Friday, December 30, 2011

The Year Long GOP Obsession with Urine Testing

In October we told you about the governors and legislators proposing mandatory urine testing in order to qualify for food stamps or welfare.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about Rep. Jack Kingston from Georgia, who wants the unemployed to undergo mandatory drug testing to "qualify" for unemployment benefits.

The latest entrant into the drug testing wars is Michigan. From Huffington Post:

Officials in Michigan's Department of Human Services want to bring back drug testing of welfare recipients, a controversial practice that Michigan courts struck down more than a decade ago. The new policy would differ from the one enacted under Republican Gov. John Engler in 1999, which required a urine test to apply for benefits and would have subjected recipients to random drug screenings.


Michigan state Rep. Jeff Farrington (R-Utica) introduced a bill on Dec. 13 that would require applicants take a drug test to qualify for FIA benefits. Under the proposed bill, which is still up for discussion, recipients who passed a drug screening would have the cost of the test deducted from their first benefits payment.

Great. Not only do they want to demonize the poor, they want the poor to pay for that demonization. Apparently Rep. Farrington has not learned the lesson that Governor Rick Scott of Florida learned. From Mother Jones:

But with 96 percent of applicants passing the test with flying colors (and another 2 percent getting inconclusive results), the state is having to buy back a lot of clean pee: 11.5 gallons at $34,300 every month, assuming an average sample size of 1.5 ounces and and average test price of $35.

That's spending an awful lot of taxpayer money just to harass poor people. It's certainly not creating the big savings that Governor Scott promised his constituents.

I wrote in October:

On the one hand, we hear a lot of gnashing of teeth from DC about job creation, yet on the other, we have the ongoing blame being heaped upon those who aren’t able to find work and are living in poverty, as if being unemployed or poor were somehow voluntary.

It is deeply distressing to see this becoming a national trend.

cross-posted at: MainSt/

Thursday, December 29, 2011

NH Legislators Embrace the Magna Carta

In the December 20th edition of Clocking Out was yet another story about the nutty NH legislature. Some members of the NH House are in favor of putting WARNING signs near the Massachusetts border, so that the good folk of NH know when they're about to enter into that socialist republic. The best part of this inspired bit of lunacy, is that Rep. Jennifer Coffey, the lead sponsor, moved to NH in 2005. Guess what state she moved here from?

This week brings a new story. From the Concord Monitor:

House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.

"All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived," is the bill's one sentence.

Yes, that's right. These three state representatives want quotes from the Magna Carta; an 800 year old British document, in new bills going before the NH legislature.

I've been told by legislators that the average cost to the NH taxpayer for filing a bill is about $1500. Each bill that is filed by a state legislator goes to Legislative Services, where the bill is checked for compliance with other NH laws. Then it is printed up. So far, the members of the NH House have filed 840 potential bills.

Kingsbury said the "primary motivation" for the bill was to honor the Magna Carta's upcoming 800-year anniversary in 2015. Citing quotes from the document will bring its historical importance to the public's attention, he said.

And if they have to waste taxpayer dollars to bring that anniversary to the public's attention, they will!

The majority of the people in this state don't read ANY of the bills that go before the legislature. This is truly a bizarre vanity exercise by a trio of freshman legislators.

A translation of the Magna Carta certainly provides some interesting fodder for the 2012 legislative session:

19] No constable or his bailiff is to take corn or other chattels from anyone who not themselves of a vill where a castle is built, unless the constable or his bailiff immediately offers money in payment of obtains a respite by the wish of the seller. If the person whose corn or chattels are taken is of such a vill, then the constable or his bailiff is to pay the purchase price within forty days.


21] No sheriff or bailiff of ours or of anyone else is to take anyone’s horses or carts to make carriage, unless he renders the payment customarily due, namely for a two-horse cart ten pence per day, and for a three-horse cart fourteen pence per day. No demesne cart belonging to any churchman or knight or any other lady (sic) is to be taken by our bailiffs, nor will we or our bailiffs or anyone else take someone else’s timber for a castle or any other of our business save by the will of he to whom the timber belongs.


[34] No-one is to be taken or imprisoned on the appeal of woman for the death of anyone save for the death of that woman’s husband.

I can hardly wait to see these quotes worked into NH law.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cuts to Block Grant Program Hurting Cities

Cities are already suffering from budget shortfalls, decreasing tax revenues, foreclosures, and unemployment> Now they're being hit hard by cuts to the federal block grant program. From the New York Times:

The shrinking federal program, called Community Development Block Grants, was devised by the Nixon administration to bypass state governments and send money directly to big cities, which were given broad leeway to decide how to spend it. This year the federal government is giving out just $2.9 billion — a billion dollars less than it gave two years ago, and even less than it gave during the Carter administration, when the money went much further.


Cuts to the block grants program were cited in a recent report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office, which noted that the number of vacant properties in America has jumped to 10 million from 7 million in 2000, threatening to attract crime and cause blight. “With sustained high foreclosure and unemployment rates and further declining home values, local officials said that continued, flexible C.D.B.G. funding would help them maintain efforts to address vacant properties in their areas,” the report noted.

Stabilizing neighborhoods that have been hard hit by foreclosure seems like a really good idea. Over 10 million vacant properties in the US is a recipe for disaster.

But mayors see it as an invaluable tool — one of the few federal programs that sends money directly to big cities, without going through the middlemen at the state level. Before its creation, mayors had to apply for small grants in many specific areas — leading to complaints of the this-food-is-terrible-and-the-portions-are-so-small variety. Tom Cochran, the executive director of the United States Conference of Mayors, said that mayors were thrilled when the Nixon administration agreed to consolidate the various grants into a single block grant program, which could be used broadly for community development, with local officials choosing their priorities. It was signed into law by President Gerald R. Ford.

It makes sense to let the cities decide what their own needs are, and not force them into one size fits all solutions.

From the website of the Community Bock Grant Program:

The CDBG program works to ensure decent affordable housing, to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities, and to create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. CDBG is an important tool for helping local governments tackle serious challenges facing their communities. The CDBG program has made a difference in the lives of millions of people and their communities across the Nation.

With poverty and homelessness on the rise, it seems more than a little short sighted to cut the funding for this program, especially given that this funding is a proven source of job creation.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Warning: Lunatic Legislature at Work

The NH legislature is in the national news again. Once again, NH legislators are covering our state with glory. They aren’t content with merely eliminating thousands of jobs, defunding the state university system, and ensuring that the number of bridges on the red list continues to increase. Another group might rest on their laurels after all that – but not these doughty folk. They’ve found a new way to avoid dealing with the actual needs of our state.

The latest boondoggle comes to us from lead sponsor Rep. Jennifer Coffey of Andover. She and a group of other legislators (all from the southern part of the state) have written a bill that, if enacted, would place warning signs at the NH/Massachusetts border. The signs would read, “WARNING: Massachusetts Border, 500 Feet.”

The Reps claim that this wouldn’t cost the taxpayers anything, since businesses would pay for the signs. That is untrue. Taxpayers pay every time a silly bill is introduced by a legislator, at a cost of approximately $1500 to have it written up, go through legislative services, etc. Already we’re paying for this folly. Coffey also points out that the DOT would place the signs. DOT workers are not volunteers; they’re paid by the state of NH.

Since the bill has generated some publicity, the sponsors now claim that these signs are necessary to inform people that they’re leaving NH and entering a state with different laws about seatbelts, motorcycle helmets, guns, and fireworks. It used to be that we residents were expected to be personally responsible for knowing all of that, and acting appropriately. How odd to see the liberty minded Teabaglicans taking such a nanny state action! Could it be that what they REALLY want to warn people of is that they’re entering a state that many of these elected officials deride as being the “Socialist Commonwealth of Taxachusetts” to the south?

