Thursday, December 20, 2007

Under Surveillance

Some high schools have a specific academic focus aimed at preparing students for solid job prospects. In August of 2007, Joppatowne High School in Maryland became the first high school dedicated to the future of homeland security. The Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Programs are being funded by federal, state, and local agencies, as well as some defense contractors. The military industrial complex is booming in Maryland, with defense contractors and weapons manufacturers aplenty. The students will choose a track: information and communication technology, criminal justice and law enforcement, or “homeland security science.” Some of the 75 students in this program will receive limited security clearances at the nearby Army chemical warfare lab. Naturally, not all Joppatowne grads will join the intelligence community. Some will certainly end up as hired guns to the “contractors” aka mercenaries currently involved in the US occupation of Iraq. Jonathan Zimmerman, a NY history of education professor said, “the devil lies in whether this is going to be a school for education or indoctrination.”

In recent months, I’ve traveled extensively around the state. I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of high schools. One school was a fortress. It was unclear where one even entered the building – which didn’t matter so much, since all of the doors were locked. I had to be guided in by a person wearing a lanyard with ID, who brought me to the office, where I was signed in and scrutinized. I was assigned an escort, who had a walkie-talkie. I was the advance person for a presidential candidate visiting the school. I asked to have a small group of students wait outside with signs, so the candidate would know where to enter the building. My request was denied. The students would not be allowed to be outside, “for safety’s sake.” This particular school is not downtown, or in a densely populated area – it’s out on a huge, remote parcel of land. Teachers all seemed to carry walkie talkies, and some were engaged in tracking down some students who didn’t appear to be doing anything other than being students, late for class. I asked one of the teachers about all of the security measures – had they ever had an incident? She said no, they hadn’t, but "this is the way things are since Columbine."

In contrast, another public school, one located in a more downtown area had students waiting outside for the advance team, and later for the candidate. The campus was more open and a lot friendlier. The students at Lockdown High were disinterested, and reluctantly asked very standard questions. The students at Friendly High were fully engaged, and asked better questions than any you’ve heard in any debate so far. Is there a correlation between the level of security and the level of curiosity and education? Sure seems like it.

It has been disturbing to read the reactions to the recent Big Impressive Random Search at Kennett High School. The prevailing attitude seems to be that all kids are presumed guilty, and therefore should not object to being searched to prove otherwise. The Bush administration has done a fine job of programming the populace to be fearful. We are told “if you aren’t guilty, you have nothing to hide” as a means of justifying illegal searches and wiretaps. Now our students are being programmed in the same way. In the name of achieving some sort of nebulous “safety” the student’s lockers and cars are being searched. Were the belongings and cars of teachers, staff, and administrators searched, or are only students “unsafe?”

In the years since 9/11, many of us are subjected to indignities that are supposed to keep us safe. Bored airport security people sometimes look in the trunk of my car. They don’t paw through the contents of the trunk, just open and look. We must take off our shoes, our coats, empty our computer bags, send our belongings through machines at airports – where we must throw out our chapstick if it doesn’t have a baggie to travel in. This isn’t protecting us from anything – it’s merely theater developed to provide the illusion that we are being protected. I am on an airport watch list. Every time I fly, I am taken out of line to be wanded, felt up, and X-rayed, along with all of my belongings, both carryon and checked luggage. I am not a terrorist. I’ve never spoken with a terrorist – at least not that I’m aware of. I don’t make many overseas phone calls, and the ones I do are to the UK. Somewhere, somehow I was put on a list, probably because of my political beliefs, or maybe it was the purchasing of Near East Rice Pilaf. That handy discount card you use at the supermarket gathers information about you, and that information can be accessed by Big Brother (and was, after 9/11), in the name of “national security.” I’ll never know – and I’ll probably never get off the list. Average citizens are not allowed to find out anything about these watch lists, which are protected from those who would question, in the name of “national security.”

We are a nation under surveillance. Many of the folks who responded to last week’s TeleTalk question in the Sun do not even question the need for all of this security any more. By teaching our kids that they have no rights, that their property can be searched at any time, we are indoctrinating them into the future, where they do not question domestic wiretapping and warrantless searches. They will parrot the mantra, “If you don’t have anything to hide, you don’t have anything to fear.” They will learn that they have no rights, and that they are always being watched. They will be perfectly groomed to take their place in our brave new world of the unending “war on terra.” There is no need to teach critical thinking skills to the cannon fodder of the future.

“There is no telling how many wars it will take to secure freedom in the homeland.” George W. Bush

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Stop the Sale!

The last paper mill in Groveton is closing at the end of this month, leaving 300 people without jobs. The North Country has lost nearly all of its manufacturing jobs – good paying jobs that are being replaced with low wage service jobs. I recently spoke with a woman in Groveton whose husband and other family members worked at the mill. She’s currently working 2 jobs to help put her kids through college. She told me that they’d probably have to move somewhere out of state in order to find decent paying jobs. Property in Groveton, she said, is slowly being sold to out of state folks who want to build second homes. Another community destroyed by our trade policies.

There is little chance of relief for our neighbors to the north. The pending Verizon Fairpoint deal will insure that the northern part of the state will remain in the technological dark ages for decades to come. Verizon wants to sell its northern New England land lines to Fairpoint for $2.7 billion. If the sale goes through, Verizon will abandon its “low value” customers – primarily rural- and keep the profitable customers (Big Business) and wireless. Verizon would qualify for a $700 million tax break, and would still control 60% of Fairpoint. It’s a great deal for Verizon. Fairpoint is a small company that is already carrying a heavy debt load, and will need to borrow $1.7 billion to finance the sale. Fairpoint would also pay Verizon $100 million to continue its billing for the first four months until they are ready to run a network that is about 6 times of what it currently owns. If Fairpoint isn’t ready in 4 months, the meter will continue to run.

You’ve probably seen the Fairpoint TV commercials where a farmer in Fryeburg, Maine speaks about how great their service is in a rural area. Compared to say…Colombia, NH, Fryeburg is the big city. One wonders at how a big, expensive ad campaign is supposed to reassure us that a company already far in debt is going to expand northern NH’s infrastructure needs. What infrastructure there is has been poorly maintained by Verizon, and will require serious investment if we are to move forward in the global market economy. A company that seems to be biting off more than it can chew isn’t going to help us move forward.

It’s interesting to read about the support for this deal. Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who lives in Bath (an area living in the technological dark ages) is in favor of it. So is State Representative Gene Chandler, who isn’t exactly Mr. Tech Savvy, as we all learned last year. It will be worth following the campaign money trail to learn why these two men are acting against the best interests of their constituents.

State Senators Deborah Reynolds, Jackie Cilley, and Robert Letourneau are seeing it a little differently. They collaborated on an editorial that was recently printed around the state. This bi-partisan triumvirate expressed a great deal of concern for the future of economic development and job creation in our state.

According to an analysis done by Jobs With Justice, nearly nine out of ten letters filed with the NH Public Utilities Commission (PUC) oppose the sale. Of comments from elected officials, 97% opposed the sale. Only two were in favor of it. Fairpoint and Verizon are both calling the report flawed. Fairpoint Chairman Gene Johnson has dismissed the letters as the result of “a tremendous political campaign by the unions.” He claimed that hundreds of people spoke up on behalf of Fairpoint at the public hearings. Now, I didn’t go to all of the hearings, but at the one I attended, there were fewer than five people who stood up in support of Fairpoint. Sure the union folks are worried about losing their jobs and pensions, why wouldn’t they be? Fairpoint has a very small percentage of union jobs in its current holdings. Given the load of debt they’ll be staggering under, they’re going to have to drive down wages and benefits, else they’ll be in trouble with shareholder dividends.

Many of us are already dissatisfied with the kind of “service” we experience from Verizon. Fairpoint will almost certainly continue to provide us with marginal service, while charging us more for it. How this will translate into upgrading internet service to rural customers is fairly predictable. It won’t translate. The rural customer will be left dangling, while Verizon laughs all the way to the bank. At least in the southern parts of the state, customers have options other than Verizon. We in the north are beholden to the Verizon monopoly. If we are lucky we have DSL, which is already outdated, and being presented by Fairpoint as an improvement. No fear of FIOS in the north, folks. As the manufacturing jobs continue to be exported overseas, there is no chance that we’ll be competitive in the global marketplace. Northern NH will continue to try to exist on a tourist economy, despite global climate change, and continue to provide all the low paying service jobs one could ask for. And on top of that – our phone bills will be going up.

There is still time to contact your elected officials and the PUC and tell them you oppose this sale. Maine will be deciding on December 13, and Vermont and New Hampshire will decide in January.

“They own 300,000 miles of lines in six states. They’re taking over 1.5 million miles. It’s like Joe’s Paving taking on I-93.” Mike McLaughlin, attorney for the AFL-CIO.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Baby Talk

I loathe baby talk. I didn’t talk to my baby that way, I don’t talk to animals that way, and I certainly never talked to a spouse or a lover that way. Anyone who used baby talk on me was automatically disqualified from having the chance of another date. I don’t use baby talk on any babies, something which can be alarming to parents, but babies don’t seem to mind when I speak to them about global water shortages or whatever else I may be thinking about. Given that we want our kids to speak like adults, one wonders why we start with baby talk.

While working with people who have profound physical disabilities and/or mental retardation, I saw baby talk in action on a regular basis. For some reason, the disabled, the elderly, and the infirm are all on the receiving end of baby talk, often employed at a slightly louder decibel level than regular speech. Not only do we perceive people who have disabilities as lacking the intelligence to decipher common English, apparently we also perceive them as hard of hearing. I once saw a man who has Down ’s syndrome respond to a woman who was loudly baby-talking him by bellowing and drooling. As she scurried off, he wiped his chin and laughed.

In nursing homes, this odious linguistic phenomenon is known as “elderspeak.” You will never hear older adults using it to converse with one another, but young caregivers frequently use it to speak to their patients. Studies show that it can diminish the confidence of a senior in their own abilities. It’s a very non-subtle form of ageism, and it’s incredibly patronizing. If you wouldn’t talk to your best friend that way, you probably shouldn’t use baby talk on anyone.

It is no secret that my husband has cancer. One day after he went through some tests, the nurse came out and told me “he did so good!” as if he were a mildly retarded five year old. “He’s sick, not stupid,” I wanted to shout. I’ve been uncharacteristically meek, because I don’t want to make things harder for him. Thankfully most nurses are smart, funny people, who can size up a patient the way a good server sizes up a customer, and they instinctively know just how to talk to the person in front of them. It’s the small percentage of baby talkers that are likely to cause some form of combustion on my part.

How we speak to one another is important. If we grow up watching Dad yell at Mom, we learn that this is how men speak to women. If Mom always screams at the kids, they learn that screaming is how to communicate. If parents don’t pay enough attention to children, the children act out in public. People who don’t feel safe and secure are often angry in their communications. Communication is a necessary skill for world leaders. We’ve all spent the last seven years watching an extraordinarily inarticulate man represent us to the rest of the world. We’ve all laughed about his many gaffes and garbled phrases, but, his inability to speak his own native tongue has diminished our country in the eyes of the world, and lowered our own expectations of what leadership should look like. This may be an intentional strategy – after all, we expect less from a buffoon.

Talk radio is beginning to sneak on to the airwaves of northern NH. Driving home at night I’ve picked up some rabid right wing talk programs. I learned recently that feminists are responsible for ADHD. Yep, the feminists invented ADHD, then caused a generation of young men to be drugged, in order to prevent these young men from asserting themselves as chest beating, testosterone driven, violent savages, thereby ensuring that more women would go to college than men. This bit of wisdom was imparted by Michael Savage, a talk radio host whose real name is Michael Weiner. His show is called “Savage Nation,” which undoubtedly has more rabid right wing appeal than a show called “Weiner Nation” would possess. I’ve also been catching up on my Sean Hannity listening. Sean Hannity calls himself a great American. Apparently the qualifications for that title are rudeness and intolerance. He shows a marked inability to let anyone ask an uninterrupted question – and an inability to answer any question asked. Like many right wing chickenhawks, he has plenty to say about veterans like John Murtha and John Kerry. There are many things wrong with our national communication skills, and talk radio is one of the symptoms of our disease. Perhaps forcing these evil-spewers to use nothing BUT baby-talk would be one solution.

Across the nation, and certainly around this state, people are tired of the constant drone of divisiveness and insult. They crave a more substantial dialogue, which is understandable. We’ve been fed a lot of empty calories and air for years now, while newspapers print less world news, and celebrity gossip is foisted upon as actually being of some importance.

We deserve better. It’s up to us to speak out when we don’t like the way we are being spoken to.

“By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.” George Carlin

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Other Half of the Equation

Two weeks ago, officials in Portland, ME decided to allow a middle school health center to provide birth control pills to girls as young as 11. There were seven pregnancies reported in Portland’s middle schools in the last few years. At the King Middle School, five girls told the school nurse that they have been sexually active. This has caused national hysteria, of course, fueled by the right wing media. The pious prognostications about the end of civilization have reverberated from sea to shining sea, mouthed by Rush Limbaugh and others of his kind. We’ve even seen them on the pages of the Conway Daily Sun, where another columnist bizarrely attempted to blame teen pregnancies on Hillary Clinton. I feel confident in saying that whatever Senator Clinton may be guilty of, impregnating teenaged girls isn’t on the list.

There’s plenty of blame being circulated. The right wants to blame Democrats (whom they incorrectly call “the left.”) The Christians want to blame godless heathens. The Republicans want to blame what they call “government” schools; linking public education to the government in the hopes of killing public education. There are those who blame our permissive society, and insist that giving access to birth control is condoning adolescent sex. These are often parents who don’t think their kids are old enough to be taught sex education. My very informal survey of teens and young adults reveals that most kids don’t get sex ed at home. Some blame the parents, some blame the kids – there’s enough blame to go around.

I’ve read many of the news stories published about this decision. Some stories feature fairly objective coverage, others are quite slanted toward a religious right wing view. Some make very subtle and revealing comments about how providing birth control will enable these kids to “avoid the consequences.” Apparently that particular writer feels that a 12 year old pregnant girl deserves to suffer the consequences for the rest of her life. One newspaper story had room for reader comments. One man stated that any girl who gets pregnant at age 11 deserves it. Apparently these little Jezebels should have to endure a lifetime of poverty, because they flaunted themselves and got what they deserved.

There is a piece missing from every single story I’ve read about this and every online discussion I’ve seen. The fathers. There is absolutely no mention of the fathers, no speculation as to whom is impregnating these middle school girls. It’s hard to imagine that half the equation could be completely ignored – but it has been.

The most cursory research reveals some interesting data about girls 15 and under and their sexual experiences. A study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that 29 percent of teens reported feeling pressure to have sex. Another 33% of them reported being in a relationship where they felt things were moving too fast, and 24% reported that they had done something sexual they didn’t want to. Another study showed that 60% of teen mothers claimed that their pregnancy was preceded by unwanted sex. This is RAPE. Coercing or forcing teenaged girls to have sex is RAPE. Yet, somehow, in all of the uproar – no one is talking about rape or coercion.

The Guttmacher Institute found that 60% of girls who had sex before age 15 were coerced by males who on average were at least 6 years older. Adult men, in other words. That is the missing piece. The National Center for Health Statistics finds that two-thirds of teen births are fathered by adult men. No one is talking about this. The pious-finger wavers are ignoring this. The well intentioned folks at the school aren’t talking about this. Adult men are preying on post-pubescent girls. Isn’t it about time we stopped blaming the girls, and started addressing MALE behavior?

I would rather not see young girls taking the Pill. There are a lot of health risks, and without a condom as backup, they’re still at risk for HIV/AIDs and STD’s – in fact, having adult male partners puts them at great risk for disease. At the same time, I know how a teen pregnancy can impact a girl’s life. The fastest route to poverty for a girl or a woman is motherhood. A teenaged girl should not be a parent – nor should she be the victim of an adult lothario.

This story has been accompanied by plenty of hand-wringing about the decay of our society, our morals, etc. Well, society – what are we going to do about it? Are we going to only deal with half of the equation – the girls? Rape is endemic in this country – yet there is still an undercurrent of blaming the victim. Most rapes are committed by acquaintances, and most go unreported. Still, nothing much is done about it. There is no male movement to end violence against women. Men could have an enormous impact in stopping sexual harassment and violence, if they decided to open their mouths when they hear harassing statements, or worse. Instead, most turn a blind eye. They maintain the male version of omerta.

Two-thirds of teen births are fathered by adult men. Clearly adult men feel a certain entitlement to molest barely pubescent girls. What are we going to do about this? Will we, as a society dare to tackle this problem? Or will we continue to blame the girls themselves, Hollywood, blue states, Democrats, and possibly even Hillary Clinton?

“‘Just say no’ prevents teenaged pregnancy the way ‘have a nice day’ cures chronic depression.” Anonymous

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Clog Dancing With the GOP

By now, everyone has seen the latest Mitt Romney ad on television. You can’t miss it – it runs every 10 minutes. Mitt with his chiseled jaw and greased down hair (complete with comb tracks) telling us that “when Republicans act like Democrats, America loses.” He focuses on spending, immigration, and ethics in the ad. Romney wisely avoids any mention of family values. After all of the sex scandals this past year, who would trust their family with a Republican?

In July, State Representative Bob Allen of Florida was arrested in a men’s room. It seems Allen offered to pay an undercover officer to allow Allen to perform a sexual act upon the officer. Allen later claimed that he only made the offer because the officer was black and he “didn’t want to become a statistic.” Is offering to pay for the privilege of performing oral sex a common reaction when one is afraid? I’ve never experienced that kind of fear myself. What is clear is that in the GOP it’s better to admit to being a racist than a homosexual.

Last week in Wisconsin, Brown County GOP Chair Donald Fleischman was arrested for enticement and fondling an underage boy. The boy was a runaway who was staying at Fleischman’s house, where he allegedly plied the lad with beer and marijuana, and then fondled him. Mr. Fleischman has resigned from his post.

St. Bernard Parish Councilman Joey DiFatta, who was a candidate for the Louisiana State Senate, withdrew from the race, after reports came to light that he’d been picked up for lewd conduct in men’s rooms on two occasions. In 1996, he was arrested for peeping in a men’s room stall, while a man was using the bathroom. The second time involved foot tapping and hand signals recently made famous by Idaho Senator Larry Craig. DiFatta claims he was withdrawing from the race before the reports were made public, for health reasons. He’s been having chest pains. Apparently it gets hard to breathe in the closet.

