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Archive for April, 2011

Reps Revive Usury

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Janice Kelble talks with Rep. Lenette Peterson

Protect New Hampshire Families, an organization dedicated to protecting the collectiv4-27-11 017e bargaining rights of New Hampshire workers, held a Lobby Day at the State House today.  While Representatives were entering Representatives Hall, the activists had good opportunities for conversations about why “Right to Work” is Wrong for New Hampshire. 

When the session got underway, the Representatives, in their wisdom, voted to bring usury back into practice in New Hampshire by approving SB 57, which had already passed the Senate.  This bill authorizes interest rates up to 300 percent on car title loans, and does not require lenders to inquire into the ability of borrowers to repay.  With a margin of only 9 votes, there’s hope that Gov. Lynch would veto the bill, and that his veto would hold.

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cheryl & lindsay 2 budget hearing 4-21-11 015

Representatives Hall was filled to capacity again yesterday, with more than 600 people expressing their anxieties and anger about the House-passed state budget, which proposes severe cuts in the programs that knit our communities together.  From 2 PM to past 10, with a 1-hour break for dinnharbor homes budget hearing 4-21-11er, members of the Senate Finance Committee listened to dozens of stories describing the impact of state-funded programs in areas such as mental health, adoption services, the arts, environmental protection, homeless services, and more.  

One speaker referred to the budget proponents as “greedy, radical, fiscal bullies.” Another called for “a system of taxation that is fair and equitable for all.” Such comments received hearty applause from the audience, while Senators sat silently at the front of the hall.

I didn’t get the exact words, but I perked up when one speaker asked something like, “Can you think of a time in history when a government was praised for taking away services from the poor and downtrodden while rewarding the rich and their corporations?bragdon budget hearing 4-21-11 023” 

The consequences of cuts – suicide, higher rates of hospitalization and imprisonment, higher levels of unemployment – were made clear to the Senators, at least if they  were listening. 

If their minds and hearts were open as well as their ears, the seven Senators (Morse, Bragdon, O’Dell, Forrester, Barnes, Gallus, and D’Allesandro) might have heard something new, something that moved them.  If they did, perhaps they will ask where we can find resources for the programs our communities rely on instead of just shifting the cuts to kill and maim one group of residents instead of another.   firefighters at budget hearing 4-21-11

Earlier in the day, another Senate Committee took testimony on a  bill to alter the pension system for public employees.  The bill included provisions that wouldn’t exactly end collective bargaining, but would come disturbingly close.  At the moment the right-wing Senate appears to be less hostile to workers than the ultra-right wing House.  The fate of public sector collective bargaining lies in the duel of politics and egos typical of late-session legislative maneuvers.  

With both chambers solidly in favor of “Right to Work (for LESS),” prospects are not bright.  

 

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john preaches 4-19-11 

Rev. John Gregory Davis called on “Passover Prophets and Resurrection Resisters” to bring a message of social justice to the New Hampshire State House at the United Church of Christ New Hampshire Conference’s second Advocacy Day, April 19. And that’s what they did.  Meeting at South Congregational Church in Concord, a few dozen UCC members and friends honed their advocacy skills for most of the morning and then set off for the State House, four blocks away.

Several activists associated with the United Valley Interfaith Project joined up with others from the Granite State Organizing Project to testify against SB 160, one of two bills that threaten to bring back predatory payday and car title loans, allowing interest rates as high as 403%.

“We are here because SB 160 brings usury — something we as people of faith have  opposed for thousands of years — back into New Hampshire,” Rod Wendt and Glinda Allen told the House Commerce Committee. “SB 160 will bring back predatory lending practices that will entrap poor people, people with little education and financial sophistication, in a downward spiral of debt. As people of faith, we find this exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable among us totally inconsistent with the values we hold dear — of caring for the poor, being our brother’s keeper, showing compassion.”

In addition to attending hearings and talking with legislators in the State House Cafeteria, participants swelled the ranks of Interfaith Voices for a Humane Budget, the group that has conducted vigils outside meetings of the UVIP & L Harding 4-19-11Senate Finance Committee since the beginning of April. Today, the vigil moved to the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee, whose revenue estimates will determine whether the Senate chooses to slash the budgets for essential services as deeply as the House did. “We are called to bring kindness and compassion to all those places where it has been lost,” said the Rev. Larry Brickner-Wood, of the UNH United Campus Ministry, in one of several prayers offered in the hallway outside State House Room 100, where Senate Ways and Means holds its meetings.

Sadly, furthering exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable among us appears to be entirely consistent with the priorities of legislative leaders, at least in the NH House, which approved its version of the budget March 31. State Senators are still deliberating over the budget, and will hold public hearings in Representatives Hall Thursday from 2 to 4 PM and again from 6 to 8 PM. Whether they will respond to the urgent pleas of those who depend on taxpayer-supported programs for services that enable dignified lives remains to be seen.

Before then, the Senate will show its colors when it votes tomorrow morning on the proposal to turn New Hampshire into a Right-to-Work (for LESS) state, as defined by HB 474. This anti-union, anti-worker agenda has been defeated consistently for at least three decades. But this year, legislators hostile to organized workers appear to have the upper hand.

What was clear today is that anti-union legislation will not pass with the cooperation ODell 4-19-11 of the state’s faith community. Outside Room 100, UCC clergy and lay members made it clear to Senator Bob O’Dell, whose vote could be key, that they oppose Right-to-Work.

Senators have already indicated that they will delete from the House-passed budget a provision stripping effective collective bargaining rights from public sector workers. But another provisi0n with similar intent is contained in HB 580, a House-passed measure on public employee pensions. This one says that when collective bargaining agreements (union contracts) expire, “the continuation … of any medical, dental, and life insurance benefits, retirement and pension benefits, and any other fringe benefits shall be subject to the exclusive authority of the public employer. “ In other words, an employer who refuses to bargain can unilaterally cancel benefits workers have been counting on receiving. Senators who thought such language was not appropriate for the budget rider bill, HB 2, might have a different attitude for similarly pernicious provisions in a pension bill.

Gail Kinney, a member of the UCC’s Commission on Witness and Action, calls the anti-union agenda moving through the legislature a “wholesale attack on the middle class.”

“The undermining of working gail 4-19-11families is feeding the vast economic divide in the U.S. Multiple polls show this attack on workers is not what the public signed on for when it changed political horses in 2010. This is a struggle for economic fairness, balance, and healthy communities that should be of real concern to people of faith,” she said.

The Interfaith Voices vigil resumes Thursday during the Senate Finance Committee’s budget hearing.

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Chants Disrupt Tea Party Rally at State House

tea party 4-15-11 003 

Speeches equating Medicare with socialism were sporadically interrupted by chanting students at the Tea Party’s Tax Day Rally in Concord today.   The rally, organized by Americans for Prosperity, drew a few hundred people to the State House steps.  Speakers included GOP leaders such as Ovide Lamontagne, whotea party 4-15-11 005 denounced Medicare and socialism, and Speaker Bill O’Brien, who touted the austerity and anti-union measures approved by the House.  Several presidential contenders also addressed the crowd, whose size was not large enough to reach beyond the area near the State House steps. 

A friend noted that Tea Partiers did enter the State House from time to time to use the facilities.  Do you think they ever wonder how public toilets came to be?   How about public water supplies run by public employees?  Some signs in the stalls, over the urinals, and over the sinks at the State House could make the point.   (Post a comment if you have proposed wording.)

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Midway through the Tea Party rally, 18 students from Plymouth State University began circling the State House, chanting about student power.  They were certainly audible and visible.tea party 4-15-11 014

Funds for the university system and scholarship assistance are among the casualties of the House-passed budget.  According to the NH Fiscal Policy Institute, The House proposes to make exceptionally sharp cuts to New Hampshire’s university and community college systems.  More specifically, the recommendations offered by the Finance Committee would slash General Fund appropriations for the University System of New Hampshire from an anticipated level of $197 million for FY10-11 to $83.3 million for FY 12-13, a drop of 58 percent and well beyond the already substantial reductions contained in the Governor’s budget plan.”

New Hampshire spending on higher education was already lowest in the nation.

