Friday, May 27, 2011

Alabama Legislator Tired of Hurting Workers

In Alabama, a state representative changed political parties over his frustration with a bill to change laws affecting teachers. From the Tuscaloosa News:
Boman, a 36-year-old lawyer from Sulligent, said Wednesday’s vote on a bill to change the state’s tenure and fair dismissal laws for educators convinced him he was in the wrong party.
Boman, elected as a Republican last November, voted against the tenure and fair dismissal bill that Democrats said removes much of the due process for teachers facing discipline or firing.

At a press conference Rep. Borman had this to say"
"During this current session I have seen this legislative body pass bills that I feel adversely affect what my people back home want, need, and deserve…

The move to blame and punish teachers, and other state and public employees has gone too far - at least for this legislator, who hasn't forgotten that he's in office to represent the voters of his district.

A look at the bill itself, from HuffPo:
The Alabama House of Representatives voted to pass the Students First Act, which does not do away entirely with teacher tenure but does streamline the teacher dismissal process. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed the bill on Thursday.

Here's what probably motivated Rep. Borman:
The bill keeps both tenure and the timeline for achieving it in place for teachers but eliminates the lengthy federal arbitration process for firing tenured teachers. Under the new law, teachers would be unable to appeal layoffs. School districts and community colleges would be empowered to terminate teachers "at any time" and for various reasons, such as a reduction in the number of positions available, incompetency, and "immorality."

Any time an appeals process is eliminated, justice for the worker is eliminated. Incompetence is an easy claim to make, but what does it look like, exactly? And termination any time for "immorality?" That's a deadly weapon to deploy. No wonder Representative Borman decided it was time to speak out.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Threats, Bribes - and Still No Override

The battle over the so-called right to work law has been going on for months now. If you read Mark Hounsell’s editorial piece, you know that that right to work legislation has been coming back to haunt NH since the 1980’s when it first appeared. In 1985, Nackey Loeb wrote an editorial opposing RTW, calling it the “right to low pay” bill. It has been voted down every single time, but it keeps on coming back. The out of state special interest group behind the law is relentless and well financed.

Let’s be clear. Right to work is not a NH initiative. Both Governor Lynch and Labor Commissioner George Copadis state emphatically that no business has ever suggested that NH enact right to work legislation. No company interested in locating in NH has ever mentioned it as a concern. So, if business doesn’t want it – what is this all about? Who does want it?

The Teabaglicans want it. That term includes the Teahaddis, Republicans, Free Staters, and John Birchers who are currently the majority in the NH House, as led by Speaker O’Brien. Some of the highlights of the Speaker’s tenure thus far include: trying to oust a state rep. for being a Democrat, failing NOT to oust his second in command for calling Roman Catholic Bishop McCormick a pedophile and a pimp, attempting to change voter laws because student voters are “foolish” and “emotional,” and vote for liberals. The Speaker’s reign thus far has a triumph of ideology over what is actually best for the state, or what voters actually want. Instead of making good on their campaign promises of “balancing the budget, and jobs, jobs, jobs” this majority has concerned itself with overturning nearly every piece of legislature voted in during the last session, no matter how inconsequential. O’Brien has proven to be a vindictive leader who apparently thinks he pulled the sword from the stone. Those who cross him are punished. Representatives Tony Soltani, Susan Emerson, and Lee Quandt were all removed from their committee assignments for voting incorrectly. Only Emerson was reassigned. Soltani and Quandt are still both in punitive legislative limbo.

Nowhere has the ideology and lack of principle been more obvious than in the right to work battle. O’Brien was infuriated by Governor Lynch’s veto of the bill. He complained to the Union Leader that the Republicans were not going to allow the Governor to function as “a third branch of the legislature.” Then the O’Brien junta set about persuading those members of the Republican caucus who voted against right to work to vote to override the Governor’s veto.

