Thursday, July 19, 2012

Flat Earth Mode

Every year, business network CNBC releases a report called “America’s Top States for Business.” CNBC examines a number of factors (cost of doing business, quality of life, cost of living, etc) and ranks states accordingly. The results of these studies over time (I went back as far as 2006) offer some insight into what NH is doing right, as well as deficiencies that the state continues to ignore.

Texas was rated number one, despite their quality of life being rated as 35th in the nation. They ranked #1 in infrastructure and #2 in technology and innovation, which was enough to offset the rather dismal quality of life. The overall Texas economy was rated 5th in the nation.

NH’s overall rating is 19th in the nation. NH’s quality of life is rated first in the nation. NH ranks 46th in transportation and infrastructure, which is fairly consistent over the years. The rankings for technology and infrastructure put NH in 26th place. More startling was the category of workforce, where NH ranked #44. The workforce rating is based on the education level of the workforce, availability of worker training programs, and union membership. Before those right knees start jerking, it’s important to point out that fewer than 10% of NH workers belong to a labor union. In 2011, NH ranked 40th in workforce, but in 2009 we were in 30th place.

NH ranked 35th in the cost of doing business. That’s a fairly consistent number over the years. CNBC looks at income, property and business taxes, utility costs and the cost of rental space. As we know, NH has some of the highest property taxes and utility costs in the nation. NH ranked 40th in cost of living. That’s been the same since 2006. The numbers are based on housing, food, and energy costs.

There were two surprising categories. We’ve heard a great deal of wailing from the Freebaglicans about how regulations are strangling development in our state. That turns out not to be true. NH ranks SECOND in the nation for being business friendly. Since 2006, we’ve ranked in the single digits in that category. CNBC looks at legal and regulatory frameworks. NH has never ranked lower than in 6th place in this category. The other surprise was the rating of NH’s economy, which came in 34th place. After truly dismal numbers (40th) in 2008, during the big economic collapse, NH rebounded quickly, to #14 in 2009, #12 in 2010, and NH was ranked 10th in the nation in 2011. Falling to 34th place in a year is truly remarkable, especially given that laser like focus on jobs and the economy that was promised us by the GOP majority.

In 2011, the US Chamber of Commerce (not exactly a bunch of raving pinkos) released a report called “Enterprising States; Recovery and Renewal for the 21st Century.” The report found that states investing in infrastructure, as well as education and training for the workforce were the states most successful at bringing in good paying jobs.

This is the exact opposite of what NH has done.

Recent letters from Representatives McCarthy and Tregenza boasted of the many revenue streams and spending cuts the majority made over the last two years. That’s all either of them had to be proud of - cutting state revenue streams. As the US Chamber report points out, “A state, however, can neither cut or tax itself into prosperity.”

NH is trying to cut itself into prosperity. The state funding to our state university systems was cut in half by the Freebaglican majority. The DOT budget was cut so much that we’re no longer lighting up our bridges. Folks will remember that Rep. Gene Chandler had to do some fancy pageant walking after the budget he shilled for resulted in cutbacks to DOT spending on snow plowing. It is now estimated that NH’s 10 year transportation plan will take 30 years to complete, based on current spending.

The US Chamber report cited Vermont and Maine as being the top two states currently investing in telecommunications infrastructure. NH is the 19th century filling in that northern New England sandwich of progress.

NH already ranks in last place for state spending on our state university system. We can continue to strive to be last in infrastructure, too. Of course, it’s entirely possible that we’ll choose to elect a legislature that isn’t stuck in flat earth mode next time around.

From the US Chamber report: “The evidence regarding job creation among the states shows that fiscal probity is an essential ingredient, but states can deal with the fundamental problems they face only by spurring growth and upward mobility.”

Be sure to ask incumbents how they expect to move NH into the future by doing the exact opposite of what is working for other states. Be sure to ask all candidates how they intend to help bring NH into the 21st century.

“In our seeking for economic and political progress, we all go up - or else we all go down.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt

CNBC Report
US Chamber of Commerce Report

This was published as an op-ed in the July 20 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.
© sbruce 2012

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Putting a Price Tag on Public Health

The July 16 edition of the Boston Globe had a story about Eastern Equine Encephalitis, by writer Martine Powers.

Triple E is a mosquito borne illness, and it's early this year:

Catherine Brown, the state public health veterinarian, explained that two types of mosquitoes carry the virus. The species that bites birds is often discovered carrying the virus early in the summer, she said. But the kind that targets mammals, including humans, is not typically found with the virus until about July 25.

The discovery of mammal-biting insects carrying the virus in the second week of July, she said, is a cause for concern.

Mosquito samples in Easton and Carver have come back positive for carrying the virus. Easton, Raynham, and Taunton have all been declared at high risk for the virus.

Last year Martin Newfields of Raynham died after contracting the virus.

Towns in southeastern MA are rescheduling evening activities, stocking up on bug spray, and trying to get their towns, counties, or the state to do mosquito spraying.
Meanwhile in Raynham:

Last year, after Newfield’s death, municipalities pointed fingers at the state government for failing to conduct aerial sprays early in the season. At that time, Alfred DeMaria, an epidemiologist at the Department of Public Health, said there is no evidence that aerial spraying is more effective than ground spraying, and each aerial spraying costs the state about $1 million.

Given that the mosquitos are early, the municipalities are struggling with how to stretch their spraying dollars, since the mosquito threat lasts until the first heavy frost. That was the point made by Joe Pacheco, the chairman of Raynham's Board of Selectmen.

“It’s a matter of public health,” Pacheco said. “The governor should not be putting a price tag on public health. That’s just not acceptable."

Perhaps in Massachusetts folks don't like the idea of putting a price tag on public health. The New Hampshire legislature had no such difficulty:


Effective July 1, 2006, RSA 141-C:25 established a mosquito control fund in the NH DHHS to assist cities, towns, and mosquito control districts by providing funding to offset mosquito control activities. During passage of the State Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget, this program was unfunded. As such no reimbursement funds will be awarded in calendar years 2011 and 2012. Funding for the program beyond State Fiscal Year 2013 will be contingent upon decision making during the next budget cycle.

The mosquito control program was de-funded by the current legislature, who apparently feel that any investment in public health is too high a price to pay.

In 2005, seven human cases of EEE were found in NH, and two people died as a result. A number of horses, alpacas, and other mammals have also contracted the disease over the years and died. The virus has come early to our neighbors to the south this year, which can only mean that southern NH will be at risk earlier than usual.

According to this 2009 report from the UNH County Extension program, Rockingham County is the part of our state that is at the highest risk for Triple E.

Rockingham County is also a the strongest bastion of GOP support in the state.

"Irony is just honesty with the volume cranked up." ~ George Saunders

Sunday, July 08, 2012

NH Goes National (again, to our shame)

Once again, NH's shame goes national. Time Magazine has picked up the story of Rep. Robert Kingsbury's claim that kindergarten leads to crime:

Kingsbury (R-Laconia), 86, recently claimed that analyses he’s been carrying out since 1996 show that communities in his state that have kindergarten programs have up to 400% more crime than localities whose classrooms are free of finger-painting 5-year-olds. Pointing to his hometown of Laconia, the largest of 10 communities in Belknap County, the legislator noted that it has the only kindergarten program in the county and the most crime, including most or all of the county’s rapes, robberies, assaults and murders.

Time's conclusion?

The fact that correlation does not equal cause — and that powerful correlations may be linked with unmeasured factors that are truly causal — is the reason that genuine scientific research often involves complex statistical analysis. Determining causality is extremely difficult in science, and it typically requires experiments that are designed to allow investigators to manipulate the conditions carefully and to rule out any other factors that might be at play.

I'm going to go ahead and unscientifically state that Robert Kingsbury's election to the NH House proves that most voters in 2010 didn't have a clue about who they were voting for.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Save America

Election season is here, and the signs are springing up everywhere. One new sign proclaims: Save America, Vote Republican. I’ve reflected on those signs on a number of occasions during the last two weeks.

After the Supreme Court’s decision that the ACA is Constitutional, Merrimack, NH Tea Party founder Mike Malzone told the Merrimack Patch that he hoped the majority justices all got colon cancer. He posted a lot of ugly and obscene commentary on his Facebook page. The next day he stood by his remarks. A few days later, however, after the story went national, Malzone issued a retraction, saying he’s not a hateful person. Boy – he sure fooled me!

Undoubtedly, the makers of the signs were thinking about Republicans like Mike Malzone when they urge us to Save America and vote GOP.

