Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Asset Poor" Households Growing in Number

A new report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) shows a major increase in what they call "asset poor" households:

In the United States, 27 percent of all households are “asset poor,” meaning they lack the savings or other assets to cover basic expenses for just three months if a layoff or other emergency
leads to loss of income, according to the 2012 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, released today by the
Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). Since the release of the 2009-2010 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, the number of asset poor families has increased by 21 percent from one in five families to one in
four families.
The asset poverty rate is now nearly twice as high as the Census Bureau’s official income
poverty rate of 15.1 percent.

An increase of 21% is certainly significant.

“Growing numbers of families have almost no savings or other assets to see them through if they lose their jobs or face a medical crisis,” said Andrea Levere, president of CFED. “Without savings, few will be able to build a more economically secure future, including buying a home, saving for their children’s college educations or building a retirement nest egg.”

Levere added that the Scorecard findings are “particularly disturbing in the context of precipitous drops in
incomes for many Americans and widening of the wealth gap between the richest and poorest households.”

Last year Business Insider provided us with 15 graphs looking at income inequality and wealth in the US. Graph #5 illustrates the flat wages many of us have experienced since at least 1990.

A look at key findings from the report shows something of crucial importance:

One in five jobs (22 percent) is low wage and nearly half of employers (46 percent) do not offer health insurance. Most workers (55 percent) do not have or participate in retirement plans. These low- quality jobs make it harder for families to both meet their needs today and create a reserve for tomorrow.

As wages continue to stagnate, good paying jobs are replaced with low wage jobs, and the costs of housing, food, transportation, heating oil, and everything else continue to rise, how will people save for the future, when they can't even make ends meet in the present?

And why aren't the presidential candidates talking about this?

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Shakir E-Mails Immortalized

Regular readers and locals will remember this name: Ray Shakir. Ray, a guy who made his money in NY, (at a union job, no less) moved to NH to tell folks here how to spend THEIR money, mostly by not educating kids. He's written obnoxious letters to the editor of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper for years, shooting his mouth off at every opportunity. He went a little too far, in a series of emails where he referred to President Obama as a "jungle alien" and a "n*gger." Shakir's racism went national, thanks to a story in Mother Jones magazine. He's been a little subdued since then. GOP candidates don't come to his house or his parties any more. His letters to the paper are infrequent, and no longer reach the soaring heights of bellicosity he could command.

This is the same sweet guy who sent a letter to the paper after I hit a moose with my car in 2003, and commented that it was too bad I hadn't been killed in the crash.

Ray's email exchange with one local resident has been immortalized forever by xtranormal:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Take Down the Tea Party Ten

The folks at CREDO Action have formed a Super Pac, intended to: Take Down the Tea Party Ten in 2012. The Super Pac has chosen 6 (so far) of the 10 worst offenders from the Tea Party House. The biggest offenders in the areas of : Sexism, racism, science denial, hypocrisy, and of course sheer crazy.

So, what's the point? One of the chosen is our very own NH CD 1 Congressman Frank Guinta. Frank of the "forgotten" $350,000 bank account. Frank who would force a rape victim to incubate the spawn of her rapist. Frank who voted against additional FEMA funding to help our state rebuild after Hurricane Irene devastated parts of the state. Frank whose allegiance is to the Koch Brothers, not the people of District One. Frank who got elected with the help of the Tea Party, but didn't even join their caucus.

The CREDO Super Pac is going to be funded with small donations, and unlike the other Super Pacs, will also be transparent. No secrets about where the money came from. The Super Pac will be used to pay for offices in each of the targeted districts, to pay organizing staff, new media folks - who will roll up their sleeves and get to work on throwing the bums out. CREDO has over 2.5 million activists around the country, waiting to get involved.

This is a campaign to oust. Not a campaign to elect. The folks working for various candidates can take care of that.

So far the rest of the Big Ten list consists of: Joe Walsh, Sean Duffy, Steve King, Chip Cravaack, and Allan West. The remaining 4 of the Big Ten will be chosen soon.

The CREDO Super Pac is planning to put a lot of resources into ousting the odious. As we learned in 2006, committed citizen activists can have a huge impact on an election. We kicked Jeb Bradley to the curb, and voted in Carol Shea Porter. None of that would have been possible without all of the folks who went to Bradley's town hall meetings and asked him pointed questions about Social Security and Medicare. CREDO will be opening an office, hiring staff, organizing volunteers, and engaging the new media. With their help, we'll be saying goodbye to Fraudulent Frank, come November.

Things should start happening in March. I'll keep you posted.

The Desperate Need for Affordable Housing

In July I wrote about folk stampeding for Section 8 housing vouchers in Dallas, when thousands of people showed up, some waiting all night, to get vouchers for subsidized housing. It was a terrible story.

Since then, nothing much has changed, other than the fact that even more people are in need of affordable housing. From The Nation:

In Oakland, California, which opened its waiting list in January, officials expected as many as 100,000 people to apply for 10,000 vouchers. In Atlanta, sixty-two people were injured in 2010 at an East Point shopping center where 30,000 lined up after the local housing authority opened its waiting list for the first time in eight years. Even small communities like Aiken, South Carolina, saw hundreds queuing up in October for a chance at housing aid about as likely as seeing three cherries in a row on a Vegas slot machine.

Another way you can find tangible evidence of the housing affordability crunch is by visiting one of New York City’s exploding number of homeless shelters, where a record 41,000 homeless people bed down each night, including more than 17,000 children. The New York Times recently told the story of one of those children, fourth-grader N-Dia Layne, who travels two and a half hours each day between her Upper Manhattan shelter and her school in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood. In Cleveland, the number of homeless families and kids grew so rapidly this past summer that for the first time shelters were forced to eliminate daytime meals, housing-search assistance and other services in order to move workers to the overnight shifts, according to Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

I had to read those New York numbers a few times. I can't imagine that there are over 17,000 homeless children in NY City and this isn't an issue being discussed in the endless presidential debates?

By nearly any measure, there are fewer and fewer homes affordable to working-class and poor Americans. The federal housing agency’s annual assessment finds that “worst-case housing needs” grew by 42 percent from 2001 to 2009, and nationwide there is a shortfall of nearly 3.5 million housing units for the poorest households. According to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, the share of renter households with the most severe cost burdens—that is, where more than half of income goes to rent and utilities—grew from a fifth to a quarter over the past decade and has doubled in the past half-century. And as household incomes stagnated for most of the past decade and then dropped during the economic crisis, the nation saw its already inadequate stock of cheap rental housing shrink even faster.

It's pretty simple, really. The cost of living is increasingly high, while wages are increasingly low. It's not a recipe for keeping a roof over one's head.

All of the plans to "end homelessness in 10 years," either are, or will be abject failures. The programs were all underfunded, and as the budget for federal housing programs continues to shrink, their failure is guaranteed. In the name of "deficit reduction" these programs are being cut, and cut again - with the goal being to eliminate them all together.

Despite the bleak policy landscape and the worsening affordability crisis, many local advocates and people working on the front lines talk about the renewed energy and hope generated by the nascent Occupy movement and the revived national discourse about income inequality. Donovan talks hopefully about the “other 1 percent”—the homeless and poor—saying that the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the superrich 1 percent is “causing the other 1 percent to agitate, and to show that homeless people are something other than a herded mass. They’re saying, Enough is enough.”

The Occupy movement changed the national discussion when it began last fall. Instead of deficits and debt, we're now hearing about income inequality, joblessness, and a host of other issues that weren't even on the horizon over the summer. It is my hope (as someone living with housing insecurity) that Occupy brings housing to the forefront of our national dialogue.

cross posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Need Jobs That Pay the Bills

We hear a lot of talk about job creation, and bringing jobs back to America. We hear nothing about the kind of jobs we need the most: jobs that provide decent wages. From the Los Angeles Times:

While productivity has grown by more than 80% over the last 30 years, wages have effectively been flat for 80% of Americans. So, although we're making stuff faster and more efficiently, the benefits of that hard work have not trickled into the pockets of the people who do it.

In other words, more work for less pay.

First, companies are coming back to the United States because wages here are dropping, in real terms. At the same time, lower-wage corporate nirvanas such as China are no longer as cheap an alternative as they once were, partly because the sea of people who worked for next to nothing for so long have had enough and are rising up in protest.

The US is becoming the place to outsource low paying jobs to.

Second, most of the jobs coming back are not high-wage, union jobs with full healthcare and pensions. In fact, with concerted efforts by Republican governors in the Midwest to eviscerate union rights, times have never been better for corporate leaders seeking to lower labor costs. With labor costs in the U.S. dropping relative to those in the Third World, the president's offer of tax incentives to other companies that in-source is unnecessary. As Citizens for Tax Justice points out, using a 2007 Bush administration study, corporations based in the United States already have plenty of tax incentive to locate here because "the United States takes a below-average share of corporate income in taxes compared to other developed countries."


If you add those people to the people who have full-time work at or just above the minimum wage, at least 1 in 5 Americans — 30 million people — does not have a decent job. Which explains why, according to the Census Bureau, 46 million people — or about 15% of Americans — live in poverty, the highest percentage since 1993.

This is a nasty reality that politicians shy far, far away from, when they talk about jobs. Many of us (I'm one of that 15%) are relying on part time jobs, or low paying jobs that result in us not having enough to live on. This means more people relying on the shrinking safety net, and the kindness of family and friends.

We need the kind of jobs that will rebuild the middle class.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mobile Food Pantries Helping Rural Nevada

Food banks in Nevada are trying to reach small communities in rural areas by setting up mobile food pantries. A truck comes in, volunteers unload, and begin to distribute the food. By the time they finish, nothing is left.
From the Las Vegas Sun:

The mobile pantries differ from traditional pantries because they’re scheduled, mass-distribution events that can quickly serve thousands of people, said John Livingston, Three Square’s chief operating officer.


As the Sandy Valley operation proved successful, Three Square officials scouted other locations that would benefit based on factors such as access to grocery stores, nutritious food availability and existing agencies’ capacity to feed those in need, Livingston said.

Without having to rely on a fixed location, the trucks can travel to the areas that have the greatest need.

Grace Immanuel sits in ZIP code 89106, where 27 percent of residents may go hungry despite food stamps and other services already provided in the area, according to a Feeding America report using 2010 data. It’s the same situation in neighboring ZIP codes.

Other mobile pantries began in surrounding rural areas known as “food deserts”: Pahrump, Mesquite and, earlier this month, Laughlin, Livingston said. A Caliente location will begin in February, he added.

Given that Nevada consistently has the highest unemployment rates in the US, it's good to see organizations working together to provide assistance to folks in small communities that are often underserved. This is truly a creative solution.

Cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Moving to Gilead

The current NH House of Representatives packed so much crazy into the last year, it’s difficult to imagine that there could be more. But there is more, so much more. The NH House is comprised of Free Staters, Teabaggers, and John Birchers, all simmering together in the least appetizing stew one could be served. Throw in a couple of outraged, old fashioned Main St. Republicans, and you’ve captured the essence of the O’Brien lead House.

In 2010, the Republicans campaigned on their perpetual slogan, “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem” and their promise of a laser-like focus on job creation. Voters responded to these craven statements by electing any dimwit (see Harty, Martin) having an “R” next to his or her name. NH has long had a spending problem, but not the one the freebaglicans claim. NH doesn’t spend enough money in some very important areas. Take infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil engineers: 51% of NH bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, 27% of NH ‘s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and there are 106 high hazard dams in NH. (This is only a sampling of NH infrastructure needs.) The “repair and maintain” can gets kicked down the road every 2 years, so that ultimately the state will pay the pound of cure. Or in the case of that bridge from Milton to Lebanon, ME the local businesses will go under while the bridge remains inoperable. Don’t look to the current legislature to actually address an actual need. They’re far too interested in making bold power grabs, eliminating the judiciary, eliminating public education, eliminating voting, eliminating women, and assigning everyone a gun. They realize they have to work fast, because most are unlikely to be reelected, thanks to the national humiliation they’ve brought upon our state.

By my (inexact) count, there are at least 5 bills aimed at gerrymandering districts, 15 anti-education bills, 10 involving elections, 6 anti-voting, 10 anti-union, 10 anti-local control, 10 telling Congress what to do, 11 gun bills, 2 whiny men bills, and at least 10 anti-women bills. There are also plenty of nonsensical bills. More on those next time.

With HB 1659, the forced birth crowd wants women to have a 24 hour waiting period to read incorrect anti-abortion propaganda before going through the LEGAL procedure of abortion. Apparently we wimmin are so dumb, we need men to make our decisions for us. We are not, however, too dumb to serve as involuntary incubators. HB 1660 would eliminate abortions after 20 weeks, and HB 1679 would eliminate partial birth abortions, even though there is no such medical procedure, and third trimester abortions. Third trimester abortions account for about 0.04% of abortions. (That’s four hundredths of one percent) These women have late term abortions for health reasons. Like saving the life of the woman, which doesn’t appear to be a concern of the folks who wrote this bill. Those health reasons are not the business of the people who want to stick their noses into women’s medical privacy. What about freedom and liberty, and no gummint interference in your personal life? Oh, right! That only applies to white, heterosexual men.

HB 1680 would compel HHS to compile and maintain termination of pregnancy statistics. That, dear readers, means making a list of names, and demonizing the women that had a legal medical procedure somewhere down the line. Get out your red capes, girls. We’re moving to Gilead.

The NH House voted this week to defund Planned Parenthood. Public money isn’t used for the legal procedure known as abortion, but that matters naught to the men who want to make decisions for women. Planned Parenthood does, however, do: pap smears, breast exams, STD screenings, and provides low cost birth control to low-income women. What the NH legislature is telling women is this: you have no value. We don’t care if you get cancer. Our only concern is a nebulous potential fetus. So, if you get ovarian cancer, that’s your tough luck, slut. The men who claim to value life above all else don’t place any value on YOUR life, if you’re a woman. Speaker O’Brien has attached an amendment to this that would ban public employee health plans from covering the legal procedure known as abortion. Papa Doc O’Brien knows what’s best for you silly girlies.

Imagine if all this scrutiny were aimed at male genitalia. It’s time to stop boys and men from murdering trillions of potential people every day via the Sin of Onan. Where is the GOP concern for all of that killing? Where is the cry for HHS masturbation statistics? Surely that information needs to be close at hand, along with the names of the multiple offenders. And isn’t it time for these good Republican Christians to be forced to go before a panel to explain why they need a Viagra prescription? It better be for purposes of procreation only, with only a legal spouse, in one of those “between a man and a woman” marriages. Men must come to terms with the fact that their impotence is God’s will, and stop trying to do an end run around God’s plan for them.

Either women are equal human beings, or chattel. If having a functioning uterus makes women property of the state, than it’s time for the state to start picking up the tab for the support and maintenance of their property. In fact, boys, I’d be wary about all those unlicensed guns you’re advocating for. The women just might start fighting back. I only hope I live long enough to see it.

“Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors.” Evelyn Cunningham

© 2012 sbruce
Printed as an op-ed in the January 20, 1012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nation's Mayors Exasperated With Congress

The US Conference of Mayors is meeting in Washington, and expressing their disgust with the ongoing spending cuts that leave their cities firmly mired in the ongoing economic crisis.

New York Times:

Only 26 of the nation’s 363 metropolitan areas had recovered their lost jobs by the end of 2011, and only 26 more are projected to recover them by end of this year, according to the report, which was commissioned by the United States Conference of Mayors. It will take at least five years for the 80 hardest-hit areas to recover the jobs they lost, the report forecast.


Not only has Congress failed to overcome partisan gridlock to agree on a way to created much-needed jobs by spending more money on infrastructure, mayors said, but even the small sources of federal support that cities rely on — whether the Community Development Block Grants that were devised by Republican administrations in the 1970s or more recent federal programs that help struggling cities pay for more police officers or firefighters — are being scaled back as Washington has made cutting the deficit a priority.

Now, here's a thought:

Mayor James Brainard of Carmel, Ind., a Republican, said that the country must get to a point where it spends less than it collects in revenues, but that it must be done over years, carefully.

“We have to recognize that it can’t be done in one year without throwing us into a huge, much worse depression than we’ve had,” he said. “It needs to be a multiyear plan that doesn’t create terrible hardship.”

The report commissioned by the mayors can be found here.

The opening lines of the introduction:

No one has been hit harder by the Great Recession than the 8.8 million Americans who have lost their jobs during the most significant economic downturn in generations.

Our nation’s mayors are focused on doing everything we can to help the jobless, the underemployed, and those worried about losing their jobs.

That kind of concern is a real contrast to all the unemployed bashing we've seen by members of Congress and the presidential candidates. Let's hope that folks in Washington are paying attention while the mayors are in town.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wyoming: Highest Rate of Workplace Fatalities

The gas, oil, and mining industries are booming in Wyoming. A new report shows that workplace fatalities are booming, too. From the New York Times:

A report compiled by an epidemiologist hired by the state and released on Jan. 3, found that Wyoming’s work sites lacked what it called a culture of safety and that proper safety procedures were not followed in the vast majority of cases when someone was killed on the job.

The report also noted that Wyoming had the highest workplace fatality rate in the country for all but one year from 2003 through 2008. In 2010, the last year that data was provided, Wyoming’s estimated occupational death rate was three and a half times the national average, the report said.

Granted, workers know going in that these are dangerous jobs. But this report emphasizes that proper safety procedures were not followed in most cases.

“We have a system where there’s no accountability, where the employer has no incentive to be responsive,” said John Vincent, a former mayor of Riverton, who has represented the families of dead and injured oil and gas workers in his law practice and has worked on the legislative effort. “People are afraid to sue. They won’t report injuries. They’ll just stay at home until they get better.”

The online publication New West Politics also covered this report. The fatality numbers in Wyoming did actually decrease in 2010 (when Montana took first place) but:

“More than half of the 16,000-plus jobs lost in Wyoming were in natural resource development and construction, and these bear the most dangerous occupational risks,” Wyoming state occupational epidemiologist Timothy Ryan told WyoFile in a recent interview.

Ryan fears that when the economy picks up and hiring resumes in the construction, oil, mining, and gas industries, the fatalities will also increase again.

A story from 2011 that illustrates the lack of "a culture of safety" in the workplace:

On January 5, Kyle Rooke, 42, of Drummond, Id., was struck by drilling mud when a standpipe valve failed on a drilling rig south of Pinedale. The drilling mud caught fire, according to the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Rooke died before medical responders arrived at the scene.

A Wyoming OSHA investigation revealed several alleged safety violations. Rooke wasn’t wearing flame-retardant clothing, and had the rig operator — Unit Drilling Co. — conducted a “protective equipment assessment” the company should have realized that flame-retardant clothing was necessary for the job Rooke was performing, according to Wyoming OSHA.

The investigation, according to OSHA officials, also found improperly functioning equipment related to the accident that should have been repaired, replaced or removed. As a result of those and other safety violations on the rig, Wyoming OSHA issued several citations to Unit Drilling Co., totaling $23,250 in fines. The company has until July 13 to contest the citations or agree to pay.

These fines are substantially higher than fines levied in the past.

The four workplace fatalities that Wyoming OSHA investigated in 2010 resulted in a total $9,125 in fines, according to federal OSHA documents. That’s an average $2,281 for violations contributing to the death of a worker.

Not exactly an incentive for the company to change - and a sorry commentary on how worker's lives are valued.

Other steps are being made to improve workplace safety in Wyoming. In June approximately 200 companies within the oil and gas industry formally signed an alliance with Wyoming OSHA. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Industry Safety Alliance (WOGISA) seeks to raise safety awareness, identify best practices and share training resources. Already in the works is a training program for “first-line” supervisors.

All worthy goals, and hopefully this alliance will have a positive impact on the worker safety issue in Wyoming. Of course there's nothing like having a report like this make national news to provide even more of an incentive to change.

A study on workplace safety done at the University of Michigan had some interesting results:

New research by Roland Zullo of the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment and the Economy shows that right-to-work laws result in the underfunding of safety training and accident-prevention activities.

Wyoming is a right-to-work-state.

Although he found no direct association between right-to-work laws and industry and occupation fatalities Zullo’s findings suggest that the estimated effect union density has on reducing worker deaths does depend on state right-to-work laws. In states without such laws, a 1 percent increase in union density correlates with a 0.35 percent decline in the ratio of industry fatalities and a 0.58 percent drop in the occupation fatality ratio.

“Unions appear to have a positive role in reducing construction industry and occupation fatalities, but only in states without right-to-work laws,” he said.

RTW may not be to blame for the high rate of worker fatalities in Wyoming, but it certainly hasn't helped. Zullo's research should be taken into consideration by any state considering a RTW law.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Friday, January 06, 2012

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Has Vigorous Agenda

Last month the Senate used the filibuster to prevent President Obama's nomination to direct the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a result, the president installed Cordray as director by using executive power to make a recess appointment.

From the New York Times:

The new director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau outlined a vigorous oversight and enforcement agenda on Thursday, saying that financial companies that take unfair advantage of consumers would face “real consequences.”

The director, Richard Cordray, who was appointed to the post on Wednesday by President Obama, encouraged consumers to contact the agency through its Web site with complaints about banks, payday lenders and other financial institutions that they think have sold deceptive products or engaged in abusive behavior.

Finally! At last, consumers will have a place to go to make complaints about shady mortgage companies, banks, title loan companies, and payday lenders. This is great news for the bottom 99%.

The agency’s most immediate focus will be on so-called nonbank financial companies — money transfer agencies, credit bureaus and private mortgage lenders, for example — which have fallen outside the authority of most regulators, Mr. Cordray said.

That these companies have been unregulated is just not acceptable.

“Many subprime loans during the housing bubble were made by nonbank mortgage brokers,” he added. “Since most of these businesses are not used to any federal oversight, our new supervision program may be a challenge for them. But we must establish clear standards of conduct so that all financial providers play by the rules.”

That's very diplomatically put. What he's saying, of course, is that these companies are going to be held accountable for their actions, which is long overdue. Richard Cordray plans to move forward "promptly and vigorously" and that is good news for all of us.

People who have complaints are urged to contact the new bureau directly at: www.consumerfinance.gov

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

Thursday, January 05, 2012

First in the Nation

The Iowa caucuses are over, and the circus has come to NH. The national and international media are either here or on the way, and the whole world is watching. The Iowa caucus generated a lot of discussion about the relevance of Iowa in the Big Political Scheme of things. The effort to end New Hampshire’s favored First in the Nation status are ongoing. So, with all that in mind, knowing that they eyes of the world are upon us, the NH legislature has decided to stop pretending to have a laser like focus on job creation, and is bringing out the full on crazy. News sites and blogs are having a marvelous time laughing at NH, and the berserkers that we the people sent to Concord last year.

Some recent national headlines are courtesy of Rep. Jerry Bergevin of Manchester. Bergevin is a freshman legislator, one of the many Teabaglicans swept into office during the noxious red tide of 2010. Bergevin wants our public schools to teach creationism, and has filed two anti-evolution bills, in the hopes of dictating religious curriculum. Bergevin told the Concord Monitor that teaching evolution has a global societal impact that led to the rise of the Nazi party, and ultimately the Columbine massacre. (Warning: do not try to make sense of this.) Bergevin seems to be his own best proof that evolution is only a theory.

National headlines are also being made by a trio of freshman legislators who filed HB 1580, after a “brainstorming” session that seems more likely to have been binge drinking. HB 1580 stipulates: “All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individual rights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived,”

That’s right, folks. The Magna Carta, a British charter issued in Latin in 1215, requiring King John to proclaim certain liberties. As a widow, I find comfort in this section of the document: “No widow shall be distrained to marry for so long as she wishes to live without a husband, provided that she gives surety that she will not marry without our assent if she holds of us, or without the assent of her lord, if she holds of another.” Does this make Speaker O’Brien my lord?

On January 5, the NH Senate passed HB 542, a bill that allows parents to pull their children out of any lesson they object to, and demand that the school replace it with alternative curriculum. In other words, parents can object to any course, and force the school to come up with an alternative. In a single class of 20 kids, that could mean 20 individual lesson plans. Not only is that unworkable for an already overworked teacher, it’s going to be mighty expensive for the local taxpayers. And that, readers, is the goal. The Teabaglicans are doing their best to eliminate public education by ensuring that it doesn’t work. This bill is so bad that even the Union Leader, propaganda arm of the NH GOP, is opposed to it. As I’ve said before, eliminating education is the best way to ensure more GOP voters.

Of course, that bill may not even be necessary. The just passed HB 334, which prohibits any private entity from prohibiting firearms or knives on any property owned “in whole or in part” by the public. That means that state colleges can’t ban weapons – and for that matter, neither can public kindergartens. All but 3 Carroll County Representatives voted in favor of this bill, by the way. Only Babson, Knox, and Patten voted against it. Guns in schools, guns in nursing homes, and guns in the state psychiatric hospital! Guns in civic arenas and stadiums! Guns and booze, guns and the mentally unstable, and guns and kids – what could go wrong? This is obviously a clever accompaniment to HB 542. Fewer students means lower educational costs.

Nowhere is there any concern being expressed for the sorry condition of our state’s infrastructure. A recent story in Fosters highlighted the closing of a bridge between the town of Milton, NH and Lebanon, ME. The bridge had been redlisted for a long time, and finally was too unsafe to remain open. Maine is willing to pony up their share of the cost of rebuilding, but NH doesn’t have the funds. And because people aren’t willing to drive miles out of their way to get to local businesses on the NH side, one business has already closed, and others may well be on the way. I’m sure a quote from the Magna Carta would be a great comfort to Colleen Savarese and Jeff Everett, who lost their small business and a big chunk of their future.

The O’Brien junta has offered no practical solutions to anything. Instead, this legislature has served up dementia on a plate at every opportunity. They’ve done their level best to ensure that no money comes in to our state coffers, guaranteeing that we won’t have that oft-touted “spending problem.” We don’t even have the money to fix our bridges.

The prospects of moving a business to NH seem increasingly unlikely. Why would a company choose to relocate to a state that is deliberately sabotaging its infrastructure and educational system?

The red tide swept in at a time when the legislature was beginning to repair some of the damage that 150 years of GOP rule had done to our state. The current legislature has set our state back even further. It will take decades to fix all of this, and I’m not sure it’s possible. Our backward tax structure guarantees that our infrastructure will continue to crumble, thanks to a legislature that seems to view Somalia as a model to emulate.

Meanwhile, the whole world is watching the side show the NH legislature is providing. Look for a big future fight questioning why the Magna Carta state should have any role at all in the presidential primary process.

© sbruce 2012

published as an op-ed in the January 6, 2012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

NH Right to Work: The Return of the Hydra

In 2011, NH unions and supporters ultimately defeated HB 474, the first RTW bill filed by the current NH legislature. This was a real victory against the special interests and extremists at work in my state, but, sadly, it's too soon to do the victory lap.

In February 2011, the NH House passed HB 474, a so-called "right to work" bill. NH has been fighting RTW for decades. It's the hydra whose legs keep growing back, no matter how many times they're cut off. As I documented in a piece called Threatening Their Own, threats from anti-union thugs started before the NH Senate voted in April. In What's Behind Right to Work, we took a look at the special interests behind RTW, and linked to an opinion piece from the Keene Sentinel, written by former GOP state senator Mark Hounsell.

Current NH State Representative Lee Quandt has been an outspoken critic of the right to work agenda. Rep. Quandt is both a Republican and a former union member. On his own blog , Rep. Quandt refers to it as "right to work for less." Representative Quandt's criticism of the O'Brien led House resulted in his being kicked off the House Finance Committee. The current NH speaker tolerates no dissent from the members of his own party.

Finally, in December I wrote about the failure to override the veto of HB 474. There was a brief sigh of relief, but the speaker had promised that RTW would be back.

He wasn't kidding. It came back very quickly. HB 383, a bill that had been languishing in committee, suddenly loomed on the horizon. A piece called Son of Right to Work, at Blue Hampshire warned readers there that it was coming back, and provided a link to the bill's text. The bill is written to apply to state employees, but establishing a precedent is just what the union busters are hoping for.

Today the NH House passed 383, by a vote of 212 to 128. NH Labor News posted a press release from NH AFL-CIO President Mark McKenzie:

Today a clear bipartisan coalition of 128 state representatives rejected the attempt by special interests to repackage HB 474, the right-to-work law voted down by the House in December. The fact that over a third of our House representatives – both Republicans and Democrats - voted against HB 383's passage is a clear sign that Speaker O'Brien is losing momentum in his Tea Party-fueled campaign to pass the so-called right to work law.

While HB 383 only impacts state employees as currently written, it opens a back door for the Speaker and other Tea Party extremists to impose a right-to-work on all New Hampshire workers and businesses. Our legislators' continued opposition to the right-to-work law in any and all forms the Speaker that New Hampshire's people need jobs more than they need political attacks on workers.

As New Hampshire struggles out of this recession, Speaker O'Brien has shown no wavering from the extreme Tea Party agenda that has cost us thousands of jobs in the Granite State. Passing HB 383 is just another sign that the Speaker cannot admit defeat. He will push his agenda at any cost – regardless of how it impacts the people of New Hampshire.

In summary, NH defeated HB 474, the first RTW bill proposed by the current NH legislature. With HB 383, we're going to have to go through the same process all over again.

Speaker O'Brien is much less popular in 2012, and so is his extremist agenda. Four special elections have been held in the last year, and every single winning candidate opposed RTW. As Mark McKenzie points out, this is a bi-partisan coalition of over a third of the NH House that voted against HB 383. GOP partisans are increasingly willing to distance themselves from O'Brien, a movement that will continue to grow as we move closer to the November elections.

The speaker continues to assert that businesses won't locate to NH because we don't have a RTW law, even though when pressed, O'Brien was unable to name a single company that would move here if such a bill were enacted. In fact, Safrans, an international company, recently announced their intention to build a manufacturing facility in Rochester, NH, and create some 400 manufacturing jobs. Safrans seems to have been undeterred by a lack of RTW legislation in NH.

If Speaker O'Brien really wants to make his failure to enact RTW legislation his political legacy, NH workers will be happy to oblige him. We beat back 474. We'll defeat 383, too.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org

What Happened to Upward Mobility?

We're all familiar with the mythos: the USA is the land of the meritocracy, not the aristocracy. The place where every boy can grow up to be president. Where the janitor can become the CEO.

The reality looks rather different. From the New York Times:

“It’s becoming conventional wisdom that the U.S. does not have as much mobility as most other advanced countries,” said Isabel V. Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “I don’t think you’ll find too many people who will argue with that.”

One reason for the mobility gap may be the depth of American poverty, which leaves poor children starting especially far behind. Another may be the unusually large premiums that American employers pay for college degrees. Since children generally follow their parents’ educational trajectory, that premium increases the importance of family background and stymies people with less schooling.

To put it a different way:

“The bottom fifth in the U.S. looks very different from the bottom fifth in other countries,” said Scott Winship, a researcher at the Brookings Institution, who wrote the article for National Review. “Poor Americans have to work their way up from a lower floor.”

Poor Americans are working their way up from lower bottom than other countries? Why isn't this front page news? Why aren't the presidential candidates currently invading NH talking about this?

Oh, wait. Here's why:

Perhaps another brake on American mobility is the sheer magnitude of the gaps between rich and the rest — the theme of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which emphasize the power of the privileged to protect their interests. Countries with less equality generally have less mobility.

The privileged have the power to protect their interests. The non-privileged just get trickled on. This is grim news, coming on the heels of the recent report showing that one in every two families has either fallen into poverty or qualifies as low income.

The best way to turn this around is to continue to push for more jobs, better pay, and stronger unions.

cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org