The pressure has been fierce. Tom Fahey reported in the Union Leader that members of the caucus who weren’t going to vote to override were being urged to “talk a walk” when that vote game up. That’s right. They were asked to avoid doing their jobs as duly elected representatives of the people. Threats were made. Rep. Susan Emerson reported being “bullied” in a private meeting with the Speaker, where he threatened to kick her out of the caucus. Rep. Steve Vallaincourt (who sits on the House Special Committee on Redistricting) penned a vindictive post on the right wing blog NH Insider, where he wrote: “Maybe if she wants to get re-elected in 2012, she better start thinking of coming back. Hey, who knows what her district will even look like next year.”

The outspoken Lee Quandt mentions threats and bribes on his blog. Apparently some legislators were offered campaign money in exchange for their vote to override this bill. Lee Quandt is what Republicans used to be in our state. He’s conservative but not an ideologue. He’s a reasonable man, and he’s also his own man. No wonder the leadership hates him. This kind of old-school Republican is being purged from their own party for not being willing to march in jackbooted lockstep.

The greatest irony of all is that the mighty override vote was supposed to take place on May 25, this week. Attendance was high, one of the highest rates of attendance in a legislative session this year, yet O’Brien chose not to go forward with the override vote. All of his bluster, threats, and bribes hadn’t been enough to get him the votes he needed. When Rep. Soltani called upon him to put it up for a vote, O’Brien became so enraged he had Soltani escorted to his seat by the House Sergeant-at-Arms.

This means that the vote to override the veto can be held at any time between now and December. A two-thirds majority of those present is the requirement for the override. Given what we’ve seen from the Speaker, it’s likely that there will be some sort of attempt at rigging this vote in the future.

This is not about what is best for NH. Workers in right to work states earn lower pay, especially women – and the pay gap for women in NH is so great that we currently rank 10th in the nation. The poverty rates in right to work states are double those in NH. We have a low unemployment rate as it is – lower than the right to work states. Nevada is a right to work state and has the highest unemployment rate in the country. No one is forced to join a union or pay full union dues. The talking points issued by folks like Frank McCarthy are just not true.

So what’s it really all about? It’s all about the benjamins. In a speech to the Belknap County Republicans, O'Brien told them that the bill “The bill "is good for our party." He claimed that the unions were the biggest donors to Democrats in 2010. He also singled out the State Employees Association: "They're not our friends. They cycle public money to the Democratic Party."

Don’t let all the high-flown rhetoric about job creation, “freedom”, or Frank McCarthy’s bizarre rhetoric about Russia fool you. This group doesn’t care about any of that. This bill is all about consolidating power and money for the Republican Party. If that means they have to stick it to NH workers in the process, well, that’s okay with them.

Once again I ask: is this what you voted for?

© 2011 sbruce

published as an op-ed in the May 27 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

All NH and VT Share is a Border

New Hampshire and Vermont could not be further apart in terms of general outlook and governance. Yesterday, the big right-to-work veto override vote did not take place in NH. From NHPR:
House Speaker says he didn't have needed 2/3rds to override Lynch veto and says it would be "perilous" to announce when vote may take place.

After all of the threats adn bribes Speaker O'Brien still didn't have enough votes to override Governor Lynch's veto. Another man might have gotten the message. Not O'Brien.

The turnout for the vote was high, 380 out of 397 representatives were present. Some were pretty annoyed that the vote was going to be delayed. Representative Tony Soltani (a Republican from Epsom) tried to force the issue. The Speaker became so irate that he had the House Sergeant-at-Arms escort Representative Soltani back to his seat.
Speaker O’Brien, for his part, said numbers dictated his decision making. He says he would have preferred maintain his schedule but wasn’t sure he had the votes.
“It would have been close. It depends who shows up. Without having, for example, I was missing five votes, five yes votes, and I wasn’t going to take that chance.”

It seems the Speaker needs more time to game this vote. It's entirely possible that he will schedule this vote on a day when many members are absent. It takes a 2/3 majority to pass, but that is 2/3 of those present. He has until December to schedule this vote.

Last month, the Vermont legislature passed a bill that would create a single payer health care system for the entire state. Today, Governor Peter Shumlin signed that bill into law. Vermont is the first state in the nation to pass this kind of legislation. The state will spend the next 4 years setting up the system. What I found most remarkable about this brief story is the quote from Governor Shumlin. From ThinkProgress:
n a statement provided to ThinkProgress, Shumlin explained that he had an economic and moral imperative to champion Vermont's new health care law: "This law recognizes an economic and fiscal imperative – that we must control the growth in health care costs that are putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business. We have a moral imperative to fix this problem, with 47,000 Vermonters uninsured and another 150,000 underinsured and worried about how to afford keeping their families healthy"

Vermonters feel they have a moral imperative to take care of families and business. The NH legislature feels they have a moral imperative to destroy unions and ensure lower wages for NH workers. Truly, all we share is a border.

cross posted at MainSt/

Monday, May 23, 2011

Right to Work Vote in NH This Week

This week the NH House votes to override Governor Lynch's veto of the so-called Right to Work bill. Speaker O'Brien is pressuring representatives to vote to overturn. From the NH Union Leader:
Those Republicans who won’t come along are being asked to “take a walk” when the vote is taken. The more lawmakers who wander away during the vote, the fewer votes O’Brien needs to get to two-thirds.

In short, they're being asked NOT to represent their constituents or vote their consciences.

There are rumors of arm twisting, threats, and bribes. From Rep. Ray Gagnon:

Among the stories being circulated is that the more fervent radical republicans are threatening to have any member evicted from their caucus if they don’t support and vote the republican leadership position. It would seem that the party of Lincoln, T. Roosevelt and Eisenhower has no tolerance for individual opinion and principle. What is especially sad is they frame the RTW argument with contradictions and use words like personal liberty and freedom, but to their members the hidden message is –do what you are told or else! Of course the bill’s title – Right to Work – fits nicely with this double speak as it really means workers have the right to work for less money.

Governor Lynch sent out a rationale for his veto of RTW to all House members. More from Rep. Gagnon:
The governor was a successful corporate CEO before being elected – so I was especially interested to learn how “in his many years in the private sector turning around companies, as well as governor” – he has “never seen the RTW law serve as a valuable economic development tool.” Also, how in the past seven years as governor – not one business leader interested in locating here has ever asked him if New Hampshire has a right-to-work law!

Governor Lynch further stated that “no New Hampshire business leaders” has ever told him that the “lack of a so called RTW law prevented them from expanding or hiring new workers here in New Hampshire.” He then went on to share with us that no NH worker has ever told him they could not get a job because we do not have a so called right-to-work law.

Republican Representative Lee Quandt was kicked off the House Finance Committee by Speaker O'Brien. Quandt voted against the budget, and for daring to disagree with O'Brien and the party, he was ousted from his committee. Three GOP state reps have been punished in this way, thus far, for the same reasons. Only one has been reassigned. Rep. Quandt is living in a committee-less limbo still. Rep. Quandt has been outspoken in his opposition to the right to work bill.

From Rep. Quandt's blog:
What is happening now is state reps are being, as close as I can figure bribed and threatened all in the same day. I have been told that the speaker is promising money for your campaign if you stick with him and vote for RTW by voting against the Governors Veto. Then I hear that the majority leader is calling state reps and threatening them to vote with leadership to override the governor’s veto. Couple this with some far right wingers that are crazier than an out house mouse directing calls to those republicans that are sticking by their constituents trying to get them to change their votes and you have a remake of the movie “One flew over the Cuckoos Nest”.

First they were asking and leaning on republicans to take a walk on the vote if they couldn’t support leadership. Then they reverted to the dirty, MA style of politics by threats and borderline bribes. The growing discomfort with our so called leadership team, is only going to split the house more and make it more difficult, if not impossible to hold a veto proof majority and may put the governor in a better position to negotiate a budget he is more comfortable with, due to the hard feelings and loss of respect for the current house leadership. In fact our leadership group is making their own case for why they should be removed.

Legislators are being pressured, and asked to walk away from voting. It's rumored that legislators are being threatened. Last month I wrote about NH State Senator Sharon Carson going to the police after being threatened by her local GOP town chair. Her neighbors were also getting harassed. It's not difficult to believe that the NH House leadership is doing serious arm twisting and offering bribes, while spreading nonsense about "union thugs." This legislature is the worst I've seen in my 27 years of living in this state.

The House will be in session on Wednesday, May 25. They will be voting to override this veto on that day. Stay tuned.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"Womancession" About to Begin

In January, I wrote about the end of the so-called "Mancession." I commented then that the term was a media device for pitting the genders against one another to minimize the full impact of the recession on everyone.

Job growth is still terrible. It's marginally better for men right now. Women are just about to lose whatever ground they've been gaining in employment.

From Alternet:

The "mancession" is behind us. Men suffered 69 percent of the job losses between the onset of the recession in December 2007 and last February, when the labor market hit bottom. Job growth in the 14 months since has been anemic, though men have fared noticeably better than women. While men have regained only a fifth of the jobs they lost, women have done even worse, recovering less than a tenth.

The job situation for women is poised to deteriorate further. Cuts in K-12 schooling and in services at the state and local levels have already begun, and public officials are proposing ever more draconian measures. More and more states and municipalities are making plans to shortchange the education of our youth and to deny vulnerable children, the disabled and the frail elderly access to Medicaid, health and personal care services. When these cuts are made, it’s women’s jobs that will be on the chopping block.

It was construction and manufacturing jobs that were lost in the earlier parts of the recession, jobs that are traditionally more male dominated, which was where all the talk of the "mancession" came from. Women, who traditionally work in teaching, health care, and service related jobs were not hit hard at the beginning. Or to look at it another way, the higher paying jobs were the first to go.

Working in different occupations made women less vulnerable to job losses during the crash, but it now threatens to penalize them as the economy recovers. Since the expansion began, men gained back 263,000 jobs in manufacturing, and are beginning to gain jobs in construction. Women, in contrast, continue to lose jobs in both sectors. In private education and health services, expansion of women’s jobs has slowed. Men held 23 percent of jobs in this sector when the recession began, but gained 37 percent of the additional jobs created. The bigger story, however, is playing out in the public sector. After holding up well during the economic contraction, employment in the public sector has defied the recovery and declined by 284,000 jobs through April, all of them at state and local levels. Three quarters of the public sector job decline was due to jobs lost by women, mostly in K-12 education and other local government jobs. The news for women is likely to get even worse as the school year ends and pink slips go out.

For those families who are hanging on by a thread on the income generated by a teaching job, this has the potential to be a disaster. Out there in the land of working families, the cutesy terms created by the media are meaningless. What these families know is that if both partners lose their jobs foreclosure and homelessness are moving ever closer.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, May 13, 2011

Who Needs Tourism Anyway?

The 2010 elections were full of talk about jobs, the economy, and balancing budgets. The NH GOP promised that job creation was their first priority. There was also a lot of talk about balancing the state budget, and “budget deficits.” Informed readers are aware that the NH budget is required by law to be balanced every biennium, and that the last one was no exception. The Republicans didn’t like that budget, so they spread a lot of misinformation, including using numbers that were outright fabrication.

The goal of the Teabaglican legislature is to cut as many funding sources as possible, so that the state doesn’t have any money to spend on anything. They are under the impression that a state that doesn’t generate any significant tax revenue, or regulate anything will be a big attraction for businesses that will flock to locate in a state where there is little taxation and little oversight, where everyone can carry concealed weapons – because that apparently is how jobs are created. That may have been true in the 1700’s. Given that these are people who dress up in tri-corner hats and revolutionary war drag, one can sense that these are not folks who have any kind of grounding in current reality.

Far from creating jobs and helping business grow, our legislature has taken the opposite approach. The budget passed by the NH House eliminates the shellfish program from the Dept. of Environmental Services. The shellfish program is responsible for testing the waters on the coastline, and in both Great and Little Bay. Without that testing, all of the shellfish operations in the state would have to be closed down, because the state would no longer meet federal guidelines for shellfish safety. The commercial oyster farms in Great Bay and mussel farms in the Atlantic would be shut down. This means families losing their businesses and employees losing jobs. It also means no recreational clam digging licenses would be issued. No testing for red tide means no one credible would be interested in purchasing NH shellfish. This would be devastating to the seacoast economy, and lose money for the state. This is the opposite of job creation – it’s wanton job destruction. It’s the destruction of an entire industry.

The budget for the Marine Patrol was cut by 20%. This would mean the number of officers would go from 80 to 48. The Marine Patrol covers NH’s 978 water bodies and the coastline. They also teach boater safety classes, which will be reduced considerably. Upkeep on their fleet of vessels will be deferred. The department has been funded mostly by user fees, but this year, the legislature took $1 million from the user fee generated fund to use in the general fund. This isn’t making boaters happy. The Marine Patrol gets some federal funding, depending on how much the state kicks in. This year the amount will be reduced from over $1 million to about $100,000. It’s also worth noting that the number of Marine Patrol calls more than doubled between 2009 to 2010.

Another cut to the Environmental Services budget would eliminate NH’s public pool and spa inspection program, which also oversees water parks. This will save $139,000. Our state is visited by 34 million tourists a year.
The state inspects some 1400 public pools and spas. Over the last five years, the state has reported 2,211 overall water quality violations. There were 725 safety violations and 313 were bacterial. There were 224 immediate closures. NH does not require pool operators to be certified. And of course all it takes is for one person to get seriously ill to have a devastating effect on NH tourism, especially since this particular bit of budget idiocy is now a nationwide story.

NH is the only state in the union that funds state parks by user fees, a decision made in 1991. There’s a reason other states don’t do it that way. It doesn’t work. In fact, it has led to 20 years of neglect. In 2010, State Parks Director Ted Austin was quoted in the Union Leader as saying, “There isn’t one state park that isn’t in disrepair,” and “most of our vehicles can’t pass state inspection.” The current House budget actually allots $2.8 million to the state park system, but that’s a drop in the bucket that will only start to undo the decades of neglect. Big ticket items include: the Hampton beach seawall, the Sherman Adams building atop Mt. Washington, fire tower repairs, and updating the public bathrooms in North Hampton beach. The $2.8 million isn’t going to go very far.

Are you starting to see a pattern yet? It’s clear that the current NH legislature doesn’t have any interest in protecting the natural resources of our state, which are our biggest source of revenue. The tourist industry is apparently of no concern to them. That lack of concern says a great deal about the kind of representation the northern part of the state is getting in Concord. Terrible is far too kind a word to describe it.

This also speaks volumes about NH media, and their position as standard bearers for the NH GOP. In a state that relies so heavily on tourist dollars, these budget cuts should be reported on and their ramifications discussed.

It’s going to take decades and billions of dollars to undo the damage being done by this legislature. Is this what you voted for?

© sbruce 2011

This was originally published in the May 13, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

What's Behind "Right to Work" in NH

Right to Work legislation has been returning, like a zombie to NH since the 1980's. It's been rejected every time. This year, with an NH House filled with a huge number of freshman legislators who are allied with the Tea Party, the Free Staters, and even the John Birch Society, the out-of-state special found fertile ground. As Doug reported yesterday, NH Governor John Lynch vetoed the bill that had passed both the NH House and the Senate.

Last month, I wrote about a legislator who was threatened for refusing to vote for right to work. That piece had a link
to the testimony of the NH Labor Commissioner before the NH House:
Copadis said he had held meetings with 2,000 New Hampshire businesses over the six years he has been commissioner and the issue of right-to-work legislation never came up.

If no one in NH wanted it - what is this all about?

Former State Senator Mark Hounsell provides some insight in The Keene Sentinel:

I maintain the bill is about union busting from personal experience. In 1985 as a member of the Senate I sponsored right to work legislation. My sponsorship provided me access to the intents and strategies of the Virginia based National Right to Work Committee. The NRW committee believes that if it can pass certain provisions state by state it will effectively cause the demise of unions nationwide.

That 's what it's about. Hounsell says it simply, and he should know. He's been on both sides of this issue. He came into it on the side of Right to Work, and learned better along the way. He's been a staunch labor supporter for the last decade. He lays out the realities for NH workers should the veto be overturned very clearly.

