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