Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vagina Dialogues

After all, who knows more about women's health issues than middle aged men? Trust them, silly girlies!

The Human Cost of Free Shipping

3pl is the abbreviation for a third party logistics contractor. These contractors provide services such as: warehousing, packaging, inventory management, and freight forwarding. Many big companies use 3pls. Last week I wrote about Hershey exploiting foreign labor. Hershey's 3pl contractor, Exel, was fined for safety violations. Exel is the largest 3pl in the United States.

Mother Jones Magazine
has published an expose done by writer Mac McClelland, who went undercover at one of the biggest 3pls: Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.

Before she even starts the job, Mac is counseled by a woman at the local chamber of commerce not to take anything that they say to her personally. Mac asks if people are going to be mean to her:

She smiles. "Oh, yeah." This town somewhere west of the Mississippi is not big; everyone knows someone or is someone who's worked for Amalgamated. "But look at it from their perspective. They need you to work as fast as possible to push out as much as they can as fast as they can. So they're gonna give you goals, and then you know what? If you make those goals, they're gonna increase the goals. But they'll be yelling at you all the time. It's like the military. They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be. So they're going to tell you, 'You're not good enough, you're not good enough, you're not good enough,' to make you work harder. Don't say, 'This is the best I can do.' Say, 'I'll try,' even if you know you can't do it. Because if you say, 'This is the best I can do,' they'll let you go. They hire and fire constantly, every day. You'll see people dropping all around you. But don't take it personally and break down or start crying when they yell at you."

Mac goes through the training. She is assigned to be a "picker" someone who locates, scans, and puts the requested item in a bin on a conveyor belt. The pickers are assigned to a particular section of the vast warehouses:

The place is immense. Cold, cavernous. Silent, despite thousands of people quietly doing their picking, or standing along the conveyors quietly packing or box-taping, nothing noisy but the occasional whir of a passing forklift. My scanner tells me in what exact section—there are nine merchandise sections, so sprawling that there's a map attached to my ID badge—of vast shelving systems the item I'm supposed to find resides. It also tells me how many seconds it thinks I should take to get there. Dallas sector, section yellow, row H34, bin 22, level D: wearable blanket. Battery-operated flour sifter. Twenty seconds. I count how many steps it takes me to speed-walk to my destination: 20. At 5-foot-9, I've got a decently long stride, and I only cover the 20 steps and locate the exact shelving unit in the allotted time if I don't hesitate for one second or get lost or take a drink of water before heading in the right direction as fast as I can walk or even occasionally jog.

Most of the people working at this site aren't even permanent employees. The 3pls use temps, because they can pay them less and provide them no benefits.

From the temp agency, Amalgamated has ordered the exact number of humans it should take to fill this week's orders if we work at top capacity. Lots of retailers use temporary help in peak season, and online ones are no exception. But lots of warehousing and distribution centers like this also use temps year-round. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than 15 percent of pickers, packers, movers, and unloaders are temps. They make $3 less an hour on average than permanent workers. And they can be "temporary" for years. There are so many temps in this warehouse that the staffing agency has its own office here. Industry consultants describe the temp-staffing business as "very, very busy." "On fire." Maximizing profits means making sure no employee has a slow day, means having only as many employees as are necessary to get the job done, the number of which can be determined and ordered from a huge pool of on-demand labor literally by the day. Often, temp workers have to call in before shifts to see if they'll get work. Sometimes, they're paid piece rate, according to the number of units they fill or unload or move. Always, they can be let go in an instant, and replaced just as quickly.

The typical work day is a blur. No cell phones are allowed inside, so workers who need to check on their children have to stash their cell phones in a break room notorious for theft. The pickers cover, on average, about 12 miles a day; on cold concrete flooring. This is destined to generate a great deal of physical pain.

