Thursday, December 28, 2006

The 2007 Legislative Session Begins

The NH legislature will be back in session on January 3, 2007. The new session begins with the Democrats holding the majority of seats in both the House and Senate. A number of new legislators will be learning the ropes. Committee Chairmanships have been shuffled, office spaces have been reassigned. Presumably the parking space wars go on.
A visit to the General Court will reveal over a thousand new bills being proposed in 2007. Most are just tantalizing snippets, since the full text of the bill is not available until it has been officially introduced. Our local legislators (district 1) have been busy – I saw Tom Buco, Ed Butler, and Gene Chandler listed as sponsors of bills, and Carolyn Brown as the co-sponsor of one bill.

This will be a year for hammering out a state budget, which will be a challenge, as always. NH will be losing $19 million in federal funds. In a state averse to collecting revenue, this always means a challenge. This year some of the suggestions include a tax on soda and candy, increasing certain fish and game non-resident license or permit fees, establishing a state owned casino to provide funds for public education, a hike in wild turkey hunting permit fees, a tax on bottled water, a tax on cigarette manufacturers, a user charge for excessive consumption of police services, and my favorite – a bill establishing a study committee on implementing a “bedroom tax” on residential dwellings. At the same time, there are bills that would eliminate the “view” tax from the property tax, and others that would exclude seniors and veterans from the property tax, and another that would exempt retirement funds from the interest and dividends tax. Two bills propose a cut in the business profits and business enterprise taxes. As always – some legislators trying to provide revenue while others try hard to eliminate it. It’s the continual paradox of NH.

As always, there are a number of bills attempting to deal with the rising costs of health care. Apparently our NH legislators didn’t heed Senator Sununu’s recent warning not to worry about it. One bill would “establish a NH health access corporation, continually appropriating a special fund, and allowing the healthy kids corporation to cover adults.”
Another would establish a commission to study a single payer system for NH. There is also a bill requiring interpretation services (upon request) for people seeking medical treatment, and a bill that would allow for medical use of marijuana.

There are even more than the usual number of bills proposing changes in the voter laws. Naturally, there is the usual GOP effort to make voting even more difficult, by attempting to mandate photo ID’s must be shown to obtain a ballot, several bills relating to the order of names on ballots, and a bill that would eliminate same day voter registration. The same sponsors that want photo ID at the polls also want all forms of ID to indicate citizenship. For decades the Democrats tried to eliminate straight ticket voting, but the GOP resisted, since it was one of their many tools to ensure one party rule. This year it backfired, and bit them in the behind, with numerous straight ticket votes being cast for Democrats. Suddenly, straight ticket voting is a bad thing, according to some Republicans. Keeping their promise, there are at least 2 bills (sponsored by Democrats) that would eliminate straight ticket voting.

There are also a number of bills around civil union and marriage. One proposed bill calls for NH to recognize marriage as being between one man and one woman, which is already state law, and therefore, more than a little redundant. It was proposed by a divorced legislator. A pity these same legislators aren’t more concerned with the failure of heterosexual marriage. Another bill calls for medical coverage for domestic partners, which is sound policy. As for civil union – separate but equal is not equal.

On the surface, some proposed bills make a lot of sense. Establishing a housing commission seems a good idea, as does raising the minimum wage. Permitting adoption by two unmarried adults in a familial relationship seems sensible, as well. Creating an environmental policy for NH seems so sensible, that I despair that it hasn’t been done before now. A bill prohibiting NH from participating in a national ID card system is back again, this year. You may recall that a similar bill passed the House last year, but was killed in the wimpy Senate. Another bill would give the governor and state senators a four year term. I’m in agreement about the governor’s seat. The two year term makes for endless campaigning and fundraising. The governor should be freed up to devote more time to the people’s business.

Some bills seem just kind of bizarre. One calls for repealing the incorporation of the NH Bar Association. Another would require that court ordered courses for DWI offenses be available online. What a great idea – one could take the course in the privacy of one’s own home, just sitting down and relaxing over a beer or two. One bill would revoke the driver’s license of students who drop out of school. Another brilliant idea – make sure the kid can’t get to work. That won’t cause any problems or expenses for communities. Without the full text, some of these bills are cryptic indeed. “Relative to the oaths required of public officers.” We can only wonder at what that might entail, or why it is important. Another that mildly concerns me is “relative to access to toilet facilities in public places.” Hopefully the sponsor is in favor of toilet facilities in public places.

The NH General Court website: is a useful tool, and one that everyone should bookmark. As these bills are introduced, the full text will be there for us to examine. There’s even an option for streaming audio when the House/Senate are in session, so that you can listen in. There are also guided historical tours of the NH State House, and there’s room in the gallery to sit and watch the action unfold. I realize not everyone can take a mid-week day off to go hang out in Concord, but if you can – I heartily recommend it. We the people should be watching what happens in our house. See you in Concord!

“Man is the only animal that laughs and has a state legislature.” Samuel Butler

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What, Me Worry?

The November elections brought many changes, and for many of us, brought hope for a new national conversation about health care. Most working folks understand that we have a national health care crisis – that our cobbled together privatized system leaves out approximately 47 million Americans. Most people, even some politicians think this is wrong – but not all, apparently. Recently our very own NH Senator leaped into the fray, telling business leaders, “There is no solution.” This astounding quote appeared in the December 3, Concord Sunday Monitor, in the “Capital Beat” section. In it, the Monitor reports that Senator John Sununu had met with economic development leaders and told them not to waste time worrying about the cost of health care. He told them they’d be better off putting their energy elsewhere. Indeed, why should he worry? As a federal employee he has a fine health insurance plan. He’s been in office long enough so he won’t ever have to worry about it. Worry is for the common folks! One can only assume that this blithe disregard for a serious issue will come back to bite him right in the assume when he runs for re-election in 2008.

When Senator Sununu runs for re-election, you may wonder, who will be funding his campaign? Any time spent searching at is always quality time. At opensecrets you can find out who gets money from what organizations, PACS, zip codes, and so on. You can see copies of candidate financial disclosure forms. It’s a very helpful place, filled with all kinds of interesting facts for your perusal. A look through Senator Sununu’s section at opensecrets reveals that his top business donor since he entered Congress in 1996 is securities and investment. In second place for business contributions is the insurance industry. It’s no wonder he’s so sure the solution to our health care problems lies in the open market – the open market funds his campaign – even in non-election years. So far, this year, the insurance industry has given Senator Sununu $322,500. He’s not even running for office till 2008. In contrast, the pharmaceutical industry are cheap buggers, they’ve only given him $92,999 so far this year. Maybe that’s the payback he gets for not voting for the Medicare Modernization Act, which gave us Medicare Part D.

I was interested to learn that the Senator’s top metro area contributions come from New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Houston, and Lowell. He receives generous contributions from the Bedford and Rochester areas, but his top dollars are mostly coming from out of state. What does all of this mean? Well, one thing I’m sure of is that he gets a boatload of money from the insurance industry. Does all of that hard cash have an impact on his positions and his voting? I’m betting that if I donated $300,000 to his campaign that I’d have his full attention, and plenty of it, just about any time I wanted it.

There has never been a better time to consider how we fund elections. It’s time for us to change the money market, so that we don’t wind up with an endless succession of Sununus – privileged scions of wealthy families, who have never had to live in the real world, where health insurance is enormously expensive, and housing costs are the 7th highest in the nation. I urge you to check out the website at . Just $6 is the project of Americans for Campaign Reform, and their honorary chairpersons are: Bill Bradley, Warren Rudman, Bob Kerrey, and Alan Simpson. For only $6 each, we could publicly fund all federal elections, and eliminate the big money contributions from special interests. This project was born right here in NH, and rumor has it that it will be going national in the next year or so. Please check out their website, and add your support to the growing move to take the big money (and influence) out of our democratic process.

Senator Sununu isn’t a terrible guy. He did vote against the terrible Medicare Modernization Act. He voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment. He voted against extending the Patriot Act. These were all good votes, and prove that he can break party ranks on occasion. Still, I find myself astounded that he would willingly become the Alfred E. Neuman of NH – what me, worry?

If the open market had a solution, we’d know about it. There’s a reason why so many other countries have universal health care plans. There’s a reason why pharmaceuticals are cheaper in those countries. We’re getting fleeced, told we have the finest health care system in the world, and getting fleeced some more. Who benefits? Insurance companies are recording record profits. Their CEO’s are raking in the big bucks, too. UnitedHealth Group CEO William McGuire enjoyed a salary of $135. 47 million. (Poor guy had to resign over a stock option timing problem.) Poor John Rowe of Aetna only made $57.49 million, and at a paltry $42.13 million, Edward Hanway of Cigna must be ready to apply for food stamps.

This much is certain – you and I are not benefiting from this – not even a little. As long as we don’t worry about it – nothing will change, and that, friends, is what the insurance industry and Senator Sununu are counting on.

“In the future, we’ll all have 15 minutes of fame, and 15 minutes of health care.” Nicole Hollander

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Annual War on Christmas

We’re into the Christmas retail season – and the annual accusations of a “war against Christmas” have begun. A cynical person might find all of this “war on Christmas” hype to be a sure-fire fundraiser for some right wing Christian groups. A cynical person might find this to be a way for Bill O’Reilly and Faux News to get their names up in lights, and liven up the ratings. Cynical or not, the “war on Christmas” like many wars (war on terror, war on drugs) is a manipulation. Follow it through to a logical conclusion – if he evil anti-Christmas forces win, what happens? No more Christmas? HA! The retailers of the world would never stand for it!

In NH we see no signs of this alleged war. The world’s ugliest nativity scene, featuring the world’s whitest baby Jesus will still go up in front of the State House in Concord. Last week Berlin’s annual Christmas parade featured a float with potential gifts and their costs on the front , and a nativity scene bearing the sign “priceless” in the rear of the float; clearly a take-off on the popular credit card ad. The parade’s theme was “Christmas, through the eyes of a child.” It was not “holidays through the eyes of a child.” Apparently they haven’t heard about the “war” on Christmas up in Berlin.
In fact, “Merry Christmas” is the most common greeting one hears from store clerks. It doesn’t seem to be offending anyone – heck, most of us are happy to be greeted politely in a retail setting!

In an effort to continue to fuel the phony war, Bill O’Reilly recently had a good rant on his show about Crate and Barrel stores, where he quoted a spokesperson for the chain, who allegedly said, “We would definitely not say Merry Christmas.” He claimed to have confirmed the quote, and went into lather about how chanting Muslims wouldn’t get handcuffed in Crate and Barrel. In the real world, where oxygen is flowing to the brain, the Crate and Barrel spokesperson was actually saying that C&B has no policy either encouraging or discouraging employees from saying, “Merry Christmas.” Nice job of confirmation, there, Bill. So – what is in it for O’Reilly – why is he perpetuating this nonsense? A simple visit to his website will show you what he holds dear to his heart – HIS WALLET. The Christmas Store section of his site features a number of products for sale, including hats, tee shirts, coffee mugs, doormats, outerwear, and golf balls with the logo “Culture Warrior.” For a mere $54.95, you, too, can purchase one of these sweatshirts. The “Culture Warrior” varsity jacket is a steal at only $159. 95. Gee whiz, a cynical person might get to thinking that he’s perpetuating this nonsense because it lines his pockets. O’Reilly – a crass opportunist? Oh, say it ain’t so.

The site is all about the joys of Christmas, with religion and commerce represented interchangeably. The American Family Association (a right wing Christian group) asked Wal-Mart not to ban the use of “Christmas” in their advertising and promotions. Apparently Sam’s Club (a Wal-Mart subsidiary) wasn’t using the word Christmas often enough to suit the AFA in their advertising. Wal-Mart apparently ignored the letter. Despite this misbehavior on Wal-Mart’s part, I am assured by shoppers that Wal-Mart is crammed with Christmas materials, including plenty of baby Jesus.

This is enough to cause some head scratching, when one gets to seriously pondering. Why are the evangelicals so intent on linking a religious holiday to retail and commerce? One might think they’d want to distance themselves, and their religious celebration from crass commercialism. Shouldn’t the birth of the Christ child be a matter for celebrating in one’s house of worship? Why would they want to link it to whipping out a credit card? Instead, it seems that these evangelicals are trying to blur the lines between religion and retail; a line that most of us realize was crossed some decades ago. They just don’t want to admit it. The use of the inclusive term “holiday” is really all about cleaning out the wallets of practitioners of all religions.

The only evidence I’ve found of a real war, is a story from Colorado . A homeowners association is threatening to fine a woman who has a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign on her house. Some of the residents in this subdivision complained about the wreath, calling it a symbol of Satan. Lisa Jensen, of Pagosa Springs, CO, has refused to remove the wreath, saying that she will not be bullied. Apparently the residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq. These people seem to be playing right into the war on Christmas – after all, isn’t Christmas supposed to be about the birth of Christ? Isn’t he often referred to as “the prince of peace”? If that is the case, how then, can a peace wreath be a symbol of Satan?

I wish you joy and common sense in this holiday season.

“Next to a circus, there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” Kin Hubbard

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Our "Network" Moment

The elections are over and the spin has begun. The recently deposed party and their media mouthpieces would have us believe that the reason for their grievous loss is the war in Iraq and that dissatisfaction with the war trickled all the way down to NH state legislators. It’s a disingenuous spin that allows the GOP to blame the president without taking any responsibility for their own conduct – or the way they ran their own races. It’s also creating a lot of whining, that in the interest of full disclosure, I confess to be enjoying.

It seems a very long time ago since we saw President Bush emerge from a plane in a manly flight suit with the banner “Mission Accomplished” displayed behind him. Since that premature announcement of victory, thousands of US and untold numbers of Iraqi lives have been lost. At least $380 billion dollars have been sent over there, resulting in no measurable improvement. The war goes on, the spending goes on, and so does the dying. Months ago, the President told a writer that he would stay the course in Iraq, even if the only people who agreed with him were his wife and his dog. A couple of weeks before the election, in an attempt to save his party, he told us that “stay the course” had never been their philosophy. With utter arrogance and stupidity, it never occurred to them they’d lose control of the House and Senate, so a little over a week after Bush told us that Rumsfeld was doing a fantastic job, he got the Brownie treatment, and was pushed on to his sword the day after the election. Too little, too late.

The war was certainly a factor in the humiliating rout the GOP endured last week, but it’s not the only reason for those losses. To blame the war is to ignore the widespread lobbying corruption that has led to arrests and investigations – as well as to bad legislation like Medicare Part D. To blame the war is to ignore the sex scandals – and the fact that House Speaker Hastert ignored Rep. Mark Foley preying on pages. To blame the war is to ignore the dissatisfaction with the booming economy we hear about, but aren’t experiencing ourselves unless we are among the wealthiest one percent. To blame the war is to ignore the dissatisfaction with the divisive public discourse of the last six years. Above all, to blame the war is to ignore how angry voters are at the disastrous fiscal policies of the Bush administration – policy that has tripled our deficit, burdening future generations with debt. The 109th Congress didn’t do anything and the people know it. November 7 was our “Network” moment – the national equivalent of throwing our windows open and shouting, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more!”

As the nation went, so went the state of New Hampshire. For years many of us have longed for the time when NH would became a two party state – never expecting that it would happen overnight. The GOP has had control of the NH House since the Civil War. That long reign has at last come to an end. The Democrats now have the majority in the House and Senate, as well as the Executive Council – and all of this under a Democratic Governor. Both of our incumbent US Congressmen were voted out. The NH spinmeisters and pollsters are rocking and rolling – notably Andy Smith of UNH, who despite an abysmal job of pre-election polling and predicting, is still lauded as some sort of expert. The spinners only seem to talk to political insiders, which tends to limit their perspective. On a post-election NH Outlook segment, the most unbiased viewpoint came from Tom Fahey of the NH Union Leader.

Smith and the other spinners seem to think that Governor Lynch had the longest coattails in history, and that combined with anger against the war is what caused the complete upheaval in our state. This is such a glib, skim-the-surface look at what happened that all who spew it should be embarrassed and possibly unemployed.
For decades, the GOP has run on the same platform in NH. “No New Taxes/Cut Spending.” That old tired mantra was bound to run out of gas – and this was the year. Gubernatorial candidate Jim Coburn’s entire embarrassing campaign consisted of bellowing that the Democrats want an income tax – despite John Lynch’s vow to vote against one. For the last 6 years, we’ve had professional fear-mongers on the national level giving us color coded alerts. The “tax and spend librul” saber rattling pales in comparison.

NH GOP incumbents feel entitled to their seats. For a very long time, all one had to do to be elected was be a Republican, and do convincing public imitation of sanity. They didn’t bother to campaign – they didn’t have to. I read a newspaper story a few elections back where a then-incumbent from my district spoke of how he just put up a handful of signs and that was his campaign. How many Republicans knocked on your door and asked for your vote? The incumbents were lazy. They marched in party lockstep. They weren’t paying attention to how things in our state are changing.

Did the war sweep ‘em out? I don’t think so. Across the nation people were fed up with the GOP – and that includes NH. This was a vote for change. People are tired of sending the same people to Concord, where nothing changes. NH has the 7th highest housing costs in the nation, high energy costs, high health care costs, and low wages. The issue of school funding has dragged on for decades. All the GOP had to offer was “no taxes, cut spending.” That simply isn’t enough any more.

My favorite complaint has been about straight ticket voting. For years, the Democrats have introduced legislation to eliminate straight ticket voting. For years, the Republicans have fought to keep it, because it helped keep them in power. This year it worked against them, and suddenly the straight ticket has become an outrage!! The last vote on straight ticket voting was in January of 2006. You can look it up on the NH General Court website, under roll call votes – and find out who voted for it. A yea vote is a vote to ITL or kill the bill eliminating straight ticket voting. Be sure to note how many of the losing incumbents voted to kill the bill.

This election was a cry for change. Let us hope that change ushers in a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to work together for the best possible future.

“People voted for change, they voted for an agenda – and you can hear it, but they also voted for civility.” NH’s newly elected Congresswoman – Carol Shea Porter

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Time to clean House

The mid term elections are only days away. The ballots show more candidates, and provide more choices than I can ever remember since moving here 22 years ago. We’ve had three forums for state candidates. We’ve even hosted a Congressional debate. It’s been busier, crazier, and far more interesting than elections in the past that were pro forma events ensuring that the same incumbents would continue to do the same things in Concord.

State and local Democrats have benefited from the national level of dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. To paraphrase Lord Acton – absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The Democrats had their time as the party of corruption. The Republicans have managed to dig themselves in even deeper, in a much shorter period of time. We’ve seen Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, and Bob Ney brought down by ego and greed. Mark Foley resigned in disgrace, while the GOP tries desperately to cover up Denny Hastert’s indifference to Foley’s conduct. When all of that is added to the mounting disgust with the war in Iraq and the phenomenal deficit brought on by the borrow-and-spend conservatives, it creates a stew of discontent, a desire for change. One need only look at the bumper crop of lawn signs for Democrats this year in Carroll County to know change is coming.

This past Wednesday night, the Conway Education Association hosted a debate between Congressional candidates Jeb Bradley and Carol Shea-Porter, at Conway Elementary School. It is likely that Bradley agreed to Conway because he thought there would be small turnout, and little media interest. When I pulled in, the area in front of Kennett was covered with people waving Shea-Porter signs on both sides of Rt. 16. I parked next to a group of 4 Bradley supporters, struggling to arrange a stack of sign totems. They never did make it out to the road. That was indicative of how the rest of the evening would proceed. Congressman Bradley – self proclaimed champion of the environment - pulled in to the debate in a gigantic campaign motor home – the kind that might get 5 mpg if the wind was blowing the right way. Ms. Shea Porter arrived in a modest compact car. The differences between the two candidates did not end there.

The debate was riveting. Moderator George Epstein did a fine job of keeping the occasionally rowdy crowd under control. He asked all of the candidates in the audience to stand up to be applauded, and with wry good humor, congratulated Henry Mock for standing, even though he hadn’t been informed in advance that he’d be asked to stand.

Congressman Bradley is not a gifted public speaker. He has figured out that the longer he takes to answer a question, the fewer questions he has to take, and he’s mastered the art of the filibuster reply. From the very first question asked, Bradley displayed his inability to face a question head on. A man in the audience yelled, “You didn’t answer the question!” The crowd laughed – and Carol told him he needn’t have worried, that she was on it – and went on to point out to Bradley that he hadn’t answered the question, as she proceeded to answer it herself. That was how the evening progressed. Carol Shea-Porter demonstrated her strong speaking skills, as well as her ability to think on her feet. Congressman Bradley demonstrated his ability to repeat the same talking points over and over, as if repetition would somehow make them meaningful. At least three times he said, “We must keep Iraq from becoming a launching pad for terrorism.” He also said that we must prevent Iraq from civil war. Most of the people in the room were aware that it’s too late on both counts, yet despite the obvious mocking from the crowd, he continued to repeat those mantras. Last summer I saw him do the same thing in Hart’s Location at a town hall meeting. When questioned about marriage equality, he kept repeating that he believed marriage is between a man and a woman. He couldn’t say WHY he believed that, he could only say it over and over again.

The debate was taped by Valley Vision. If you live in a town that is served by the station, do yourself a favor and watch it. As one man commented to me on his way out the door, “I hope Bradley’s on his way to the hospital for a blood transfusion.” Carol was definitely the winner of that debate – and we will all be the winners if she’s elected to represent us in Washington.

We can also change who represents us in Concord, and we should. The forum held by the Economic Council was revealing. The GOP contingent was angry that they weren’t prepped in advance to discuss topics that anyone in the room would have been prepared to discuss – the same issues that NH has been coping with for decades. This was a sorry display, made sorrier when combined with the revelation of their combined technological ineptitude. Crow Dickinson has been in the NH House for 30 odd years. That’s too long. Gene Chandler should have been expelled from the House for his ethics violations. We can expel him, now. Carolyn Brown is in over her head. She can speak knowledgeably and passionately about her volunteer work in the community. She can’t speak that way about the legislature. She admitted that she voted for SB110, even though she didn’t understand it – the bill that caused north country health insurance premiums to skyrocket. At the debate it was apparent that she votes the way Chandler tells her to. She’s never sponsored a piece of legislation. Carolyn’s niche is working in the community. We can help her do the kind of work that is clearly more fulfilling and comfortable for her. Henry Mock left the House with the “Friends of Gene Chandler” cloud hanging over his head, and now wants to return. Mock is an angry man, given to shouting out bizarre pronouncements. He’s firmly rooted in the good old boy ways of the past. NH needs to move forward in a positive direction. Time to clean House. See you at the polls!

“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Local Debates

The mid-term elections are in less than three weeks. Political action and debate is hot and heavy all over the state. The sign wars are being played out around the state. Claims of vandalizing and theft are being made, by both sides. Then there are the TV ads repeated endlessly, the emails, the phone calls, and all manner of bizarre pronouncements and antics. Politics is a participatory sport in NH – which makes this all so much more fun.

There have been a couple of debates in Carroll County this week. Wednesday evening, the good folks of the Mt. Washington Valley Economic Council sponsored a debate for District 1 state rep candidates. The debate was filmed by Valley Vision, so many who weren’t able to attend will be able to watch it, provided they don’t live in Jackson or Bartlett. George Epstein proved to be both an even handed and good humored moderator, who broke the tension on several occasions by asking candidates less serious questions about themselves.

Topics included school funding, taxes, health care, LCHIP, the bypass and Department of Transportation, the university system in NH, economic development, and the minimum wage. Candidates were given the opportunity to make opening and closing remarks. Some highlights follow:

There were several topics that generated impassioned responses. In discussing the school funding issue Representatives Buco and Dickinson agreed that Governor Lynch’s plan was good, and reminded us that it did pass the House. Representative Chandler supports a constitutional amendment, stating that it is needed to define the legislature’s role, as well as the court’s role. Representative Brown believes the courts need to be taken out of the issue, and the legislature should be in charge. Henry Mock shouted “the NH Supreme Court wants an income tax! Don’t even think they don’t!”Gino Funicella found that to be a ridiculous assertion.

Another topic was health care, and what is causing high health care costs. Rep. Dickinson blames medical malpractice costs. Ed Butler spoke about how his business health care premiums have increased 300 percent. He is in favor of more competition, and thinks that the legislature should address the issue of inadequate Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. Rep. Chandler believes that SB110 was the answer, but it wasn’t given sufficient time to work. He thinks NH puts too many restrictions on insurance companies, and that health savings accounts will help to lower costs. All of the Republicans (incumbent or not) voted in favor of SB110, which allowed insurance companies to discriminate on the basis of geographical location, and changed the community rating system. This hit the north country particularly hard. At the time of the vote, Rep. Chandler was the speaker of the NH House, and did plenty of arm twisting to ensure the bill passed. That Anthem was a generous donor to the corn roasts is surely coincidental.
Representative Brown restated Rep. Chandler’s position, that SB110 didn’t have enough time. She stated (repeatedly) that encouraging competition will take time. Gino Funicella stated that insurance companies are posting record profits, and that people in the area aren’t making enough money to afford health care. Fran DeFeo spoke of how the abuse of emergency room treatment affects the costs paid by the insured. Tom Buco supports the Healthy Kids program, supports funding community health centers, and adequate Medicaid reimbursement. Henry Mock loudly stated that he is not in favor of socialized medicine.

There were areas of agreement. None of the candidates were in favor of eminent domain being used for the development of private projects. All of the candidates agreed that LCHIP is an important program, though some did not support the use of LCHIP funds for building preservation.

NH ranks 50th in the nation for state funding of the state university system. Gino Funicella questioned why NH is content to be behind Mississippi and Alabama. Rep. Chandler spoke of a positive development, in being able to exchange credits from the tech colleges to other campuses and schools. Ed Butler spoke of the average burden of $23,000 in debt that NH college students leave school with, and how that adversely affects professions like teaching and social work. Rep. Dickinson feels we should fund tech schools better, and place a greater emphasis on tech education and careers. Rep. Brown and Henry Mock both spoke of how some teachers at UNH teach few classes and earn high salaries.

The hottest topic of the evening was increasing the minimum wage. Gino Funicella stated that 26,000 people in NH earn the minimum wage, which puts them below poverty level. He emphasized a need to raise the minimum wage. Henry Mock read from a report that claims the average pay in the valley is $14.63, and only slightly less in Coos County. (That will come as a surprise to most residents, of both places, I suspect.) Representative Brown is against raising the minimum wage, and said her constituents told her to vote against it. Ed Butler wondered why, if no one was making minimum wage, there was such resistance to raising it. Rep. Chandler cast the tie breaking vote against an increase in minimum wage, and said that if it is increased, the people who earn $6, $7, or $8 an hour will think they deserve more.

It was an illuminating evening, for those present – and I encourage all who are able, to watch the televised version on Valley Vision. It’s an opportunity to hear legislators speak about their accomplishments (or not, as the case may be) and another means of determining who to vote for on November 7.

On Tuesday night in Wakefield, there was a debate sponsored by the Wakefield Republicans. Featured were candidates for State Rep, County Commissioner, and State Senate. Senator Joe Kenney had said he would not attend, but appeared at the last minute. At the conclusion of the 2 hour debate, Senator Jack Barnes from Raymond stood up and announced that he wanted to make a comment. He spoke about how great Senator Kenney is, made the obligatory references to Kenney’s military service – and then presented him with a check for his campaign fund. This grandstanding was obviously orchestrated in advance, and many who were present (including members of the GOP) found it quite inappropriate. Once again, we see the desperation of the Republican Party when the seats they feel entitled to are challenged. Senator Kenney should return that check as soon as possible, and apologize to the voters in his district for his part in that shameless display.

Don’t forget to vote on November 7. It’s time for change.

“I won’t settle for NH being 50th place in anything, and anyone who does should be replaced.” Gino Funicella

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ignorance is Bliss

This past Saturday, a peace march was held in Concord. It was a collaboration of peace organizations and the faith community. There were well over a dozen ministers present.
By 2 pm, there were at least 1,000 people in front of the State House. Did you see it on TV? No, you didn’t!! The only thing missing was the media. One would think that a gathering of 1,000 people anywhere in our little state would be newsworthy, but, one would be wrong.

NH has some serious media limitations. We have one television station. We have one statewide newspaper, the paper now known as the NH Union Leader. If we are ever to receive better news coverage, we need to have competition, isn’t that what the free marketeers would say? Luckily, not even the silliest of conservatives has ever dared suggest to me that the NH media has a liberal bias. The Union Leader has always had a strong far right bias, and that continues to this day. The paper may not be quite as rabid as it was during William Loeb’s life, but Loeb continues to influence the paper, and NH media and politics from the grave. To be fair to WMUR, they can’t cover everything, but, in looking at what they do and do not cover, one can detect a rather conservative bias. WMUR showed up at the peace march when only about 200 people were there. Pictures with 200 people look very different from pictures of 1,000 – and that is often done intentionally. For some reason, NH media in general does not want to acknowledge the fact that within our state there is widespread opposition to the war.

Media has changed in my lifetime, and not for the better. Once upon a time the people who read the news were actually reporters. These days, networks try to find pretty celebrity entertainers like Katie Couric to read us the news, and do softball interviews with President Bush, or Condoleezza Rice, where no tough questions are asked. Coverage of world news has tapered off in the last 2 decades, while coverage of celebrity gossip has increased to epic proportions. Media monopolies are in place, where most mainstream media is owned by about 6 corporations. It isn’t like this in other countries. CNN’s European broadcasts are very different from the pablum we receive. The October 2 issue of Newsweek had a cover titled “Losing Afghanistan” complete with a picture of a terrorist and that was sent to the rest of the world. In the US, the cover was a picture of photographer Annie Liebovitz. Think we’re deliberately being dumbed down? You’re right!

We now know that the infamous Dean scream was manufactured, but that information came after it was broadcast repeatedly, for days. As so often happens, the retraction was printed once, on page 12. Statements are taken out of context and broadcast as gospel. It happens over and over. Meanwhile, harder questions – the kind 60 Minutes used to ask, aren’t asked any more. No one ever asked why Jeff Gannon, the male prostitute posing as a journalist, spent nights at the White House. Investigative journalism is dying a sad, sad death in the USA. Instead, we get John Stossel, pretending to be an investigative journalist, giving us his right wing biased (and funded by right wing think tanks) view on education, and political correctness.

It’s a great time for politicians, because of political polarization. The Union Leader printed an editorial this week blaming Democrats for the Mark Foley sex scandal. They whined that it’s because of Gerry Studds that no safeguards are in place. Right. The GOP has had control of the US House for 12 years. Apparently in that time they were powerless to enact policies to protect pages. Lies repeated often enough become true for many people, and that’s how the right wing media succeeds in spreading propaganda.

There was an attempt at it in the Conway Sun, just this week. Every year or so, someone in the Bradley camp feels compelled to try to smear me, so they give one of their buddies a letter to sign. This week, one was published that made the claim that I am a paid activist working for a grassroots organization backing Bradley’s opponent. Now – it is no secret to anyone in the area that I work for a statewide non-profit called the NH Citizens Alliance. I’ve been on both statewide and local television, radio, and in newspapers. Our local state reps all know me, and they all know this. NHCA is a 501 (c ) (3) non-profit. We are not partisan, we do not work with political parties, and we do not endorse candidates. The sad thing about this accusation is that Congressman Bradley knows me, and he knows NHCA. Whomever it was that put Don Koziol up to writing the letter, told him to lie, and he did. It’s hard to decide whether I should laugh or cry that a small town newspaper columnist wields such fearsome power that the Bradley camp would resort to outright dishonesty. Mostly, I’m embarrassed for them.

My eighth grade history teacher used to tell us: “Don’t believe everything you read, or hear, and only half of what you see.” I would add that it’s important to try to find out what you aren’t able to read, hear, or see. As we all sift through the constant flow of information aimed at us every day, it’s important to be a little cynical, and a lot aware of media manipulation and propaganda.

The peace march was great. Maybe the next one will make the news.

“The news and the truth are not the same thing.” Walter Lippmann

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Walls and Other Boondoggles

So, you’re worried about your health care. If you have it, you’re worried that you’re going to keep losing parts of it (the ever increasing deductible), even as your rates continue to rise astronomically. If you don’t have it – you’re afraid of getting sick. You’re worried about the cost of prescription drugs. You may have a lump, or a pain that you don’t even want to have looked at, because you’re afraid it will be something expensive, and you can’t afford to deal with that. You figure it’s actually cheaper to die than to get sick. You’re also worried about the cost of heating your house this winter, of paying for gas, and sending your kids to college.

Good news! Congress just voted (228-196) for a bill that would require all voters to show photo ID proving they are citizens. That same bill approved the building of a 700 mile fence at the US – Mexico border. This same Congress has spent a lot of time on a flag burning amendment, as well as an amendment that would limit the rights of gay folks. Aren’t you feeling happy that your concerns are a big priority in Washington, DC??

The big hue and cry about the fence is supposed to be connected to national security. As we all know, we get harassed a lot more at airports. Some of us are on no fly lists, which take various permutations. Some folks actually aren’t allowed to fly. Some (like me) are always hauled out of line for wanding, frisking, and a thorough search of all carry-ons and checked luggage. This provides the illusion that we are somehow safer. We aren’t supposed to think about the sad state of port security, or the near total lack of scrutiny of incoming cargo. Instead, our legislators are hysterically hyping the need to keep our borders safe from terrorists!! There’s no time to be concerned about the sorry state of American health care, not when Mexicans might fly more planes into skyscrapers! The fence is projected to cost $3 million per mile, which works out to be $568.18 per mile. No word yet on who, exactly will be building this wall (can anyone say HALLIBURTON?) or whether citizenship papers and ethnic purity documents will be required for this job. One thing is for sure – the money to pay for it will not come out of the bloated Pentagon’s mismanaged budget. The cuts will yet again be made in programs that provide supplemental food to seniors, and other frivolous social programs.

The NH GOP has been working steadily for decades to increase the barriers to voter participation, so it’s really no surprise that Congress has begun to do the same. If that bill passes the Senate, we must all show photo ID at the polls in 2008. No word on how our volunteer poll workers will be trained in checking ID, how much that training will cost, or who will pick up the tab. A lot of folks vote on their lunch hour. Standing in a long line while ID is checked is likely to discourage voters, especially those who have to get back to work. Discouraging voters is the goal – because the GOP believes that poor and minority voters will vote for the other party. Representative Dan Burton is quite concerned that undocumented workers are voting. He didn’t voice any concern about the electronic voting machines with no paper trail, where the votes are counted in secret by the employees of the voting machine company. Every election brings a lot of sad faced commentary about how little voter turnout there is – so it’s heartening to see that Congress is working hard to guarantee that low turnout gets even lower.

Our own Congressman Jeb Bradley has been puffed up with pride that he voted for the REAL ID Act, which is going to give us all a national ID card, and our personal information will be stored in a national database. It seems that Congressman Bradley is working hard to ensure that we will all be sporting all manner of identification, for nearly every occasion. It’s great to see him working so hard to address the issues that most concern his constituents. Worried about the increases in tuition and student loans? There’s probably an ID for that – just ask your Congressman.

Grassroots candidate Carol Shea Porter won the recent Democratic primary, and will be challenging Bradley in November. Within 12 hours of Shea Porter’s win, Bradley launched an attack at Ms. Shea Porter. “The Howard Dean wing of the party was successful yesterday and that wing is far from reflective of mainstream NH voters, and even NH Democrats,” said Bradley. Shea Porter is calling for a set time frame for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. She is also advocating single payer health care. I hear people talk about both of those things all the time – yet Congressman Bradley is calling those views “out of the mainstream.” Bradley assures us that market forces will solve our health care problems. He has a lot invested in that concept, as Harper’s Magazine revealed recently. Congressman Bradley has millions of dollars in stock in pharmaceutical companies, as well as oil, and energy. No wonder he’s happy with the status quo – he’s well insulated from the economic realities the rest of us face.

In this electoral season, don’t let the phony distraction noise overwhelm you. Make a list of your top concerns, and ask the candidates how they plan to address them. Ask the incumbents why they aren’t addressing them. If you get a filibuster instead of an answer, keep pressing till you get an answer. You’re still the incumbent’s employer of record, and you have the right and the responsibility to hold them accountable.

“I bet after seeing us, George Washington would sue us for calling him “father.” Will Rogers.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Upcoming Primary

September 12 is the NH state primary election. Primaries in non-presidential election years are sorry affairs, with a small percentage of our state’s registered voters turning out.

Why bother? The most compelling reason to vote is because you can. So far, we still have the right to vote. Big Brother may be listening in on our phone conversations, monitoring our library book choices, and messing with our hard drives – but we can still vote. In the 2006 legislative session a bill was passed stating that NH voters would always have paper ballots for every election. Unlike Ohio, Florida, and other states with the now infamous and easily hacked touch screen voting machines where votes are counted in secret by machine company employees – we vote on paper, and those votes are counted in public. We know our votes count. The very act of voting can help protect our rights, including our right to vote.

The people of NH are tired of hearing the same promises from the same politicians every single year while nothing changes. NH still has education funding problems. The statewide property tax is driving people out of homes that have been in their families for generations. The Republican Party has had control of the NH House since the Civil War. It’s becoming obvious to many people that a one party system isn’t working. There is little reaching across the aisle to do what’s best for the state – there is just the constant drone of the GOP mantras. If you were at the Five Minute Candidate Forum at the Gibson Center, recently – you heard the drone. Mr. Coburn, the GOP gubernatorial sacrifice said he was “against an income tax and a sales tax. NH doesn’t have a tax problem, we have a spending problem.” How many times have you heard that before?

We have the same problems that have been plaguing us for decades. As long as we keep sending the same legislators back to deal with those problems, we’ll continue to have the same results. NH badly needs some fresh faces, fresh brains, and fresh ideas, from people who are willing to think outside the box, and work together for the best interest of the NH people. It’s time for change, and this is the year to make it happen. We have more choices on the ballot this year than ever before.

The NH Senate has become a place where little is accomplished. Bills seem to go there to die. Thanks to the gerrymandering in the northern district, it will be nearly impossible to replace John Gallus. Fortunately in District 3, voters have a real choice in voting out ineffective GOP rubber stamper Joe Kenney. Senator Kenney voted for SB110, the bill that allowed insurance companies to discriminate against residents on the basis of geography. Small businesses in the north country saw increases of up to 150 percent in their premiums. It was a disaster. Two years later, Senator Kenney voted against SB125, which was a repeal of SB110. Senator Kenney also voted for HB90, the bill that eliminated local control from the town of Tamworth, in the matter of the proposed racetrack. In 2004, Kenney received a $750 campaign contribution from the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America, of Washington, DC. This is the drug industry’s biggest lobbying firm. On the reporting form Kenney turned in, their business is listed as “Medicare.” One wonders, why a Washington lobbying firm is interested in a rural state senator. One also wonders why in the world we want a state senator who is being funded by Washington, DC special interest groups. We have a choice. George Cleveland is willing to work for solutions, not special interests.

Our federal delegation suffers from the same one-party, one mindset syndrome. Our Congressional delegation is badly out of step with our state. The state legislature voted down a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have banned both marriage equality, and the recognizing of same gender marriages legal in other states. Congressman Jeb Bradley distinguished himself by being the only member of the entire federal delegation from New England who voted in favor of amending the US Constitution in the same way. There were 16 anti-immigrant bills before the state legislature this year. None of them went anywhere. Meanwhile, our federal legislators continue to debate the merits of building a wall and all manner of punitive measures that don’t actually address the realities of the problems or the solutions. Jeb Bradley is proud of having voted for the REAL ID Act, which will give us all national ID cards, with our personal information in a national database. The NH House voted in favor of not complying with REAL ID. Sadly, that defiance broke down in the state senate. Our federal legislators are out of touch with the people of our state.

The second compelling reason to vote in this year’s primary is the Congressional race. There are 4 Democrats challenging incumbent Jeb Bradley. State Representative Jim Craig and Carol Shea Porter are the front runners in the primary race. Craig is the NH House minority leader, and the choice of the Democratic Congressional Candidate Committee. The DCCC endorsed him early on, bringing the wrath of those who felt it would be appropriate for them to wait until AFTER the primary – instead of making the choice for NH voters. Carol Shea Porter has a small army of grassroots supporters. She may not be able to afford TV ads, but she has been all over the district talking and listening to people. Jim Craig is a good state legislator, but he’s not national material. He’s even less dynamic than Bradley, and he’s a terrible public speaker. At a candidate’s forum in Sandwich, he referred to Sandwich as “Podunk.” He’s from Manchester, and like many from the south, seems to think the state ends at Exit 15 on 93. Shea Porter, on the other hand, is from Rochester. She’s familiar with the north country. As she proved in Sandwich, she’s a strong speaker who can think on her feet. Congressman Bradley went to New Orleans on a Congressional tour. Ms. Shea Porter has been their twice, volunteering her time. That’s the difference, folks. Jeb Bradley is a man of wealth and privilege who has no experience with the lives of real people. Carol Shea Porter is a real person. This week, Carol has been endorsed by the Portsmouth Herald and the Concord Monitor. Big money should not decide our elections. A vote for Carol Shea Porter will guarantee a spirited congressional campaign, something all voters will benefit from.

“A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it.” President George W. Bush

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Future of Berlin

The economy of Berlin, NH has been collapsing for decades. Twenty years ago, it was a thriving place, with a population of 20,000, people who worked at mills and factories. Today, the population is 10,000. The factories are gone. Converse found it cheaper to manufacture sneakers in third world countries – like so many other American manufacturers. As business after business left town, Berlin put all of its economic eggs in the basket of the paper mill. Every year Berlin officials would make noise about Berlin as a tourist destination; blithely ignoring the reality that tourists weren’t coming to spend their dollars in a smelly mill town. Berlin was so accustomed to relying on the mill economy that elected officials couldn’t seem to develop a plan to diversify the economy, even as it became obvious that the mill wasn’t going to be around forever. The Berlin mill closed for the last time in May of this year.

A state prison was built in Berlin a few years ago, built to alleviate the crowding in other prisons around the state. In a state that funds very little in the way of social services, jails and prisons are increasingly the way in which we deal with addicts and the mentally ill. The prison was touted as being an economic boon to the area – though that hasn’t really been the case. The state prison has been neither boon nor bust – more neutral in effect than anything.

Ever eager to rely on a sole industry for survival, the elected officials in Berlin decided that a high security federal prison would be the answer to the problems of the city, and began to actually court the construction of such a facility. The people of Berlin voted against a federal prison. That voted was declared to be “non-binding” – and another vote was held, after an expensive PR campaign. This time, the vote was in favor of a prison. Governor Lynch, Senators Gregg and Sununu, and Congressman Bass have all worked to ensure that this prison would be built, as have local and state elected officials. When the mill closed, they all went into high gear – promoting the prison as the saving grace of the city.

Looking toward the future hasn’t been encouraged in the dialogue thus far. Turning Berlin into a prison town will stigmatize the area. Tourism will not flourish. As folks plan summer vacations they tend to think of visiting national parks, and recreation areas, not maximum security prisons with horrendous lighting, razor wire, and electric fences. The construction companies will import their own union labor, and procure materials through bid contracts – not local suppliers. Some low paying jobs might be available to local laborers. That leaves 250 mill workers still unemployed. The imported workers would bring their families – thereby inflating the cost of local housing, and adding children to the local schools – which impacts the already strained local budgets.

The federal prison is tax exempt. There will be no real estate taxes, no property taxes on the 450 acres. The city of Berlin will be absorbing the cost of improving the infrastructure needs – notably increasing the sewer capacity, which may require a new gravity system, and new pump station. Roads and bridges will need to be strengthened, all at taxpayer expense. The facility would generate approximately 2.7 tons of waste per day – about 81 tons per month going into the landfill, which will impact the life of the landfill considerably.

The favored site for the prison will destroy 242 acres of wetlands, and impact the wildlife significantly – which will impact the tourist economy of surrounding towns and areas. It will displace the Nansen Ski Touring Club. The prison will be at a higher altitude than the state prison, with lights on poles that will be 150 ft. high. The light pollution will interfere with the migratory habits of nocturnal wildlife and birds that live in the area. The combined light pollution of the two prisons will eradicate any view of the night sky, and be visible all over the north country.

But – the jobs! This is all about the jobs, right? The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) is anticipating 350 jobs. Most would be filled by current FBOP employees. There would be 60 jobs for local folks in the three northern counties. That’s 20 jobs for Grafton, 20 for Carroll, and 20 for Coos County. That still leaves 250 mill workers unemployed. No one over the age of 37 is hired as a corrections officer, and corrections officers must have a bachelor’s degree. The new hires earn $25,000 a year, which may be problematic when the housing costs increase.

There will be increased demand on law enforcement, courts, health, and medical services. These costs will be borne by taxpayers. Maximum security prisons are filled with violent criminals. Some of them will be followed by their families. Some will be gang members, who will be followed by gang support systems. The prisoners will be released into the community, but won’t necessarily stay there. What goes up must come down. Gang and other criminal activity will be exported into the greater Conway area as well.

To summarize – a maximum strength federal prison may be built in Berlin/Milan. It won’t pay taxes. It will create a need for increased infrastructure, which will be at the cost of local taxpayers. The contractors will come from away, and drive up housing and education costs. There will be increased demand on law enforcement, courts, health, medical, and counseling services. Gangs will be present, as well as families of violent criminals. This is a pork project that will cost US taxpayers $179 million to build, even as the FBOP is closing other facilities. BUT – on the plus side, there will be 20 new jobs in Coos County. This is a quick fix that will only exacerbate the long term economic problems of the city of Berlin and surrounding towns.

The Informed Citizens for a Better North Country is a group that has formed in opposition to the prison. Check out their website at
No one is listening to these folks – their federal and state elected officials are ignoring them completely. Their state senator, in fact, is brokering the land deal. The FBOP comment period is open until September 15. This prison has potential to negatively impact the Mt. Washington Valley. Send the FBOP your thoughts on the subject at:

Federal Bureau of Prisons
320 First Street NW
Washington, DC 20534

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jargon, Euphemism, and Acronym

Any English teacher, any book on writing or grammar tells us the same things. Write clearly. Be precise in the terms that we use. Strunk and White warn us to, “Prefer the specific to the general, the definite to the vague, the concrete to the abstract.” If they wee around to revise their handy book, The Elements of Style, surely they would also warn us against the overuse of jargon, euphemism, and acronym.

I work for a non-profit, and in the non-profit world, jargon and acronym are everywhere. At a recent conference, during a rather boring discussion, I began writing down some of the words and phrases that annoyed me the most. On that particular day, the term “skill-set” was being overused, as in “We should find someone for this job that has a strong skill-set.” This sounds pretentious, but pretentious crossed with silly. When the applicant “brings his skill-set to the table,” do we all get to play with it?
Another overused phrase is “at the end of the day,” which is being used as a sort of summation, or wrap up, the way we once used “on the same page.” We also use a lot of acronym in the non-profit world. It can be confusing for those of us who work there, let alone the uninitiated. We insiders have a tendency to think everyone in the room is “on the same page,” so we don’t always provide English to jargon or English to acronym interpretation.

