Thursday, September 22, 2011

For Young Adults, Benefits of Health Care Reform Already Clear

Since the new health insurance reform law went into effect in 2010, over a million young adults have been able to get health insurance. The reform bill requires insurance companies to allow adult children to stay on their parent's policies until age 26. US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius called this a "really great achievement." From the Washington Post:

“The economic downturn has taken a toll on employment among young adults,” Sebelius said during a conference call with news media. “In the past, that would have led to even more young people without health insurance. Instead, thanks to the [new law], the number of young adults with coverage has actually gone up.”

Given that young adults are the age group most likely to go without health insurance, this really is good news. These comments from a student directly affected get right to the heart of the matter:

For Luis Silva,the provision means having peace of mind as he pursues a law degree. The 23-year-old University of South Florida senior said he would have been forced to go without insurance if the law had not enabled him to keep coverage through his mother, a bank worker.

“Money is really tight,” he said. “I’m putting myself through college, already working a part-time job, literally living on ramen. . . . If it was anything more than $20 a month, I would not be able to afford it.”

That was a scary prospect for Silva, whose father owes $50,000 in medical bills he incurred after getting into a trucking accident while uninsured.

This provision in the health insurance reform bill allows students like Luis Silva and his family to have one less thing to worry about in this economy.

Polls show, repeatedly, that most people don't know what is actually in the health insurance reform bill, or how it will affect them. In a country where over 50 million are uninsured, adding a million young adults to the ranks of the insured may not seem like a big deal, but for every one of those families, it's a big success.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Arbiters of Fiscal Responsibility

The work of repairing the damage done to our state by Hurricane Irene continues. The Kancamaugus Highway has been repaired enough to allow traffic upon it. The repairs to Rt. 16 above the Dana Place are moving along very quickly. A temporary bridge has been put over the Sawyer River on Rt. 302. All of these fixes were put in place in time to ensure that the tourists who come to NH from all over the world during foliage season will be able to see the show. These fixes also ensure that our businesses won’t suffer during the busiest time of the year. In all of the places where homes and property were damaged, the signs of clean up continue.

In a state where the Teabaglican legislature cut the Dept. of Transportation budget to the point where there is concern about how NH will pay for plowing, it is curious that the question of how this will all be paid for is not really being discussed. There are roadside signs and newspaper ads telling local folks how and where to apply to FEMA for help. FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a branch of the Dept. of Homeland Security. FEMA is tasked with helping respond to disasters that overwhelm the resources of local or state authorities, including funding for rebuilding. Not a word from any of our state representatives on this subject. Are they opposed to FEMA money to help their neighbors rebuild? Are they keeping quiet in order to have some hope of getting reelected? Where is Frank McCarthy’s manifesto on this subject?

US Senator Jeanne Shaheen spoke on the Senate floor about the need for Congress to provide comprehensive disaster aid to her own state, and all of the other states that were hit hard by Irene. In a year of many natural disasters (hurricanes, tornados, floods, and wildfires) FEMA funds have been depleted, and Senator Shaheen was urging her fellow members of the Senate to provide more funding for FEMA. Shaheen knows that without that funding, NH will be unable to rebuild and recover.

What of our other federal officials? Senator Kelly Ayotte voted against aiding her state. In the US House, Rep. Eric Cantor (R. Reptile House) insisted that appropriating funds for FEMA be tied to more federal spending cuts. That’s right. Cantor is opposed to rebuilding his country. NH Congressmen Frank Guinta and Charlie Bass went right along with Cantor, and voted against their own state. Be sure to thank Ayotte, Guinta, and Bass if you ever see them. Guinta and Bass have taken to holding telephone town hall meetings, in an effort to avoid angry constituents.

Neither Cantor nor Bass ever demanded budget cuts to offset the $55+ billion we’ve spent on building infrastructure in Iraq, or the paltry $36 billion we’ve spent rebuilding Afghanistan. The DoD is currently taking bids for building a giant new prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. This prison would be large enough to hold 2000 prisoners, at an estimated cost of $100 million. Not a word of protest from Cantor, Ayotte, Bass, or Guinta on this use of our tax dollars. They don’t have a problem with our spending money on other countries. It’s the needs of their own country that they don’t care about.

This week we learned that the legislature is getting ready to deal with a $35 million budget shortfall. This shortfall comes about because NH is probably going to have to pay back some $35 million in Medicaid funds that were improperly used in 2004. The misuse of Medicaid money to help prop up the General Fund is nothing new; it began during Judd Gregg’s tenure as Governor of our state, saving his bacon in a 1991 budget crisis. In short: states that could prove they treated a disproportionate share of low-income patients were eligible for federally matched funds to create Disproportionate Share (DSH) programs. The funds were supposed to be used to reimburse hospitals and providers who treated a disproportionate share of low-income folks. To greatly simplify, the hospitals got half of the revenue, and the other half went in the General Fund. The party ended in 2007, when the US Dept. of Health and Human Services questioned NH’s use of those funds, and an audit found that NH was not adhering to federal guidelines, and would have to pay back $35 million. Governor Lynch is appealing this decision.

The NH media reports this story carefully, ever mindful of their role as GOP stenographers. Most reports never mention that Mediscam began during Judd Gregg’s tenure as governor, or that in 2004 Craig Benson was the governor of our state during the time of this mismanagement of funds, and that the GOP had control of both the NH House and Senate. Mediscam is a GOP legacy, as is this $35 million dollar payback.

Now, Rep. Neal Kurk, (R. Sociopath) is rubbing his hands together with glee at the prospect of re-opening the budget and eliminating another $35 million. Neal Kurk doesn’t care if our roads are plowed – or even paved. This same budget has already caused some 2000 job losses. Neal Kurk can’t wait to make sure even more NH residents are unemployed.

I am left with two questions. The first: why would anyone ever believe anything the NH GOP has to say about fiscal responsibility?

The second question is the one I keep asking: Is this what you voted for? A Senator and 2 Congressman that shovel money overseas without question, but vote against helping their own states and their country rebuild after a natural disaster?

this was published as an op-ed in the 9-23-11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

© sbruce 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More Layoffs May be Coming

There hasn't been nearly enough job creation to help the (officially) 14 million Americans who are out of work. As I've said before, the real number is much higher. The 99'ers and others who have lost benefits, as well as those who were never eligible for benefits aren't counted.

Last month's employment report showed zero job creation.

From the New York Times:

Job growth halted entirely in the nation last month. And as Europe’s debt crisis acts as a drag on global growth and Washington debates another jobs bill, the possibility of a second recession is increasing in the United States along with the prospects of corresponding layoffs. Mr. Myricks’s tale of pain the second time around, economists fear, could become all too familiar.

With headlines like the 30,000 layoffs planned at Bank of America and the United States Postal Service asking Congress to cut 120,000 workers, it is perhaps not surprising that workers’ concerns about job security are near the peak they reached during the last recession, according to a recent Gallup survey. At least one anecdotal study found that layoff announcements were greater in August than a year earlier.

The last workers in the door are often the first out the door. That could make the Americans who have already depleted their support networks and unemployment benefits most vulnerable to layoffs.

Having a long layoff, followed by brief employment and another layoff isn't going to look good on anyone's resume, especially at a time when some employers are running ads that discriminate against the unemployed, by requiring job applicants to be currently employed.

With cuts to state budgets and safety nets, those fears are completely justified.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Tea Party Congressman Cries Poverty

Pity the plight of poor Congressman Fleming, a Tea Partier from Louisiana. From TPM:

Fleming -- a businessman who owns Subway sandwich shops and is responsible for more than 100 UPS stores across the south -- said that taxing wealthier people hurts job creation. Jansing pointed out that, as the Wall Street Journal estimated, Fleming raked in more than $6 million last year. Chump change, Fleming said!


"The amount that I have to reinvest in my business and feed my family is more like $600,000 of that $6.3 million," Fleming said. "So by the time I feed my family I have maybe $400,000 left over to invest in new locations, upgrade my locations..."

Poor fella only has $200,000 a year to feed his family. Rep. Fleming has a wife, four adult children, and two grandchildren. It is unlikely that he is feeding all of them, and even if he is, that should cover it.

There's also his $174,000 a year salary as a Congressman, free health care, and a military pension. He was a medical doctor in the US Navy. He's also a family physician.

Apparently those of us who are amongst the long-term unemployed are supposed to feel sorry for him.


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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kelly Ayotte Votes Against NH

US Senate finally moves forward on a bill that would provide disaster aid to states devastated by Hurricane Irene. From Politico:

Senate Democrats were successful the second time around Tuesday, narrowly advancing a $7 billion disaster aid package that Republicans blocked a day earlier.

On a 61-38 vote, all 53 members of the Democratic caucus and eight Republicans from disaster-afflicted states agreed to move forward on legislation that would help areas of the country hit by Hurricane Irene and recent tornadoes, flooding and wildfires. Sixty votes were needed.

Republicans who cast an “aye” vote were Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri; Scott Brown of Massachusetts; John Hoeven of North Dakota; Dean Heller of Nevada; Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; David Vitter of Louisiana; and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine. In Monday’s failed 53-33 vote, Toomey had voted no, while Sen. Dan Coats of (R-Ind.) had voted yes.

Kelly Ayotte's name is not on that list. When will Senator Ayotte make a trip to northern Carroll County to explain that vote?

Kelly Ayotte voted against her own state. She needs to eat this every day from now till 2016, when we can vote her out.

Unemployed in South Carolina

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has a mixed message about unemployment in her state. Houston Chronicle:

Here she's saying the unemployment rate is high because so many people are looking for work:

Joblessness is a headache for Haley. In July, South Carolina's unemployment rate was 10.9 percent, tying it for the nation's third worst with Michigan behind Nevada and California.

Haley said that's because the state's labor force has grown.

Here she's saying there are plenty of jobs:

Haley pointed out she's announced 11,491 jobs and $1.7 billion in investments.

"That's a lot of jobs. But why are we still having the problems? Because we have companies that need workers. And we have workers that need jobs and we don't have the training to match them up," Haley said.

Here she's saying that the unemployed are lazy drug addicts:
Haley also is working out details on how the state can require drug testing for people getting unemployment benefits. Haley said she was told half the applicants for hundreds of jobs at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests.

"I so want drug testing," Haley said. "It's something I've been wanting since the first day I walked into office."

Leaving aside the fact that workers pay into the unemployment funds, this mandatory testing would cost millions. Texas legislators abandoned the idea when they learned it would cost the state $30 million.

It seems there is some disagreement with Governor Haley's story about the number of drug testing failures at the Savannah River site. From the Huffington Post:

It may be an unemployment problem after all. Jim Giusti, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, which owns the River Site, told HuffPost he had no idea what Haley was talking about with regard to applicants flunking a drug test.

"Half the people who applied for a job last year or year 2009 did not fail the drug test," Giusti said. "At the peak of hiring under the Recovery Act we had less than 1 percent of those hired test positive."

The River Site doesn't even test applicants. "We only test them when they have been accepted," Giusti said.

Governor Haley's spokesperson was not available for comment. There is certainly a big discrepancy between her claim that half the applicants testing positive and the company saying that it was fewer than one percent testing positive.

As we learned on Sesame Street: one of these things is not like the other.

The Teabaglicans Want the Uninsured to Die

A short, chilling, clip from last night's Tea Party Express debate on CNN:

By all means - let's just let the uninsured die. These people are sociopaths. Ron Paul is determined to force women to serve as involuntary incubators, but once that little sprog hits the chute, it's on it's own.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Wisconsin State Employee Fired as Voter ID Mess Continues

In last week's story about Voter ID in Wisconsin, we learned of a memo that was sent out to DMV employees:
An internal memo from a top Department of Transportation official instructs workers at Division of Motor Vehicles service centers not to tell members of the public that they can obtain voter identification cards free of charge — unless they know to ask for it.

In their zeal to prevent voter fraud, it seems the state is actually trying to prevent some folks from voting. It's likely that the state of Wisconsin was hoping that memo and the implications of the menu would die down quickly, and not attract a lot of national attention. Sadly for Wisconsin, when it comes to voter suppression, the story just keeps on going. The latest update, from the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel:

A low-level state employee was fired Thursday after he sent an email to his fellow employees telling them about the state Department of Transportation’s policy on giving out free photo identification cards for voting.

Chris Larsen, who had worked in the mail room at the state Department of Safety and Professional Services, sent an email Thursday morning to all employees at the agency’s headquarters explaining that the DOT would provide photo IDs to people only if they specifically asked to have the fee waived.

A couple of hours later, Larsen was fired.

They have free Voter ID's at the Wisconsin DMV. Just don't tell anyone, okay?

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, September 09, 2011

Paul Ryan Can't Hide from Angry Constituents

Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin has been having a tough time with his constituents. Back in April the home town folks were expressing their displeasure with his plan to cut Medicare.

During the August recess, he dodged constituents by only speaking in venues where people had to pay to get in. From Mother Jones:

Over the past week, hundreds of people, a mix of constituents and other angry Wisconsinites, have marched outside Ryan's Kenosha and Racine offices, angry over what they see as Ryan's inaccessibility and refusal to face his constituents in a free, public, in-person town hall. For four days, they also held sit-ins inside Ryan's Kenosha office—until police kicked them out. The only in-person event on Ryan's recess calendar is an appearance at a Rotary hall outside his district with a $15 entrance fee; by contrast, Ryan held more than a dozen town halls in 2009. "This is a jobs crisis in his congressional district, an emergency," says Scott Page, 37, an unemployed Kenosha resident. "Yet he's not even listening to his own constituents."

As our own Joel Payne pointed out, democracy is not pay per view.

Ryans's constituents are increasingly annoyed at being deliberately ignored by their Congressman. From the Group Wisconsin Jobs Now!:

Unemployed constituents, spurned by Paul Ryan on multiple occasions, were galvanized into action the Tuesday following Labor Day. After being unable to convince their representative to schedule a FREE public meeting following a week long sit-in, the members of his district converged on a one time only pay-per-view event far away from the majority of his constituents.

Here's the video the group made of their visit to confront Congressman Ryan:

It doesn't cast Ryan in a very good light. As the police force an elderly man to the ground to put handcuffs on him, Ryan "jokes" that he hopes the man has taken his blood pressure medication. That's ugly. It's a perfect illustration of the kind of "concern" Ryan has for the working people in his district, and around the country.

Wisconsin Jobs Now! is a coalition of community groups, neighborhood associations, faith based organizations and organized labor, all working together to bring good jobs to the state. Bravo to them for not letting Paul Ryan hide behind pay-per-view events, and for showing all of us what kind of a Congressman (and person) Paul Ryan is.

We'll all be entering voting booths on November 6, 2012 - and we won't forget.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, September 08, 2011

To FEMA or Not to FEMA?

It’s been a big year for disaster in the US. Floods, tornadoes, wildfires, earthquakes, and hurricanes have cost lives and billions of dollars in property damage. Northern Carroll County got a big dose of damage in the form of Hurricane Irene. Roads and bridges were so damaged that at one point, parts of Rt. 16, 302, and the Kanc were all closed. People above the notches were stranded. The Notchland Inn was an island unto itself for nearly a week, with a bridge to the south damaged to impassibility, and the road to the north washed away and undermined. These are all major thoroughfares for the North Country, and essential to our lives and our businesses. They cannot go unrepaired.

Roads and bridges come under the jurisdiction of the NH Dept. of Transportation. We all recently learned that the current state budget made dramatic cuts to the DOT that were likely to impact the way our roads are plowed, which certainly impacts public safety. State Rep. Gene Chandler was quite upset when that story came out. Suddenly, his leadership role in the O’Brien junta was coming back to bite his district. Now there’s a great deal of expensive road and bridge damage in Chandler’s own hometown. One wonders how he’ll be explaining those DOT budget cuts to his constituents. And where is the money going to come from for all the repairs that must be made? Chandler mentioned help from FEMA in the paper, but can he be serious? Why, that’s money from the BIG GOVERNMENT that today’s GOP is dead against.

How will Chandler justify taking federal aid? What will Frank Guinta do? Congressman Guinta was vehemently opposed to any government funds being used to repair or build a new bridge to replace the bridge between Portsmouth and Kittery, ME. Does Guinta oppose FEMA funding to repair and rebuild our roads and bridges? Will he be brave enough to say so, with an election year coming up? Will anyone in the GOP-complicit NH media ever ask him?

GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul recently said that he believes FEMA should be abolished, and states should have to dig their way out of their own disasters. That’s an interesting statement, coming from a guy whose state is on fire. Especially given that the governor of that same state (also a presidential candidate) is quite miffed that Texas isn’t getting enough federal dollars to help fight those fires. Candidate Michele Bachman had this to say on the campaign trail in Florida: “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?” No word from Mrs. Bachman on what kind of message God is sending Texas.

Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave NH a C grade on infrastructure, a C that was more like a D. A 2011 study by Transportation for America rated NH as the 11th worse state, because of the number of structurally deficient and redlisted bridges in the state. In 2008, the Pew Research Center rated NH government efficiency at a D+ grade, the worst in the nation. The reason for the low grade? NH’s failing infrastructure, and bad track record on long range planning. NH has no plan for communications infrastructure, and at the time of the report estimated that the 10-year transportation plan would take 22 years to complete. It’s safe to say that with this current crop of legislators, the 10 to 22 year plan will be delayed considerably.

It’s important to remember that NH is the seventh wealthiest state in the nation. NH has 27,000 millionaires living in tax-free splendor here in the Granite State. Some of them are currently holding public office. NH is not a poor state. NH is a cheap state. Our outmoded system of taxation, combined with our enormous volunteer legislature conspire to keep NH’s infrastructure in a permanent state of peril, and guarantee no progress will be made. Instead, we will continue to pay the pound of cure, when those redlisted bridges, dams, and roads fail.

Once again, NH mirrors what is happening on a national level. In NH the Teabaglican House ignores NH infrastructure, just as the US Teabaglican House ignores our national infrastructure problems. Clearly public roads and bridges are part of a terrible socialist infrastructure plot, and must die an ignominious death in order to save the nation from godless communism.

Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia wants to hold federal aid to flood ravaged states hostage in return for budget cuts. Cantor doesn’t mean cuts to our military empire or aid to Israel, either. He means the kind of cuts that will have Nana living under a bridge eating cat food. The GOP is morally bankrupt – as anyone watching this week’s debate could plainly see. Brian Williams pointed out that there have been 234 executions during Rick Perry’s tenure as governor of Texas, and the audience burst into wild applause.

Will Frank Guinta support Eric Cantor’s hostage taking? Will Gene Chandler take responsibility for the dreadful budget he voted for? What do Representatives Pettengill, McCarthy, and Umberger have to say about all of the damage – and the budget they supported? Do they support applying for aid from FEMA? Do they support Eric Cantor’s extremism?

Wait, watch, and remember; you’ll be entering a voting booth in 2012.

published as an op-ed in the September 9, 2011 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.
big h/t to Danziger for the great cartoon.
© 2011 sbruce

Updates on Voter ID in NH and Wisconsin

Back in June, I wrote about NH Governor Lynch vetoing a Voter ID bill.

Yesterday the NH Senate voted on whether to override or sustain the governor's veto. From the Union Leader:
The Senate sided with Gov. John Lynch Wednesday in supporting his veto of a bill that would have required voters to show a photo ID before voting.

The Senate voted 17-7 to sustain Lynch in his stance against Senate Bill 129. Senate President Peter Bragdon, R-Milford, and Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, were among those voting to sustain the veto.

Both Bragdon and Bradley voted for the bill, the first time around. Since then, they've undoubtedly been getting an earful from town clerks, who are opposed to the measure.

Town clerks said the provisional ballots would force extra work on their offices, with longer hours, additional staff, late counting and less ballot secrecy for voters.

The issue of how this was all going to be paid for was another complication, though one not mentioned by the Union Leader. So, for now, the NH legislature must still find a way to solve the non-existant problem of voter fraud.

In June, I also wrote about the problems being created by a voter ID law in Wisconsin. This week, a memo from the Wisconsin DOT has come to light. From

An internal memo from a top Department of Transportation official instructs workers at Division of Motor Vehicles service centers not to tell members of the public that they can obtain voter identification cards free of charge -- unless they know to ask for it.
The memo, recently obtained by The Capital Times, was written by Steve Krieser and sent to all state Department of Transportation and Department of Motor Vehicles employees on July 1, the same day employees were to begin issuing photo IDs in accordance with a controversial new voter photo ID law adopted earlier in the year.


"While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it," Krieser writes to employees.

This sure doesn't sound like a state that is concerned about preventing voter fraud. It sounds more like the actions of a state determined to prevent voting:

In the meantime, Krieser says the Department of Transportation is planning to place signs at each of the DMV service offices that say people need to check the box on the form in order to receive an ID for free. He says the signs are "in the design phase" and could not give a date when they would be placed in DMV offices.

After November 6, 2012, perhaps?

cross-posted at MainSt/