Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cut Spending, Cut Taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

The 2011 NH legislative session will begin on January 5. Our new state legislature will have plenty of work to do. As I write this, 888 LSRs have been filed. An LSR is a legislative service request, which is another way of saying a potential bill that might go before the legislature, after it’s been looked at by Legislative Services and examined for compliance with our state constitution, etc. The cost of each LSR filed, by the way, is approximately $1500. Good thing that 124 of the LSRs already filed were withdrawn. As it stands right now, the approximate cost to NH taxpayers for the 888 LSRs already filed is $1, 332,000. Remember, this new legislature ran on the promise of “cut spending, cut taxes, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” This new group had plenty to say about the “nanny state” as well. Bearing that in mind, we should expect to see no frivolous legislation, and no gummint interference in our “personal freedoms.”

As is so often the case, what we expect to see is very different from reality. The mantra of “cut spending” seems to have been a load of tainted baloney sold to gullible voters. Our new majority in Concord seems to be focused on a very narrow social agenda., and some seem to think they were elected to Congress. Welcome to the Teabaglican nanny state. There are at least 4 LSRs that call for the repeal of NH’s marriage equality law. Interestingly, Rep. David Bates of Windham’s name is on most of them. Apparently just one bill is not enough for David Bates. He wants at least $4500 worth of assurance that gay couples are not treated equally in our state.

LSR# 0013 would repeal the Dept. of Education’s rule making authority for home education programs. In other words – eliminating standards for home schooling. This would be good news for those who would teach their kids that Noah had dinosaurs on the ark, but not necessarily good news for those kids who might want to get into a reputable college some day. Liberty University has yet to produce any Nobel Prize Winners.

Rep. Al Baldasaro of Londonderry has his name on several of the marriage equality repeal bills, too. He also is sponsoring #1168, which concerns permitting the audio and video recording of any public official while in the course of their duties. The available text reads as if he’s in favor of permitting this sort of taping, which is rather amusing, given that last year he was taped testifying before a legislative committee. In his testimony, he stated that the state of NH sells babies to gay couples for $10,000. He was forced to publicly retract that statement, because he was caught on tape.

LSR #0075 would require that all persons elected to the US Senate and House of Representatives shall take the oath of civil officers prescribed by the constitution. Al Baldasaro, Jennifer Coffey, and Dan Itse sponsor it. I’m not clear on where this fits in to “cut spending, no taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”, but I’m pretty sure it’s not worth $1500. How about LSR 0394: Ordering our federal senators to vote against the Law of the Sea Convention, sponsored by Dan Itse, who must not have any jobless folks in his district. Then there’s 0079, which concerns establishing a permanent state defense force, also sponsored by Dan Itse. I’m certain that will actually increase state spending. Given that in LSR 0223, Rep. David Hess wants to repeal all increased taxes and fees that have occurred since 2007, one wonders where the money will come from for this permanent state defense force.

With 0274, Jerry Bergevin, Kathleen Souza, Phil Grazzo, and Connie Soucy want to turn NH into a referendum state. Given that being a referendum state has destroyed California’s educational system, one can see why they’d want to emulate it. With 0806, Jonathan Malz calls for repealing the requirement that all school districts offer public kindergarten. The new legislature is also bringing back the fight over school funding.

In LSR 0629, James Summers would require random drug testing of food stamp participants. As of September, there were 51, 391 NH residents enrolled in the food stamp program, an increase of 10,000 over the previous year. A similar bill was filed last year, and NH DHHS found that each urine test would cost $55. Representative Summers proposed bill would cost the state $2,836,505. No word on where that fits in to “cut spending, cut taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”.

Locally, new legislator (and member of the John Birch Society, a designated hate group) Norm Tregenza is wavering in his commitment to “cut spending, cut taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” He’s filed 0684, which calls for a return to the gold standard and phasing out the Federal Reserve System. With 0685, he’s one of the many, many filing a bill that opposes the new health insurance reform bill. In 0687 he would urge Congress to withdraw from the UN. Are any of those worth $1500? I hope the voters of his district will ask him how those bills will create jobs in NH.

There are also the predictable bills restricting voting. LSR 0714 would eliminate same day voter registration. #0717 simply states, “relative to eligibility to vote.” Both are sponsored by Gregory Sorg. Republicans are always in favor of making it as hard for people to vote as possible. When they win, it’s because they have a mandate. When Democrats win, it’s because of voter fraud. Just ask a Republican.

One of my favorites is 0392, “relative to official oppression,” sponsored by Dan Itse, Dan McGuire, Jack Barnes, and Paul Ingbretson. Who would know more about oppression than a bunch of white guys?

All of the LSRs filed so far are available for viewing at the NH General Court website, where you can also peruse the LSRs that have been withdrawn. Read them. Call your representatives to find out where these bills fit into “cut spending, cut taxes, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.” Is a proposed bill worth the $1500 it will cost you, the taxpayer?

“There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship.” Ralph Nader

© sbruce 2010

This appeared as an op-ed in the December 24 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Carpentry Not Recovering in Las Vegas

Building trades not experiencing recovery in Las Vegas. From WaPo:

In past recessions, it has been an article of faith that as the economy revives, the work will return. But after the profound recession that began in December 2007, jobs in some industries aren't coming back.

This creates what economists call "structural unemployment," the result of a mismatch between the skills of the workforce and those needed by employers. It is feared because it causes longer unemployment spells as workers struggle to transition from one trade to another.

Economists and other know-it-alls often tell the long term unemployed folks that they need to move, to go where jobs are. Anyone who has ever relocated knows it isn't that easy; it's expensive, and it may be impossible for families to sell their homes in this market.

Moreover, the carpenters are reluctant to abandon their trade to start as a rookie in another field. Union carpenters in Nevada train as apprentices for four years. Many have had fathers or uncles in the trade. And several said they simply like to build massive projects - bridges, memorials, high-rises - and watch them "come out of the ground."

Some of these guys are getting on toward middle age, which means they're at risk for staying unemployed.
This is the part that isn't mentioned often enough:

Exactly how much of the unemployment is "structural" is a matter of debate among economists. But it evokes deep concern because it is resistant to stimulus efforts and other quick policy measures.

Already, long-term unemployment has become one of the defining aspects of the recession. The incidence of people who have been unemployed for more than six months is much higher than it has been in 60 years.

The long-term unemployed are seldom mentioned in the media, or in policy discussions. We need a better lobbyist.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Those Lazy Jobless Bums

David Sirota examines the persistant myth of the "lazy jobless" in truthout:

During the recent fight over extending unemployment benefits, conservatives trotted out the shibboleth that says the program fosters sloth. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., for instance, said added unemployment benefits mean people are "encouraged not to go look for work." Columnist Pat Buchanan said expanding these benefits mean "more people will hold off going back looking for a job." And Fox News' Charles Payne applauded the effort to deny future unemployment checks because he said it would compel layabouts "to get off the sofa."

First: as a NH resident, I'd like to apologize to all of you on behalf of my state, for sending Judd Gregg to the US Senate.

Second: Judd Gregg started working hard before he was born, thereby ensuring he was born into a very wealthy family. He knows what hard work REALLY is.

The idea is that unemployment has nothing to do with structural economic forces or rigged public policies and everything to do with individual motivation. Yes, we're asked to believe that the 15 million jobless Americans are all George Costanzas -- parasitic loafers occasionally pretending to seek work as latex salesmen, but really just aiming to decompress on a refrigerator-equipped recliner during a lifelong Summer of George.

Have you noticed that the folks who spread this myth are all comfortably employed and/or independently wealthy?

Narcissism is also a factor. In a nation that typically dehumanizes the destitute Other with epithets like "welfare queen" and "white trash," our self-centered culture leads the slightly less destitute to ascribe their own relative success exclusively to superhuman greatness. The myth of the lazy unemployed plays to that conceit, helping the still-employed experience potentially scary unemployment news as a booster shot of self-aggrandizement. You remain in a job, says the myth, because you are better than the jobless.

This explains why the comment sections in online stories about long term unemployed and/or homeless people are filled with such horrifying comments. Many working people realize they're about 2 paychecks away from homelessness. They're scared to death of losing everything, AND being labeled lazy bums.

The trouble, though, is that the whole narrative averts our focus from the job-killing trade, tax-cut and budget policies that are really responsible for destroying the economy. And this narrative, mind you, is not some run-of-the-mill distraction. The myth of the lazy unemployed is what duck-and-cover exercises and backyard nuclear shelters were to a past era -- an alluring palliative that manufactures false comfort in the face of unthinkable disaster.

transitive verb

1: to reduce the violence of (a disease); also : to ease (symptoms) without curing the underlying disease

2: to cover by excuses and apologies

cross-posted at MainSt/

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Future of Pell Grants

From the NY Times:

With the lame-duck Congress winding down and a $5.7 billion gap in financing looming for next year’s Pell grants — and a further $8 billion gap for the following year — there is growing uncertainty about the future of the grants, the nation’s most significant financial-aid program for college students.


Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation that provided an extra $36 billion over 10 years to the Pell grant program and increased the maximum grant to $5,550, up from $4,050 five years ago. But with a new Congress arriving in January and determined to cut spending, it is unclear whether that expansion is sustainable.

If Congress does not cover the gap in financing, millions of students could see their Pell grants reduced by more than 15 percent, with the maximum grant shrinking by about $845.

Financial aid officers are starting to worry about a program that is supposed to provide more than $30 billion next year to college students.

This is scary news for families of college students - and a story we'll be keeping an eye on as the new Congress convenes.

cross posted at MainSt/

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stubborn Denial

Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, is believed to be considering another presidential run. He recently wrote an opinion piece on the Obama tax deal for USA Today. One has to almost admire the stubborn refusal to believe what is painfully obvious: the Bush tax cuts were a failure. They did not create jobs. But Mitt is clinging to that denial, like a drowning man:

Of course, delay now is better than an immediate tax hike. But because the extension is only temporary, a large portion of the investment and job growth that characteristically accompanies low taxes will be lost. When entrepreneurs and employers make decisions to start or expand an enterprise, uncertainty about tax rates translates directly into a reduced propensity to invest and to hire. With only a two-year extension, investors know that before their returns are realized, tax rates may be jacked up to the levels favored by President Obama. So while the tax deal will succeed in temporarily putting more money in the hands of consumers, it will fail to deliver its full potential for creating lasting growth.

Those tax cuts have been in place for a decade. If they were going to work, they would have by now.

What Mitt has to say about unemployment insurance is particularly frightening:

The indisputable fact is that unemployment benefits, despite a web of regulations, actually serve to discourage some individuals from taking jobs, especially when the benefits extend across years.

He must be referring to all those jobs created by the tax cuts...?

The system is also not designed for a flexible economy like ours in which some employees move from job to job for short periods, and are therefore ineligible for unemployment compensation when they are faced with a protracted spell without work.

To remedy such problems we need a very different model, perhaps establishing individual unemployment savings accounts over which employees would exercise direct control when they lose their jobs, or putting in place financial incentives for employers to hire and train the long-term unemployed. One thing is certain: While we cannot rebuild our flawed system overnight, we are surely not required to borrow the funds to pay for it. In spending $56.5 billion to extend benefits, the deal is sacrificing the bedrock Republican principle that new expenditures be paid for with offsetting budget cuts.

Individual unemployment savings accounts? Just like the health savings accounts that so many of the free marketeers love so much! The fact that wages have been stagnant for decades while the costs of everything have increased sharply doesn't seem to be a consideration for this type of thinker. Of course multi-millionaire Mitt doesn't have to worry about these things. He's living quite comfortably in the top 20% of wage earners in the US, who received 49.4 percent of the income generated in the U.S. last year, according to the census.

The average working family is struggling to make ends meet as it is. That anyone is even considering the idea that these folks should have to pay into an unemployment fund is both ridiculous and frightening.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Updates from the Economy

In September the National Bureau of Economic Research notified us that the economic recession in the US was over. The actual economy apparently wasn't listening. The unemployment numbers haven't changed. Businesses are still closing, and bankruptcies are still being filed. Cities and states are still making tough choices.

Lake Oswego, OR is pondering tough choices:

The committee recommended closing three of the district's nine elementary schools and moving all sixth graders into the district's two junior high schools. Those would then become middle schools.

In Pennsylvania:

West Pharmaceutical Services Inc. said it will lay off 170 workers and close its plant in Montgomery, Pa., that makes molded plastic components such as stoppers and vials for injectable drugs.

In Wisconsin:

NewPage Corp., the operator of the former Stora Enso North America paper mills in Wisconsin, said Wednesday that it will close its mill in Whiting at the end of February 2011, affecting 360 employees.

In Beltsville, MD:

Baxter International Inc. will close its Beltsville production facility, cutting 106 jobs effective Dec. 15.
The Deerfield, Ill.-based bioscience giant decided in late 2009 to transfer to European facilities the local production of a meningitis vaccine that's sold internationally, said spokeswoman Deborah Spak.

In Ohio:

Worthington Precision Metals, a Mentor manufacturer of parts for hydraulic steeling and other automotive components, has closed its doors.

Representatives from the company on Wednesday directed all questions about the matter to its attorney, Seth Briskin, who confirmed the closure. The company, at 8229 Tyler Blvd., has been around since 1946, according to its website

There's more:

"It's like any lender situation that's happening every day. When your lender forecloses, that's what happens."

Worthington had about 90 jobs. The employees were informed of the news about 2 p.m. Wednesday.
(Dec. 8)

In Florida:

WESTOVER -- A tomato packing business that has long been the center of the village of Westover will close in early February.
About 103 full-time workers at the Custom Pak facility will lose their jobs as part of a company consolidation plan, state officials confirmed Wednesday.

The non-recession is even affecting gun manufacturers. In New Hampshire:

ROCHESTER — Springfield, Mass-based Smith & Wesson Holding Corp is relocating its Thompson/Center Arms operations from Rochester, N.H., to its Springfield, Mass. facility, according to the City biz Real Estate website.
The closure will effect approximately 250 employees, some who may be offered the opportunity to move the company's Springfield operation.

In Maine:

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree's office says a firearm manufacturing company is shutting down its operations in Windham next year.
Bushmaster Firearms International, which employs 73 people, will be closing its doors on March 31. The company is owned by Freedom Group.

I keep hearing we're in an economic recovery, but after reading all these stories, that's hard to believe.

The reason it's hard to believe is because it's not true. Check out the video available through this link from truthout. The video is a short analysis from Richard Wolff, an economics professor, who has a PhD in economics from Yale, as well as degrees from Harvard and Stanford. Dr. Wolff puts the alleged recovery into perspective. There's a long, long road ahead - unless you're a banker or a Wall St exec.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, December 10, 2010

We Deserve Better

New Hampshire has lousy media. This is not news. Regular readers have heard me say that before. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently. There really isn’t any decent statewide media coverage. Oh, if something terrible happens, we might hear about Colebrook, or Lebanon, but otherwise, you’d think the whole state revolves around Manchester, with an occasional assist from Concord and Portsmouth. Keene is visible, sitting on the bench. The rest of the state is mostly invisible. Given our status in the presidential primary, it’s especially odd that we have only one network television station. That’s a media monopoly that should make us uncomfortable.

I read a lot of newspapers online; NH papers for my life as a NH blogger and papers from all over the country for my life as a nationwide blogger. It is amazing to be able to access so much information, and see what is going on around the country. The downside to this is (because there is always a downside) is the commentary. The internet provides a cloak of anonymity that gives people the opportunity to say ugly things. That ugliness is prevalent in the comments following nearly every story in the NH Union Leader.

Over the last two months there have been a series of stories about the purchase of the Fraser Paper Mill in Gorham. When the mill closed down, 250 people lost their jobs. This was a devastating loss to an area that is already devastated by the systematic loss of manufacturing jobs that’s taken place over the last 20 years. Arguing about what elected officials and community leaders should have done is pointless. The reality is stark – 250 people lost their jobs. When it seemed that Governor Lynch had helped find a buyer for the mill, you’d think folks around the state would be happy – a company would stay open, and people would go back to work. The comments on the pages of the UL were not happy. One commenter pointed out that those jobs should go to the southern part of the state where “people really need them.”

Many people who live in the southern, most densely populated, part of the state seem to believe that the area above Concord is a vast wasteland populated by colorful natives who engage in ritual pastimes of skiing and gathering maple syrup, and who, once winter has ended go into a dormant state for the rest of the year. One reason for this disconnect is the lack of decent statewide media. Our one network TV station is located in Manchester, and that’s mostly what they cover. They don’t venture into the vast wasteland very often. The top half of the state is not at all well served by this. The NH UL claims to be a statewide paper. It’s a propaganda arm for the GOP. Again, the state is not well served by this. There is no media that pulls the state together, connects the dots, and unites us. Instead, most people have a vague, if any, idea of what is going on in other parts of the state. This, by the way, trickles down into the legislature, and contributes to what doesn’t happen up north.

There’s precious little investigative journalism going on in our state. Investigative journalism is expensive. We don’t have any real statewide newspapers. The weeklies certainly don’t have the budget for it. The dailies don’t do much of it either. Print journalism is hanging on by a thread. No one has figured out how to make money combining newspaper and internet. The NY Times tried putting their op-ed columnists behind a paywall. It didn’t work out. Salmon Press has an online paywall for their network of newspapers. I don’t know how it works for them financially, but I do know that it discourages readers from outside their basic circulation area. Some papers are trying a charge for stories that are archived. I’m not sure how that works out either – but it seems unlikely that they make enough money to stay afloat doing that.

There are certainly some nationwide blogs that have gotten so big that they attract advertisers, and can afford to pay writers, but they’re the minority. Most blogs don’t make money. Most bloggers are unpaid. Some do a little paid blogging and a lot that is unpaid. (That’s the category I fall into.) Then there are the fortunate ones who actually make a living blogging. I don’t think that there’s a freestanding NH blog that has reached that level of success at this point in time.

After a lot of rumination, I don’t know what the answer is. I do know this much: we deserve better media than we have. Other states would like to take our first in the nation primary status away from us. Our “cheap media buys” have been an advantage in the past – but moving into the future, having only one network TV station and no statewide media is not any kind of advantage to candidates any more. Most of the coverage of the NH primary comes from out of state media outlets. NH should have a bigger slice of that pie. NH media should be a big deal.

As it stands now, the lesser known/lesser moneyed candidates don’t get much coverage at all. That’s another disservice, since the NH primary is supposed to be a place where everyone gets to learn about all of the candidates. Instead, we hear a lot about people we already know plenty about. We may want to rethink that, if we want to keep the primary here.

“It is extremely important for some part of the electoral process to permit new ideas and new candidates and fresh blood and new thinking, to revitalize parties and revitalize politics. [New Hampshire], states like mine and others, are the fountains from which change and progress can be made in this country.” Senator Gary Hart, winner of the 1984 NH primary

published as an op-ed in the December 10, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

© 2010 sbruce

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Voices From the Right

Last week, Tea Party Nation chairman Judson Phillips expressed his thoughts on who should be able to vote. From ThinkProgress:

PHILLIPS: The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.

This must be a popular topic in conservative circles right now, because Rush Limbaugh made a similar point, only less diplomatically:

On a day when the US unemployment rate rose to 9.8%, Rush Limbaugh used his radio show to argue that poor people should not be allowed to vote. While commenting about a piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about people lining up for housing assistance, Limbaugh asked, “ If people can’t even feed and clothe themselves should they be allowed to vote? Should they be voting?”

In the face of millions losing unemployment benefits (just before Christmas) Glenn Beck dismissed poverty on his radio show. From Politicususa:

Then Beck attacked the poor, “We’re often told about the plight of the poor in America, and there is poverty in America, but let’s put it into perspective here. The poor in America 97% of them have television sets, 25% of those television sets are big screens. That’s poverty? 89% have a microwave. 80% have an air conditioning unit. 73% of the poor in America have a car. 64% have a washer. 57% of have a dryer. We have been sold a lie that that’s not enough. How much is enough? What is economic justice? Do I need to remind Americans what poor really looks like? I got news for you in other countries they’re not washing their clothes and sitting in air conditioning watching their big screen TV’s. They’re dying. That is poor.”

Does any of this sound familiar? It should:

Notice how Beck didn’t present any actual statistics about hunger and poverty? In the 1980s and 1990s the myth used to demonize the poor was that of welfare recipients driving Cadillacs. In 2010, the big screen TV has replaced the Caddy in the attack on the poor. The reality for the poor is something that Glenn Beck and Republicans don’t want to discuss. The poor in this country face a daily struggle for food and shelter. If they are lucky enough to have a job, it is probably at somewhere like Wal-Mart where pay is low, overtime is often not compensated, and benefits are non-existent.

So, only property owners should have the right to vote, poor people should not only be disenfranchised, they should be dying.

That's the view from the right. Merry Christmas!

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Over 1 Million Have Lost Benefits

While Washington fiddles and holds extending unemployment benefits hostage unless tax cuts for millionaires are extended, over a million Americans are still unemployed and have lost their benefits.

From the BBC

"I thought I'd be back on my feet before I could blink my eyes," muses Theresa Iacovo, who has been out of work since September 2008.

The 49-year-old, who lost her job at the start of the economic downturn is one of the so-called 99ers - who get their name from the fact they have claimed 99 weeks of payments but are still unable to find a job.

She still hasn't found a job, and her extended benefits were cut off.

Now she has no income at all. She stays with a friend in New York and goes to food pantries to eat.

Theresa is one of an estimated five million Americans who have exhausted all their unemployment payments, and are no longer supported by any welfare.

In the Concord Monitor:

Karen Morgan already has no TV and no internet. She doesn't budget for food, instead picking it up at the local pantry she walks to from her apartment in Contoocook. This week, the cancer survivor skipped a doctor's appointment because she didn't have money for gas.


On Wednesday, Morgan became one of thousands in New Hampshire no longer eligible for unemployment benefits after the expiration of a federally funded extension of the program.


Until this past week, emergency jobless benefits lasted as long as 99 weeks for people in the hardest-hit states. But with five people unemployed for every job available, 99 weeks might not be long enough.

Since the 1950s, the federal government has consistently extended emergency unemployment benefits whenever the jobless rate has been more than 7.5 percent. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are using unemployment benefits as a sweetener for a deal on the Bush-era tax cuts, working on a compromise that would temporarily extend both policies.

Sustained high rates of unemployment could result in an unemployed underclass disconnected from the workforce, economist Kevin Hassett says


"The longer somebody doesn't have a job, the harder it is to get a new job," Hassett says. "The reality is that if you're out of [a] job, and you're looking for a job, then the new employer's going to say, 'Well, why don't you have a job now? What's wrong with you?' "

Hassett warns that sustained cyclical unemployment could become a "structural problem" if the number of unemployed people isn't cut soon."

Meanwhile, job creation is at a near standstill, the unemployment numbers are going up - and many in Washington find blaming the unemployed for being jobless is easier (and more politically popular) than actually addressing the problem. Over a million people have lost their benefits in the last week - yet very little reporting is being done on the people actually being affected. Unless the issue of long term unemployment is faced head on, Kevin Hassett's fears of a permanent unemployed underclass will become a solid reality.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Taking Food From the Mouths of Children

Raj Patel on why we shouldn't cut food stamps to pay for school lunch programs:

In the dying days of this Congress, food activists face an awful choice: Should we support the increased funding of children's school lunches, even if it means taking money from a family's food stamps? That is what's on the table in a version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill passed by the Senate, in which an improved school meal program will be paid for by cutting back $2 billion in funding for food stamps in 2013.

No one disputes that poor children need to be better fed, but government food stamp entitlements are the last tatters of a safety net for many millions of people. Evidence? Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that 50.2 million Americans were food insecure in 2009, a mere 1 million more than the year before. Although that's still one in six people, the figure was a victory. Given the soaring rates of poverty and unemployment in 2009, there could have been considerably more food insecure people.

You'd think we'd be ashamed of those numbers.

We need to expand both SNAP and school lunch programs. That means rejecting the Sophie's Choice between families and children. Behind the logic of paying for school lunches with food stamp funding is an assumption that, if poor families are sinking, "save women and children first." The trouble is that cutting the food stamp program will hurt women more than men. Look at who goes hungry in the U.S.: over a third of all single-female-headed households who have children are food insecure. No other household demographic is as likely to be going hungry. So, cut SNAP and who gets hurt? America's poorest women.

You'd think we'd be ashamed of that, too.

To put this all into perspective, we know from the OMB that the cost of extending the Bush tax cuts will be $5 trillion over the next ten years. American children are being hurt by hunger. Their families are too. The idea of choosing between them would be morally repugnant if, indeed, it were a choice—but what becomes increasingly clear when you look both at the economics and sociology of hunger is that you can't save one group without saving the other. There is no Sophie's Choice here—there are simply degrees of harm that we allow to be inflicted on the poor.

Our legislators are huffing and puffing to extend those tax cuts - while soberly shaking their heads and expressing their faux-sorrow that in these perilous economic times that we must all tighten our belts and accept some suffering. Will Congress really take food from the mouths of children so as not to inconvenience the rich?

cross-posted at MainSt/

Monday, November 29, 2010

You Hurt Alan Simpson's Feelings

Poor Alan Simpson. The co-chair of the Deficit Reduction Commission (popularly known as "The Catfood Commission") isn't feeling the love from folks responding to his initial recommendations on how to reduce the deficit. From the Wyoming Capital Journal:

During Al Simpson's nearly 50 years in government, he hasn't been afraid to take on critics and naysayers of his work in the U.S. Senate or on a variety of high-profile commissions and committees.
But as the co-chair of President Obama's debt commission, the Wyoming Republican said he's been taking an unprecedented amount of flak for the commission's draft proposals to help erase the nation's $13.8 trillion debt.
"I've never had any nastier mail or [been in a] more difficult position in my life," said the 79-year-old Simpson. "Just vicious. People I've known, relatives [saying], "'You son of a bitch. How could you do this?'"


Simpson said he's spent about $25,000 of his own money on travel and hotel expenses on behalf of the debt commission -- an expense he said he doesn't mind paying.

Oh, the humanity! What a noble fellow, spending his own money to ensure that low income seniors live under bridges and eat catfood in the years to come! Simpson also had this to say:

"We had the greatest generation -- I think this is the greediest generation," he said.

In other words: he made millions. He's got his. You, on the other hand, are greedy because you've paid in to Social Security, and will be receiving a retirement benefit.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Rewarding Failure

Robert Scheer in The Nation:

Welcome to the brave new world of post-bailout capitalism. The Commerce Department announced Tuesday that corporate profits are at their highest level in US history, and the Fed released minutes of an early November meeting in which officials predicted a stagnant economy and continued high unemployment.

The lead on the New York Times story read like a line from a Dickens novel: "The nation's workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever." What the Times story neglected to mention is that the bulk of the increase in corporate profits was nabbed by the financial industry rather than manufacturing and other productive sectors. A whopping $33.3 billion out of the total corporate profits increase of $44.4 billion went to the banks and investment houses that those same workers had bailed out with their tax dollars.

Most of us weren't expecting a thank-you card from the financial sector, but even a modicum of humility would be nice.

Now, if companies are doing better than ever...where are the jobs we were assured would start to appear when those companies started doing well?

Much of the rest of the corporate profit, in the non-financial sector, was also taken out of the hides of workers through increased "productivity" growth—meaning they had produced more for less personal income. Case in point: the plant that GM is reopening in Orion Township, Mich., where, under a deal negotiated with the beleaguered UAW union, 40 percent of the workers crawling through cars on the assembly line will be paid fifteen bucks an hour. That's about half the traditional UAW wage.

In other words: these companies have figured out how to get more for less by holding workers hostage. If you want to keep your job, you'll settle for less money. Otherwise, you too, can join the ever burgeoning ranks of the long term unemployed.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, November 26, 2010

We're The Indians Now

Thanksgiving is the time for giving thanks, and showing compassion, or so tradition dictates. The natives helped the struggling Pilgrims so that they didn’t starve to death during their first winter in New England. Their crops had failed, and they relied upon socialist Indian handouts to survive. Of course we know how the Indians were repaid for their generosity. The voters who enthusiastically supported the recent red tide are likely to have a similar experience.

The NH portion of the federal fuel assistance budget may be cut by as much as fifty percent. Last year NH received $40.8 million in fuel assistance. This year, the budget may be cut to $19.7. One of the problems here is that Congress has not passed a budget yet for fiscal year 2011. Given the obstructionist climate, it seems likely that this could continue into the new year. The Energy Information Administration projects that New England will pay 15% more in home heating costs this winter than we did last winter. Senator Jeanne Shaheen has written to Secretary Sibellius of HHS, urging her to release full funding for the program. At a time when unemployment and poverty are rampant, it would be nice if poor folks didn’t have to freeze to death this winter. I can say from experience that poverty in northern NH means being cold. Very cold. Will the newly elected Teabaglicans tell us we must live, freeze, and die, or could, perhaps, the war budget be trimmed instead?

NH food pantries are seeing as much as a 50% increase in need. The Eagle Tribune reported on NH food pantries in early November. A representative from the Kingston food pantry commented that many new faces were being seen, many of them elderly. This saddened her, because in her experience, elderly folks traditionally don’t admit to needing help. Not only will our low-income seniors be cold this winter, they’ll also be hungry. These are folks who worked hard, served in the military perhaps, brought up families, and now are getting the Indian treatment from an ungrateful nation.

Meanwhile, we’re starting to learn a little more about our newly elected officials. New Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland ran almost exclusively on repealing the evil “Obamacare,” the health insurance bill that means (in part) that insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Andy Harris wants to make sure that most of us will continue to find health insurance costs beyond our reach, and apparently Maryland voters agreed. One of Rep. Harris’s first acts was to have a little snit when he learned that the government health care he is entitled to, as a Congressman won’t take effect for 28 days. He was outraged at having to wait so long. What if something happens? Of course, in the real world, the average wait is often 2 months, and more if you happen to be on the wrong end of the waiting period. In the even realer world, you can’t afford health insurance at all. Shouldn’t someone who campaigned so earnestly against “gummint health care” be refusing to accept it for himself? Is new Rep. Guinta planning to accept this socialist benefit? What about Congressman Bass? Senator Ayotte? I hope all of you Teabaglican voters will be urging our new delegation to just say no. After all, you wouldn’t support hypocrites, now, would you?

I was pleasantly surprised by the very gracious letter that Frank McCarthy had in the paper recently, where he thanked Representatives Buco and Butler for their service to our state. As gracious as that letter was, however, before the next legislative session is done, McCarthy will vote to eliminate Ed Butler’s marriage. Thanks, Ed – but it’s Squanto time. Rep. Dino Scala of Wakefield was refreshingly honest in his letter. He announced that he has no intention of working with the minority party, because the voters didn’t elect him to be cooperative.

Speaking of which, the red tide in NH is producing some interesting fallout already. State Rep. Gene Chandler seems likely to lose his bid for Speaker of the House to Bill O’Brien of Mont Vernon. It’s an interesting day in NH, when far right Chandler is considered too liberal by his colleagues. O’Brien is a rabid nutcase, who spent the summer sucking up to the new Teabaglicans who now comprise most of the freshman class in the NH House. People like Laurie Pettingill from Bartlett, a fluent speaker of Sloganese, and Norm Tragenza of Eaton and also of the John Birch Society. These folks talked about taxes all the time – but taxes aren’t their concern. O’Brien and his new cohorts have a far right regressive social agenda that is their real goal. They want to repeal the NH marriage equality law, amend the NH Constitution to ban gay and lesbian citizens from marrying, make it more difficult for women to get abortions (which, in case you’ve forgotten are legal), and they want to expand the death penalty. They also intend to repeal mandatory kindergarten, and mess with education funding again, so that we’ll return to the era of Claremont style lawsuits. They’re just getting warming up to show us what a REAL nanny state is.

I’ve written about the death penalty expansion before. The NH Judicial Council finds that expanding the death penalty will add costs upwards of $5 million a year to the NH budget. None of the supporters (including sponsor Jeb Bradley) have come forward to explain how this will be paid for. We heard “cut spending” from these budget peacocks all through the campaign. Adding $5 million and more to the budget for the purpose of killing people is NOT cutting spending. Where will this money come from, Laurie Pettingill? Norm Tregenza? Jeb Bradley?

I suspect that some of you voters will be learning (quite unpleasantly) through the law of unintended consequences, that we are all Indians now.

“An asylum for the sane would be empty in America.” George Bernard Shaw

© sbruce 2010

This was published as an op-ed in the November 26, 2010 issue of the Conway Daily Sun

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Debts of the Dead

Americans are still defaulting on debt. The unemployment numbers are in the double digits, poverty is on the rise, and for most folks, the "economic recovery" we keep hearing about is just a rumor. In an effort to reclaim even more money, debt collection agencies have begun aggressively going after the debts of the dead. The Federal Trade Commission wants to revise the guidelines on who, exactly, is possibly responsible for the debts of the deceased. From the Washington Post:

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act limits the people that collectors can contact to those with authority to pay the debt - typically a spouse or family member, and possibly a third-party executor of an estate. But in a proposed policy statement, the FTC said changes to court procedures have widened the pool of those who may be able to pay to include a host of other legal representatives.


Locating those who can pay the debt creates another challenge. Often, collectors may contact several friends or relatives in their attempt to find the right person. Current law allows collectors to only ask for "location information" without revealing that a debt is owed. The FTC is considering relaxing that rule for those who are deceased.

But that could pave the way for collectors to persuade unobligated consumers to pay the debt, consumer groups say. In its investigation of the practice, the FTC listened to thousands of phone calls and found debt collectors often operating in a gray area, Winston said.

That would be the gray area of trying to guilt someone into thinking they're responsible to pay the debts of someone they loved, who has died.

The FTC proposal states that collectors appealing to consumers' "moral obligation" to close the debt could violate federal law. In addition, it emphasized that collectors cannot imply that those with authority to pay the debt must do so out of their own pockets. All debts should be paid out of the deceased's estate.

Instead of making it easier to harass the bereaved, it's a shame that the FTC isn't changing the rules to protect those who have lost someone they loved.

I confess to having a personal bias and some experience here. My husband died in 2009, and over the last year, I've been harassed by debt collectors, been through a very hasty foreclosure, and I'm still getting letters from lawyers. I don't worry about it any more. There's really nothing they can do to me. I'm earning less than the federal poverty guidelines for a single person. I do, however, worry that relaxing these rules will create a great deal of misery for elderly widows and widowers.

The whole proposal is available to read here. You can also comment on the proposed rules changes until Dec. 1.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Monday, November 22, 2010

Messing with Social Security

In March, Erskine Bowles, co-chair of President Obama's Deficit Reduction Commission spoke at the North Carolina Banker's Association annual Bank Director's Assembly. He was quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review:

"We’re going to mess with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security because if you take those off the table, you can’t get there. If we don’t make those choices, America is going to be a second-rate power, and I don’t mean in fifty years. I mean in my lifetime."

As the CJR points out, given that Bowles is 64, "in my lifetime" sounds pretty dire. Luckily the millions he made on Wall St. will insulate him from any unpleasantness during his later years.

Those of us who aren't so well insulated may be less fortunate. From an op-ed in the LA Times by Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson, the co-directors of Social Security Works:

In releasing their plan, the co-chairs went out of their way to make clear that they were proposing changes to Social Security "for its own sake, not for deficit reduction." This was an acknowledgement that Social Security does not and cannot contribute to the deficit, because it has no borrowing authority and by law cannot pay benefits unless it has sufficient income and reserves to cover their cost. But Simpson and Bowles just couldn't keep their hands off the program.

This needs to be repeated. Often and loudly.

One thing they propose is increasing Social Security's retirement age to 69. Every year that Social Security's retirement age is increased amounts to a 6% to 7% across-the-board benefit cut for recipients. The retirement age is already being raised to age 67 for those turning 62 in 2022. Increasing the age to 69 would cut benefits by one-quarter from a decade ago, when the retirement age was 65.

The co-chairs also want to increase the early retirement age to 64. Currently, the majority of Americans start claiming benefits at age 62, despite the fact that this means they receive reduced benefits. As a new General Accountability Office report concluded, the people who take early retirement often do so because they work in jobs that are too physically demanding to continue or because they have health problems or can no longer find work. Raising the early retirement age will shut out workers who are disproportionately low income and minority, and it will do it when they are most vulnerable, potentially forcing them to seek disability benefits or welfare.

I'm at a loss. I truly do not understand how cutting benefits for older people will make the US a first rate power. I can think of many things it will make us, but I'm far too genteel to list them.

The co-chairs apparently think most Americans can work as long as politicians, Wall Street billionaires and others who have all of life's advantages. In effect, the Bowles-Simpson plan says to America's workers that they must work longer for less because the rich are living longer.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson are a couple of reverse Robin Hoods, attempting to steal from the poor to give to the rich.

The folks at Social Security Works are asking all of us to participate in a national day of action. On November 30, people all over the country will be calling their US Senators and their Congressperson to say: Hands Off My Social Security! More info.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making a Buck on Misery

Banks, hedge funds, and other investors are now putting up money for lawsuits (medical malpractice, class action, etc) in the hopes of cashing in on big awards. From the NY Times

The loans are propelling large and prominent cases. Lenders including Counsel Financial, a Buffalo company financed by Citigroup, provided $35 million for the lawsuits brought by ground zero workers that were settled tentatively in June for $712.5 million. The lenders earned about $11 million.

And of course:

The rise of lending to plaintiffs and their lawyers is a result of the high cost of litigation. Pursuing a civil action in federal court costs an average of $15,000, the Federal Judicial Center reported last year. Cases involving scientific evidence, like medical malpractice claims, often cost more than $100,000. Some people cannot afford to pursue claims; others are overwhelmed by corporate defendants with deeper pockets.

This doesn't always work out well for the plaintiff:

Such financing also drains money from plaintiffs. Interest rates on lawsuit loans generally exceed 15 percent a year, and most states allow lawyers that borrow to bill clients for the interest payments. The cost can exceed the benefits of winning. A woman injured in a 1995 car accident outside Philadelphia borrowed money for a suit, as did her lawyer. By the time she won $169,125 in 2003, the lenders were owed $221,000.

This whole story is disturbing, but this paragraph gave me the shivers:

“If you want to use the civil justice system, you have to have money,” said Alan Zimmerman, who founded one of the first litigation finance companies in 1994, in San Francisco, now called the LawFinance Group. “If there’s less money, you’d have less litigation. But then you’d also have less justice.”

Increasingly, there are two justice systems. There is one for the folks who have money, like the Colorado wealth manager Laura wrote about last week. Then there's the other system, where people who don't have money have no choice but to live with injustice.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wall St. Has 4th Most Profitable Year

From Reuters:

Wall Street may earn $19 billion in 2010, its fourth-most profitable year, even as regulatory changes and a weakened economy limit its ability to generate profit, New York state's comptroller said.


DiNapoli said Wall Street has nonetheless benefited from federal bailouts and low interest rates, and may see profitability settle near levels that prevailed prior to 2007 and 2008, when it lost $54 billion overall.

It sure was nice of us to bail them out, after they almost destroyed the US economy. And even though at least 10% of us are unemployed and struggling, and there's opposition to further extending unemployment benefits that expire just before Christmas, here's news that will make us feel all warm and fuzzy:

DiNapoli expects to provide his annual tally of Wall Street bonus payouts in early 2011. Overall Wall Street bonuses totaled $20.3 billion in 2009, up 17 percent from 2008.

According to the pay consultant Johnson Associates Inc, Wall Street workers may see individual bonuses rise an average 5 percent this year, though weak trading results may lead to declines for some employees.

Of course a more cynical person than I might call this .....greed. Someone like Jim Hightower

By the laws of economics, if not physics, bonuses should fall to earth this year, because the bankers have performed poorly. Trading is down, profits are flat (despite being given trillions of dollars in almost-interest-free money by the feds), firms are firing lower-level employees, and banker greed has ruined the public reputations of the financial giants.

Who cares, shriek the big shots – its bonus time, baby, so grab all you can! The CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and others have set aside billions of dollars to flood their executive suites with bonus cash at the end of the year – money that should go to shareholders. Their claim is: "We deserve it, for we took low pay during the crash of 2008-2009." For example, Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' boss was paid a mere $9 million last year, so this year he wants that "sacrifice" to be made up to him.

Blankfein provides us with a perfect illustration for the phrase "having no shame."

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where's MY Government Health Care?

Andy Harris is a newly elected Congressman from Maryland. He's an anesthesiologist who ran on a repealing "Obamacare" platform. At the orientation for freshman legislators, he had plenty of questions about his government health care. From Politico:

A conservative Maryland physician elected to Congress on an anti-Obamacare platform surprised fellow freshmen at a Monday orientation session by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in.

Republican Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist who defeated freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.

“He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care,” said a congressional staffer who saw the exchange. The benefits session, held behind closed doors, drew about 250 freshman members, staffers and family members to the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium late Monday morning,”.

In the employment world for the rest of us, insurance benefits can take much longer to kick in. In fact, the eligibility period in most jobs occurs only once a year. In the real world, right here and now, over 50 million Americans have no health coverage at all.

