Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is This What You Voted For?

Let us harken back to the halcyon days of 2009. Back to the time when the group known as the Tea Party (who originally called themselves Teabaggers) came into being. We now know that this is an astroturf project, funded by the Koch brothers, but back then, this group of “grassroots” activists received a disproportionate amount of media attention. The attention was uncritical, and unquestioning. No one ever seemed to wonder why, it was, that these noble patriots, so concerned about deficit spending, remained silent during the entire Bush administration, while the invasion and occupation of 2 countries was being put on a credit card, totaling somewhere in the $2 trillion range. Not a peep out of them then. Their outrage didn’t manifest until a black guy got into the White House.

Back in 2009, these “grassroots” activists began to appear at the town hall meetings of congresswomen and men. They showed up at Carol Shea-Porter’s town hall meetings to shout her down. They showed up at the NH State House and shouted and behaved badly at committee meetings and house sessions. All the while, the complicit media painted them as outraged patriots, instead of ill-behaved thugs. They came to events wearing guns in an effort to intimidate the non-gun toting crowd, and did a lot of blathering about their second amendment rights. They carried signs talking about watering the tree of liberty – a clear call to violent action, that eventually resulted in a number of lives lost in Arizona, and the shooting of a Congresswoman.

You voted many of these people into office in NH in 2010. Teabaggers, Free Staters, and John Birchers have all been enfolded into a NH Republican Party that my father wouldn’t recognize as the party he supported during his lifetime. They ran for office on the promise of cutting spending and creating jobs. They had no plan for job creation, and no intention of developing one. Their plan was to remake the state of NH in their own image – a very Free Stater image. When Craig Benson (the one term GOP Governor that the NH GOP never, ever mentions) invited the Free Staters to come here, they announced their intention was to come here and take over the state, eliminating the government, and seceding from the union. Welcome to 2011, folks. They’re here, they’re in charge, and they’re on their way. This may not be what YOU had in mind when you voted for all those R’s on the ballot.

You were sick of your property taxes going up. Because of NH’s regressive tax structure, we have an over-reliance on property taxes, one that disproportionately affects middle and low-income people. A teacher, earning $30,000 a year, with property taxes of $5,000 is paying $16.7% of their income in taxes, compared with the person earning $60,000 a year with the same tax rate. They’re only paying 8.3 percent of their income in taxes. Our state’s 27,000 millionaires are paying even less of their income in property tax, which is why NH is a tax-free haven for the wealthy.

You were sick of your property taxes going up, so you voted for the people who are currently working on the state budget. The bad news is – your property taxes are going to go up, because they’re cutting spending and passing the buck to towns and counties. In late night votes, with last minute amendments, in secret – with a speaker that has instructed that debates NOT go in the House journal, where we the people could read them, is a budget so reckless that it will require decades to undo.

One amendment drops the pay for the county Registrar of Probate to $100 a year. The Consumer Protection Bureau is eliminated. Funding for domestic violence programs is slashed, as is funding for substance abuse treatment (something we weren’t big on funding to begin with). The state prison in Berlin will be closed. Some 100 court employees will be laid off.

As for education – we don’t need no steenkin’ education. This budget cuts dropout prevention and votech programs. It cuts funding for the state university system – and we should all remember that NH already ranks a firm 50th in the nation for state spending on post-secondary education. Special Ed funding is reduced to the lowest possible legal level.

This budget also eliminates the ServiceLink program. It ends catastrophic aid to hospitals, which helped hospitals defray the cost of uncompensated care, repeals juvenile prevention programs and ends incentive grants for such programs, and eliminates the Division of Safety Services within the Department of Safety. The Division of Safety includes the Marine Patrol, which in addition to providing boater safety education also aids in rescuing boaters in trouble. The Division of Safety also oversees the safety of ski lifts and amusement rides. Who cares about safety, anyway? Perhaps it’s fortunate that the budget also eliminates funding for foreign tourist promotion. They aren’t going to want to come here. No one is going to want to come here.

This budget also contains massive cuts to developmental disabilities programs, reinstitutes the wait list, and drastically cuts mental health spending. House Finance Chair, Ken Weyler, who attended the Martin Harty School of Sensitive Public Commentary, said earlier in the week that mental health providers encourage people to become patients for life, in order to maintain public funding. Weyler further stated that a woman who went for help with post-partum depression would become a “patient for life” where in reality, she would no longer need services after a year, “once her baby became more animated.” Representative Weyler received his MD from the Allied Pilots Association.

NH already ranks 48th in the nation in state expenditures per person. It’s always a source of pride when we can take a back seat to Mississippi, and clearly we will be, for some time to come.

In short, we have a budget that eliminates jobs rather than creating them, and creates more problems for the judicial system, while cutting funds for it, and will definitely create more incarceration, while closing a prison. This budget ensures that fewer of our children will be educated, and that the most vulnerable among us will be tossed to the curb.

Is this what you voted for?

published as an op-ed in the 4-1-11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper
© 2011 sbruce

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cutting Jobs to Create Jobs. Huh?

Texas is embarking on a curious path for boosting its economy and creating jobs.

From CNN:

Texas could see more than 600,000 jobs disappear if lawmakers adopt the $83.8 billion budget that will go before the state House late next week, according to a state agency.

Harsh spending cuts in the budget could cost more than 263,500 private sector jobs and 343,000 government positions over the next two years, according to estimates released Wednesday by the Legislative Budget Board, a bipartisan committee.

The budget cuts will also impact education, health, and social service spending.

The governor of Texas had this to say:
Perry, a Republican, said the government must cultivate a favorable climate for job creation. That includes balancing the budget without raising taxes.

