Guest Blogs

Wednesday
Oct172012

Chris Dornin: State should lock door on for-profit prison plans

Nashua Telegraph, Sunday, October 14, 2012

By CHRIS DORNIN

Guest Commentary

A consulting report is due Oct. 15 on four competing offers to build and manage a for-profit, co-ed prison or rent it back to the state.

Linda Hodgdon, the commissioner of administrative services, promised July 11 to release this study. If one of the vendors wins a contract, this state would be the first to substantially privatize its corrections system. That would be a tragic mistake.

Gov. John Lynch vowed to withhold the consulting report during a recent meeting with opponents of privatization. Officials would present their own review next month, he said, based in part on the secret advice of the MGT consulting firm. It was the sole bidder on a $171,000 contract to compare the for-profit prison proposals on an apples-to-apples basis.

I’d like to read that report by outside experts, led by George Vose, the former commissioner of corrections for Massachusetts and Rhode Island. There is reason to fear it will slant in favor of the private prison industry. Vose sits on the board of one of the worst prison vendors, Community Education Centers.

That firm manages 5,000 halfway house offenders at any given time in New Jersey and allowed an astonishing 452 escapes in 2011. The New York Times published a recent expose on CEC as a crowded, violent gulag that profits from warehousing people with unmet constitutional rights.

The Times said most inmates test positive for substance abuse, and most officers are undertrained, overworked, underpaid, inexperienced short-timers.

I spoke with Vose this summer, and he downplayed his clout at Community Education Centers and in New Hampshire corrections.

“We’re not being asked to evaluate if prison privatization would be good policy for New Hampshire,” he explained. “We’re not a political advocacy group for anybody. Our role is to evaluate proposals based on specific criteria. And I’m only one member of a team with five people on this project.”

Vose was vice president of operations at the for-profit prison vendor CiviGenics from 2002 to 2009, which agreed to repay $3.4 million in overcharges to Massachusetts in 2007. Former state auditor Joseph DeNucci had sought $10.2 million in excessive management fees and collected $3.5 million of it from Spectrum Health Systems, the company CiviGenics did its disputed subcontracting for.

Under Vose, CiviGenics compiled its own sorry record of warehousing not unlike the company it merged with, yes, Community Education Centers.

The bidders to take over most of the New Hampshire prison system include the GEO Group, Management & Training Corp., Corrections Corporation of America and the New Hampshire Hunt Justice Group. According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, they had spent $130,000 on New Hampshire lobbyists as of mid-August.

Widespread accounts from around the country suggest they would bring their own set of baggage. Rigorous studies show for-profit prisons are no cheaper than public prisons, and often more expensive, when you count all the hidden costs.

Lynch could lawfully rush a 20-year prison takeover contract to the lame-duck executive councilors before he leaves in January. I hope not. They might approve it in time to hand a mess to the November election winners. Gubernatorial candidates Ovide Lamontagne and Maggie Hassan are on record opposing private prisons.

Lynch has worked for a better idea, downsizing prisons and using the savings for community corrections. That strategy has cut budgets, crime and recidivism rates in a number of states, according to the National Association of the States.

Lynch knows lawmakers would never bond $300 million to build a state-owned co-ed prison, but they might OK $50 million for a women’s prison.

New Hampshire Legal Assistance has filed a very winnable class-action lawsuit against the women’s prison, and the courts in due time will order the state to rehabilitate women aggressively.

Why wait until then? Why bind Lamontagne or Hassan to a lame-duck policy of for-profit prisons they would both have a mandate to veto?

Chris Dornin is a retired Statehouse reporter and a prison reform advocate.

 

(Note: The MGT report was not ready by Oct. 15, and is now expected by mid-November, after the election.)

 

Monday
Oct152012

Carol Shea-Porter - Big Faith in Small Business  

After losing more than eight million jobs during the Great Recession, more than 700,000 of them just in December of 2008, we have gotten more than 4.5 million jobs back. The unemployment rate is now 7.8% across the country, and we've had more than 30 months of private sector job growth. Many Americans are still struggling and too many are suffering, but there is more optimism about our future. The newest Federal Survey of Economic Conditions, "The Beige Book," said New England's economic development "continues to expand at a moderate pace" and that manufacturing and business service and real estate sales are up, commercial construction is up, and retail is mixed. It reported that prices are steady, no inflation is expected, and that the mood is "cautiously optimistic" in 2012, and more "bullish" for 2013. While times are still tough and we have a way to travel to return to the "pre-Wall Street crash of 2008" economy, Congress and President Obama were able to avoid another Great Depression and put the country back on the road to full recovery. It's a good time to review what policies helped small business, and what do we need to do next?

 

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the Stimulus) put more than $21 billion in new investment in small businesses. Congress eliminated all fees on SBA-backed loans. It also lifted the ceiling on the loan amount that the SBA would guarantee from 85% to 90%. There were significant small business tax cuts as well.  Congress also passed The Small Business Jobs Act. This was supported by both the Small Business Majority and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the President of the National Small Business Association said at the time that "It doesn't matter what aspect of small business you are in, this bill has something for you." We created a new lending fund for community banks. We encouraged small business investments by cutting the capital gains tax on people who invested in small businesses, and passed legislation allowing businesses to use net operating losses in 2008 and 2009 to offset profits from five previous years, instead of the two years that had been allowed.

 

The positive effects of the 2010 Small Business Jobs Act are still being felt in New Hampshire. The Union Leader wrote an article on July 9, 2012, called "New NH Business Start-Up Fund Will Aid High-Tech Firms", and in it, they discuss how $4.5 million in federal funds is being used to back up a partnership between a private company and the NH Business Finance Authority. This will attract private money to invest in high-tech firms. BFA's Executive Director is quoted as saying, "It's a private market solution. We're backstopping the deal through an innovative guarantee mechanism, but it's largely driven by private capital." To which I say, "Perfect!" This is another success story, creating wealth and business in New Hampshire.

 

There is still so much to be done though. We still need a comprehensive jobs bill, and small businesses still need help. What can we do next?

 

Congress needs to cut through some red tape still. While we all know that there have to be rules of the road, we must do only what is necessary, and eliminate some of the paperwork and provide regulatory relief whenever rules are unnecessary or too heavy-handed.

 

To help entrepreneurs launch new businesses, we should let them set up a tax-preferred account like a Roth IRA, instead of dipping into their retirement savings too much.

It's a good idea to double the small business start-up tax deduction, and we should provide tax credits and deductions to encourage new technologies. I believe that we need to help small businesses get more contracts with the federal government and help them export products. We also need to fully fund the Small Business Administration.

Small businesses are the economic engine of our country. Our nation's full recovery depends on their full recovery and success. We have come so far, and they have worked so hard. We must not fail them now.

###

Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011, she is seeking a third term in the November, 2012 election.  She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages.  She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.

 

Wednesday
Oct032012

Shannon McGinley - True feminism will end the war on women

By Shannon McGinley, acting executive director of Cornerstone Action

The Declaration of Independence led to America’s freedom from Great Britain and reminded the world that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are God-given rights enjoyed by every person equally on the day of his or her creation. But in the 236 years since the Declaration, our country has faced a constant internal struggle to resolve the paradox that so many people are still not free.

It was only 150 years ago that feminists fought along with other abolitionists to liberate African slaves from bondage in “this land of liberty.” And then many of these same women, considered property themselves at the time, fought successfully to unfetter themselves from their own shackles.

Yet here we are, so many years later, with some women choosing to subjugate themselves to the whims of men by becoming sterile beings just so they can go to school and work without fear of reprisal for their “fertility problems.” Larry Lader, an advocate for population control who co-opted the feminist movement for his own purposes, used that fear of lost opportunities to promote contraception and abortion as the great equalizers for women.

But fertility isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed before women can be equal with men. In fact, fertility ensures the very survival of our species, and consequently, pregnancy and birth bring some of the greatest joys in our lives. A true feminist celebrates her fertility and doesn’t let her employer, college professor or lover push her aside because she gets pregnant. She walks boldly into that “man’s world,” belly first, and goes about her business. And she certainly doesn’t give the man in her life a pass on fatherhood at the expense of her body and the life of her unborn child.

One of the feminist movement’s founding mothers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, said in 1848 that “when we consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.” The mother of all feminists, Mary Wollstonecraft, in 1792 condemned those who would “either destroy the embryo in the womb or cast it off when born” as violating the very nature of things.

Because of Lader’s co-option of the authentic feminist movement, however, many women have remade themselves in man’s image to unnaturally fit into what both still perceive to be his world. All the while, these modern “feminists” imagine they are free by presenting a superficial and sexually permissive pretense of femininity as they pursue their degrees and careers. Yet, their true feminism is lost, because they have rejected the fertile ground on which their womanhood is built.

Today’s fast-track mentality that encourages contraception and abortion is more than degrading to women, it is a war on the very nature of women and their unborn children. This is the very opposite of feminism, it is subjugation.

No woman with the resources and independence to be herself could be convinced that she should kill the child growing naturally inside her. The physical and emotional scars abortion leaves behind do permanent damage to a woman’s body and mind.

No feminist would purposefully distort the natural hormonal balance of her body with birth control to offset her God-given fertility. Only ignorance, fear or oppression could lead a woman to poison herself with too much estrogen, which besides preventing pregnancy can lead to the growth of cancer cells or blood clots and an early death.

Clearly, the women who choose to put themselves in situations where they think they need contraceptives or abortions do not believe they have a choice in the matter. To purveyors of sexual liberation theory who have confined women to this fate, contraception is the first choice, and if that “fails,” abortion is the final choice. But is abortion truly liberating women if our innate gift to create new life is now viewed as the burdensome side effect of casual pleasure?

True feminists should consider all of their choices as they come to terms with their fertility, as should the men they choose to associate with. Pregnancy does not have to be planned, but it should always be respected. Women will truly be free when the men in their lives accept their fertility, which sometimes results in pregnancy and birth. This very natural and essential process should never isolate a woman from the respect of her family, her peers or her employment, and she shouldn’t let it.

What kind of society are we accepting if the joy and miracle of bringing a new life into the world becomes a burden? It certainly is not one that will last.

 

Saturday
Sep292012

Carol Shea-Porter - Yes, the Issue is Fairness 

Mitt Romney’s statement about the “47%” has gotten Americans debating  “fairness.” Many families are struggling to pay the rent or mortgage, and many are unable to send their kids to college or save for retirement.  When they read about how income has soared for the top 1% and stayed flat or dropped for them, they wonder who decides fairness.

Until recently, if anyone voiced concerns about fairness, they were accused of  “class envy.” Then Warren Buffet, the third richest man in the world, made his now-famous statement about how he got the tax breaks, and it was not fair to his secretary. And when Buffet was challenged to prove she paid twice the tax rate he did, Buffet released his 2010 tax returns and proved the unfairness.

Buffet turned the conversation to exactly the one we need to have in this country – what’s fair.  He told ABC News, “If this is a war, my side has the nuclear bomb... We have K Street. … We have Wall Street. Debbie doesn’t have anybody. I want a government that is responsive to the people who got the short straw in life” (http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/01/warren-buffett-and-his-secretary-talk-taxes/).

Wealth creation is good. People want to be able to take care of their children. It’s a lot better to live in a nice house or apartment in a safe neighborhood than in a run down neighborhood.  It’s a lot nicer when a community has the money it needs to offer quality services to its citizens. There are more civic organizations and opportunities for economic success in a community that is not poor.

The issue is not wealth creation.  It is not class envy either.  It is about fairness, about people and corporations paying their fair share.

Americans realize that the very wealthy and corporations have been very effective at lobbying, and that tax codes favor the rich.  Oklahoma Senator Coburn, a very conservative Republican, has written a report called “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous” to show how unfair it is.

People are unhappy enough when they find out they pay a higher percentage of their income than Warren Buffet. They are even unhappier when they find out that, according to CNN Money, two-thirds of US corporations paid zero income taxes.

They are upset that Mitt Romney paid 13.7% and 14% on the only two years of income taxes that he would show.

But then Romney said that 47% of people think they are victims, "entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”

That was just too over the top.  Apparently, Mitt Romney and Frank Guinta, who refused to refute it, think that the government is not being fair... to the well off!

Some Republican leaders, to their credit, disavowed those remarks.  But Congressman Guinta stood by Romney and called the comments just “a distraction.” 

Frank Guinta has stood up for fairness for oil companies also.  In Conway, when somebody said it wasn’t fair that oil companies get subsidies, Frank Guinta said if we take that away, to be fair, we have to give oil companies rent-free leases. Congressman Guinta's exact words were, "… the simple point on that issue is if you’re going to get rid of that tax benefit to those 5 companies, let’s also eliminate the lease payments and make it fair…"  (at 9:13: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGdctx1na5A) How is taking away taxpayer subsidies from oil companies so unfair that Americans need to give them free leases to take our oil on our public lands? And why does he now deny that there are subsidies to oil companies, after admitting it in Conway?  I guess he now worries that the rest of us don't find that very fair.

I think this story is emblematic of the selfish thinking of the right wing today.  It used to be “I got mine and will hide it so you have to pay your fair share and mine.” Now it is “I’ve got mine and want yours too.”

This election is about fairness for “the rest of us.” It’s about refusing to allow the right-wing in Washington and Concord to dismantle programs that we all paid into and earned – Medicare and Social Security.

 Is it fair to hire lobbyists to write tax code for politicians to insert into bills to benefit the richest, so they can deduct yachts and horses?

Is it fair for those who claim tax deductions for everything to then turn around and insult the 47% who are really struggling?

It’s not fair, but we can make it fair.

####

Former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter represented New Hampshire’s First District from 2007-2011, she is seeking a third term in the November, 2012 election.  She wrote the proposal for and established a non-profit, social service agency, which continues to serve all ages.  She taught politics and history and is a strong supporter of Medicare and Social Security.

Tuesday
Sep252012

Carolyn McKinney - Restore the people’s oversight over their court system

By Carolyn McKinney, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire
 
As voters, it’s troubling to watch a Legislature act against the people’s best interest in times of economic distress by raising tax after tax or fee after fee to pay for unrealistic increases to public employees’ salaries or benefits, or to grant special-interest requests without regard to their need or effectiveness. Such was the case during the 2007-2010 period when Democrats controlled the N.H. Legislature and governor’s office.

Yet, in our system of government, the people have control over how the government spends their money, and voters overwhelmingly rejected the Democrat’s spend-then-tax agenda when they elected a Republican Legislature in 2010. Republican representatives and senators, answering the people’s call to create the proper conditions for economic growth, promptly cleaned up as much of the mess as they could within a two-year period by cutting spending, lowering taxes and fees, and saying “no” to those special interests.

Unfortunately, since 1978 when the Legislature and the people were duped into passing Article 73-a to the N.H. Constitution, the people have not had similar oversight over their court system, which now has the autonomy to write its own rules that have “the force and effect of law.” Many people perceive this constitutional language to be minor—affecting only how the courts run their courtrooms—but they are wrong.

The courts have used the 1978 change to control the behavior of the Legislature, the Executive, and innocent, law-abiding citizens, both inside and outside the courtroom. Because of Article 73-a, the courts have assumed a role that the “separation of powers” clause previously reserved for the elected Legislature. As a result, and because of complacent legislative and executive officials, the court has become an unaccountable and arbitrary power unto itself, which is the exact type of government that our constitution was supposed to prevent.

Article 73-a is the language that gave the Supreme Court hubris to think it could legislate from the bench, such as it did with the Claremont decisions in the 1990s when it said that the constitution’s imperative that individual “legislators… cherish … public education” means that the Legislature must define and fund an adequate education.

Under 73-a, the family court has used its rules, including a particular rule that allows all court rules to be waived, in cases where it has ordered children removed from fit parents on mere accusations from third parties. By waiving rules, these courts have admitted hearsay evidence and used it to make a decision without a finding of abuse or neglect or any due process of law.

District court judges have used court rules to throw citizens in jail for contempt on minor decorum issues, and they have used their office to send journalists to jail for simply asking questions about their decisions. Just last year, a Superior Court judge used court rules to prevent two innocent citizens who were not accused of any crime from engaging in a legal activity. He also ordered the citizens to post his ruling on their Web site. Had they disobeyed, the judge threatened to imprison them on charges of contempt of court.

Thankfully, the Republican Legislature that the people elected to correct the wrongs of the previous Democratic Legislature also passed a constitutional fix that will give the people oversight over their court system again. Upon passage of Question Two on the Nov. 6 ballot, the people will restore some checks and balances to their judicial branch.

The change to Article 73-a will make sure that the laws passed by the Legislature are superior to court rules, as they should be. The amendment will put the court back in its place as an interpreter of law for individual cases and not as the policy maker that explains how the law must be applied in all situations—that is a power reserved for the people’s Legislature alone.

When the powers of government are balanced and held in check by one another, there is a greater chance that no branch of government will grow too strong or powerful, and that the people will remain free.

Article 73-a made the courts untouchable, and the people lost control of their government as a result. Question Two on the Nov. 6 ballot will restore the balance of powers by making the court accountable to the laws passed by the Legislature. The people, who elect their legislators, will once more have necessary oversight over all three branches of their government.

 

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