If enacted, HB 474 will drive down wages and benefits, and the entire economy will suffer. On average union workers earn 28 percent more in wages and benefits then unorganized workers. On average, women union workers earn 34 percent more in wages and benefits than non-union women workers.

Workers in states with right to work laws earn $5,500 less per year than workers currently earn in New Hampshire.

The speculation has begun about who Speaker O'Brien and the special interest groups will "turn" in order to override the Governor's veto. There's plenty of time for threats and harassment between now and the vote on May 25, and we've seen this group isn't afraid of either.

We'll keep you posted.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Upscale Homes Lose Federal Mortgage Backing

By the end of the summer, the federal govt. will no longer be backing loans for "upscale" homes. From the NY Times:

For the last three years, federal agencies have backed new mortgages as large as $729,750 in desirable neighborhoods in high-cost states like California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Without the government covering the risk of default, many lenders would have refused to make the loans. With the economy in free fall, Congress broadened its traditionally generous support of housing to a substantial degree.

But now Democrats and Republicans agree that the taxpayer should no longer be responsible for homes valued well above the national average, and are about to turn a top slice of the housing market into a testing ground for whether the private mortgage market can once again go it alone. The result, analysts say, will be higher-cost loans and fewer potential buyers for more expensive homes.

Given how many taxpayers have lost their jobs and their homes, it's difficult to imagine why we'd be subsidizing home loans for the affluent.

Brokers and agents here in Monterey said terms were much tougher for nonguaranteed loans since lenders were so wary. Borrowers are required to come up with down payments of 30 percent or more while showing greater assets, higher credit ratings and lower debt-to-income ratios.

In the Federal Reserve’s quarterly survey of lenders, released last week, only two of the 53 banks said their credit standards for prime residential mortgages had eased. Another two said they had tightened. The other 49 said their standards were the same — tough.

The banks, whom we taxpayers bailed out, don't want to lend money to the aforementioned taxpayers to buy homes. There's a conundrum.

No sensible person would advocate a return to unregulated and indiscriminate lending. Still, when banks are making it hard for wealthy people to buy homes, something is definitely wrong with both the lending system and the alleged economic recovery.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Alan Simpson Should Resign

From HuffPo:

Alan Simpson’s cold relationship with AARP is no secret, but the former Republican Senator from Wyoming took it to a new level Friday. At an event hosted by the Investment Company Institute, Simpson delighted the finance industry audience members by aiming a rude gesture at the leading lobby for senior citizens.

Financial and investment interests have long been supportive of Simpson’s broad critique of Social Security, since privatizing the old-age and disability support program would be a tremendous boon for Wall Street’s financial managers. ICI represents mutual funds and other money managers who control more than $13 trillion in assets.

Simpson’s forceful gesture came after an extended diatribe against Social Security, which he said is a "Ponzi" scheme, "not a retirement program.”

One might expect a 79 year old former US Senator to have better impulse control, and to be capable of behaving like an adult in public. Apparently, one would be wrong. Alan Simpson should resign - voluntarily or not as the case may be.

The favorite accusation of those who are desperate to turn the Social Security trust fund over to Wall St. is: "It's a Ponzi scheme."
Well, no - it's not. Social Security is a retirement insurance benefit that we "owners" have been paying into all of our working lives. Social Security was created to prevent elderly folks from being sent to poor houses, which were still in place when Social Security was created. It has always been intended to be one part of a 3 part retirement plan. The other 2 parts of the plan were a pension, and savings.

Pensions were common at the time Social Security was created - but that was at a time when business was loyal to their employees, and those employees were likely to stay with a company for their entire work life. Those days are long gone. Businesses no longer offer pensions to most employees. They're just as likely to ship their jobs overseas. The only loyalty corporate America has is to shareholders and CEOs. Given that wages in the US have been stagnant for decades, saving for retirement is increasingly difficult for working people. After the economy crashed in 2008, many people were forced to live on those savings when they lost their jobs.

None of that is the fault of American workers, but then, they are not Simpson's concern. Simpson is not only impervious to facts, he's annoyed by them, as we see in that same article. He accused Ryan Grim of giving him numbers created by those pesky liberals, and when informed that the numbers came from the Social Security Administration, he became quite grumpy:

Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: "If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 -- that all of them lived to be 77 -- that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true," said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September.

It's bad enough that this man is relying on incorrect information; it's down right chilling that his mind is already made up.

He does have some interesting reasoning as to why you shouldn't care whether Social Security is around for your grandchildren though:

Hey kids, get offa his lawn!

This is not a man who should be the co-chair of a committee charged with figuring out how to reduce the deficit.

It's interesting to note that thanks to serving in the US Senate, Simpson gets a nice pension for life, as well as dandy insurance benefits. It's almost amusing that he described Social Security as "a milk cow with 310 million teats. Simpson doesn't see himself as suckling on the public teat - he sees himself as deserving, which is at the root of the problem. When the wealthy and privileged start deciding who is and is not deserving, you can bet they're going to help themselves and their cronies.

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

Friday, May 06, 2011

What About Jobs?

We hear plenty about budgets and deficits - but no one seems to be talking about unemployment or job creation any more. We're still hearing that we're experiencing an economic recovery. It's an odd sort of recovery, when many millions of people are still out of work.

The employment numbers for April came out today, after a lot of sunny talk about how the unemployment numbers are "edging" down. Last month, the numbers edged back up. From Bloomberg:

The number of unemployed persons, at 13.7 million, changed little in April. The unemployment rate edged up from 8.8 to 9.0 percent over the month but was 0.8 percentage point lower than in November. The labor force also was little changed in April.

Even though jobs and the economy are the number one issue on the minds of the public, these topics are getting short shrift by the media and by our elected representatives in Washington. The plight of the long term unemployed has fallen off the radar completely.

In Alternet:

Last week, McDonald's announced with much fanfare that, after sifting through more than 1 million applications, it will be hiring 62,000 new workers. As one sly writer noted, a higher percentage of applicants got rejected by McDonald's than by Harvard, though the prestige of flipping Big Macs is not yet on par with a Harvard degree. We will not "win the future" by relying on low-wage service sector jobs to lead employment growth.

Other troubling facts are being overlooked. The outlook for summer jobs for teenagers is the worst on record. The unemployment rate for recent college graduates is 9 percent. Hiring in manufacturing, which has recorded more than 250,000 net new jobs over the past 15 months, has slowed in each of the past two months.

So much for those who tell the unemployed to "go get a job at McDonalds." The so-called economic recovery isn't keeping pace with new entrants to the job market, never mind those who are still unemployed and underemployed since the economy collapsed in 2008.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Musical Dissent

Back in February, I wrote about NH State Rep. Jeanine Notter who expressed her views about health insurance at hearing:

During yesterday’s hearing on HB 440 - which seeks to remove New Hampshire from the new health law and bar the NH Insurance Department from enforcing consumer protections - Representative Jeanine Notter of Merrimack told a member of the public that health reform is not needed because she is sure, just sure, that communities will rally around cancer patients and help them cover their costs.

That resulted in a certain amount of ridicule aimed at Rep. Notter, who will now forever be linked to the concept of "cupcakes for cancer." The three northernmost counties in NH have the highest numbers of uninsured residents, so that joke leaves a bitter aftertaste for those of us who live in the north country. NH is a small state, with only 1.3 million residents. As a result, we have one insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross, that insures 72% of the state. That monopoly has resulted in a distinct lack of competition, and given that we are a small market, insurance companies aren't exactly eager to locate here, unless they're able to cherry pick the areas they wish to serve. The NH legislature has ordered our State AG to join the lawsuit against the national health care reform law.

NH musician and songwriter Seth Austin recently recorded a song about Rep. Notter's comments, and the general level of uncertainty and concern we feel about being uninsured, especially in the northern half of the state. Here's Seth, singing with his partner Beverly Woods:

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Yachts are All Right

From Think Progress:

In response to the worst state budget crisis since World War II, the Texas House has proposed slashing $27 billion from the budget, including huge cuts to education, nursing homes, and health care for the poor. Yet last Friday, the Texas House Ways and Means Committee approved a tax break for those who want to buy yachts costing $250,000 or more.