Yesterday, 500 students from Oyster River High School in Durham walked out of class to protest the School Board’s rejection of a popular candidate to be the school’s new principal.  Maybe it’s just spring.  Or maybe New Hampshire’s youth are waking up and demanding a future built on good schools, fair taxes, good jobs, and healthy communities.  It’s about time.  

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Peter Kellman Honored at Retirement Party

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Asked one time how to tell the difference between right and wrong, Peter Kellman once said, “Embrace everything based on love and cooperation; reject everything based on greed and competition.”  That’s a pretty good description of Peter’s life/work/career, the celebration of which brought together a hundred friends, fans, and family members Saturday night for a surprise retirement party at the Maine Irish Heritage Center in Portland.pete kellman 4-9-11 008

Born in Brooklyn in 1946, Peter has spent most of his life in Maine, where he’s been an influential participant in the labor movement, whose members described getting “Kellmanized” over decades of campaigns, strikes, and struggles. In the past few years, Peter has given more attention to homesteading and to mentoring a new generation of organizers, the “Grasshoppers.”

Several of the Grasshoppers spoke at the party.  Matt Schlobohm, a member of the “Seattle generation” of global justice activists and now the Executive Director of the Maine AFL-CIO, described three lessons he’s learned from Peter:

First, organize around fundamental principles and basic rights.  Don’t fight over half a loaf or what others tell you is achievable.

Second, base your organizing in a long term vision and a strategy to achieve it.

Third, strengthen youpete kellman 4-9-11 030r organization with education at the base and build from there.

Other speakers noted Peter’s work in the Clamshell Alliance and the No Nukes movement, his leadership of the historic but ultimately unsuccessful paperworkers strike in Jay, Maine, and his work with the Program on Corporations, Law, and Democracy.  Along the way he’s worked in the Deep South freedom movement of the early ‘60s, taught labor history, and written a couple books . His pamphlet on “Building Unions: Past, Present, and Future,” is in my opinion the most useful publication that has come out of efforts to expose how corporations have gainedpete kellman 4-9-11 015 rights at the expense of workers, citizens, and communities.

Cathy Wolff jpete kellman 4-9-11 021oked that the event felt a bit like a wake, but there was Peter, listening in front of the stage, apparently enjoying the attention.

When I took my own turn at the mic, I said I had learned from Peter that there’s a time to negotiate and a time to strike, a time for electoral politics and a time for civil disobedience, a time to study and a time to teach, a time to garden and a time to retire.  And every time is the right time to stand uppete kellman 4-9-11 017 

and organize for social justice. 

The party was meticulously organized by Peter’s wife, Rebecca Younan, who emailed a string of instructions over many weeks but somehow managed to keep the party a surprise.

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In addition to stories and a slide show revealing Peter’s hairier youth, the party featured bottles of homebrewed “Labor Leader Lager” and ”songs led by “Nine to Nine.”

And as the song goes, “we can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old.”

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frank mary 4-4-11

Clergy members and other people of faith resumed our State House prayer vigil yesterday and will return at 10 AM tomorrow to the hallway outsiLR outside rm 103 4-4-11de the Senate Finance Committee meeting to pray for a humane budget.

Thirteen religious activists joined yesterday’s vigil outside State House Room  103, where the Senate Finance Committee was listening to presentations from their House colleagues.

The Committee’s deliberations continue tomorrow, beginning at 10 AM.

During their vigils, the interfaith group has alternated between periods of silent reflection, spoken prayer, and readings from devotional literature. 

mark reads MLK 4-4-11 Several members noted that yesterday was the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination in Memphis, where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers.  Mark Baker read a selection from Dr. King’s final speech.  

Yesterday State House Security agreed we could sit on floor mats outside Room 103 as long as we do not block the corridors, but they did say our singing was a problem. We are not trying to disrupt State House proceedings, but we do want the odell 4-4-11legislators to hear our prayers for a change of course and a change of heart.

The vigil will go on vigil during Senate Finance Committee meetings Thursday, Friday, and Monday, when the Senators will hear testimony from staff of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Please get in touch if you’d like to join. 

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Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

“It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.”

Joseph E. Stiglitz, From the May 2011 issue of Vanity Fair.

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