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InZane Times: Offshore Wind–Alternative to Fossil Fuels, Nukes

By Arnie Alpert at InZane Times

After delivery of a couple thousand petitions to Governor Maggie Hassan, supporters of offshore wind energy development held a rally today at the State House in Concord.

Doug Bogen, Executive Director of the Seacoast Anti-Pollution league, who has been P8250059promoting the concept for several years, believes there is so much potential for energy from wind in the Gulf of Maine that it would be possible to “phase out fossil fuel and phase out nuclear power and replace it with this.”

Offshore wind projects already in operation in Europe, and one about to be put online off Block Island, show the technology is already available, he said.  “We know how to do this,” Bogen stressed.   

One important step is for Governor Maggie Hassan to make a formal request to the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to form a Task Force and stakeholder process to plan for regional offshore wind development.  That’s the point of the petition.

P8250069

P8250079The Federal Department of Energy has determined that the Gulf of Maine has a total potential wind power capacity in excess of 200,000 Megawatts within 50 miles of the coasts of New Hampshire, Maine and northeast Massachusetts,” the petition states. 

“Utilizing just a small percentage of this potential, combined with other renewable resources, could provide most of the future power needs of these states,” says Kaity Thomson of 350NH, which organized today’s rally. 

Representative Renny Cushing, who lives almost in sight of the Seabrook nuclear plant, chaired a legislative study of offshore wind already.  Now, he says he is “wildly enthusiastic about the potential.” 

Stephanie Scherr of Fossil Free 603 says she was energized by the successful struggle against the NED Pipeline proposed by the Kinder Morgan Corp.  After months of saying “no” to fracked gas, she emphasized how important it is to have something to say “yes” to.  Scherr gave an ironic “thank you” to Kinder Morgan for pushing people to think seriously about alternatives.

After the rally, participants went up to Governor Hassan’s office, where they wrote additional messages.

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If you haven’t signed the petition yet, you can find it here or sign below. 

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Tax Day Leaflets Highlight Excessive Military Spending

nuclear bomb mockup (Ed Uthman FLIKR CC) Activists will visit Representative Guinta, Representative Kuster, Senator Shaheen, and Senator Ayotte’s office calling for an end of excessive spending on nuclear weapons.

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE — Excessive spending on nuclear weapons and other military programs is the theme of a Tax Day leaflet that NH Peace Action, NH Citizens Alliance, and the American Friends Service Committee will distribute on Monday, April 18,  outside the Manchester and Concord offices of Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, and Representatives Frank Guinta and Annie Kuster. 

“At a time when veterans’ health care, infrastructure repair, and other urgent programs are badly under-funded, we want New Hampshire taxpayers to know that Congress has plans to spend a trillion dollars on a new generation of nuclear weapons systems that will do nothing for American security,” said Will Hopkins, Executive Director of NH Peace Action and an Iraq war veteran.

Members of the three groups plan to assemble on the sidewalk outside Senator Ayotte’s Elm Street, Manchester office at noon on Monday.  At 12:30 pm they will walk around the corner to Senator Shaheen’s office on Wall Street.  They will visit Representative Guinta’s Lowell Street office at 1:00 pm.  Finally, they will assemble outside Representative Kuster’s South Main Street office in Concord at 2:00 pm.  

At each location, they will offer to pedestrians a leaflet with information on the vast amounts the federal government spends on military programs.  They will also present leaflets to staff inside each office.

“It’s time for a new vision of American security,” said Kary Jencks, Executive Director of NH Citizens Alliance.  “The security of working families comes from decent pay in the workplace, affordable and quality health care, and secure retirement, all of which are imperiled when more than half of the discretionary budget goes to military programs,” she added.

According to the annual report on global military spending from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, the United States spends more on military programs as the next seven countries, and “four of them are  our close military allies,” said Arnie Alpert, co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program.

“On Tax Day, we are telling our members of Congress it’s time to turn away from excessive spending on weapons and war and to turn toward education, health, and creation of good jobs in the civilian economy,” he said.

Alpert added that the activities in Manchester and Concord are coordinated with the “Global Day of Action on Military Spending.” 

Governing Under the Influence Steers Spending Towards Nukes

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor on November 27, 2016.


nuclear bomb mockup (Ed Uthman FLIKR CC)

nuclear bomb mockup (Ed Uthman FLIKR CC)

$1 trillion for nuclear weapons

The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and recently signed by President Obama, includes in its 1,320 pages plans for an entire new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. It’s a big – and expensive – step in the wrong direction.

The NDAA establishes policy and spending guidelines for actual appropriations. It calls explicitly for the United States to redesign our nuclear weapons and “modernize or replace” the submarines, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets all over the world. The price tag for the whole package is estimated to be in the vicinity of $1 trillion dollars over 3 decades.

How such commitments get made, at a time when our president received the Nobel Peace Prize because he pledged to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, shows that what a previous President, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military industrial complex” is as powerful as ever.

Take the Long Range Strike Bomber as an example. The Air Force has just awarded a $21 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build 21 of nuclear-capable plane. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it.”

Since 2010, individuals associated with the Virginia-based corporation have contributed $4.6 million to 224 members of Congress who sit on key committees, such as Armed Services and Appropriations. The company has laid out another $85 million for a troop of 100 lobbyists, among them five former members of Congress.

Another program would design and build a new submarine, generally known as the “Ohio-class replacement,” or SSBN(x). The Navy wants 12 of them, at a cost estimated at $100 billion. Each sub will be able to launch 16 missiles, each missile with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead ranging from 100 kilotons (or nearly 8 times the size of the bomb that demolished Hiroshima) to 475 kilotons (more than 36 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb).

In other words, we are talking about a range of 12,000 to 55,000 Hiroshimas.

Unsure where they would get the money for this nuclear overkill capacity, Navy officials hatched an idea called the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” a budget gimmick which enables the Defense Department to shift money from other accounts into the submarine construction budget. The plan had an ally in a key position to help.

“The Navy’s effort to find non-Navy offsets to pay for its new ballistic missile submarines was thought a hopeless cause when it began last year, Breaking Defense reported. “But with the help of House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Navy has so effectively lobbied Congress that the plan received a strong vote of support earlier this year on the House floor and made it through conference unscathed.” Breaking Defense called the funding mechanism “a naked budget grab at the expense of sister services.”

Congressman Forbes’ district, in southeastern Virginia, sits next to the Norfolk Naval Station, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Newport News. OpenSecrets.org lists “Miscellaneous Defense” and “Defense Aerospace” as the two business sectors most devoted to his election campaigns. Among Forbes’ most faithful donors over his 13-year Congressional career are shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, as well as Lockheed Martin, which builds the Trident missiles (at a cost of $37 million each). Other Forbes backers include Leidos, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman, and BAE.

In addition to the new bomber and new submarines, the NDAA also includes funds for new missiles and “modernized” nuclear warheads to be built by companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others, all with PACs and teams of lobbyists working hard to win access to the taxpayers’ money.

Eisenhower Warned Us

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech in 1961. He could not have been more prophetic when he added, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

There is no presidential power more awesome than authority over the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. For the chief executive, there is no responsibility greater than the need to prevent global nuclear holocaust. Yet the topic rarely comes up on the presidential campaign trail.

That can change if voters and reporters pay heed. Candidates for president should be asked how they will make sure the military industrial complex does not have unwarranted influence over our foreign and military policy. As Eisenhower said, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Look for “GUI” Banners at the State House

AFSC_GUI_Article_10

Taken Feb 2015

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE—The American Friends Service Committee’s “Governing Under the Influence” (GUI) project will be ready to greet the first presidential candidates to file for a spot on the New Hampshire Primary ballot when the Secretary of State’s filing period opens at 8 am on November 4.

The Quaker group, which for the past year has been spotlighting the harmful political influence of corporations that profit from war and prisons, will be waiting with giant banners at the front door to the State House on November 4 and 5, and again on November 12 and 13.  

AFSC has permits from the Office of Administrative Services for those periods.   But the organization’s volunteers and staff expect to be visible in the State House vicinity on other days as well.  “Our office is right next door to the State House,” notes Arnie Alpert, the group’s Co-Director. 

AFSC has taken these seven foot tall banners to candidate events and political gatherings all over the state. “We are asking all the candidates to tell us how they will forge policies based on the public interest, not the interest of corporations that profit from government contracts,”  said Eric Zulaski, the group’s Grassroots Education Coordinator.

The educational project is strictly non-partisan, he emphasized. 

In the past year, AFSC has conducted nearly 50 “bird dog” trainings — workshops that prepare people to ask effective questions on issues that matter to them when they get a chance to talk to candidates.   So far more than 700 people have gone through the training, with 4 more workshops scheduled in the next two weeks.

“Being an active citizen is about more than voting,” said Olivia Zink, AFSC’s Grassroots Engagement Coordinator and the state’s most experienced NH Primary “bird dog” trainer. “If you’re going to talk to candidates about issues like the trillion dollar plan for a new generation of nuclear weapons or the federal budget mandate that results in tens of thousands of immigrants locked up in for-profit prisons, it’s good to be prepared.”

AFSC is also running a similar program in Iowa, where the first presidential nominating caucuses will precede the NH Primary.

AFSC’s banners will be on display in front of the State House from 8 am to 4 pm on November 4, 5, 12, and 13. They are already aware of several candidates planning to file on those days. “We’re looking forward to greeting them and discussing how to end the practice of ‘governing under the influence,’” Zulaski said.   

The official candidate filing period runs from 8 am on Wednesday, November 4 to 5:00 pm on Friday, November 20.  It is traditional for candidates to visit the Secretary of State’s office in person to sign up for a spot on the NH Primary ballot. 

More information, including a calendar of candidate events and reports from GUI “bird dogs,” can be found at http://gui.afsc.org

Who Profits from Nuclear Weapons?

I wrote this for the Governing under the Influence project, where it was published on Hiroshima Day.

Atomic_cloud_over_Hiroshima_(picture by crew of Enola Gay)

Atomic cloud over Hiroshima (picture by crew of Enola Gay)

With the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the world learned that humans now had the ability to extinguish life on the planet. Seven decades later, the nuclear threat continues to loom over humanity. And instead of making comprehensive efforts to rid the world of nuclear weapons, the United States and other nuclear power are building up their arsenals.

In fact, the Obama administration is backing a plan to spend upwards of a trillion dollars on new nuclear weapons, some of which are designed for first-strike attacks. But while the use of nuclear weapons would be a disaster for the planet, their production means big bucks for the military-industrial-complex.

Most of trillion dollars would go to the corporations that would produce a new generation of missiles, bombers, and submarines designed to carry nuclear weapons. The “modernization” plan also calls for a new generation of nuclear warheads, to be designed and built in a complex of federal labs whose management has been outsourced by the Department of Energy to the private sector. Those corporations are using their resources – much of which comes from the taxpayers – to support candidates favorable to their business plans and to lobby for policies that will produce more contracts.

The specific components of the nuclear upgrade include

  • New land and sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs and ICBMs); new bombers; new submarines; and new air-launched cruise missiles
  • Re-designed warheads to be mounted on cruise and ballistic missiles and to be launched from aircraft
  • New facilities at the DOE-owned by privately-run weapons labs; and
  • New command, control, and communications systems.

The list of firms likely to get contracts for nuclear weapons production includes familiar players from the military industrial complex.

The biggest player is probably Lockheed Martin, the nation’s number one Pentagon contractor and operator of the Sandia Lab. Lockheed employs 82 lobbyists, including at least one former US Senator and two former US Representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Of the other Lockheed lobbyists, 70% are former federal employees, what the Center calls “revolvers” in reference to the “revolving door” between Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry. Sometimes the lobbyists cross the line into activities prohibited by federal law.

According to a report by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, Lockheed hired a lobbying firm headed by Heather Wilson, a former Congresswoman from New Mexico, where Sandia is located. To secure Sandia’s contracts, Wilson’s firm advised, “Lockheed Martin should aggressively lobby Congress, but keep a low profile.” Implementation of the “low profile” plan involved Sandia employees, whose positions were funded by the corporation’s existing federal contracts.

“We recognize that LMC [Lockheed Martin Corporation], as a for-profit entity, has a corporate interest in the future of the Sandia Corporation contract,” the DOE Inspector General stated. “However, the use of Federal funds to advance that interest through actions designed to result in a noncompetitive contract extension was, in our view, prohibited by Sandia Corporation’s contract and Federal law and regulations.”

It’s a classic case of GUI, Governing under the Influence, except in this case it was illegal. In most cases, GUI is fully protected by the law and the US Supreme Court. The ten corporations we see as key players in the nuclear weapons industry reported spending nearly $71 million on lobbying in 2014, and another $24 million on Congressional candidates in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And that’s not the whole list of nuclear weapons producers; Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies 20 more.

As we remember the hundreds of thousands of people – mostly civilians – who perished in the atomic bombs 70 years ago, and consider what steps we need to take to make sure nuclear weapons are never again used by anyone, let’s also set aside time to discuss the need for nuclear weapons abolition with the candidates for president. Ask them about plans to spend a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and find out what steps they will take to make sure the military industrial complex is not leading the way to another nuclear holocaust.

This post originally appeared at InZane Times, a blog run by Arnie Alpert.

End Governing Under The Influence, Stamp Money Out Of Politics

Stamp Stampede, an organization founded by Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s, held a rally at the State House in Concord on July 30 to bolster efforts to “stampmoney out of politics.”  I was one of the speakers.  The following is based on my prepared remarks.  Click here for a video of what I actually said.

Quakers say no one has all the truth and everyone has a piece of the truth, soP7300025 we need to look for truth in unusual places.  It’s interesting that one of the prophets we look to now is Dwight Eisenhower, a 5-star general, who warned about “the acquisition of unwarranted power by the military industrial complex.”

Pentagon contractors invested $27 million in candidates for Congress in the 2012 election cycle.

Just the top ten Pentagon contractors spent $23 Million on politics.  For that they received $202 billion in contracts last year.   Not a bad return on investment.

The Pentagon contractors spend $128 million a year spent on lobbying, conducted in many cases by former members of Congress, former Pentagon officials, former high-level Congressional staff members.  This is what we call the “revolving door.”

They hold job fairs for retiring generals and admirals looking for lucrative careers selling weapons back to their former colleagues. 

They sponsor trade groups, such as the Aerospace Industries Association, the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition, the Submarine Industrial Base Council, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems (the trade group for drone makers), the Shipbuilders Council of America, the Surface Navy Association, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, and more.

They sponsor “think tanks.”

They sponsor the media, for example Politico’s “Morning Defense” newsletter, brought to me each day by Northrup Grumman.

They even donate to the pet charitable projects of spouses of members of the Congressional armed service committees.

P7300029This is a classic case of what we call “governing under the influence,” or GUI.

And it’s not just the military industrial complex:

It’s the Wall Street industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the pharmaceutical industrial complex, the fossil fuel industrial complex, and more,

They are all practicing GUI to corrupt the political process and serve private interest at the public’s expense.

If DUI is a hazard to the people on our roads and sidewalks, GUI is a hazard to democracy.

If DUI needs to be approached as a public health problem of great importance,GUI needs to be seen as a political health problem of the greatest importance.

But while DUI is a crime, GUI is entirely legal.  And it’s gotten more legal due to the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions which further opened the gates for floods of cash to flow into the political system from billionaires aP7300017nd corporations. 

The rich are getting richer.

The mega-rich are getting mega- richer.

The giga-rich are getting giga-richer.

And it is easy for them to recycle their wealth into the political system to generate policies that generate more wealth for themselves, leading to higher inequality, less democracy.   

Eisenhower said only “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing” of industrial might with democracy’s needs.

Article 10 of the New Hampshire Bill of Rights says:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.

We say people power can be stronger than corporate power and we say today we have not yet exhausted all other means of redress.  

We are calling on the candidates to tell us what they will do to end the GUI system.

We are asking:

What will they do to make sure the corporations that profit from building weapons of mass destruction are not determining our foreign policy?

What will they do to make sure corporations that own and manage prisons are not running our immigration and corrections policies?

What will they do to make sure our police departments don’t become just another profit center for the military industrial complex?

What will they do to make sure our political system is based on the principle of one person one vote, not the principle of one dollar one vote?

So far we have trained more than 500 people in NH and a couple hundred more in Iowa.  The GUI project is putting the candidates on the spot and documenting their responses.

The GUI system is strong, but not invulnerable.  It has a crack that opens in NH and Iowa.

We have a little over six months to make sure the candidates hear from us.

End GUI.

Stamp money out of politics.


 

This post originally appeared at InZane Times, a blog run by Arnie Alpert. 

 


 

Ben Cohen, founder of Stamp Stampede

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The Stamp Stampede is tens of thousands of Americans legally stamping messages on our nation’s currency to #GetMoneyOut of Politics. As more and more stamped money spreads, so will the movement to amend the Constitution and overturn Citizens United.

You can get your own stamp online at www.stampstampede.org. Or, if you’re a member of CWA, you can get a stamp from your LPAT coordinator. The average stamped bill is seen by 875 people – which makes stamping a highly-effective way to get the message out about how money in politics is corrupting our government.

It’s time to #GetMoneyOut of politics and take back our government.

InZane Times: Declare Independence from Corporate Rule

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.  Image by JayMallin.com

An American flag festooned with dollar bills and corporate logos flies in front of the Supreme Court during oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission.
Image by JayMallin.com

I wrote this for the Governing Under the Influence blog.

In 1776, the signers of the Declaration of Independence stated that government derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.” But in these days of rising escalating economic inequality, unlimited campaign spending, and a multibillion-dollar lobbying industry mostly devoted to corporate interests, the consent of the governed often seems irrelevant in the corridors of power. 

“Governing under the Influence” or “GUI.”  That’s what we call the interconnected web of campaign spending, lobbying, and revolving doors between Capitol Hill, lobbying firms, think tanks, and the Pentagon that feed private interests at the expense of public good.

Governing under the Influence can be seen at work in how public officials spend our taxpayer dollars. Let’s look at U.S. military spending, for example. Since President Eisenhower coined the phrase, the “military-industrial complex” has grown to include outsourcing of government surveillance, transforming the U.S.-Mexico border into a war zone, converting police into paramilitary forces, and turning over the military’s own core functions to private contractors.  

Lockheed Martin is a prime example of corporate influence on public policy. The corporation is the Pentagon’s top contractor. It spends over $14 million a year on lobbying, and its employee PAC (political action committee) raises another $4 million for campaign contributions. Lockheed’s 71 registered lobbyists include a former US Senator and 2 former US Representatives, one of whom chaired the committee which oversees the DOE’s nuclear weapons budget.

Norman Augustine, the corporation’s former CEO, is now co-chair of a government panel on nuclear weapons that has called for relaxed oversight of weapons labs and more lucrative contracts for private companies, such as Lockheed, that run them.   (See “Nuclear Weapons Complex: Foxes Guard Chickens.”)  The current CEO, Marillyn Hewson, sits on the International Advisory Board of The Atlantic Council, a think tank with close ties to the military and foreign policy elite.    

What does Lockheed Martin get from its investment and connections? More than $25 billion in government contracts every year. Lockheed is the primary contractor on the F-35 fighter plane, the most expensive weapons system in Pentagon history, and it also runs the Sandia nuclear weapons lab in New Mexico.  According a report of the Department of Energy’s Inspector General, released last November, Lockheed has illegally used funds from nuclear weapons contracts to lobby for more contracts.  (See “Nuclear weapons lab used taxpayer funds to obtain more taxpayer funds” from the Center for Public Integrity for details.)

This may be business as usual in Washington, and sometimes it’s easier to shrug our shoulders and give in to the thinking that this system will never change.

But something is bubbling up in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first contests for the 2016 presidential nominations will take place. There, the Governing Under the Influence (GUI) project is reminding candidates that the interests of the people must come first.

With seven months to go before the Iowa caucuses, we’ve already trained more than 500 volunteers to “bird dog” candidates about the excessive corporate influence that drives our country toward more wars, more prisons, and more violence. Our team of volunteers is at town halls, fairgrounds, living rooms, TV studios, city sidewalks—anywhere candidates appear—to ensure these issues get the attention they deserve. 

The GUI project isn’t partisan; it’s not about ranking the candidates or telling anyone how they should vote. It’s about shifting the political discourse by exposing forces that steer us in the wrong direction. And we’ve already seen results, drawing out responses from close to 20 candidates and garnering attention from media outlets like the Boston Globe, Fox News, and Huffington Post.

This Fourth of July, join us in declaring independence from corporate rule.  If “just powers” come from the consent of the governed, the GUI project may be just the thing to bring about change.

InZane Times: Democracy or Oligarchy, Which is It?

MARTIN GILENS SPEAKS AT PLYMOUTH STATE

P4070011If the “central characteristic of democracy is responsiveness of government to the interests of citizens,” as Martin Gilens says,  then ours if failing miserably.

Professor Gilens, prime author of a much-cited article showing that the US government responds to the interests of wealthy individuals and corporate lobbies, not to ordinary people, presented his findings tonight at Plymouth State University.

Gilens, a professor of political science at Princeton, analyzed responses to 1779 survey questions collected from 1981 to 2002 to test whose opinions mattered.  With his co-author, Benjamin Page, Gilens examined the views of average citizens, defined as those at median levels of income, the views of wealthy individuals, and the positions held by the most powerful interest groups (“Most of them are business oriented,” he said.).  Then they looked at the outcomes of policy debates.

https://i0.wp.com/cdn2.vox-cdn.com/assets/4315381/Gilens1.pngWhat they found is that the preferences of ordinary people have virtually no impact on policy.  The opinions of wealthy individuals and organized interest groups, however, have a considerable effect. 

“People with resources call the shots and ordinary citizens are bystanders,” he said. 

It’s not a matter of political parties and which one is in power.  If one looks at issues such as trade policy, tax cuts, or financial de-regulation, politicians of both major parties have enacted policies favored by elites.  “Priorities the public expressed are not the priorities of our government,” Gilens said.

https://i2.wp.com/cdn0.vox-cdn.com/assets/4315397/Gilens2.png

Gilens’ research was reported in “Testing Theories of American Politics:  Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” published in 2014 in Perspectives on American Politics.   Frequently referred to as “the Princeton study,” the Gilens and Page paper has been used to state the USA is now an oligarchy. 

Not so fast, Gilens says.  Yes, it’s true that ordinary people are largely ignored and that high percentages of the rising amounts of cash flooding the political system come from a relatively small collection of wealthy individuals.  And it’s also true that running and winning elections demands ever larger campaign funds.   But Gilens  holds onto hope that a movement like the early 20th century progressives can rise up to challenge the policies of the New Gilded Age.   

“No single reform” will do it, Gilens believes.  But campaign finance reform, lobbying reform, electoral reform, and the rise of civil society and labor groups just might stop the trend toward oligarchy.  That will be “a decades long task,” he says.

Arnie Alpert: Will NH Privatize Youth Corrections?

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Devil is in the Details of Budget Proposal

Another version of this was published in the Concord Monitor.

The budget proposal now under consideration in the House Finance Committee calls for a $7 million cut in the budget of the Sununu Youth Services Center, the state’s residential detention center for juvenile offenders. It also mandates “the option for the Department to enter into contracts to operate the facility.” The outsourcing provision would be included in HB 2, the budget “trailer bill.”

We’ve been around this block before.

In 2011, the budget trailer bill, HB 2, mandated creation of “a committee to develop a plan for privatizing the department of corrections,” and specified that “on or before September 1, 2011, the commissioner of administrative services shall issue a request for proposals by vendors for provision of correctional services or any other services provided by the department of corrections.”

That line, buried in what became Chaptered Law 0224 when it passed on June 22, 2011 and became law without the signature of Governor John Lynch eight days later, set in motion a costly two-year investigation into the possibility of outsourcing the state’s prisons to a for-profit firm.

First, staff at the Departments of Corrections and Administrative Services spent five months preparing three lengthy “Requests for Proposals” to solicit interest from private firms.

The responses from four companies, which arrived between late January and early March. There was so much paper in the bid documents — said to be so bulky they filled a room at the State House Annex – that the State needed an outside consultant. It took four more months, and an appropriation of $177,000, for the state to hire MGT of America to analyze the proposals.

It took nine months for MGT to compete its report. 

Among its findings were that the “annual compensation for security staff” in the bidders’ business plans “was one-half the current compensation currently paid to similar positions in the state.”

High Turnover, Low Safety

“The state should be concerned that this significantly lower wage may make it difficult to maintain a trained and experience staff,” MGT said. “This could result in high turnover and ultimately impact and safety and security of the correctional facilities.” In other words, the way to make a correctional facility profitable is to lower the wages and benefits paid to workers. That dooms the facilities to dependence on workers who hope to leave and find a better job, not the kind of people we want to manage adult or juvenile corrections.

Based on the consultant’s report, the State “determined that it was in the best interest of the State to cancel the solicitation process,” according to a report released in April 2013, nearly two years after the process started.

“The decision to cancel, after having invested so much time and consideration, was not made lightly,” the Departments of Corrections and Administration said.

With that in mind, we should not go lightly into a new privatization process, this time for youth corrections.

Evidence from around the country has shown that for-profit companies are ill equipped to handle the responsibility of incarceration, whether the prisoners are juveniles or adults. Their facilities tend to be under-staffed, less secure, and don’t even save money for taxpayers.

Riots and Abuse in Florida

Just last week a riot broke out at the Les Peters Academy, a juvenile correctional facility near Tampa, Florida. It’s the third time violence has broken out at one of G4S Corporation’s juvenile facilities, and that’s just in the Tampa area. The State of Florida is investigating “whether all policies and procedures were followed.”

Last summer Florida cancelled a contract with another for-profit operator of youth detention facilities, Youth Services International, after evidence of excessive or unnecessary use of force. The company is barred for a year from bidding on new contracts, but it still runs nine other Florida facilities.

A lengthy report by Chris Kirkham for Huffington Post says “those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades.” Not only that, according to Kirkham, Florida’s “sweeping privatization of its juvenile incarceration system has produced some of the worst re-offending rates in the nation.”

Caroline Isaacs of the American Friends Service Committee, who has documented abuses at for-profit facilities in Arizona and nationwide, says “the track record in juvenile facilities is even more horrifying than the usual for adult prisons.”

We’ve been around this block before. Let’s not go there again.

Canterbury Approves Resolution Against “Citizens United”

p3130011

Money is Not Speech and Constitutional Rights are for Human Beings

Following an unusually placid series of votes approving budget items, Canterbury, New Hampshire’s annual Town Meeting came to life during a debate over a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment that would overturn the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

Discussion began with a well delivered speech by Laurie Lockwood, who said that due to the 2010 ruling, “there can now be no effective restraint placed on campaign spending by corporations, Political Action Committees, unions,  or groups of any kind.  If you have a mailbox, a radio, or a TV, you are aware of the results.”

Lockwood explained that the purpose of the resolution is to pressure Congress to act, in accord with Article Five of the US Constitution.  Amendments are rare, P3130042

Laurie Lockwood

but not unprecedented, she said, and it is our duty as citizens to take action.

The resolution was pretty straightforward, calling on the town’s elected officials to support an amendment to the US Constitution establishing that “only human beings, not corporations, are endowed with constitutional rights; and money is not speech, and  therefore regulating political contributions and spending is not equivalent to limiting political speech.”

Without change, according to Lockwood, we will have more “nasty, expensive elections that discourage participation, and we end up with representatives who are indebted to wealthy and powerful interests.”

In a thinly veiled reference to the brothers Koch, Lockwood said “fossil fuel interests have already pledged to spend a billion dollars on the 2016 elections.” 

When she finished, many town residents applauded and it looked for a moment like we might proceed to a vote without further remarks.  But Howard Moffett, a retired attorney who serves as one of Canterbury’s State Representatives, decided to share his reservations.  Although he had voted for similar resolutions at the State House, he said he was concerned that language calling for the end of corporate personhood went too far.  He said he would have preferred the resolution was drafted differently, but that he would support it because “we just have too much money in our politics drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.” 

Rep. Moffett’s statement elicited a invitation for him to elaborate on his concerns and a request for information about how the resolution had been drafted.  Rep. Moffett spoke again briefly, and I addressed the origin of the resolution and its relationship to others being considered all over the country, which together can create a groundswell of pressure on Congress to act even if they don’t share theP3130015exact same wording.  

Another voter asked about corporate personhood, which brought Laurie Lockwood to the microphone again for a short history lecture. 

Finally Judy Elliott took the floor.  “We want to make it clear that corporations do not have the right to spend unlimited money on elections.”  That was the last word.

Wayne Mann, the town’s Moderator, called for a vote, which in Canterbury is conducted by voters waving a green card for “yes” or a red card for “no.”  There were a few “no” votes, but no doubt that the resolution had the overwhelming support of the citizens present.   

The vote followed weeks of organizing by a small, informal committee of Canterbury residents who worked together to draft the resolution, collect petition signatures, organize an educational program at the library, and talk up the issue in town.   Canterbury now joins dozens of other New Hampshire towns, and hundreds across the country, that are calling for the Constitution to be amended.  

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