The world of health care has been overrun by jargon. Once we had doctors, nurses, patients, and hospitals. Now we have shareholders, stakeholders, direct care providers, and managed care. Recently NHPR did a series on what they call “consumer driven health care,” a euphemism for new ways to be exploited by insurance companies. The term consumer is undoubtedly the one that offends me most. Once we were patients. Now, suddenly, we are consumers, and we’re supposed to be medical experts and be able to shop around for the best deal on surgical procedures. We hear from “experts” who believe that health care is so costly because people overuse it, and they overuse it because they don’t know how much procedures cost. If we knew how much it cost, we’d stop going out for recreational colonoscopies, apparently.
Much of the jargon around health care is designed to put the blame on the “consumer.” One of my friends recently received a letter from his insurance company, informing him that his doctor was leaving the area, so the company had assigned him a new primary care physician (what we used to call the family doctor). They had mistakenly assigned him a pediatrician, and the letter was to let him know all of the reasons why he couldn’t see a pediatrician, and came close to scolding him – as if he’d been the one who chose the pediatrician in the first place.
Consumers are supposed to have choices in the free market economy, yet it’s the health insurer who narrows the choices, and chooses doctors for us. Health care is not “consumer” driven, it is insurance company driven. The language used around health care seems deliberately intended to obfuscate, so that we don’t ask a lot of questions. It works. We don’t question our status as “consumers” on any level. Once we were patients, once we were citizens. Now we are consumers, and for all of the rhetoric around the concept, it seems we are expected to be passive consumers some of the time, at least when the insurance company is choosing with whom we will have a doctor-consumer relationship.

I work with a man who insists during our planning sessions that we use clear language. He used to drive me crazy at long staff meetings, insisting that we define what we mean when we use a term in a particular way. He won me over, however, and I’ve come to see the value in having clear definitions for the terms we use to describe the work we are doing. It’s a simple concept, if we all understand the terms we are less likely to make mistakes. Unclear language can cause and perpetuate mistakes.

Consider the “Global War on Terrorism,” which has been shortened to the “war on terror.” Webster’s defines terror as “intense, overwhelming fear.” No wonder this war isn’t going well. Let’s begin with the “Global War on Terrorism.” What does this mean? Where will this war be fought? How will we know when it is over? The term “War on Terror” is cleverly designed to prevent us from asking those very questions. The media uses “war on terror” without question – so why shouldn’t we? The obscuring of meaning enables the perpetuation of the war, because the terms aren’t clearly defined. If it were billed as the “Global War on Heathen Brown People,” we might have a different reaction to it.

It is an election year in NH, so we’ll all be tripping over candidates and incumbents everywhere we go. Talk to them – ask questions! As you do, remember to be very clear, and to ask your questions in such a way that calls for a direct answer. Politicians love to give long, rambling, filibuster answers. You do not have to accept this passively! You are not a consumer, you are a voter. You have the power to hire and fire our elected officials. They are not entitled to that seat in the NH legislature or Congress, no matter how long they’ve been there. They serve at our pleasure. The recent events in Connecticut should be a warning and a reminder to all incumbents. If you get a long, rambling answer, ask your question again, and insist on clarity. If we truly understood what some of our politicians were saying, they’d be unemployed.

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.” George Orwell

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Political Posturing

As hurricane season kicks into gear and the Gulf Coast is still a mess, more Americans are losing health care, housing and energy costs skyrocket, and more jobs head overseas – our federal legislators are dealing with issues of monumental importance – like flag burning. It is midterm, time for the pre-2008 posturing to begin. Here in NH the furor over our first in the nation primary is in full roar. The Democratic National Committee wants to give Nevada the first primary, followed closely by NH and Iowa. The blame is flying in all directions.

NH abandoned the caucus system in 1913, and substituted a primary instead. The first real official presidential primary took place in 1916, but it didn’t become important until 1952. That was the year that Eisenhower defeated Taft, and Estes Kefauver defeated Truman in the primary, and as a result, Truman gave up on running for a third term. In 1968, Lyndon Johnson also dropped out of the race, after winning the NH primary by a very small margin (49 -42%) over Eugene McCarthy. Prior to 1992, the person elected president had always won the NH primary. Bill Clinton broke the pattern in 1992. Since then, John McCain and Pat Buchanan have both won the NH presidential primary, but did not go on to win their party’s nomination. In 1977, NH passed legislation stating that the NH primary would fall before that of any other state.

It is a tradition for those first cold ballots to be cast in tiny Dixville Notch, just after midnight. News broadcasts around the nation show footage of that voting, which may seem peculiar in some parts of the country, but it is tradition. Ritual and tradition are important, as well as comforting, in an increasingly disordered world. I don’t subscribe to the “we’ve always done it that way” school of thought, but I do respect tradition, and as a long time NH resident, I like the primary tradition.

The Democratic Party doesn’t see it the same way. Despite the fact that NH was the only state that went from red to blue in 2004, the Democrats have had the first in the nation primary in their sights, and this year they’ve gone after it. NH is a state full of white people, and that the population has been largely conservative. The DNC has stated that their goal is to add early primaries that are more representative of other states in terms of racial diversity and political viewpoint. Are we truly a political bellwether for the rest of the nation? Probably not - but NH is becoming more diverse with each passing year, and our political viewpoint is shifting. We’re on the cusp of actually becoming a two-party state! The DNC’s timing couldn’t be more wretched.

Let us not overlook the real reason for the outrage. Most of it is around money. I realize this may sound cynical – but think about it. Presidential candidates drop a bundle here. That income is important to tax free NH. The other reason is that the primary puts us on the map. If NH didn’t have that first in the nation primary, would candidates bother to spend as much time here in our small, not particularly influential state? Would we all still be able to boast that we’d met all, or most of the candidates? The first in the nation primary puts us on the map. It’s not surprising that we’d be upset about being shoved off the map.
The state GOP and our NH Congressional delegation are blaming all of this on state Democratic Party Chair Kathy Sullivan. I’m no friend of Ms. Sullivan – but this is hardly her fault. The DNC has been worked hard by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Just in case the NH GOP hasn’t been paying attention – NH doesn’t have a Democrat in Washington. A state party chair doesn’t have the same clout as a senator. There are drawbacks to the one party rule we’ve been enjoying since the Civil War, and this is certainly one of them.

The NH GOP is behaving rather badly on other levels. When state senate candidate Mark Hounsell was forced to drop out of the race, because of health concerns, the NH GOP suggested that perhaps Mark wasn’t really sick. They quickly realized that taking that view made them look like utter slime, and have since gone on to challenge new candidate George Cleveland’s party affiliation. Honest to bob – of all the people to question, they pick George Cleveland?? Given that George and his family have a long visible history with the Democratic Party, their charges are ridiculous, and serve to make state GOP Chair Wayne Semprini look weak and petty. One would hope that they don’t feel that incumbent Joe Kenney could only win if he ran unopposed, but their tactics would seem to indicate otherwise.

That these battles are raging says a lot about the political climate in our state. NH is on the brink of long overdue change. We badly need a two party system – both in our state and in our nation’s capital. Some of the issues our state legislature faced this year are also being faced by our Congressional delegation. NH legislators chose not to put a constitutional amendment banning same gender marriage on the ballot this year. Jeb Bradley was the only member of the New England Congressional delegation to vote in favor of amending the US Constitution to discriminate against a minority population. Numerous anti-immigrant bills were proposed in the NH legislature this year, and all of them went down in flames. Our federal delegation seems rather out of step with the voters of our state. Luckily, we have the power to change that on November 7.

“How can one conceive of a one-party system in a country that has over 200 varieties of cheeses?” Charles De Gaulle (feel free to substitute beer for cheese to make it fit NH)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Killing the Goose

Twenty-two years ago I moved to the valley. The weekly commute to Concord provides ample time for observation and reflection on the changes that have taken place since I arrived. Nothing lasts forever – and with an expanding population changes are bound to take place. Still, hardly any of those changes are for the better. In 1984, the Shedd Woods really were woods. The site could better be called the Shedd Clearing now. The Scenic Vista was, once upon a time. One of the most profound changes has been in air quality. It is my habit to look out over the open fields in Conway village, just before the railroad tracks next to Kennett High, as I drive into or out of town. In past years one could almost always see Mt. Washington in that view. That’s been a scarce view this summer. One day a few weeks ago the air was so bad that the haze looked more like smoke from a huge forest fire.

As someone who drives a lot, I am aware that I am part of the problem. We all are. We live in communities that have been created around the ownership of automobiles, and we don’t have any kind of public transportation. An informal study last week found that 7 out of every 10 vehicles on Rt. 16 were SUVs, trucks, or motor homes. Even with the high price of gas, gas guzzlers rule our roads. Conservation is an alien concept. Jimmy Carter was (and still is) the subject of ridicule for appearing on national television wearing a sweater, and urging us to turn down our thermostats. Many businesses have nearly as many lights on at night when they’re closed as they do during the day when they are open.

Many people are stuck with gas sucking vehicles, because the US automakers were offering plenty of incentives to buy them. The US car manufacturers are practically giving them away, these days, because the demand for vehicles that get 10 miles per gallon has diminished considerably, and the manufacturers are stuck with the fruit of their ultimate demise. While others in the auto industry were manufacturing hybrids, knowing that oil is a finite resource, the US companies clung to the production of trucks and SUVs. The US automotive industry is in deep trouble – but Big Oil is dancing all the way to the bank. We hear the phrase “reducing our dependence on foreign oil” at least once a day. We seldom hear the correct phrase, which would be “reducing our dependence on oil.”

NH has a love – hate relationship with Big Oil. We love the tourist dollars that drive here in big vehicles. We love the tourist dollars that bring boats, snow machines, and personal watercraft. We’re also suing 22 major oil companies for water pollution caused by the gasoline additive MTBE. The oil industry relentlessly lobbied Congress to require MTBE as an additive, even though they were aware in the 1980’s that MTBE caused undrinkable water. The suit was filed in 2003. As of January 1, 2007, MTBE will no longer be used in NH. The damage is done, however. About 60% of the state relies on groundwater wells. Over 40,000 private wells contain some level of MTBE. At least 15% of the public water supplies in our state have been contaminated.

MTBE leaches into the groundwater through leaky underground tanks. It also enters the water supply through boats and personal watercraft. The old school two-stroke jet skis were terrible polluters, dumping 25-30 percent of their fuel, unburned, into the water. The manufacturers are now producing 4 stroke engines that cut down on the pollution (both noise and water) but create different problems. Many of the lakes that ban the 2 person watercraft have to allow the new, larger 3 and 4 person craft because current NH law considers them boats. The new, larger personal watercraft can reach speeds of over 60 mph, which makes for a lot of conflict between swimmers, jet skis, canoes, and kayaks. Manufacturers claim that the new craft are less noisy. Those fine distinctions are lost on me, they’re all annoyingly loud. These vessels are allowed on Conway, Silver, and Ossippee Lakes. Even when the MTBE ban goes into effect, there is no way of policing MTBE tainted gas coming in from out of state, in recreational vehicles, and dumping into our water.

We find ourselves living in a paradox, here in this part of the state. We are dependent on tourist dollars, and will do anything to court them. We continue to build and pave, and destroy what brought us all here in the first place. We boast of our clean air and water, yet we are unwilling to regulate or ban pollution causing devices. The personal watercraft manufacturers have plenty of lobbyists, and the NH legislature has so far been unwilling to change the laws that apply to them. The mantra of the free trade worshippers is oft invoked “we must give consumers choices.” Yep, even as those choices are made by morons who have no respect for the environment – even as they pollute our water supply, we must accept those choices. Last year I heard Congressman Jeb Bradley, who drives a hybrid truck invoke the consumer choice argument about motor vehicles. It’s as if we are powerless – we must accept pollution and environmental destruction because it is the choice of consumers. We already have significant groundwater pollution as a result of MTBE – will we need to destroy our recreational water supplies, too, before we are willing to change our behavior?

Once we lived on a beautiful planet, with abundant natural resources. We are hell bent on destroying the goose that laid the golden egg.

“The gluttonies devouring nature are remorseless.” Edward Hoagland

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Preemptive Legislation

As I turned on to North Main St. in Concord, I knew something big was going on. It was the last day of voting in the legislature, and the place was packed with representatives hoping to override the governor’s vetoes on a number of bills. With two of the nearby parking garages under construction, parking near the state house has become more competitive than usual. The meter readers were out in full force. If everyone did their job with the zeal of Concord meter readers, the world would be a different place. One of my co-workers was ticketed before her meter expired, because she’d recently had a lot of tickets. It was a preemptive ticketing.

That wasn’t the only preemptive action in Concord this year. A number of voting bills went before the legislature this year, and two survived till the bitter end – they were vetoed by Governor Lynch, and the vetoes were not overturned. The stated intent of both bills was verifying voter eligibility and preventing abuses. After every election, there are investigations of voter fraud. The 2004 elections were no exception. The Secretary of State’s office found that there had been no fraud. NH doesn’t have voter fraud, but some members of the legislature feel a need to continually file preemptive legislation to cure a problem that we don’t have. My job provides me with frequent opportunities to speak with folks from all over the state. People tell me about the things that worry them – usually health care, housing, and wages. Not a single person has told me that their number one concern was voter fraud.

One bill (HB345) would require voters to show photo ID before voting. Those in favor of this legislation say that we have to show photo ID to get on airplanes or cash checks. That makes it sound almost logical – except that flying and banking are both customer situations. We do not (as yet – and don’t rule it out) pay to vote. The people who look at those customer IDs are employees – paid by the airport or the bank. The people who would be checking IDs at the polls are volunteers. Should volunteers have to be trained in verifying photo ID? If they are to become experts in reading ID, where will they be trained and who will pick up the tab? How will voting absentee be handled? Who will be checking the absentee ID? Will nursing home residents be forced to pay for ID they no longer need, so that they can vote? What about same day registration? Over 2000 people registered to vote in Carroll County on Election Day in 2004. They signed a domicile affidavit at the polls. Will we do away with same day registration? What if those people have moved to NH fairly recently, and their photo ID address isn’t the same as their real address? Will we refuse to allow them to vote? How will we handle the bottleneck at the polls, when the line halts while the volunteer expert reads the ID and determines its validity? There are a lot of questions that are never answered by those who favor the preemptive voting legislation.

The second bill, HB 1566 would require photo ID to match physical address, and give the voter 40 days to make the changes. The aim is to force college students (long suspected of infiltrating the state to vote here, thereby ensuring the Democratic dictatorship we see in the NH House and Senate) to have cars registered and licenses changed over in order to vote in NH. It would require anyone with a NH license to change their address within 40 days of a move. This legislation was not proposed by anyone who has recently attempted to interact with the NH DMV. This bill would essentially nullify the domicile affidavits that are traditionally used on Election Day.

The supporters of preemptive voting legislation couch this in the most reasonable terms. Representative Mike Whalley, Chair of the House Election Law Committee said that the committee wanted to tighten up record keeping and weed out illegal voting. Except there isn’t any illegal voting, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Whalley said that this bill would not be a deterrent to voting. That’s a little hard to believe. We have no documented voter fraud – yet we have legislation that’s guaranteed to make for longer lines, inconvenience, and voter disenfranchisement. We know it isn’t necessary – so of course it’s intended as a deterrent! There isn’t any other reason for it.

NH Senator Andre Martel filed similar Senate bills aimed at requiring voter ID and disenfranchising student voters. In 2004, Martel came disconcertingly close to losing his election. Rather than assess his own performance as a state senator, and try to determine why the voters weren’t happy with him, Senator Martel chose to blame students. There are several colleges in his senate district. Incumbents in the NH legislature often feel a sense of entitlement when it comes to their seats. Senator Martel leans very far to the right, at a time when voter demographics in our state are shifting. The voters in his district may feel that he isn’t representing them, and choose to vote him out, as is certainly their right. To blame his near ouster on students is both silly, and lazy.

Silly and lazy sums up the whole package of this year’s voter reform bills. Filing a number of time consuming bills aimed at fixing a nonexistent problem doesn’t seem to be the best use of legislative time. We have a number of serious, well documented problems that need legislative attention. Has history taught us nothing about the folly of the pre-emptive strike?

“Preemptive war punishes the defenseless not for what they have done or are doing but for what they might have done or could do.” Eduardo Galeano

Thursday, June 15, 2006

We're Jammin, We're Jammin

It’s party time! Time for NH political parties to fundraise for the upcoming elections, that is. Last week, the Carroll County Democrats had their annual fundraising dinner. On Monday, the NH Republican Party had a fundraiser, in Manchester. The speaker? The controversial political operative, Karl Rove. Given the GOP’s recent history of ethics violations, this was an interesting choice, and one guaranteed to spark the interest of GOP loyalists, Democrats, and activists from around the state.

All of the critics seized upon this opportunity to mention the 2002 phone jamming scandal. Rove’s own ethics have been called into question; he’s been called before grand juries 5 times, and has admitted to outing CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters. The irony of this man, being asked to speak at a fundraiser that would help pay for the millions of dollars in legal fees being accrued by convicted phone jammer James Tobin was just too much to keep quiet about. About 75 people turned out for a demonstration in Manchester, at Veteran’s Park, on Monday. The NH Democratic Party was there, as well as groups like Democracy for NH, Priorities NH, and the NH Citizens Alliance for Action. There were signs reading “Funding Felonies,” and “NH GOP and Karl Rove – where Criminals Converge.” Other signs had a prison motif. Priorities NH was using the opportunity to educate passers by on the federal discretionary budget with their new carny game “Wheel of Fortune” which consists of a pie chart. The goal is to spin and NOT land on the Pentagon. I watched the NECN reporter spin several times, and land on the Pentagon every time.

NH GOP Chairman Wayne Semprini was annoyed by the suggestions that the fundraiser was going to pay for Tobin’s legal fees, but in more than one newspaper interview he admitted that a portion of the monies raised would go for just that. The belligerence of the NH GOP about the phone jamming is really quite amazing. Far from accepting responsibility, apologizing, and moving on, they’ve been angry that anyone would dare question them – much less indict and convict them!

It all began back in October of 2002. The US Senate race was hot – former Governor Jeanne Shaheen was running against then Representative John Sununu, Jr., for the seat that Bob Smith was vacating. Then Executive Director of the NH Republican State Committee (NHRSC) Chuck McGee spoke with James Tobin – then the New England Regional Director of the Republican National Committee and the Northeast political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. McGee told Tobin he wanted to hire a telephone service to jam Democratic phone banks on Election Day.

Tobin hooked McGee up with Allen Raymond; president of a telephone services vendor called GOP Marketplace, and suggested he call Raymond to enlist his aid with the plan. Raymond’s partner, Chris Cupit, contacted Shaun Hansen, of Mylo Enterprises, a telemarketing firm based in Sandpoint, Idaho. Cupit told Hansen that GOP Marketplace wanted to hire Mylo Enterprises to place hang up calls repeatedly to certain numbers in NH on Election Day. Hansen takes the job for $2,500 – in advance. McGee sends a NHRSC check for $15,600 to GOP Marketplace, which in turn, sends a check to Mylo Enterprises.

Employees of Mylo Enterprises start phoning NH on Election Day. They call 6 NH numbers. Five are affiliated with the NH Democratic Party, and one with the Manchester Professional Firefighters Association. Those numbers had been made public, in order to provide callers with rides to the polls. The numbers were called hundreds of times, causing the lines to ring and hang up. No one else could get through. Eventually Verizon frees up the phone lines and identifies the caller as Mylo Enterprises. Meanwhile, calls were made to try to stop the phone jamming, on the advice of GOP legal counsel David Vicinanzo. It’s too late, the calls are already underway. GOP consultant (and later state party chair) Jayne Millerick began a series of calls to Nixon and Peabody (where Vicinanzo worked), David Horan (a criminal defense attorney) and the White House. Tobin was calling the White House, too.

The story broke in February of 2003, in the Union Leader. Millerick and McGee both deny any involvement. Millerick claims the $15,600 to GOP Marketplace was for telemarketing services encouraging people to vote GOP. McGee claims he didn’t hire the firm. Later, Millerick outs him to the Union Leader, and he resigns. Eventually, in 2004, Allen Raymond pleads guilty to conspiracy to engage in interstate telephone communications with the intent to annoy or harass. Chuck McGee pleads guilty to the same charge. Tobin was also convicted, and is scheduled to begin serving his sentence later this month. His case is under appeal. And that’s where the fundraising comes in. The GOP has been paying Tobin’s legal fees.

This is a disturbing story on many levels. Apparently dirty tricks and lawbreaking have become justifiable means to the end of winning. Far from blushing in shame for being caught, the GOP is belligerent that they were ever even investigated or charged.
On the WMUR late news Monday night, state Senator Bob Clegg was asked about the phone jamming, and he launched into an incoherent rant about how “THOSE PEOPLE need to admit to all the votes they pay for.”

Rove is not going to be indicted, and his champions are crowing that this is a victory; much in the same way OJ Simpson’s defenders did at the end of his trial. That an unethical politico has escaped prosecution is hardly grounds for celebration. We’re at a sorry pass when the ends justify the means, and the meanness.

“It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.” Oscar Wilde

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Civics in NH

The NH legislative session is winding down. Bills of varying levels of importance have been dealt with, and now it’s time for our legislators to hit the campaign trail. Yes, Virginia, it’s an election year. In NH we will be electing a governor, all of our state representatives and senators, county officials, and our two US Congresspersons. In 2004 record numbers of new voters registered, and voted. In Carroll County 2,902 people registered to vote on Election Day. Will all of these new voters maintain their interest in civic participation?

There are populations that traditionally do not vote in representative numbers; women, people with low incomes, people of color, and young people. In 1972 about half of the age 18-24 group voted. By 2000 that number had dropped to 33 percent. In 2004, the presidential election increased the number to about 45 percent. Why don’t our young people vote? In a state that is governed by a citizen legislature, why aren’t we more concerned about this? What can we do to interest more of our young people in the civic process?

I registered to vote when I turned 18. I’ve voted in every election since then. When I was growing up, I was taught that voting was my right, and my duty. All freshmen in my high school were required to take a civics class. Civics was a solid grounding in the nuts and bolts of how our system of government works. We learned what our role in a participatory democracy is. By that point in our education, we’d already had years of romanticized US history. Civics was a welcome change because it was much more practical stuff. It was the early seventies, and even though the politics of the time were extremely contentious, we were still expected to grow up to be voting citizens.

Somewhere along the way, that expectation has changed. We stopped teaching civics, too. At the website of my alma mater, I couldn’t find a civics class listed, but it does seem to have been thoroughly integrated into their Social Studies curricula. Civics is not mandatory in NH, which is particularly unfortunate given our enormous volunteer legislature. We expect NH residents to run for office and serve – so shouldn’t we educate our youth to be prepared for the possibility?

In 2005, Representative Paul Smith, from Auburn, sponsored HB 435 a bill that would require a civics class for high school graduation. A similar bill (SB 82) was filed in the Senate. Paul Smith is 24, and one of the youngest members of the NH legislature. For his graduate thesis at UNH, he surveyed junior and senior political science majors on their knowledge, and then gave them the same test that potential US citizens take. Many of them failed the citizenship exam. Smith became determined to try to enact some positive change. The bill had bi-partisan support and sponsorship, but ultimately it was voted inexpedient to legislate. The Senate bill was sponsored by Democrats, and was ultimately killed as well. The prevailing sentiment was that the legislature should not mandate what classes are taught – that this should be decided locally.

They didn’t feel that same sense of “local control” when it came to abstinence only sex education. The legislature was more than happy to try to make that a mandate, with HB 39, which was filed in 2005, and finally killed in 2006. It was killed because studies show that abstinence only sex education seems to cause an increase in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease. Apparently we’re more in favor of playing roulette with teen sexual behavior than we are in educating them about their roles as citizens. Local control has been so perverted by the legislature in recent years that it has become nothing but a convenient excuse for inaction. We claim to want our young people to participate in our democracy – so we should be in favor of educating them to do so.

Instead there have been deliberate attempts to discourage college students from voting. There is a faction that believes wholeheartedly that college students “from away” are just dying to come here and vote, and change our one party system of government. The fact that the majority party has had control of the NH House since the Civil War does nothing to assuage their fears. They are convinced that all manner of voter fraud takes place here, despite reports from the Secretary of State’s office showing no evidence of fraud – and despite the outcome of our elections! In fact, the last documented case of fraud was a kid who voted under his father’s name – as a Republican.

What we teach our children matters. We are certainly willing to allow television and advertising to teach our children how to be consumers. We teach reading and math – why not teach citizenship?

“American youth attributes much more importance to arriving at driver’s license age than at voting age.” Marshall McLuhan

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Envy of All

The US has the finest health care system in the world. That’s the mantra we hear from the president, from our elected officials, and from the media. It’s certainly the most expensive health care system in the world – and perhaps expensive has come to be our definition of “best.” Or, perhaps, this is really a case of a lie being repeated often enough to become the truth.

A joint team of researchers from University College London, the University of London, and the US Rand Corporation studied two groups of comparable white people from both countries. The groups were divided into sub-groups based on education and income, and the researchers compared the rates of disease. They found that Americans aged 55-64 are twice as likely to suffer from diabetes, lung cancer, and high blood pressure as English people in the same age group. The healthiest Americans had similar disease rates to the least healthy Brits. Rates of diabetes were twice as high among the US group.

Americans spend almost double per head on health care than the English do. US healthcare is funded through insurance companies, while the British National Health System is funded by taxation.

The researchers found that health inequalities were more pronounced in the US, and that this may be partly attributed to the lack of health care and social programs to help those who are sick (like they have in the UK.) Those factors, however, were not enough to explain why the wealthiest Americans still had rates of health comparable to the poorest in England.

When this sort of study comes out, it’s immediately dismissed in the US as being junk, and the British system as a bunch of commie-pinko-socialist claptrap that can’t compare to the finest health care system in the world. It’s a shame that we don’t stop mouthing jingoistic slogans and bother to try to learn something from this sort of study. The US has a higher infant mortality rate than Cuba. If we weren’t so arrogant, we might actually learn something from the other countries that are healthier than we are.

Hot on the heels of the release of this study is a new federal bill that would change US health insurance laws. It’s basically SB110 for the whole country! SB110 was the law enacted in NH a few years back that allowed insurance companies to rate clients on the basis of age, sex, occupation, and location. It proved to be devastating to folks in the north country, who saw their rates increase by as much as 200 percent. Governor Lynch made repealing SB110 a cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign in 2004.

The federal bill is called the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act (S.1955) is intended to allow small business owners to organize across state lines and purchase health insurance through trade groups like Chambers of Commerce. NH Senators Judd Gregg and John Sununu are both in favor of the bill. Governor Lynch and 41 attorneys general around the country say the bill will block states from being able to regulate insurance companies. It may also end state specific benefits, like Michelle’s Law – the recently passed law that requires coverage for acutely ill college students. The bill would also let insurers drop coverage for mammograms and diabetes – both required now by state law. Deputy Commissioner of Insurance, Alex Feldvebel predicts that groups with between 1 and 10 members would see rates double at renewal time. Feldvebel found that the federal law would allow premiums to differ by a ratio of up to 25-to-1. NH state law allows for a difference of only 3.5-to-1. In other words, for every $100 spent in premiums by one individual, another could spend up to $2,500. The state limit is $350.

So – insurance companies can charge way, way more, and cover much, much less. Business groups are in favor of this; the NH Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Home Builders and Remodelers Association, and the NH Realtors Association are some of the groups supporting the bill. Opponents include the American Cancer Society, AARP, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Perhaps I’m being too cynical. Perhaps this isn’t a valentine to insurance companies, perhaps it’s merely increasing our rates to show us that we do indeed have the finest health care system in the world – look at how much it costs!!

This is being touted by Senator Gregg as “putting consumers first.” It’s hard to imagine that he can say that with a straight face. Once again, our elected officials are putting business ahead of our health. As long as we continue on the dunderheaded path of an expensive, insurance based system, we will experience increasing costs, disappearing coverage, and deteriorating health. It’s a great deal for insurance companies and Chambers of Commerce. As for the rest of us – well, we can take comfort in knowing we’ve got the best – even though we can’t afford to use it.

“The US healthcare system is the envy of the world.” George W. Bush