Thursday, October 12, 2017

Impropriety




Once upon a time, people who held elected office used to strive to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Back in those halcyon days, we were concerned with corruption and ethics. There were big public investigations. There were legal charges and fines. People went to prison.

Wherever there is any kind of power there is the possibility of corruption. During the Grant administration, the Whiskey Ring scandal was exposed in 1875. Whiskey distillers were bribing government officials who, in turn, helped the distillers evade federal taxes on their product. Millions of dollars in federal taxes were diverted. Orville Babcock, private secretary to President Grant was indicted as a member of the ring, which contributed (along with other scandals) to his administration being seen as emblematic of corruption.

The Teapot Dome scandal also involved bribery, and took place between 1921-1922, during the Harding administration. The US Navy converted from using coal to fuel oil. President Taft designated several oil producing areas as Naval Oil Reserves. In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that turned control of the Teapot Dome Oil Field in Wyoming and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in California from the Dept. of the Navy to the Dept. of the Interior. This was implemented in 1922 at the request of Interior Secretary Albert Fall. Later in the year, Fall leased oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Mammoth Oil, a subsidy of Sinclair Oil. He leased the Elk Hills reserve to Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. There was no competitive bidding in either case. Fall became a wealthy man, after receiving gifts from the executives in both companies that would today be worth $5.42 million. The sudden improvement in his standard of living brought about his downfall. The leases themselves were not illegal. The secret deals and the bribery were.

There was an investigation. Other oil companies were miffed about the no bid licenses that had been granted, and Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. Fall had done a good job of covering his tracks, but Edward Doheny of Pan American Petroleum had given Fall a no-interest loan of $100,000. Once that loan (bribe) was discovered, Fall was finished. He was found guilty of accepting bribes. Edward Doheny was acquitted of paying bribes to Fall.

Corporations will always find ways to bribe public officials into aiding their pursuit of lining their pockets. Coal, oil, and uranium aren’t the only natural resources that are being mined by the unscrupulous. Right in our own back yard, the largest food and beverage company in the world is mining water, and seeking to expand their extraction operations in Fryeburg, Maine. Local elected officials have failed – and failed mightily - to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

NestlĂ©’s lack of ethics became national news in the 1970’s when we learned that they were aggressively marketing baby formula to third world mothers. They handed out literature, had women dressed as nurses to discuss the benefits of formula, gave out baby bottles, and free samples. After the mother’s own milk dried up, they were forced to purchase formula, and often had nothing but contaminated water to mix it with. Many diluted the formula to stretch it out, because they were so poor. They weren’t told that diluting the formula, especially with contaminated water, could lead to malnutrition and the death of their infants. 

The ensuing scandal and Nestle boycott brought about the creation of the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes in 1981. The code states that baby food companies may not promote their products in hospitals or shops. They may not give free samples to mothers or give gifts to health workers or mothers. They may not give misleading information, and must explain the cost of using the formula. 

Nestle is still under scrutiny. The boycott was called off for a few years, but it is back in place, because, naturally, they’ve found ways around the code. The opportunity to make money from some of the poorest people on the planet was too alluring. Nestle exploits, creates misfortune, and then profits from that misfortune.

In Michigan, where Flint residents were poisoned by their tap water, Nestle is working to increase the pumping of spring water in Osceola Township. They pay nothing for the water they pump there. Nothing. In Fryeburg they pay next to nothing, and that isn’t enough. They always want more. Nestle always finds unscrupulous elected officials to help sell their town down the river – a river they’ll suck dry, just as they sucked the original Poland Spring dry.

Dear Fryeburg: there’s always a quid pro, as Fightin’ Bob LaFollette found when he investigated Albert Fall. Find it. And oust those who would sell your town.


Published as an op-ed in the October 13, 2016 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 



Thursday, September 28, 2017

Alternate Realities




It’s that time of year – when it’s time for our state representatives to file bills for 2018. At this larval stage, they’re called LSRs, or Legislative Service Requests. A legislator has an idea for a bill, and so they come up with a title and may begin drafting it, before turning it over to Legislative Services where the intent and language will be fleshed out. Some will be withdrawn by the sponsors. Some will make it all the way to being on the House docket in 2018. Right now, the fledgling LSRs are titles only, and available for viewing on the NH General Court website. There are currently 685 LSRs proposed by House members. Sixteen have already been withdrawn.

In preparation for this column, I took a quick, unscientific poll, asking people for their top 3-5 issues that badly need to be addressed in New Hampshire. The number one concern was health care (includes dental, mental health, and addiction), followed by a broad based tax (property tax relief), affordable housing, funding higher education/supporting public education, infrastructure, livable wages, and climate change/the environment. Other high ranking concerns: ending voter suppression, childcare, gerrymandering, legalizing marijuana, public transportation, and protecting water. 

This was not a scientific poll, but it’s likely that most voters in our state have some of the same concerns. Worried about health care? Representatives Josh Moore and Jeanine Notter are sponsoring a resolution to affirm the state’s religious heritage and constitutional right to practice religion and fee speech. Desperate for property tax relief?  Jeanine Notter and Victoria Sullivan are sponsoring an LSR, “relative to information regarding abortion.” That’ll help you hang on to your house.

Concerned about the lack of housing? This very newspaper has pages of help wanted ads and about a column and a half of rentals. If affordable housing is one of your issues, you’ll be glad to hear that Rep. Dave Testerman has an LSR that would include “sexual reassignment” under the definition of child abuse. Worried about our failing roads, bridges, sewer, and water systems? Rep. Dan Itse wants your driver’s license or non-driver ID to include your citizenship status.

Is the cost of higher education and the loss of young people worrying you? Rep. Brian Stone would like to establish the University System of NH as a political subdivision of the state. Because putting the legislature, a place of science denial, where at least 40 representatives don’t know how to use email, in charge of the university system is a brilliant idea.

Worried about low wages and income inequality? Rep. Dan Itse is sponsoring a resolution calling for the pardon of Jerry DeLemus who was convicted for his role in the armed standoff at the Bundy Ranch, where he was “protecting” Cliven Bundy who owed the government over a million dollars in grazing fees.

You get the idea. The issues that are most concerning to NH residents are not reflected in the 2018 LSRs. Rather than deal with the real problems facing our state; the Republican majority is throwing a Tea Party. They know, of course, that this is may be their last chance to do the kind of social engineering that the basest of their base drools over. They have a Republican governor for the first time in decades, and Trump acolyte Chris Sununu is their best chance at passing some of this dreck.

Abortion, gender reassignment (three LSRs so far), eligibility for public assistance, coercive abortions, voter ID, domicile (seriously – more of this?) …. none of these are issues that even came up in my survey. There is an LSR proposed by Rep. Steve Smith to eliminate the commission that studies the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. One can see why that would be a priority.

There are LSRs that do deal with pressing issues. Rep. Renny Cushing is sponsoring a bill to require the secure psychiatric unit at the state hospital to be accredited as a psychiatric hospital. As it is now, we put people who have committed no crimes behind bars at the state prison because we don’t have a secure psychiatric unit in a hospital anywhere, and we’re too cheap to build one.  

Rep. Mindi Messmer is sponsoring an LSR aimed at protecting our water from PFOAS, and remediating the Coakely Landfill in Greenland – a superfund waste site. Rep. Travis Bennett is sponsoring an LSR establishing a committee to study the fiscal impacts of repairing or replacing our water supply systems, aka our crumbling infrastructure. None of these are likely to go anywhere in the coming session.

The entire point of our foolishly large, volunteer legislature is to provide real, accessible representation. Because they are unpaid, we get the rich, the retired, and the crazy.

They’re having a tea party at the legislature in 2018. Let’s hope it will be the last.


This was published as an op-ed in the September 29  edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

RIP, NH Primary



It’s been quite a week in New Hampshire. An armed man went into the ICU at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and shot and killed his mother. There was an attempted armed robbery at a bank in downtown Concord. The investigation into the attempted lynching of an 8-year-old biracial boy in Claremont continues. The Pence Kobach Fraud Commission met in NH to continue in their attempt to legitimize their bogus claims of widespread voter fraud.  