So, to create jobs, he has to eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. The logic escapes me. Ensuring that there are fewer taxpayers is Ensuring less education, and more poverty is enticing to

The Texas business community is already concerned about poverty and a high drop out rate in the state. From the Houston Chronicle:

The demographer who warned a decade ago about Texas' unhappy mix of dismal education achievement and high poverty is more concerned than ever. Actually, he's frightened.
Also getting restless are growing numbers of Texas business executives. Some don't see much leadership from politicians or the private sector in attacking the trend line that demographer Steve Murdock says will result in three of every 10 workers not having a high school education by 2040.

The "cut revenue, cut spending" solution for budget balancing is popular in certain circles right now, and may indeed endear Governor Perry to a small segment of his constituents. He seems interested in seeking higher office, and this may help him get campaign funding. But for anyone actually looking to the future, this seems like a disaster in the making.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Paying More For Less

In an effort to disguise higher food prices, companies are putting less food in the same sized packages. From the NY Times:

One shopper noticed when she made dinner for her 9 kids:

“Whole wheat pasta had gone from 16 ounces to 13.25 ounces,” she said. “I bought three boxes and it wasn’t enough — that was a little embarrassing. I bought the same amount I always buy, I just didn’t realize it, because who reads the sizes all the time?”

Ms. Stauber, 33, said she began inspecting her other purchases, aisle by aisle. Many canned vegetables dropped to 13 or 14 ounces from 16; boxes of baby wipes went to 72 from 80; and sugar was stacked in 4-pound, not 5-pound, bags, she said.

It's stealth reduction.
In every economic downturn in the last few decades, companies have reduced the size of some products, disguising price increases and avoiding comparisons on same-size packages, before and after an increase. Each time, the marketing campaigns are coy; this time, the smaller versions are “greener” (packages good for the environment) or more “portable” (little carry bags for the takeout lifestyle) or “healthier” (fewer calories).

Marketing strategies are so cynical. They take for granted that we're too dumb to notice.

This was the paragraph that grabbed me:

Thomas J. Alexander, a finance professor at Northwood University, said that businesses had little choice these days when faced with increases in the costs of their raw goods. “Companies only have pricing power when wages are also increasing, and we’re not seeing that right now because of the high unemployment,” he said.

The unemployment numbers haven't gone down significantly, but we never hear about the huge numbers of people out of work any more. We never hear about job creation. All we hear about is the deficit, and how dismantling the social safety net is the solution. Even I know that a budget isn't balanced by cutting alone. We need revenue - the kind created by having a working population.

Food and gas prices are going to continue to rise. This means tougher times ahead for those who are already hurting.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Social Security National Call-in Days

To reduce the federal deficit, politicians in Washington are proposing deep cuts to our Social Security benefits. We need to stop them.

As you know, Social Security doesn't have anything to do with the deficit. We must contradict that falsehood every time we hear it.

Social Security belongs to us. We pay for it in every paycheck.
Don’t let Congress cut our benefits, raise the retirement age and reduce our COLA.

Tuesday and Wednesday are National Call In Days, where the folks at Strengthen Social Security are asking us to call our US Senators and tell them:

Tell them: Hands Off Social Security! Vote YES on the Sanders-Reid Social Security Protection Amendment!

Jeanne Shaheen's DC office # is: (202) 224-2841
Kelly Ayotte's DC office # is: 202-224-3324
toll free# 1-866-251-4044

The Sanders-Reid amendment simply says:
Social Security benefits for current and future beneficiaries should not be cut and Social Security should not be privatized as part of any legislation to reduce the Federal deficit.

Social Security is not in crisis. It does not contribute to the deficit. It does do this:

In New Hampshire
Social Security provides benefits to more than 237,000 people, nearly 1 out of 5 residents (18 percent).

Social Security lifts out of poverty a total of 73,000 New Hampshire residents.

NH residents receive Social Security benefits totaling $3.1 billion per year, an amount equivalent to 5 percent of the state’s annual GDP (the total value of all goods and services produced).

With minor tweaks, Social Security is good for another seven decades, but as you know, there are those who have always hated it. They want to turn that fund over to their buccaneer buddies at Wall St. The same crew we taxpayers had to bail out a couple of years ago, after they helped break our economy.

We cannot allow this to happen! Please take a few minutes and call - and let us all know how those calls went.

This post is part of the Campaign for America's Future state blogger's network project.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Adding Injury to Ongoing Insult

From Alternet:

Now, a group of House Republicans is launching a new stealth attack against union workers. GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (OH), Tim Scott (SC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Dan Burton (IN), and Louie Gohmert (TX) have introduced H.R. 1135, which states that it is designed to “provide information on total spending on means-tested welfare programs, to provide additional work requirements, and to provide an overall spending limit on means-tested welfare programs.”

Pretty standard verification stuff so far. Then there's this:

In other words, you'd better not strike for the kind of wages that'll help keep you off food stamps, if you want to keep your food stamps. Unions helped build that middle class that politicians swear to protect at every opportunity.

This is another mean-spirited attack on families trying to stay afloat, at a time when record numbers of families are receiving food stamps.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Pain at the Pump? Thank Wall St!

In recent weeks, gas prices have been increasing seemingly overnight. Every night. One of the drivers appears to be Wall St speculation:


While there are several causes that contribute to rise in oil prices, many experts point to Wall Street speculation: hedge funds, investors, and big banks trying to make money by betting on the price fluctuation of oil and other commodities.

I went to a town hall meeting (a quaint NH tradition) held by Congressman Charlie Bass the other night. I live in the northernmost county of NH, which has an official unemployment rate of 14%, compared to the 5% rate in the rest of the state. Someone asked him about the increasing gas prices, and he blamed it on "unrest in the Middle East."