Larry Craig, Mark Foley – the list goes on and on. It’s tempting to make snide political hay with all of this, and I confess to succumbing to that impulse from time to time. The sad reality, however, is that the GOP has a real problem – one that needs to be tackled honestly. Since the Republican Party was high jacked by right wing religious ideologues in the 90’s, they’ve gone out of their way to piously claim to be the party of family values. It’s easy to cite thousands of cases that prove otherwise. From Newt Gingrich to Larry Craig – we know better, now. The GOP has based their claims of family values on a 1950’s clean scrubbed nuclear family image, the kind of family that seldom, if ever, really existed.

That mean spirited ideology pushed a lot of Republicans into hiding, into a degree of sexual repression that may have caused some of the aberrant behavior we’ve seen in the last year. If Republicans were free to be openly gay, would they be caught trying to solicit sex in men’s rooms? Would they disavow their own gay children – like Alan Keyes did? Many Republicans have gay children – and these same staunch fellows legislate against the rights of their own family. How can we believe them when they tell us they support family values? Look what they do to their own kids.

In NH in 2006, the GOP lost control of the entire state of NH. One reason for that loss was the complacent attitude of the NH Republican Party. They believed that rattling the spectre of an income tax was enough to keep the GOP in power. After all, it had worked for over 100 years. They weren’t smart enough to realize that the world is changing, and so is our state. No longer can they run on yesterday’s platform. No longer can they run by whipping the faithful into a frenzy over yesterday’s fears.

VT has had civil unions for a few years now. The sky did not fall. Vermont did not suffer a plague of locusts. The heterosexual couples have not raced to divorce court. In Massachusetts, gay couples can marry. The state did not spontaneously combust. No floods, famines, or pestilence have struck our neighbors to the south. In both cases, nothing much changed, except that some couples who love each other could make a legal commitment to one another. They have legal standing they weren’t able to experience before. New families have come into being. Contrast that with the 10,000 soldiers who have been kicked out of the military for being gay, since the odious “don’t ask, don’t tell” was initiated.

If the GOP wants to survive, they’re going to have to rethink their position on homosexuality. If the GOP wants to survive, they’re going to have to develop a message that goes beyond lip service to an outdated notion of family, and focuses on more than hate and taxes. In our corner of NH, we know that climate change is real. We see it. This country faces real problems that require real solutions. Mouthing the platitudes of the past isn’t enough any more. It’s time for the GOP to move into the present, and acknowledge the fact that they’ve overplayed the hatred, and it’s turning on them. The party hierarchy should also consider the very real possibility that the men’s rooms at the next GOP convention could be mistaken for a clog dancing demonstration, if they aren’t careful. It’s time for the GOP to widen its narrow stance on homosexuality.

“You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight.” Barry Goldwater

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Wooden Nickels

On September 26, there was a presidential debate in the town of Hanover, NH. Unlike the relatively subdued event at St. Anselms College in June, this was a full fledged circus. Dartmouth College is right in the middle of downtown Hanover, and everyone was there, including me. The reporting of the debate was just about what one might expect it to be. There were other stories to report on, however, and sadly they received almost no attention.

A group of young African American Dartmouth students held banners in front of the auditorium where the debate was to take place, calling on the media to pay more attention to the events in Jena, Louisiana. They stood quietly, watching Chris Matthews across the street, as he interviewed Joe Biden, and ignored them completely. They told me that of all the media outlets present, only NBC had spoken with them.

Also ignored was the rally/protest held by SEIU in solidarity with the tipped employees of the Hanover Inn. In 2004 the workers at the Hanover Inn voted to gain collective bargaining rights. The staff is represented by SEIU Local 560.The Hanover Inn is one of the only union hotels in the state. One aspect of the 2005 contract that is still under negotiation is compensation for tipped employees while on vacation time, sick days, personal days, and retirement. The wait staff at the Hanover Inn are paid $3.50 an hour for their vacation days, and that’s also how their pensions are configured – at a rate below minimum wage. In other words, a loyal employee who stays for years and reaches retirement gets a stick in the eye when it comes to their pension.

Wait staff have long been on the short end of the financial stick. Whenever talk turns to increasing the minimum wage, the restaurant industry lobbyists come out of the woodwork to fight any suggestion that tipped employees should receive an increase in their already below minimum hourly wage. Historically, the tipped worker minimum wage was half of whatever the national minimum wage was. In 1996, tipped workers minimum wage was permanently frozen at $2.13. Next time you pick up that pitiable paycheck, be sure to thank the Republican controlled legislature of 1996. Housing costs, medical costs, and transportation costs have continued to increase – but not the wages of tipped workers. This forces them to rely almost completely on tips to make ends meet. As anyone who has ever been a tipped employee knows – there ain’t no guarantees. There are never any guarantees about tips. One can spend hours giving perfect service, only to get stiffed by a patron. On a slow night, a waitperson might be sent home. Some customers are offended by the idea of tipping, and choose to take their frustration with the system out on the wait people. Bureau of Labor statistics show that the average waiter/waitress in the US makes just over $17,000 a year, including tips. That is not enough to support a family on, never mind save for retirement.

The US has a very provincial attitude about waiters – and let me point out that I am using the term waiter as a generic term to cover men and women. We don’t call female teachers teacheresses or teacherettes, we don’t call female police officers copettes, so we needn’t use the sexist diminutive waitress, either. In many European countries the job of waiter is an honorable one, a job that may be handed down from within a family. In the US, there are some widely held beliefs about waiters – mostly that they are dumb. If they were smart, they’d get better paying jobs. Waiting on tables requires memory, discretion, mind reading, and good organizational skills – hardly a job for the stupid. There are people waiting on tables in this area who have advanced degrees – and no place to use them. A waiter job can be a real gift to a single mother, who can manage to arrange a schedule that is flexible and workable so that she has time with her kids. That doesn’t mean that she should be paid substandard wages, or receive substandard retirement. People from other countries are horrified by our tipped employee system. I’d love to see a national discussion on changing it – but the restaurant lobby will have screaming hysterics at the mere thought of it. I’d also love to see more restaurants and hotels unionize. Our once proud manufacturing economy has been allowed to flee overseas, leaving us with increasing numbers of low paying service jobs. The service sector should be organizing, organizing to make sure they don’t continue to get the proverbial wooden nickel.

Thirty-one states have established a minimum wage for tipped employees that his higher than $2.13 an hour. Seven states require tipped employees to be paid full minimum wage. None of these states have found that paying a fair wage has hurt their business. The Hanover Inn pays more than the $2.13, which is certainly a good start – but sick leave and retirement should be calculated in a way that helps workers. Having a stable staff is an asset to any hotel or restaurant. Our working families deserve better than this.

“A person who is nice to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person.” Dave Barry

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bring It On

Former NH Governor Jeanne Shaheen has just announced that she will be running for the US Senate seat currently held by John Sununu, Jr. In 2002, Shaheen and Sununu both ran for that same seat, in a hotly contested race that resulted in a controversial victory. We all remember the phone jamming scandal, where the Republican Party paid a consulting group to hire an Idaho telemarketing firm to jam lines that were being used by the Manchester Democrats to make get out the vote calls, and arrange transportation to the polls. We can only speculate as to how much the jamming of phones in NH’s largest city contributed to the Sununu victory. It was an ugly incident in our nation’s political history, and made uglier by the attempts at a cover-up. The investigation into the phone jamming was conducted at the slowest speed possible, rivaled only by the slowness with which the 2001 anthrax investigation is still being conducted.

Back in 2002, the GOP was determined to hang on to the Senate seat that Bob Smith was vacating. Jeanne Shaheen was a popular governor, and a real threat to the GOP entitlement to that Senate seat. Chuck McGee, who was then the Executive Director of the NH Republican State Committee spoke with James Tobin, who was 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 the day of the election.

The job was outsourced to GOP Marketplace, who in turn outsourced the job to Mylo Enterprises, an Idaho telemarketing firm, for $15,6000, which was paid by the NH GOP. After the story broke in 2003, Allen Raymond of GOP Marketplace and Chuck McGee both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to engage in interstate telephone communications with the intent to annoy or harass. James Tobin was convicted as well. You’d think the GOP would want to distance themselves from such a villain – but that has not been the case. In fact, they’ve paid Tobin’s legal fees, to the tune of over $3 million. Tobin appealed his conviction, and was granted a new trial. He’s now moving for a judgement of acquittal.

There are still many unanswered questions in this case. At the top of the list:
• 22 phone calls were made exchanged between the NH GOP and the White House Office of Political Affairs during the period that the phone jamming took place.
• The Republican National Committee paid over $3 million in legal fees. Why?
• John Durkin, (attorney for the GOP defendents) was told by a Department of Justice prosecutor that all decisions in the phone jamming case had to be approved by the Attorney General himself. This ensured that the case went nowhere until after the 2004 election.

Congressman Paul Hodes has recently called upon the House Oversight Committee to investigate whether the White House was illegally involved in the phone jamming, and whether the Department of Justice intentionally mishandled the investigation. Given all that we’ve learned about the Department of Justice in recent months, this is hardly an outrageous suggestion. One might think that we would all want to know if this scandal goes all the way to the White House. One might think that we would all want to know if the Dept. of Justice deliberately stonewalled the investigation. As is so often the case here in NH, one would be wrong.