The meeting of the commission was held at St. Anselm’s College, a private, religious school. Former US Senator Judd Gregg helped St. Anselm’s obtain $15 million in federal funding to renovate the building that became the school’s Institute of Politics. The executive director of the Institute of Politics is Neal Levesque, who worked for former Congressman Charles Bass for 12 years. A In other words: a public, allegedly non-partisan commission met at a private, religious, rather partisan school.

Two months ago, I wrote that Kobach was under investigation for violating the Hatch Act, using his role in the commission as part of his 2018 campaign for governor of Kansas. That investigation continues. Since then, we’ve also learned that not only is Kobach the Secretary of State for Kansas, he’s also moonlighting as a paid columnist for Breitbart News. Breitbart being a far right “news” outfit run by Steve Bannon, the recently expelled advisor to President Trump. Breitbart’s ties to white supremacists resulted in them losing 90% of their advertisers between April and June of 2017.

This is the publication that pays Kris Kobach to write a column. A Kobach column in Breitbart was part of the misinformation packet handed out at the meeting of the Fraud Commission. Testifying before the Voter Fraud Commission in NH were 12 white men. There were no women. No people of color. No town clerks or supervisors of the checklist participated in this fact-free extravaganza.

As soon as Donald Trump was elected president, he began to whine about voter fraud. He won the election through the Electoral College. That he failed to win the popular vote has been a terrible blow to his overweening, childlike ego. Trump is the bestest, smartest, most wonderful person ever, and that every person in the United States didn’t vote for him can only mean one thing – fraud.

NH Governor Chris Sununu paved the way for this by bleating about “busloads of voters from Massachusetts” on the Howie Carr radio show, days before the election. Chris Sununu did not attend the fraud side show – how could he? His father, the disgraced philatelist, was ensconced on the dais. No one asked him how all that fraud impacted his son’s election. No one asked him why his family wants to sabotage NH elections.

Sununu-the-younger has had to walk back his claims of voter fraud, given that he was elected. The Republicans would have us believe that the fraud was confined to only two races – the presidential race and the US Senate race. We’re being asked to believe that people came to NH to fraudulently vote for only two candidates. In that same election, Republican Chris Sununu was elected, and the Republican Party now controls the entire state government. We’re also being asked to believe that THOSE votes weren’t fraud.

You can’t have it both ways.

One of the ideas suggested by a witness testifying before the Fraud Commission, was doing background checks on voters. The kind of background checks that are so bitterly opposed by NH gundamentalists. These are the kinds of contortions that the far right will engage in to try to ensure they stay in power. Another suggestion is raising the voting age; to ensure college students don’t vote. It seems the GOP platform has little appeal to young voters, so rather than do the hard work of recruiting, they’d prefer to just eliminate young voters.

NH Secretary of State, Bill Gardner is part of the Sham Commission. In recent years he’s become the tool of those claiming voter fraud, chosen to give them bipartisan credibility. Gardner has been in office since 1976. After a long career in public service, he has besmirched his legacy of defending the first in the nation primary by legitimizing this charade.

What should offend every one of us is the damage being done to our elections by this commission. This craven nonsense is an insult to every town clerk, every moderator, the supervisors of the checklist, the ballot clerks, and every volunteer that is part of our election process – a process that has been working just fine for hundreds of years. That the majority party has chosen to perpetuate this circus tells us that they’ve abandoned any integrity they may have once had.

I’ve long said that when NH loses the first in the nation primary, it will be because of the GOP. Say goodbye, NH. It’s all over now but the shouting.




This was published as an op-ed in the September 15, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun  newspaper


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Fauxbertarians

                                    cartoon by Kirk Anderson


On September 11, 2001, contrary to popular belief, the terrorists really did win. Since that day, the US has been obsessed with internal security, as if harassing US citizens would protect the nation from another terrorist attack.

We learned nothing from 9/11. No national humility crept in; we were too busy waving flags, beating our chests, and bellowing USA! USA! USA!

Since then, however, we’ve cracked down upon the enemy, and apparently the enemy is us. The Patriot Act was pushed through even though hardly anyone had read it. It gave law enforcement the authority to search homes and businesses without the owner’s consent or knowledge. It gave the FBI the authority to search telephone, email, and financial records, without a court order.

A few years later, the REAL ID Act was passed. To get it passed, it was attached to a military spending bill. In 2005, few would dare vote against a military spending bill. REAL ID was sold as a way to “set standards” for the issuance of identification – such as driver’s licenses. It made sense for a nation fearful of another foreign terrorist attack to create standards for driver’s licenses as a means of prevention. It wasn’t quite as brilliant as having air passengers remove their shoes, but close.

Privacy advocates were howling in outrage at the thought of a “national ID card.” It proved so unpopular that the date for compliance was put off several times. In 2007, it was announced that compliance by states would be put off till 2009. In 2008 the deadline was extended to 2011. NH was one of the states that fought hard against REAL ID. That opposition was in character with the “live free or die” philosophy we’re supposed to be famous for embracing. It was in character with our reputation as a libertarian leaning state.

Somewhere along the way we stopped fighting REAL ID and meekly submitted. Sixteen years of indoctrination – a combination of fear based agitprop and training to submit to authority, changed our tune from Just Say No to We Have to do this for National Security. REAL ID means that the state maintains a database of information on people, including Social Security numbers and photos. This database can be accessed by federal authorities, and will be all fun and games until the identity theft begins, and it will.

Let’s do a quick summary: The US experienced a big terrorist attack. We became afraid. Rather than evaluate US behavior in the world, we chose to suspect ourselves. We were programmed to submit to measures that invaded our privacy in the name of safety and security. We were trained (by means of constant drumbeat) to fear terrorists, especially at the airport. Apparently terrorists were just waiting to pounce on suitcases full of dirty underwear, and use them for nefarious purposes. FYI, you’re far more likely to be killed by a white, male, domestic terrorist. We ignore that reality – it’s not a money maker, and it doesn’t appeal to authoritarians.

Last week I was driving north on I-93, when I passed a pop up Border Patrol Inspection near Lincoln.  Cars heading south were being stopped and quizzed about their citizenship by Border Patrol agents, who may also have had drug-sniffing dogs. Not much shocks me anymore – but that did. After all, the border crossing is in Pittsburg, which is 2 hours away. It turns out that the Border Patrol can operate immigration checkpoints within 100 miles of an international or coastal border, which is pretty much anywhere in New England.

New Hampshire’s second largest industry is tourism. Nothing says welcome to NH like, “show us your papers.” NH is loath to pay for highway rest stops (or maintain the few still in existence) so instead - we’re going to give them an adventure! The possibility of being detained by US Customs and Border Protection will enliven a dull highway journey, especially for those of a duskier hue, which is what this is really all about.

This pop-up checkpoint had been an annual event in NH. Vermont’s Congressional delegation fought hard against them, and so they’d mostly stopped in Vermont. On I-95 in Maine they appear, generally in the Houlton area.  About five years ago, the NH checkpoint had stopped. According to an NHPR story, US Customs and Border Protection has been newly empowered by the Trump administration to resume this checkpoint and more of them can be expected.

There hasn’t been a peep out of the liberty and freedumb crowd about this. Not a word from the allegedly liberty loving Free Staters. The folks who do the wailin’ about gummint encroachment on our lives are strangely silent when it comes to “show us your papers” stops. Their interest in gummint interference extends to deregulation and tax cuts. Actual violations of privacy and civil liberties don’t interest them in the slightest. 

Live Free or Die has become Roll Over and Submit.




Published as an op-ed in the September 1, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 


Saturday, August 19, 2017

We All Learn at Our Own Pace























The NH GOP headquarters in Concord was vandalized this week, and not for the first time. 

This was the time before:



Yep, back in 2013,  NHGOP headquarters was vandalized in nearly the same spot. 


This is terrible.  Not only is it against the law,  it's mean spirited, demoralizing, and obnoxious. It hurts our community. Concord is a nice place to live and work, and this isn't who we are. 

From the Concord Monitor :


Patrick Hynes, a senior adviser for the Republican Party, said workers arrived in the morning and immediately saw the graffiti after parking their cars. They checked the inside of the building and it didn’t appear as though anyone tried to gain entry, he said.
“I think it’s safe to say that the staff was concerned,” he said. “Obviously, it’s an unpleasant thing for anybody to experience.” 
Hynes said there are security cameras at the front of the building, but not in the back.
“Going forward,” he added, “there will be cameras in the back.” 

As one can see from the photos, it's the same back wall that keeps getting vandalized, yet the security cameras are in the front.....

Well - we all learn at our own pace. The NHGOP sent out a fundraising note today, asking for donations to help upgrade security. 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Pick a Side




It’s official. The Trump presidency went so far off the rails this week that the rails will never be seen again. The press conference held this past Tuesday was proof that Trump is completely unfit for office. All of you who said he’d “grow into the office?” You were wrong. Really wrong.

Voters loved him because he “tells is like it is,” which means he spouted a lot of incomprehensible nonsense, punctuated with insults and bravado. Republicans loved him because he claimed to be one of them, they march in lockstep, and because ideology is more important to them than integrity. The GOP didn’t just ignore his twitter wars, inciting of violence, and boasts of grabbing women by the genitalia. They defended him.   

They loved Trump because he was about as far from Obama as you could get. The Republican Party was furious that a black guy spent 8 years in the White House. When Donald Trump became a big public birther, they ate it up.

Don’t dare tell me you’re surprised by his conduct this week. The warning signs were a mile high and flashing. We’ve all been pretending that presidenting by Twitter is perfectly normal; even though we know it is not. 

A bunch of white supremacists were miffed about the removal of confederate statuary in Charlottesville, VA, so they decided to have a rally. They publicized the rally, and made a big deal out of it.  Richard Spencer, the new David Duke was going to be there. The old David Duke was going to be there. Chris Cantwell, a NH Free State Project mover turned white supremacist was going to be there. (Sidebar: have any of these guys who think of themselves as the master race ever looked in a mirror?)

Hundreds of white supremacists marched through the UVA campus last Friday night with tiki torches, yelling, “Jews will not replace us,” and “white lives matter.” The next day, the white supremacists showed up with shields, clubs, and guns for their peaceful demonstration. Naturally, counter-protesters showed up, too. There were violent clashes. The police mostly turned their back on the protesters. One of the neo-Nazis drove his car into a crowd of people, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Two state troopers were killed in a helicopter crash.

Trump was laboring selflessly at his golf club, where he found time to tweet about how we must all be united. He emerged later in the day to attend a news conference. He said “we” condemn the violence on many sides. He liked “many sides” so much he said it twice. He switched to talking about what a great job he’s doing, and how when he watches Charlottesville it makes him very sad. He didn’t acknowledge the white supremacists were responsible for the violence. He didn’t mention their domestic terrorism. How could he? They’re his base.

There was a lot of national outrage over what Trump didn’t say. It turns out a lot of Americans disapprove strongly of white supremacists. After 24 hours of bad press, back in Washington, some adult forced Trump to read a prepared speech, where he denounced the KKK, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, and finally mentioned the two troopers, and the young woman who were killed. He was furious at the negative coverage and furious at being forced to read an adult speech.

The next day, after several CEO’s from his manufacturing council bailed out on him, he went from simmer to full boil, and hijacked his own press conference. He babbled insensibly about a young woman, a fine young woman, whom I assume is the one who was killed, but he never provided any context, so it just came across as disconnected nonsense. He said David Duke’s statement was beautiful. He kept braying about facts, and how he waited because he needed to know the facts. Clearly he was resentful about the facts he was forced to recite the day before, because he started blathering about two sides again, and how there were some “very fine people” on both sides.

How many of you know “fine” people who grab tiki torches and Nazi flags and march through college campuses bellowing about Jews? There are not two sides to neo-Nazis engaging in domestic terrorism. Our fathers and grandfathers fought a war against this.   

Trump has never been able to elevate himself to the kind of behavior the office demands, but this press event was a whole new frontier. This is a man who is the exact opposite of a statesman. He is the antithesis of gravitas. He is seriously, dangerously, unfit for office. He is incapable of being a world leader.

He should have been in Charlottesville, speaking seriously about violence and paying homage to the dead.  He should have been grave and presidential. Instead he was conducting a petty war with the media and petulantly presenting himself as the victim in the situation. Seriously, dangerously unfit for office.


What are we going to do about it? 

 


Published as an op-ed in the August 18, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper