Friday, September 21, 2018

Paying Attention.




The leaves are changing, summer is over, the primary has come and gone, and so has veto day at the legislature. Yes, it’s time to think ahead, dear readers. Before you can say pumpkin spice, the legislature will be back in session. For some of us, this means a welcome return to the kind of good, nerdy fun we enjoy during session months. There’s good news – the New Hampshire General Court website has been retooled, so it’s easier to read and navigate. 

Any hard-core nerds out there will appreciate the way the media stream is now set up.  All recorded House or Senate sessions are archived, easily accessible. This means you can watch the recordings any time. You should. Most people don’t have time to go to the State House on a weekly basis to sit in the gallery and watch the sessions. The videos are the next best thing. The camera is glued to the front of the chamber, so you miss the side groups constantly forming and reforming on the sides of the room, but you can hear everyone who speaks about a bill, and watch the votes. 

The daily calendar of hearings is right on the front page. Even when the House or Senate isn’t in session, there are committee hearings going on – even after the legislature has gone on hiatus in June. Many of the bills that were sent to study committees are worked on all summer and into the fall.

Why should you care about this? What happens in Concord affects your life, 365 days a year. The goings on at the State House may not be as exciting as whatever is going on in Congress or the White House, but it is often more important. We NH voters, have incredible access to our elected officials. We can influence the legislative process. We have more power than voters in most other states, because of the ridiculous size of our legislature. Also - legislators behave better when they know we’re watching.
 
On September 10, House incumbents running for office could begin to file LSR’s (the beginning of a bill) for the 2019 session. The last day of that filing period is Sept. 21. The general election is November 6. On November 14, all elected representatives can begin filing LSRs for the upcoming session. December 21 is the last day for filing. These dates apply only to the House. The Senate doesn’t seem to have any deadlines when it comes to the filing of LSRs.

So far, there have been 27 LSRs filed for 2019. None of them have been filed (so far) by Carroll County incumbents. That doesn’t mean they don’t have them ready to go, it just means they don’t want any public record of them before the general election. It also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pay attention, because as you should have learned by now, decisions that affect the north country are made by people who live in the southern part of the state. Most of those deciders have no knowledge of  (or interest in) the needs of the northern part of our state

Representative Robert Elliot of Salem has filed an LSR that would provide that tax dollars for public education wouldn’t be limited to public education. House Majority Leader Dick Hinch, from Merrimack, filed an LSR to establish education savings accounts for students. This means (as I predicted in my last column) we’ll be seeing a return of last year’s voucher bill. We learned last year that the removal of those tax dollars for public education would cause a significant increase in our state property taxes, which are already some of the highest in the nation. Hinch and Elliot are both Republicans. Republicans make a big deal of taking The Pledge, but have no compunctions about legislation that will hit you square in your ability to hang on to your house. Fiscal responsibility? That isn’t what I’d call it.

Governor Sununu desperately wants to pass a voucher bill, as you may recall from the shenanigans around it last year. He imagines that it will pave his way to the US Senate in 2020. A huge increase in your property taxes is a small price to pay to send the publicly affable Sununu to DC, right? I say publicly affable, because he’s known to be rather shouty behind closed doors when he doesn’t get his way with the GOP caucus. He wasn’t too happy about the recent overriding of his vetoes.

The only Carroll County Republican State Representative who didn’t vote for last year’s voucher bill (SB 193) was Karel Crawford, who was excused that day. All of the others were eager to increase your property taxes. Remember that when you go in to vote on November 6. They count on you not paying attention, which is exactly why you should. 




Published as an op-ed in the September 21, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Pandering




A year ago, we watched the #MeToo movement begin to unfold. Women, who had been raped, molested, harassed, or perhaps all of the above began to speak truth to power. They began telling their stories in public. The response was sometimes predictable, the usual “why didn’t she speak up before now?” Some of you men learned what women have always known – that speaking out against powerful men can destroy careers, ruin reputations, and lead to harassment and threats. 

It takes a great deal of courage to speak up, to take action against a powerful man. At the beginning of August, NH State Senator Jeff Woodburn was arrested on charges of domestic violence.  Woodburn was the Senate minority leader, a rising star in the Democratic Party; a powerful man. 

There were immediate calls for Woodburn’s resignation. He refused to resign, though he did step down as minority leader. He declared his intention to fight the charges. He deserves his day in court. So does the victim. Disclaimer: I know the victim.

We should honor the concept of “innocent until proven guilty,” or at least strive to. Regrettably, most of us don’t, and that brings us back to “why don’t women come forward?” Since this story broke, a number of NH media outlets, including the Conway Daily Sun have chosen to print the name of the victim. As a result, she has been subject to endless harassment, by phone, by email, in social media and even in mainstream media.

Some of that has come from reporters who really ought to know better. Reporters who ought to be respectful enough to take no for an answer, especially after putting her name out there. Some of it has come from individuals involved with politics in Coos County. Mayor Paul Grenier of Berlin has stated publicly that Woodburn is the “real” victim in this case. This is a shocking public statement from an elected official. Grenier should resign, immediately. In the event of a guilty finding, he’ll wish like hell that he had. 


This is why women don’t come forward - because they will be subject to the kind of harassment that this woman is experiencing. I’m disappointed in the papers that chose not to respect the victim’s privacy. No one should be subjected to public shaming and endless streams of vituperative emails because they chose to press charges against a powerful man. 




Moving on. Tuesday, September 11 is the date of the NH state primary elections. The state elections may not be as sexy as national elections, but they’re more important. The people we send to Concord make decisions that impact our lives every single day. 

This past year, the Republican majority attempted to pass a school voucher bill that would have taken our tax dollars out of the public school system, laundered them through “freedom” accounts, and passed them on to private schools, home schools, or religious schools. This would have caused a huge increase in property taxes, which is why Representative Neal Kurk, Chair of the House Finance Committee, and certainly no pinko liberal, came out against it. The governor and his allies engaged in some tactical legerdemain in the hopes that if the legislature voted on the bill enough times, they’d eventually get the result they wanted. They failed – but nothing bad ever dies. It comes back, year after year. Right to work has been coming back for over 30 years.

The voucher bill will be back. Right to Work will be back. The effort to eliminate child labor laws will be back. The ongoing effort to restrict voting rights will continue. There will be more bills intended to rob women of the right to control their own bodies. NH has some serious problems. We have housing problems, a lack of affordable day care, high energy costs, and infrastructure problems. (Water, roads, bridges, dams, telecom) 

The northern part of the state is treated like an afterthought at every opportunity. Legislators in Concord tend to think that the state stops at Lake Winnipesaukee, and that everything above it must be Canada. The North Country perpetuates that point of view by sending rubber stamp Republicans to Concord, who choose party loyalty over their constituents. 

A recent letter of support for a Congressional candidate in this paper was a rare instance of GOP honesty. He didn’t even attempt to tout the record of the former state senator, or pretend that Sanborn will represent voters. He wants you to vote for a serial harasser so that he can provide access to Trump for Governor Sununu. No pretense, just blatant pandering to power. 

Speaking of access, this is your chance to vote for a governor who isn’t a Trump loyalist. (Loyalty to Trump should be an immediate disqualifier for any candidate.) We hear about the booming NH economy, but it hasn’t migrated north. Why? Ask a pledge taking panderer. Then vote for candidates who will fight for the future of the North Country. 

This was published as an op-ed in the September 7, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Monday, September 03, 2018

Hillsborough 38

This is State Representative John Valera from Windsor, NH. He's running for a second term. He has told people that he wears this wig to protest the transgender non-discrimination bill that is now law. 


In June, Casey McDermott of NHPR published a piece on attendance records at the NH House. A number of folks discovered surprising information about how they're being represented in the legislature. NHPR

That research led to this exchange:

To the Editor:
Why has NH State Rep. John Valera not been attending sessions at the State House? A recent report by New Hampshire Public Radio shows that Rep. Valera, Hillsborough County District 38, missed 71% of the House role call votes in 2018, 47% of them unexcused.
The press and voters in Antrim, Bennington, Francestown, Greenfield, Greenville, Hancock, Hillsborough, Lyndeborough, Wilton, and Windsor, should be asking whether constituents are being properly represented. He might be in favor of small government, but no government is not an option.
Brian Beihl
Antrim



Rep. John J. Valera's Response:
Opinion
Valera explains reason for absence
Monday, August 06, 2018 9:13AM
"To the editor:
During my first year in the Legislature, I had an excellent attendance record. But during that year, I came to realize that the Legislature spends most of its time contemplating bills that it has no legitimate power to enact, because they are clearly in conflict with the written state constitution. (Particularly Article 8, which says that if you couldn’t hire someone to do something for you, you can’t elect him to do it for you either.)
I routinely voted “no” on these bills. But there’s a problem: even voting “no” implies that I could be voting “yes.” Participating in the process legitimizes it.
Until the legislature allows members to vote “yes,” “no,” or “improper” on a bill, there’s no way for any representative to sit in one of those seats and press either of those buttons without violating his oath of office – although many of them do not yet realize that.
I do realize it, and I take my oath seriously, which is why I show up only for votes where the legislature seeks to exercise a legitimate power. On those occasions, I vote in a way that I believe is consistent with views of the people who elected me.
But let me put it very simply. Suppose each district had to elect a representative, whose job was then to go down to Concord occasionally to participate in a mass fight, a rumble, where two gangs try to beat each other up. I hope that Mr. Miller, upon reflection, would agree that the best way for me to represent him would be to refuse to participate.
But that’s basically the situation I’m in whenever the Legislature meets. The difference is, the gangs aren’t trying to beat each other up. They’re trying to beat my constituents up, by stealing their money, liberty and their property. The fact that they dress in suits instead of leather jackets, and use parliamentary maneuvers instead of knives and chains, doesn’t change the nature of the transaction, or the end result.
By staying away, I’m saying, on behalf of the people who elected me: We choose not to pretend that government should be in the business of taking our rights away. As Jefferson said, government is formed for the purpose of protecting our rights.
I hope this clears things up.
Rep. John J. Valera
Hillsborough District 38"
Monadnock Ledger Transcript






Representative Valera would have us believe that not showing up to fulfill his responsibilities as an elected official is the best way to serve his constituents. 

I'm betting they may think differently. All legislators are assigned to a committee, where they are supposed to work on legislation. Valera was assigned to the Transportation Committee. Be sure to ask him if he's ever attended a committee meeting.

You might want to ask him about the wig, too.........

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Petty Tyrants




Once upon a time, we valued oratory. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is considered the best speech given by a US president, followed by JFK’s inaugural speech. Alas, those days are behind us. In  2018, presidential oratory comes to us over the social media platform Twitter, in 280 characters or less. What will the Trump Presidential Library look like?

 This week, Donald Trump launched a tweet referring to former staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman as a dog.  Ms. Manigault-Newman is African American. Imagine the response if President Obama had referred to a white woman as a dog?  Trump managed to hit the racist and misogynist dog whistles in a single tweet. I wonder how we’ll ever come back from this presidency, if we can, or even if we should.

We have a president who has said horrible things about women throughout his arrogant, white guy life. We’ve all seen the Access Hollywood tape where he boasts of grabbing women by their private parts. On The Apprentice, he routinely referred to deaf actress Marlee Matlin as retarded. He told Howard Stern that his own daughter was a real piece of a**. When his third wife was giving birth to his fifth child, what was he doing? Stormy Daniels. This is not a man who has any respect for women, including the women in his own family, yet Republican women still support him. The closest I can come to an explanation is that he pisses off the people they hate. What they don’t seem to grasp is that he hates them, too.

There’s a lot of that going around. NH State Senator Jeff Woodburn (a Democrat) was recently arrested and charged with domestic violence. He’s refused to resign, and his name will be on the ballot in November. Imagine the trial, and how that will reflect on our state. Also refusing to resign is State Representative Eric Schleien, (a Republican) who is going to trial for molesting a teenaged girl. The judge in the case refused a plea deal, because he wants Schleien to serve some time in jail. 

At the beginning of August, the NH House released files of State House harassment complaints received since January, in response to right-to-know requests made by various media outlets.  The complaints are made to the House Chief of Staff, Terry Pfaff, who is also in charge of investigating them. One complaint was filed by a House staffer, who reported that a male lawmaker had a pattern of abusive behavior, referring to her as “the old bat,” or “the granny in the corner.” He told another legislator (in front of her) that, “she hates men.” We now know that this complaint was made against State Representative Dan Eaton, a Democrat serving his 14thterm. Eaton claimed it was good-natured banter. The woman felt otherwise. Witnesses found his behavior “immature.” Representative Eaton is 62. There was an investigation, it was recommended Eaton go to training, which he said he’d consider doing. No word on whether he actually did. State House staffers are not members of the state employees union, so they are reluctant to come forward, knowing they could be fired in retaliation. 

In another instance, a female legislator reported that a male legislator stood in front of her while she was seated in Rep’s Hall and made an “offensive pelvic gyration” in front of her. Representatives are squished in like sardines, and getting in and out of their seats and out of the rows is challenging. Apparently too challenging for the third grade boys disguised as adult men in our legislature, unable to comport themselves with dignity. 




These complaints should not be investigated internally. An outside agency should be retained for these investigations, so that there can be no question of political motives or retaliation. Even then, there will be no consequences. There are no ethical standards with any teeth. There are no disciplinary measures that can be taken, short of expulsion, which never happens. The prevailing attitude is always, “let the voters decide.” These are the same voters who aren’t going to learn about the behavior of their legislators unless it becomes a national story. The only real avenue available to a victim of ongoing harassment is legal action. 

Abusive and harassing behavior toward women has always been lurking behind the scenes, but thanks to Trump, it’s back on the main stage. It’s behavior that is not confined to a particular party. It’s behavior related to power.  Abigail Adams reminded her husband in 1776, “All men would be tyrants if they could.” Not much has changed since the all male Constitution was written.

Imagine what the US Constitution might look like if women had been included in the process.  Would President Trump have been possible if women had been (or were now) regarded as equal?

If you’re weary of petty tyrants who can’t even get out of a chair without pelvic gyrations, change the power dynamic, and vote for women. 





Published as an op-ed in the August 18, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Threats and Security




cartoon by Joel Pett for the Lexington Herald Leader

Comcast had a nationwide business phone outage during the first week of June. Thousands of companies that rely on landlines were out of luck for a couple of days. Comcast provides business and residential service in 40 states. An outage affecting that many states should have been a big story, but it wasn’t. You didn’t see it on the nightly news, or read about it in your local paper. I only know about it because it impacted my workplace for two days, and I had to dig to find the story. 

Comcast is a huge telecommunications company. They’re the top broadband service provider in the United States. Back in the olden days, we were wary of monopolies, so Ma Bell was busted up back in 1983. By 1940, Bell owned most of the telephone service in the US. An anti-trust lawsuit brought in 1974 alleged that Bell was using illegal practices to stifle competition. The settlement of that suit resulted in the 1983 divestiture.

Somewhere along the way, we stopped worrying about monopolies, and decided to let them flourish. As a result we have few local banks, even fewer independently owned commercial radio stations, and we have telecommunications monopolies that provide us with lousy service for extremely high costs.

The 40 state, two-day phone outage should serve as a cautionary tale. At a time when our president is talking about creating a new branch of the military to allegedly defend us from space, it’s worth noting that an enemy of the US could dismantle us by neutralizing the two biggest telecoms. They’re perfect targets. It would be so much easier to hit one giant company than 50 smaller ones. The resulting confusion and inability to communicate would mean we’d be hard pressed to defend ourselves, even if every gun totin’, gummint hating,  freedumb fighter got out their arsenals and started firing.

These monopolies should be regarded as what they are – a threat to our national security. Combine them with our crumbling infrastructure, and we’re in a big mess. The preferred course of action, however, is to give corporate America big tax breaks, fail to invest in our country, and continue to allow those mergers. The latest idea from our leader is to invest in a Space Force. What is it with these old Republican men? Reagan stuck us with Star Wars, the missile defense program that wasted over $260 billion taxpayer dollars and accomplished nothing. 

Our president has acknowledged that there was Russian interference in our last election, but far from being concerned, Congress opted to cut spending on election security. We continue to live in a past where the USA really is number one, and we are invulnerable. Or maybe this is just their way of letting us know that elections really don’t matter any more.

Telecommunications are not the only potential security weakness we have. Do you really believe that our nuclear power plants are amply protected from enemies? Samples of plutonium were stolen from a government contractor’s car last year in San Antonio. They’ve never been recovered. Earlier this year we learned that the airmen who guard nuclear missile silos were taking LSD and other drugs. The Air Force claims they weren’t using drugs while on duty. None of this inspires confidence.

 What about the power grid? We’ve been repeatedly warned that the grid was susceptible to a cyber attack. Ponder what would happen if a cyber attack on the grid were combined with an attack on a monopoly telecom.

Meanwhile, the TSA has a domestic surveillance program called, “Quiet Skies,” where Americans who are not suspected of any crime, but match behavioral criteria are being investigated by undercover air marshals who trail them. Fidgeting, facial flushing, or “a cold penetrating stare,” are all grounds for surveillance. This is intended to mitigate the threat to commercial aviation posed by unknown or partially unknown terrorists. In the face of very real threats to our elections and infrastructure, our choice is to spy on fidgety fliers. No information is being disclosed as to how successful this program is, if any terrorist plots have been foiled, or arrests made. If there had been, it would certainly be headline news.

The TSA is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security has an annual budget of more than  $41 billion. The department refuses to be audited. No transparency for we the taxpayers. Still, don’t give a cold, penetrating stare to the next representative of DHS that you see, or a US Marshal will be following you home.

While we debate about whether climate change is real or not, other countries are embracing science and technology and moving forward into the future. They’re leaving us behind in the dust of our egotistical past. 



Published as an op-ed in the August 3, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Thursday, July 19, 2018

So Much Winning




Donald Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again.” It’s proven to be popular among people who couldn’t tell you when America was great, or what happened to make it not great. His cultish supporters have followed him to Twitter, where they tweet out inanities with hash tags like #MAGA, and #winning. They boast of “owning the libs.” Everything is a game to be won. One might wonder, how is all that winning coming along? 

Congress passed the Trump Tax cut in December of 2017. Somehow the president managed to sell the concept that lowering corporate tax rates and taxes for the wealthy would benefit all of us. The Republican Party has been trying desperately to make trickle down economics work since the Reagan administration, even though it’s been a spectacular failure. The Trump Tax cut was trickle down on an enormous scale.

Trump told us that his economists estimated that the typical family would see an increase in income of $4000. We heard that statistic a lot. What typical family wouldn’t want to see a $4000 increase in annual income? Not only were workers going to get a break on their taxes, their incomes were going to increase, because their employers were going to get huge tax cuts, and would be passing on the largesse. 

How did it all pan out? The Bureau of Labor Statistics just issued a report on earnings through May 2018.  Real average hourly earnings decreased by 0.1 percent. In other words, workers who are not bosses are making less than they did last year. The hourly wages of mid-class employees (production and non- supervisory workers) is up 0.4 percent, or about a dime an hour. As Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities put it, “At this rate, that tax-cut induced $4,000 in your paycheck will take 28 years.”

So much winning. 

Who could have imagined that corporate America, given a huge tax cut would choose to pocket their profits, and not trickle them down? Anyone who has been paying attention since the Reagan administration rebranded it as “supply side economics.”

Meanwhile, back in the real world, inflation is at a six year high, which means that extra dime you got isn’t going to go very far. That’s unfortunate, because nearly everything is going to cost more, thanks to the Trump tariffs. 

A recent piece in the Union Leader by Michael Cousineau took a walk through areas where NH is already being hurt by the tariffs. A Newington company that was shipping 50,000 pounds of lobster to China stopped getting orders after a 25% tariff was placed on US lobsters heading to China. Lumber and steel tariffs are making building materials more expensive, which means that housing costs are increasing, in a state that already has exorbitant property taxes and a lack of affordable housing. A company in Thornton that sells equipment for measuring wind and rain is abandoning their plan to expand. The tariffs may even have an impact on BAE systems, since US defense contractors are supposed to comply with federal regulations that specify requirements for materials. Our Trump supporting Governor, Chris Sununu, whose favorite slogan is “New Hampshire is open for business,” has been largely silent on this subject. 

So much winning.  

And speaking of winning, I would be remiss if I left out the Wayfair decision. Republicans schemed and manipulated to make sure they got the Supreme Court they wanted – and now Republicans living in sales tax free states are reaping their reward.  After decades of avoiding the collection and paying of  sales taxes to other states that they shipped products to, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of fairness, and found that remote sellers could avoid the regulatory burden of tax collecting and offer lower prices, thereby giving the non-sales tax states an unfair advantage. 

Naturally, the outcry was loud and instantaneous. It seems our NH Republicans thought that the Supreme Court they lied and cheated to get would mess up some other guy’s state – certainly not their own! The governor convened a special legislative session, and has pledged (what else?) to fight this decision. The draft legislation argues that it all comes down to fairness. Yes, they wrote that with a straight face, after decades of benefitting from an unfair advantage.

It’s safe to say that there will be at least one expensive lawsuit as a result of this. Our Republican legislatures historically prefer to pay for long, drawn out  taxpayer-funded lawsuits (can you say Claremont?) than attempt to govern effectively. 

On the national level, our leader is now attempting to take back remarks he made to Russian leader Vladimir Putin with all the skill of a third grader claiming the dog ate his homework. I hope we survive all this winning. 




Published as an op-ed in the July 20, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Rope, Tree, Journalist



This year (so far) 53 journalists have been killed around the world. Eleven have been killed in Afghanistan, one in Syria, seven in the US, five in India, four in Yemen, six in Columbia, six in Mexico, two in Brazil, one in Liberia, one in Iraq, one in Pakistan, two in the Philippines, and one in Nicaragua.  Last year 46 journalists were killed, worldwide. The International Federation of Journalists promotes a free press and keeps track of journalists who are  killed in every country. 

Every Friday, this newspaper asks a question, and readers are encouraged to call in with answers, that are then published on the following Tuesday. The question asked last week was: “Do you feel the political climate in America puts journalists’ lives at risk?” The answers were troubling. Most blamed journalists for the current violent climate. In other words, if journalists are killed, it’s their own fault. It’s the old “she was asking for it, dressed like that” justification applied to reporters.

The Capital Gazette in Annapolis seems like a good community paper, the kind of paper any metro area would be proud of. An angry, unbalanced guy was mad that the paper covered a 2011 court case where he pleaded guilty to harassing a former high school classmate. Like most mass shooters, he was a misogynist. He began stalking her online in 2009. Her lawyer called it the worst case of stalking he’d ever seen.  Jarrod Ramos harassed the lawyer and members of his family. Ramos went on to try to sue the woman for perjury, and tried to sue the paper for defamation. After his suit was dismissed in 2013, he turned to making verbal threats against the paper, the publisher, and various reporters. Last year he legally bought the gun he used to kill 5 people. It took him a long time to take action. Did the president calling the press “enemies of the people” set him off? We’ll probably never know. It sure didn’t help. 

The Tele-Talk responses illustrated how desperately we need to teach media literacy in school. Many people don’t know the difference between a reporter and an opinion columnist. (I am an opinion columnist. I am not a reporter.) These days news someone doesn’t like is “fake” or “lies.” Over 30 years ago the radical right began to undermine the press, beginning with Rush Limbaugh and his howls about “the liberal media.” His propaganda worked brilliantly. Soon right wing radio sprouted across the land, and the war on truth began in earnest.

The slow, painful death of the newspaper hurts our communities and our nation. Since the beginning of the United States, newspapers and other print media kept us informed. They weren’t known for being fair and balanced back then, either. (Read some of Ben Franklin’s work.) The undermining began in earnest with the election of Barack Obama, which spawned a cottage industry of stories about his fake birth certificate, his fake Social Security number, Michelle Obama really being a man, and so on. It’s become so ubiquitous that now any new story that you don’t like is labeled as fake news. 

No news source can be all things to all people. Readers are going to see stories in newspapers that tick them off. Coverage of arrests and court cases is an area fraught with peril. It’s a sure bet that someone involved with a case, especially a case related to violence against another is going to get mad about the way it’s covered. That’s always been true.

The difference now is that after 30 years of intentional undermining, the mad are even madder, and the current political climate has given them permission to not only threaten violence, but to accept it as being justified. In 2016, tee shirts reading, “Rope, Tree, Journalist: Some Assembly Required” began appearing at Trump rallies. It’s just a joke, you say. Tell that to the five dead people at the Capital Gazette.

Many of us who put words out in public are familiar with death threats. There are many, many unstable people out there with guns, which is why the Tele-Talk responses were so disturbing. Angry, unstable guys with guns and defamation suits are not as unusual as one might think, and there’s no way of knowing whether they’ll come calling with a gun or not. So far, as a nation, we seem content to ignore warning signs. The signs were certainly there in the case of Jarrod Ramos. It seems we’d rather ensure the right of a guy like Ramos to purchase a firearm than ensure the right of others to keep on living.

This nation used to pride itself on a free press. We used to venerate the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Somewhere along the way, we decided the Second Amendment was more important, and that if we didn’t like the practitioners of the First, we could use the Second to eliminate them. This, dear readers, is not what democracy looks like. 



Published as an op-ed in the July 6 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.



This is the Tele-Talk column that got me thinking.