Guest Blogs

Tuesday
Aug182015

Jim Rubens - Drug War Rethink Overdue 

 

Drug War Rethink Long Overdue


Illegal drug overdose deaths have rocketed into a crisis policy challenge, claiming a staggering 325 New Hampshire lives last year, three times our traffic fatalities. Unfortunately, we are hearing same-same from most of our political leaders: tinker around the edges with good ideas that will help (but not nearly enough) and toughen up on the drug war.
 
The global 50-year, $1 trillion war on drugs is a flagrant policy failure in urgent need of a thorough, evidence-based rethink. Here are the facts: 
 
  • Supply interdiction drives up violence and drug supplier profits.
    • Global illegal drug demand is now $320 billion annually.
    • Since 2006, drug trade violence stemming largely from U.S. demand has killed over 100,000 people in Mexico alone.
    • U.S. taxpayers spent $7.5 billion last year attempting to eradicate production of opium (the raw material for heroin) in Afghanistan, yet cultivation there has reached record levels, supplying ¾ of global demand and occupying a cultivated land area the size of Rhode Island, and providing a major source of funding for the Taliban.
       
  • Drug addiction and abuse is pervasive and massively damaging.
    • Nationally, illegal drug use costs almost $200 billion annually in crime, lost work productivity and healthcare.
    • 9.4 percent of Americans are past-year users of illegal drugs, 7.5 percent for marijuana. 39 percent of 12th graders are past-year illegal drug users, 35 percent for marijuana. At my local high school, MJ can be had free for the asking every day and is easier to obtain than alcohol.
    • Only 11 percent of 23 million Americans needing treatment for illegal drug or alcohol use are getting such treatment.
    • New Hampshire is #12 among the states at 11.2 percent of 12+ population using illegal drugs or abusing pharmaceuticals.
    • Substance abuse costs New Hampshire $1.84 billion annually, nearly 3 percent of state GDP.
    • U.S. prisons are filled with non-violent drug offenders. With 5 percent of world population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Illegal drugs are readily available even in prisons with many drug offenders leaving prison as hardened criminals and more addicted.
    • Drug law enforcement is racially discriminatory. Six in ten drug crime prisoners are black or Latino, though proportions of drug suppliers and users are similar for whites.
Here’s how I’d change policy, specifically for heroin and marijuana.
 
For heroin, we can learn from the eight European nations and Canada which operate “heroin assisted treatment” programs. Generally, heroin addicts who have failed methadone or other forms of drug treatment are given access 2-3 times per day to clinical healthcare facilities where they receive controlled doses of pharmacological grade heroin in addition to medical care, drug treatment counseling and social services. The measured outcomes include sharp reductions in illegal drug use, drug crimes, disease, overdose deaths and major increases in addiction treatment retention. In Switzerland, property crimes among enrolled heroin addicts dropped by 90 percent.
 
In 2001, Portugal became first in the world to decriminalize all drugs and to make drug treatment services fully accessible. In Portugal as generally in the 24 other nations adopting drug decriminalization, use rates did not increase. Drug violators are referred to treatment providers, but not compelled to accept services. Drug-related deaths since 2001 have declined by 80 percent. Rates of past-year drug use have decreased. New AIDS cases among drug injectors resulting from dirty needle sharing declined by 93 percent. In most of the U.S., sterile needles are illegal to possess and one-third of all new AIDS cases result from dirty needle sharing.
 
For marijuana, Washington should grant states the power to legalize and regulate like alcohol. For New Hampshire, I’d allow sale at state liquor stores if locally approved. Require child-proof packaging and labels disclosing potency and health effects, including the fact that MJ use involves performance and brain developmental effects (though far less in the aggregate than tobacco or alcohol). Prohibit advertising and public use. License in-state wholesale producers and allow personal production in limited quantities. Extend DUI laws to cover marijuana metabolite blood levels.
 
Washington State is one of four to have legalized and taxed the sale of cannabis products.  Over its first year in full effect, Washington saved most of the $20 million previously spent on minor MJ law enforcement and collected $83 million in tax revenues, with revenues used to fund prevention, treatment, research and education programs. Early data show that traffic fatalities and youth marijuana use have not increased.
 