The bill was originally estimated to cost Texas $1.4 million annually in lost revenue.


Under the current proposal, $7.8 billion will be cut from Texas public schools, four community colleges will close, 60,000 students will lose college financial aid, as many as 97,000 teachers and school employees will be laid off, 9,300 government jobs will be eliminated, Medicaid will be shortchanged by nearly $14 billion, and health and human services funding will plummet by a quarter.

Texas has a curious approach to balancing the budget, as I've noted earlier in Cutting Jobs to Create Jobs, and Texas May Eliminate Medicaid, which contains this little list:

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

* from an interview on NPR

It's difficult to imagine how eliminating colleges and teachers will help the state of Texas, but clearly yacht owners and their elected officials aren't interested in the long term. They're interested in what they personally get, right here, right now.

It is breathtaking that Texas is so honest in presenting their priorities. Educating children and caring for the poor and elderly aren't important. Tax breaks for those who fund the campaigns of those who will continue to provide tax breaks for the funders of campaigns - now that's a priority.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Updated: Budget Cuts and Job Losses

A look at some of this month's job losses, three days into the month of May:

31 jobs cut from school budget Agawam, MA

After postponing their decision on Tuesday, the Agawam school committee voted Friday night to approve their 34 million dollar budget plan for the next fiscal year. By approving the budget plan it means the loss of 31 positions, including paraprofessionals, secretaries, and teachers.

110 jobs cut Kent School District Covington, WA

The cuts include about 31 elementary school teachers, 20 secondary teachers, nine special education teachers, five counselors and four high school assistant principals.

An additional 34 classified employees, including transportation, maintenance and central office staff also face layoffs. Those jobs do not legally require official layoff notices from the district.

That seems like a lot of elementary school teachers.

Head Start program closing down - 33 lose jobs Dayton, Ohio

Dayton Public is shutting down its program at a time when Ohio is falling behind in educating at-risk preschoolers, according to a national report card released Monday.
Steve Barnett, author of the study by the National Institute for Early Education, said no other state has slashed preschool funding so dramatically.
“Ohio is imploding when it comes to early childhood education,” he said. “It’s the result of a dramatic decrease in funding and a dramatic decrease in standards.”

This is a disturbing trend. School districts around the country seem to be abandoning early childhood education.

50 jobs to be cut in Dept. of Public Health Boston, MA

Valerie Bassett, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association, said the reductions would be departmentwide, affecting disease prevention, regulatory, environmental, and community health efforts.

Disease prevention? Community health? This may turn out to be an instance of a state shooting itself in the foot. The pound of cure is always more costly than the ounce of prevention.

Laying off approx. 50 people: Humboldt County, CA

The positions include one position from the board's office, four from the District Attorney's Child Abuse Services Team, three from the Public Defender's Office, 24 from Sheriff's Office operations, three from the Probation Department, one from the jail, two from the Economic Development Department, two from Alternate Counsel, five from the animal shelter, and one from the library.

The Alternate Counsel office is one of three offices that provide legal defenses for defendants who can't afford to pay for their own.

No justice for you, poor people.

Kansas City Star laying off about 24

The Kansas City Star announced Monday that it was eliminating about two dozen jobs and cutting a smaller number of unfilled positions.

Cutting 30-35 jobs/7% of the workforce Florida Times Union

The Florida Times-Union will cut its workforce by about 7 percent because revenue is below expectations for this fiscal year, Publisher Lucy Talley said Monday.
The reductions, which could total the equivalent of 30 to 35 full-time jobs, will come from a combination of layoffs and by eliminating vacant positions.

Schools, teachers, public health, public safety, legal services for low income folks are being cut dramatically. On the surface, the newspaper layoffs don't appear to be connected - but who will report these stories? We aren't hearing enough about these issues as it is.

cross-posted at MainSt/