Sunday, March 12, 2006

Contrived Hysteria

Thanks to an ever-changing schedule, and a few days in bed with a truly evil cold, I’ve been able to catch more of the winter Olympics than usual this year. I grew up in a family of skiers, and the winter games were far more important to us than the summer ones. During the downhill this year, I heard the name Jean Claude Killy invoked a few times, and remembered the Killy slalom skis my father got a deal on one year. They were 220’s – a length that seems preposterous in the world of equipment we have today. The footage of the Alps in Italy has been gorgeous, and seeing actual snow on the ground was nice too. In Jackson, we have no cross country skiers on the golf course this week, only disappointing patches of brown. It’s bad for the local economy, and the general morale. I look forward to the day when the US begins to take global climate change seriously.

I couldn’t stay in bed forever, as attractive as that may have seemed early in the week. The real world beckoned (in the form of my boss) and propelled me back to the wonderful world of the NH legislature.

Last week in Concord, a state rep told me that the legislature has a record number of bills to deal with this year, more than they’ve ever had before. That’s particularly unusual in the non-budget years, when the load is usually a little lighter to make room for the campaigning that needs to be done every two years. Despite this unusual burden, Police Chief Garret Chamberlain of New Ipswich was invited to address the legislature this week, to discuss his experiences with undocumented immigrants. Chamberlain is the vigilante chief who is making a name for himself by attempting to become a one-man immigration department in NH. Chamberlain is much beloved on white nationalist web sites, where they speak reverently of his desire to send brown skinned people “back where they belong.” Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo, who hopes to ride a very white horse to the White House, came to NH to give him an award a while back.
There are a number of bills this year that deal with immigration issues. A handful of legislators from the Hudson area seem to feel that jailing undocumented immigrants merely for being here, and requiring police and DMV clerks to become offshoots of the INS is a good use of NH resources. Despite the contrived hysteria around immigration, only seven legislators turned out to hear Chamberlain speak. He told the assembled few that “anyone who enters the US illegally is a direct threat to the national security of the US.” Chamberlain also told the few that NH is home to anywhere from 8,000 to 20,000 undocumented immigrants. The Police Chief of New Ipswich isn’t afraid to engage in hyperbole, it seems. The Pew Hispanic Institute estimates that there may be as many as 4,800 undocumented people in NH – the lowest percentage of any state.
There is certainly a need to examine our federal immigration policies, in a calm, reasoned, and respectful way. Unfortunately, it looks as if the GOP is going to use immigration as a wedge issue in the 2006 and 2008 campaigns. They can’t boast of success in Iraq, they’re mired in controversy and corruption, and they’ve created record deficits. The Medicare prescription drug program is a disaster, the much-touted economic recovery isn’t really happening, more Americans are losing health insurance and good paying jobs are disappearing. The answer seems to be to campaign against same sex marriage, choice, and immigration – or bigotry, misogyny, and racism. Not an attractive package, but it may be all they’ve got.
That only seven legislators turned out to listen to Chamberlain is a good sign. Hopefully our NH legislature will choose to deal with the bills before them calmly, rationally, and without racial prejudice. There are a number of groups nationally who are signing on to the White Ribbon Campaign, where they promise to have a sane national dialogue about immigration. You can see who has signed on at

Last week, SB316 cleared the NH senate. This bill calls for hospitals to supply interpreters for persons not fluent in English, upon request. It makes sense – a person who isn’t able to converse fluently with a doctor might have to make a number of costly visits before they receive the care they need. That would be a relatively good outcome. A person who could not make himself understood could die from the lack of proper treatment. Spending a few bucks on an interpreter versed in medical language could save thousands in medical costs. This is a chance for the legislature to mandate paying for the ounce of prevention instead of the pound of cure.

This week, HB1492 was heard by the NH House Judiciary committee. This bill would give “immunity from liability to pharmacists who refuse to dispense an emergency contraceptive pill.” The mind boggles at the concept of offering liability protection to people who refuse to do their jobs. It is the job of a pharmacist to dispense medication as directed by physicians. It is not their job to impose their beliefs on the female population.
This bill, if passed, would provide a very slippery slope for other forms of medication that pharmacists might feel “morally” opposed to, including drugs for HIV treatment, anti-depressants, and psychiatric medication. If a pharmacist has such strong beliefs that they cannot fill prescriptions, it is time for them to move on to a new career.

We are truly blessed in NH to have incredible access to our state legislators. They have listed phone numbers. They are always willing to hear our thoughts on legislation, or our concerns. Other states aren’t this fortunate. I was recently called to task by a solon that was unhappy with the way I was portraying legislators. Many of our 400 legislators are people whose names you will never hear, people who work darned hard for that princely sum of $100 that they earn annually. We should all (including me) give them credit for their service, far more often than we do.

“I want you to know that at dinner that evening I gave special thanks for you and the many other wonderful Americans who work with me in the struggle to secure our nation's borders, and the struggle to preserve our national identity, against the tide of illegal immigrants flooding the United States." Tom Tancredo in a letter to his Team America PAC

Published in the February 23, 2006 Conway Daily Sun.
(clearly I was a little behind)

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