This is truly a brilliant plan. Massachusetts residents come to NH to buy our cheap booze and cigarettes. MA residents come here to enjoy the many recreational activities available in our state. They come up to stay in their second homes. They eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels and inns, and shop in our factory outlets. Massachusetts residents contribute mightily to the economy of our state. What a truly excellent idea it is to offend and alienate them!

The best part? Jennifer Coffey moved to NH in 2005. Guess where she moved here from? The same state that gave us so many of the current crop of legislators, including the Speaker of the NH House: Massachusetts. The warning signs really ought to be on the other side of the border. “Warning: stop sending us these people, or we’ll stop selling cheap booze and butts.”

In other NH gone national news, the Huffington Post covered the desire of Rep. David Bates to turn NH into a referendum state. This would require a constitutional amendment. Funny how these guys swear they love the constitution (either state or US), even as they express the need to change it. Bates is motivated by his obsession with overturning NH’s marriage equality law, a law supported by a majority of NH voters. He’d like to see NH laws subjected to the whim of well funded, out of state, special interest groups, as we’ve seen happen in Maine and California. Another brilliant plan from this legislature. That laser like focus on job creation that these folks campaigned upon has yet to rear its pointy little head.

The House committee on redistricting has also been working on their plan to gerrymander the state’s voting districts. The committee was comprised entirely of representatives from the bottom half of the state, which explains a lot about how the decisions were made about districts in the top half. They gave these guys maps, and armed with absolutely no familiarity with the north, they revved up their chainsaws, and got to work on carving up areas they have no familiarity with. So far, the plan seems unable to pass Constitutional muster, and best of all, they intend to bypass the Governor altogether, by issuing their plan as an “order” to the Secretary of State. The Teabaglicans seem intent on flouting long established tradition, at every part of the redistricting process.

Their goal in many cases seems to be to peel wards off in some cities and combine them with towns that certainly don’t have the same interests or needs. There seems to be an attempt to combine mismatched towns into big districts, which will cost candidates more to run in, and create a number of headaches for those elected, in trying to represent multiple communities with differing school districts. And of course, the goal is also to protect some who are currently serving and eliminate others. Towns that traditionally lean toward the more liberal are being paired with towns that lean far to the fascist right. The lawsuits will be a lot of costly fun for NH taxpayers, but will certainly create jobs for lawyers.

Representative Gregory Sorg’s recent letter to the editor about one of my November columns indicates that he was miffed at being compared to Scrooge. Sorg claims that 30% of our state revenue comes from federal monies, and that 40% of federal monies are borrowed. Sorg calls this unsustainable. Of course, we’re borrowing to fund the Bush tax cuts and wars, something Sorg would surely prefer not to acknowledge. It’s far easier to vilify the poor, which Sorg did, by referring to people needing fuel assistance as “engaging in irresponsible behavior.” Yes, indeed. How irresponsible of people to be under-employed, elderly, or poor!

NH gets back approximately $0.70 cents for every federal tax dollar we send in. We’re subsidizing states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alaska. Refusing federal dollars for heating assistance isn’t going to change any of that, it just means that we’ll continue to be a cash register, while refusing to raise sufficient revenue to run our own state with. As one of the wealthiest states in the nation, we could afford to pay our own way. We just don’t want to. Our legislature wants NH to be a poor relation, so that we will continue to be a tax-free haven for our 27,000 millionaires. And if that means that a few people freeze to death, and 15% of our bridges remain structurally deficient, well, that’s the way it was intended it to be, back in the 18th century that Sorg and his ilk intend to return us to.

"Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it."
Charles Dickens

© 2011 sbruce

Published as an op-ed in the December 23, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Protecting Home Care Workers

The Obama administration has proposed some regulations to protect home care workers. From the NY Times:

Labor unions and advocates for low-wage workers have pushed for the changes, contending that the 37-year-old exemption improperly swept these workers, who care for many elderly and disabled Americans, into the same “companion” category as baby sitters. The administration’s move calls for home care aides to be protected under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the nation’s main wage and hour law.


These workers, according to industry figures, generally earn $8.50 to $12 an hour, compared with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. The White House said 92 percent of these workers were women, nearly 30 percent were African-American and 12 percent Hispanic. Nearly 40 percent rely on public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.

While industry experts say an overwhelming majority are paid at least the minimum wage, many do not receive a time-and-a-half premium when they work more than 40 hours a week. Twenty-two states do not include home health care workers under their wage and hour laws.

Home care workers assist elderly people with all aspects of their lives, including bathing, exercise, and remembering to take medications. They may also prepare meals, and do housework. They may be dealing with clients in varying stages of dementia. There's a great deal of skill required to do this kind of work.

These are also workers who don't get sick days, any sort of benefits, and if their client dies - well, that's just too bad. No more paychecks for them.

Predictably, the opposition is gearing up:

“The president’s goal is commendable, but the likely result of this new rule is reduced hours for home care workers and higher costs for taxpayers,” said John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Work Force Committee, and Tim Walberg, a Minnesota Republican who heads the panel’s subcommittee on work force protections. “Moreover, our nation’s elderly may pay the greatest price in the form of more costly services and fewer opportunities to obtain the care they need in the comfort of their own homes.”

In other words: Caregivers are good enough to take care of the elderly, but what they do isn't real work, therefore they don't deserve the sort of protections that other workers are entitled to.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The CEO's Are Alright

US Census finds nearly half of US population is considered low-income or downright poor. From Huffington Post:

Squeezed by rising living costs, a record number of Americans – nearly 1 in 2 – have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.

The latest census data depict a middle class that's shrinking as unemployment stays high and the government's safety net frays. The new numbers follow years of stagnating wages for the middle class that have hurt millions of workers and families.

You gotta love this guy:

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, questioned whether some people classified as poor or low-income actually suffer material hardship. He said that while safety-net programs have helped many Americans, they have gone too far, citing poor people who live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

Apparently if you lost your job, your credit, and your savings when the economy collapsed in 2008, you were supposed to sell everything you owned, or give it away, in order to look appropriately poor. Donate those designer clothes, and don some sackcloth and ashes. Car? Who cares if you need it to look for work, get rid of that car, and your refrigerator, too. If you're poor you have no right to a refrigerator.

Paychecks for low-income families are shrinking. The inflation-adjusted average earnings for the bottom 20 percent of families have fallen from $16,788 in 1979 to just under $15,000, and earnings for the next 20 percent have remained flat at $37,000. In contrast, higher-income brackets had significant wage growth since 1979, with earnings for the top 5 percent of families climbing 64 percent to more than $313,000.

Housing costs have accelerated hugely in the wake of the foreclosure crisis. Families are paying more than a third of their income for housing; then there are utilities, energy costs, transportation, child care, and health care. Divide all of that into $15,000 a year, and see what's left over.

What is truly shocking here, is the complete lack of concern about this on the part of most of our elected officials, and the mainstream media.

Fortunately there is one group of Americans whose income does not appear to be shrinking or stagnant. From The Guardian:

Chief executive pay has roared back after two years of stagnation and decline. America's top bosses enjoyed pay hikes of between 27 and 40% last year, according to the largest survey of US CEO pay. The dramatic bounceback comes as the latest government figures show wages for the majority of Americans are failing to keep up with inflation.

America's highest paid executive took home more than $145.2m, and as stock prices recovered across the board, the median value of bosses' profits on stock options rose 70% in 2010, from $950,400 to $1.3m. The news comes against the backdrop of an Occupy Wall Street movement that has focused Washington's attention on the pay packages of America's highest paid.

No sackcloth and ashes for this crowd. No shame, or sense of propriety, either. The "job creators" are delivering record profits without adding jobs.

Time for some new solutions?

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Brief Pep Talk About Change

Jim Hightower in Nation of Change:

"We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

What a paragraph! Whatever happened to that BIG idea of America — the creation of a society that embraces and fosters such egalitarian values as justice, tranquility, common effort, the welfare of all and liberty?

Mr. Hightower makes an excellent point. We used to have BIG ideals. Those ideals have eroded, and our politics have become hopelessly entangled with big money and ideology.

Some days we all need a pep talk, and Jim Hightower is the go-to guy for pep talks. He's not too impressed with our leaders, but he has a lot of faith in all of us; what we have done, and what we will continue to do:

However, there is hope in the people themselves. We see it in the ongoing Wisconsin rebellion that is rejecting the Koch-fueled autocracy of the imperious Gov. Scott Walker; in the 61 percent grass-roots victory in Ohio on Nov. 8 to throw out the repressive anti-labor law that the right-wing Gov. John Kasich arrogantly tried to hang around the people's neck; in the Occupy protest that is so big and so deeply felt by so many angry/hopeful people that even police sweeps cannot make it go away; and in still more uprisings that are coming — coming from such corners as frustrated jobseekers; tens of thousands of misused war veterans returning from the Mideast to mistreatment at home; hundreds of thousands of homeowners being mercilessly foreclosed on by bailed-out bankers; and others who're simply fed up with the corporados and political flim-flammers who're knocking ordinary Americans down and holding America back.

And finally, he gives us our assignment:

As we head into the New Year, our task is to confront their pusillanimity — demand from every candidate for every office to explain why their vision is so myopic and why their idea of what Americans can do is so small.

We used to dream big dreams for what we might accomplish in the future. When I was a kid, we all dreamed that someday a man might walk on the moon. Now our leaders dream of cuts to entitlement programs.

As Jim points out, it's our job to ask any and every candidate why their vision is so myopic. What about the future? What about progress?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Occupy Christmas Carols

Caroling at a recent Occupy Conway, N.H. GA:

Some of the lyrics are available here:

Occupy - tune: Jingle Bells

Occupy, Occupy, Occupy we say!
Oh what fun it is to come and Occupy today!
Occupy, Occupy, Occupy we say!
Oh what fun it is to come and Occupy today!

Tromping through the snow (or: down the street)
With a big handwritten sign
Through the town we go
'Cause things are not just fine
The banksters got away
with 16 trillion bucks
What about the rest of us?
Are we just out of luck?

No! Occupy, Occupy, Occupy we say!
Oh what fun it is to come and Occupy today!
Occupy, Occupy, Occupy we say!
Oh what fun it is to come and Occupy today!

The bankers came along
And took us for a ride
Now we are waking up
Don't feel so good inside
Our money is all gone
Our infrastructure too
Who is going to change this?
Well it's up to me and you!

So- Occupy, Occupy, Occupy we say!
Oh what fun it is to come and Occupy today!
Occupy, Occupy, Occupy we say!
Oh what fun it is to come and Occupy today!

The new lyrics were written by Beverly Woods, a musician from Wolfeboro, NH. Beverly would be pleased if you used her lyrics, as long as you give her credit for writing them. These were all a big hit with the local Occupiers and those who were just passing by. Who says revolution/change has to be dull?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Urine Big Trouble Now

In September I wrote about states that were considering forcing people receiving welfare or food stamp benefits to undergo urine testing for drugs, in order to qualify for their benefits. Florida actually tried it, and has found that it isn't exactly working out the way they'd hoped. In fact, it's costing the state a lot of money. This hasn't deterred those who are determined to wage war on the poor.

A new warrior has stepped forth. From the Huffington Post:

The bill by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) would require unemployment claimants to pass a drug test if they are identified in an initial screening as having a high probability of drug use.

Yes, that's right. He wants people who are collecting unemployment benefits from a system they've paid into, to take mandatory drug tests.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said Wednesday that Republican legislation would "reform" unemployment insurance. "We are working on a bill to stop a tax hike, protect Social Security, reform unemployment insurance and create jobs," Steel said.

It doesn't seem to occur to these folks that if there were jobs, there would be fewer folks who are unemployed. They really work hard at having it both ways; decrying the lack of jobs, then blaming the unemployed for not working.

Kingston cited an overwhelming number of job applicants flunking drug tests as the rationale for his proposal.

"I had an employer tell me of an overwhelming response for job openings," Kingston said in a statement. "There was just one problem: half the people who applied could not even pass a drug test."

Last year Governor Nikki Hailey of South Carolina made a similar claim. It proved to be bogus. Governor Hailey had to admit that she's made those comments based on erroneous information. Representative Kingston is refusing to provide the source for his claims.

From Kingston's website:

At a series of listening sessions with business owners throughout the First District conducted earlier this year, Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) heard repeatedly about barriers to job creation. While he heard many of the issues he expected like overly burdensome regulations and the pervasive uncertainty in the economy, one issue that was brought up in every meeting surprised him: abuse of unemployment insurance.

So, because people are allegedly abusing unemployment insurance business owners can't create jobs? That doesn't even make sense.

“My proposal strengthens the safety net and ensures it will be available to those who use it as a stepping stone back into the workforce,” Kingston said. “It does so without increasing federal spending or placing new, unfunded mandates on the states.”

So, preventing people from collecting unemployment benefits from a fund that they've paid into, is his definition of strengthening the safety net? Ensuring that kids go hungry and may become homeless is a function of the safety net?

I vote we drug test Congressman Kingston. At about 8 pm, on any given night.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Laser-Like Focus on Social Engineering

NH state revenues are down by $56.7 million for the month of November, according to a recent story in the Union Leader. Our state is facing a huge budget shortfall next year. We still have problems with both unemployment and underemployment. Both of those things contribute to our state’s budget shortfall. You may remember that during the 2010 campaign season, the folks who now have the majority promised a laser-like focus on job creation. Since their budget went into effect, the state has lost over 2000 jobs, and the unemployment rate has risen. That laser appears to be defective.

Speaker of the NH House, Bill O’Brien staked his name (and hopefully his NH political career) on getting the governor’s veto of a so-called right to work bill overridden. He failed to bully enough legislators, and the veto override failed. When asked to name a single company that refused to move to NH because there was no right to work bill in place, O’Brien failed again. He was unable to name even one.

The so-called “right to work” legislation comes from a well-funded special interest group in Virginia. This is not a NH initiative. This is our Speaker and our state legislators bowing to out of state special interest groups. O’Brien is the lackey of special interest groups. After a trip to DC to meet with folks like the Heritage Foundation, O’Brien came back and pushed to lower the tobacco tax. (Heritage gets big bucks from Big Tobacco.) That move has cost the state at least $11 million in revenue.

This is all deliberate. The Teabaglicans want to have as little money as possible to work with, therefore justifying their ongoing mantra of: “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem.” If you don’t have much money coming in, there’s not much money to go out. They desperately want to fulfill that prophecy. In doing so, they’re willing to take our state back two centuries.

There’s a reason O’Brien can’t name a single company that won’t move here because of right to work. There isn’t one. There are many reasons that companies won’t move to NH, and many of them involve our state’s lack of infrastructure. There aren’t sufficient roads and highways for moving merchandise, and there isn’t sufficient telecommunications infrastructure for doing business in the upper half of the state. We also have high energy costs, high property taxes, and we hate education. Companies may also look askance at a state where some of our legislators are comfortable with letting poor people freeze to death.

Given that the legislative laser has been on hiatus this session, one might think that they’d sharpen their promised focus on “jobs, jobs, jobs” for next session. One would be wrong. Having ensured that the state coffers are barely full, our legislators are turning to social engineering. When NH passed a marriage equality law, there was no plague of locusts, no rain of toads from the sky. All that changed is that more people are married, new families have been created, and NH businesses have benefitted from providing a variety of services associated with weddings.

Local Representative Frank McCarthy is opposed to marriage equality, but wants to hear from his constituents, claiming that they’ll make his decision for him. Does anyone actually believe that? McCarthy marches to the drumbeat of the most loathsome aspects of the far right. His opposition to gay rights is typical of old Republicans. They’re old, rigid in their beliefs, and often very religious. It’s not a winning issue or strategy for the Republicans. Even Maynard Thomson, disgraced former Chairman of the Carroll County GOP, acknowledges that repealing marriage equality isn’t a winner for the Teabaglicans.

This same bunch natters on endlessly about freedom, liberty, too many gummint regulations, and “the rights of the individual.” How lofty! How utterly insincere! They throw those fauxbertarian ideals right out the window when it comes to gays and women. Regulatin’ business is bad. Regulatin’ homosexuals and wimmin is essential.

I trust I’m not the only one who is looking forward to watching these same paragons of self-professed morality twist themselves into pretzels to justify supporting Newt Gingrich, if he becomes the GOP presidential nominee.

Newt Gingrich, whose first wife supported him financially, all the way through his Ph.D. Newt didn’t work. Didn’t take a job as a janitor, the way he wants low income kids to do. He was so grateful to her, that he cheated on her, and divorced her after she was diagnosed with uterine cancer. She had to take him to court to get him to pay alimony and child support. After that divorce, Newt married the woman he’d been having an affair with. The lizard didn’t change his spots. He cheated on #2, and eventually began having an affair with a woman who worked for him. A woman younger than his daughters. At the same time this was going on, he was working to impeach President Clinton. He finally ditched #2 after she was diagnosed with MS. After that, he married the young woman who worked for him, who is currently #3, and presumably the beneficiary of his famed revolving charge account at Tiffany’s. Maybe he just buys engagement rings in bulk, given his belief in the sanctity of marriage.

The same people who decry marriage equality will leap right on to the Gingrich bus, without a moment of reflection on their own hypocrisy.

In 2009, NH had an official poverty rate of 7.9 %. In 2011 that rate has increased to 8.3%. That’s a rate higher than the official unemployment number. That tells us that many NH families are working, and still qualify as poor.

People of conscience would have a problem of that. We didn’t elect people with a conscience.

I sure do miss the Weekly World News!
© sbruce 2011
published as an op-ed in the December 9 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Right-To-Work Veto Override Fails (Again) in NH

The vote to override Governor Lynch's veto of a right to work bill failed last week; a crushing blow for NH Speaker of the House William O'Brien who has made this legislation a priority. From the Boston Globe:

"Union members aren't thugs. They're police officers. They're firefighters," said Democratic Rep. Jeff Goley, a firefighter from Manchester. "What will right-to-work do here in New Hampshire? Right-to-work will lower wages and lower benefits, not create jobs."

Speaker O'Brien didn't take this defeat well, especially since 41 members of his own party voted to sustain the veto. Shortly after the vote, rumors of retribution began to emerge. The Nashua Telegraph wrote that 3 assistant majority whips were going to be asked to resign.

A day after the retribution rumblings began, a story came out in The Lobby, that alerted us that House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt had decided not to seek those resignations. The negative media coverage may have had something to do with Bettencourt's change of "heart."

O'Brien has made it clear that the right to work bill will be back next year. From the Telegraph:

But O’Brien also made it clear the right-to-work battle is far from over, noting Rep. William Smith, R-New Castle, has introduced similar legislation for next year that no doubt will spill over into the governor’s race to replace the retiring Lunch.

The outlook for success next year may not be all that O'Brien hopes. NH watchdog group Granite State Progress Issued a statement to counter O'Brien's ongoing assertion that businesses won't move to NH because we don't have RTW:

Pushed by local media to name companies who have expressed this interest to the Speaker, O'Brien was unable to name even a single business that would consider moving new jobs to New Hampshire if the legislation was enacted.


O'Brien is likely to have bigger problems in 2011. So far, the budget enacted in June has cost the state over 2,000 jobs, and millions in missing tax revenue. A gaping revenue hole thus far comes from the state's hospitals. It's a $50.3 million budget shortfall.

Then there's the tobacco revenue failure. From a scathing editorial in Seacoastonline:

The tortured logic used to justify New Hampshire House Speaker Bill O'Brien's insistence on cutting the state's tobacco tax by 10 cents a pack has cost the state $11 million since July, and it will continue to cost the state millions of dollars until common sense prevails and the tax cut is repealed.

You'll recall that in June, O'Brien hijacked the state budget process, insisting that nothing would get done unless the tobacco tax cut was included. This last-minute chicanery followed O'Brien's visit to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., which receives a substantial amount of funding from the tobacco industry.

O'Brien influenced by special interests? Oh, say it ain't so. 2012 is shaping up to be a tough year for the speaker. His budget has proven to be a disaster. He's lost 3 out of 4 special elections (including one in his own hometown), and 41 members of his own party didn't vote for his veto override.

On the other hand, O'Brien's loss is a gain for NH workers. To celebrate, Granite State Progress put together a victory video after the RTW veto override vote failed:

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, December 02, 2011

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Last week we learned that Newt Gingrich has a plan to fire union janitors in schools, and replace them with low income students. As Laura Clawson wrote about a speech he made in Iowa yesterday where he's still beating that same drum. Poor kids don't have any work ethic. Rich kids, apparently, have worked darned hard to get everything handed to them.

In that same speech in Iowa, Newt made some bizarre assertions about food stamps, including the statement one could use food stamps to fly to Hawaii. The folks at Politifact decided to investigate his claims:

Gingrich said:

"Remember, this is the best food stamp president in history. So more Americans today get food stamps than before. And we now give it away as cash -- you don't get food stamps. You get a credit card, and the credit card can be used for anything. We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii. They give food stamps now to millionaires because, after all, don't you want to be compassionate? You know, the Obama model: isn't there somebody you'd like to give money to this week. That's why we're now going to help bailout Italy because we haven't bailed out enough people this week, the president thought let's write another check. After all, we have so much extra money."

Politifact's investigation:

Can food stamps "be used for anything"?

No. The food stamp program -- which, we should point out, has officially been known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, since October 2008 -- has very precise rules about what can and cannot be paid for.


Gingrich is partly right when he says that today, "you don't get food stamps. You get a credit card." The old system of using coupons is past; recipients now receive what’s called an electronic benefits transfer card, or EBT card. This looks like a credit card, but it doesn’t allow for purchases on credit. It’s really more like a debit card, with the government periodically uploading the proper amount of cash.

The cards cut way down on administrative costs, and streamline the process. The card also helps to cut back on the stigma of using food stamps in the checkout line at the supermarket.

"We have people who take their food stamp money and use it to go to Hawaii."

If the food stamp system bars beneficiaries from buying decorative gourds rather than pumpkins, you can be sure it also bars the purchase of airline tickets. (Our guess: The benefit amount would be less than the tickets anyway.)

and his final outrageous claim:
"They give food stamps now to millionaires."

Food stamps have always been a means-tested program. Benefits vary by household size -- the full details are here -- but the national rule is that you can’t earn more than 130 percent of the poverty line. That would clearly rule out millionaires.

Politifact finds each of his claims to be utterly ridiculous.

A quick online search for a round trip flight to Hawaii from NH found the cheapest flight was $1035. According to
CNN Money:

The average food stamp benefit was $133.80 per person and $283.65 per household in May.

That's May 2011. In order to save up for that trip to Hawaii, I'd have to go hungry for seven months. And even then, I still wouldn't be able to use my SNAP card to pay for the flight.

It's nice of Newt to leave Planet 1% to visit the rest of us, but he certainly lacks even a basic sense of reality of what life is like for those of us who don't have revolving charge accounts at Tiffany's. Perhaps we can buy breakfast there with food stamps.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hallelujah Corporations

Just in time for your Christmas caroling pleasure:

Student Debt Continues to Grow

This graphic from Mother Jones shows very starkly how student debt quadrupled in the years between 2000 and 2011. (There are more good graphs available at the link.)

Just check out these stats: Unemployment among college grads is twice what it was in 2007. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the unemployment rate for 16-24-year-olds is twice the national average; grads under 25 are twice as likely to lack a job than their older peers. The New York Times reports that just half of students who graduated in 2010 had a job in the spring of 2011, and even those who did get jobs were often way overqualified.

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan gave a speech this week on the topic of student debt. From the NY Times:

At a time when the Occupy movement has helped push college costs into the national spotlight, the Education Department characterized the speech, delivered in Las Vegas, as the start of a “national conversation about the rising cost of college.” The department took the opportunity to call attention to steps the Obama administration has taken to reduce the net price that students and families pay for higher education and make it easier to pay back student loans.

The Occupy movement really has changed our national dialogue in just a few short months. Remember when all we heard about was the deficit?

In his speech to financial-aid administrators, Mr. Duncan also discussed the department’s work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to create a financial aid shopping sheet, or model disclosure form, to help students understand and compare the type and amount of aid in different aid packages, and the department’s new watch lists, required by Congress, showing which colleges have the highest and lowest tuition and net prices.

This makes a lot of sense, and it would be very helpful to families from the 99%.

He cited, for example, Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, which is offering a 50 percent discount on tuition and fees for freshmen who enroll in the school of education; the University of Oregon’s PathwayOregon, guaranteeing a tuition-free education to qualified Oregonians from low-income families; and, in West Virginia, the University of Charleston’s plan to cut tuition 22 percent for next year’s incoming freshmen and transfer students.

It's good to see even a few colleges taking this kind of action. Now that the spotlight is on student debt and unemployment, let's hope that other schools take similar action so that a college education is affordable for everyone who wants one.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Santas Have New Responsibilities This Holiday Season

The bad economy and ongoing unemployment are creating new challenges for Santas. From the NY Times:

The result is a Christmas season in which Santas — including the 115 of them in this year’s graduating class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School — must learn to swiftly size up families’ financial circumstances, gently scale back children’s Christmas gift requests and even how to answer the wish some say they have been hearing with more frequency — “Can you bring my parent a job?”


On the flip side, some, like Fred Honerkamp, have been visited by children whose expectations seem to have sunk to match the gloom; not long ago, a boy asked him for only one item — a pair of sneakers that actually fit.

“In the end, Santas have to be sure to never promise anything,” said Mr. Honerkamp, an alumnus of the school who also lectures here. He has devised his own tale about a wayward elf and slowed toy production at the North Pole for children who are requesting a gift clearly beyond their family’s price range. “It’s hard to watch sometimes because the children are like little barometers, mirrors on what the country has been through.”

Christmas is a hard, hard time for folks who are treading water in this economy. Our consumer culture bombards us with ads for things we must want, and the latest in cool toys. Kids get caught up in all of this, and it can be very difficult to explain financial realities to them. We don't want our kids to worry or feel bad. The new Santas are working on developing tools to handle all of this.

Given the state of the economy, this Santa school graduated the largest Santa class in its history. Many of the graduates have a Santa history, but a number of them are underemployed, needing to supplement retirement, or are flat out unemployed. The Santa gig doesn't last long, but it does pay decently. Mall Santas earn somewhere between $25 and $50 an hour.

These new Santas will need all of the skills they've just learned to deal with the kinds of situations they're seeing as a result of this economy. Most of us don't think much about Santas, or the kind of situations they have to deal with. This story has given me a whole new appreciation for the people who do this, especially during bad economic times.

This Santa's story is enough to make even Scrooge tear up a little:

“If they asked for something that’s totally impossible — a job for Daddy, say — I usually tell them, ‘Santa specializes in toys, but we can always pray on the other,’ ” Mr. Ruperd said. “ ‘Is there anything in toys that you’d like?’ ”

Let's all do what we can to help one another in this holiday season.

Cross posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Birthers and Despots

Once again, members of the Teabaglican majority in the NH House have brought national attention to our state. Once again, it’s the kind of national attention that most of us would prefer to avoid. In other words, once again, members of the NH House have made our state a national joke.

This past Saturday (November 19) Orly Taitz, the leader of the “Birther movement,” filed a complaint with the NH Ballot Commission. Mrs. Taitz contends that President Obama is not a citizen, and should not be on the ballot. Mrs. Taitz is a naturalized citizen and is both a dentist and an attorney. She holds a number of interesting views, including:

 Hugo Chavez owns the software that runs US voting machines.
 Obama has vandalized her car and threatened her life.
 Osama bin Laden was killed years ago, and put on ice, and thawed out to distract the world from her upcoming court case challenging Obama’s citizenship.
 Rep. Alcee Hastings, and the US House are planning to build at least six labor camps.

Orly Taitz is a bucket full of crazy, and has made it her mission to “prove” that President Obama is not a citizen. A video of Ann Dunham giving birth under the Welcome to Hawaii sign would not deter her.

This time, though, Taitz was joined by a number of NH State Representatives who signed on to her petition to the ballot commission. These representatives are: Larry Rappaport of Colebrook, William Tobin of Sanbornton, Moe Villaneuve of Bedford, Lucien and Carol Vita of Middleton, Al Baldasaro of Londonderry, Susan DeLemus of Rochester, Harry Accornero of Laconia, and our very own Laurie Pettengill, of Glen.

Al Baldasaro is both a long-term embarrassment to our state, and a member of the O’Brien leadership team. His most recent turn in the national spotlight came when he announced his approval of those who booed a gay Marine during a Republican presidential debate.

Harry Accornero garnered national attention recently for sending out an email to all of his fellow legislators that accused President Obama of being a traitor, for essentially following Bush’s immigration policies. It seems those policies weren’t objectionable when a white guy was in charge.

Laurie Pettengill has done little to distinguish herself since her election. She did support O’Brien in his campaign to become Speaker of the House, and we should certainly all thank her for the many good things that have come from that. The O’Brien budget has killed thousands of jobs, increased unemployment, and become a national joke. Now, Pettengill has signed on to a petition that makes NH and the NH Primary a joke. At the heart of this petition and the whole Birther movement is, quite simply, racism. Be sure to thank Laurie for her role in giving the rest of the world the impression that NH is comprised of a bunch of inbred, racist hicks.

The hearing before the Ballot Commission became quite heated and contentious. According to Orly Taitz’ online description, the room was full of screaming idiots. Rep. Carol Vita was screaming at an assistant AG. Acconero (who is clearly a few accorns shy of an oak) accused Ballot Commission Chair Brad Cook of being a traitor, and warned him that he shouldn’t leave his house without a mask. These people have brought nothing but shame to our state, and their conduct at this hearing is reprehensible. They should be forced to resign. Rep. Rappaport is trying to distance himself from this by telling the Concord Monitor that he isn’t a “true Birther.” In other words, he believes what they do, but he doesn’t want to be tarred with the crazy brush. It’s too late for that. Associating one’s self with anything Baldasaro or Acconero are part of is a sure fired trip to the land of the deranged.

