Thursday, January 31, 2008

Putting the Goober in Gubernatorial

Over the last week, we’ve been treated to some very purple prose in the Conway Daily Sun, on the topic of the death penalty. After wading through hyperbole and run on sentences, the bottom line is this: Joe Kenney, State Senator from District 3, is running for governor. No one knows who he is. Filing a bill to expand the death penalty gives him headlines, and name recognition. Filing a bill to expand the death penalty - with NO plan for how to pay for it, in order to achieve name recognition can be called political grandstanding at best. At worst, one might say he is using the families of victims for his own gain. Either way, it ain’t pretty.

NH has a death penalty statute. The last time we executed a citizen was in 1939. Polling data in recent years shows that most NH residents are opposed to the death penalty. In 2000, both the NH House and Senate passed a bill abolishing the death penalty, but Governor Shaheen vetoed it. It is a deeply emotional issue. The families of victims are divided, with some wanting that “eye for an eye” solution, and some wanting justice - justice and an end to the killing. Murdering a murderer doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t bring back the dead, and it doesn’t stop anyone else from killing. It satisfies a very primitive need - the need for vengeance.

Senator Kenney wants to expend the NH death penalty to include murders with multiple victims. He was quoted in this paper as saying, “There is no way that someone should walk into a store in this state and kill three people and get away with it.” Michael Woodbury was sentenced to life in prison without parole. One would be hard pressed to call that “getting away with it.” One could even make the case that life without parole is the worst punishment possible. Waking up each day to face the mind numbing boredom, the daily violence - knowing that you are behind the bars and walls forever, for years and years and years - now that’s cruel. Executing him puts an end to that.

Expanding the death penalty would mean more potential capital cases. Senator Kenney left out the part about how NH will pay for these cases. Right now, the state is looking at a budget deficit that could be $50 million by June, and as much as $150 million by 2009. Where will the money come from to expand and update NH’s death row? Where will the money come from to pay for the prosecution of death penalty cases, and pay for the endless rounds of appeals?

How much will the death penalty cost us? New York reinstated the death penalty in 1995. As of 2003, NY officials estimated that it would cost approximately $23 million for each death row inmate. New Jersey has spent a quarter of a billion dollars in the last 23 years on a capital punishment system that has executed no one, a 2005 report showed. Since 1982 there have been 197 capital trials in New Jersey, that resulted in 60 death sentences. Fifty of those sentences were reversed. There are currently 10 men on death row, at a cost of $11 million a year. A report done by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury found that death penalty trials cost an average of 48% more than trials seeking life imprisonment. The state of Kansas found that capital cases are 70% more expensive than trials seeking life in prison. A 2001 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that capital cases are a burden to county budgets, and most counties manage these costs by decreasing funding for highways and police, and increasing taxes. A study by Indiana’s Criminal Law Study Commission found that death penalty cases cost 38% more than life without parole cases. North Carolina spends $2.16 million more per execution than a life imprisonment case. The Palm Beach Post found that Florida would save $51 million a year by sentencing all first degree murderers to life in prison without parole. California spends $90 million a year on capital cases. According to a 2005 LA Times story, the death penalty system costs California taxpayers more than $114 million a year.

The figure of $23-24 million per capital case came up in several states. The argument is often made that it will cost more to imprison a murderer for life without parole, but that isn’t true. The cost of housing an inmate in NH was $31,140 in 2006. (from the Dept. of Corrections website.) Do the math. Keeping a murderer in orange jumpsuits for 50 years will not cost $23 million dollars.

Where will this money come from in NH? Surely even our state isn’t gauche enough to try to fund executions by lotteries, gaming, or gambling, as appealing at the idea of “bowling for hangings” may be. That leaves one option, folks - the property tax. I hope you’ll all tell ole Granstanding Joe how you feel about a dramatic increase in your property taxes to fund executions. Then be sure to tell him how you feel about him preying on the emotions of victim’s families in order to create statewide name recognition for his gubernatorial campaign. Helpful adjectives may include: despicable, loathsome, and abhorrent.

“If we let murderers turn us to murder, we give them too much power. They succeed in bringing us to their way of thinking and acting, and we become what we say we abhor.”
Renny Cushing, Executive Director of Murder Victim’s Families for Human Rights, and former NH state legislator. His father was murdered in 1988.

The Death Penalty Information Center is an excellent resource. I used it for some of my research.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

From Water to Kool-Aid

The recent water wars between Florida and Georgia have caused even some of the staunchest “no such thing as climate change” people to sit up and take notice that water is indeed a finite resource. The water war continues locally, with the Nestle Corporation donning the benevolent local disguise of Poland Spring, attempting to suck our local aquifers dry, so that they can sell our water to the highest bidder.

Some of our local legislators are getting involved. Last week in Concord, I was present for a hearing on HB 1353, An act relative to local control of water resources. This is bi-partisan legislation, sponsored locally by Representative Tom Buco. One of the other sponsors is Rep. Neal Kurk. As I signed in, in support of the bill, I noticed that Rep. Gene Chandler’s name was at the top of the page - against the bill. Being on the same side as Neal Kurk was shocking enough. If Gene Chandler and I were in agreement, surely a plague of locusts would be unleashed upon the Mt. Washington Valley.

The State of New Hampshire is the steward of NH’s water resources. The Department of Environmental Services (DES) makes the decisions about large groundwater withdrawals. They seem to come down (as everything in NH does) on the side of business, so it was no surprise to hear them testify that they wish to continue to maintain their control. There were lobbyists on hand to echo the same sentiments. The lobbyist for Ski NH does NOT want the townspeople involved in the decision making process. Those silly townspeople might eventually rebel at the need for a ski area to suck up millions of gallons of water to make snow in October or November. They could buy into the global warming conspiracy and decide to protect their water supply - and heaven knows, we can’t have that.

Gary Abbot, the lobbyist for the Association of General Contractors supports the perpetuation of DES as the deciding body. He is concerned about who would be making technical decisions - certainly a valid concern. Steve DelDeo, lobbyist for the NH Water Works Association, said that the bill would exacerbate water issues already in place. It’s safe to say, bill or no bill, water issues will continue to exacerbate.

During the course of his testimony, Rep. Kurk said that there must be public input into public policy regarding finite resources. This bill as it is written has some flaws. As it stands, the bill requires an affirmative vote of municipal legislative bodies prior to any large groundwater withdrawal. If 10 towns surrounded an aquifer, or if an aquifer involved one or two states, this could be a real problem. Reps. Harry Merrow and Howard Cunningham both testified that they support the intent, but not the bill as it is currently written.

Willie Farnum was sent to the hearing by the Tamworth Board of Selectmen. He echoed the concerns of Merrow and Cunningham. Farnum also brought up the fact that if towns are not in control of the decision making process, they can incur greater expenses (as did the town of Moultonborough with Castle Springs) which can have profound impact on a community. Farnum said that each community should have the right to say no to a bottling plant. Crow Dickinson of Conway supports the bill, finding it a step in the right direction. He agreed with the others who feel that the bill needs fine tuning. There were about 30 people present for the hearing, including half a dozen folks from Carroll County. Those Carroll County legislators who aren’t paying attention to water better listen up. The control of our water supplies is among the most important issues we face. Water is essential to life - which means that those who prefer to pander to business better think twice. Business may line pockets, but constituents vote you in and they can just as easily vote you out.

The bill was heard by the Resources, Recreation, and Development Committee. This was my first experience with this particular committee, and I was impressed by their willingness to work on this bill in subcommittee, in order to make it workable. This spirit of cooperation guarantees not only better legislation, but better feelings about the process.

Two weeks ago, I wrote an editorial about the “dark side” of GOP presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul. I wrote: “Heaven help the hapless writer who actually uses critical thinking skills in a story on Paul. Legions of Paul’s cultish supporters show up to tell the writer how wrong he is for trying to hold Paul accountable for his own statements.” That proved to be most prescient. Within 15 minutes of the column being published on my blog, I began to get anonymous emails. By morning I was getting anonymous hate emails, with threats. I wasn’t surprised. I’d seen enough “Paullowers” on the internet to know what was coming.

Jennifer Call wasn’t so lucky. Ms. Call is the town clerk of Sutton, NH. There was an error in the paperwork that was turned in to the state, after the primary. It seems Paul had 31 votes in Sutton, but somehow that number hadn’t been transcribed on to the return sheet. As anyone who has ever participated in the ballot counting process is aware, it can be noisy - and at the end of a long day, mistakes can be made. The error was easily cleared up in the morning, the proper numbers faxed to the Secretary of State - and then the phone began to ring. The Paullowers had decided that Ms. Call was the ringleader in the plot to defraud Ron Paul of his 31 votes. Callers accused her of fraud, of treason, and at least one said she ought to be shot. They pretended to be media, in order to trick her into speaking with them. Most of them were from out of state. They harassed her at home. Ms. Call had to request an unlisted phone number.

The zombies have moved on, undoubtedly off to harass other people in other states. I’ve been wary of judging a candidate by his supporters (as a Kucinich staffer you can understand why) but in this case, I’ve lost all reluctance. This is not an ordinary campaign, this is a cult. Some campaigns become cults - the LaRoucheites, for example. LaRoucheites are extremely annoying, but not menacing. The Paullowers are so righteous in their brainwashed anger that they will threaten anyone who dares to disagree with their leader - and anyone unlucky enough to make a mistake.

“So, I guess when you mix Kool-Aid with bongwater… you get a Ron Paul supporter.” V the K, commenting on the Flopping Aces blog.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The First Civil Union in NH

A friend who is a justice of the peace and owns an inn was performing a civil union at midnight and suggested I drive up to be part of this historic event.

Hart's Location is about 20 minutes away. The inn is on the side of a mountain - and there is no light pollution - nothing but a few scattered homes for miles around. The inn is beautifully lit. I walk toward it, hearing the river to my right, through the stark white birches and the pines. The stars are so bright. It is perfect, so still, and so beautiful.

Inside, there's a fire in the fireplace, and the inn is decorated for the holidays. A reporter from NH Public Television is there - as surprised to see me as I am to see him. He didn't know that I live in the area, or that the owners of the inn are my friends. I didn't know he'd be taping the ceremony. We laugh.

I meet Neil and Jeff, the happy couple - and they are happy. There are no jitters - they are ready for this. We chat for a few minutes, and Neil tells me I look familiar - then he remembers, and asks, "weren't you at that hearing of the marriage commission in Littleton? Didn't you testify? You said you were the kind of heterosexual who gives marriage a bad name?" I hung my head and admitted that was me - and he threw his arms around me and said "We love you - that was so great!"

We all gather in the small living room, by the Christmas tree. Richard (from NHPTV) has the cameras set up. Neil and Jeff have a niece and a friend with them, and a few of the inn's guests trickle in to observe. Everyone is poised - and we begin the countdown to midnight. The new civil union law takes effect on January 1. I'm the timekeeper. As I coundown to midnight, everyone joins me - and after a quick cheer of "Happy New Year, " Ed begins the ceremony.

It is moving, and a little awkward - this is uncharted linguistic territory. There's a brief stumble over pronouns. It doesn't matter - we chuckle and move on. Jeff and Neil are radiantly happy. I forget that Richard is there with a camera. It's a very sweet, warm, and funny service. Ed pronounces them legally joined. They kiss. We all applaud - and we all hug one another.

There is champagne, and toasts, and cake - all of the things one would expect at a wedding. This isn't legally a wedding - but that doesn't change the way it feels. This feels like a wedding - only more joyous.

Civil unions are brand new (2 hrs and 15 minutes old as I write this) in NH. We don't know yet what this will mean for our state. Will this derail marriage equality? What are the legal differences between civil union and marrriage in NH? Will this have an impact on other states?

It's too soon to tell. What I know tonight is this - two people who love each other made a serious commitment to one another in front of friends, family, a handful of strangers, and two Bernese Mountain dogs. That it was two men didn't feel strange at all.

Note: I wrote this in the hours after the ceremony. This has not been published as an editorial in the Conway Daily Sun.

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Dark Side of Dr. Paul

One of my favorite candidates for president this year is Vermin Supreme, who recently donated some of his campaign props to the NH Political Library. He was wearing sparkly silver underwear over his pants as he made the donation. When asked by the Concord Monitor what he stands for he answered, “I stand for all that is good.” Mr. Supreme also touted his mandatory tooth brushing campaign, his work to promote time travel research, and zombie preparedness. In any election year the real long shot candidates like Vermin Supreme or Lobsterman are more interesting than any of the so-called front runners. Many of us remember (with affection) Pat Paulson’s ongoing candidacy for the White House. Another one of my favorites was Louis Abolafia, who ran for President in 1968 representing the Cosmic Love Party. His campaign literature featured a picture of him naked, asking, “What have I got to hide?” Fortunately none of the current crop of candidates are likely to emulate Abolafia. Some of us are still recovering from the 2003 pictures of Wesley Clark in a Speedo.

That was the year that Howard Dean dominated the internet, and used it to shake loose millions of dollars in contributions. This time, Republican candidate Ron Paul is the internet king. His supporters are everywhere on the internet. Heaven help the hapless writer who actually uses critical thinking skills in a story on Paul. Legions of Paul’s cultish supporters show up to tell the writer how wrong he is for trying to hold Paul accountable for his own statements. His supporters show up at Meet-Ups wearing pseudo Revolutionary War garb. They have some things in common – most of them are men, and most of them are white. A cursory look into Paul’s campaign finances reveals that 81% of his individual donors are men.

They are often alienated white men who have been hearing all their lives that “gummint bad,” thanks to Ronald Reagan, who used to delight in telling us how bad government was, while he was working diligently to join it. Ron Paul does the same thing. He loves to talk about term limits, though he doesn’t believe in them for himself. Paul loves to portray himself as being different from the Washington insider types. Paul first ran for Congress in 1974. He lost, but was elected that same year in a special election to finish Robert R. Casey’s term. He was not re-elected in ’76, but he was elected again in 1979, and stayed for a couple of terms. In 1984 he ran for US Senate, and lost. In 1988 he ran for president as the libertarian candidate. By 1997, he’d gone back to being a Republican and was sent back to Congress. For a guy who hates the government, he sure has worked hard to get into it. If he’s not an insider, it’s because nobody likes him.

A number of liberals have jumped on the Paul bandwagon, because Paul has been outspoken in opposition to the war in Iraq. He favors a non-interventionist foreign policy, and he’d like to close down some of our military bases in other countries, he’d get rid of the Patriot Act and protect our civil liberties, and he’d like to cut defense spending. If one stops there, he’s a good candidate. No one should stop there.

One reason Paul may not enjoy so much female support is his stance on abortion. He’s an OB-GYN who loves to tell us how many babies he’s delivered, as he touts his pro-life beliefs. He has stated that he would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. He also thinks that abortion should be a state issue, not a federal one. Depending on what state a woman lived in, she could be forced to serve as an incubator. It is civil liberties he wants to protect. Civil rights are an entirely different story. Paul takes Libertarianism cafeteria style. When it comes to the rights of those who make him uncomfortable (women, homosexuals) he prefers to shunt them off to the states to decide. We might still have slavery, were it up to him.

The dark side of Dr. Paul goes largely unreported. He has ties to neo-Nazis and white nationalists. He’s the only Congressman with a 100% rating from the John Birch Society. Paul received the coveted David Duke endorsement. Who wouldn’t want to be endorsed by a former Grand Wizard of the KKK? One of his biggest internet organizers from Tennessee is a neo-Nazi. Will Williams (aka “White Will”) was the southern coordinator for the biggest neo-Nazi party in the US, the National Alliance Party. Don Black, founder of, a white nationalist website (which features links to the Ron Paul official campaign donation page) made a $500 campaign contribution to Paul. When asked if the campaign would return this contribution, a spokesperson said no. StormFront’s motto is “White Pride Worldwide.” Dr. Paul’s columns are featured in the American Free Press, a publication that focuses on the role of Zionism in US politics. Willis Carto, a Holocaust denier is a regular contributor.

Since 1985, Ron Paul has published a newsletter. It was initially called the Ron Paul Report, and was later renamed the Ron Paul Survival Report. His name is on the newsletter. In 1992, the newsletter published some really offensive statements such as, "Given the inefficiencies of what D.C. laughingly calls the `criminal justice system,' I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.” Paul now denies that he wrote those statements, though he didn’t deny it at the time, he didn’t deny it when asked in 1996 – but he denies it now and blames a staffer.

The Paul cultists would have us believe that he has no control over who supports him, (true) that this is some sort of coincidence. I’d be mighty alarmed, myself; if suddenly neo-Nazis were flocking to me. I believe I’d take some action – like refusing to take their money, and making it clear, loudly and often, that I didn’t support white nationalists, anti-Semites, or bigots. Dr. Paul hasn’t done any of those things.

Perhaps his supporters can turn a blind eye to his racist ties, because he wants to eliminate the income tax. Perhaps their loathing of the income tax can blind them to the fact that Ron Paul, man of science, doesn’t believe in evolution…”it’s a theory, and I don’t accept it, um….as a theory.” They thought he whupped Tim Russert on a recent “Meet the Press” appearance. I was embarrassed for him. He didn’t seem to have any facts at his disposal, wasn’t embarrassed by his ignorance, and became increasingly shrill as the interview wore on. Only dogs could hear the last few answers.

Talk show host Michael Medved posted an open letter to Paul, asking him if he would publicly disassociate himself from these fringe groups. To date, there has been no response.