Thursday, October 29, 2015

Allergy Warning

Members of the NH House have filed most of the bills for the 2016 session of the legislature. The deadline for filing LSRs was September 18. LSR is the acronym for legislative service requests. Legislative Services helps state representatives and senators with research into these fledgling ideas that may become bills. There have been 639 LSRs filed by House members thus far.

The Senate’s filing deadline is November 3. There are only 32 LSRs filed by senators thus far. It’s a safe bet that a big bunch will be filed at the last minute. Also listed on the NH General Court website are the 56 LSRs that have already been withdrawn. Only the titles of the LSRs and the lead sponsors are available, so it can be difficult, in some cases, to know what the bill is really about. In others, there is little doubt.

We all know that NH has some serious issues that need to be addressed. In looking at the House LSRs, it seems that the most important problems we face in NH appear to be guns and abortion. Get ready for the non-budget session of the biennium, with a side order of special sauce on account of the presidential election. Avoid the sauce if you have allergies, since it was prepared in an area contaminated by nuts.

State Representative Michael Brewster represents Epsom and Pittsfield. He appears to be the winner in this years “most LSRs filed contest,” after filing a whopping 37. It seems that Brewster has some grievances with our judicial system, regarding the custody of his child. Most of the 37 LSRs Brewster has filed involve judges or the judiciary system. Brewster has also filed an LSR calling for the impeachment of Governor Hassan, and another to remove the five executive councilors from office. But, so far, my absolute favorite of Brewster’s LSRs: “prohibiting the general court from filing legislation in the second year of the session.” Well done, sir.

There are several bills calling for a registry of drug dealers to be created. House Majority Leader, Jack Flanagan, has one that would establish a registry for people convicted of heroin related offenses. There isn’t a registry for the bankers who destroyed the US economy, but Flanagan wants to put some poor junkie who gets caught buying a bag on a registry that will forever impede him from turning his life around. (A gun registry would be tyranny!) Jack Flanagan is pondering a run for Congress in the second district.

Rep. Gene Chandler is one of the sponsors of an LSR aimed at amending the NH Constitution on the issue of domicile. The Republican dedication to limiting voting rights continues unabated. Other states are looking at expanding voter rights. New Hampshire is not one of them.  

State Representative Don Leeman would like to require drug testing for public assistance recipients. This has proven to be a big waste of money in other states, where the only winners were the companies who raked in the big bucks for finding a tiny percentage of people who failed the test. One wonders how far this would go. Would the families who receive assistance for their children with disabilities be required to pee into cups? Leeman filed another LSR that would restrict the use of food stamps in convenience stores. Many SNAP recipients live in areas where there are no supermarkets and there is no public transportation. Apparently it was a long, hot summer in Rochester, with nothing to do but think about ways to demonize the poor.

Self-styled Constitutional scholar, Rep. Dan Itse did not disappoint. He may have been overshadowed by Rep. Brewster in the number of LSRs filed, (Itse only filed 28) but he did manage to bring his usual level of peculiarity to the process. Itse has filed an LSR that would change the marriage license requirement to a requirement that couples obtain a certificate of intent to marry. He would also like to proclaim the second week of September as Patriot Week.

An LSR was filed calling on the US House and Senate to consider a constitutional amendment prohibiting campaign contributions, unless the donor is eligible to vote in that election. Free Staters Ed Comeau and Max Abramson didn’t utter a peep when a libertarian millionaire from Texas inserted his “free speech” into the special election in March that gave Yvonne Dean-Bailey a seat in the NH House, but both are sponsors of this LSR.  Continuing on in the tradition of legislating personal grudges, Abramson has also filed an LSR requiring the testing of law enforcement officers for steroid use. Abramson was arrested and charged with felony gun charges for attempting to break up a party at his house (in a residential neighborhood) by firing a gun.

There are at least 8 LSRs regarding firearms, but most of them aren’t coming from the gundamentalists. One would create a criminal penalty for providing a firearm to an individual that is prohibited from having one. Another would require firearm owners to have liability insurance, something that might go a long way to cutting back on stupid. For example, Max Abramson’s party trick would have caused his insurance rates to go up.

There are also 8 bills aimed at either hindering or ending a woman’s right to bodily autonomy. The faked up videos done by an anti-choice group got the GOP all wound up into thinking they can somehow ride to victory in 2016 by forcing women to serve as involuntary incubators. NH has never been a part of Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program. (Only 2 of 48 states are). Demonizing Planned Parenthood means demonizing the thousands of women who rely on their services. Planned Parenthood saved my daughter’s life. They are often the only health care low income women in rural areas can afford to access.

It’s a wonderful bit of hypocrisy to see how many Free Staters support the various bills. These are people who claim to be all about freedom and libertea, but as always, when the surface is scratched, libertarian freedom applies (and appeals) to white, heterosexual men. And as always, the sponsors of these bills vote against any programs that help women, children, and families.