While many blame high oil prices on the crisis in Libya, the country accounts for only 2 percent of the world's output. More importantly, Saudi Arabia has vowed to make up for any shortfall in global supply by increasing its own production. So supply issues are not likely having a significant impact on prices.

Hmm. It seems Congressman Bass was mistaken.

Meanwhile, a commissioner of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) -- the government agency charged with policing commodity speculation -- said earlier this month that speculation on energy futures, including oil, is at an all-time high, jumping 64 percent even since 2008. Speculation was blamed by both Republicans and Democrats three years ago for oil prices, and even with conservatives' tea party embrace of Wall Street today, several Republican congressmen, and conservative leaders have acknowledged that speculation is a driver of oil prices.

Great. We bail them out, and they return the favor by sticking it to us, once again. Thanks Wall St!

cross-posted at MainSt/

The NH House Has Wisconsin Fever

Concord Monitor:

The House Finance Committee last night approved a change to collective bargaining laws that would give public employers full authority to determine their employees' wages and benefits after a contract expires.

You'll note that this was done at night. Not in a public hearing.

The amendment to the House budget bill, introduced by Weare Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, states that after a contract expires, employees "shall become at-will employees whose salaries, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment shall be at the discretion of the employer."

Warm and fuzzy are not adjectives anyone would ever use to describe Neal Kurk. Last week, during a discussion of the state employees retirement system, he had this to say:

“The problem with the NH Pension System is that people live too long. We’d be better off if we could get them to pick up smoking and they would die younger.”

h/t to pickuppatriots

Not everyone agreed with Rep. Kurk's attempt to end collective bargaining:

The amendment passed 18-7, with Republican Lee Quandt of Exeter joining committee Democrats in dissenting.

Quandt said after the vote that there has been an "unprecedented attack" on public employees this legislative session.
"We started a war we don't belong in," Quandt said. "No company or government lasts long when you go to war with your own employees."

Scott Walker in Wisconsin made blaming state employees union trendy amongst the Tea Party types who were propelled into state legislators around the country last November. This amendment does nothing to fix the NH budget deficit. This is certainly a missile aimed at destroying the NH SEIU. It is also the act of an out of control bunch of ideologues messing with people's lives for no other reason than because they can.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bass Snagged in Jefferson

Congressman Charlie Bass had a town hall meeting Tuesday night in Jefferson. I was there for the fun.

Charlie began by telling us he'd been worried that people would be fearful of coming to town hall meetings after the shooting of Gabrielle Gifford. He isn't afraid, and he's sure we're safe, but just in case, the sheriff is in the back of the hall. Seeing as how everyone else knows it's not open season on Republicans, no one seemed concerned.

He wanted to address the issues of the prison in Berlin and the Northern Pass Project right away. Charlie wanted us to know that the poor Congress started out without a budget or any appropriations bills, which means there's no money for the prison. He assures us that "the delegation as a whole will be coming up with funds for the prison, but it won't be easy." The word EARMARKS was not uttered all evening. As for Northern Pass, Charlie says it won't be built the way it is planned right now.

The Fox entertainment viewers started right in. A man down front wanted to know, "Why do Americans have to import energy from a foreign country?" Another: "Why did we give $2 billion to Brazil for offshore drilling, but we can't get money here?"

Charlie liked them. He was feeling perky. On a roll. Then along came the guy with the tan sweater, who gave the long term history of our military involvement in the middle east, including our tendency to arm groups we later fight wars against. He referred to our involvement in Libya as a another quagmire, and asked what we could do in this country with all the money we're spending every week on wars in other countries.

sidebar: in 2006, I heard Bass speak at a Rotary Club luncheon in Littleton, shortly before the election. The Rotary Club isn't exactly a liberal hotbed. In his speech, Bass stated that Saddam had ties to al Queda - a falsehood that had been totally debunked by then. Even the Republicans groaned.

Bass told us tonight, in 2011, that Bush had approval from Congress to invade Iraq, and "based upon the information, we were justified in our campaign in Iraq." Really Charlie? Srsly?

Apparently it's chic in GOP circles to say Afghanistan is bad, so he did. Libya, he's opposed to, primarily, it seems because "their oil benefits Europe" and of course because he's opposed to all things Obama.

Someone asked, "where does the money for the war in Libya come from?" Charlie explained emergency military appropriations and then said, "You know what happens if you vote against the troops." Not that he ever tried. Bass voted for every bloated Bush budget, and every military appropriations bill. He voted to put these wars on the credit card, and now, he arises from the sewer, trying to pretend that he isn't covered with feces. Luckily for him, his supporters have the attention span of a gnat, and the media isn't interested in doing its job.

A man sitting in front, stood and gave a little speech about deficit and wondered, "how are any of our kids going to have a life if we don't get this deficit under control?" The Bassmaster donned his superhero cape and told us earnestly that he ran for office again, "because I knew if I didn't do something about this, I couldn't live with myself.' Followed by, "We're going to have to make tough decisions if we're going to preserve America." This generated some groaning, and some "oh, gimme a break" type comments from the other half of the crowd.

A tall guy pointed out, "We need to increase revenue. We've had 10 years of Bush tax cuts, and throughout the election lots of talk about jobs, jobs, jobs - and now no one talks about jobs any more. We need jobs. Cuts alone are not going to balance the budget."

