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a minimum wage worker earning $7.25 an hour would have to work 96 hours a week to afford a one bedroom rental. The average wage of a NH renter is around $15 an hour. The wage needed to afford a two bedroom rental is $22.32. Right now, the average rent for a one bedroom in NH is around $900. It’s upwards of $1200 for a two bedroom.

In addition to having very high housing costs, NH also has very low unemployment. So far that low unemployment has done little to raise wages. Employers are only now starting to grasp that housing is a big part of their problem. Housing is one of the many problems that New Hampshire has been ignoring for decades. Adequate housing might mean people with kids and that means funding their education. We fund education through property taxes, and NH has the second highest property taxes in the nation.

When the economy collapsed in 2008, people lost their houses and moved into rentals. That caused prices to skyrocket. The collapse of the economy created the so-called “sharing economy” where desperate folks were trying to monetize their possessions by ride sharing or renting out rooms in their houses. Airbnb caught on, and quickly became a way for privateers to buy up housing and rent it for big bucks. Both events meant fewer rentals for working folks. A lot of the people whose finances were destroyed in 2008 never got back to where they were. The jobs created in the aftermath of the 2008 economic collapse were largely low wage service jobs. While rental costs have increased in NH by 19 percent over the last five years, for most workers, wages have not. Homelessness, however, has increased by 10 percent in the last 4 years. 

NH has a problem. We have an aging population. We have a housing shortage. We have a lot of low wage jobs. Raising the minimum wage would help, but it won’t solve the housing shortage. Even if we raised the minimum wage to $22 an hour, there still wouldn’t be enough housing. Some ideas: there should be no new commercial construction that doesn’t include housing. Building an outlet? Build up: stores and restaurants downstairs. Housing upstairs. That should be true of every single ugly new store built along the Rt. 16 strip. Locally, there are many empty buildings. Some of them have been empty for years. Turn them into housing.  (Also, build more housing.) A tourist economy needs workers. An aging population needs caregivers – and housing, unless you want Granny living in her car. Until then, there are many helpful YouTube videos on how to live in a car.


“A man’s car is his castle,” – said  no one, ever.   





Published as an op-ed in the March 8 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper 

Thursday, February 21, 2019

NH Death Penalty Optics

Michael George Haddad




The last time the State of New Hampshire executed anyone was in 1939. For the last 20 years, there has been a bill every biennium to repeal the death penalty. In 2000, a repeal bill passed both houses and was vetoed by Governor Jeanne Shaheen. 

In 2019, there is an impressive bipartisan coalition supporting HB 455, a bill that would change the death penalty in NH to life without parole. It seems likely that the bill will pass in both the House and Senate. Governor Sununu has said that he will veto it. There could well be, for the first time in 20 years, enough support for repeal to override the governor’s veto.

I’ve written about the death penalty several times over the years. We know it is expensive – more expensive than life in prison. We know it is not a deterrent. We know that people of color are more likely to be sent to death row. We know that a great many people have been wrongly convicted, spent years on death row, and then exonerated. We also know that at least one innocent person has been wrongly murdered by the state, in the name of “justice.” Above all, we know…well, not all of we, but most of we know that the death penalty is not about justice. It is about vengeance.

As the old saying goes, we kill people to show them that killing is wrong. The state should not be in the business of killing its citizens.

A big public hearing resulted in hours of testimony this week. There was testimony from murder victim’s family members. There was testimony from people who were wrongly convicted and sent to death row.  There was also testimony from former US Senator Kelly Ayotte, who breezed in to emphasize how important it is that we kill Michael Addison, the only person on death row in NH. Ayotte the NH Attorney General vigorously pursued the death penalty case against Addison, and used it as a springboard to a single term in the Senate. 

Michael Addison was charged with killing Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs in 2006. In 2006, a millionaire named John Brooks was convicted of capital murder for his role in hiring people to kill his former handyman, whom he believed had stolen from him. In New Hampshire, contract killing is a capital offense.  John Brooks was given two life sentences without parole. In 1997, Gordon E. Perry killed police officer Jeremy Charron in Epsom, NH. After pleading guilty to capital murder, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. 

When repeal advocates talk about how the death penalty isn’t equally applied, this is exactly what they mean. Gordon E. Perry is white. John Brooks is rich and white. Michael Addison is black. John Brooks was convicted the same year as Addison, in the same state. Kelly Ayotte did not zealously pursue his case. Gordon Perry and Michael Addison both killed police officers. Only one is on death row. 

