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Archive for November, 2011

Today’s Concord Monitor reports that when Rick Santorum was asked a question about the Affordable Care Act at his “town hall forum” in Hudson yesterday, the presidential candidate responded with a rhetorical question.

“Did the government pay for your housing? Did it pay for your food?” Santorum asked Jillian Dubois, a Hudson voter.

The Monitor does not record if Santorum waited for a response. But the correct answer to both questions probably would have been, “yes.”

The federal government provides a subsidy of about $100 Billion a year for homeowners through the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction. The federal government also subsidizes agriculture to the tune of about $10 Billion a year, half in direct payments to producers of commodity crops.

“How much is the role of government to pay for things that you should have to pay for?” Santorum also asked. How’s this for an answer:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  That’s the preamble to the Constitution, to which Santorum will have to swear allegiance should he ever be re-elected to federal office.  

I’d include health care in the “General Welfare” category. 

As for government spending to subsidize housing and food, I suggest a look at how the subsidies are distributed.  

Nearly 50% of the benefits of the mortgage interest deduction benefits go to the wealthiest 10% of taxpayers, according to the Tax Policy Center.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Farm Subsidy Data Base, 10% of “farmers” took 74% of all subsidies between 1995 and 2010. 62% of farmers received no subsidies at all.

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manchester 11-17-11 004 Anya Gage and a friend were walking down Elm Street past the nightly Occupy Manchester protest and asked what was going on.  “Are you familiar with the Occupy Wall Street movement,” I asked?”  They nodded.  “Well,” I said, “what do you think?”

Ms. Gage proceeded to tell me she was laid off six months ago from a computer assembly job, at which she had been placed through a temp agency.  She can’t find a local job in the field for which she was trained, so she decided to try self-employment.  But when she stopped actively looking for work, she lost her unemployment benefits.  Now she’s just barely scraping by.

Her friend is also out of work, having been laid off from a call center job.

A crew from WMUR-manchester 11-17-11 002TV, covering the protest, was glad to interview a passerby, and Anya Gage was happy for the chance to share her story with the TV audience.   It’s an example of how the protests have shaken up public discussion, creating a space for ordinary people to articulate their views that the economic and political systems are not working for people like them. 

Yes, Anya Gage gets the point of the Occupy protests.  “It’s great that people are doing something,” she said. 

 

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Forty people rallied at State House Plaza this afternoon to express continued outrage at the capture of the US economy and government by wealthy individuals concord 11-12-11 014 and powerful corporations, now known in the vernacular as “the 1%.”

Active discussions are now going on about finding permanent outdoor and indoor occupation sites in Concord.  And with the first-in-the-nation presidential primary only 2 months away, proposals to “Occupy the Primary” are starting to be circulated. 

In a general assembly that included a sharing of ideas and plans, onconcord 11-12-11 015e participant, a  painting contractor, speculated that a former employee committed suicide due to lack of work.  That story drove home the “show us the jobs”message carried by another participant. 

After the General Assembly and a photo op in the archway between the plaza and the State House lawn, several dozen people marched through downtown Concord to the concord 11-12-11 024 crop Bank of America branch on Storrs Street, then back to the State House.  

Occupy Concord (or is it Occupy New Hampshire at Concord?) plans to meet again Wednesday.  Occupy NH at Manchester plans to continue daily GAs in Veterans Park, but to travel to other sites on Sundays, starting next week.   

The Occupy NH web page continues to be the best source of information.  The site includes forums for discussion, as well.

Occupy gatherings continue to provide opportunities for exchange of political ideas

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among near strangers, something that is relatively rare in normal times.  Today I had a mostly cordial conversation with a Ron Paul supporter, spoke to a couple Bank of America customers after they visited the drive-through teller, and described nonviolence training to an interested Plymouth resident.   

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Expansion Bill Based on False Assumptions

You can call it a myth, a belief, an assumption, even a wish. But the notion that the death penalty “protects” people from homicide cannot be called a “fact” and should not be the basis for policy.

Sadly, this non-fact appears to be the principle behind Rep. Phil Greazzo’s bill to make it possible for the state to execute anyone who “purposely causes the death of another.” His proposal, HB 162, has received the endorsement of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which voted 11 to 6 to recommend its passage on October 20. The bill will come to the House floor in early January.

Under current law, the death penalty is reserved for those who commit one of a small category of homicides, such as murder of a law enforcement officer or murder for hire. As Rep. Greazzo sees it, the limit on the use of the death penalty violates the principle that everyone “should be protected equally under the law.”

Tomislav V. Kovandzic, a professor of criminology at th e University of Texas at Dallas, and co-author of “Does the Death Penalty Save Lives?,” would no doubt agree with the principle of equal protection. But when he testified before New Hampshire’s Death Penalty Study Commission, April 9, 2010, he said, “There may be other reasons to support the death penalty, but the belief that it deters murder should not be one of them.”

Not satisfied with the reliability of earlier studies, Kovandzic used complex computer models and data from 1977 to 2006 from both the FBI and Center for Disease Control to see if there any connection can be made between homicide rates and the death penalty. In a paper published in the scholarly journal, Criminology and Public Policy, Kovandzic and his co-authors said they had found “no evidence that presence of the death penalty or increases in any of nine execution risk measures studied reduce murder rates.” Acknowledging that some researchers have reached other conclusions, he told the Commission members, “You have to torture the data to come to a conclusion that there’s a deterrent effect of the death penalty.”

In other words, making more people subject to the death penalty won’t stop people from committing murder. The death penalty does not protect us.

Moreover, according to the Department of Justice, the two capital murder cases it has recently prosecuted have run tabs of more than $1.7 million each. Both cases are still on appeal, which means the tab is still running.

The expense of a capital case is far higher than the cost of a homicide case for which life imprisonment is the maximum penalty, even when the costs of imprisonment are added in. According to the Department’s analysis, “there were 8 murders in 2008, 10 murders in 2009, and 5 murders in 2010 that would have likely been charged as capital murders” had Greazzo’s proposal been in effect.

If we don’t like the notion that the state’s limited death penalty gives the impression that some homicide victims are more important than others, the road to equal treatment is through getting rid of capital punishment altogether.

Rep. Greazzo said as much himself. "I think if we have the death penalty it should apply equally to everyone or it should apply equally to no one," he stated. Let’s choose the second option and look for ways to reduce violence based on facts, not assumptions.

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manchester 11-5-11 026 The Saturday gathering of Occupy New Hampshire at Veterans Park in Manchester was treated to a visit from Mark Twain, who spent most of an hour entertaining and informing about 30 members of the 99%. 

“We have a choice between democracy and empire,” intoned the white garbed writer, a veteran of the anti-imperialist movement that opposed US intervention in the Philippines at the close of the 19th century.  Whether those gathered knew the story or not, Twain’s point was lost on no one.  Having just completed John Sayles’ massive novel, A Moment in the Sun, set in 1898, I knew what the writer meant when he said, “in our name they are torturing people.” 

Twain was portrayed by Ed Helm, a one-time Capitol Hill staffer who has dabbled in other forms of politics in recent years.  Ed is now producing a series of TV programs dealing with the current empire and the fiscal excess which fuels it. 

newmarket 11-6-11 003 Sunday the scene shifted to Newmarket, where about a hundred people met at the Stone Church to hear from Occupy members and discuss issues including economic and labor conditions, drone warfare, education policy, and nuclear power. 

The program included a panel with five occupiers sharing their varied experience and perspectives.  Michael Joseph, a late-50s teacher, spoke about the correlation between runaway corporations and declining labor standards.  “Occupy groups everywhere, employers with a conscience, and self-employed must understand and support the revitalization of the traditional labor movement,” he said.

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Shannon Thompson and Matt Richards, both a lot younger, were less specific in their analysis but every bit as passionate in their commitment.  For Shannon, the Occupy movement is “humanity’s chance to prove itself.”  Matt, who grew up in a Manchester working class family, said he “wanted to get together with people in my community to see what we can do.” 

Cacilia Svenbye, a veteran of the movement that ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos from the Philippines, said she found “the same shit” when she migrated to the USA.  Since then, she’d been waiting 18 years for the people to rise up.  Like Matt, Cacilia was one of 5 people arrested at Veterans Park for disobeying city curfew regulations.  

And Theresa Earle, who is in the process of moving to New Hampshire, described herself as a nerd with no activist experience who was among the initiators of Occupy Boston.   “People want their voices heard,” she said, a pretty basic expression of what the Occupy movement is all about.

Shannon says Occupy is a “movement of mass education.” In that spirit, I suppose, I gave a short presentation at Veterans Park on Saturday about the Clamshell Alliance, which occupied the construction site of the Seabrook nuclear power plant in the late 1970s.   And on Sunday I led a short workshop about active nonviolence.

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