Bass: I don't support increasing taxes. Our corporate taxes are too high. Spending at the federal level has increased dramatically. (Srsly, Charlie? ) Wealthy people don't just stuff it in a mattress, they invest in business and that creates jobs. (People were openly mocking him at this point.) Another guy brought up income disparity. A blond woman said, "If we tax the rich they will leave." A woman from Lancaster told Bass, "I'm tired of hearing this twaddle from you," and laid down the facts about the deficit Obama inherited. A guy yelled, "Corporations don't pay taxes, people do" - they get the tax bill and pass the cost on to us. He further pointed out "We need to make things in this country. We need increased production and we need to export more." Cheers from the crowd.

The blonde woman's husband informed us that HE'S not jealous of the rich, like we are. HE doesn't want this country to be CUBA, like we do. "China can wipe us out by dumping our debt."

Bass was starting to stutter. He complained about the liberal tactic of class warfare, and defended those wealthy folks who pay the majority of the taxes in Murka. Not that he knows firsthand, mind you....he's not one of them.

Yes indeedy - Charlie Bass, multimillionaire (worth between $2.5 and $8 million), had the absolute mendacity to tell a room full of people in Jefferson NH that he isn't wealthy.

Reporter Edith Tucker, from the Coos County Democrat, a woman who doesn't ask Republicans hard questions, expressed her fear that increasing gas prices will affect tourism this summer, and Bass got cranky with her. The gas prices are because of "Instability in the world." (certainly not because of Wall St. speculators) . "The Congress can't wave a magic wand and lower gas prices," he told Ms. Tucker.

Things went further downhill from there. He stuttered more, and became increasingly peevish. This reception was clearly not what he was expecting.

One more thing: Rep. Gene Chandler was there, in his capacity as Bass factotum, a position he is undoubtedly paid for. (Eh tu Mirski?) His car has a plate reading "Speaker Pro Tempore" which has to be among the most pathetic things I've seen.

cross-posted at Blue Hampshire

No Need to Worry About Social Security

Nancy Altman, former aide to Alan Greenspan, spoke in Concord, NH last night. From the Concord Monitor:

"I object to the idea of fixing it, because Social Security isn't broken," she told the Monitor, adding that long-term projections show "a manageable but significant shortfall" that is one of the challenges to be addressed.

"We should address them, but not in a climate where young people don't think they're going to get benefits, that people don't think it's affordable. . . . It's a political question," she said.

The Social Security program, created in 1935, is expected to cost more than it takes in from taxes from 2015 onward. In 2037, the program's trustees said last year, its trust funds will be exhausted. At that point, tax revenue is expected to cover only about 78 percent of benefits.

A crisis is when you see a moose running out in front of your car. A crisis isn't something that's over 25 years away. There's plenty of time to tweak Social Security.

Altman said last night that her preferred solvency solution is to have wealthy Americans "contribute somewhat more," raising the cap on payroll deductions.

Or we could eliminate the cap altogether.

Here's where our legislators stand:

Charlie Bass supported Bush's plan to privatize Social Security, before he was booted out of office in 2006. Senator Jeanne Shaheen was and is opposed to turning the Social Security trust fund over to Wall St.

New Congressman Frank Guinta doesn't want his kids to know what Social Security is.

New Senator Kelly Ayotte is practiced at the art of not taking a position:
Ayotte said we should keep "all ideas on the table" when it comes to reforming Social Security.

cross posted at Blue Hampshire.

Alaska Imitates Wisconsin


The growing push to restrict the collective bargaining rights of government employees has reached the far-flung state of Alaska.
There, a Republican state lawmaker has introduced legislation that would strip many public employees of the right to collectively bargain for hours, benefits and working conditions. State employees could still collectively bargain for wages under the legislation

The bills sponsor, Rep. Carl Gatto:
Gatto has told various news outlets that his bill mimics legislation that was passed by the Wisconsin Legislature earlier this month, signed into law and is now the subject of a lawsuit in that state. Gatto has said, like the Wisconsin measure, his proposal aims to curb state costs.

Also, opponents said, Alaska lawmakers have been focused on controversial legislation to roll back the state's oil and gas tax on profits earned by petroleum companies in the state.

Like so many other states, some in the Alaskan legislature have decided that the way to deal with budget deficits is to cut revenue. After all, isn't that what all of us do, as we figure out our own budgets? If we don't have enough money to pay our bills, we decide to quit our part time job, right?

A tax cut for Big Oil: the most profitable corporations on the planet - to be offset by attempting to balance the budget on the backs of state employees, by taking away their right to collective bargaining.

No wonder Rep. Gatto "can't be reached for comment." How could he possibly justify this?

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Masks are slipping everywhere. In our towns, all over our state, and across our country, the ruling party is unable to maintain their thin veneer of civility, and their true nature and intent are beginning to burst forth. As is always the case, an exploding pimple is never pretty.

Last week, state Representative Martin Harty of Barrington got into a spot of trouble. The 91 year old freshman state representative told a constituent who called him about funding for the homeless that public funding shouldn’t be spent on: “the mentally ill, the retarded, people with physical disabilities and drug addictions — the defective people society would be better off without." He said that such people should be sent to Siberia where they would freeze and die. After this story went public, Rep. Harty refused to apologize. He said he was only kidding, which is what all Republicans say when they’re caught saying truly offensive things. He also refused to resign. This week he was pushed on to his sword, and resigned from the house, after the story went viral.

Rep. Harty was described by fellow legislators as hard of hearing, seeming confused, and likely to go off on unrelated tangents. About a month after beginning his term he wrote a letter to Foster’s Daily Democrat saying that he didn’t really know what he was doing, he looked at t he other people around him to see how to vote. How is it that a confused, nearly deaf, 91 year old man was elected to the legislature? Several experienced and capable legislators were thrown out of office in favor of Representative Eugenics, so the answer is clear. They voted for the “R” next to his name. That the NH GOP allowed this candidacy to go forward shows that they were willing to do whatever it took to win control of the legislature. Prior to this event, the NH legislature was merely the laughingstock of the state and the nation. This story took the clown college known as the NH legislature global. Nice work, NH GOP!

It seems that Rep. Harty isn’t alone. Earlier this week in Kansas, at a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee, state lawmakers were discussing using snipers in helicopters to help control the state’s feral hog population. State Rep. Virgil Peck suggested they could use the same technique to rid the state of illegal immigrants. Peck was endorsed by “Kansans for Life” when he ran for office. As Harty and Peck illustrate so well - when the mask slips, we learn that only some lives matter. Of course both men claimed to be joking – and what could be funnier than the idea of shooting families from planes or freezing people with Down Syndrome to death?

Local Good Humor man Ray Shakir set off a firestorm at a budget committee hearing by announcing that some kids aren’t worth educating. Anyone who has read any of Shakir’s obnoxious letters to the editor already knows that there are indeed some people who aren’t teachable. He proves it every time he opens his mouth, or sits down at a keyboard. My personal favorite of his letters was the one where he expressed his sorrow that I wasn’t killed when my car hit a moose. Shakir displays the typical attitude of so many who make their money elsewhere, then move to the NH tax free haven for the wealthy: “I’ve Got Mine. Screw You.” He’s a pro-lifer who exemplifies the real Teabaglican motto: Love the Fetus/Hate the Child.

That motto is was visible in the NH legislature this past week. The House Finance Committee is recommending draconian cuts to the state’s health care system. The funds for hospitals, mental health centers, and community health centers would mean some of them might not be able to stay open. In Coos County, community health centers are the source of health care for many people. More people will go to the emergency room for treatment they can’t afford. Without mental health treatment, more people will be “treated” by the corrections system. It’s interesting to note that Jim Roche, president of the Business and Industry Association questions the wisdom of these cuts. He points out that the costs will be shifted to those businesses that are struggling to keep offering insurance to their employees. In a state with at least 10% real unemployment, it’s hard to see this as an enticement to businesses considering locating here. For those worried about the cost shifting to the towns, Rep. Neal Kurk (a man who rubs his hands together with glee at the mention of the word “suffering”) has filed a bill to repeal the state’s 200-year-old law that allows needy people to turn to their towns for financial assistance. He realizes that cutting people off from aid doesn’t mean their needs disappear. He wants to make sure the safety net is completely removed.

At the same time, the House voted to increase the death penalty. As soon as the bill was introduced, the Speaker called for a vote. One might view this as questionable conduct on the part of the Speaker – given that he was the bill’s primary sponsor. The fiscal impact of the bill is dramatic – it potentially adds upwards of five million dollars a year to the budget. This seems a curious choice in a time of draconian budget cuts. These avowed pro-lifers would rather spend millions to kill one person than spend a dime to save the lives of many.

“Fortune does not change men; it unmasks them.” Susanne Curchod Necker

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Vicious Cycle of Retirement and Unemployment

A new study shows that US workers are pessimistic about their retirement. From Reuters:

It's important to note that this survey was funded by financial firms that sell investment products to folks saving for retirement. Still, what they found isn't pretty:

* Fearful workers. More than a quarter of respondents - 27 percent - say they are "not at all confident" about having enough money in retirement. That was the highest percentage since the survey began 21 years ago. Conversely, the lowest percentage ever -- 13 percent -- said they were very confident.

* 'Working longer' may not work. Roughly one in five workers said they intend to work longer than they had originally planned, mainly because of the poor economy. But at the same time, almost half of current retirees - 45 percent - said they were forced to retire earlier than they had planned, either because of health problems or because they were laid off.

* Low savings. More than half of workers (56 percent) said they had less than $25,000 in savings and investments, not counting their homes or defined pension plans. And almost three in ten of those who claim to have retirement savings - 29 percent - said they had less than 1,000. Even though that figure might be skewed by age - the younger workers are, the lower their savings tend to be -- EBRI reported that 20 percent of those over the age of 55 said they had less than $10,000 saved for retirement.

There is reason for that pessimism, of course. A look at the plight of the long term unemployed, by ABC:

Look anywhere where jobs are posted, and you'll see more examples. This discrimination isn't subtle. It's not covert. It's right out in the open, stated in the listings: A phone manufacturer looking to fill a marketing job stipulates "No unemployed candidates will be considered at all." An electronics firm looking for an engineer says it will "Not consider/review anyone NOT currently employed regardless of the reason." A Craigslist posting for an assistant restaurant manager in New Jersey says all applicants "Must be currently employed."

So prevalent is this new form of discrimination that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in February held hearings on it. The EEOC press release announcing them bore the catchy title "Out of Work? Out of Luck."

One wonders, how are people supposed to retire later, when they can't find any work?

Then there's this story in today's Washington Post, which essentially blames those of us who are among the long term unemployed for falling off the radar:

Overshadowing the nation’s economic recovery is not only the number of Americans who have lost their jobs, but also those who have stopped looking for new ones.

These workers are not counted in the Labor Department’s monthly unemployment rate, yet they say they are willing to work. Since the recession began, their numbers have grown by 30 percent, to more than 6.4 million, amounting to a hidden labor force that could stymie the turnaround.

There's a reason these folks aren't counted, and it has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the flawed way the counting is done. The counting is intentionally flawed, so that the real unemployment numbers are kept artificially low.

Economists say the longer these workers stay out of the job market, the harder it will be for them to find employment, creating a vicious circle that can spiral for months or longer. Meanwhile, their delayed entry into the job market means smaller paychecks in the future. And if these ranks remain high, economists worry that it will signal a much deeper and more troubling problem for the country: Workers’ skills don’t match the jobs available.

“It can be a self-reinforcing problem, where it just gets worse over time,” said Burt Barnow, an economist and professor at George Washington University.

Translation: If you stay unemployed because you can't find a job, you're to blame.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Homeless in Honolulu

A colony of tents and lean-tos housing homeless people near the waterfront in Honolulu is slated to be removed by city officials, leaving 100 or so homeless people with no where to go.

From the NYT:

“I understand that they are caught between a rock and a hard place,” Doran J. Porter, executive director of the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance in Hawaii, said of state officials. “This isn’t an appropriate place for lean-tos and tents.”

And Mr. Porter said he knew full well that state officials were under pressure from the business community. “My concern is that they need to have solutions of where these folks are going to go,” he said. “We can’t keep kicking them out of one place where they go to another. That’s why they are there in the first place: they were kicked out of Waikiki and the beaches. This has been going on for years.”

This is what happens in temperate climates. The homeless folks put up tents. They get kicked out. They move somewhere else and then get kicked out of there.

Neil J. Donovan, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said the state was one of many trying to deal with the homeless through ordinances, like the one barring tents, rather than programs to create housing. “That’s just such a short-sighted approach,” Mr. Donovan said. “It’s all about a lack of affordable housing.”

Taking tents down doesn't solve the problem.

Mr. Afituk, who like many of the homeless here came from Micronesia, said he and his family had been forced to move out of a one-room apartment after he lost a job last year. He said he was now working as a fire marshal at Pearl Harbor, but did not make enough to rent a home. “I can’t afford it,” he said. “It’s $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.”

There's a dearth of rental properties in most places these days, due in part to the increase in foreclosures. A shortage of housing in 2011 has been predicted. The problem is even more profound in tourist areas, where the wages are not comparable to the cost of living in those places. As seen in this story, the low wage worker in Honolulu is not able to afford housing. The budget for Community Development Block Grants to the states (grants that can help cities build affordable housing) is on the chopping block in the upcoming budget. This means more tents, more misery, and more families getting shuffled around. No solutions in sight.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Vote Our Way - or No Way

From the WaPo:

New Hampshire House Republicans are pushing for new laws that would prohibit many college students from voting in the state - and effectively keep some from voting at all.

One bill would permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there - requiring all others to vote in the states or other New Hampshire towns they come from. Another bill would end Election Day registration, which O'Brien said unleashes swarms of students on polling places, creating opportunities for fraud.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I live in NH, and I attended the recent public hearing on both of those bills. It's not just NH, though. Other states are getting into the voter suppression act.

Backers of the voting measures say they would bring fairness and restore confidence in a voting system vulnerable to fraud. Many states, for instance, do not require identification to vote. Measures being proposed in 32 states would add an ID requirement or proof of citizenship, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

Perhaps most telling of all:

The disputes are taking on national implications. Several states where newly empowered Republicans are pushing voter legislation, such as New Hampshire, Wisconsin and North Carolina, are expected to be battlegrounds in the 2012 presidential race.

Coincidence? I think not.

The youth vote helped propel Obama into the White House. The NH GOP is apparently unwilling or unable to effectively organize on college campuses. Their solution: prevent students from voting.

The goal of overturning same day voter registration is to make voting as onerous a process as possible, to ensure that some people just won't bother.

Same with the voter ID requirements. It disenfranchises people who don't have current picture ID's. Some folks don't have driver's licenses. Getting a birth certificate has a cost. Getting a photo ID has a cost. All of it takes time, time out of a working day. Elderly people who don't have current photo ID, and may be too physically frail to leave home to get one, are unable to vote. The more onerous the process, the more likely that fewer will vote.

From the Brennen Center for Justice:

The Brennan Center has researched the impact of voter identification legislation and the frequency of the only type of voter fraud that voter ID bills have the potential to address: the impersonation of registered voters at the polls. Our research has established that impersonation fraud rarely occurs. Indeed, more Americans are struck by lightning each year. But while there is no credible evidence that impersonation fraud occurs, reliable evidence proves that photo ID and proof of citizenship bills erect hurdles that prevent real citizens from voting. The citizens affected are predominantly elderly and indigent voters, and citizens from minority communities.

There is also the cost to the states, who will be picking up the tab for ID. At a time when every state has a budget deficit, is this a responsible use of tax dollars?

Given that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, what's this really all about? As Speaker O'Brien in NH makes clear - if you don't vote the way WE want you to, you won't vote at all. These states are hoping to pass these laws in a hurry, before the next presidential election.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Latest Target: Medicaid

From MoJo:

Republicans have a new target, and its name is Medicaid. A few weeks ago, at the sidelines of the budget debate, Republicans quietly began to float proposals to roll back this health care program for the nation's most vulnerable. In Washington this week, those under-the-radar whispers grew to a roar as GOP governors called on Congress to let them have their own way with the program.

As it stands now, states receive a percentage of their Medicaid money from the feds—based on the size of their beneficiary pool, among other factors. In exchange, they must follow guidelines governing minimum benefits they must offer and who must be eligible. Under health care reform, more than 12 million Americans will join the Medicaid rolls, and states will no longer be able to skimp on benefits.

The governors claim that their goal is to make these programs "efficient." Some are more honest than others:

Barbour insisted that GOP-led reform wouldn't necessarily mean kicking people off the rolls. But he blasted federal changes that would force states like Mississippi to enrich bare-bones benefit packages and bring more people on board. "We don't want extremely high mandatory standard benefits packages," he testified. "Some politicians act like they love our constituents more than we do."