Dr. Harris ran on a platform opposing health insurance for the rabble. He, however, deserves gummint health care. As long as he's got his - all is right in the world.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Serious Challenges Facing Carroll County

The state of the economy and the recent mid-term elections got me thinking about the Reagan years, and what life was like for the average Josephine in Carroll County around 1989. There were few jobs available. Few employers provided health insurance. Housing costs were high, though toward the end of the Reagan years they decreased, and became more realistic. Looking at the help wanted ads provoked a revelation – the wage scale in this area hasn’t changed since then.

According to Census data, 7% of the families, and 9% of the individuals in Carroll County fall below the federal poverty guidelines. There are 450 families in this county earning less than $10,000 a year. Thirty-five percent of them are households led by female single parents.

As for housing, some 349 housing units lack complete plumbing. There are at least 311 housing units that lack kitchen facilities. Almost half (49.4) of the available housing in Carroll County is vacant. The average cost of a rental is between $750 and $1,000. According to a 2008 study by Universal Living Wage, in order to afford a 1 bedroom apartment in Carroll County, a worker needed to be earning $13.13 an hour. To afford a studio, they needed to be earning$12.44. Nearly half (44.7%) of the households in this county earn less than $50,000 a year. According to the 2008 Livable Wage Study done by the Carsey Institute, Carroll County has the fewest livable wage jobs in the state. We have the lowest average wages in the state. My non-scientific observation that the wage scale here hasn’t changed in over 20 years seems to be correct.

A story run the Conway Daily Sun in August informed us that Carroll County has the highest number of homeless families in the state. We have no homeless shelters at all. The number of homeless in the county has doubled since 2005. According to Families USA: In 2008, 24% of NH residents lacked health insurance. Of that group, 85% were members of working families. Carroll County has the highest number of uninsured residents in the state, at 17%.

The statewide unemployment rate is 5.5%. In Carroll County, the official number is 4.7%. These numbers are not correct, any more than the national unemployment number of 9.7 percent is correct. The only people who are counted are folks who have filed unemployment claims. The people who were never eligible, who have run out of benefits, and the people who are underemployed are not counted. Doubling these numbers is likely to provide an accurate measure. That would mean that the real state and county numbers would be more like 10%, and nationally the number would be more like 20%. That’s a lot more realistic than the artificially low numbers that are intended to lower the economic fear factor. During the last quarter of 2009, an estimated 12.5% of residents of the county were underemployed, discouraged workers. People who can only find part time jobs, who need to be working full time.

According to a study done by the Annie E. Casey foundation, NH children rank the healthiest in the nation, once again. The study also found that childhood poverty is on the rise. Some 9% of NH children are living in poverty. The number of families receiving food stamps in NH increased 61% during the last two years.

To summarize, in Carroll County, we have the lowest average wages in the state, the fewest number of livable wage jobs, the highest number of uninsured residents, and the highest number of homeless families. This should be of great concern to us all, especially our newly elected legislators, swept in on an especially toxic red tide.

This newly elected GOP majority ran on the same platform they’ve had since the Stone Age: Cut Spending, No New Taxes. They claim to be terribly concerned about families and jobs. That may even be mostly true up here, but in the southern part of the state a number of gibbering lunatics were elected, and their first priority is actually destroying the families created by the NH marriage equality law. We can count on the fact that the Carroll County delegation will fall right into lockstep with them. Al Baldasaro accused the state of selling babies to gay couples for $10,000, at a hearing I attended last year. Despite being obviously deranged, Baldasaro was overwhelmingly re-elected, and this bit of news went unreported by the far right biased media in our state.

They’re all wound up about gay folks getting married, and women having abortions, neither of which have any negative impact on our state’s economy. In fact, gay folks getting married have had a positive impact on a lot of small businesses: inns, hotels, florists, bakers, caterers, etc. Have gays and lesbians getting married caused you to lose your job? Your housing? Have gays and lesbians getting married caused your health insurance costs to increase dramatically? Have gays and lesbians getting married caused the price of gas, or home heating oil to go up? Have gays and lesbians marrying caused food prices to rise? I didn’t think so. Yet that’s the priority of the Teabaglican lunatics who now comprise the majority of the Republican Party. The old-school moderate, reasonable, Republicans have been pushed out by the rabid right.

Newly minted State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley wants to change NH’s death penalty statute to make more cases eligible for the death penalty, which is estimated to add upwards of $5 million in costs to our annual state budget. This is hardly fiscally, or morally responsible. It would seem that while our new majority (both statewide and nationwide) love to talk about cutting spending and deficits, it’s just that. It’s all talk. These budget peacocks love to preen as they mouth slogans. Whether there’s anything behind the preening remains to be seen. Carroll County families are in increasingly dire straits thanks to this economy. Let’s hope our local legislators stay focused on that, as opposed to getting caught up in the goals of the faux-liberty nanny state politics of the far Teabaglican right.

© sbruce 2010

published as an op-ed in the November 12, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Behind the Attack on Social Security

The threat to Social Security is real. Economist Dean Barker today, writing at TPM gives us some insight into why we should be very frightened:

This effort is being led by billionaire investment banker Peter Peterson. Mr. Peterson has personally profited to the tune of tens of millions of dollars from the "fund managers' tax subsidy," an obscure provision of the tax code that allows billionaires to pay a lower tax rate than schoolteachers and firefighters. However, Peterson believes in giving back. He has committed $1 billion to an effort that is intended to take away the Social Security benefits that people have worked and paid for.

As part of this effort, Peterson set up a whole new foundation, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. He and/or his foundation created a "news service," the Fiscal Times, which is intended to promote the view that we have no choice but to cut Social Security. The Fiscal Times has entered into agreements with the Washington Post and other credible newspapers to provide material.

Peterson is also funding the creation of a high school curriculum which is intended to tell our children that the in the future the country will be too poor to finance Social Security. He funded a silly exercise called "America Speaks," which was supposed to convince an assembly of selected participants that we must cut Social Security after a daylong immersion in Peterson-style propaganda. (The people didn't buy it.) And now his crew is spending $20 million on an ad campaign to convince people the world will end if we don't cut Social Security.

Peterson's started his own media propaganda outlet, and is actively involved in brainwashing high school students - all aimed at destroying Social Security. He's got more money than he could ever spend in his life, but he wants to make sure YOUR retirement is spent living in a cardboard box.

Not only is this a perversion of the American social contract and the American dream, it's also a slap in the collective faces of we the taxpayers who bailed these miserable greedsuckers out with TARP.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Abandoned Mess vs. Repaired and Rented

From the NY Times:

Save Florida Homes Inc. and its owner, Mark Guerette, have found foreclosed homes for several needy families here in Broward County, and his tenants could not be more pleased. Fabian Ferguson, his wife and two children now live a two-bedroom home they have transformed from damaged and abandoned to full and cozy.

Mark Guerette has claimed several homes in Broward County, hoping to gain permanent ownership after seven years.There is just one problem: Mr. Guerette is not the owner. Yet.

Guerette is counting on a Florida statute dating back to 1869 that says the properties will be his if left unclaimed for 7 years. The authorities don't see him as a hero for rescuing abandoned properties, repairing them, and renting them to folks who badly need homes. He's being charged with fraud, and will go to trial next month. The bizarre, entangled mess that US real estate has turned into, has resulted in similar cases around the country.

Mr. Guerette, who now faces up to 15 years in prison, insists that his business is legitimate and moral. He said he got started last year, driving around working-class neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, looking for a particular kind of home: not just those with overgrown lawns and broken windows, but houses with a large orange sticker from the county reading “public nuisance.”


So he set about fixing up the unclaimed properties. In some cases, he just mowed the lawn and replaced stolen air conditioners or broken windows; in other cases, like with Mr. Ferguson, he let tenants make improvements in lieu of rent.

He didn't try to deceive anyone:

Copies of leases show Mr. Guerette included an addendum noting that he was not the legal owner. Tenants like Mr. Ferguson and his family, who had been homeless before moving in last year and paying $289 a month, see Mr. Guerette as a savior.

The neighbors are generally happy, too. They'd prefer to have a family fixing up the premises over having an empty house being vandalized. It's hard not to see Mr. Guerette as something of a hero, since he's not exactly raking in the big bucks for doing this. Property values go up, taxes are paid - it seems like a winner for everyone.

Still, as Laura just pointed out, we are endlessly punitive to those at the bottom of the pyramid. The bankers and Wall St CEO's who stole the American dream from us will never get the punishment they deserve. Mark Guerette, on the other hand, will probably go to prison for trying to help families get the dream back.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Monday, November 08, 2010

Texas May Eliminate Medicaid

Texas is considering withdrawing completely from the Medicaid program. From the NY Times:

“With Obamacare mandates coming down, we have a situation where we cannot reduce benefits or change eligibility” to cut costs, said State Representative Warren Chisum, Republican of Pampa, the veteran conservative lawmaker who recently entered the race for speaker of the House. “This system is bankrupting our state,” he said. “We need to get out of it. And with the budget shortfall we’re anticipating, we may have to act this year.”

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research organization, estimates Texas could save $60 billion from 2013 to 2019 by opting out of Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, dropping coverage for acute care but continuing to finance long-term care services. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which has 3.6 million children, people with disabilities and impoverished Texans enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, will release its own study on the effect of ending the state’s participation in the federal match program at some point between now and January.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults and children in the nation. Medicaid provides coverage for 2.3 million Texas children, though over 70 percent of the eligible children in the state are not enrolled. For every dollar Texas spends to fund Medicaid, they get $1.55 back in federal matching funds.

As always, budgets are balanced on the backs of those least able to afford it. It's difficult to imagine how having 2.3 million MORE uninsured children could be a badge of conservative pride.

Texas also has*:
The third highest teen birth rate
The third highest poverty rate
The lowest number of high school graduates
The lowest voter turnout

* from an interview on NPR

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

drunk and orange is no way to go through life, son

Drunks often get weepy - but you'd think he'd just won the Miss America pageant. This is amusing coming from the party that advised folks to "man up."

Maybe he thought they said "tan up."

19 Facts

about the de-industrialization of the United States. From Business Insider:

It was America that showed the world how to mass produce everything from automobiles to televisions to airplanes. It was the great American manufacturing base that crushed Germany and Japan in World War II. But now we are witnessing the deindustrialization of America. Tens of thousands of factories have left the United States in the past decade alone. Millions upon millions of manufacturing jobs have been lost in the same time period. The United States has become a nation that consumes everything in sight and yet produces increasingly little. Do you know what our biggest export is today?
Waste paper.

The slide show (available at the link) is interesting and depressing. Even more depressing is their slideshow 19 iconic products that America doesn't make anymore.

We don't even make our own national league baseballs. It seems US companies would even outsource Mom's Apple Pie. It's difficult to imagine what kind of economic recovery we can expect if we don't make anything here.

(Neofeudalism doesn't count as recovery.)

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Indiana Plans Ahead

From HuffPo:

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development is beefing up its security ahead of the holidays, when officials expect a seasonal surge in unemployment claims and extra stress for long-term jobless who might miss benefits because of Congress.

If Congress doesn't reauthorize extended unemployment insurance, which expires at the end of November, the National Employment Law Project estimates that two million people will prematurely miss checks by the end of December.

The holidays are stressful enough for people who are working. So far Indiana is the only state that is increasing security at employment offices, but other states may follow, depending on whether Congress reauthorizes unemployment benefits or not.

Congress will have only two weeks from the time it reconvenes until the deadline for reauthorizing the benefits.

cross posted at

Monday, November 01, 2010

Don't Get Too Comfortable

with your big food stamp allotment, warns congressional candidate Nick Popaditch, from California's 51st district.

Popaditch says he believes in a safety net, but he doesn't want you to get "too comfortable down there."

As MoJo points out, that Food Stamp "comfort" amounts to about $3.37 a day.

I'm afraid to lean what his idea of discomfort might be. Breadlines? Poor houses?

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Living in the Past

The forum last week for NH House District One told us everything we needed to know about local candidates with the very first question. Moderator George Epstein asked the candidates if they thought civility was important. All of the Democratic candidates found civility to be very important. The Republicans did not. Perennial candidate Frank McCarthy stood up and began bellowing on a different subject entirely. In fact, none of the Republican candidates answered the question. Chandler blabbered about voting records, Umberger defended the ads of the Romance Novelist, and Pettingill (who is nearly as bellicose as Major Frank) attempted to claim that at least they (Republicans) are entertaining. There’s a reason why there are no Republican comedians, Laurie.

The Republican candidates proved that they could stay on message. Their message was taxes, taxes, taxes - and they stuck with it. They have no new ideas on how to do anything; they just know that lowering taxes and cutting spending will fix everything. I don’t remember their philosophy being any kind of a success in the late 1980’s, when there were few jobs to be had in the area. The GOP controlled legislature did nothing to restore industry to the north country. The wage scale has been unchanged for the 25 years I’ve lived here. Our GOP legislators fought strenuously against increasing the minimum wage. Like their national party, they believe in giving huge tax breaks to millionaires while gouging the poor folks and the middle class. The Tax Foundation report that they love to quote (erroneously) from finds that NH’s property taxes are the third highest in the nation. No wonder our GOP brethren don’t hand out copies of that report.

That same GOP controlled legislature did nothing to ensure that north country residents would have access to the kind of technology we need to be competitive in the global market. At the 2006 candidate’s forum, we learned that Gene Chandler doesn’t know how to use email. I’m guessing Major Frank can’t, either, since I couldn’t find an email address listed anywhere for him. He’d be a shoo-in for the Science, Technology, and Energy Committee, in a GOP controlled House. NH (and indeed the entire nation) has fallen far behind in the field of communications technology. Our Republican candidates have no plans, nor interest in doing anything about this. From listening to them, I know that the only thing that concerns them is no taxes and cutting spending.

Ooops, I forgot personal liberties. Major Frank made a point of yelling his support for personal liberties. “No one should be told they have to wear a helmet or a seatbelt.” That’s where his support for personal liberties ends. He shouted something derogatory about marriage equality toward the end of the forum. Like all Republicans, he’s in favor of personal liberties for white, heterosexual men. Women’s wombs are public property, and gay folks are a hated (despite all of the GOP closet queens) minority.
To my dismay, one of my colleagues here at the paper recently expressed his outrage that gay folks didn’t just sit back and wait till the country was ready to accept them. If we change “gay” to “black” or “women” how does that read? Yep, it’s a pity we didn’t wait till everyone was ready to end slavery, end prohibitions against interracial marriage, or end segregation. What a shame we didn’t wait till everyone was ready for women to vote. If we had, I’m certain I’d have other plans for November 2. Naturally the systematic oppression that the white, heterosexual males have experienced in our nation makes them well qualified to address the suffering of others.

Major Frank blustered his opinion that NH was the only state that raised its budget during the last biennium. A report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows otherwise. Eight other states increased their budgets: Connecticut, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. That’s the trouble with mindlessly mouthing talking points. They aren’t necessarily correct. Just like that Tax Foundation report that shows NH’s business tax climate rates 7th in the nation. The GOP is still intent on telling us the report says otherwise. It’s like listening to Groucho Marx: “who you gonna believe? Me, or your own lying eyes?”

Perhaps the most unintentionally hilarious moments of the evening came during the discussion of gambling. The Democrats were all either supportive of building casinos, or at least willing to consider it. Ed Butler pointed out that he supported bills during the last session, because after all, gambling is a business. The Republicans were all opposed. Chandler said that the projections are pie-in-the-sky and that gambling is bad in a recession. Umberger said that gambling is not a panacea that is going to solve all of our revenue problems. Major Frank hollered, “It makes me sick.” Pettingill described gambling as a regressive revenue source. This has to be a first in local candidate forum history – the Republicans were expressing MY views about gambling! But isn’t it a business? I thought the GOP was the business friendly party? Our candidates spoke incessantly about bringing business to NH – yet here they are sounding like nanny state pinkos! Isn’t gambling a personal choice? What about personal responsibility and liberty? And since when are Republicans opposed to regressive taxes?

The bottom line is simple. The GOP wants to take our country and our state backward. When they talk about sitting around the kitchen table cutting the budget, I’m reminded of former one term GOP governor Craig Benson who loved that analogy. Good old corrupt Craig, who gave us scandal after scandal, not to mention the highest paid state employee. We can indeed all sit down with our budgets and make cuts. There comes a point though, when no more cuts can be made. That’s when we rise from the kitchen table and go get a part time job to help supplement our income. NH needs a part time job. No matter what the regressives of the GOP tell you, we do have a revenue problem. We lack the maturity and the media to even have the discussion about the problems with our tax structure. We also have the very serious problem of being mired in the past. We who live in the north can see the problems created by climate change, yet our GOP legislators are in firm denial of science. Living in the past won’t take our state into the future.

"About the time we can make the ends meet, somebody moves the ends.” ~ Herbert Hoover

© sbruce 2010

This was published as an op-ed in the October 29, 2010 issue of the Conway Daily Sun.

Our National Shame

The increasing numbers of children living in poverty and the corresponding rise in the number of homeless families with children in our country is one of the dirty secrets left undiscussed in this ugly election season.

Homeless in Utah:

The lingering recession has taken a toll on Utah’s youngest residents, leading to a 48 percent increase in the number of homeless school-age children since 2008, according to state data released Wednesday.

That's pretty dramatic. The number of school aged homeless children has nearly doubled in 2 years. It's not a campaign issue. No one is talking about it. There's more outrage being expressed about Juan Williams getting fired by NPR.

In Nebraska:

The number of homeless students in Nebraska public schools increased 26 percent in the past school year as the limping economy forced more parents into shelters or other temporary living arrangements.

Schools reported 2,210 homeless students last school year, or 458 more than the year before, according to the Nebraska Department of Education.

The Omaha Public Schools reported 661 homeless students last year, an increase of more than 20 percent.

In Colorado:

School District 51 identified 500 homeless children last year, and already 275 students have been identified the first quarter — “substantially higher than it's ever been at this time of year,” said prevention services coordinator Cathy Haller.

“We estimate (based on national statistics) at any given time there's another 20 percent (100 kids) not enrolled who should be,” Haller said.

Worst of all is this report on homeless children from the group First Focus:

Analysis of recently released federal data shows that the number of homeless children and youth identified in public schools has increased for the second year in a row, and by 41% over the past two school years.

You'd think this would make headlines.
You'd be wrong.

Seven states saw a decrease in the number of homeless school-aged children. The remaining 43 states saw increases. In some cases the increases were huge. Iowa saw a 136 % increase.

Finally, there's this PBS story about homeless children. It will make you weep.

It's shameful that this isn't even a topic in our upcoming elections. It's shameful that we aren't ashamed.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Beat Goes On


Hawker Beechcraft distributed 60-day layoff notices to 350 salaried employees Friday and confirmed a timeline by which it will eliminate about 800 union jobs.

Beechcraft is eliminating union jobs, but the work will get done elsewhere:

Boisture said that the 820 Machinists union layoffs, announced last week, will be completed by August 2011 and the work will be transferred to plants in Mexico and third-party suppliers.

Meanwhile, at Xerox:

Xerox Corp., the printer and business-services provider, raised its 2011 profit forecast and said it plans additional cost cuts, including the elimination of 2,500 jobs.

Per-share profit next year, excluding some costs, will be $1.05 to $1.10, compared with the previous projection of at most $1.05, Norwalk, Connecticut-based Xerox said today in a statement. Analysts had estimated $1.08 on average.

Cutting jobs to increase profits - a familiar story.

Profit this year, excluding some costs, will be 92 cents per share to 93 cents, the company said, compared with analysts’ average estimate of 92 cents. Xerox’s adjusted per-share profit excludes items such as restructuring and acquisition costs.

In order to increase profits by roughly 10 cents per share, 2500 people will lose their jobs.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Digging Out, Digging In

All of the miners trapped for 70 days in the collapsed San Jose copper mine in Chile have been rescued. It’s a remarkable story. After the collapse of the mine in early August, they were assumed to be dead, since rescuers could not reach them at all. For two weeks, rescuers tried to get in there to get the bodies out. After drilling in some deep bore holes, the rescuers learned that the miners were still alive. After many logistical problems were overcome, by people working together, the 33 miners were all rescued. This wasn’t a scripted reality show, designed to tug at our heartstrings. This was the real deal – ordinary working stiffs who were part of an extraordinary series of events. We saw humans at their best, which made for quite a contrast to the current acrimonious election season in NH.

The ads are everywhere. Thanks to the Citizens United decision made by the far right activist judges of the Supreme Court, there’s no limit to the money that can be funneled into shadow groups that don’t have to identify themselves or their donors. The abhorrent US Chamber of Commerce being a perfect example. They’ve promised to spend $75 million on ads attacking Democrats. Their money comes from corporate donors spread all over the world. As many feared, the Supreme Court paved the way for foreign business interests to influence US politics. The ads are all similar, all dishonest, all spewing one sided political vituperation. What we don’t see is them taking on any of the corrupt or crazy Republicans running for office, and this year we certainly have a bumper crop.

Thanks to Christine O’Donnell, anti-masturbation crusader and candidate for US Senate in Delaware, I’ve decided that every political ad should begin with the candidate gazing into the camera saying, “I am not a witch.” Teabaglican Carl Paladino, candidate for governor of NY has been a fiesta of crazy. First we learn that his family values are so deep and vast that he had to spread them out, simultaneously, over two families! Later, speaking from atop his lofty family values soapbox, he spoke about the evils of homosexuality. Then we learned that his nephew owned a series of gay bars that Paladino had invested in. Oops.

Speaking of oops, a number of NH Republican candidates have had recent, unattractive revelations. Poor Frank Guinta is still being dogged by his magic bank account that funneled some $350,000 into his campaign. (Not the paltry $250,000 that I reported in my last column.) Guinta is moaning about that mean ole Carol Shea-Porter picking on him. What he fails to acknowledge, is that it was members of his own party, during the primary that started questioning his financial shenanigans. Former NHGOP party chair Fergus Cullen wrote about it in the Union Leader. Guinta’s former employer, State Senator Jeb Bradley told Politco.Com in August that if Guinta didn’t have an explanation for that money, he should drop out of the race. Guinta still doesn’t have an explanation that rings true, but he’s blaming the Democrats for his failure to come clean.

Charlie Bass and Kelly Ayotte are both on the hot seat as well. Kevin Landrigan of the Nashua Telegraph reports on Bass’s problem. It seems Bass championed parts of the Renewable Energy Security Act (RESA) provisions of the 2005 energy bill. The parts that provided tax credits for companies like his nephew’s. He even set up a meeting between the company president and Bush’s Energy Secretary. According to his financial disclosure forms, Bass bought $500,000 worth of stock in his nephew’s company – before Bass left office. Bass claims that he never set up that meeting between the company president and Secretary Bodman, (even though it was written up in the company newsletter) and that he bought the stock after he left office, and he can prove it. It’s the same old revolving door politics we’re all so sick of. No wonder he wants to get back to Washington.

We also learned, via some recently revealed emails between Ayotte and political operative Rob Varsalone, that her first thought, on hearing of Michael Brigg’s murder was the opportunity to use it for political gain. Ayotte was still Attorney General, after promising Governor Lynch she would serve a full term if he reappointed her, but this terrible crime provided her with an opportunity to grandstand in public, via the death penalty. After the case was concluded, she broke her promise to the governor (and the people of our state) and announced she was running for office. This week, 10 former NH prosecutors (including former AGs and US AGs) criticized her for politicizing the death penalty.

Our local state races my not be quite as colorful, but thanks to the best efforts of romance novelist/ Carroll County GOP Chair Maynard Thomson, there’s plenty of vituperation. On October 1st, the long string of ads in the Conway Sun began. This full-page ad was expensive, full of typical Thomson florid prose, plenty of Sloganese, and unintentionally humorous. Toward the end of the pretentious blather was a bolded banner announcing, “OUR PROPOSAL.” My dictionary defines a proposal as a suggestion, or a plan put out for consideration. The GOP proposal was not a plan or a suggestion. It was five points of criticism of Carroll County’s four Democratic State Reps. The criticism was not limited to state business. The romance novelist tried to link our state reps to Pelosi, Reid, and “Mr. Obama.” Thomson lacks sufficient politeness to give the President of the United States the courtesy of his title.

That’s it in a nutshell, really. The local GOP doesn’t respect the people of Carroll County enough to be honest. They don’t have a plan, so they’re just offering a lot of wordy criticism. No new ideas, just the same old thing they’ve always offered. “NO TAXES. CUT SPENDING.” A return to the past. Remember the Developmental Disabilities Wait List? That was the waiting list that numbered in the hundreds, of folks with developmental disabilities waiting for services in NH during the years of GOP control in Concord. Few things could be more shameful than that list. NH doesn’t spend money on “radical social programs.” Third world countries provide better social programs than the state of NH does. Their goal is to move NH backward; interfering in marriages, and robbing women of reproductive choice, while re-installing corn bandit Gene Chandler as speaker of the house.

The Chilean miners were lucky. They got out of the hole. NH Republicans just keep digging further hoping to return our state (and our country) to the failed policies of the past.

This appeared as an op-ed in the October 15, 2010 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

© sbruce 2010