It’s difficult to imagine that the NH legislature could keep up the hectic pace of lunatic ideas and legislation, but it seems that there is no bottom for this bunch. HB 590 (which became law without the Governor’s signature) established a committee to review state participation in federal aid programs. Committee Chair Gregory Sorg of Easton, recently released the committee report. This committee wants to ensure that NH receives no federal aid dollars for anything. It’s not so much a report as an ideological rant. They are opposed to nutrition programs for pregnant women – yet these same legislators would force women to be involuntary incubators. Most telling of all, however, is their opposition to weatherization and fuel assistance programs. From the report:

“The people of New Hampshire must be held competent to understand that every November, without fail, it gets cold at this latitude and that they must arrange their affairs so as to provide for this fact of life as a matter of personal responsibility.”

In short, we must all manage our affairs so that we do not get old, do not develop a serious health problem, do not lose our jobs, and do not suffer from sudden poverty caused by the destruction of the US economy. Based on these findings, Rep. Sorg should be expecting 3 ghosts to visit him on Christmas Eve.

These pompous ideologues seem to be under the impression that refusing federal money will create some sort of national change. All it means is that the tax dollars sent in to the federal government will go to aid other states. Our roads and bridges will fall further into disrepair, people will freeze to death, and NH will no longer be just a national joke, but a national disgrace.

"External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty." Charles Dickens

© sbruce 2011
Published as an op-ed in the 11-25-11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Suffering is Part of Life

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum spoke about poverty and suffering recently at a town hall meeting in Ottumwa, Iowa:

It seems Rick thinks that people ought to suffer. Poor people, that is. They get too many bennies, like food stamps, Medicaid, and housing assistance. h/t ThinkProgress.

Mother Jones takes a look at those folks who need to suffer:

In 1996, welfare was turned into a block grant and its budget was fixed at $16 billion, so that states received roughly the same amount of money every year, regardless of how many people might be out of work and suffering. Many Republicans in Congress would like to do this to the Medicaid program. But TANF should serve as a serious cautionary tale about what happens when the safety net is left up to the congressional appropriations process. Congress hasn't increased the TANF block grant since it was created. As a result, new data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the value of cash benefits to poor families have fallen by as much as 30 percent in some states simply because of inflation—call it a stealth budget cut.

In some states legislators have diverted funds from the TANF block grant into other areas of the budget. Some states have cut benefits this year. Since TANF became a block grant, only 2 states show an increase in the amount of TANF benefits since 1996. This graph from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities illustrates how benefits have failed to keep pace with current costs:

In the District of Columbia, for instance, the monthly TANF benefit for a family of three is now $342, not anywhere near enough to pay the rent, for instance. Once upon a time, welfare or TANF benefits were enough to at least keep needy families above 50 percent of the federal poverty line (about $9,000 a year for a family of three). But TANF benefits are now so low that they aren't enough to keep anyone out of deep poverty, which is a troubling development. According to CPBB, a family relying only on TANF for support during tough times would be much poorer today than such a family in 1996.

The US had, at one point in time, made significant progress in eradicating poverty, but those days are over. Poverty is on the rise, and thanks to people like Rick Santorum, the demonization of the poor is rising rapidly, too.

One wonders how well Santorum could do with a TANF budget for his 7 kids. In fact, one wonders how much suffering would be enough to suit Rick Santorum and his ilk.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Food Banks in Desperate Need

Across the country, food banks are in desperate need of donations. Right now they're struggling to meet the demand for Thanksgiving dinner baskets.


The York County Food Bank plans to hand out more than 2,000 turkeys to families in need this Thanksgiving, but has collected only half of their goal with their deadline less than a week away.

"Since the economy is bad, some of the people that used to be donors are now recipients," assistant director Deborah Eichelberger said.

Torrington, CT

Friendly Hands Food Bank faces an unprecedented struggle to meet the demand for Thanksgiving turkeys and trimmings, with 65 turkeys in hand by Friday afternoon and more than 360 baskets to be assembled for a Nov. 20 giveaway.

Fort Myers, FL

At the Harry Chapin Food Bank off Fowler Street in Fort Myers, they have until Monday to reach their goal of 9,000 turkeys. They said Tuesday they are about half way there with less than a week to go. They're hoping the community will step in to help.

Inside the Harry Chapin Food Bank, Monday's deadline to collect 9,000 turkeys will come fast. Those turkeys will be distributed to the 150 local organizations that provide Thanksgiving meals to those that need it the most.

Madison, WI:

Pantry organizers say this year, they're seeing at least 10 percent more families coming in, which makes it harder to keep shelves stocked.

The River Food Pantry in Madison serves 500-600 families every week.

"Our budget for food this year was $6,200 per month and we're actually spending over $10,200 month on food," says Jenny Czerkas, founder of The River Food Bank.

Ossipee, NH:

More specifically, Agape, the largest food pantry in Carroll County, needs donations for its Thanksgiving basket program. It will also need help to meet the town's deadline to rehabilitate a building that's supposed to become Agape's new location.

For the last decade, Agape, a registered non-profit, has provided food baskets at Thanksgiving time to hungry families in the Ossipee area. Agape hopes to distribute about 250 food baskets before Thanksgiving.

Private donations and assistance from government agencies have kept the baskets full in the past but resources are drying up, said Kevin Straughan who founded Agape with his wife, Janna. By Nov. 18, Agape needs people to donate fixings like gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce.

in a town to the north:

Vaughan Community Service Inc., in North Conway, is also seeing increased demand for help — especially from people who haven't asked in the past, said Vaughan administrator Denise Leighton. During the month of October, Vaughan served 8,000 meals. To date, 125 people have sought Thanksgiving food baskets from Vaughan.

"I keep getting calls every day," said Leighton of the demand for baskets

There are more people in need, and fewer resources to help them. It's a sad state of alleged economic recovery when some of the folks who used to be donors to food pantries are now recipients.

According to

In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States.

In 2010, about one-third of food-insecure households (6.7 million households, or 5.4 percent of all U.S. households) had very low food security (compared with 4.7 million households (4.1 percent) in 2007. In households with very low food security, the food intake of some household members was reduced, and their normal eating patterns were disrupted because of the household’s food insecurity.

In 2010, children were food insecure at times during the year in 9.8 percent of households with children (3.9 million households.) In one percent of households with children,one or more of the children experienced the most severe food-insecure condition measured by USDA, very low food security, in which meals were irregular and food intake was below levels considered adequate by caregivers.

All this in the wealthiest country in the world. As we approach the Thanksgiving Day holiday, if you can afford to make a donation to a local food pantry, please do. The need is great, and continuing to grow.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Occupy Cleveland Helps a Single Mother Stay in Her Home

Last week we saw Occupy Atlanta occupy the neighborhood of a cop who was being foreclosed upon. This kind of direct action is (fingers crossed) starting to catch on.

Occupy Cleveland helps a single mother stay in her home for the holidays. From ThinkProgress:

After her husband left her and refused to provide any real support, Beth Sommerer was due to be evicted from her home today, along with her children. But at the last moment, she made a desperate plea to the protesters of Occupy Cleveland. Soon afterward, Occupy Cleveland pitched its tents in Sommerer’s yard, vowing not to move unless she was allowed to stay in her home. On Monday, a local court gave in and gave a 30-day stay on the eviction order.

This is a perfect illustration of the phrase "united we stand." We should all be united in the belief that homeless families are just not acceptable.

cross posted at MainSt/

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NH Congressman Does the Stimulus Hypocrisy Dance

From NH Congressman Frank Guinta's campaign website:

He also is against the Obama stimulus package that has yet to bring us jobs.