Given that Mississippi ranks dead last in terms of healthy residents, it seems likely that he's right - some other politicians DO love their constituents more than he does.

The real issue here is that beginning in 2014, as a result of the health insurance reform bill, millions more people will be eligible for Medicaid.

Kaiser Health News provides a rational look at what turning Medicaid into block grants might mean:

Governors have long lobbied for a freer hand on Medicaid, which they say would result in a cheaper, more effective program. Lately, Republican governors have more aggressively pursued the block-grant idea, partly because they’re worried about the cost of adding millions more people to the program beginning in 2014. (The federal government will pick up the whole tab for new enrollees for the first three years, tapering down to 90 percent in 2020 and beyond.) Governors also are alarmed at Medicaid’s growth rate, which the CBO estimates at 7 percent annually over the next decade. The program, some state officials say, is crowding out other needs, such as education.

The Republican governors also have other reasons to complain about Medicaid’s costs. They’re pushing hard to get leeway from the Obama administration on a rule barring them from tightening Medicaid eligibility before 2014. Some governors want to cut people from the rolls right away.

None of these governors seem too concerned with the health of their residents, which is interesting - but most of all I notice that there is no discussion of WHY Medicaid enrollment is on the rise. No one is pointing out that the most effective way to decrease that rise in Medicaid is employment.

The topic of unemployment and job creation has disappeared from our national dialogue.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hey Nanny Nanny

On January 13 of this year, House Republican Leader DJ Bettencourt proclaimed: “social issues must take a back seat.” He said that the focus should be on economic problems like unemployment and the budget deficit. Bettencourt went as far as saying that the Republicans could not be seen as having campaigned on one set of issues, then governing on another. This was a big announcement; aimed at letting us all know that the repeal of NH’s marriage equality law was not going to occur this year. The mainstream media faithfully repeated this story, serving as always, as unquestioning stenographers for the NH GOP.

After all that, still, I found myself at a hearing, a month later, for 3 bills dealing with marriage in the state of NH, including a repeal of marriage equality. So much for “campaigning on one set of issues and governing on another.” The focus this session has been on just about anything but economic problems, though as I pointed out in my last epistle, there has been one job created, the policy director hired to make sure Speaker O’Brien avoids stepping in so much doo doo.

The turnout for the hearing was the largest in NH House history. Over 700 supporters of NH’s marriage equality law were present. They were asked to wear red in a show of unity. This created a great visual, and made downplaying the numbers impossible. There were several rows of clergy. There were also some hired guns there in opposition, including Kevin Smith, the lobbyist for the Cornerstone Policy Research Center, representing the views of the Tealiban. Also in attendance was Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, the out of state group that poured millions into opposing marriage equality in California and Maine. NOM won’t disclose where their money comes from, which leads many to speculate that they are a front for at least one major religion, and possibly two. Ms. Gallagher stood in line, waiting to testify, smiling and giggling to herself. A peculiar little spectacle.

As a sop to the statements of House leadership made only weeks before about that laser-like focus on jobs and the budget, the sponsors of the bill asked that they be put on hold for now. One wonders why – why bother to go ahead with this expensive pageant, paid for by the taxpayers they claim to worry so much about? One’s thoughts may even turn somewhat cynical. The pageant was aimed at toadying up to the national anti-gay groups, who will be here in full force next year, with their deep pockets, funding the campaigns of state legislators and pouring money into ending marriage equality during the GOP presidential primary. It’s all about the benjamins.

Last week found me in Concord again, attending 3 more hearings. HB 343 would create a “Permanent State Defense Force.” Sponsor Dan Itse claimed that this would cost nothing, yet the fiscal impact note attached to the bill, found that it would increase state expenditures by nearly $500,000 the first year, and increasing with each subsequent year. None of the sponsors were able to make a clear case as to why NH needs a standing army, other than they’d be handy in an ice storm, an example that was used throughout the hearing. Apparently I should be shooting at the ice dams on my roof. General James Riddell of the NH National Guard offered some compelling testimony in opposition to the bill. This is the third iteration of the bill, which has been repeatedly sponsored by Rep. Itse, and it has repeatedly gone nowhere. One wonders why he continues to squander our tax dollars (and the time of his colleagues) on a useless exercise.

Also heard on that day were House Bills 223 and 176. HB 223 would eliminate same day voter registration. NH Republicans have been desperate for some years now to create proof of large-scale voter fraud in our state, despite not having any factual evidence of it. (Anecdotes are not data!) NH has same day voter registration because we didn’t want to comply with the federal motor-voter law. Eliminating same day registration would mean complying with motor-voter, which would mean registering voters at the DMV, and would also empower groups and organizations to go out and register voters. It would be extremely costly, which means it’s likely to go nowhere, especially since the last thing the GOP wants is non-profit ACORN like groups registering voters. It’s unclear whether Rep. Sorg, who was the sole sponsor of this bill, had considered that niggling little detail. This is yet another bill that would needlessly increase spending at a time when the ruling party claims to be fiscally responsible.

The second bill, HB 176 is intended to stop college students and anyone stationed in NH from voting here. Speaker O’Brien was quoted in January as saying that college students are “basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, and voting as a liberal.” That’s the REAL goal of 176: voter suppression. The GOP is too lazy to organize on college campuses, and win students over, preferring to engage in nanny state tactics. If you aren’t going to vote the way WE want, you won’t vote at all! Representative Sorg, again the sole sponsor, testified that college is an “educational theme park, surrounded by reality,” and that college students are guilty of “youthful idealism, ignorance, and inexperience.” This coming from the same NH GOP that wants to return the high school dropout age to 16. They believe that high school students are mature enough to make that kind of a life impacting decision, but college kids are too dumb to vote?