To sharply reduce human suffering, violence and death, political leaders must confront the fact that the drug war is an abject failure. Real solutions must sharply increase public funding for substance abuse and addiction treatment, which can be more than paid for via reduced drug interdiction and non-violent drug user imprisonment. By dropping rigid thinking about drug policy, we can increase racial harmony and defund criminal drug empires and Afghan terrorists.
 
Jim Rubens is former GOP state senator and past President of Headrest, a Lebanon-based substance abuse and suicide prevention and counseling center. 
Tuesday
Jul282015

George Landrift - Postal Service shortfalls impact rural areas

By GEORGE LANDRITH

Before the United States was a country, even before it declared its independence, the United States maintained a letter delivery service. In fact, the very first “long distance” route went between no other than Williamsburg, Va., and Portsmouth. Though the makeup of the service, which employs 600,000 workers nationwide, including almost 3,100 in New Hampshire, has changed greatly between then and now, its core function has remained the same – to provide a letter mail delivery service to every American, no matter where they live, at a reasonable rate.

Yet due to constantly evolving technologies and lack of effective leadership from the U.S. Postal Service, the quasi-government agency continues to stray far from that function. While this ultimately hurts all Americans, it especially threatens states with large rural populations, such as New Hampshire.

Today, we have other means to share information. But rural America lags behind more urban areas in internet use, which only makes the USPS that much more important in many areas of the country.

“Federal law requires the Postal Service to provide ‘a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services’ to rural areas and small towns,” the Washington Post reports.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Postal Service seems to be increasing service and product offerings in metropolitan centers like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York, while they are shutting down mail processing facilities and decreasing service in other areas.

This past January, the U.S. Postal Service announced its intention to close 82 mail processing facilities across the country, reducing post office hours, and increasing delivery times. From this proposal, the areas that would be hurt most by these closures are small towns and rural areas. “Some of the nation’s poorest communities, many of them with spotty broadband Internet coverage, stand to suffer most,” the Post analysis found in 2012 when closures were only rumored.

Because of these closures, mail sometimes travels 90 miles out of the way before it reaches its intended recipient on the other side of town. Many have questioned the strategy to close the processing facilities in light of the resulting decline in service standards, which have steadily deteriorated over the last three years. “The postmaster general doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on in rural America, and it shows,” Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of the very rural state of Montana recently said.

Examples are the elimination of overnight delivery for local first class mail that would arrive the very next day and the lagging delivery times for first class mail. According to the USPS, first class mail, which is supposed to reach its recipient within 3-5 days, failed to meet that standard for over one-third of all mail delivered in the first seven weeks of 2015.

While service is languishing throughout most of the country, urban areas are seeing a bump in services from the USPS. Recently they expanded a service called Metro Post to other cities even though it earned $1 for every $10 invested – a 90 percent financial loss. Add this to other new ventures like grocery delivery – now expanding in New York City – as well as a potential move into banking services, and it’s clear that the trend has been to cut back on standard mail service, which everyone relies on, in order to move into other business ventures in big city markets.

All told, customers may not be getting what they pay for. Considering the stamp price increases, we can’t help but wonder if we are subsidizing their ill-fated experiments.

While the USPS will fail to elicit attention from the 2016 Presidential field, the issue is still important. The tentacles of the USPS touches too many corners of this nation to ignore its problems. Now is the time for the USPS to refocus its mission and remember its rural customers.

(George Landrith is the president of Frontiers of Freedom, a think tank in Fairfax, Va.)

 

Sunday
Jul122015

David Holt - New Hampshire Follows Trend, Supports Arctic Energy Development

By David Holt

 

A new poll shows what’ll be at the top of New Hampshirites’ minds when they hit the voting booths next year to elect a new commander-in-chief – energy production.

 

A survey administered recently by Consumer Energy Alliance shows that more than 80 percent of voters in New Hampshire said that candidates’ energy policy would be a key decision point on who they vote for in next year’s presidential election. This resonated not only with Republicans but also with Democrats and the much-coveted Independents.

 

It’s hard to come any closer to showing cross-party unity on an issue than that.

 

This probably comes as a surprise for very few. Energy policies significantly impact the pocketbooks of residents in New Hampshire. All consumers, regardless of party affiliation, want to ensure stable and low prices for all forms of energy, and the energy sector continues to be the most significant pillar of the strengthening economy.

 

What is likely surprising for many is where voters in New Hampshire suggest energy policy will be crucial: the U.S. waters in the Arctic, a resources-rich region thousands of miles away. Support for offshore energy development in the Arctic Circle dwarfed its opposition by substantial double-digit percentage points.

 

What voters want to know – and what each candidate will have to answer – is how each candidate, if elected, will utilize the U.S. Arctic to expand the nation’s record-setting energy renaissance, which has resurrected the national and state economy by mass-producing jobs and helping make the U.S. a worldwide energy leader.

 

While several polls show that an overwhelming majority of Alaskans support energy development in the Arctic, the region remains a hot-button issue because of its beautiful geography and immense untapped oil and gas potential.

 

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) has about 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s enough to fuel every domestic flight for over 120 years and heat every American home for more than 30 years. Furthermore, the Chukchi Sea, off Alaska’s northwest coast, offers more resources than any other undeveloped U.S. energy basin. In fact, experts believe it may be one of the largest untapped oil and gas sources in the world.

 

The National Petroleum Council (NPC), an advisory council to the U.S. Department of Energy, says that the development of these resources would not only create more jobs nationwide but also generate billions in additional revenue while keeping domestic energy production high and consumer costs and imports low. These resources would also help pull Alaska out of its multibillion-dollar budget shortfall and extend the longevity of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), a major energy artery for the lower 48 states and the energy-guzzling West Coast that continues to be hampered by declining throughput.

 

These polls and analyses illustrate how New Hampshirites support a common sense energy policy that includes Arctic offshore energy exploration. Most Alaskans, whose state is funded almost entirely by the petroleum industry, strongly echo these sentiments.

 

Now the White House – which just gave conditional approval to drill in the Arctic this summer – might be following the trend.

 

“When it can be done safely and appropriately, U.S. production of oil and natural gas is important,” said President Obama. “I would rather us – with all the safeguards and standards that we have – be producing our oil and gas, rather than importing it, which is bad for our people, but is also potentially purchased from places that have much lower environmental standards than we do.”

 

We at Consumer Energy Alliance could not agree more. With overwhelming public support by New Hampshire for offshore development in the U.S. Arctic and the importance of the region to our energy and economic security, we hope the Administration implements President Obama’s vision by taking the steps necessary for U.S. Arctic development to commence – and that the next President follows suit.

Tuesday
Jul072015

Speaker Shawn Jasper - State Budget Negotiations

While the legislature has been enjoying a well-deserved summer recess, legislative leadership, along with the governor and her staff have begun a series of meetings for the purpose of crafting a plan that would allow us to move forward in dealing with those parts of the budget on which we disagree.  While the Continuing Resolution is in place until December, it was important to have initiated these discussions.

In a recent letter to the governor, I reminded her that we have confirmed, through the Legislative Budget Assistant, that the budget she vetoed is a balanced spending plan, addressing many of the concerns that she had brought to the legislature.

There are a number of different paths that we could have taken in order to resolve the detrimental effects placed upon the people of New Hampshire when Governor Hassan exercised her veto authority.

As a direct result of her action, we very well could witness a spike in property taxes, depending upon how and when the Department of Revenue Administration sets local property taxes, the inability of the state to address the opioid epidemic, as well as any undue pressure felt by the state’s health and human services providers.

House Finance Chair Neal Kurk (r-Weare) has pointed out a number of important points that clearly shows how ill advised the governor’s veto was.

The budget appropriates $11.352 billion in total funds for the next biennium, an increase of 5% from the current biennium.

Dedicated funds were not “raided” in the process.

The community college system would have been fully funded allowing them to freeze tuition for the next biennium; USNH would have seen an increase in funds.

Health and Human Services would have received higher funding in this budget than in any previous one--$4.449 billion, up 8% from the current budget. Additionally, funding would have been restored for elderly services, including meals on wheels, services for veterans, the developmentally disabled, and the mentally ill, with the latter at levels meeting the requirements of a legal settlement.

The nearly 40,000 people served by the expanded Medicaid program will continue to receive their 100% federally funded health coverage through December 31, 2016, as provided for in current law.

Funding for substance abuse prevention and treatment would have been increased by 49.5%, to $42.3 million.

A 5% rate increase would have been granted to providers of long-term care in the community.

Transportation department services would have been funded at $1.172 billion, an increase of 8% in the current budget.

The Department of Safety would have seen a 9% increase in its budget, largely through the substitution of general funds for highway funds.

The Fish and Game fund would have received a $1.2 million infusion from the general fund.

I outlined many more examples in my letter to the governor.

There are 160 democratic state representatives and 10 democratic state senators who very much want to address the needs of our citizens, as do members of the majority party.  This was clearly illustrated when most of minority party supported the continuing resolution.  That vote was necessary to address the governor’s veto threat so that the people of New Hampshire would not suffer through a shutdown of state government.

As I wrote to the governor, “The cleanest and clearest path forward for you would be to politically free all 170 colleagues from across the aisle, allowing them to vote their conscience on veto day.”  We remain confident that the many issues listed in my letter are mutual concerns to us all.  In fact, if it were not for the governor’s veto, we would have a state budget in place today.

I have called upon the governor to provide us with her thoughts as to the best way to address this issue.  None of Gov. Hassan’s concerns are of such a critical nature that they could not be addressed in the next legislative session. 

The governor’s argument over the 21 million dollar business tax cut issue pales in the face of the systemic stresses placed on our service providers, the neediest in our society, and the employees of New Hampshire when she chose to veto the budget. It has proved to be the most harmful of the three choices that were presented to her, i.e. sign, veto, or let the budget become law without signature.

It is incumbent upon us as leaders to evaluate the impact of the decisions we make, apply what we have learned from the results of those decisions, and consider a new course of action.  I encourage the governor to consider the current circumstances and the impact of not having a 2016-17 FY plan that addresses the many important concerns for the functioning of our state.  I call upon her to free the 170 democratic legislators, allowing them to vote to follow the clearest and quickest path for a sound, pragmatic solution, which would be to override her veto of the budget.

 

Wednesday
Jul012015

Jim Rubens - Don't Shoot the Messenger: Gary Hart on Endemic Political Money Corruption 

Gary Hart on Endemic Political Money Corruption

 

Why is this presidential campaign a contest of styles and personalities and not policy? Why is the leading Democratic candidate campaigning on her cookie recipes rather than her position of the Trans Pacific Partnership? Why is no Republican giving us straight talk on climate science? Why does the corporate lobbyist think-tank commentariat so viciously marginalizes any candidate who opposes amnesty for illegals, the national security state or military pork?
 
To be a leading candidate is to be muzzled and directed by today’s big-dollar political money system that has subverted the national interest and corrupted Washington to the bone.
 
Former US Senator Gary Hart lays it out forcefully in his newly published
Time.com essay. Below are snips:
  • Four qualities have distinguished republican government from ancient Athens forward: the sovereignty of the people; a sense of the common good; government dedicated to the commonwealth; and resistance to corruption. Measured against the standards established for republics from ancient times, the American Republic is massively corrupt. 
  • There has never been a time …when the government of the United States was so perversely and systematically dedicated to special interests, earmarks, side deals, log-rolling, vote-trading, and sweetheart deals.
  • The key word is not quid-pro-quo bribery, the key word is access. In exchange for a few moments of the senator’s time and many more moments of her committee staff’s time, fund-raising events with the promise of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of dollars are delivered. 
  • You have a billion, or even several hundred million, then purchase a candidate from the endless reserve bench of minor politicians and make him or her a star, a mouthpiece for any cause or purpose however questionable, and that candidate will mouth your script in endless political debates and through as many television spots as you are willing to pay for. 
  • The lobbying business is no longer about votes up or down on particular measures that may emerge in Congress or policies made in the White House. It is about setting agendas, deciding what should and should not be brought up for hearings and legislation. 
  • America’s founders knew one thing: The republics of history all died when narrow interests overwhelmed the common good and the interests of the commonwealth … [T]he government of the United States is for sale to the highest bidder. 
  • In addition to the rise of the national security state, and the concentration of wealth and power in America, no development in modern times sets us apart more from the nation originally bequeathed to us than the rise of the special interest state. There is a Gresham’s law related to the republican ideal. Bad politics drives out good politics. Legalized corruption drives men and women of stature, honor, and dignity out of the halls of government. 
  • [If we are] to restore our highest ideals, then major changes must be made in the way we elect our presidents and our members of Congress.

Thanks for listening,

Jim Rubens