Our Governor has said that he will veto a repeal because he “stands with law enforcement.” Our governor stands with law enforcement when it’s convenient. Sununu’s first legislative priority after being elected to his first term was to eliminate concealed carry licenses for firearms. Law enforcement vigorously opposed that bill. Sununu didn’t listen to them, never mind stand with them. Governor Sununu is a Trump acolyte, and we know that Trump loves the death penalty. Even after the five young black men known as the Central Park Five were exonerated after falsely being convicted of the rape, assault, and attempted murder of jogger Trisha Mieli, Donald Trump continued to call for their executions.

Civilized countries don’t engage in execution. The United States is increasingly uncivilized, particularly in the area of race and religion. We don’t hear any discussion of how, exactly, the state will kill Michael Addison. The methods sanctioned by our state are hanging and lethal injection. Lethal injection drugs are no longer available. The countries that manufacture them don’t sell them to us any more, because they don’t believe in the death penalty. Will New Hampshire purchase other, questionable drugs? Or will New Hampshire rebuild the gallows that was dismantled at the state prison in 1994?

We should, perhaps, take a moment to consider this.  New Hampshire hasn’t conducted an execution since 1939. Will we bring the death penalty out of mothballs to kill a black man? Would we hang him? Tiny, white, New Hampshire proudly clings to the first in the nation presidential primary, despite rumblings from other states that we’re tiny, white, and clueless about the rest of the country. If the moral arguments against the death penalty don’t sway folks, perhaps the very real potential of losing that exalted primary status will. 



Published as an op-ed in the February 22, 2019 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 



Thursday, February 07, 2019

Trickle Down Hate





The United States has always had a problem with racism. We’ve never been willing to tackle it head on, preferring to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that passing a law or two and paying annual homage to Dr. Martin Luther King is enough to take care of it.

Then along came Obama. In 2004, after three terms in the Illinois Senate, Obama ran for US Senate. He delivered a well received speech to the Democratic National Convention that same year.  In the interest of full disclosure, I was in Chicago on business that year, and heard him speak at a dinner I attended. He gave a fine speech – it was easy to see why there was so much buzz around him.

That was the year that birtherism was born. It’s been traced back to perennial candidate (and something of a vexatious litigant) Andy Martin, who has run for office in a number of states, including New Hampshire. Martin began the rumors about Obama – that he wasn’t born in the US, that he was a Muslim, and so on. Those rumors persisted over the years, but had nearly died down when along came Donald Trump who demanded to see Obama’s “long form” birth certificate in 2011, and birtherism kicked into high gear.

President Obama took it all in stride. He even made jokes about it. (He didn’t sit around in his underpants tweeting in a vituperative frenzy.) The Trump birtherism spread and deepened, and suddenly it was okay to be openly racist in public again, in a way that had been unacceptable since the sixties. The Trump administration has continually exacerbated that open racism.

We’ve seen violence against people of color, violence and bullying against children – including children right here in New Hampshire. The wall has served as fuel for a national tiki torch sized outpouring of racist outrage. Every day, Trump sends out malevolent rage tweets about caravans, invasions, and a crisis at the border. The reports from the border don’t bear any of this out. There is no crisis. Trump spent last weekend playing golf, which illustrates how serious this crisis is.


Given the rise in racist rhetoric, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see it mirrored in the NH legislature. This year there are two anti-immigrant bills, one in the House and one in the Senate. House bill 232 requires state and local governments to comply with federal detainer requests and prohibits state and local government entities from adopting policies that prohibit, restrict, or discourage the enforcement of federal immigration law. (Republicans love local control….except that they really don’t.) This is an unpleasant bit of work, called the “anti-sanctuary act,” and sponsored by a variety of tea partiers and Free Staters.

HB 232 pales in comparison to Senate bill 317, which bills itself as “an act prohibiting sanctuary locations in New Hampshire.” From the statement of intent…”is necessary to protect our country from foreign and domestic terrorism, diminished prosperity caused by artificially low wages paid to those present in the United States in violation of our immigration laws, a disregard of the rule of law, the presence of foreign criminals, foreign persons participating in our elections, and strained local and state finances caused by a disproportionate participation of foreign welfare recipients…”

This is a load of codswallop. Domestic terrorism in this country is perpetuated by angry white men. Foreign terrorists aren’t behind mass shootings. The pinkos at the CATO institute found in 2018 that you were more likely to die from an animal attack than be killed by a foreign terrorist. There are no foreign persons participating in NH elections. That is a nasty bit of xenophobia aimed at perpetuating the GOP myth of voter fraud. The Republicans need to keep that myth alive, because it’s how they’ll continue to chip away at voting rights. As for foreign welfare recipients? More bunk. Undocumented people don’t have the documents needed to receive public assistance.

New Hampshire Republicans eliminated the state minimum wage, and have resisted every attempt to put one into place. Yet here they are, mouthing concerns about artificially low wages? These hypocrites have turned their backs on the plight of low wage workers for decades. 

Please read SB 317, and take notice of the sponsors. There is only one from Carroll County, State Senator Jeb Bradley. Jeb Bradley has long enjoyed an undeserved reputation as a moderate. These days, he’s a political windsock, flapping in the racist breeze generated by what the Republican Party has become in the era of Trump. Wealthy old white men like Senator Jeb don’t actually march with tiki torches. They write the inflammatory rhetoric that ratchets up the kind of anger that fuels the mob mentality and leads to violence.

No matter how you feel about the wall, you should be ashamed that our state senator put his name on this dishonest and shockingly xenophobic piece of legislation.
 




Published as an op-ed in the February 8, 2019 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Silver, Sovereigns, and Propaganda




Like so many things these days, the annual look at bills coming up isn’t much fun. There are 938 bills that will be heard by the legislature. Over one hundred have been withdrawn. Some were withdrawn because the sponsors weren’t re-elected. Some were withdrawn because they duplicated others, and some of the authors may have had a sudden attack of common sense. House Minority Leader Dick Hinch withdrew his school voucher bill, which was wise, considering that it didn’t pass under a Republican controlled House, and was even less likely to pass under Democratic control. A bill to amend the Constitution to enshrine vouchers was also withdrawn. Also withdrawn was a bill relative to carrying a pistol or revolver while hunting with a muzzleloader. Can there really be such a thing as carrying too many guns at once in New Hampshire? 

HB 190 would allow gold and silver as lawful mediums of exchange. Would we all be expected to carry around our own scales and testing chemicals, or would those be provided at businesses, banks, and other agencies? The bill doesn’t specify. The lead sponsor of this bill is Representative Dick Marple from Hooksett. He also sponsored HB 525, which requires legislators be paid in silver dollar coins. No word on where those coins would be stored. Representative Marple is deeply concerned with matters of currency, as he what is known as a sovereign citizen, a band of miscreants who fancy themselves Constitutional scholars and experts on British common law, as well as US law. They do not recognize US currency and have found convoluted “loopholes” to try to avoid obeying the law. If you’d like a little fun with sovereign citizens, go to YouTube and search, “I’m not driving, I’m traveling,” and immerse yourself in videos of sovereign citizens getting pulled over for traffic violations. Fun for the whole family. 




Sovereign citizens are no joke. They don’t believe that the US government is legitimate; they believe the county sheriff is the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country, and some places they are actual terrorists, tied to white nationalist groups and militias. Representative Marple is serving his fifth term for the town of Hooksett. These bills are the kind of fringe nutter stuff that the minority party knows won’t go anywhere, but they encourage the fringe to file these bills as part of their mission to obstruct and delay. 




Marple is also a sponsor of HB 198, which would repeal the prohibition against texting while driving. That’s supported by a number of Free Staters and libertea types, because their perceived freedom is more important than your safety. Another Marple is HB 215, which would require the legislature to approve the appointment of town managers. Think about that Conway – the next time you appoint a town manager; hundreds of representatives from other counties would make your decision for you. 

In HB 124, ideologues would repeal the buffer zone bill around women’s health clinics that was passed a few years ago. These folks think that women should be shouted at, harassed, photographed, and abused while going in to a medical facility. To take that right away from the harassers (who may also be terrorists, given the level of clinic violence that occurs in this country) is cause for loud bleating about the first amendment, an amendment conveniently ignored by this crowd the rest of the time. 

HB 177 would limit education stabilization grants, which is bad timing, given that we learned this week that Berlin is being forced to close their last elementary school, because of our bizarre education funding system. We fund education through property taxes. New Hampshire has the 2ndhighest property taxes in the nation. What towns do you think have the highest taxes? Rye, Newcastle, Wolfeboro, maybe Bedford? The places where the wealthy reside? Not even close.  The highest property taxes in the state are in Claremont, and Berlin is a close second. This says a few things – that our education funding system is deeply flawed, that Berlin (and the rest of Coos) should stop electing Republicans, and that The Pledge is a bumper sticker, not a tool for good government.

There are a couple of bills to enshrine our tax structure in the Constitution, one concerning a broad based tax and one an income tax. The property tax IS an income tax. The difference is that if your income goes down, so does an income tax. The property tax, on the other hand, continues to increase. The Pledge is a remarkable lesson in the power of propaganda. It prevents discussion and discourages learning. 

Here’s a thought; in addition to teaching civics, we should be teaching high school kids how to understand the NH tax structure. It would be great preparation for future voters. Who wants to write that bill? 




published as an op-ed in the January 25, 2019  edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Thursday, January 10, 2019

More Guns and Grifters

Photo by Holly Ramer of AP 

As I predicted, the rabid gundamentalists got all worked up about the proposed rule change in the NH House that would prevent them from carrying their concealed firearms on the House floor, in the gallery, the cloakroom, and the anteroom. They would still be able to strap on as many weapons as they needed to feel safe leaving home, driving to Concord, and then walking the mean streets from their parking spot to the State House. They’d just be asked to lock up (in a storage unit provided at the State House) their firearm (s) while on the floor, in the gallery, the anteroom or the cloakroom. The 2-A crowd brought signs into the State House, which is not allowed. They meekly surrendered them, with no mention of first amendment rights. 


There was wailing, moaning, and gnashing of teeth from the gun fetishists. They NEED their weapons on them at all times! They might have to protect the women! The State House isn’t going to be a “soft” target – a gun free zone! Gundamentalist groups, the NRA, and ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council invented the concept of “constitutional carry” around 2012. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that you have the right to bring a concealed firearm into the NH House chamber. It’s also worth noting that Vermont had “constitutional carry” years before everyone else. Guess what you can’t do in Vermont? Bring a weapon in the State House.

Honest, curious people who read more than just propaganda are also aware that mass shooters don’t choose “gun free zones.” School shootings are done by people who had some connection to the school. There’s also the fact that 98% of mass shooters are white men, many of whom have a history of domestic abuse. Most of those shooters were “law abiding gun owners” up until the moment they started shooting their fellow humans.

The floor debate raged. Convicted gun felon, Representative Max Abramson (R. Free State) gave an impassioned speech about gun rights, the kind he doesn’t legally possess any longer. These are the people who want the rest of us to trust them with guns. The vote was 220-163 to ban guns from the House chamber. The response from the cultists was to shriek that they’d carry anyway, because rules don’t apply to them.

After the gun vote was a vote to add mandatory sexual harassment awareness training to the House rules. There have been a number of incidents in the legislature that have come to light in the MeToo era. Some involved payoffs, some involved cover-ups. There are many older men in the legislature who wail that it’s the women who are to blame – they can’t say anything any more without it being taken the wrong way!

Rather than take an opportunity to stop wailing and learn something, members of the libertea crowd became incensed at the thought that they should be expected to attend the kind of training they would be given no choice about attending in any professional workplace. Perhaps they don’t look at themselves as professionals. Perhaps they don’t see themselves as working.

Most amusing was the overlap. Many of the same people who were braying about the need to protect the wimminfolk refused to take the sexual harassment training. That’s right – they need to protect the women with guns – the same women who are lying about sexual harassment! (It would make for an interesting Venn diagram.) The House voted 284 – 92 in favor of the rule change. 

Governor Sununu is back in the news. There’s some very timid reporting going on about the way his first inaugural fund is being dispersed. Large amounts of it seem to have landed in his pockets, and those of a variety of family members and advisors. The Governor has refused to comply with Right to Know requests that those records be produced.  If it all sounds familiar, there’s good reason for that. Sununu was very clear in his first campaign that he is a strong Trump supporter. We know Trump used his inaugural fund as a slush fund to shovel money back into his own businesses, which means into the pockets of his family. Lesson learned. 

Why is this a concern? Where the money comes from and where it goes is always a concern when it comes to politicians. Transparency means accountability, and we should all want our politicians to be accountable. We should know exactly who the donors were, how much they gave, and where that money went, and where the remainder of the fund will go.

The Union Leader has done some surprisingly good reporting on this. Surprising only because of the UL’s history of being the media arm of the NH GOP. This reporting so incensed the governor, that a Union Leader reporter and photographer were denied entry into this year’s inaugural event. It appears our governor has learned another lesson from his mentor, Donald Trump.

“No power without accountability.”  Billy Bragg




Friday, December 28, 2018

Guns and Grifting



The new legislature has been sworn in, and will be back in session on January 2. 

As I write this, there are 894 LSRs. An LSR is a fledgling bill that is written by the sponsor, and then sent to Legislative Services to be fleshed out and checked out. It is assigned a number and published. It will be assigned to a committee, have a hearing, and be voted on. House members have submitted 609 LSRs, and 204 have come from the Senate. Another 71 LSRs were withdrawn before they ever became bills. There are ten proposed amendments to the NH Constitution.


Some are predictable. One wants to change the NH Constitution to stipulate that taxpayer funds can’t be limited to supporting public schools. As we learned last biennium, taking money out of the public schools will mean dramatic increases in property taxes, but our libertea brethren don’t care about that.

There’s a proposed amendment that would stipulate that any broad based tax should be prohibited. Another would alter the state constitution to prohibit a tax on personal income from being enacted. A recent report finds that NH has the third highest property taxes in the US. This kind of GOP policy will help ensure that we reach first place. 

Another amendment would reduce the number of representatives in the House, and another would allow compensation for legislators to be determined by a joint resolution with the approval of the Executive Council. It seems our “live free or die” legislators want a bigger paycheck. Another would enshrine the right to hunt, subject to laws promoting sound wildlife and conservation management.

There is also a proposed amendment that would allow no-excuse absentee voting for NH residents. Perhaps the most important amendment would establish an independent redistricting commission to draw boundaries for state and federal offices. Why does this need to be a constitutional amendment? So that neither party can undo it on a whim. The state senate districts have been ridiculously gerrymandered. NH Republicans have historically opposed the creation of an independent commission, probably because they’ve done most of the gerrymandering. All of the proposed amendments have a long way to go before we ever see them on a ballot.

The first year of the biennium is the year that the next state budget is worked out. The House and Senate have both decided to continue to have Thursday voting sessions, something that began during the last biennium. Former Speaker Terie Norelli introduced mixed party seating during her second term. Her hope was that legislators would get to know one another and form relationships that transcended party affiliation. That’s been the custom since. The Republicans asked Speaker Shurtleff to restore party segregated seating, so that they can sit together, and maintain the kind of discipline needed to meet Minority Leader Dick Hinch’s stated goal of disruption and delay. Shurtleff has agreed to their request.

The GOP gundamentalists are getting all ginned up to fight about a proposed rule change that would forbid concealed carry firearms in the House chamber, anteroom, coatroom, or in the House Gallery. It’s understandable. Republicans who carry have shown an inability to holster their guns properly, as we saw when Kyle Tasker’s gun fell to the floor in a meeting of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He’d been playing quick draw out in the hallway, and failed to secure one of his holsters. Tasker carried a gun under each arm, because you can’t be too safe in dangerous NH. The last gun drop was made by Representative Carolyn Halstead whose gun fell out of the back of her pants in a hearing on full day kindergarten that was filled with parents and children. Kyle Tasker is in prison on felony charges and Halstead was not reelected, so there is an opening for a GOP gun dropper. In most public buildings where unstable persons are likely to be present (courthouses, planes, NRA conventions) concealed firearms are not allowed.

As anyone who has ever attended a demonstration at the State House knows, a sign on a stick is not allowed inside the building. That’s right – the State House is a stick free zone, and I’m certain we’re all safer as a result. The last stick massacre was a national tragedy. 



There’s going to be a lot to pay attention to in the coming biennium. Keep an eye on the story of the funds raised for the governor’s inauguration, and how the unspent funds were dispersed to the governor’s family members, advisors, and – of course, to himself. It appears to be near Trumpian level grifting, right here in River City.

It’s a shame we’ve abandoned all interest in expecting our elected officials to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Let’s insist they do better in 2019.

Happy New Year, everyone! 




This was published as an op-ed in the December 28, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Seriously, John Delaney?

I live in New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary state. This means that every candidate intending to run for president will bombard me, and my fellow residents, with mail. The first one came this week. 

John Delaney is a congressman from Maryland. He's a Democrat. He chose to introduce himself to me with this mailer:






The George Will column makes this point: 

"Suppose, however, Democrats are more interested in scrubbing the current presidential stain from public life than they are in virtue-signaling and colonizing the far shores of leftwingery."


I'm registered as an "undeclared" voter. I can only assume that by choosing George Will as his intro, John Delaney is trying to appeal to the more conservative faction of undeclared voters, not those of us who proudly reside on the far shore colony. 

In 2014, George Will wrote a column about campus rape that should have caused him to lose his job. Mysteriously, after years of racist, sexist, and homophobic commentary, he remains employed. He's the poster boy for privileged white men endlessly failing upward. 

By choosing George Will as his intro, I can only assume that John Delaney isn't interested in appealing to women. 

It's working for me. 


That humble, working guy persona Delaney cultivates appears to be fiction, according to those pinkos at Forbes.


Here's a  blog post I wrote in 2014 about Will's column. (Language warning for the easily offended.)