Monday, February 29, 2016

Ted Rall at Gibson's Book Store

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016, 7 p.m.
Twice the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, Ted Rall is a political cartoonist, opinion columnist, graphic novelist and occasional war correspondent whose work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Village Voice, and Los Angeles Times. Tonight he presents Bernie, already a New York Times Bestseller, a biography of Senator Bernie Sanders told in graphic novel format. For this book Ted Rall interviewed Sanders, a man whose upbringing in a struggling working-class family in a hardscrabble section of Brooklyn during the 1950s taught him that poverty is a disease, one that affects us all. Incredibly, the lessons he learned back then are revolutionizing the political process this year, marking the resurgence of political progressivism on the left at the same time as the two-party system seems to be on the way out.
“Rall’s illustrated work, in the same format as his acclaimed Snowden, is an illuminating, clear-headed, straight-shooting argument on why American voters should support and elect Senator Bernie Sanders to president.” -- Publishers Weekly
“More than a campaign biography, this graphic narrative traces the decline and possible resurgence of liberalism within the Democratic Party.” -- Kirkus
"What sets this book apart is not that it's a cartoon, but that it's an argument for placing Bernie Sanders in a particular position in U.S. history, namely as the restoration of liberalism to a Democratic Party that hasn't seen it since the McGovern campaign.” -- David Swanson,
Event date: 
Tuesday, March 1, 2016 - 7:00pm
Event address: 
45 South Main St
ConcordNH 03301

Gibson's Book Store

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Sweeping Up the Elephant Dung

The primary circus has left town. As we sweep up the elephant dung, and move the furniture back into place, we turn our attention to other matters.

The purveyors of elephant dung emboldened some of our excitable state representatives. Earlier in the month, the NH House, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs committee had a hearing on HB 1620, a bill prohibiting any member of a foreign terrorist group from receiving public assistance benefits of any kind. I am certain that a check box on the application will ferret them out. But, just in case, the bill contains a fink provision. Anyone can turn in a person whom they think is a member of a foreign terrorist organization, and collect a reward. All that potential reward money is going to get spent investigating malicious claims made by bigots with axes to grind. The kind of people who share the views of the lead sponsor of the bill.

State Representative Ken Weyler is from Kingston. He’s serving his 14th term in the NH House, so we can’t say that his constituents don’t know what he’s all about. After 14 terms, it’s safe to say that not only do they know, they approve. Weyler’s written testimony submitted to the committee stated “giving public benefits to any person or family that practices Islam is aiding and abetting the enemy. That is treason.”

In 2011, Weyler got some attention for saying that mental health providers encourage people to become “patients for life” to preserve state funding. He claimed that a woman who sought help for postpartum depression would be kept a patient for the rest of her life, even though she might not need services “once her baby became a little more animated.” Representative Weyler is a retired airline pilot, which is apparently where he developed his keen diagnostic skills. There should be no place for this kind of talk in the People’s House, but the NHGOP doesn’t care. They know that the toady media in this state won’t hold them accountable, so they keep on giving this guy committee chair positions. Weyler is currently the Vice Chair of the Finance, Division II committee. In other news, the Statue of Liberty has asked to be deported.

A couple of bills to legalize marijuana were voted down. The heroin epidemic has everyone scared, though not scared enough to vote to extend the NH Health Protection Plan, the expanded Medicaid program that actually gives people insurance that pays for treatment. A lot of pious commentary spoke of keeping marijuana out of the hands of young people. One can only assume that they believe that the guy selling weed on the corner asks for ID. Studies done in states where medical marijuana bills have been enacted show a 25% decrease in opiate overdose deaths. Here in NH we passed a medical marijuana bill that (three years later) still is not functioning. People in our state who are eligible are not able to access medication that the law entitles them to. That big bold state motto of ours is a bunch of hooey.  

Except when it comes to GUNZ! And MOAR GUNZ! Because having some of the weakest gun laws in the nation isn’t enough for our gundamentalist friends, who are lobbying hard against the expanded Medicaid bill because it “could” lead to people losing their firearm rights. So could rain falling from the sky, but (so far) they aren’t out there aiming at clouds. The gun crowd is understandably bitter. For 8 years they’ve been wailing that the black guy in the White House was going to take their guns away, and all he did was let them down. Another bill, HB 1416 would have allowed the Dept. of Safety to set reasonable frees for criminal background checks. The gun nuts decided that was anti-gun legislation, too, and defeated it.

SB 471, the bill to create a $5 fee for a handicapped placard is still languishing in committee. This bill would make NH the only state in New England to charge a fee for a placard. I wrote to three of the senators who are sponsoring the bill. One of them ignored me completely. One blew me off with “ha ha, love your column.” One made some “you don’t understand” protestations and blew me off. These were all Democrats, by the way.

It seems the Dept. of Safety is asking for this fee. Ordinarily our Republican brethren would be howling at the thought of a fee increase, but when it comes to people from marginalized groups (old people, handicapped people) they see dollar signs. They know those disabled people are MOOCHERS. After all, a handicapped placard means free parking! Anyone who thinks that’s a great deal is welcome to trade legs with me.

The Dept. of Safety is underfunded, of course, by our legislature who keeps our state government from running efficiently by ensuring a lack of revenue. The sponsors of the bill claim that MOOCHERS are letting their able bodied relatives steal free parking. This cannot be proven. No one has any idea how often it happens, or how much revenue is lost as a result. They know it happens though, because someone told them a story about it, kinda like the stories of busloads of people from Massachusetts voting in NH elections. This is how we run our state – treating people with disabilities like naughty third graders who have to stay after school because someone broke a rule.