This is just a small snapshot of what will be coming up in 2016. It’s a mere thumbnail of the bad and the bizarre, but there are a number of LSRs that sound good. Some originate right here in Carroll County. In the coming weeks, I’ll cover those, too. Meanwhile, watch out for the allergens.

Published as an op-ed in the October 30, 2015 edition of the Conway Daily Sun

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pay to Play

By the time you read this, the Democratic candidates for president will have had their first debate of the current electoral season. The Democrats have 3 debates scheduled in 2015. The Republicans have had 2 debates, and have 3 more scheduled for 2015.

This is very different from the debate schedule for the 2007/2008 presidential primary. In 2007 the Republicans had 15 debates, and then 6 more in 2008. In 2007 the Democrats had 17 debates, and 9 more in 2008. Most of us agreed at the time that there were too many debates.

This time the Republicans may have struck a good balance. The Democrats have not.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz (DWS) is the Chair of the Democratic National Committee. She has decreed that there will be only 6 debates sanctioned by the Democratic Party. Any candidates who might want to slither off and do some debating on the side will be cast out from the officially sanctioned debates if they do. Candidate Lawrence Lessig has been polling at sufficient numbers to meet the 1% threshold for appearing on the debate stage, but DWS refused to allow him to participate.

In 2008, DWS was one of Hillary Clinton’s national campaign co-chairs. In 2015, DWS unilaterally made the decision to limit the number of debates to six, and punish any naughty candidates that debated on the side. It’s difficult to imagine that this decision had nothing to do with her long-time support for Clinton. Even more difficult to fathom is that this decision was made by DWS, with no input from the other members of the DNC, or the DNC executive committee. The rest of the DNC meekly followed along, and didn’t challenge the authoritarian decisions made by Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz.

Hillary Clinton has been the anointed candidate of the Democratic Party for a very long time. Clearly DWS expected no viable candidates to rise up and challenge the anointed one, so she saw no need to schedule a lot of debates. When Bernie Sanders came along and began attracting huge crowds and started rising in the polls, DWS refused to add more debates. She appeared (and still appears) desperate to ensure that Clinton would remain the anointed candidate by ensuring that voters wouldn’t hear the voices of her challengers on the national stage until the last possible moment.

This brilliant strategy also ensured that the Republican debates and the Republican candidates have had control of the media and the issues discussed for months, interrupted only by the occasional story about Hillary’s emails. Lucky for DWS, the mainstream corporate media has no interest in covering Sanders. After all, the corporations that own our media don’t want Sanders anywhere near the White House. He’s not for sale.

Sanders may not be for sale, but our democracy is. In Buckley vs. Valeo, and then again in Citizens United, our Supreme Court has affirmed that money is in fact, speech – and that those who which to purchase a lot of speech should not be thwarted from doing so.

Spurred on by ALEC and other conservative special interest groups, many states have succeeded in enacting bills to limit voter participation. Alabama passed a voter ID law that went into effect last year. This year they closed 31 DMV offices. The shuttered offices are in the counties with the largest black populations, including the 5 counties that most significantly supported Obama for president. Quite a coincidence. 

Nowhere is the lack of concern for the democratic process more apparent than the in the debates. Every debate thus far has been on cable television. Cable – which is accessed through paid subscriptions. CNN live streamed the Democrat’s debate so that people who have access to the Internet were able to watch it. Fox did not livestream the GOP debate, so unless one had cable, one was not able to watch the debate.

Voters should not have to PAY to see debates. The debates should be shown on public and network television, and be broadcast over the radio and the Internet. They should be available to every single voter that wishes to see them. No one should have to PAY for the privilege of viewing what is supposed to be our democracy in action.

This week we learned that 158 families (and the companies they own) have provided about half of the money to fund presidential campaigns so far. They are white and they are wealthy. They’ve made vast fortunes in either finance or energy. They have lots and lots of speech at their disposal, and by gum, they’re going to use it to purchase a president. Of those families/companies, 138 are backing Republicans, and 20 are backing Democrats.

How did we get to this place? This isn’t what I learned in Mr. Dakers 8th grade civics class.

We’re seeing the pernicious influence of big money in all of our elections. In lowly NH state representative races, outside special interests are spending big bucks to ensure that their brand of ideology gets a voice in our legislature. Yvonne Dean-Bailey of Northwood was the recipient of $10,000 in PAC money to win a $100 a year seat in the NH House. Now that buyers know that they can purchase our legislature, the faucet will continue to flow.

It’s called corruption. Whenever special interests purchase a candidate – locally, statewide, or nationally – there is always quid pro quo.

The Roberts court has decreed that the more speech one has in the bank, the louder one’s voice gets to be. You don’t have an account? Sorry – we can’t hear you. What’s in your wallet? Got any speech in there?

Pay to play. What could go wrong?  

This was published as an op-ed in the October 16 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Newly Concerned

Drug problems and overdoses are not new. It’s just that everyone turned a blind eye until middle class kids started dying of heroin overdoses. Now, everyone is talking about the heroin epidemic. Jennifer Horn, the Chair of the NH GOP spent the summer bleating on twitter about how the budget stand off was a failure to act to help addicts. The GOP hasn’t given 2 rusty farthings about addicts in my memory. Their concern is of a very recent vintage, and one that is politically motivated.

One of the best tools the state has to help addicts is the NH Health Protection Plan, aka expanded Medicaid. The NHPP is due to sunset in December of 2016. The legislature refused to extend the program this year. Republicans are opposed to helping those 40,000 working poor folks get health coverage. This same health coverage pays for addiction treatment – something the GOP claims to be concerned about.

Over the last 30 years the number of treatment facilities in NH have dwindled considerably. We’ve chosen to send people to jail rather than invest in treatment. Here in the Live Free or Die state, our jails and prisons have become what passes for mental health and substance abuse treatment. Treatment is cheaper, but as I’ve said many times, NH will always choose the pound of cure.

I’ve read a number of pieces on addiction lately, some written by well meaning people who chose to use stereotypes to describe addicts. They’re poor, they’re from broken homes, they’ve had terrible lives … and so on. And indeed, as long as we thought the only addicts dying were THOSE people, we didn’t waste a minute of time being concerned about them.

Now that it’s hitting the middle and upper levels of the socioeconomic strata, suddenly we see some interest. Middle class parents are losing children. They aren’t being silent about it any more, either. A number of obituaries have been written in the last year or so that are very candid about their child’s battle with addiction and how they struggled to help him or her.

The opiate drugs are some of the hardest to kick. Many people get to heroin through the back door of painkillers. We’ve all read that Oxycontin and Oxycodone are incredibly addictive. When I was hospitalized last year with 4 compression fractures in my mid vertebrae, 8 broken ribs, and a crushed, split femur, I was given painkillers. The first week of my hospitalization was spent in a morphine haze. I was switched from morphine to Oxycontin when it looked as if I was going to live, and I could swallow oral medications. A couple of weeks before I left the hospital, I asked to be taken off the painkillers. I discussed it with my doctor, who put me on a tapering off regimen before we stopped. Even with the tapering off, I experienced 2 days of withdrawal.

I asked to come off the drugs. If I hadn’t, I might have left the hospital with a prescription for the drugs I’d developed a level of physical dependence on. When my prescription ended, I might have turned to heroin as the replacement. My doctors weren’t nefarious over-prescribers. I was hurt very badly, and they were trying to help manage my pain.

I asked, because I knew the drugs were affecting my thought processes, and making me tired. I worried it would affect my physical therapy, and more than anything I wanted to walk again. The opiates made me itchy and nauseous. I asked because I know about addiction. I asked because I am an addict.

Substance abuse research and treatment are lagging behind in the US. Other developed countries are way ahead of us. The US still relies heavily on the 29-day stay in a rehab facility that uses the 12-Step model of recovery. Twelve step programs aren’t for everyone – nor should they be. There should be a variety of options for treatment, the way there are for any disease.

The 12-step model comes to us from Alcoholics Anonymous, a fellowship where alcoholics come together to help each other get sober and stay sober. They are not treatment professionals. AA is very loosely organized and doesn’t have any sort of records of how successful it is. AA emphasizes the anonymous part in a couple of ways. People who attend meetings are expected to refrain from naming those whom they see at meetings. Some of the 12 traditions focus on anonymity, and the need to maintain public silence about recovery.

We don’t know who most recovering addicts are, because of that anonymity. The stories we read are full of stereotypes. We only hear the success stories of the famous. We don’t know that people in recovery walk among us, every day, in all levels of our society.

And so we continue to stigmatize addicts, which only serves to keep people who need help from coming forward. Addiction is regarded as a moral failing (read any online comment section) instead of what it truly is – a public health problem.

We are failing our young people. The cost of a college education leaves them buried under a mountain of debt. We aren’t creating decent paying jobs any more. We create a lot of low wage service jobs. The property taxes in our state mean that home ownership is no longer part of the American dream for many. They’ve been conditioned to understand that government is the root of all evil, that our elected officials don’t believe in science but do believe strongly in obstruction, and that there is really little hope for the future. Upward mobility is a thing of the past. It can’t be a surprise that some turn to the relatively inexpensive comfort of heroin. In fact, if they were spending their escapist dollars at our state liquor stores, we might not hear so much from the newly concerned.

A good place to start is renewing the NHPP. We need all the resources we can muster to fight the pernicious evil of opiate addiction. We need more and better treatment options in our state. We need more compassion and fewer fingers waving and stereotyping. I wish I were more optimistic.

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