The reaction from Republicans around the state has been hilariously predictable. There are the screams of outrage about “wasting the taxpayers dollars” on this investigation. I don’t seem to remember that kind of screaming when Kenneth Starr spent $70 million on his bag of nothing investigation. Best of all are the cries of “this happened 6 years ago – it’s ancient history!!” Please remember that the next time a Republican dredges up Robert Byrd, Ted Kennedy, Gerry Studds, or Bill Clinton for that matter. Apparently the statute of limitations on GOP crimes and misdemeanors is much shorter than the one applied to the rest of us. The bottom line is pretty simple. The GOP does not want this investigation – and not because they have concerns about taxpayer dollars. They have no qualms about spending a billion dollars a day in Iraq. There is only one reason they fear this investigation – they don’t want us to know how far up the ladder the corruption actually reaches.

The Shaheen – Sununu rematch means that the phone jamming scandal will be back in the forefront again. What better time to ensure that the voters of NH finally find out the whole truth? If the White House was not involved, if the Dept. of Justice was not involved, there is no reason to fear investigation. Many of us feel that our election processes have been subverted, beginning in the year 2000, when we were given our first court appointed president. We know that electronic voting machines can be rigged. The voting public is more cynical than ever about the integrity of our elections. We need to restore honesty and transparency to our electoral system, and the best way to begin is by exposing the chicanery of the past.

A common Republican mantra around the Patriot Act goes like this: “if you aren’t guilty, you have nothing to fear.” If that’s the case, the folks in the NH GOP should be telling Congressman Hodes to “bring it on.”

“We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly.” Aristotle

Jailhouse Jesus

Few amongst us are saintly enough to avoid a chuckle when those who place themselves high above us take a moral tumble. We’ve all seen plenty of coverage of the bathroom antics of Senator Larry Craig. Some readers will remember TV evangelist Jimmy Swaggart blubbering on national television, after getting caught with a hooker, or former Arkansas Representative Wilber Mills, who failed to run for re-election after exotic dancer Fannie Fox (the “Argentine Firecracker”) leaped from his car and jumped into the tidal basin in DC, in an attempt to elude the police who had pulled Mills over for speeding. Let’s not forget Pastor Ted Haggard and his meth buying and male hooker massaging. When those who make a point of sticking their morality in our face are caught with their bathroom stance a little too wide – it’s hard to resist the urge to snicker.

On the subject of Senator Craig – one reason this was all so funny was because his story was often juxtaposed with old footage of him calling Bill Clinton “naughty.” Well, there was also his silly story about the “wide stance.” If you’re sitting with your pants down in a confined space, how big can your sitting “stance” be? And why don’t the Republicans grasp the simple concept that if it were okay to be a gay Republican, they wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep the closet door locked?

We’ve certainly had our share of local cases. Who can forget Walter Preble’s miraculous jailhouse conversion to Christianity? Preble was arrested in the 80’s after being convicted of distributing drugs. He was caught with a whole lot of marijuana on a private plane. While incarcerated, he, like so many, found Jesus. Some readers will recall his letters to the editor, praising the Lord and damning the homosexual. Those letters made many of his former customers laugh their way into clean underwear. The letters tapered off, and so, apparently, did Walter’s connection to Jesus, since he was arrested earlier this year. He must have been sampling his own wares, since he stopped at the police station (always the thing to do when one has outstanding warrants) to report a traffic accident. The police found most of what he owned in the car, as well as his passport and a suitcase full of marijuana. Marijuana is proven to cause short term memory loss – and this case would seem to back that up. Preble forgot about Jesus, and forgot about his outstanding warrants. Now that he’s back behind bars, will he turn again to God – or will he try something more original?

The jailhouse conversion isn’t anything new – as long as there have been prisons, there have been people wailing and moaning that they’d seen the light. The latest celebrity conversion is Michael Vick, the NFL player who is facing federal charges of running a dog fighting operation. Vick has stated that he also executed injured dogs. He may be looking at spending some time in the big house, so before he loses the multimillion dollar salary and endorsements, he’s preemptively asked Jesus for forgiveness and turned his life over to him. I’m sure he really means it – that the money and perks mean nothing to him. *cough*

Paris Hilton was seen toting a Bible around before her jail term for violating probation, but during her 23 day stint in jail, she called Barbara Walters to share how debilitating her experience was, and how God was giving her another chance. She told Walters “I am a changed woman.” It seems to be true. Since she rejoined the party circuit of the idle rich, we have seen no pictures of her without panties. We should all give our thanks to God, Allah, Buddha, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that.

Manuel Noriega had a portable baptistery set up in a courtroom, and was given the full immersion by security guards, during his prison stay. Is he sincere, or is this opportunistic? Stay tuned – Noriega has more jail time ahead of him. Finding Jesus may have saved Oklahoma bombing conspirator Terry Nichols from the death penalty. Is Nichols for real, or trying to stay alive? We may never know, since he’s unlikely to ever see the outside world again. To be fair, the conversions aren’t always false – Nixon operative Charles Colson came out of prison and began a prison ministry.

Another local favorite was Kevin Deschenes, who had a lunch truck business called “Daily Manna.” He drove that lunch truck like a lunatic – speeding and running people off the road. Jesus must have been telling him to put the pedal to the metal. Jesus also seems to have told him that he needed to supplement his business by selling marijuana. When he was arrested, the police found over $4000 worth of pot, cash, and drug paraphernalia. At one point he tried to tell the cops that the marijuana was for Christmas presents. I guess it’s possible that all of his family and friends have either HIV/AIDs or cancer. Perhaps I’m too cynical – but invoking Jesus in an attempt to save your bacon has been done to death.

It’s awfully hard to take any of these people seriously. It will be interesting to see if Jesus helps Michael Vick beat the rap, or lessen his sentence. Time will tell how serious any of these conversions are, and in the case of Preble - time and letters to the editor. I can’t wait!

“God: The most popular scapegoat for our sins.” Mark Twain

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ruminations on Summer

Summer is coming to an end. In the swamps, the leaves are already turning, and nights have a chilly edge. We’ve survived the indignities of summer in a tourist area – the congestion, the parking, the bad drivers, and the clueless who don’t know how to behave in public. Most of us have met people “from away” who we enjoyed a great deal. Summer in this area is bittersweet – so many of us are working too hard to be able to enjoy it.

Summer makes folks a little frisky, and sometimes a little crazy. In July, a Manchester man was arrested on robbery charges. It seems he was having a cup of coffee one morning at a local lake, and decided to rob a bank. James Coldwell knew that a bank robber needs a disguise, so he got out his handy roll of duct tape and taped tree branches to his head and torso. He seems to have expected the tellers to believe a tree was robbing the bank. The clever tellers were not fooled, however – and neither were the security cameras. The surveillance tapes were shown on WMUR, and he was quickly identified. Police found leaves and duct tape in his car.

Last week, a man was arraigned in Londonderry. It seems he kept going back to the same gas station, and stealing gas – he pumped and drove off at least 8 times. He used the same car every time, but had different (stolen) plates on it each time. He was picked up on the surveillance cameras, and the tape was shown on WMUR. The police received a number of calls, and were able to find the young man and arrest him. Not a criminal mastermind.

We had our own local silly criminal, last week. Brice Chace was out on probation after being convicted of driving the getaway car after a robbery. Young Mr. Chace allegedly posted pictures of himself on the social networking site MySpace, holding his weapons. He also allegedly posted comments about his drinking and drug use. One can only wonder at the thought process being underemployed here. MySpace isn’t exactly a secret society.

Over in Brattleboro, VT, summer has caused a different kind of friskiness. The state of Vermont has no laws against public nudity. Some towns have passed ordinances forbidding nudity in public – but Brattleboro isn’t one of them. Some local teens have been celebrating summer in VT by hanging out – literally – in downtown Brattleboro. Impromptu nudity has become fashionable for a couple of dozen teens, and has spawned group naked bike rides, hula hoop contests, and skateboarding. There have been all manner of reactions – from the bemused to the hysterical. The bemused seemed to be winning – with everyone tacitly letting nature take its course (cold weather) – until an elderly man wearing nothing but a fanny pack walked through the center of town. Apparently youthful nakedness was one thing – but elderly nakedness was the straw that broke the back of Dick DeGray of Brattleboro’s Select Board. He wrote an emergency ban on nudity on the main roads, within 250 feet of a school or place of worship. DeGray was quoted by the AP as saying, “People have a reasonable expectation that when they are going out, they’re not going to run into any nude people.”

The ban was a temporary measure. A public hearing was held this week, and the ordinance was voted down, in a 3-2 vote. Vermont is often criticized for being the liberal haven of latte drinking, Volvo driving, Birkenstock wearing old hippies – but the people of Brattleboro rejected what liberpublicans love to call the nanny state by refusing to legislate morality. As uncomfortable as the good people of Brattleboro may be with public nudity, they’re even more uncomfortable with making nakedness a criminal act. One board member said it wasn’t up to the town to restrict anyone’s right to dress or undress.

There’s always been a sort of rivalry between NH and VT, a rivalry that always highlights the differences between our two states. The events of this summer illustrate the differences pretty clearly. In NH we have people dressing up as trees to rob banks, and in VT we have people dressing down and having hula-hoop contests. The emergency temporary ban on nudity expires next month – and so does summer. The chill in the air will eventually cause even the hardiest naked souls to reconsider.

“I’m often reminded that the wellspring of Vermont liberty flows from Main Street, not State Street.” James H. Douglas

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Two Big Bugaboos

The Conway Selectmen recently went on record as opposing a proposed development that would provide affordable housing on land near the new high school. We have a serious housing problem in this area – ask any member of the local workforce. Rentals are scarce and costly. The average valley working stiff is never going to be able to afford to buy a house at the current rates. Wages are low, and the cost of housing is high. What our local officials seem to want are service workers who will come in, work uncomplainingly for low wages, and go somewhere else to live. Meanwhile, the building of expensive second homes for wealthy people who don’t really ever become part of the community goes on unabated.

The reasons given for the opposition were varied. Selectman Gary Webster was quoted in the Sun as saying the projected rents ($580-$982 for 1-3 bedrooms) might exceed local incomes. Selectman Larry Martin was concerned that the housing wouldn’t be limited to people from this area. Selectman Mark Hounsell was concerned about the impact on local schools. Mr. Webster should have checked the rental section of the newspaper. Rents already exceed local incomes. One reason for that is the shortage of rental property. By ensuring a dearth of rental property, the high cost of local rentals will continue unabated.

Fortunately we do have campgrounds and cars. Whenever the topic of affordable housing comes up, the Two Big Bugaboos are always right behind. The first one is that welfare recipients from Massachusetts will move here in droves to live in this affordable housing. One can see why they’d want to, given how easy life is here in the north, with our extensive system of public transportation. Yep, people “from away” are apparently just dying to move here to work for $8 an hour. I’ve been hearing that argument for 23 years now, and it still doesn’t make any sense. The other Big Bugaboo can’t actually be spoken – it must be carefully alluded to. People who live in affordable housing might have ….children. Those children might go to school. We want to have schools; we just don’t want to have to pay for kids to actually use them.

A brief perusal of the rental section in the Sun shows that the average one bedroom apartment in this area costs upwards of $600 a month. A one bedroom rental was as low as $550 and as high as $1300. Most were $625. The average cost of a two bedroom rental was $825. They ranged from the low of $700 to the high of $900. A three bedroom rental averages $1000. The low end was $850 and the high was $1500. Do the math. A person earning $8 an hour is going to spend over half of their monthly income on housing. The proposed rents for this new development are slightly lower than the cost of existing local housing. What a terrible thing that would be for the local workers who want to move out of their cars.

The beat goes on. A pity the low wage workers can’t just hang upside down from the eves of the many local McMansions at night, and refrain from breeding. We love the trophy homes, owned by people who don’t ever become part of the community – but we don’t want the people who work in our communities to be able to afford to stay here and put down roots.

A few years ago, the developer at the Willow Place strip mall wanted to build so-called affordable housing. His proposed rents were considerably higher than the rents being proposed at this new, rejected development. Not a word was spoken by an official about the rents being too expensive for the workforce at the time. That proposal was met with open arms – because it wasn’t affordable housing. It was expensive housing in disguise. Some readers will remember when Saco Woods was built as affordable housing. It didn’t stay affordable for long, and no longer pretends to be.

The people who make these decisions live in nice houses. They don’t have any idea what it’s like to be a wage slave in the valley, trying to find a decent, reasonably affordable place to live. These are not people who have to move every year or two because of rent hikes. They do not find themselves sharing living space with unstable roommates, just to have a roof over their heads. These are not people who have ever lived in a car or a campground. They do not have the faintest concept of what life is like for low wage workers, and they don’t really care. As long as there is an endless stream of workers (even if we have to import them) that’s all that really matters.

I believe in community. I believe that community is the solution to many of our problems. Refusing to acknowledge, or even attempt to deal with the very real needs of the workers in our area is the very antithesis of community. We do not build and strengthen our communities by building huge second homes that are seldom used. We do not strengthen our communities by making it impossible for the people who work here to actually live here. What kind of a place do we want to be? We’d better decide, quickly.

“Home is where one starts from.” T.S. Eliot

Friday, July 27, 2007

More Testosterone than Taste

The NH GOP is in deep doo. They lost big – lost almost everything last November. With their typical arrogance, they failed to take notice of the change in the direction the wind was blowing. They had held all of the power so long that they became complacent. They were entitled. And they got stomped on. The NH GOP really needs some money, in order to help finance the upcoming nasty, sexist, campaign against Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Most folks still remember the awful Martha Fuller Clark ads that Jeb Bradley ran in 2002. The NH GOP is so bunched up about losing a seat to a woman that they’re ready to do anything to raise money to run a candidate with the proper equipment to navigate the halls of Congress.

They’re in the hole, because they were convicted and heavily fined for the 2002 phone jamming debacle. You remember – the GOP paid a Virginia telemarketing firm to jam phone lines at a phone bank where Democrats were calling for rides to the polls. The RNC paid millions of dollars in legal fees, trying to cover up and keep their scummy pals from getting wedged into orange jumpsuits. That’s right – they broke the law, and the consequences have caused a drought in their once overflowing coffers. Presidential candidates are flying in and out of state on a regular basis, so it’s not hard to attract one to almost any kind of an event. It’s a good time to rake in the shekels.

Fundraising, of course, is what political parties do. The Carroll County Republicans had a fundraising dinner this year, with Senator John McCain as their guest speaker. The Carroll County Democrats had a much larger affair, with Senator John Edwards as the headliner. Both parties have fundraisers all the time – from the swanky to the pancake breakfast – and everything in between. This year, however, the Manchester City Republican Committee hit on something completely different. They decided to have a machine gun shoot at a Pelham firing range.

Yesiree bob, a machine gun shoot! What a great idea! Since the first of the year, we’ve had two police officers killed by guns in the line of duty, we all watched the massacre at Virginia Tech unfold, where a lone gunman killed 32 people and wounded 25. Recently in Conway, three people were gunned down in the course of a robbery. A machine gun shoot is the logical follow-up. It’s hard to imagine, but there are folks out there who have been quite critical, who think this is in poor taste. Clearly these are people who aren’t familiar with the NH Republican party. Good taste isn’t in their repertoire.

The Manchester City GOP invited all of the GOP presidential candidates. All have declined. It’s hard to go anywhere without bumping into a candidate and the lesser known would attend just about any event in the hopes of boosting name recognition. Still and all, somehow Iowa looks more appealing than a machine gun shoot in NH. “I really tried to get Rudy Giuliani there,” said Jerry Thibodeau (chair of the committee) “Because I’ll tell you, this is a guy who can’t relax.” Great idea, Jer. Get a guy out on a gun range with a bunch of guys he doesn’t know and machine guns, and he’ll unwind quicker than you can scream, “AAARRRGGGHHH – he shot me!”

Thibodeau was also quoted as saying, “My first and foremost goal is that everybody who walks in walks out.” That’s something one doesn’t often hear in connection with a political fundraising event, no matter how bad the rubber chicken may be. The good news is that there will be 20 safety experts on site, and on-site instruction will be required for all participants. So much for natural selection. Jerry Thibodeau is quite excited about this. He said, “It’s a way of expressing yourself, I guess, we all have a little testosterone in us, right?” Indeed. That may explain a lot of things, including Ann Coulter’s overdeveloped Adam’s apple.

Manchester GOP City Committee executive director Kelly Hurst told the Union Leader that she carries a small pistol for personal protection, but went on to say, “I’ve never felt the need to carry a machine gun down the street with me.” Not enough testosterone, apparently. A day out on the range with the manly men may persuade her that it’s the right thing to do. This would be really perfect if they wore loincloths, and went out after a meal of rare roast beef, martinis, and Ted Nugent tunes. Thibodeau recently turned 60. Some guys opt for the mid life crisis red sports car – and some, apparently, opt for a machine gun. Good thing men don’t go through menopause.

The cost of this event is $25 per person. This doesn’t sound like a big money maker, especially without a presidential candidate. What these folks need to do is invite the Vice President. They need a big name – and who could be bigger than Dick Cheney? This could really put the Manchester City GOP on the map, and take a nice, relaxing, machine gun shoot to the next level. One wonders, however, why there are enough of them hanging around to even have this
event – shouldn’t they be firing machine guns in Iraq?

“I’m surprised Dick Cheney loves to hunt so much. The five times the government tried to give him a gun, he got a deferment." Jay Leno

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Overheated, Overpopulated, and Underwatered

The Union of Concerned Scientists released a report this week, titled “Confronting Climate Change in the US Northeast.” This is a follow up to a report released last fall that used climate modeling to determine how greenhouse gas emissions could change NH's climate. The new study gave a worst case scenario, a look at what is likely to happen if we do nothing, and the better case scenario, that looks at what is likely to happen if we at least make a cursory effort at change. It's not a pretty picture either way, but better is always...well, better.

Anyone who has lived here for a few decades and pays attention is aware that our winters are not what they once were. It's why snow making was invented. There was no snow making when I was a kid, not because we were technologically behind – but because we didn't need it. We had snow. This lack of snow affects our tourist economy, and the lack of snow melt affects our water supply. Most business people here grasp this – the MWV Chamber of Commerce is working with the Carbon Coalition. Chambers of Commerce are not known for being liberal organizations full of wet-brained hippies. They're pretty darned conservative, yet they understand that the future of our local economy is at stake.

The worst case scenario in the UCS report looks at how the growing season, the crops, and the plant life could be changed. Apples and potatoes are cool weather crops. Cranberries and blueberries require cold weather periods in order to bear fruit. Maple syrup requires cold weather. Cows produce less milk when it's hot, and fewer calves. We currently experience about 10 days per summer with temperatures over 90 degrees. That would increase to 70 days per summer, with 25 days topping 100 degrees.

This change in temperature will change our landscape. An insect called the wooly adelgid that has wiped out stands of hemlocks as far north as southern NH. Scientists believe that they've stopped there because the cold winters kill them. With warmer winters, the pest will likely move north, killing the hemlock trees. Warmer temperatures will bring other pests, and require more pesticide use. Those pesticides wash off, and travel into the water table. A warmer climate will have a negative impact on our hardwood trees - the maples, beech, and birch. The logging industry would disappear, along with the spruce and fir trees. The worst case scenario predicts a two month winter season by the end of this century. That means no more skiing in NH, and very little snowmobiling.

The report also pointed out that we don't have to get to the worse case scenario. Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases will lessen the injury to our northern climate in the future. We have choices to make. The hysteria from the flat earth society “no such thing as climate change” is dangerous, and needs to be ignored. There are a few ways this can play out – the “good thing we did what we did, because look what's happening,” scenario, the “oops – I guess we didn't have to do all that,” scenario, or the “oh-oh, we didn't do anything, and now look at the mess we're in,” scenario. Which one do you want your descendants to be living in?

We have an opportunity to plan intelligently for the future, something that we've seldom been guilty of in Happy Valley. I've been following the proposed development of a municipal water supply over on the West Side Road with a watchful eye. This is not something that should be done in haste, because this doesn't just impact the folks on Birch Hill. A municipal water supply affects everyone in the area. A private company can always be sold. Who will own the water? Will Nestle, or one of the big water companies be able to buy the water and sell it in bulk overseas? Without the snow melt we have had in the past, the water supply is compromised. What will this mean to the people living along the Saco? Pennichuck may say it won't pump water out of the proposed Saco well site – but who is to say Pennichuck won't be sold?

Water is the oil of the future. As we now seem to believe that oil under the sands of other countries actually belongs to us, we will likely be invading our neighbors in Canada to reclaim our acid rain from their lakes. If the Union of Concerned Scientists worst case scenario takes place, we'll have 70 days a summer with the temperature over 90 degrees. Imagine facing that with a limited water supply. There will be more insects, which means more pesticides going into that precious water supply.

One thing the report didn't talk about is human migration. If northern NH is having summers of the sort the southern states NOW have, what kind of summers will they have? Those overdeveloped areas will empty, and all those folks will head north. We'll be overheated, overpopulated, and underwatered. Sounds great, doesn't it? We had better plan wisely.

“The longer we wait to reduce our climate related emissions, the more costly it will be to adequately address these problems.” Thomas Burack, State Environmental Commissioner

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Radical Change Required

Michael Moore has a new movie. The movie is called SiCKO, and is being released nationwide on June 29. SiCKO is about health care, in the US and around the world. I haven't seen it yet, but I hear that Moore takes a look at the abject failure of the US health care system. Michael Moore was in Manchester last week for a special early showing to health care professionals and some uncommitted voters. You may have seen a very brief mention of it on WMUR's late news, which appears to have been sanitized for our protection. One might think that the appearance of one of the most famous US documentary filmmakers would be cause for some serious media attention, but, as is almost always the case with our very conservative NH media, one would be wrong. Moore also takes a scathing look at who our politicians take money from, and how that may relate to the stranglehold the insurance companies have on our system. This may explain why, in the first in the nation primary state, not a single theater in our state is showing the movie Friday the 29th. As far as I know (as I write this) the very first showing in NH, will be on July 3, in Keene.

Love him or hate him, Michael Moore has a gift for taking up issues that make us think. His very presence has created an entire industry of debunkers, one of whom is the “victim” of Moore's largesse in the film. Jim Kenefick created the website, which is dedicated to despising Michael Moore. Kenefick was asking for money on his site to keep it alive – saying he was in trouble because of his wife's medical bills that were nearly bankrupting him. He received a check to keep the site up for another year, and pay insurance premiums – from a mysterious donor. That donor turned out to be Michael Moore. In an interview with Newsweek, Kenefick manages to convey a reluctant gratitude. As you'd expect, Kenefick is already critical of the new movie, even though he hasn't seen it. What surprised me was his commentary on the health care system. He should know better than anyone that it isn't working – yet because it's Michael Moore pointing it out, he can't come out and agree that the US system is broken.

A 12-year old Maryland boy died in March from an abcessed tooth. His mother couldn't find a dentist that would take Medicaid. So, in the wealthiest country in the nation – not only was a 12 year old boy homeless – but he died. Deamonte Driver died because we don't regard teeth as part of our health care in this country. Insurance companies treat us from the neck down. Dentists won't take Medicaid patients because the reimbursement rates are so low. Where were the pious advocates for life? They are strangely silent about the born. The GOP ghouls who made such a spectacle of themselves around Terri Schiavo are completely silent about the way this CHILD was allowed to die.

Two weeks ago, a woman bled to death in the emergency room of a Los Angeles hospital. The hospital wasn't treating the woman. Her boyfriend called for an ambulance, but the 911 workers decided it wasn't a real emergency, and refused to pick her up, saying that she was already at a hospital.
Edith Rodriguez was vomiting blood, while the staff ignored her. She died from a perforated bowel, an entirely preventable death. At age 43, she was far too old for the right to life crowd to be concerned with. She should have pulled herself up by her bootstraps and gotten health insurance – so it's really her own fault that she died, right?

The great thinker Anonymous, wrote that a society is judged by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable. If that's the case, we are a failure.

The United States spends 13.7 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) according to the World Health Organization (WHO). France spends 9.8 percent of it's GDP, and the UK spends 5.8 percent. Despite the fact that we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, according to the WHO, the US ranks 37th in the world for health care. France is ranked in first place, and the UK is in 18th place. We're number 37, even though we spend twice as much of our GDP as other countries, and 47 million of us are uninsured. Over half of the personal bankruptcies in the US are related to medical debt.

This isn't anything that most of you don't already know. We all know that there is very little care involved in the treatment we now receive from our health care practitioners – they don't have time to care for us. The HMOs require them to see a patient every 12 minutes. That's not enough time to say hello, never mind articulate health concerns. We're being run through on an assembly line. Insurance companies are making our health decisions for us – what we do and do not need. The system is broken, and we all know it.

We all know it – yet many remain stubbornly convinced that the market will save us, that we can turn the insurance companies around, that a “consumer driven” system is the answer, and so on. If the market could save us, it would have by now. If competition was the answer, we'd all be covered. The insurance companies are involved in our health for one reason only – PROFIT. The less coverage they provide, the greater the profit. By denying care to those in need, CEO's are collecting multi-million dollar bonuses. The insurance industry donates huge sums of money to political campaigns (check out who is on the receiving end at and nothing ever changes.

Nothing ever will change until we the people decide it must. It's time for radical reform – not the sissified incremental steps our leaders advocate for. Michael Moore is providing us with a clarion call to action. Go see this movie! Ask your local theater to show it! It's up to us to heed the call, and create a movement that ensures a single payer system with health care for all.

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The World Health Organization 1948

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Getting the Lead Out

An announcement was made this week that the state of NH is fining the Dept. of Transportation over $300,000 for the illegal dumping of lead paint and lead paint chips at four state property sites in Franklin, Concord, and Ashland. The dumping has gone on for 25 years. The DOT going to finance an independent audit and the cost of a consultant to come up with an environmental management system – which, when added to the cost of cleanup carries an estimated price tag of $1.5 million, which means it will likely be a whole lot more.

The worst incident was in 1980, when two 1-ton pallets of lead based paint and epoxy were dumped into the foundation of a paint shed that was being built in Franklin. Apparently the dumpers were supervisors associated with a state bridge maintenance unit. Some have since retired, one recently resigned, and others will be. State Attorney General Kelly Ayotte has said that no criminal charges will be brought, since many of the incidents took place a long time ago. The dumping began in 1980 and continued through 2005. According to the Nashua Telegraph, incidents in 1996 and 2004 were covered up by a supervisor, during a previous investigation.

That there was a previous investigation makes one wonder what ever became of it. This was a bridge unit that had the training and the budget to handle waste properly – so, why didn’t they? Acting DOT Commissioner Charles O’Leary called it “a breakdown in the character” of the employees. It sounds like a pattern of systematic institutional abuse and cover-up that badly needs exposure to sunlight and taxpayer scrutiny.

The worst of the dumping took place at two sites in Franklin. In addition to the paint and epoxy that went into the foundation of the paint shed, paint chips were buried, dumped on the ground, and poured into holes in concrete floors. There will be a public hearing in Franklin on June 25, where Dept. of Environmental Services Commissioner Thomas Burack hopes to have soil samples. There are eight homes that abut the two Franklin sites. There is concern about lead dust in the air, but the potential for lead polluting the water is being downplayed. In a Union Leader story, unnamed officials were quoted as saying “The houses are hooked to city water and sewer systems and don’t use groundwater.” They don’t? Where do these “officials” think the water in their pipes comes from?

A cursory search about lead contamination in groundwater turned up an EPA website that warns that 10-20 percent of total lead exposure in babies and young children comes through drinking water. Too much lead in the body can cause brain, kidney, nervous system, and red cell damage. Babies and young children are most vulnerable to lead poisoning. Old plumbing systems may have lead pipes, brass fittings can leach lead into water, and lead solder is often used on copper pipes. Add that to high lead content in the water, and the folks in Franklin may be in real danger. The cavalier attitude of the nameless officials about the potential for damage to the groundwater is appalling.

Indeed, the whole story is appalling. This comes from the utter disregard that too many have for the environment. Apparently we have yet to learn that we dump toxins into the ground at our peril. There’s always a price to be paid. This is also a classic NH story – one that we see time and time again. I’m not sure why it is this way, but rather than pay the ounce of prevention, we choose to pay for the pound of cure, and we never, never learn.

The Union Leader story mentioned our very own Representative Gene Chandler, who apparently complained that these fines take money from highway maintenance. He’s annoyed that roads aren’t being paved because people at DOT didn’t do what they were supposed to. Indeed, all of us should be wondering how this illegal dumping could go on for 25 years without coming to light? How was this covered up, and by whom? How high up the food chain does the cover-up go? Where was the oversight of this department? Attorney General Ayotte should reconsider the decision not to bring legal charges against these people. They’ve committed crimes, not only against the environment, but against the taxpayers of our state. They’ve damaged the public trust. These people are state employees – and means that the taxpayers will be paying their retirement pensions, at the same time we fund the cleanup that they caused. There’s something wrong with that picture.

We cannot continue to treat the planet as though there were no consequences to what we do. We cannot continue to let polluters and illegal dumpers get away with it. It is 2007, and the NH DOT is just now getting around to coming up with an environmental management system? The REAL NH advantage is our state’s natural beauty. We destroy that beauty at our peril. It’s not just our state economy at risk – it’s the health of our residents. That’s a hefty and unnecessary price to pay. In the words of the late, great writer Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.: “We could have saved the Earth but we were too damned cheap.” We can choose not to be able to paraphrase that quote to fit NH – and we had better. Our future depends on it.

“Oh Beautiful for smoggy skies, insecticided grain,
For strip-mined mountain’s majesty, above the asphalt plain.
America, America, man sheds his waste on thee,
And hides the pines with billboard signs, from sea to oily sea.”
George Carlin

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Nanny State Neocons

The NH Senate has been debating the passage of a law mandating seatbelt use in our state. NH is the last state in the union that does not require seatbelt use in passenger vehicles. The state of the first in the nation primary is familiar with being last – we were the last state to recognize the Martin Luther King Day holiday. We’re among the four remaining states that don’t mandate helmet use for motorcyclists.

The cries of “NANNY STATE” have resounded across our borders. Rabid Republitarians have been weeping copiously in the pages of the Union Leader. Lots of sobbing about how our personal freedoms are under attack. To listen to these folks, the right to ride without a seatbelt and smoke in restaurants are the very proof of truth, justice, and the American Way. Take those away from us and we may as well surrender to our fate – emulating those darned European socialists.

For the record, I should state that I don’t much care, one way or the other. A seatbelt saved my life when I hit a moose with my car in 2003. New Jersey Governor John Corzine disobeyed the laws of his state – by not wearing a seatbelt, and not adhering to the speed limit. He’s lucky he lived through his recent accident. I look at not having seatbelt or helmet laws as making a strong contribution to the law of natural selection, which may be the best argument for defeating the proposed legislation.

The freedom to wear or not wear a seatbelt does not come close to being at the top of personal freedoms I would fight to protect. The nanny state crowd will wail about their right to smoke in restaurants – but they are silent on the subject of my right to remain free of illegal government wiretapping. They don’t care about Jose Padilla’s rights as a US citizen, imprisoned for years without a trial. The wailing about personal freedoms goes right out the window when it comes to abortion, civil union, or marriage equality. They’re perfectly happy to let the government make those decisions for individuals. Some of the same nanny state neocons who decry the money the federal government would give NH (for instituting a seatbelt law) as a bribe were gnashing their teeth over the potential loss of the paltry $3 million NH would get for complying with REAL ID. Yep, the nanny state crowd didn’t have much of a problem with REAL ID –even though it would give us a national ID card, with all of our personal information in a national database. Apparently we need to surrender those freedoms “in the name of national security,” but they’ll fight to the death to smoke in a restaurant.

It’s worth noting that under the Bush administration, the non-military workforce has expanded by over 700,000 employees. Non-military federal spending has jumped by $222 billion – though to be fair, there were 9/11, Katrina, and other weather related disasters. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Bush admin has almost doubled the rate of federal spending we saw during the Clinton administration. The Patriot Act has removed many of our individual freedoms, but since it didn’t force us to wear seatbelts, our NH Republitarians were okay with it.

The same nanny state neocons who moan about the welfare state seem to have no objection to corporate welfare or pork projects. They don’t want a poor family getting food stamps – but taxpayer subsidies (aka corporate welfare) to Big Oil? Not a problem, folks – we HAVE to subsidize them or they won’t keep exploring for more oil. Right. Welfare payments to Big Pharma? Hell yeah!! We’ll keep slinging taxpayer money at them, so they can turn around and charge us more for prescription drugs than any other country in the world pays. That’s just common sense, according to the nanny state whinniers. They give similar arguments for subsidizing factory farms, and shoveling money at very wealthy faith based charities – but confront them with a potential seatbelt or a smoking law, and you’ll hear an outcry from sea to shining sea.

By the time you read this, Governor Lynch will have signed the NH Civil Union bill into law. A poll done by the NH Union Leader showed that 53% of their readers were against civil unions. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given the target audience. The same people who voted in this poll are undoubtedly wailing about the seatbelt law, completely oblivious to their own hypocrisy. The Civil Union bill gives our gay residents some legal protections, and a measure of equality. It is not enough, not by a long shot – but it’s better than nothing. The signing of this bill strikes a blow against government interference in our personal affairs, and lets adults make their own decisions. This is cause for celebration.

“My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” Adlai Stevenson

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Deal or No Deal

Rural northern New England is a dead end on the information super highway. The development of fiber optic systems has been begun in southern NH – while northern NH waits. If we’re lucky, we have DSL. In the northern reaches of our state, many are condemned to dial up internet access – where it might take an hour to download a big file or picture that some unthinking jerk sent you.

Access to the internet is an essential part of doing business for companies, for elected officials (some of them, anyhow), for students, newspapers, doctors, hospitals, libraries, artists, writers, news and political junkies, and for the rest of us. This isn’t a passing fad –the internet is increasingly the tool of choice for a great deal of our communication. Some area towns have bulletin boards or list serves that inform the townspeople of upcoming meetings or events. The web can be a time sucking morass – where one can spend hours looking at weird websites for people with all manner of interests – from Russian tortoises to collecting Barbie Dolls – but it’s also become the way many of us get our news and information. With the internet we can communicate with people from all over the world. For many of us, it is an essential component of doing business.

When the topic of jobs and the economy in the northern part of the state comes up, mention of the need for the infrastructure for high speed internet access will soon follow. All of us agree that northern NH should be allowed to join the 21st century. The problem seems to be determining exactly how that will happen. Verizon has promised us for years that they were going to make it happen. They haven’t. Not only have they failed to make good on their promises of development in the north country, they’re hoping to unload the unprofitable north all together, by selling their landline business in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to a small telecommunications provider from North Carolina, called FairPoint. It’s billed as a merger of Verizon and FairPoint, though essentially it allows Verizon to focus on developing FIOS systems to cities and affluent suburbs, while farming the low rent rural customers out to FairPoint.

Why would Verizon do this? Why would they sell rural northern New England customers out to a small company already deeply in debt, knowing that FairPoint can’t possibly make the kind of investment in northern telecommunications infrastructure that Verizon themselves didn’t make? The answer is money, of course. There is an obscure IRS loophole known as a Reverse Morris Trust. Using this loophole will result in $600 million in tax savings for Verizon, if approved by the PUC. According to union consultant Randy Barber, “a parent corporation can spin off a subsidiary into an unrelated company, tax free, if the shareholders of the parent end up controlling more than 50 percent of the voting rights and economic value of the merged company. The Verizon-FairPoint deal has been designed this way. The bad news for rural consumers is that this tax dodge is only possible if parts of the old copper wire network are sold to a “tiny partner” rather than a larger, more financially secure buyer. (See:

In September 2006, FairPoint had $890 million in assets and $610 million in long term debt. This merger will result in $1.7 billion in new debt for FairPoint. The company has promised to continue paying high dividends to shareholders. Given the already significant level of debt the company carries, one wonders how they’ll manage to invest the kind of capital required to improve existing service and expand DSL. One really shouldn’t wonder. One should be quite sure that they will increase rates, reduce expenditures, reduce labor, and cut service quality.

This deal means job insecurity for some 2,800 union employees. FairPoint has made no firm commitment to keep them beyond current contracts. Once those contracts expire, the debt level alone will surely cause management to outsource as much work as possible to non-union employees, while slashing benefits and pensions.

