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When is a “Town Hall Meeting” not a “Town Hall Meeting?”

When attendance is limited to employees of a self-interested foreign corporation that is playing host to a reverse lobbying event.

The event in question is the “Preserving America’s Strength” show being staged by U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, and Lindsey Graham on Tuesday morning, July 31 at BAE Systems in Merrimack. The Senators say they are trying to “sound the alarm” about the economic impact of cuts in military spending if the Pentagon is forced to cut $500 Billion from its budget over the next ten years.

The budget cuts, taken from a ten-year budget of about $5.5 Trillion, would be matched by an equal amount of cuts in non-military spending under a process known on Capitol Hill as “sequestration.” This would come after a decade in which Pentagon spending has risen by more than 35 per cent, even after accounting for inflation and excluding the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Members of the public are not invited to the “Town Hall Meeting.”

That means the Senators are not likely to get questions about the job or economic impact of cuts in areas such as housing, nutrition assistance, health care, education, and environmental protection.

Nor are they likely to hear that canceling the Pentagon budget cuts will either mean deeper cuts in human needs programs, higher taxes, continued deficit spending, or some combination of the three.

It’s possible that no one present will point out the United States military spending is already almost as much as that of all the other nations of the world combined and that many of the big-spenders among them are our allies.

While cuts in weapons production — not to be confused with cuts in pay or benefits for active duty and retired members of the armed services — would lead to job losses in those industries, a recent report from Senator Tom Harkin says “the economic effects of cuts to nondefense programs could be worse than cuts to Pentagon spending.” According to Sen. Harkin’s analysis, sequestration would cut $3.5 million from special education funding in New Hampshire, costing the state 44 jobs and reducing services to infants and children. $1.2 million in Head Start cuts would cost 41 jobs and eliminate services for 194 more children. Cancer screening for women, low income heating assistance, family violence prevention, assistance for unemployed workers, and dozens of other programs assisting people in New Hampshire would suffer.

Even the Aerospace Industry Association says cuts in non-defense programs would have a more harmful effect on the nation’s economy than would cuts in defense spending.

“$1 billion spent on each of the domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military,” according to a recent report from the UMASS Political Economy Research Institute.

“Dollar for dollar, clean energy and health care support 50% more jobs than defense spending, and education supports more than twice as many,” says Heidi Garrett-Peltier, co-author of the UMASS study. “Cutting the budget for education, then, results in twice as many jobs lost as cutting the budget for defense.”

Surely “America’s strength” is built on more than just weapons. A strong country requires a strong domestic economy, educated youth, a healthy population, and clean air and water. And a vibrant democracy needs actual public dialogue on pressing issues, not staged roadshows by elected officials who are supposed to be working for the people.

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no jobs fair 8-10-11 041 The state budget adopted in June eliminated more than 1100 full time state jobs, and that doesn’t even count jobs being shed by local and county governments, hospital layoffs due to cuts in funds for “uncompensated care,” or the positions the will end at service agencies whose state contracts were cut or ended when the new fiscal year began on July 1.  When you add in the elimination of services like testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, the cuts in welfare payments to poor families, and cuts in other programs that poor and disabled people rely upon, the budget is an economic and social disaster.no jobs fair 8-10-11 018

If budgets are in fact “moral documents,” as the Rev. Gail Kinney sugge sted at today’s No Jobs Fair in Concord, then the budget is a moral failure as well.   

“Imagine what would have happened if candidates for office had said they were going to eliminate jobs and services,” Rev. Kinney said.  “Would we have those people in leadership positions now?”  The lunchtime crowd of about 80 people shouted “no.”

no jobs fair 8-10-11 032 Mark MacKenzie, president of the NH AFL-CIO, said it’s time to “draw a line in the sand” against further job and benefit cuts, like the Verizon workers are doing through their recently called strike.   Corporate America is sitting on piles of money with historically low tax rates, he said, and the jobs aren’t any more likely to trickle down now than they were during the Regan years, he said.

“The people of New Hampshire elected their representatives last November with the mandate to strengthen our economy,” MacKenzie said. Instead, he said, they’ve done the bidding of corporate leaders who are willing to sacrifice other people’s middle class jobs to maintain their own privilege.

Speaker of the House William O’Brien came in for the most criticism fno jobs fair 8-10-11 024 rom the speakers, who also included Diana Lacey of the State Employees Association and Doug Linder of the Young Democrats.

“O’Brien resorted to political games, bullying tactics and attacks on the workers of this state,” MacKenzie charged, “leaving behind a shoddy record of job creation that has done nothing to address the real needs of Granite Staters. New Hampshire businesses, workers, and families cannot afford to see the same thing happen again.”

“With ten hospitals laying off hundreds of workers, over thousands of jobs already lost from the state thanks to Speaker O’Brien’s irresponsible budget cuts, and the bleeding of construction jobs from our state at a rate higher than any other state in the Northeast, the focno jobs fair 8-10-11 020 us of the State House should be squarely on giving our residents what they need to recover from the recession. Since Speaker O’Brien isn’t willing to help out our neediest, we’ve had to step up to the plate,” MacKenzie explained.

After the short rally at State House Plaza, dozens of activists troopeno jobs fair 8-10-11 044 d to O’Brien’s office on the State House’s third floor to deliver petitions calling on  state legislators to focus on job creation instead of budget cuts in the upcoming special sessions of the New Hampshire Legislature.

Rev. Kinney reminded those at the rally that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, and Moses challenged Pharaoh over working conditions.   “Be the voice of truth,” she said.  

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reprinted from the Concord Monitor, Nov. 14, 2010

Senator Gregg:

The recommendations from Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, released last Wednesday, include some interesting ideas. But they stray from the major factors which drove up the deficit over the past decade. As you and the other members of commission complete your work in the next two weeks, we hope you will focus on reversing tax cuts, decreasing military spending, and ending the recession.

Let’s start with the recession, which has forced millions of people nationwide onto the unemployment rolls. Even with New Hampshire’s unemployment rate far below the national average, 40,070 of our neighbors were not paying income taxes in September, nor were they contributing to the funds for Social Security and Medicare. Even with the economic picture brightening a bit, use of food stamps in New Hampshire has risen every month for the past year. Getting people back to work has to be the top priority of any effort to reduce deficits in the long-term, even if it costs money in the short run.

Today, military-related programs, including operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, account for more than half of the federal discretionary budget, those items that are affected by annual congressional votes. According to the Sustainable Defense Task Force, a group of experts convened by U.S. Reps. Ron Paul and Barney Frank, increased defense spending accounts for nearly 65 percent of the increases in federal discretionary spending since 2001. Serious deficit-cutters need to look there for savings.

The defense spending recommendations from Bowles and Simpson, including cutting our overseas military bases by one-third, are a good place to start. The Sustainable Defense Task Force has more, adding up to $1 trillion that can be saved over the next 10 years without harming our fundamental ability to defend the country from 21st-century threats.

The federal tax cuts enacted during the George W. Bush administration are the third major contributor to the deficit and will cost the federal treasury another $3.4 trillion over the next 10 years if they are allowed to continue. While no one wants to pay more in taxes, the wealthiest Americans can afford to see their rates return to the levels of nine years ago. That would reduce the deficit by about $70 billion a year over the next decade.

Some areas should be off the table. Social Security is not in need of a major overhal. Rising costs of Medicare and Medicaid are tied to the rising cost of health care in general and should be addressed by steps that put halth care costs under control.

Our state saw a record number of home foreclosures this year, and personal and business bankruptcies are taking place at a rising pace, despite some positive indications of economic recovery. Unless they can propose a way to cap layoffs, foreclosures and illnesses, the deficit cutters should stay away from food stamps, unemployment benefits, child care, housing subsidies and other programs that aid the neediest Americans.

Senator Gregg, the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility, expected Dec. 1, will be one of your final acts in the U.S. Senate. We hope you will agree that the deficit can be addressed by putting Americans back to work, cutting military programs that do little for our actual defense, and eliminating unnecessary tax breaks, all without cutting into the programs that keep people fed, housed and healthy.

After all, the budget is an expression of our moral values, not just our economic needs.

(Arnie Alpert is New Hampshire program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee.)

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