Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Annual War on Christmas

We’re into the Christmas retail season – and the annual accusations of a “war against Christmas” have begun. A cynical person might find all of this “war on Christmas” hype to be a sure-fire fundraiser for some right wing Christian groups. A cynical person might find this to be a way for Bill O’Reilly and Faux News to get their names up in lights, and liven up the ratings. Cynical or not, the “war on Christmas” like many wars (war on terror, war on drugs) is a manipulation. Follow it through to a logical conclusion – if he evil anti-Christmas forces win, what happens? No more Christmas? HA! The retailers of the world would never stand for it!

In NH we see no signs of this alleged war. The world’s ugliest nativity scene, featuring the world’s whitest baby Jesus will still go up in front of the State House in Concord. Last week Berlin’s annual Christmas parade featured a float with potential gifts and their costs on the front , and a nativity scene bearing the sign “priceless” in the rear of the float; clearly a take-off on the popular credit card ad. The parade’s theme was “Christmas, through the eyes of a child.” It was not “holidays through the eyes of a child.” Apparently they haven’t heard about the “war” on Christmas up in Berlin.
In fact, “Merry Christmas” is the most common greeting one hears from store clerks. It doesn’t seem to be offending anyone – heck, most of us are happy to be greeted politely in a retail setting!

In an effort to continue to fuel the phony war, Bill O’Reilly recently had a good rant on his show about Crate and Barrel stores, where he quoted a spokesperson for the chain, who allegedly said, “We would definitely not say Merry Christmas.” He claimed to have confirmed the quote, and went into lather about how chanting Muslims wouldn’t get handcuffed in Crate and Barrel. In the real world, where oxygen is flowing to the brain, the Crate and Barrel spokesperson was actually saying that C&B has no policy either encouraging or discouraging employees from saying, “Merry Christmas.” Nice job of confirmation, there, Bill. So – what is in it for O’Reilly – why is he perpetuating this nonsense? A simple visit to his website will show you what he holds dear to his heart – HIS WALLET. The Christmas Store section of his site features a number of products for sale, including hats, tee shirts, coffee mugs, doormats, outerwear, and golf balls with the logo “Culture Warrior.” For a mere $54.95, you, too, can purchase one of these sweatshirts. The “Culture Warrior” varsity jacket is a steal at only $159. 95. Gee whiz, a cynical person might get to thinking that he’s perpetuating this nonsense because it lines his pockets. O’Reilly – a crass opportunist? Oh, say it ain’t so.

The site is all about the joys of Christmas, with religion and commerce represented interchangeably. The American Family Association (a right wing Christian group) asked Wal-Mart not to ban the use of “Christmas” in their advertising and promotions. Apparently Sam’s Club (a Wal-Mart subsidiary) wasn’t using the word Christmas often enough to suit the AFA in their advertising. Wal-Mart apparently ignored the letter. Despite this misbehavior on Wal-Mart’s part, I am assured by shoppers that Wal-Mart is crammed with Christmas materials, including plenty of baby Jesus.

This is enough to cause some head scratching, when one gets to seriously pondering. Why are the evangelicals so intent on linking a religious holiday to retail and commerce? One might think they’d want to distance themselves, and their religious celebration from crass commercialism. Shouldn’t the birth of the Christ child be a matter for celebrating in one’s house of worship? Why would they want to link it to whipping out a credit card? Instead, it seems that these evangelicals are trying to blur the lines between religion and retail; a line that most of us realize was crossed some decades ago. They just don’t want to admit it. The use of the inclusive term “holiday” is really all about cleaning out the wallets of practitioners of all religions.

The only evidence I’ve found of a real war, is a story from Colorado . A homeowners association is threatening to fine a woman who has a Christmas wreath in the shape of a peace sign on her house. Some of the residents in this subdivision complained about the wreath, calling it a symbol of Satan. Lisa Jensen, of Pagosa Springs, CO, has refused to remove the wreath, saying that she will not be bullied. Apparently the residents who have complained have children serving in Iraq. These people seem to be playing right into the war on Christmas – after all, isn’t Christmas supposed to be about the birth of Christ? Isn’t he often referred to as “the prince of peace”? If that is the case, how then, can a peace wreath be a symbol of Satan?

I wish you joy and common sense in this holiday season.

“Next to a circus, there ain’t nothing that packs up and tears out faster than the Christmas spirit.” Kin Hubbard

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Our "Network" Moment

The elections are over and the spin has begun. The recently deposed party and their media mouthpieces would have us believe that the reason for their grievous loss is the war in Iraq and that dissatisfaction with the war trickled all the way down to NH state legislators. It’s a disingenuous spin that allows the GOP to blame the president without taking any responsibility for their own conduct – or the way they ran their own races. It’s also creating a lot of whining, that in the interest of full disclosure, I confess to be enjoying.

It seems a very long time ago since we saw President Bush emerge from a plane in a manly flight suit with the banner “Mission Accomplished” displayed behind him. Since that premature announcement of victory, thousands of US and untold numbers of Iraqi lives have been lost. At least $380 billion dollars have been sent over there, resulting in no measurable improvement. The war goes on, the spending goes on, and so does the dying. Months ago, the President told a writer that he would stay the course in Iraq, even if the only people who agreed with him were his wife and his dog. A couple of weeks before the election, in an attempt to save his party, he told us that “stay the course” had never been their philosophy. With utter arrogance and stupidity, it never occurred to them they’d lose control of the House and Senate, so a little over a week after Bush told us that Rumsfeld was doing a fantastic job, he got the Brownie treatment, and was pushed on to his sword the day after the election. Too little, too late.

The war was certainly a factor in the humiliating rout the GOP endured last week, but it’s not the only reason for those losses. To blame the war is to ignore the widespread lobbying corruption that has led to arrests and investigations – as well as to bad legislation like Medicare Part D. To blame the war is to ignore the sex scandals – and the fact that House Speaker Hastert ignored Rep. Mark Foley preying on pages. To blame the war is to ignore the dissatisfaction with the booming economy we hear about, but aren’t experiencing ourselves unless we are among the wealthiest one percent. To blame the war is to ignore the dissatisfaction with the divisive public discourse of the last six years. Above all, to blame the war is to ignore how angry voters are at the disastrous fiscal policies of the Bush administration – policy that has tripled our deficit, burdening future generations with debt. The 109th Congress didn’t do anything and the people know it. November 7 was our “Network” moment – the national equivalent of throwing our windows open and shouting, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more!”

As the nation went, so went the state of New Hampshire. For years many of us have longed for the time when NH would became a two party state – never expecting that it would happen overnight. The GOP has had control of the NH House since the Civil War. That long reign has at last come to an end. The Democrats now have the majority in the House and Senate, as well as the Executive Council – and all of this under a Democratic Governor. Both of our incumbent US Congressmen were voted out. The NH spinmeisters and pollsters are rocking and rolling – notably Andy Smith of UNH, who despite an abysmal job of pre-election polling and predicting, is still lauded as some sort of expert. The spinners only seem to talk to political insiders, which tends to limit their perspective. On a post-election NH Outlook segment, the most unbiased viewpoint came from Tom Fahey of the NH Union Leader.

Smith and the other spinners seem to think that Governor Lynch had the longest coattails in history, and that combined with anger against the war is what caused the complete upheaval in our state. This is such a glib, skim-the-surface look at what happened that all who spew it should be embarrassed and possibly unemployed.
For decades, the GOP has run on the same platform in NH. “No New Taxes/Cut Spending.” That old tired mantra was bound to run out of gas – and this was the year. Gubernatorial candidate Jim Coburn’s entire embarrassing campaign consisted of bellowing that the Democrats want an income tax – despite John Lynch’s vow to vote against one. For the last 6 years, we’ve had professional fear-mongers on the national level giving us color coded alerts. The “tax and spend librul” saber rattling pales in comparison.

NH GOP incumbents feel entitled to their seats. For a very long time, all one had to do to be elected was be a Republican, and do convincing public imitation of sanity. They didn’t bother to campaign – they didn’t have to. I read a newspaper story a few elections back where a then-incumbent from my district spoke of how he just put up a handful of signs and that was his campaign. How many Republicans knocked on your door and asked for your vote? The incumbents were lazy. They marched in party lockstep. They weren’t paying attention to how things in our state are changing.

Did the war sweep ‘em out? I don’t think so. Across the nation people were fed up with the GOP – and that includes NH. This was a vote for change. People are tired of sending the same people to Concord, where nothing changes. NH has the 7th highest housing costs in the nation, high energy costs, high health care costs, and low wages. The issue of school funding has dragged on for decades. All the GOP had to offer was “no taxes, cut spending.” That simply isn’t enough any more.

My favorite complaint has been about straight ticket voting. For years, the Democrats have introduced legislation to eliminate straight ticket voting. For years, the Republicans have fought to keep it, because it helped keep them in power. This year it worked against them, and suddenly the straight ticket has become an outrage!! The last vote on straight ticket voting was in January of 2006. You can look it up on the NH General Court website, under roll call votes – and find out who voted for it. A yea vote is a vote to ITL or kill the bill eliminating straight ticket voting. Be sure to note how many of the losing incumbents voted to kill the bill.

This election was a cry for change. Let us hope that change ushers in a spirit of cooperation and a willingness to work together for the best possible future.

“People voted for change, they voted for an agenda – and you can hear it, but they also voted for civility.” NH’s newly elected Congresswoman – Carol Shea Porter

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Time to clean House

The mid term elections are only days away. The ballots show more candidates, and provide more choices than I can ever remember since moving here 22 years ago. We’ve had three forums for state candidates. We’ve even hosted a Congressional debate. It’s been busier, crazier, and far more interesting than elections in the past that were pro forma events ensuring that the same incumbents would continue to do the same things in Concord.

State and local Democrats have benefited from the national level of dissatisfaction with the Republican Party. To paraphrase Lord Acton – absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The Democrats had their time as the party of corruption. The Republicans have managed to dig themselves in even deeper, in a much shorter period of time. We’ve seen Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, and Bob Ney brought down by ego and greed. Mark Foley resigned in disgrace, while the GOP tries desperately to cover up Denny Hastert’s indifference to Foley’s conduct. When all of that is added to the mounting disgust with the war in Iraq and the phenomenal deficit brought on by the borrow-and-spend conservatives, it creates a stew of discontent, a desire for change. One need only look at the bumper crop of lawn signs for Democrats this year in Carroll County to know change is coming.

This past Wednesday night, the Conway Education Association hosted a debate between Congressional candidates Jeb Bradley and Carol Shea-Porter, at Conway Elementary School. It is likely that Bradley agreed to Conway because he thought there would be small turnout, and little media interest. When I pulled in, the area in front of Kennett was covered with people waving Shea-Porter signs on both sides of Rt. 16. I parked next to a group of 4 Bradley supporters, struggling to arrange a stack of sign totems. They never did make it out to the road. That was indicative of how the rest of the evening would proceed. Congressman Bradley – self proclaimed champion of the environment - pulled in to the debate in a gigantic campaign motor home – the kind that might get 5 mpg if the wind was blowing the right way. Ms. Shea Porter arrived in a modest compact car. The differences between the two candidates did not end there.

The debate was riveting. Moderator George Epstein did a fine job of keeping the occasionally rowdy crowd under control. He asked all of the candidates in the audience to stand up to be applauded, and with wry good humor, congratulated Henry Mock for standing, even though he hadn’t been informed in advance that he’d be asked to stand.

Congressman Bradley is not a gifted public speaker. He has figured out that the longer he takes to answer a question, the fewer questions he has to take, and he’s mastered the art of the filibuster reply. From the very first question asked, Bradley displayed his inability to face a question head on. A man in the audience yelled, “You didn’t answer the question!” The crowd laughed – and Carol told him he needn’t have worried, that she was on it – and went on to point out to Bradley that he hadn’t answered the question, as she proceeded to answer it herself. That was how the evening progressed. Carol Shea-Porter demonstrated her strong speaking skills, as well as her ability to think on her feet. Congressman Bradley demonstrated his ability to repeat the same talking points over and over, as if repetition would somehow make them meaningful. At least three times he said, “We must keep Iraq from becoming a launching pad for terrorism.” He also said that we must prevent Iraq from civil war. Most of the people in the room were aware that it’s too late on both counts, yet despite the obvious mocking from the crowd, he continued to repeat those mantras. Last summer I saw him do the same thing in Hart’s Location at a town hall meeting. When questioned about marriage equality, he kept repeating that he believed marriage is between a man and a woman. He couldn’t say WHY he believed that, he could only say it over and over again.

The debate was taped by Valley Vision. If you live in a town that is served by the station, do yourself a favor and watch it. As one man commented to me on his way out the door, “I hope Bradley’s on his way to the hospital for a blood transfusion.” Carol was definitely the winner of that debate – and we will all be the winners if she’s elected to represent us in Washington.

We can also change who represents us in Concord, and we should. The forum held by the Economic Council was revealing. The GOP contingent was angry that they weren’t prepped in advance to discuss topics that anyone in the room would have been prepared to discuss – the same issues that NH has been coping with for decades. This was a sorry display, made sorrier when combined with the revelation of their combined technological ineptitude. Crow Dickinson has been in the NH House for 30 odd years. That’s too long. Gene Chandler should have been expelled from the House for his ethics violations. We can expel him, now. Carolyn Brown is in over her head. She can speak knowledgeably and passionately about her volunteer work in the community. She can’t speak that way about the legislature. She admitted that she voted for SB110, even though she didn’t understand it – the bill that caused north country health insurance premiums to skyrocket. At the debate it was apparent that she votes the way Chandler tells her to. She’s never sponsored a piece of legislation. Carolyn’s niche is working in the community. We can help her do the kind of work that is clearly more fulfilling and comfortable for her. Henry Mock left the House with the “Friends of Gene Chandler” cloud hanging over his head, and now wants to return. Mock is an angry man, given to shouting out bizarre pronouncements. He’s firmly rooted in the good old boy ways of the past. NH needs to move forward in a positive direction. Time to clean House. See you at the polls!

“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt