Wednesday, November 23, 2016

We Live Here Now

The Oxford Dictionaries recently chose the term “post-truth” as their international word of the year. It’s certainly appropriate, after all of the events of the last 2 years.

Post-truth is where we live now. I was driving north last weekend, and heard a North Carolina voter discussing the election with a person from NPR. She pointed out that President Obama had deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president, and he responded by saying “That may or may not be true.” In post-truth America you can decide what the facts are, based on whether or not you like them.

Given that the NH GOP has control of every branch of the NH government, we will all be dwelling in the land of post-truth for the next two years, and trying to undo the damage they will do for at least the next decade.

In a state where young people don’t stay because they can’t get good jobs or afford housing, where we have the 11th worst infrastructure, and the highest utility costs in the northeast, you might think that those might be priorities for the new legislature. You would be wrong.

There are 4 gun bills. NH has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation – but that is not enough to satisfy the MOAR GUNZ crowd. Perhaps when babies are given guns in the hospital along with a car seat they’ll finally be able to lighten up.

There are bills to limit abortion – something our new governor is in favor of.  (Given the endless parade of Sununus we are subjected to, do we call this one Sununew?) His pretend concern for women is touching. Abortion has been legal for over 40 years. He claims to be worried that abortion clinics must be surgical centers or some such nonsense. Meanwhile, he’s expressed zero concern for the homeless women and children who are about to experience winter. He’s expressed no concern for the increasing rate of child poverty in our state. It’s worth remembering – and I will be here to remind you – that Chris Sununu was a Trump supporter. He supported a man who said vile things about women, and boasted gleefully about sexually assaulting them. His concern for women doesn’t exist.

There are at least 4 bills aimed at making it even harder for people to vote. There were stories all over the news after the election of NH Republicans complaining about voter fraud, including one from the latest Sununu. We’ve been hearing the stories about busloads of people coming from Massachusetts to vote in NH. The Republican Party took the Governor’s office, has control of the NH House, the NH Senate, and the Executive Council. If there’s so much fraud – how did that happen? Worst buses ever!

Sununew wants to put the kibosh on same day voting. One reason we have same day voting is because it exempts us from having to comply with motor voter laws. Someone will explain that to him. Other bills include the usual tortured attempts to redefine words like “domicile” and “residence.” There’s the annual constitutional amendment aimed at making sure only white, male, Republicans can vote.

He’s snagged Charlie Arlinghaus to be his budget advisor. Arlinghaus is the head of the Josiah Bartlett Center, which is allegedly a non-partisan think tank. If perpetuating the same, failed GOP economic policies of the last 30 years is non-partisan, I guess they’re right. The Bartlett Center is funded by the Koch brothers, and is also a member of ALEC, the conservative group of state legislators who are handed model legislation and then bring it home and present it as their idea. Apparently Sununu didn’t dare to ask Greg Moore of Americans for Prosperity. Everyone knows they’re funded by the Kochs. The Bartlett Center also feeds from the Koch trough, but the NH media politely never mentions it. 

State Representative Dick Marple of Hooksett, filed an LSR that calls for the voluntary registration of motor vehicles. Rep. Marple was arrested at the polls on Election Day, on a bench warrant for driving with an expired license. He won re-election anyhow. Perhaps his next bill will call for making driver’s licenses voluntary. And maybe some doughty Republican will file a bill preventing public servants from being arrested while they’re in office. Whatever comes next, you can be certain that it won’t have anything to do with ethics reform.

The new majority will do its damnedest to pass right to work legislation. In NH no bad idea ever dies, they just return every two years, ad infinitum. One wonders, though – suppose they pass free guns for all, voting limited to middle aged white male Republicans, no more abortion, right to work – and big business tax cuts – and nothing changes? Not one of these things will do anything to solve NH’s economic problems.

There’s an ugly race brewing for Speaker of the NH House. The libertea crowd has never forgiven Rep. Shawn Jasper for beating out former Speaker Bill O’Brien with the help of the House Democrats. Somewhere, O’Brien is ensconced in a padded room, kicking and howling because he didn’t run for reelection.)   The other candidates are Rep. Laurie Sanborn of Bedford, Rep. Carol McGuire of Epsom (and the Free State Project), and Rep. Frank Sapareto of Derry.

McGuire and Sanborn are good libertea locksteppers. They both have 100% scores from the Americans for Kochsperity, the House Republican Alliance, and A’s from the NH Liberty Alliance. Sapareto is less of a lockstepper. He only got an 82% from AFP in 2013, and 89% in 2014. He got a 90% from the HRA, and a B from the NHLA. That would seem to indicate that he could think for himself at least part of the time, which means he’ll never be speaker. His conviction for 3 domestic assaults in 2013 won’t be a problem – not in today’s NH GOP.  

This would be a lot more amusing if we weren’t going into the future with leaders who are stuck in the past. Sununu wants to run our state like a business. Remember the last governor who had that dream? He lasted one term. Running a state is not like running a business, no matter how often you invoke kitchen tables. A business owner invests in his business. Republicans do not invest in our state. They’re the reason there are 350 red listed bridges. The bill for decades of neglect is going to be a whopper when it comes due. They will, however, find a way to blame it on the Democrats.

Post-truth. We live here now.

This was published as an op-ed in the November 25 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper  

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Empire in Decline

This isn’t what I set out to write. It isn’t what I originally wrote.
But - the world as we know it has just changed a great deal, and I feel a duty to write about that. 

This election is about anger. The anger is real. I believe it is misplaced, but that really doesn’t matter now. The angry people have spoken, and the rest of the nation and the rest of the world will be living with the consequences for a long time to come.

Some social media snapshots from friends around the world:

From the UK: “World leaders are in shock. Apparently, Marine LePen is the only politician outside the US who has congratulated Trump, which is unprecedented.”

From Australia: “Come on, it's pretty funny that the USA has elected a clown, an actual one with makeup and wig, to govern. If you don't laugh you will go mad.”

From the UK: “Welcome to the Brexit Club, America.”

From Panama: “On several levels, it's the end of an era for the USA. Geopolitics and economics are generally forces for continuity, but in case you haven't noticed, the United States is not the power it was. Other countries' leaders and people who shift money to and fro around the world surely notice.”

From Australia:
“So it's looking like Donald Trump will be the president of the USA. What does that say about a political system that endorses a candidate like this lunatic? It is ok to be a bully? It's perfectly fine to be a misogynist? To be racist? To be a billionaire and not pay any tax? It's no problem at all to be a liar? It's ok to deceive people with conspiracy theories and manipulate opinions with empty statements that cannot be substantiated? To my American friends who I know did not vote for Trump. I'm so very sorry.”

Sorry, world. The US has just officially become a rogue nation.

The recriminations have begun. The Clinton supporters are blaming the third party voters. The third party voters are (in some cases) blaming the DNC for misreading the political climate. The Democratic Party has moved so far to the right since 2000, that they’re no longer the friend of the working stiff, in a year when it was terribly important to be that friend.

Republicans are not friends of the working class, either – they just have better PR. People with stagnant incomes hear “tax cuts” and they think that will mean more money for them. They do not understand that those cuts will be for the wealthy. People heard Trump talk about bringing manufacturing jobs back to this country. That was a cruel message to people who badly need good paying jobs. Manufacturing is never coming back. Trump’s own products are manufactured overseas. We’re a nation and a world on the verge of big economic changes, and we’ve chosen an ill-informed carnival barker to lead us into the future.

As a nation, we’ve never gotten past racism. We tried a few times, but it’s not over. As a nation, we have never confronted our misogyny. We just elected a guy who has said awful things about women, and admitted to assaulting them. A man who says we need to build a wall to keep out Mexicans. He mocked a reporter with disabilities. He was cheered on by angry people who applauded him for “telling it like it is.”

That’s what we do here. When the economy is lousy for us, when we are fearful for our future, we blame THOSE PEOPLE. Whoever they are. The politics of hate, anger, and fear have won the day. What do we tell our girl children about what just happened here?

The media deserves a great deal of blame for this – but not the kind that we began to see at the end of Trump’s campaign. Men showing up at Trump events with t-shirts suggesting that lynching reporters was a good idea isn’t funny. Somewhere along the way the second amendment has become the only one that matters to a large segment of the population.

Nowhere is that truer than NH, where the politics of guns and pledges have won the day. NH has just chosen another Sununu to govern our state. Jumping on the Trump train worked for him. We can now look forward to 2 years of businessman Chris Sununu telling us why it’s a mistake to invest in our own state. He’ll be aided and abetted by the great visionaries of our legislature, whose idea of the future is firmly planted in 1952. 

Guns aren’t going to fix our roads and bridges – and neither is our new state government. Instead, the demonizing of the poor is likely to be ramped up, along with MOAR GUNZ, less access to health care, business tax cuts, MOAR GUNZ, right to work, eliminating bodily autonomy for women, and plenty of other stupid that has yet to reveal itself.

As I write this, the US Senate race between Kelly Ayotte and Maggie Hassan is still undecided. Congresswoman Ann Kuster kept her seat, despite a last minute surge of support for challenger Jim Lawrence. Carol Shea-Porter was reelected in the first district, despite the best efforts of the independent candidate. He might have swayed the election to Guinta, had it not been for the rats. That was just a bridge too far (and too bizarre) for many people. New Hampshire did manage to fend off some of the damage that was done in the rest of the country.

There are some bright spots in the darkness. In Las Cruces, NM, a young woman I met at a conference in 2012 was just elected to her state legislature. Angelica Rubio describes her campaign as being “built on a foundation of community and inclusion, speaking to values that unite us all.”

We need more of this.

Published as an op-ed in the November 11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tarsal Target Practice

New Hampshire is experiencing the worst drought in 35 years. In the southern part of the state some communities instituted a ban on watering lawns. Residents were asked to take shorter showers. A number of NH dairy farms have stopped selling milk. The drought affected haying, so farmers are going into winter with little feed, and the feed growers were also hard hit by the drought.

 I drove to northern Maine over the weekend, and it was disturbing to see how low the water levels are in the top half of our state. The Androscoggin, Lake Umbagog, the Magalloway River, Richardson Lake, Rangeley Lake, Flagstaff Lake – all were low. Some swamps were dry, and ponds have become puddles. Wells are going dry in the Conway area – and still our “good neighbors” over at Poland Spring in Fryeburg are mining about 600,000 gallons a day.

Maine, too, is experiencing serious drought. According to an October 5 story in the Portland Press Herald, Poland Spring/Nestle is withdrawing less from their Hollis and Poland sites, but more from wells in Dallas Plantation and Pierce Pond Township, both near Flagstaff Lake. Flagstaff Lake is very low.

They have not changed their mining practices in Fryeburg. The big straw is still in place, sucking up the water. Does that water understand the state border?

Nestle is an international corporation with a proven record of non-existent ethics. It’s time for Maine (and NH) to stand up and protect their water, before Nestle sucks the state dry -and then sells the water back to residents at a huge profit.

You may have heard that November 8 is Election Day. You’ve already heard too much about the presidential election, plenty about the US Senate race in our state, and not much else. There is still time to research the candidates for Congress, Governor, Executive Council, the NH State House, the NH Senate, for county races, and local races. It’s important to do your homework, since the media has been in thrall to Trump and little else. My advice is this: vote from the bottom up on your ballot. The people you send to Concord and to town hall have a far greater impact on your daily life than whichever unacceptable candidate goes to the White House. 

This newspaper endorsed the so-called independent candidate running for Congress in District One. Shawn O’ Connor has had quite a metamorphosis:  from Republican, to Democrat, to independent. (Libertarian will surely be next.) The millionaire moved to NH a few years ago with the intention of running against Kelly Ayotte. It would require a lot of work from a guy with zero name recognition and there would be accusations of carpetbagging. (This was before Scott Brown) O’Connor backed off. What he didn’t do was get involved with the Democratic Party. He didn’t get to know people. He did spend a bunch of money on high priced consultants, and decided that Congress was the way to go.

Over the summer of 2015, he made a big announcement that he was gay and had been in an abusive relationship. When that didn’t get him the kind of attention he wanted, he accused Carol Shea- Porter’s campaign of waging a whisper campaign behind his back, threatened a lawsuit, threatened to sue the NH Democratic Party, and claimed there were rats in the kitchen at the Puritan Back Room in Manchester. None of the threatened lawsuits have been filed, because he lacks any proof of his preposterous claims. He jumped on the Bernie bandwagon, and became a populist when Bernie’s campaign was on fire in NH.

It’s worth noting that all of the higher ups in Bernie’s NH campaign have endorsed Shea-Porter, including the staffer that O’Connor says solicited his endorsement of Bernie. It’s also worth noting that a vote for O’Connor is a vote for Guinta – and that is exactly what he’s hoping for. He’s a mess. And he will write a letter to the editor calling me a liar.

I was at the gubernatorial debate at New England College that was televised by NECN. At that debate Chris Sununu announced that The Pledge was not enough, that it must be expanded to include all fee increases. The GOP labors under the fiction that the state can run on fumes, while making business tax cuts to ensure no money comes in. This is why you stand in line at the DMV long enough to hit retirement age. If you call in, you’re on hold for hours. I’m not exaggerating; a family member calling from out of state was on hold for 2 hours. We do not raise sufficient revenue to staff and run any of our state agencies properly, and then when complaints arise, it’s dismissed as bad gummint, and blamed on organized labor.  

There was no mention of infrastructure in the debate, though three questions were asked about guns. NH still has the 11th worst infrastructure in the nation, and some of the least restrictive gun laws. Sununu opposes even having a minimum wage. He’s boasted of creating numerous good paying jobs at Waterville Valley Ski Area. Anyone who has ever worked at a ski area knows better. At the debate Sununu said he’d just bought some workforce housing, which means he isn’t paying workers enough so that they can afford housing.  The fact that NH has both a housing shortage and a serious affordability problem was not addressed at this debate. It was more important to ask 3 questions about guns.

As for the local races – when you send most local Republicans to Concord, you are voting for obstruction and delay. Libertea Republicans get a yellow sheet handed to them every Wednesday on their way in to the House session. The “Gold Standard” is issued by the NH Liberty Alliance, and tells recipients how to vote on so-called “liberty” issues. No need for any work, research, or even any thought. (Kinda like taking The Pledge)  Sending Free Staters and John Birchers to Concord means that what you’ll get are knee jerk reactionaries who want to ensure that nothing gets done, other than MOAR GUNZ! At least 4 gun bills have already been filed for 2017, along with 4 bills intended to restrict voting. These are the GOP priorities for our state. Ponder that, as you drive over East Conway Road.

The NH legislature has been failing to invest in our state for decades. A pity we can’t shoot our way into good roads and bridges. Instead, we seem doomed to continue to shoot ourselves in the foot.

Published as an op-ed in the October 28, 2016 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Addiction on Trial

Addiction on Trial: Tragedy in Downeast Maine, with Steven Kassels

Thursday, October 27th, 2016, 5:30 p.m.
Addiction and Emergency Medicine physician and internationally acclaimed author, Dr. Steven Kassels, will discuss his book Addiction on Trial: Tragedy in Downeast Maine, and his medical experiences. He will also discuss the reasons why we are experiencing a heroin/opioid epidemic and possible solutions.
Q & A to follow.
About the author: Doctor Steven Kassels has had the privilege of treating patients from all walks of life during his years of practice in both Emergency Medicine and Addiction Medicine. He believes that everyone deserves compassion and access to medical care regardless of the nature of the illness. He wrote Addiction on Trial to both entertain and educate, and to depict the struggles of addiction for an audience of avid readers who may expand their understanding of addiction on the basis of evidence. Doctor Kassels lives in Downeast Maine and Massachusetts with his wife, Ali; and enjoys spending time with their four children and life partners; and four delightful grandchildren. Dedicated to his work in Addiction Medicine, he is also passionate about tennis, backcountry skiing, biking, music, and the Boston Red Sox.
Dr. Kassels will be donating his author proceeds to the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness
Event date: 
Thursday, October 27, 2016 - 5:30pm
Event address: 
45 South Main St
ConcordNH 03301

Dr. Kassels was a guest on The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen on October 14. It was an important and enlightening discussion - and we urge you to attend his author event. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

It Starts Early for Girls

It starts early for girls. Most of us have the experience of being grabbed and manhandled by some adult man before we’re old enough to vote. Possibly before we reach puberty. It might be a stranger, or a family friend. It might be a family member. It might happen on the job, especially if that first job is in food service. Restaurants do not pay waitresses. They subcontract that duty out to customers. Young women learn early that they must be pleasing and flirtatious, and tolerate unacceptable behavior with a smile if they want to be paid. It provides excellent early training for young women in what they can expect for the rest of their lives. That early grooming may be one reason we see some women defending Trump.

By now you’ve heard Donald Trump boasting on tape about how celebrity status means you can kiss and grab women, in the crudest of terms, to his giggling, testosterone fueled fratboy buddy, one of the lesser Bushes. Trump was 60 years old at the time. His wife was pregnant. For me the worst part of the whole tape was the way he referred to the actress that he and Fratboy Bush were about to glom onto as “it” - as in “it looks good.” Women aren’t actually people to Trump, they are objects. If they look good, they are objects that Trump is entitled to. If he doesn’t find them attractive, they are objects for public ridicule.

To dismiss this as “locker room talk” is not only insulting to women, it’s insulting to all of the decent men in the world who would never dream of speaking or acting that way. It’s a way of slapping the old “boys will be boys” label on this mess, as if we should tolerate and expect this behavior from boys, even when the boys in question are nearly old enough to collect Social Security.

This has created a big problem for the GOP, who weren’t all that popular with women to begin with. The recent émigrés to the Trump bandwagon are in a real predicament. In February, John Sununu Pere wrote an editorial piece for the Union Leader and urged people not to drink the “Trump Kool-Aid.” Recently we learned he’d been guzzling that particular beverage, presumably in the hopes that his son would be able to ride Trump’s coattails to the governor’s mansion. Chris Sununu isn’t backing down. He’s blithely giving Trump a pass, something his daughter may have a few things to say about in the future.

Speaking of daughters, imagine being one of Trump’s daughters, hearing that tape of their father discussing how he grabs women by the genitals, and “they let him”. The night of the debate, his younger daughter engaged in what appeared to be a very practiced maneuver to avoid being kissed by her father. One of my friends sent me the clip. He’s disgusted that we live in a world where girls learn how to do this.

Since this big revelation, we’ve seen a lot of reactions. Some Republicans have washed their hands of Trump. Senator Kelly Ayotte was engaging in a curious kind of dance, where she said she was supporting Trump but not endorsing him. She wanted to show her support for the GOP ideology without taking any kind of principled stand against Trump. She’s been freed to ditch him. Serial liar Frank Guinta once hoped to ride the Trumptails back to Congress, and now has to contend with not only the withering contempt of the NH Union Leader (the GOP’s statewide newsletter) but also with the fleas he’s picking up from lying down with that particular dog. Guinta also has a daughter. How proud she must be.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Trump started off by demonizing Mexicans, then moved on to all-purpose xenophobia by demonizing all immigrants, Muslims, and mocked a reporter with a disability. By far and away, though, the majority of his contempt throughout the years has been for women. His bizarre obsession with Rosie O’Donnell comes to mind. Once you have a billion dollars, and build yourself a tacky gilded palace complete with gold plated plumbing fixtures, one appears to have a lot of time on one’s hands for celebrity feuds and beauty pageants. The way he spoke about Miss Universe is certainly a lesson in perceived ownership, racism and contempt.

This is what a big chunk of the electorate wants to elevate to the highest office in our land. A morally bankrupt individual who loudly bellows ignorant proclamations, engages in rambling, sniffly speeches, promises to fix things but has no actual plan for anything, other than yonking down a tic-tac and kissing some women and grabbing them. Our country is sick. Trump isn’t the disease, but he’s the loudest and orangest symptom of it.

The disease is the contempt for government that the Republican Party began to nurture during the Reagan administration. They said gummint was the problem, and went on to elect a host of folks who did their level best to prove it. That was further fed by the Citizens United decision that unleashed unrestricted cash in the service of electing more terrible people. Tea Party ideologues have taken root and worked hard to obstruct in Congress, in the US Senate, and in state legislatures throughout the land, including New Hampshire.

This election cycle has cheapened the process so much that I don’t see how we can ever recover. Whatever happens in the general election – the aftermath is going to be ugly.

Trump has provided us with a barometer. Those who are supporting him despite recent revelations have made an illustrative choice. They may say that Trump’s commentary was offensive, give it the locker-room whitewash, and label it a distraction – but the fact that they’ve chosen to continue to support him means that they have just as much contempt for women and even more contempt for the process than their candidate.   

It starts early for girls. There’s no end in sight.