Indeed, and I'm working for a gigantic, immensely profitable company. Or for the staffing company that works for that company, anyway. Which is a nice arrangement, because temporary-staffing agencies keep the stink of unacceptable labor conditions off the companies whose names you know. When temps working at a Walmart warehouse sued for not getting paid for all their hours, and for then getting sent home without pay for complaining, Walmart—not technically their employer—wasn't named as a defendant. (Though Amazon has been named in a similar suit.) Temporary staffers aren't legally entitled to decent health care because they are just short-term "contractors" no matter how long they keep the same job. They aren't entitled to raises, either, and they don't get vacation and they'd have a hell of a time unionizing and they don't have the privilege of knowing if they'll have work on a particular day or for how long they'll have a job. And that is how you slash prices and deliver products superfast and offer free shipping and still post profits in the millions or billions.

The workers are working in inhuman conditions at an inhuman pace. Pain is a constant. Increasing numbers of companies are relying on the services of 3pls. It's unlikely that most companies are aware of the way the workers in these warehouses are exploited. Meanwhile, the bad economy guarantees a constant labor pool of people so desperate that they will take these jobs. That's what the 3pls are counting on.

It won't come as a surprise that many of these giant warehouses are in right to work states.

The entire story is 4 pages long. Please read the whole thing - it's filled with terrible and important information.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Exploiting Foreign Student Labor: No Kisses for You

Cultural awareness or corporate exploitation? From the October 16, 2011 NY Times:

The college student from Moldova was in the United States on a cultural exchange program run for half a century by the federal government, a program designed to build international understanding by providing foreign students with a dream summer of fun in America. So he summoned his best English for the e-mail he sent to the State Department in June.

“Pleas hellp,” wrote the student, Tudor Ureche. He told them about “the miserable situation in which I’ve found myself cought” since starting a job under the program in a plant packing Hershey’s chocolates near the company’s namesake town in Pennsylvania.

Students from other countries pay as much as $6,000 to come to the US as part of this program. They're expecting to be able to make friends, work on their English speaking skills, sightsee, and have a summer job. A combination of education, work, and fun, in other words. The fun seems to have been left out of the equation.

Instead, many students who were placed at the packing plant found themselves working grueling night shifts on speeding production lines, repeatedly lifting boxes weighing as much as 60 pounds and financially drained by low pay and unexpected extra costs for housing and transportation. Their complaints to the contractor running the program on behalf of the State Department were met with threats that they could be sent home.


The students, who were earning about $8 an hour, said they were isolated within the plant, rarely finding moments to practice English or socialize with Americans. With little explanation or accounting, the sponsor took steep deductions from their paychecks for housing, transportation and insurance that left many of them too little money to afford the tourist wanderings they had eagerly anticipated.

Essentially, these students paid to come here and be exploited for the summer. After they're gouged for housing and transportation costs they earn next to nothing, and in this case, they were working in unsafe conditions. It seems likely that this is NOT the kind of "international understanding" that the State Dept. was hoping to foster.


Hershey's packing subcontractor is fined for safety violations. From the February 21, 2012 NY Times:

After a six-month investigation prompted by the protests of student workers on an international exchange program, the Labor Department on Tuesday issued fines of $283,000 for health and safety violations against a company that operates a plant in Pennsylvania packing Hershey’s chocolates, saying it had covered up serious injuries to workers.

The 24-page citation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that the company, Exel, intentionally failed to report 42 serious injuries over four years to workers at the plant in Palmyra, Pa., or 43 percent of all such injuries in that period at the plant. The injuries, which were discovered by safety inspectors during their investigation, required medical treatment, and many were related to lifting and moving big boxes of Hershey’s chocolates along a packing line.


found that Exel (the subcontractor) had not recorded dozens of injuries. They also determined that that failure was not the result of ignorance, that they were deliberately not recording injuries. OSHA also determined that in 6 of the 9 violations, Exel willfully failed to protect workers; hence the high fines. Naturally, Exel is going to appeal the fines.

Labor officials said they had found an e-mail in which Exel managers explicitly decided not to provide audio protection for workers in the noisy plant, even though they were aware of the problem.


Jennifer J. Rosenbaum, legal director of the Guestworker Alliance, said the packing was too strenuous for an American worker to perform for a long time. “It was just another way they were turning long-term factory jobs into a job that even a 20-year-old student could not survive for more than a few months.”

The only reason we know anything about this, is because some 200 of the students walked off the job in Palmyra, some carrying signs. It was the first labor strike at the anti-union plant. Fining Excel is a good first step, but this entire program program is in need of an overhaul.

For more on the way these foreign students are exploited, check out this 2010 Associated Press investigation.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Women Earn Less in the Restaurant Business

A new report on gender inequity in the restaurant industry called Tipped Over the Edge was recently released. The executive summary and the full report are available at those links, in PDF form.

This is a 40 page report, and I’ve just skimmed the surface of it. All of this is very familiar territory to me–I worked in the restaurant industry for 20 years.

There are over 10 million restaurant workers in the United States. Approximately 52% of them are women. 66% of tipped workers are women. Tipped workers can be payed a sub minimum wage, which creates legalized gender inequity. From the report:

The restaurant industry is one of the only sectors in which predominately male positions have a different minimum wage than predominately female positions: non-tipped work- ers (52 percent male) have a federal minimum wage of $7.25, while tipped workers (66 percent female) have a federal subminimum wage of $2.13.

The federal rate is $2.13, though some states have a higher rate. Alaska, Montana, Minnesota, and California have eliminated the sub minimum wage. The federal sub minimum wage of $2.13 has been the same since 1991.

Female restaurant workers are paid less than their male counterparts for two primary reasons. First, they are concentrated in lower-paying segments such as quick-serve and family style, and second, they are not able to access the highest-paying positions in the industry. Women fill only 19 percent of chef positions, one of the highest paying restaurant positions with a median wage of $19.23. And at the lowest end of the pay scale, women are highly concentrated in four of the ten lowest paid occupations of any industry: host, counter attendant, combined food prep and serving worker, and server.

(Maryland Rep> Donna Edwards has filed the Wages Act which would increase the federal minimum wage for tipped employees. The subminimum wage has been frozen at $2.13 for 21 years. An increase would provide a little more financial security for tipped employees in a bad economy.)

Then there’s health care, or lack thereof:

These wage inequities are exacerbated by lack of benefits that prevent restaurant workers from properly caring for their health and their families.Of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers ROC surveyed across the country, 90 percent lack paid sick days and 90 percent do not receive health insurance through their employers. One third of all female restaurant workers (33.4 percent) lack any kind of health care, whether provided by their employer or otherwise. More than a quarter (26.8 percent) of all female restaurant workers are mothers,and more than one in ten are single mothers,25 so the lack of paid sick leave and workplace flexibility creates an additional burden for women in the industry.

Sick people who can’t afford to take a day off go to work, where they prepare and serve food.

The low pay isn’t the only problem:

A recent MSNBC review of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data revealed that from January to November 2011, almost 37 percent of all EEOC charges by women regarding sexual harassment came from the restaurant industry, even though less than 7 percent of employed women work in the restaurant industry.

The EEOC has identified the restaurant industry as the largest source of sexual harassment claims.

What I’ve seen in the report confirms what I learned from my own experiences in restaurants. I started out as a server, but quickly learned where the real money was, and learned to bartend and cook.

The flexible schedule worked fairly well for me as a single mother, but restaurant scheduling is often subject to last minute change, which can be` a real problem for women who have child care or elder care responsibilities. Many restaurants consistently overstaff the dining room, in case it gets busy. It’s not unusual to get sent home halfway through a shift, having made very little money. That subminimum wage paycheck doesn’t pay the bills.

Sexual harassment is certainly plentiful, as is discrimination. I worked in one kitchen where postcards of bare chested women adorned the walls. The chef had giant posters of scantily clad, silicone enhanced women in his office. To call it a hostile work environment doesn’t really do the situation justice. He didn’t want women working in his kitchen, and I didn’t stay long.