The Public Utilities Commission has to approve this deal. Hearings are currently being held around the state, and the next closest one will begin at 7 pm, at Littleton High School, on May 24. Everyone who is concerned about telecommunications in the north country should attend. I’ve spoken to people so unhappy with Verizon that they say, “anything is better.” I don’t believe that the sale of NH landlines to a small company who won’t be able to make the investments in infrastructure because of debt and shareholder dividends is going to make anything better. It is entirely possible that in just a few years, the failures of Verizon may look awfully good to us in comparison to exorbitant rate hikes and lousy service.

NH needs to create a solid plan for stimulating investment in high speed internet, and then develop state policy from this plan. We must also consider passing legislation that would protect us by establishing strict guidelines for sales and mergers of this type. The future economic development of the northern part of our state depends on telecommunications. We can’t afford to let this sale go forward.

“We are not going to let Verizon turn the information super highway into a dirt road in New England.” Glenn Brackett, IBEW Local 2320 business manager.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

NH State Employees

This past Tuesday, May 2, the NH State Employees Union (SEIU) had a demonstration in front of the NH State House. About 700 people came out to listen to the Makem Brothers sing union songs, and hear speeches, and messages of support. The sun was out, and it was a pleasant place to be – hanging out with the purple clad state workers in Concord. What’s the problem? Their contract negotiations have reached a standstill. Governor Lynch wants state workers to pay 7.5 percent of their health care premium costs, and double their co-pays. The wage increases they are being offered would not offset the costs of the health care concessions.

You may have heard that state workers have “the Cadillac” of health care plans. You may have even heard that said quite disparagingly. I, for one, believe that our state workers should have a great health care plan. I think everyone in the United States should have the “Cadillac plan.” Why wouldn’t we want the people who keep our state running to be healthy and well paid? Contrary to what many believe – rank and file state employees are not particularly well paid. Some are eligible for food stamps, which should be a source of embarrassment to us. The 2006 NH Basic Needs and Livable Wage Study found that for a family of four, both parents needed to be earning $11.69 per hour, to be able to cover the basic necessities: food, rent, utilities, basic telephone service, clothing, transportation, child care, health care, household expenses, and a small allowance for personal expenses. Note that there is no provision for saving, or for emergency needs. A number of our state employees are not making enough to meet the needs as defined in this study.

You may have heard that according to a report released last year by the National Conference of State Legislatures on state employee benefits, that NH has the costliest health care premiums in the nation. That’s where the story began and ended. What you didn’t hear is that the NH system is self insured. The state does not pay premiums, in the way an employer would. The state sets its own rates. The premium in NH has included an overcharge, to build up a reserve account. That reserve account is at nearly $48 million. The premium has also included charges for private consultants and administrators. The state employees have no control over determining the cost of the premiums they are being asked to pay. It seems possible; even likely, that the way the plan is being administered may be the cause for these high costs. A responsible course of action would be to look at how the plan is administered, and how the costs could be lowered. Asking people (some of whom make less than $10.00 an hour) to double their out of pocket expenses, should be the course of last resort.

State employees are all around us. We probably all interact with at least one every day. State employees give you change at tollbooths – and NH toll workers are friendly and polite, which is not necessarily the case in other states. State employees run the big plows on the highways in the winter. They answer the phones at the Department of Motor Vehicles – sometimes. They are nurses in our state hospitals; they are corrections officers in our state prisons. They are working at the Veteran’s home, Fish and Game, the Division of Employment Security, the Lottery, the DWI Multiple Offender program, and the Community Technical Colleges - just to name a few. These are the people who keep our state running smoothly and efficiently. Some state agencies are perpetually understaffed (like the DMV) in the name of keeping the budget under control. It’s easier to do without employees, than it is for the state to accept that it needs more revenue in the coffers.

I talked to a lot of folks at the SEIU rally. These were not wild eyed radicals. I didn’t see any limos parked around the perimeter of the State House. The “designer” clothes on view were purple SEIU tee shirts. These are folks who are proud to work for the state of NH. What they want – a decent wage and good health care benefits does not seem like too much to ask for. As it stands, the negotiations on wages and health care are at an impasse. Governor Lynch just signed the minimum wage bill, which will increase the minimum wage for some 26,500 NH residents. As he signed, he mentioned that the cost of rent, childcare, and groceries has increased significantly. Perhaps he can transfer that level of concern over to the issue of negotiating with the state employees.

New Hampshire state law prohibits state employees from going out on strike. Try to imagine what would happen if there were no state employees on the job for a day. If you’re having trouble with that image – try this one. Imagine if the state liquor store employees stayed home for a day. Serious chaos.

‘Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if Labor had not first existed. Labor is superior to capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” Abraham Lincoln

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hot Air Vipers

Unless you’ve been living in a wilderness cave, you’ve heard that radio and television personality Don Imus, recently lost his job for making racist and sexist comments about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team. There has been something of a national discussion going on ever since. Some folks think that Imus made a “mistake” and his apology should be enough. Imus certainly did make a mistake in calling those young women “nappy headed ho’s” – but it wasn’t a one time event. Don Imus has been polluting the airwaves with sexist and racist commentary for the last 30 years. He just happened to go too far this time.

Imus once referred to respected African American journalist Gwen Ifill as “a cleaning lady,” when she worked at the NY Times. He called the paper’s sports writer, William C. Rodhen a “quota hire.” He once called tennis player Amelie Mauresmo “a big old lesbo.” The people who appeared regularly on his show were not immune. He called Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz a “boner-nosed, beanie-wearing Jew boy,” and frequently accused NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory of being “drunk or queer.”

A mere apology was unlikely to teach Mr. Imus a lesson. In 2001, Imus fired sportscaster Sy Rosenberg from his show for calling tennis star Venus Williams “an animal” and saying that she and her sister Serena had a better chance of posing nude for National Geographic than Playboy. At the time, Imus called Rosenberg a “moron” and a degenerate.” After Rosenberg apologized, Imus rehired him. Apparently there was no lasting lesson learned from that incident – because 6 years later Imus was the one making moronic comments.

What happened? Why the outrage? Why, after 30 years of insult, did the public suddenly care? I believe there are two parts to that answer. Imus insulted the wealthy, the famous, and the powerful – and he was allowed to get away with it. Many people who ought to know better were guests on his show. It was like a high school clique – where everyone wants to be friends with the popular kid, even though he/she is mean, because in spite of the mean, they’re the cool kids. When Imus tried using the white version of homeboy slang on a women’s basketball team – young women who aren’t rich and powerful, just fine athletes, and smart, dignified women – he went too far. Abusing the powerless from his lofty corporate media pulpit proved one racist/sexist statement too many for Imus.

The second part has been building for a long time. Most of the people in this country are sick to death of the nasty, divisive crap spewed on the airwaves. We are sick of the ugliness of our national discourse – whether it’s radio, television, or politics. I heard that repeatedly during the 2006 elections from folks all over the state. It may be that we the people have reached a near saturation point after years of Imus, Limbaugh, Coulter, Beck, Savage, O’Reilly, Boortz, and the rest of the hot air vipers. This could be a window of opportunity – the first step in bringing back some civility. Make no mistake - Imus is hardly the only offender. The African American community needs to take the young misogynist rappers in hand, and impart to them the error of their ways. That, however, is a different discussion and one for a different day.

Sexism and racism are staples of conservative talk radio. In 2005, radio personality Glen Beck called the Katrina survivors who didn’t evacuate from New Orleans, “scumbags.” On May 17 that same year, he also announced he was thinking about killing Michael Moore. On March 31, 2006, Neal Boortz said that US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney’s “new hair-do” made her look “like a ghetto slut,” “an explosion at a Brillo-Pad factory,” and “like Tina Turner peeing on an electric fence.” On October 21, 2005, Boortz suggested that a Katrina survivor living in an Atlanta hotel turn to prostitution. “It beats the hell out of sucking off of the taxpayers,” he said.

On March 2 of this year, hot air balloon Rush Limbaugh discussed Senator Barak Obama on his nationally syndicated show. He said, “Since Obama has – on his mother’s side – forbears of his mother had slaves, could we not say that if Obama wins the Democratic nomination and then wins the presidency he will own Al Sharpton?” On March 1, 2005, Limbaugh opined, “women live longer than men because their lives are easier.” In April 2005, he announced, “women actually wish for sexual harassment.” I think that might be a case of transference, Mr. Limbaugh.

On April 6, on his nationally syndicated radio show, Bill O’Reilly said that Virginia Beach mayor Meyera Oberndorf “should be baking pies, not running a major city.” On June 11, 2004, he told his then co-host Lis Wiehl that she was on his show “because you’re good looking, so I got somebody to look over” while on the air.

There are endless quotes showing the contempt that these men have for women, and people of color. Now, before the defenders of free speech get all bunched up and head to the keyboards, I’m not suggesting that these idiots don’t have the right to free speech. They absolutely do. But we the people who “own” the public airwaves also have rights. We have the right to insist on a higher level of discourse.

There is one more way to look at this situation – one that many of you should agree with. Don Imus was a product. The market forces (i.e. the public) determined that they were no longer interested in this product. The advertisers learned that the product was no longer viable in the marketplace, so the product was removed from the shelves. In short, a veritable triumph of capitalism, and the free market system.

“Live by the shock – die by the shock.” Bob Edwards, speaking of Don Imus