I reflected upon those signs again, when I read about a study done by State Rep. Robert Kingsbury of Laconia. It seems that Rep. Kingsbury has been gathering data since 1996 that shows a link between kindergarten and an increase in crime in Belknap County. Laconia has a lot more crime than other area towns that don’t have kindergarten, according to Rep. Kingsbury. One wonders if perhaps population density was a consideration during the course of this study, but then one decides that examining the methodology too closely could be damaging to one’s mental health. Representative Kingsbury states that other causes for the increase in crime include declining gun ownership and the fact that boxing is no longer taught in schools.

Sadly for us all, that wasn’t the end of it. Rep. Kingsbury felt compelled to elaborate on his statements. He believes that children are taken away from their mothers too soon. He was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, “Children go to kindergarten at the point of a gun, children go to day care and it's not the same; there is no point of a gun.” Given that he seems to like guns, this is a little confusing. What if we assigned the kindergartners firearms and boxing gloves?

Kingsbury blames the fact that teachers can’t discipline the way they used to because of pesky lawyers. This all translates as: women should be home with the kids, and teachers should be able to smack the little brats around. You may recall Rep. Kingsbury was one of the sponsors of the 2012 bill that called for the insertion of a relevant quote from the Magna Carta in each new piece of NH legislation. At age 85, Kingsbury has just finished his freshman term in the NH House and is running for reelection. Save America, folks. Vote Republican.

Speaker of the NH House, William O’Brien is also running for reelection. To give credit where it is due, he certainly has done his best to turn NH into a running joke for late night TV comedians. The man who has bullied, browbeaten, and punished members of his own party thinks he deserves to be reelected to the House, and reelected speaker. O’Brien spends a lot of time cozying up to special interests in DC (where do you think that terrific cigarette tax gambit came from?) and on a recent junket to the place he clearly intends to go next, he did an interview with right wing blog Politico. In this astounding interview, O’Brien claims that Governor Lynch isn’t running for reelection because he’s too intimidated by the Freebaglican majority.

Governor Lynch is finishing his fourth term, and has chosen not to run for reelection. He’s the longest serving governor in the state for about 200 years. The last was John Taylor Gilman, who served 14 one-year terms from 1794 – 1816. Lynch has served longer than even the sainted Mel Thomson, for crying out loud. Is O’Brien ignorant or arrogant? You decide. And remember, voting for this ethically challenged, ill-tempered braggart is not just a vote to ensure your property taxes will continue to rise; it’s a vote to save America!

Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh recently disparaged his opponent in the upcoming election. He told voters that Tammy Duckworth is not a “true hero”, and talks about her military service too much. Duckworth, a helicopter pilot, lost both legs in Iraq when an RPG hit her helicopter. Walsh, on the other hand, has been sued by his ex for being a deadbeat dad, to the tune of over $100,000, and never served in the military. A vote for him will surely Save America.

The Supreme Court’s health care ruling brought all manner of unpleasant commentary forth. Matthew Davis, a former GOP spokesman in Michigan sent out an email after the announcement with the heading, “Is Armed Rebellion Now Justified?” On the Conway Daily Sun’s Facebook page teletalk question about the health care ruling, Josh Keys wrote: “Liberals are Mentally Ill, My question is when men like me do not comply with mandates and refuse to allow themselves to be arrested for it. What actions will other Patriots take in response? It is a thin line you Progressive Commie loving Liberals are walking right now, I recommend you brace yourselves.” That’s a direct quote, with faithful recording of the author’s spelling and punctuation.

It’s almost amusing to think that these guys weren’t threatening armed rebellion when shrink-wrapped pallets of cash were being sent to Iraq by the Bush administration. They weren’t and still aren’t upset about warrantless wiretapping, secret prisons, or rendition. None of that stuff is worth a moment of concern. Spending trillions on the invasion of a country that wasn’t a threat to us? So what. Health care for everyone? Now, them’s fightin’ words.

The United States is often called a Christian Nation. The day of the Supreme Court decision I received emails from groups like the Family Research Council, bemoaning this decision. These doughty Christians want to force women to serve as involuntary incubators, but don’t care if they have access to health care. They don’t care if women die in the process. They weren’t the only ones. Convicted terrorist Cheryl Sullenger of Operation Rescue sent out a similar missive. Apparently nothing says “I’m a follower of Jesus Christ,” like denying insurance coverage to babies born with pre-existing conditions. But hey, these are the folks who intend to save America.

“Never kick a fresh turd on a hot day.” Harry S. Truman

© sbruce 2012

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