There was much anecdotal testimony about fraud, but when questioned by the committee if the alleged fraud had been reported or investigated, the answers continued to be “no.” This is a nauseating attempt to disenfranchise certain classes of voters. One has to wonder, if those huge buses come in from Socialistachusetts to vote in NH elections, where were they in 2010?

Contempt for Teachers

From the NY Times:

The jabs Erin Parker has heard about her job have stunned her. Oh you pathetic teachers, read the online comments and placards of counterdemonstrators. You are glorified baby sitters who leave work at 3 p.m. You deserve minimum wage.


Ms. Parker, a second-year teacher making $36,000, fears that under the proposed legislation class sizes would rise and higher contributions to her benefits would knock her out of the middle class.

“I love teaching, but I have $26,000 of student debt,” she said. “I’m 30 years old, and I can’t save up enough for a down payment” for a house. Nor does she own a car. She is making plans to move to Colorado, where she could afford to keep teaching by living with her parents.


Even in a country that is of two minds about teachers — Americans glowingly recall the ones who changed their lives, but think the job with its summers off is cushy — education experts say teachers have rarely been the targets of such scorn from politicians and voters.

Yet all of these politicians and voters are able to express their scorn because of teachers. There is a dichotomy here. We claim to revere teachers, yet our actions show otherwise. Underlying all of this, is the scariest aspect of all: how little we value our children.

This report from the Children's Defense Fund has a lot of pertinent data.

The report provides a statistical compendium of key child data showing alarming numbers of children at risk: the number of poor children has increased by 2.5 million since 2000 to 14.1 million, with almost half of them living in extreme poverty, and 8.1 million children lack health coverage―with both numbers likely to increase during the recession.

According to the CDF report, children in America lag behind almost all industrialized nations on key child indicators. The United States has the unwanted distinction of being the worst among industrialized nations in relative child poverty, in the gap between rich and poor, in teen birth rates, and in child gun violence.

It isn't just working people we don't care about. At the very heart of the matter is how little we care for children. Our national priorities are in dire need of reconsideration.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Cities Using Volunteer Cops

Budget cuts create a new group within law enforcement: volunteers. From the NYT:

Hamstrung by shrinking budgets, the police say the volunteers are indispensable in dealing with low-level offenses and allow sworn officers to focus on more pressing crimes and more violent criminals.

“We had the option to either stop handling those calls or do it in a different manner,” said Fresno’s police chief, Jerry Dyer, whose department has lost more than 300 employees in recent years. “I’ve always operated under the premise of no risk, no success. And in this instance, I felt we really didn’t have very much to lose.”

Other chiefs facing budget problems are also using volunteers. In Mesa, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb, 10 of them have been trained to process crime scenes, dust for fingerprints and even swab for DNA.


Allen Hopper, the police practices director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, said volunteers needed to be aware of — and responsible for — suspects’ constitutional protections. While sworn officers can be punished for breaking those rules, he said, “It is unclear how these important safeguards would apply to civilians doing police officers’ jobs.”

Supporters say the volunteers are screened and extensively trained. In Mesa, the volunteer crime scene specialists have to demonstrate that they are competent in various types of evidence collection and, oddly, be able to lift 25 pounds. “We’re asking a lot for people we’re not paying,” said Linda Bailey, the department’s volunteer coordinator. “But these folks are handling evidence, and they have access to confidential information.”

Some are using the volunteer work as a springboard to a law enforcement career. Some have read a lot of crime novels (and presumably watched a lot of Law and Order, and CSI) and think this is "cool."

There are many areas to be concerned about. Who is responsible if a volunteer is injured or disabled on the job? If a volunteer is indiscreet with confidential information, what then? If there is such a shortage of staff, how much supervision do these volunteers really get? Will evidence gathered by volunteers stand up in court? Will this generate lawsuits against the city for failing to use professionals? So many questions.

Many of the small towns in NH, where I live, have volunteer fire departments and EMTs. We are all grateful that our friends and neighbors go through the rigorous training necessary to protect our lives and property. We rely on these volunteers. One thing we don't have, however, is volunteer cops. A volunteer cop in a small town would quickly become a pariah.

This seems like a return to the days of pinning stars on the posse, saddling up, and riding out to get the bank robbers. It is a visible step backward for our cities, and the whole country.

cross-posted at: MainSt/

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Another Brick in the... Sweatshop?

From Political Fix the inside scoop on Missouri, Illinois, and St. Louis politics:

Missouri State Senator Jane Cunningham has filed a bill to change child labor laws:

Sen. Jane Cunningham responded today to what she called "misinformation and misunderstanding" regarding her bill to weaken child labor laws in the state.

The legislation would legalize employment for children under 14, end inspections of facilities employing children, and remove restrictions on the number of hours a child may work.

But Cunningham, a Chesterfield Republican, said school attendance for children would remain compulsory under her bill, and children would not be allowed to work in dangerous jobs.

"In no way are we trying to get rid of the child labor laws," Cunningham said in an interview.

If there aren't inspections of job sites, how will anyone know if children are working dangerous jobs? Great idea, Senator.

Child labor laws have been in effect in the US for fewer than 100 years. The Child Labor Education Project has a concise history of US child labor and a timeline. The growing US Labor Movement was one of the strongest
voices for reform.

The anti-union crowd is desperate to repeal the last 2 centuries, and return us to the days of children in sweatshops. Think of the money we'll save on school funding!

Child labor laws are one of the zillions of reasons we should be grateful for organized labor.

cross-posted at MainSt/