That's in the section titled "Strengthening the Economy." Rep. Guinta's opposition to the Obama stimulus package is well documented. If there's one thing Guinta likes better than opposing Obama, it's getting his picture taken. From TPM:

With Recovery Act funding running out, that old TPM favorite — the anti-stimulus Republican who takes credit for stimulus funding in their district — is becoming somewhat of a rarity. But Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) kicked it old school on Thursday by cutting the ribbon on a new road that received millions from the same spending bill he opposed.

Wait a minute....what?? The stimulus project that has created no jobs?? Did this road build itself?

“It’s going to help us with our tourism, our economy, and it’s going to provide us greater flexibility for our residents, our business commuters, and those visiting our state,” Guinta said at the event. “It’s a real example of how when we put our mind to it we can accomplish anything we want to accomplish.”

All this help with tourism, the economy, and business commuters sounds suspiciously like jobs.

Frank Guinta is no stranger to stimulus hypocrisy. As mayor of Manchester:

Guinta also complained that state officials were dragging their feet in getting federal stimulus money to the city and complained that state officials were shortchanging communities because so little of the money was designated for local highway and bridge projects.

In 2009 he couldn't wait to get his paws on the money that he'd sharply criticize in 2010. And in 2011, he's taking credit for a job creating project built with stimulus money.

Mighty fancy footwork, Congressman.

Cross posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 10, 2011

OWS Brings Focus to the War on the Poor

Older readers will remember LBJ declaring a war on poverty in his 1964 State of the Union address. He was responding to the national poverty rate of 19%. The nation (back then) was united in thinking poverty was a bad thing. The official poverty rate for 2010 was 15.1%, according to the US Census.

We abandoned the war on poverty a long time ago. These days, instead of fighting poverty, the US is waging war against the poor.

Frances Fox Piven in The Nation writes about how OWS is bringing attention to poverty:

Some facts: early in 2011, the US Census Bureau reported that 14.3 percent of the population, or 47 million people—one in six Americans—were living below the official poverty threshold, currently set at $22,400 annually for a family of four. Some 19 million people are living in what is called extreme poverty, which means that their household income falls in the bottom half of those considered to be below the poverty line. More than a third of those extremely poor people are children. Indeed, more than half of all children younger than six living with a single mother are poor. Extrapolating from this data, Emily Monea and Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution estimate that further sharp increases in both poverty and child poverty rates lie in our American future.

This kind of information goes largely unreported, and would (I hope) shock people if they were made aware of it.

Some experts dispute these numbers on the grounds that they neither take account of the assistance that the poor still receive, mainly through the food stamp program, nor of regional variations in the cost of living. In fact, bad as they are, the official numbers don’t tell the full story. The situation of the poor is actually considerably worse. The official poverty line is calculated as simply three times the minimal food budget first introduced in 1959, and then adjusted for inflation in food costs. In other words, the American poverty threshold takes no account of the cost of housing or fuel or transportation or healthcare costs, all of which are rising more rapidly than the cost of basic foods. So the poverty measure grossly understates the real cost of subsistence.

Those "experts" must be the same folks that insist that poor folks can't really be poor because they have refrigerators. In the tourist area of NH where I live, the wage scale (as advertised in the help wanted section of the paper) is exactly the same as it was in 1989. Nothing costs the same as it did back then.

Nor are these catastrophic levels of poverty merely a temporary response to rising unemployment rates or reductions in take-home pay resulting from the great economic meltdown of 2008. The numbers tell the story and it’s clear enough: poverty was on the rise before the Great Recession hit. Between 2001 and 2007, poverty actually increased for the first time on record during an economic recovery. It rose from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 12.5 percent in 2007. Poverty rates for single mothers in 2007 were 49 percent higher in the United States than in fifteen other high-income countries. Similarly, black employment rates and income were declining before the recession struck.

Weakening unions, a lagging minimum wage, outsourcing - all of these things contributed to the problem.

Inevitably, the overall impact of the campaign to reduce labor’s share of national earnings meant that a growing number of Americans couldn’t earn even a poverty-level livelihood—and even that’s not the whole of it. The poor and the programs that assisted them were the objects of a full-bore campaign directed specifically at them.

The poor have been vilified for decades now, starting with the "welfare queens driving Cadillacs" right up to the contemporary legislation calling for drug testing of welfare or food stamp recipients.

OWS has brought national attention to income inequality and the concentration of wealth at the top. The shift in our national media dialogue has been startling. For most of the last year it's been "all deficit all the time." Those days appear to be over. The reportage these days is broader and better, and Occupy has spread around the country, and continues to grow. Frances Fox Piven writes of her hopes for a more moral economy in our country. Let us hope, as she does, that this is just the beginning.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Occupy Atlanta Occupies a Neighborhood

Occupy Atlanta is getting personally involved with members of the 99%. From ThinkProgress:

Last week, Tawanna Rorey’s husband, a police officer based in Gwinnett County, e-mailed Occupy Atlanta to explain that his home was going to be foreclosed on and his family was in danger of being evicted on Monday. So within a few hours Occupy Atlanta developed an action plan to move to Snellville, Georgia on Monday to stop the foreclosure. At least two dozen protesters encamped on the family’s lawn, to the applause of neighbors and bystanders

The Roreys haven't been evicted yet. They tried to work with the mortgage company, but, like millions of other Americans, they were unsuccessful.

From the local CBS affiliate:

From the Atlanta Journal -Constitution

Experts were doubtful that the protest could do much to help the family. Misty A. Oaks, an Atlanta lawyer who specializes in foreclosure, said sitting in at an foreclosed home won't be effective legally.

"But it certainly will make for an interesting story and bring attention to the issues surrounding foreclosures and the enormous ramifications foreclosures are having," she said.

It seems that idea has been on the minds of the Occupy Atlanta's organizers:

Tim Franzen, one of Occupy Atlanta's organizers, said the group had been seeking a good story to highlight the problems with the mortgage industry. He said Rorey's husband, a law enforcement officer with DeKalb County, sent Occupy Atlanta an e-mail detailing their plight last week and within a few hours they formulated a plan to bring attention to the foreclosure.

"What I envision is a model of protest coming out of this," Franzen said. "We plan to develop an occupy community in this neighborhood and maybe create something that can be duplicated nationally."

I love this! This is community organizing at the grassroots level - this is taking direct action on behalf of a family that is part of the 99%. It would be great if this kind of direct action catches on, since there is certainly no shortage of foreclosures. This kind of outreach action makes an excellent addition to the OWS encampments.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Occupy Conway NH

75 people turned out to show solidarity with OWS, on very short notice. There was a lot of community support, if the honking was any indication. A few shouts of "get a job ya bums."

Our local purveyor of hate speech, Daily Sun columnist Tom McLaughlin stopped by, undoubtedly looking for fodder for his next rant.

Friday, November 04, 2011

An Unethical Foreclosure Story from NH

A family who owns a small second home in rural northern NH just experienced a foreclosure - on a house that has no mortgage. From The Conway Daily Sun:

A major Wall Street bank is apologizing to a Maine couple who allege that the bank wrongfully claimed ownership of their second home on Green Mountain Road in Effingham. But the apology rings hollow for the Drew family.

Apparently, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. confused a little red house, owned by Travis and Paula Drew, at 529 Green Mountain Road, for a no-longer-existent mobile home at 519 Green Mountain Road.

The structures were owned by different people even though they once shared the same lot. The confusion led the bank's agents to change the locks on the Drews' home and remove $14,000 worth of belongings from the property.

Mind boggling.

The Drews aren't impressed with Chase's admission of an error. As of Wednesday afternoon, Chase still hadn't explained itself to them. Bank employees told the Drews that a representative named Michelle would be in contact with them when the bank's investigation is complete.

One would think that a company like Chase, after making such a mistake would be all kinds of apologetic, trying to make up for this. One would think they'd be at least attempting to do something - given how tarnished the company's image already is.
One would be wrong.