Or they think someone did. After all, Joe’s neighbor told him about his friend’s sister-in-law who uses her mother’s handicapped placard, and there’s nothing wrong with her…except that she might be a member of a foreign terrorist organization.

“Man is the only animal that laughs and has a state legislature.” Samuel Butler

Sunday, February 07, 2016

This is why people don't trust the media

Chris Matthews marching in a 4th of July parade. 

His wife is running for Congress. She's a former reporter, btw. From her campaign website, Kathleen Matthews for Congress:

Today MD-8 Democratic candidate Kathleen Matthews publicly endorsed Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

Here we see Chris transcend mere sycophancy to attack Sanders so that Hillary doesn't have to. 

This is why people don't trust the media. This is why the cries of "liberal biased media" don't ever go away. 

This is conflict of interest.  

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Quaint Notions

Avoiding the appearance of impropriety used to be a matter of concern, especially for elected officials. Back in the olden days, a mayor or a congressman wouldn’t appoint his biggest campaign donor’s wayward progeny to a high paying job they were utterly unqualified for, because of ethical issues AND the appearance of impropriety.

Every now and then we give ethics a workout. Congressman Frank Guinta’s foolish acceptance of campaign funds from mommy was a thorny ethics problem for him, especially when he so vociferously called former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter a liar for actually pointing out HIS lies.

On the big stuff we sometimes pay attention. But when it comes to the small, ongoing questionable matters of ethics and conflict of interest, we don’t pay that much attention. Especially when it comes to New Hampshire’s 400 person volunteer legislature. The sheer number of legislators is problematic in itself. The other big problem is that there aren’t many investigative reporters working in our state any more. Newspapers are cutting back on staff, and trying to figure out how to survive and go forward into a very uncertain media future. In other words, nobody is really watching over the conflicts of interest our 400 state representatives and 24 senators may or may not have.

Are there conflicts of interest? Let’s take a look at a few bills.

HB 1554 is a bill to establish a sports lottery in NH. There would be lottery games for which one would purchase a ticket. There would also be lottery game machines.  The licenses for this sports lottery would be issued to individuals who have valid liquor licenses.

As it happens, the lead sponsor of HB 1554 is Representative Adam Schroadter, who owns a place that has live music, serves food and liquor.

HB 1252 is a bill that would permit employers to pay their employees either weekly or biweekly. An employer could petition the labor commissioner to pay even less frequently than that, although it would have to be once a month.

Many low wage workers work a couple of part time jobs. These are folks scraping to get by. Paying them even less frequently isn’t going to help them out any. Worse, though – is the impact this can have on tipped employees. Some restaurant/bar owners include credit card tips left for servers in their paychecks. This means a server might have to wait 2 weeks to get their tips. Given that the tipped wage is 45% of the minimum wage of $7.25 in NH, these folks aren’t paying their rent with their hourly wage. It does, however, benefit the employer who will spend less doing payroll and cutting checks for employees.

The lead sponsor of this bill is Representative Laurie Sanborn. She and her husband, State Senator Andy Sanborn own a sports bar in Concord. Representative Adam Schroadter is a sponsor, and so is Representative Keith Murphy. He owns a bar in Manchester.

HB 1540 is an act relative to shipments of beer. Sponsors? Murphy and Schroadter. HB 114 establishes beer specialty licenses. Sponsors? Murphy.

Murphy is a member of the Free State Project, those wacky armed miscreants moving to NH to take over our state government and threaten secession. The Free State Project party line is that the libertarians are coming to leave you alone! They want small government! Government small enough to benefit their own businesses and those of their allies.

No one said boo when Rep. Dan McGuire (R. Free State) sponsored a bill that would have caused taxpayers to foot the bill for the millions that would be required to move the Suncook River back after it jumped its streambed during a big storm. It wasn’t a feasible project, according to engineers, but McGuire went ahead. That his house is on the bank of the former riverbed was surely just a coincidence. It seems we don’t really pay much attention to conflicts of interest, and the “appearance of impropriety” is a quaint notion from the past.

The New Hampshire General Court Ethics Booklet is a useful publication. From Part One:

Public Office As A Public Trust
Legislators should treat their office as a public trust, only using the powers and resources of public office to advance public interests, and not to attain personal benefits or pursue any other private interest incompatible with the public good.

This sounds as if legislators shouldn’t be writing bills to benefit themselves or their own businesses. Hmmm. Will these restaurant and bar owners abstain from voting on their own bills? The odds that they will are slim to none – and slim is out of town.

There are a number of minimum wage bills, including bills that would increase the tipped minimum wage. All business owners should abstain from voting on these bills – especially owners of businesses in the hospitality industry. It’s the only industry where customers are expected to directly pay the wages of the staff. Imagine if you had to tip your bank teller or pharmacist. Owners love to howl that if they had to pay employees a decent wage they’d have to raise their prices sky high. As anyone who has ever traveled knows, other countries seem to make it work. Not only does it work - they all have single payer health care. Damned socialist hellholes.

In other news, the first in the nation primary is upon us. The calls, the door knocking, the mailings, and the ads…oh, it’s almost over.
Given that this is NH, I expect most readers have met at least one candidate, and been to events, and done some reading and talking and thinking about who to vote for.  I hope you’ll all find time to exercise the franchise on February 9th. The NH legislature continues to try to solve the non-existent problem of voter fraud by attempting to make voter participation increasingly difficult. Vote while you still can. 

The primary circus will leave town, and we can get down to the serious business of our state elections. As big and colorful as the primary stuff is, the folks we elect to our local, county, and state governments have a much bigger impact on our daily lives than the president does. Thanks to Citizens United, the cash spigot will be flowing in ways we’ve never seen or imagined. We will all need to pay close attention.

This was published as an op-ed in the February 4, 2016 issue of the Conway Daily Sun.