To be fair, I’ve also worked in a few great restaurants where the staff were treated like family, and even a few that offered health care benefits, which is a rarity.

As a server, getting sent home on a slow night, with little or no tip money was both painful and frightening. The industry is able to pay substandard wages because servers are tipped. Relying on the whims of the public for a paycheck can also be painful and frightening. One can provide excellent service and still receive no tip. The type of restaurant one works in is also a big factor. The tips are better in fine dining – but that isn’t an option for everyone.

The restaurant industry isn’t just “able” to pay substandard wages. They RELY on paying substandard wages, and they lobby fiercely for their right to do so. Right now in Florida, the legislature is considering a bill that would cut the subminimum wage for tipped employees in half. From Raw Story:

A Florida Senate committee has followed the advice of a restaurant association and passed a bill that would cut the minimum wage for tipped workers by more than half.

The bill, SB 2106, would slash the current Florida tipped minimum wage of of $4.65 an hour to the federal standard of of $2.13 an hour.


“We are being brave and bold and being statesmen and not politicians,” Republican state Sen. Nancy Detert, the committee’s chair, asserted, adding that the bill had been requested by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Chamber of Commerce have also expressed support for the bill.

I wasn’t aware that cutting the subminimum wage qualified one as a “statesman.”

One of those restaurant employees, Charles Spencer, is working at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant in Orlando to pay for his education. He told the Sentinel that the $11 or $12 an hour he currently makes barely pays the bills.

“It’s a lot of canned vegetables and grilled chicken and ramen noodles,” Spencer explained. “I was rather appalled by the fact they’re going to try to cut a wage standard in this economy.”

The Florida AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin said that the bill would effectively mean a more than $2.50 an hour pay cut for a waitress currently making $14 an hour.

This is shocking – in a bad economy, they would cut an already substandard subminimum wage? How very Dickensian.

To bring it back to the original topic; that cut in the subminimum wage in Florida would disproportionately hurt women, who make up the majority of tipped employees. At a time where people are dining out less, and tips aren’t as big as they once were, it’s a remarkable show of greed on the part of the restaurant industry, to try to cut an already criminally low wage.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Friday, February 17, 2012

San Francisco Audit Reveals Massive Foreclosure Abuse

San Francisco recently carried out an audit on a number of foreclosures. Their findings were released in a report this week that shows just how rampant mortgage fraud has been. From Reuters:

The audit of almost 400 foreclosures in San Francisco found that 84 percent of them appeared to be illegal, according to the study released by the California city on Wednesday.

Similar studies around the country show comparable results. These numbers are astounding. And worse, they've essentially gotten away with it.

In many cases during the housing bubble that burst in 2008, original mortgages were repackaged and sold to so many investors

that it is now unclear who actually holds the loans

O'Brien could only find the current owners of the mortgages he studied in 287 out of 473 cases.

In the San Francisco study, which studied properties subject to foreclosure sales between January 2009 to November 2011, 45 per cent were sold to entities improperly claiming to be the owner of the loan.

"It is not impossible that there are homeowners who are alleged to have defaulted on loans to which they never fully agreed to and, further, are being foreclosed upon by lenders that might not even own such loans," the report stated.

This should be unimaginable. Instead it is chilling - the story of a largely unregulated financial industry gone amuck. The consequences to homeowners and their families is devastating. Of course the most chilling aspect of the whole mess is that the banks have never admitted to any wrongdoing. There have been no prosecutions. No banksters are wearing orange prison jumpsuits as a result of their role in defrauding millions of US homeowners.