Some of the property that was removed from the house has been returned, but it was left outside, uncovered. The local sheriff had to issue a "stand down" order to the property management company that was hired by Chase - the company responsible for changing the locks and removing the Drew's property. That this could even happen is just insane.

Incidents of this sort have happened all over the country. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is getting involved. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is an independent bureau of the US Treasury, charged with regulating and supervising federal banks and savings and loans institutions. From the Christian Science Monitor:

About 4 million homeowners who may have been improperly foreclosed upon in 2009 and 2010 are getting an opportunity to have their cases reviewed. Whether they will be reimbursed is up to the same lenders who are accused of moving too swiftly to seize their homes.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said Monday that mortgage services will begin sending out letters this month that ask borrowers if they want their case reviewed.

The nation's 14 largest mortgage servicers — including Citibank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo — were ordered to offer to review cases after the government found that some rushed the foreclosureprocess without carefully reviewing documents.

At long last the folks who have been treated unfairly at best, and illegally at worst will have a review and some recourse.

Stories like this are why customers are moving their money out of big banks and into credit unions in record numbers. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Some 650,000 customers have opened credit union accounts and deposited about $4.5 billion since Bank of America announced its now-canceled $5 monthly debit card fee in late September, according to a survey of 5,000 credit unions by the Credit Union National Association released Thursday.

The website for the Move Your Money Project has a lot of helpful information, including a link to help interested folks find credit unions and community banks in their area.

It sends a message. This is another reason why the Occupy movement continues to grow.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Student Debt Continues to Grow

A new report from the Project on Student Debt shows that student debt in 2010 increased 5% on average over the year before. Those same students are walking into a world where the unemployment rate for new college graduates is 9.1%. From the NY Times:

“Student debt goes up and it doesn’t ever go down,” said Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of and, two Web sites that offer advice on paying for college. “We’re clearly heading in the direction of decreased college affordability. Among lower-income students, the canaries in the cage that squawk first, we’re already seeing a decline in enrollment in four-year colleges and an increase in lower-cost two-year institutions,” he said.

When lower income kids can't afford to go to school, income inequality will continue to grow and solidify in our society.

More grim information available from Demos:

Only workers with at least a BA degree saw earnings increase over the last generation
Median earnings for young African-Americans are 75% of the earnings of whites; 68% for Latinos
Young women earn less than men at every level of education.
Twenty-nine percent of 18-24 year olds and 16% of 25-34 year-olds are underemployed
The percentage of young adults with jobs is at its lowest point in a generation

This all explains why the issue of student debt is being taken up by the Occupy movement. The website Occupy Student Debt gives students and former students a platform to share with all of us what impact that debt load has on their lives.

President Obama has announced plans to ease that student loan burden. From the NY Times:

At a press briefing Tuesday afternoon, Melody Barnes, director of the Domestic Policy Council, said the president would use his executive authority to expand the existing income-based repayment program with a “Pay as You Earn” option that would allow graduates to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for 20 years and have the rest of their federal student loan debt forgiven. That plan would start next year.

Using executive authority means bypassing Congressional gridlock, thereby enacting a positive change. This new plan is good news for students and their families.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Long Live The Pledge!

The Pledge. In New Hampshire, these two words are always spoken in capital letters. The Pledge. Not the Pledge of Allegiance, not the Norquist Pledge, not any of the other pledges Republicans take against: gay marriage, abortion, pornography, Sharia law, or promising to adhere to term limits, pledging to rewrite the tax code, and run our government like a business. Republicans take many, many pledges. In NH, The Pledge means the anti-tax pledge cooked up by the late Union Leader publisher William Loeb, and the late Governor Meldrim Thomson. When one takes The Pledge, one promises not to support an income or a sales tax in our state. All Republicans take The Pledge, and so do many Democrats.

Ironic, isn’t it? Here in the Live Free or Die State, not thinking for one’s self is prized above all else.

That’s why Republicans take so many pledges. The pledges eliminate the need for thought, paving the way for candidates like Rick Santorum and Martin Harty. All Republicans take The Pledge, and so do many Democrats. The timid Manchester Conservadems who control the NHDP support The Pledge. They insist that Democrats can’t win unless they take it. Democrat Maggie Hassan recently announced she was going to run for governor. Within minutes of the press conference, she took The Pledge. Within minutes of taking The Pledge, Republicans were calling her a “tax and spend liberal.” The beat goes on and on – and The Pledge shuts down all discussion of what might make sense, or what would be right for our state.

Not taking The Pledge is not the same thing as supporting an income or sales tax. A candidate who refused to take The Pledge would indicate the presence of a candidate who refuses to march forward in mindless lockstep with the dead.

We all see the result of pledge politics in NH every day: inadequate roads, failing bridges and dams, and a communications infrastructure that does not meet the needs of the top half of the state. Every time you open your property tax bill, you see the results of pledge politics. The proposed changes to snow plowing by the DOT were the direct result of pledge politics. The curious fee system we have in NH is a direct result of pledge politics. That The Pledge doesn’t work is never discussed. Mediscam (the stealing of Medicaid money to fund our state government) was also a direct result of pledge politics. The state is now being asked to pay back some $35 million in Mediscam funds.

A recent story in the Conway Daily Sun focused on the inter-library loan (ILL) system, which is currently being threatened by the Teabaglican legislature. The Institute of Museum and Library Services gives NH around a million dollars every year in federal funding. About a third of that goes to fund the vans used for ILL. In other words, it’s an inexpensive program that allows small libraries to greatly expand their reach. Readers can request books that the small local library doesn’t have, and borrow the book from another part of the state. This is especially helpful when it comes to research materials. Our small libraries have limited space and budgets. ILL levels the playing field for NH students and readers.

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R: Odious) of the House Finance Committee wants to cut the funding for inter-library loan. It seems Rep. Vaillancourt got the book he ordered from the program “too fast,” and decried this “gold plated service.” Vaillancourt lives in Manchester, the largest city in the state. It’s a sure bet that if he lived in Pittsburg, he wouldn’t be making the same complaint. Vaillancourt is currently a Republican (though he has been a Democrat and a Libertarian in the past) and like all Republicans, he knows the best way to create more GOP voters is to prevent education.

Local Rep. Karen Umberger is also on the Finance Committee. In the Sun story, she is quoted as saying she was reserving judgment until reading a report on the matter. Translation: “Stop calling me!” We can certainly count on Rep. Umberger to think long and hard before marching in obedient lockstep with her party.

In other news, the NH unemployment rate has risen steadily every month since the O’Brien budget went into effect late in June. It was 4.9% in June. As of September, the rate is 5.4%. That laser-like focus on jobs that the GOP candidates promised has yet to materialize. Perhaps they meant a laser-like focus on job elimination? If that’s the case, they’re doing a fine job. One can only assume that eliminating marriage equality is the latest GOP plan for job creation, since that looms heavily on their agenda for 2012. The results for the cuts made to the tobacco tax are in, and show that the state is $3.5 million behind in projected tobacco revenue for the year. When the cuts were made, Speaker O’Brien was quoted as saying, "We strongly believe that reducing this tax will result in more revenue, more economic growth and more tax cuts." Believing doesn’t make it true. Of course it’s still cheaper for NH students to take up smoking than it is for them to go to college here.

Liquor and lottery funds are coming in below projection as well. A Teabaglican budget shortfall seems likely. At the same time, your property taxes have gone up! Please take a moment to thank the independent thinkers of our state government who are still taking the instructions given by a couple of long dead carpetbaggers. Long live The Pledge!

“Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, then they get elected and prove it.” P.J. O’Rourke

© sbruce 2011
Published as an op-ed in the November 4, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper