Friday, December 30, 2005

It All Comes Down to Money

Governor Lynch has been making headlines, recently. In a December 20 USA Survey Poll of nationwide gubernatorial approval ratings, Governor Lynch came in fifth place, with a 69 percent approval rating. Jodi Rell of CT was in first place with 77 percent approval, and in last place was Bob Taft of Ohio, with 17 percent approval. California’s Gropenator was in 46th place, with a 34 percent approval rating. Presidential hopeful Mark Warner of Virginia was in 7th place, with a 66 percent approval rating. Mitt Romney of MA (another presidential hopeful) was ranked in 32nd place, with a 49 percent approval. I approach polls with a healthy dose of skepticism, but it was interesting, and even a little surprising to see how popular Governor Lynch is. He’s certainly in good shape to begin his bid for re-election next year. No word yet on the likely GOP candidate. Will the GOP pit their best candidate, Bruce Keogh against the popular Lynch? We’ll find out in 2006.

Lynch has recently proposed a plan to lower the high school drop out rate, by raising the age that children must remain in school from 16 to 18. The compulsory attendance age of 16 was set in 1903. Lynch says that in 1903 teens could leave school and get good paying jobs in factories or on farms, which is no longer the case. Lynch and other supportive legislators point out the need for students to have more education on today’s high tech world. This issue is being examined around the nation, with some educators and politicians claiming that it’s too easy for students to drop out.

We can all applaud the Governor’s concern for the education of our youth, and wanting to decrease NH’s 3.8% drop out rate. It worries me that NH may attempt to solve a problem by focusing on the end result. Can we solve a problem by focusing on the end of it? What about the beginning and the middle? We talk a good game here about the importance of education, but the reality is a little different. NH ranks 49th in the nation in state funding of post-secondary education. UNH is the fourth most expensive state university in the country.

Everything in NH comes down to money. To keep kids in school, will require an honest appraisal of how we do education, and making some changes. This may require money. Some kids aren’t going to comply. Will we be willing to pay for additional truant officers? Are we willing to pay for tutors, counselors, or whatever is needed to help troubled kids through the educational system? Are we willing to fund after school programs to keep kids safe until their parents get home from work? We all know the answer – and it’s a resounding NO. If we were willing, we’d be doing it already. As long as we continue to fund education through the statewide property tax, children and education will continue to be the enemy.

Governor Lynch accepted a draft last week of the NH 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness. The report was prepared by the Governor’s Interagency Council on Homelessness. A one day survey last January identified 3, 278 people as homeless, on that particular day, and 978 of them were children. The average age of a homeless person in the US is nine. The report estimates that 20,000 people are homeless in NH at some point during the year. Once again, we can all applaud the Governor’s willingness to tackle this problem. Homelessness is all too often dismissed as not being a serious issue in NH. Nearly a thousand homeless children are very serious, especially with homelessness on the rise. Those numbers will only increase until we make a serious commitment to doing something about it.

Once again, everything in NH comes down to money. There’s a real shortage of affordable housing in this state. Towns don’t want apartment buildings or rental properties, because if kids move in, the town must pay for their education. Wages haven’t kept pace with housing costs. It’s a nasty circle, and there doesn’t seem to be any way out of it. As long as NH insists on the regressive system of taxation we currently enjoy, there is no real end to any of this. The housing problems are serious enough to make prospective businesses think twice about locating in NH. Where will their work force live? The ownership society is something much touted by the current administration, but with the cost of a home averaging out at somewhere around $300,000 the American Dream is dead in the water for a large segment of the population.

It’s great that Governor Lynch is getting the dialogue going about education and housing in our state. Sadly, conversation is likely to be as far as we go. Our legislature is filled with dinosaurs. For many of them, time stopped in 1950. These are not people who are suited (in many cases) to deal with the issues of today. Again, it all comes down to money. For $100 a year, we’re getting what we pay for. NH isn’t willing to change. Until we are, nothing will.

“The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post.” L. Thomas Holdcroft

Friday, December 16, 2005


Distractions are all around us. Much of my work is done at home, where distractions abound. It’s easy to find things that need doing (dustbunnies under the chair, dishes in the sink) when I should be making phone calls or writing work plans. We are constantly bombarded with advertising and faux news. We receive constant updates on celebrity gossip – I don’t know about the rest of you folks out there – but how can I be expected to go on when Nick and Jessica have split up? Sorting through all of the information is a chore, so much so that many seem to have given up. We’re not upset that we receive less coverage of world politics in our newspapers – after all – Brad and Angelina are going to adopt a baby – TOGETHER. That’s the kind of stuff that really matters.

During this holiday season, the Falwellian Christians are engaging in some loud public distraction. Jerry Falwell is encouraging his flock to boycott businesses that greet customers with “happy holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas.” He is collecting money for a legal defense fund, the better to sue anyone who “tries to inhibit the liberties of our children and our families from worshipping and honoring the Lord, as we in America are constitutionally allowed to do.” Jerry, with the help of Fox News phonus bolonus Bill O’Reilly are trying to whip the faithful into a righteous frenzy of persecuted Christianhood, over the “liberal plot” to destroy Christmas.

In my traveling around the state, I haven’t noticed any lack of Christmas going on. I hear plenty of Christmas carols on the radio, folks are shopping, folks are sending Christmas cards, and folks are even saying Merry Christmas to one another. Falwell and O’Reilly’s phony distraction crusade would be hilarious, if it weren’t so dangerous. The religious right has been trying to convince us of their persecution for years now. Whenever they are reminded that they share this country with people of other religions, they start sniveling about what victims they are. No one is persecuting them for practicing their religion. I haven’t seen or read about Christian churches being forcibly closed down by “libruls” or government agents. It’s smoke and mirrors, designed to keep the faithful busy, while Falwell, and the high mucky-mucks are busy building empires, raking in cash, and acquiring power.

If Falwell and his ilk were at all what they claim to be, they’d be busily joining forces with Jim Wallis, and other religious leaders who, in this holiday season, are busy fighting the real war – the war on the American poor and middle class. This week, over 100 prayer vigils were held across the country, calling on Congress to soften their hearts, and not pass a budget that cuts programs like school lunch programs, food stamps, foster care, and low interest student loans. The Council of Churches is mobilizing clergy around the country to call attention to the fact that a budget is a moral document. No one will die if a store clerk says “happy holidays.” Children may very well die, without foster care funding, and without school lunches. The “war on Christmas” is a farce. The war being waged on the poor in this country is painfully real.

NH is not immune from distraction. The NH commission to study same sex marriage has proven to be another farce. It’s quite clear that the commission went forward with their findings fully in place before a single word of testimony was ever heard. Senator Jack Barnes called for amending the NH constitution, before the commission took even a minute to review their findings. He’s written to every town in the state, urging the selectmen to put two non-binding warrants on the ballot in March. One asking if voters favor same sex marriage (like Massachusetts) and another asking if they approve of civil unions (like Vermont.) He hasn’t yet heard from any towns, which seems to suggest that most towns have plenty of real business to deal with at town meeting, and no time or patience for the war on homosexuals.

This is a nasty bit of politicking. What Barnes and his ilk hope to accomplish is whipping the GOP faithful into an anti-gay political frenzy during the 2006 elections, as a form of distraction. There are a lot of issues that should be discussed during the state elections, and certainly it’s in the best interest of the ruling party to keep them as quiet as possible. Political ethics, property tax, education, housing, development, and health care are important issues in our state – and an honest discussion about them won’t be flattering to the majority party.

NH voters are suspicious of constitutional amendments, as Jack Barnes may discover. Coos County Democrat reporter Edith Tucker summed up the feelings of many in the north country on “NH Outlook” when she said that folks in the north were more interested in whether people are good neighbors or not, and didn’t care much about sexual orientation. It is sorry, indeed, that the right is using this as an attempt to pit neighbor against neighbor, and keep the focus off legislative ethics or our unjust system of taxation.

The sky hasn’t fallen, since Vermont and Massachusetts changed their laws. Lightening bolts didn’t strike when they chose to grant civil rights to our gay brothers and sisters. NH would be no different – but it would mean one fewer wedge issue for sleazy politicians to use.

America is addicted to wars of distraction.” Barbara Ehrenriech

Friday, December 02, 2005

No Joy for CCT Workers

It’s holiday time – time for the annual myths and warm fuzzies. We’ve paid homage to the Pilgrims; we’ve feasted, and perhaps spoken of gratitude. We’re heading toward Christmas, and folks will honor baby Jesus, Santa, and credit cards – the Christmas trinity. We will speak of the joy of the holiday season, even as many go into debt and spend time with relatives that make them want to slice their wrists. The joy of the holiday season is now irrevocably tied to one’s financial status.

Joy isn’t the word that folks who worked for Car Component Technologies (CCT) of Bedford will be using this year. The CCT plant in Bedford rebuilt axles for front wheel drive cars. They had a distribution center in Merrimack. CCT employed 560 people, who went to work on November 16, and were told they no longer had jobs. In NH, a company with over 100 employees is supposed to give 60 days notice before shutting down. Goodbye paycheck, goodbye health benefits – and hello to paychecks bouncing, vacation pay lost, and 401 (k)s being frozen. Oh – and happy holidays.

CCT’s parent company is American Remanufacturers Inc., based in Anaheim, CA. American Remanufacturers Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection/reorganization on November 7. There was nothing in their reorganization plan about closing plants or layoffs. CCT says they’ve been forced to close because they can’t compete with cheap Chinese imports. This means the employees are eligible for assistance under the federal Trade Act. This means that former employees will be eligible for additional weeks of unemployment, and up to $19,000 of training per person. The NH Congressional delegation is being asked to help speed this along.

The state has responded very quickly to this situation. The Department of Employment Security (DES) waived the waiting period for unemployment checks. They opened the Manchester office on a Sunday to help CCT workers. Other state agencies are helping folks apply for food stamps, and fuel assistance. Translation help is coming from the Latin American Center in Manchester. A large percentage of CCT employees speak Spanish, with smaller percentages of people who speak Bosnian or Arabic. Over 350 Thanksgiving dinner packages were handed out to former CCT employees, via the NH Food Bank, who were thrilled by the donations and support they received in the community.

To protect the interests of former CCT employees, at the behest of Governor Lynch, NH is intervening in the bankruptcy proceedings. Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and Labor Commissioner George Copadis filed an objection in the US bankruptcy Court in Delaware. The state wants to reserve $1.4 million to cover potential claims from workers, which would ensure they were protected ahead of the other creditors of American Remanufacturers Inc.

Some of the CCT employees had gone to work there after the closing of the Jac-Pac plant in Manchester in 2004. CCT had a practice of hiring families, so now, in some cases entire families are out of work. They were given no warning, in fact, at the plant on November 16, everyone was told there was nothing to worry about. One man was even given a promotion to management. An hour-and-a-half later the employees were told they no longer had jobs. Not only was there no warning, the employees were flat out lied to.

I trust most readers will see the irony in the re-training money offered up by the federal Trade Act, since it is trade policies which caused the whole situation. As NH moves further into a service economy, I can’t help but wonder what kind of jobs these folks can be trained for. Some companies have come forward to offer former CCT employees jobs; Stonyfield Yogurt, Freudenburg- NOK, and Wal-Mart among them. There is some irony there – since Wal-Mart is stocked primarily with items made in China. It’s also ironic that our Congressmen are being asked to help speed along the assistance from the Trade Act, at the same time they have both voted for the budget reconciliation, which will cut programs like food stamps and Medicaid. The cuts may not come in time to hurt the former CCT employees, but the next round of “free trade” casualties may not be so lucky.

Manufacturing jobs are disappearing fast, in the USA. GM and Ford are going to be closing plants and laying people off. It’s hard to feel too sorry for the companies, since they’ve essentially shot themselves in the foot by continuing to build big gas guzzlers. Companies like Toyota are still manufacturing in the US, but also opening new plants in Canada, because they have national health care. We are long overdue for a national discussion and evaluation of trade policy, economics, and health care. Unfortunately, it isn’t going to happen until many more people are hurt. No one really cares about the loss of $10 an hour manufacturing jobs in NH. When CEO’s begin to be affected, perhaps the conversation will begin.

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” John Maynard Keynes

Friday, November 18, 2005

Values Based Behavior

We’ve been conditioned for a very long time to believe that what is good for corporate America is good for all of us, and despite mounting evidence that this isn’t so, we’re all still nodding and humming along. This week, a report shows that corporate America is so far behind in paying for employee pensions, that anyone who has one might as well forget about it. Our retirement system is about to collapse.

Our health care system is collapsing, too. Over 48 million Americans have no health insurance, and that number is on the rise. The number of uninsured children is increasing, too. The number of Americans living in poverty is also on the rise, despite the much touted economic recovery. Most people have lousy health insurance, and are scared to death that they’ll get sick. The Medicare prescription drug plan is going into effect, a wonderful program that will help insurance and drug companies add to their profit margins, while adding an extra monthly “user fee” to folks living on fixed incomes, many of whom are already making some difficult choices between food, rent, and medication.

The solutions being proposed to these situations are things like privatizing Social Security, cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, low income student loans, and school lunch programs. We hear a lot of talk from our friends in Washington about values – particularly family values – but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand how robbing seniors and taking food off the plates of schoolchildren can be considered values based behavior.

This past weekend, in Tamworth, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the Eastern Slopes and The World Fellowship Center co-sponsored a screening of the new documentary that’s being shown across the country, and creating a buzz. The movie is called “Wal-Mart – The High Cost of Low Price.” Over 50 people attended the screening, and took place in the discussion that followed. Wal-Mart raked in $10 billion in profits last year. Their CEO, Lee Scott, received a bonus of $22 million – over his $1.5 million salary. They are the biggest employer in the world, and hugely successful. The chief reason for their success is the US taxpayer, who spends about $2.5 billion annually on federal assistance programs that Wal-Mart employees are eligible for. The cost of subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart is $210 million – and counting. The cost to NH taxpayers has been nearly $5 million so far. With $10 billion in profits, it seems to me that Wal-Mart shouldn’t be relying on taxpayers to pick up their tab.

The consensus among the movie viewers in Tamworth is that boycotting Wal-Mart will never make any difference. There are too many people who just plain can’t afford not to shop there – and Wal-Mart’s scorched earth policy has left few shopping alternatives in many places. It is possible, however, to influence corporate behavior. McDonald’s wraps their sandwiches in paper, due to a national outcry about the Styrofoam boxes they used to use. A continued outcry against the corporate welfare

Wal-Mart benefits so much from will hurt their image, and force them to change their behavior. The next time you hear DHHS Commissioner John Stephen complaining about Medicaid costs, be aware that in addition to Wal-Mart, some Dunkin Donuts, and Shaws employees are receiving Medicaid benefits in NH. Employees of the US Postal Service and the NH state government are, too.

The old saying “if we keep on doing what we always done, we’ll keep on getting what we always got” has never been truer. We’ve all been hurt by the high cost of gasoline, and we’re all approaching the winter with trepidation about the cost of heating our homes. Our elected officials are responding to this crisis by slipping a provision to drill in ANWR into the budget. Studies by the Dept. of Energy show that drilling in ANWR will reduce the cost of a gallon of gas by about one penny in 20 years. Clearly that’s not the solution to our energy gluttony. Conservation would go a long way – increasing the CAFÉ standards for US vehicles to 40 mpg would reduce our oil consumption by 6 million barrels of oil every day. Our national fuel economy is actually worse today than it was 20 years ago, yet we hear nothing of conservation. Instead, we have US automakers continuing to churn out SUVs and giant trucks as though we had an endless supply of oil. The foreign oil market will become increasingly tight as we compete with the growing energy needs of China. There’s no time like the present to begin modifying our behavior. It’s a sin that conservation doesn’t seem to be a part of our national values.

I was sorry to see that the town of Fryeburg chose not to purchase their water company. Once a private company owns the water company, one of the global water corporations can come in and buy the company – and sell Fryeburg water to the highest bidder. It may seem like good fiscal thinking at this point – but if Bechtel or Veolia comes along and purchases the private company – Fryeburg will not control its own water supply. More and more companies are buying up land to secure the water rights, so that the water can be sold. Water is essential to human life – and it is finite. We should all be thinking long and hard about protecting our water supplies. The cost may have seemed high to voters in Fryeburg – but the cost of not having water or having polluted water supplies will be much, much higher. As the selectmen work toward forming a new water district, they should remember that local control is of vital importance.

“Corporation, n., An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility.” Ambrose Bierce

Thursday, November 03, 2005


The ancient Greek lyric poet Pindar wrote, “The noblest of the elements is water.” Water is essential to human life for nourishment and sanitation. We humans have taken water for granted, and contaminated many water supplies – and we are beginning to learn what that will cost us. The water wars will be even uglier than the oil wars.

A new coalition, the NH Water Table, sponsored a conference called “Protecting New Hampshire’s Water” last month in Manchester. The keynote speaker was Maude Barlow, who co-wrote the book, “Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water.” Ms. Barlow is from Canada, and is an expert on globalization, and the burgeoning world water crisis. It was well worth the long drive and the day’s investment to attend this conference. Small skirmishes in the water wars have already begun in our state – with the ongoing fight over the US Springs bottling plant in Nottingham, the fight about the Castle Springs bottling operation in Moultonborough, and of course the Poland Springs bottling operation in Fryeburg, ME. NH is fortunate in having a goodly supply of clean water, but we must act quickly to protect it.

The world is running out of fresh water. There are already countries in water crisis, including 22 African countries, and two-thirds of northern China. India and China have destroyed (by pollution) over 70 percent of their surface water. There is talk of moving the Chinese capital city, because of water – Beijing has serious water problems. Florida and the western US states are facing serious water problems. Barlow predicts that two-thirds of the world will have water shortages by 2025.

The large groundwater withdrawals for water bottling sales are exacerbating the problem.

Bottled water sales have skyrocketed in the last decade. Bottled water is being marketed as being superior to tap water, even though what’s in that bottle may be tap water sold to consumers as “fresh from a mountain spring” at a thousand times the cost of tap water. The bottled water industry is almost entirely unregulated, unlike municipal water supplies, where the water quality is monitored constantly. The idea is to create a suspicion of publicly owned water suppliers, and encourage the belief that bottled water is better and safer. A generation of kids is growing up with the belief that water is something you buy in a plastic bottle at the store. The bottled water companies are making obscene profits and creating obscene amounts of garbage. Every day over 30 million plastic water bottles are discarded. Only 1 in 10 makes it to recycling, the rest go into the landfill – where the chemicals in the plastic break down and contaminate the groundwater.....and the cycle continues.

The Poland Spring water bottling operation in Fryeburg has been a controversial topic now for some time. Fryeburg recently enacted a temporary ban on issuing permits for large scale groundwater extractions. It’s a smart move – given that most towns haven’t factored water extraction into their planning processes or town ordinances. That 6 month moratorium will give the town a chance to study the subject, and reflect seriously on water and the future. The towns on the NH side of the border should be watching this issue, and planning in their own communities.

Poland Spring is owned by the Nestle Corporation, a company with a long, disgusting record of violating human rights around the world. Nestle earns over $4 billion a year selling baby formula. They aggressively market their bottle feeding formulas as superior to breast milk in third world countries. Often they give out free samples to new mothers in the hospital. The mothers leave the hospital, with their own milk dried up, and are now forced to buy the formula and mix it with water, and in many cases that water supply is contaminated. A recent independent audit of Nestlé’s conduct in Pakistan found 3 violations of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) code for marketing breast milk substitutes. They found 2 examples of Nestle delegates offering financial or material inducements to a health professional, which is prohibited by the WHO. Nestle also owns Perrier, and San Pellegrino, and a number of smaller US water bottling companies.

Castle Springs Bottled Water Company was a small, locally owned operation in Moultonborough. Two years ago, it was purchased by Crystal Geyser Roxanne, a California firm that put 2 new boreholes deep into the aquifer, and is currently bottling 3 million gallons of water a month. Castle Springs had been granted a special exception to operate in a rural-residential-agricultural zone. Crystal Geyser Roxanne has increased the truck traffic five-fold, since they took over. The residents of Moultonborough are extremely concerned about the massive water withdrawals and the increase in truck activity. Another area of concern is for the potential contamination. The large scale water withdrawals can contaminate the water source.

Something else for towns and states to consider is that trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA provide foreign countries the opportunity to sue if we create “barriers to trade.” In other words, if a town attempts to pull out of a water deal with a CAFTA country, they can sue for the loss of their profits. Our NH Congressional delegation all voted for CAFTA, by the way. Welcome to the wonderful world of globalization.

Water – we need to act now to protect it. The Alliance for Democracy (www. has a wealth of information at their site. The NH group Save Our Groundwater (www.saveourgroundwater) is an excellent resource. Join the NH Water Table coalition, at can also order the documentary “Thirst” to learn about communities all over the world who are resisting the privatization of their water, and water services. It’s available at, and is discounted to community organizations.

“We never know the worth of water till the well is dry.” Thomas Fuller

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Smoking Crack

NH politics are like smoking crack – addictive. Once upon a time I didn’t pay attention; I found national politics more interesting and relevant. Many folks only pay attention to elections every four years, and I was one of them. Those days are long gone; during the last decade I picked up the pipe, and became fully hooked on the interesting and sometimes bizarre world of NH politics.

Bizarro world cropped up recently, with our Congressional delegation urging Executive Councilman Ray Burton to resign. I’ve been to dozens of Congressman Bradley’s town hall meetings in the last six months. He’s been asked plenty of questions that he gladly passed back to state officials, as being out of his jurisdiction. I find the federal delegation’s sudden involvement in state affairs interesting. It’s also heavy handed, bullying, and obnoxious. Why is the federal delegation getting involved in trying to force the resignation of a member of their own political party? Could it be that on a state level, so much bad behavior has been ignored, that our state elected officials don’t have much credibility?

In April 2005, Representative Chris Doyle of Windham assaulted an election official at town meeting, while she was counting ballots. Doyle is 26, and Gail Webster is 61. He was charged with a Class B felony assault. Representative Doyle was not asked to resign from the NH House. Representative JJ Manning, of Salem, was charged with selling alcohol to minors. He runs a bar near the racetrack in Salem. An underage friend of his daughter’s wrapped her car around a tree one night after an evening at his establishment. Representative Manning was not asked to resign from the House. Representative Gene Chandler failed to report campaign contributions. He did resign from his position as Speaker of the House, but despite pleading guilty, and despite the ethics committee recommendation that he be expelled from the House, Representative Chandler was not asked to resign. It would be hard for the state GOP to say much of anything to Ray Burton – especially given that Burton himself has not been charged with any crime.

Do not; (I repeat – DO NOT) take this as a defense of Ray Burton’s extremely bad judgment in hiring and retaining Mark Seidensticker. Ray’s done a fairly decent job in the north country. He’s been very good on health care issues, and I’ve actually heard him admit that NH has a revenue problem. He’s not a barking lunatic right winger, which may be part of the reason his own party is trying to eat him. I’ve disagreed strongly with him on some issues. He’s a Republican, and it’s no secret that I’d be happy to see fewer of them in office in our state. It is very interesting that a bunch of politicians who could care less about the north country unless they want our votes, are suddenly all concerned about ethics and impropriety. They’ve certainly turned their back on plenty of criminal behavior and gross ethical violations. The rallying cry around Chandler (uttered by his party and the turncoat Democrats who voted not to cast him out) was “let the voters decide.” It seems as if ethical considerations aren’t equally applied. Imagine that.

Bills held over from last year will be coming back to haunt us in 2006. One such bill is HB16, a bill that would urge our Congressional delegation to support plans to privatize Social Security. It’s been retained in the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee. Now that we’re facing at least $200 billion in costs to rebuild New Orleans, it seems that borrowing $1-5 trillion to fund those private accounts is grossly irresponsible – and that’s saying something for the least fiscally responsible administration in our nation’s history. We know that there is no “crisis” in Social Security. It would be extremely ill advised for our state legislature to suggest that our Congressional delegation support this sort of borrowing. The privatization plans have proven hugely unpopular with NH residents – and people all over the country. This isn’t something our Congressman will enjoy having on their resumes for next year’s elections. In fact, it would be political suicide.

The NH Commission studying same sex marriage voted this week to recommend an amendment to our state constitution, defining marriage as only between one man and one woman. Senator Jack Barnes made the motion to recommend to the legislature that they pass this amendment on to voters next November. Senator Barnes admitted that the amendment is not likely to clear the Senate, and would not have much of a chance in the House – but he wanted each legislator to have a chance to take a public stand prior to the 2006 elections.

This is so blatant – and so vile – using a civil rights issue to whip bigots into the voting booth is a shameful tactic. Shame on Senator Barnes and those who voted in favor of this nasty piece of business: Representative Paul Brassard, Commission Chair Rep.Tony Soltani, Commission Vice-Chair Scott Earnshaw, Jack Fredyma, and Commission Clerk Rep. Maureen Mooney. To contact the commission with your comments, send emails to the clerk at: .

“The job of a citizen is to keep his mouth open.” Gunter Grass

Friday, September 23, 2005

Just Say No to HB 39

The NH legislature is getting back into gear for the 2006 session. A number of bills have already made their way to legislative services, and more will be forthcoming. This isn’t a budget year, so we will be spared the budget wrangling, and we’ll have more time to focus on what kind of legislation is being considered. Hot topics this year will include immigration legislation and changes in voter laws. Despite the lack of evidence of any voter fraud, we can expect to see legislation aimed at increasing the barriers to voter participation by certain populations – students, minorities, and the indigent. The police in New Ipswich and Hudson were thwarted by the courts, who ruled that criminal trespass laws weren’t intended to be used against undocumented workers. A couple of state reps from Hudson have proposed legislation targeting the same population.

The legislature will also be contending with everything that was held over in committee from last session. One such bill is HB39, “An Act relative to sex education in public schools.” This bill is aimed at turning comprehensive sex education into an abstinence only program. NH has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Last year DHHS received a big chunk of cash from the federal government for having such a low teen pregnancy rate. What we’ve been doing has obviously been working rather well – so it’s ironic (and moronic) that the response to success is to attempt to institute the sort of programs that are failing teens around the country.

There’s plenty of evidence that abstinence only programs aren’t working. Study after study shows that teens were more sexually active after going through abstinence only programs. Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Texas all had similar findings. In Erie County, Pennsylvania, 42 percent of teen girls who attended an abstinence only program were sexually active, compared with 27 percent of those who weren’t in the program. In Texas, tenth grade boys’ rates of sexual activity increased from 24 to 39 percent. California terminated its abstinence only programs in 1996, because it wasn’t working.

A report issued by Rep. Henry Waxman of California, found that some of the most popular abstinence only programs (federally funded programs) contained false statements about contraception, HIV transmission, abortion, and STDs. This misleading information increases the likelihood that teens in these programs will have unprotected sex.

HB39 stipulates that “Pupils shall be provided with statistics based on the latest medical information citing the failure and success rates of condoms in preventing HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.” If this information is coming from one of the aforementioned programs, it’s very likely to be false, and may actually result in kids engaging in unprotected sex – which will in turn result in actually increasing the teen pregnancy rate.

No one ever worries about kids getting too much exposure to math. Teaching algebra doesn’t result in the fear that kids will want to stay after school and figure out pi equations on the blackboard, or go into nerdy math careers. Despite all evidence to the contrary – the fear continues to be perpetuated that educating kids about their bodies, sexuality, and responsibility will result in unrestrained sexual activity, and orgies all over town. Teaching fear and repression has never worked. There was at least one pregnant girl in my little pre-Roe vs. Wade high school. There were even pregnant girls in the idyllic 1950’s. They just got shipped off to relatives for the duration – while discreet adoptions were arranged, or they had illegal abortions.

What the abstinence only proponents refuse to acknowledge, is that abstinence is, in fact, taught in comprehensive sex ed programs. We would all like to see kids wait until they’re older, and more responsible to begin having sexual relationships. Not everyone will heed that advice, as history shows us. Isn’t it better for those kids to at least have some preparation beyond “just say no?” We don’t just put a kid in a car, give ‘em the keys and say – go ahead and drive. We give them an education to prepare them for the reality of what happens behind the wheel. Shouldn’t we do the same with sex education?

NH has been successful in reducing the teen pregnancy rate – so to change what is working, to what is proven not to work is a concept I find utterly mystifying. HB39 is sponsored by Rep.Russell Albert of Rochester, Rep. Harriet Cady of Deerfield, and Rep. Kathleen Souza of Manchester. Rep. Souza is a member of both NH Right to Life and the national Right to Life organizations. It’s interesting to note that both Souza and Cady voted against legislation that would mandate the wearing of bicycle helmets by children. At least they’re consistent in their approach when it comes to kids and protection.

Abstinence only programs are politically and religiously motivated. They aren’t based in reality – they don’t care about teens, and above all – they don’t work! Do we really want to ruin young lives with this socio-political experiment? Please contact your state reps and urge them to just vote no on HB39.

“Life in Lubbock, Texas, taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you're going to burn in hell. The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth and you should save it for someone you love.” Butch Hancock

Friday, July 29, 2005

Summer is here, and the traffic isn’t horrible, isn’t even visible some of the time.

I drive to Concord at least once a week, and even around the lake in Meredith the traffic isn’t nearly as awful as it usually is. The price of gasoline isn’t going down – and probably never will. There are more cars on the road, and fewer SUVs. More SUVs and trucks are on the side of the road with For Sale signs on them. In spite of the endless heat and humidity, there is some justifiable fear about the cost of heating homes this winter. The economy is uncertain. Good jobs are still disappearing, and are replaced with lower paying service jobs. No wonder there is trepidation about traveling. The future isn’t looking so bright.

With skyrocketing fuel prices, one would think this would be a great time to form a sensible national energy policy that would lessen our dependence on oil, and encourage conservation. One would be wrong. The energy bill being crafted by our elected officials is anything but sensible, and actually increases our dependence on oil, while decreasing protections to our supply of clean water. The current energy bill is a valentine for oil and utility companies. The oil and utility companies have spent $367 million lobbying Congress in the last 2 years. Their reward for this persistence is $3.2 billion in new tax breaks to the oil and gas industries, $2 billion in funds to study ultra-deepwater research companies are already pursuing without our tax dollars, $125 million to reimburse oil and gas producers for 115% of the cost of reclaiming and closing orphaned wells. Even as we taxpayers are being asked to subsidize oil companies, they are enjoying record profits. Oil industry CEO’s received a 109.1% increase in their salaries, between 2003 and 2004.

The bill’s total package of tax breaks for energy companies comes in at around $11.5 billion. The Bush administration had recommended a paltry $6.7 billion in tax breaks. At a time where energy is increasingly needed, and record profits are being amassed by energy companies, one wonders at this corporate welfare. One doesn’t wonder for long, because in addition to the money spent on lobbying, Texas based Exxon Mobil contributed $935.266 to federal candidates for the 2004 elections, more than any other oil company. Chevron contributed $498,992 to candidates in 2004. Southern Co. a utility company contributed $1.1 million on candidates, and just won the repeal of a 1935 law that prohibits utility companies from using customer revenue to subsidize non-regulated business. We are hooked on oil, and our elected officials are hooked on energy money.

One of the most egregious provisions in the proposed House energy bill, would have allowed oil companies to duck out of their responsibility for clean up in areas contaminated by gasoline additive MTBE. The additive has polluted drinking water across the nation, including NH. Some members of the House put together a deal that would relieve the oil companies of any direct responsibility for MTBE cleanup – those poor beleaguered oil companies raking in record profits right now. These representatives suggested a plan that would allow polluters to put a small percentage into a special trust fund, and the rest of the tab would be picked up by the taxpayers. NH is in the process of suing some of these oil companies, which makes it all the more surprising that NH Rep. Charles Bass was one of the supporters of the deal to let polluters off the hook, at taxpayer expense.

The last energy bill before Congress didn’t pass, because of the contention over MTBE. Our entire delegation voted against the energy bill because of it. This year, Bass peeled off, and decided to cast his lot with Texas Reps. Joe Barton and Tom DeLay, who represent the state that is home to the polluters responsible for destroying drinking water in NH. Bass claimed that being on this committee allowed him a voice to help NH. It’s hard to envision how the plan was actually helping NH. Making taxpayers pay for the reckless disregard shown by the oil companies is a curious way of “helping” NH. The only beneficiaries are the oil companies, and the Texas Congressional delegation.

Why would Bass go against the best interests of his state? A look at his 2004 campaign donations may offer some insight. In a list breaking down contributions by business sector, electric utilities ranked seventh place in donating money to Bass, and oil and gas came in 20th place. Bass also received a tidy sum from Tom DeLay’s PAC. In looking at sums already reported for the 2006 campaign cycle, Exxon Mobil is ranking in 7th place as a Bass donor, and energy PACs are in 4th place. Yessiree, Charlie Bass was doing a fine job for Texas, until the MTBE deal fell through, and was taken out of the energy bill. Congressman Bass now has some serious egg on his face, and a slimy money trail to follow through this next election cycle.

The energy bill doesn’t address conservation in a meaningful way, does not raise CAFÉ standards for fuel efficiency, and calls on utility companies to be getting 10% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. This would be laughable if we weren’t seeing the fallout from our national energy policy right here in NH. While driving to Concord earlier this week, I heard a bulletin on the radio, advising seniors, people with respiratory problems, and young children to avoid spending time outside because of the unhealthy levels of air pollution. We expect to hear this in LA, or Texas – but not NH. As long as oil men are running our government, and oil companies are providing vast sums of campaign funds to our politicians, we can expect to stay the course – continued dependence on unstable foreign oil, and increased dependence on serious polluters like coal and nuclear power. And whenever things go wrong, we can count on our legislators to find a way for the taxpayers to pick up the tab.

“Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder.” George Washington