Seth is right. The banks did get off too easy in the foreclosure/fraud settlement.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Pants Ablaze

After reading David Brochu’s recent “you kids get off my lawn” piece about Facebook in the Sun, I am only slightly chagrinned to admit that not only do I have a Facebook page; I also have a Twitter account. I tweet, but mostly I follow (or read) the tweets of others. Some of the folks I follow on Twitter are NH state legislators. None of them are from Carroll County. In the past, our local legislators were barely able to access their email accounts, but times have changed. Laurie Pettengill, Norman Tregenza, and Frank McCarthy all have Facebook accounts! I thought I’d found Frank on Twitter, but upon reading further, I decided that “Frank McCarthy: Sailor Dude and Wireless Broadband Hero” was probably not our local legislator.

Some legislators are prolific tweeters. State Representative Al Baldasaro is a frequent tweeter, and from his tweets, I have learned that he spends nearly every weekend in the state he came from: Massachusetts. Instead of sending us a thank you card for providing cheap booze and cigarettes, Massachusetts prefers instead to send us their lunatics, misanthropes, and malcontents.

NH House Majority Leader DJ Bettencourt is a frequent tweeter. On February 4 he tweeted: “GOP House Agenda ‘12: Focuses squarely on getting the 38,000 of our friends and neighbors who remain unemployed back to work.” I was glad to read this. It warms the sclerotic cockles of my hard little heart to learn that AFTER the NH GOP House finishes up with their social engineering agenda (repealing marriage equality, making kids stand for the pledge of allegiance, guns for abusers, ensuring that women are barefoot and pregnant, taking over the judiciary, and privatizing our jails and schools) that they intend to engage in that laser like focus on job creation they promised us back in 2010.

The promised laser has yet to materialize. Freshman State Rep. J.R. Hoell is sponsoring a whopping 26 bills (that’s approximately $39,000 worth) this session. One would think that at least one would be related somehow to job creation, but one would be wrong. There are 6 gun bills and 3 that are related to deadly force. There are 6 anti-education bills, 2 anti-women bills, and the rest is a mixed bag. HB 1342 would prohibit state and local governments from using funds to employ a lobbyist. So much for local control. In fact, fans of local control would do well to pay attention to this legislature, because they’ve filed a number of Big Brother Bills.

One bill that has received the kind of derisive national attention NH should be getting used to is HB 1574, which would eliminate the requirement that an employer give an employee a lunch break after 5 hours on the job. Apparently in randworld all employers are just warm fuzzies who insist on coddling their employees, so there’s no need for actual RULES. In defense of this bill, Rep. Hoell is quoted as saying, “If they are not letting people have lunch, they could put it out though the news media, through social media I don’t think that abusive behavior would continue, the way communications are today.” I appreciate Hoell’s enthusiasm for social media, but he’s being awfully optimistic. After all, there has been tons of ridicule heaped on the GOP controlled NH House, and they haven’t resigned en masse.

Laconia Rep. Harry Accornero’s bill requiring students to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance has just cleared the Constitutional Review Committee, and will be voted on by the full house. One may well wonder how this bill passed through any committee, never mind a Constitutional Review committee. It’s a poorly written bit of nonsense, that doesn’t stipulate any kind of penalty. Will the treasonous teens that refuse to stand be carted off to Guantanamo Bay? Rep. Lawrence Kappler says, “Standing is a sign of national patriotism.” Certainly there’s no better way to teach patriotism than the use of force. As a side note, the US is the only democracy that requires students to swear a loyalty oath every day.

In other legislative related news, a new report from the N.H. Center for Public Policy Studies finds that as state funding decreases, the reliance on property tax is increasing. In other words, all of those taxes and fees that have been either decreased or eliminated (like the tobacco tax) may sound pretty, but the end result is that your property taxes are going up. The Center found that property taxes comprised about 60% of city, town, and school spending. As the state continues to eliminate revenue sources at every opportunity, you can be sure that your property taxes will continue to increase exponentially. Perhaps in time, even the most knee jerk party supporters will begin to understand that the GOP mantra of “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem” is being uttered by people whose pants are ablaze.

Speaking of pants on fire, Speaker of the NH House, William O’Brien should be at the Shriner’s Burn Hospital right about now. Last year GOP Rep. Susan Emerson accused O’Brien of screaming and swearing at her because he objected to her amendments to the House budget bill. Because of that incident, Emerson and a bi-partisan group of legislators filed HB 1533, a bill preventing bullying in the state house and legislative office building. In a recent interview with Kevin Landrigan of the Nashua Telegraph, the Speaker denied that this ever took place. In fact, the Speaker accused Rep. Emerson of fabricating the story and being “emotional.” Ah, those silly girlies – always so emotional. Sadly for the Speaker, the state trooper who served as the Senate sergeant-at-arms last year, and the chorus director for the school chorus singing the national anthem that day have both acknowledged that Susan Emerson is telling the truth. That means the Speaker of the NH House, a man who has brought nothing but shame to our state, is also a bold faced liar.

Be sure to ask your local state reps why they aren’t asking for O’Brien to step down. Remember, Laurie Pettengill was a strong O’Brien supporter, and Gene Chandler is a member of the O’Brien leadership team.

Is this what you voted for?

© sbruce 2012

Published as an op-ed in the February 17, 2012 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Fighting Medicare Fraud

The Dept. of Justice and the Dept. of Health and Human Services have taken serious action to combat Medicare fraud —and it’s working. From the Huffington Post:

Federal authorities say they recovered $4.1 billion in health care fraud judgments last year, a record high which officials on Monday credited to new tools for cracking down on deceitful Medicare claims.
The recovered funds are up roughly 50 percent from 2009.

That's huge!

"Fighting fraud is one of our top priorities and we have recovered an unprecedented number of taxpayer dollars," Sebelius said in a statement. "Our efforts strengthen the integrity of our health care programs, and meet the president's call for a return to American values that ensure everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules."


Officials credited the spike in recovered funds in part to strike force teams set up in fraud hot spots around the country, including Miami, Detroit and Los Angeles.

The teams charged 323 defendants, who collectively billed the Medicare program more than $1 billion last year. That includes a massive bust in February 2011, in which more than 100 doctors, nurses and physical therapists were charged with fraud in nine states. Stopping Medicare's budget from hemorrhaging that money will be key to paying for President Barack Obama's health care overhaul.

By focusing on eliminating Medicare fraud, the Justice Dept, and the DHHS have recovered $4.1 million, up 50% from 2009. It’s a success of the Affordable Care Act we can already see. That's good news for Medicare, for the Obama administration, and most of all, good news for U.S. taxpayers.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Maine Legislators Kill Voter ID Bill

Maine legislators vote to kill Voter ID. From Think Progress:

Though Republicans enjoy full control over Maine’s lawmaking process, they’ve dropped a push to require certain photo identification in order to vote.

Though Maine Republicans were considering voter ID legislation at the beginning of the year, Democrats vociferously objected because the bill could prevent thousands of Mainers from voting, particularly elderly individuals. On Friday, Republicans acceded to those objections, striking the voter ID language from an election law bill. This is the second time voter ID has failed to pass the GOP-controlled Maine legislature. Last year, a voter ID bill failed in the Senate after first being passed by the House.

It does speak well for them that they were concerned about disenfranchising elderly voters. But:

Maine Republicans were chastened during the 2011 session after they passed a bill to eliminate the state’s 38 year-old law allowing for Election Day registration, only to see their move overturned by a citizens veto in November. More than 60 percent of Mainers rebuked the legislature and voted to restore Election Day registration.

This is the real bottom line. Over 60% of Maine voters trounced them with a citizen's veto. They don't want to get that kind of a public spanking any time soon.

In place of this bill, the legislature voted in favor of a resolution. From Maine Public Broadcasting Network:

Put in its place was a resolve calling on the Secretary of State to study changes that might need to be made to Maine's election system, "So that when we do do something there won't be this tugging back and forth and running out to a people's veto," says Republican Committee member Sen. Deb Plowman of Hampden.

Plowman is referring to a vote that happened over another voting rights issue. In November, Maine voters soundly overturned a new law pushed by Republicans that banned the decades-old practice of allowing Election Day voter registration.


But Shenna Bellows of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine challenged the need for legislators to call for a study. "In these difficult economic times, it's irresponsible to waste taxpayer resources on a study to tell the secretary of state to do his job. It is not necessary to use a study to fix clerical errors or administrative errors," Bellows says.

Summers says his primary concern is people voting when they shouldn't be. He says his office is actively investigating instances of non-citizens participating in elections.

In September 2011, I wrote about Maine's GOP Chair trying to create proof of widespread voter fraud by coming up with a list of 200 students that he claimed were voting fraudulently in Maine. This proved to be untrue, in all 200 cases - but this was the "reasoning" used to gin up folks to support a Voter ID law.

The resolution isn't necessary, given that the Secretary of State was the one who investigated the nonexistent student voter fraud From the Bangor Daily News:

After a two-month investigation into possible voter fraud by college students and noncitizens, Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers said Wednesday his evidence showed that none of the students committed fraud and only one noncitizen voted in Maine.

Nevertheless, Summers said his investigation confirmed his belief that Maine’s election system is “fragile and vulnerable,” and he vowed to submit legislation in January to fix some of the problems.

GIven that Summers has already announced his intention, the legislative resolution really isn't needed.

This is good news for Maine voters and taxpayers - who really taught their legislature a lesson with the people's veto of the bill to eliminate same day registration.

Voter ID continues to be a solution looking for a problem.

cross-posted at MainSt/

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Austerity Means Freezing

From the New York Times:

This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.


As a result, Community Concepts, a community-action program serving western Maine, receives dozens of calls a day from people seeking warmth. But Dana Stevens, its director of energy and housing, says that he has distributed so much of the money reserved for emergencies that he fears running out. This means that sometimes the agency’s hot line purposely goes unanswered.

So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts.

In cold climates, people with outside oil tanks burn kerosene, because regular heating oil turns into a gel when it freezes, and clogs up the pipes. Kerosene doesn't freeze. It's also even more expensive than regular heating oil.

For older Mainers who live in drafty houses, that $483 isn't going to go very far. It's not even enough to fill up the tank once. A standard oil tank holds 275 gallons. Right now in Maine the cost of oil is approximately $4.00 a gallon.

From the Huffington Post:

How the cuts affect low income households varies by state. In Vermont, the effect will be minimal: State lawmakers are dipping into reserves to make up the shortfall from Washington's cuts.

No such luck in Maine, which saw its allotment drop from $56 million to $38.5 million. Last year 64,000 Maine households received LIHEAP assistance, with an average benefit of $804. The quasi-state agency that manages LIHEAP will make sure no fewer people receive assistance, partially by shifting funds and partially by slashing the average benefit to $483.

John and Joan McAdams, a Maine couple in their 70's, are doing this:

"At night we leave it down to 50 and during the day right now we run it at 60 degrees," he said. "This is ludicrous. The wealthy can handle it. We haven't got any money. I go to the food bank. All I get is outdated cans and a lot of spaghetti. There's a rich versus poor situation in this country. It's bad."

He's right. This is bad. This is the end result of the austerity we heard mentioned so proudly: older people freezing in their homes in what is considered the wealthiest country in the world.

Cross-posted at MainSt/

True Confession: When I read the first story, I sat at my computer and cried.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Small Government Theocracy

The NH legislative session is in full swing. The total number of bills filed in the NH House for 2012 is 870. There have been 175 bills withdrawn. At a cost of approximately $1500 for each bill that goes through legislative services, the NH House is costing NH taxpayers $1,305,000. Money well spent? You decide. Go to the website for the NH legislature:, where you will find all kinds information, including the text of bills, their status, the House and Senate calendars, as well as voting records for legislators.

Please join me in shedding a tear for HB 1580, the bill that would have required quotes from the Magna Carta in new legislation. After making NH a national laughingstock, the bill went down in flames. That may have been the most ridiculous bill (this session) but there are plenty more that are a waste of our tax dollars.

HCR-2 is a resolution declaring that NH supports the Arizona immigration law. I’m sure that makes all the difference in the world to the folks of Arizona, but does it make any sense to the taxpayers of NH? It doesn’t create any jobs. All it does is affirm the bigotry of the majority party, on the taxpayer’s dime.

HB -587, a bill that would allow no-fault divorces only if the parties involved have no minor children. This bill was sponsored by Representatives Hopper, Groen, Comerford, and Ingbretson; all members of the majority party. A party that claims to be the party of small government. The party of less government interference in your life. It’s one of life’s great mysteries that these people can make those claims, all the while filing bills designed to interfere as much as possible in the lives of their constituents.

HB 1147 is a bill to make March 31 of every year a day to remember Teri Schiavo, a woman who had no connection to NH. A woman who was kept alive by government interference, long after her brain was dead. Is this money well spent? Will this create jobs? (Maybe some tacky souvenirs.) The House leadership chose not to allow this bill to be debated, and instead laid it on the table. That’s parliamentary speak for “we’re putting it aside for now, but we can revive it.” Maybe later, when they aren’t embarrassed to be wasting tax dollars on such an exercise in pious vanity.

One of my favorite bills was also deemed inexpedient to legislate. HB 228, was loftily called, “The Whole Woman’s Health Funding Priorities Act.” It’s even more impressive, when one learns that the authors and sponsors of this bill are all men. Representatives: Robert Willette, Lawrence Kappler, John Cebrowski, Jon Richardson, Warren Groen, and David Bates. This is akin to Susan Bruce writing, The Whole Man’s Guide…to anything. These are men who don’t like women, and don’t want them to have any control over their bodies. In fact, this bill would have prohibited NH HHS from contracting with Planned Parenthood (as they have done for over 40 years) to provide services to low income, uninsured women. I don’t know why these guys want women to get breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer, but they sure do seem to want to. You’d think they’d want the incubators to be healthy. We already know that “less government interference” doesn’t apply to the lives of women.

HB 1712 would require the teaching of a Biblical literacy course in grades 9-12. The best part of this bill is the rather grandiose justification:

“The general court finds that New Hampshire Republicans are united by our belief in God, individual liberty, personal responsibility, places of worship, communities, and volunteerism. The general court also finds and recognizes the history of our country, from the Mayflower Compact, Revolutionary War, the Federalist Papers, and other speeches and writings of our Founding Fathers, is rooted in the belief in God and the teachings of the Bible.”

NH Republicans are united by their belief in God, so in the interest of individual liberty, they’re going to force their beliefs on high school kids. There was no fiscal note attached, so the potential cost to cities and towns is unknown. This GOP theocracy bill is currently in committee. No word on when a course in Rastafarian Literacy will be required.

HB 1421- required a vegetarian diet for all inmates in the NH corrections system. No rationale was given, but there were provisions for providing supplements, which leads one to believe that there was some influence from corporate America, perhaps in the guise of Monsanto or Archer Daniels Midland. It would have increased food costs by nearly 5% annually, and so it was deemed inexpedient to legislate.

The same representative, who gave us HB 1421, also filed CACR 24, an amendment to the NH Constitution that would stipulate that no one would be eligible to become a judge until they had reached age 60. No word on what the reasoning behind this was, but again, it was deemed inexpedient to legislate. That’s $3000 right there that Rep. Kingsbury wasted on frivolous legislation. We can’t send him a bill, but the voters of Laconia can rectify this mistake in November.

And finally (for now) there is HR 27, a resolution urging NH lawmakers to declare “brainpower” a state resource. Who says irony is dead?

© sbruce 2012

This was published as an op-ed in the 2-3-12 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.