Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's Almost Over

It’s almost over. A few more political ads ought to help us choose what candidates to vote for. Is there really anyone left who is undecided? Nationwide, over $4 billion is being spent on the midterm elections. Good thing we don’t have anything important we could be spending $4 billion on. The corporate taps are open wide and the dark money is flowing.

Thanks to all that money, we know that Scott Brown knows only one number. 99. We know that he’s attempting to whip white NH into a frenzy about immigration and Ebola. The fear is supposed to divert you from paying attention to why he’s here. He’s here because he lost his Senate seat in Massachusetts, and he’d like to use NH as a springboard to higher office. I’ve been to debates and forums where Brown spoke, and his ground support is thin. What can anyone say about him? He’s never done anything in NH except vacation and run for office. Brown grew up in Massachusetts, went to school there, was married and had a family there, had a career there, got into politics there. If Elizabeth Warren hadn’t beaten him, he’d still be there. The first time Scott Brown casts a vote here it will be for himself.

This is a man who has repeatedly refused to speak with members of the press, going so far as to hide in a bathroom to avoid a reporter. As you ponder his name on your ballot ask yourself this: Should New Hampshire’s US Senate seat be a consolation prize for a guy whose ambition is the only reason he’s here?

Thanks to all the money, we know that Frank Guinta blames Carol Shea-Porter for everything except his toilet training. At the WMUR debate, he was unable to answer even what was presented as a yes or no question without trying to complain about our Congresswoman. He nattered on endlessly about all of the job fairs he had during his single term. I went to 2 of them. The Conway fair was held 2 weeks after a real job fair. The one staged by Guinta was a photo op, and sadly for him, not a single photographer showed up. No one found a job that day, or at any of the other job fairs. If anyone had, they’d be trotted out for display at every opportunity. Frank’s forgotten bank account (the one with the half million he donated to his campaign in 2010) is still being investigated by the FEC. When he ran in 2010, Guinta wailed ceaselessly about CSP’s alleged abuses of the Congressional franking system. He went on to become the number one franking abuser of the 2011-12 Congress.

Guinta learned nothing from being defeated. He still hates gummint, but thinks you should send him back to be part of it. He’s tried to present himself as an independent, bipartisan thinking kind of guy, but that’s not borne out by his voting record, which showed him marching along in party lockstep 96% of the time. Guinta wants to turn the Social Security trust fund over to Wall St. He wants to repeal Obamacare, returning us to those halcyon days of the pre-existing condition, and high cost/high deductable plans that don’t cover much of anything. He is all wound up about Ebola, but doesn’t seem to grasp that public health is a security issue. We should be working to rebuild our once robust public health system.

After listening to a lot of Guinta, it’s clear that he doesn’t have any ideas or plans to move us forward. Frank has only one setting on his gearshift, and that’s reverse.

I was sorry to miss the recent local candidate’s forum, but the write-up in the paper provided such perfect illustration that I could almost hear Frank McCarthy bellowing out his misinformation. Frank is full of “facts,” like the nonsense he spewed about marijuana.  The marijuana law in Colorado does not give free pot to welfare recipients and tens of thousands of potheads are not moving to Colorado. This bellicose purveyor of foolishness should not be given a return ticket to Concord. 

NH is the seventh wealthiest state in the nation, yet we have the 11th worst infrastructure. Vermont has just about finished wiring their whole state for high-speed internet access. NH has a commission that is still gathering information before acting. Our infrastructure problems, combined with our unwillingness to fund education are the root causes of our economic stagnation. Yet still we hear the same slogans that got us into the mess we’re in taken as some sort of gospel: “NH doesn’t have a revenue problem, NH has a spending problem.” That’s true in the sense that NH is unwilling to raise sufficient revenue to fund our state properly. That’s why we have hundreds of bridges on a red list for structural impairment. Representative Chandler seemed quite comfortable with the fact that we raise insufficient revenue to do the work that desperately needs to be done. Carl Thibodeau is spouting the same old drivel about how to turn the economy around. Union busting won’t magically give NH a 21st century infrastructure.  Also, guy who dons a Santa suit and stands outside the polls insulting voters might be seen as lacking sufficient gravitas for serving in even our volunteer legislature.

Judging from the reporting on this forum, guns and MOAR GUNZ are the most important issue facing NH. The same people who are desperate to make voting as difficult as possible are living in desperate, scrotum-shriveling fear that gun buyers should have to go through background checks. Mark Hounsell doesn’t seem to think domestic abusers should lose their gun rights. Domestic violence is a leading cause of death in NH. Over 50% of the murders committed in NH between 2001-2010 were related to domestic violence, and over 90 percent of the murder-suicides. Instead of worrying about beheadings in Conway village, Mark would do well to contact Starting Point to learn about domestic violence in NH.

It’s almost over. The calls, the mailers, the surveys will stop for a few months. For now there are still a few days left to research candidates so that we all make informed decisions on Tuesday when we cast our ballots.

In Addition:

This was sent to me by Mark Hounsell:

"If a person is found to be a felon for action as a domestic abuser, based on a conviction in a court of law, that person should loose they right to carry a firearm." - You are free to quote me on this."

This was published as an op-ed in the October 31 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

©sbruce 2014


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

No Comment

Seen on a car in Manchester, NH:

Our last Republican governor:

Monday, October 27, 2014

Does Connection to Place Matter?

Scott Brown was born at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. His father worked at Pease AFB in Portsmouth. The first couple of years of his life he lived in NH. He grew up in Massachusetts. He went to school there, got married there, started his family there, was part of his community there – in Massachusetts.  His political career began in Massachusettts. He was elected to the US Senate there, and he lost reelection there, too.

He moved to NH this year to run for the US Senate. Beyond having a vacation home, he has no ties to our state. He’s not part of a community. He hasn’t served on local boards or committees. He hasn’t welcomed the new babies, or comforted grieving neighbors over the loss of a family member. Brown has no base of support, which is visible at every debate. Sure there are people standing around with signs – but that has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with his political party. He has never worked in NH. I’m not sure he’s ever been to town meeting. He’s never voted in a statewide election.

That’s why his support is so thin. Temple Adath Yeshurun in Manchester had a breakfast forum on Sunday morning for CD 1 candidates Carol Shea-Porter and Frank Guinta, gubernatorial candidates Maggie Hassan and Walter Havenstein, and US Senate candidates Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown. Shaheen’s campaign is a machine. Volunteers kept arriving, and a van held enough signs to hand out to every person in Manchester. In contrast, there were some people holding Brown totems. The Shaheen volunteers started a chant. The Brown supporters had no chant. How could they? He’s never done anything here.

Jeanne Shaheen grew up in Missouri. She moved to NH 40 years ago. She worked as a teacher in Dover. She raised a family here. She’s been a part of her community. She served 2 terms in the NH state senate, then served 3 terms as governor. In 2002 Shaheen lost her first bid for the US Senate, in part because of GOP phone jamming on elecion day. John Sununu, Jr. served one term before being ousted by Shaheen in 2008.

So, does place matter?

This is a small state. Does it matter that she may be “from away,” but she’s been part of her community and her state for 40 years? As governor, when the paper mills started to die in Berlin, she fought to keep the mills open and the workers on the job. It was a big deal,  because most NH politicians don’t pay much attention to anything that happens in the vast frozen tundra north of Concord. She is still beloved in the north country. Jeanne Shaheen is on intimate terms with NH. She knows the challenges that face NH as we kick and scream our way into the 20th century. She knows the problems our state faces.

She’s been a public servant. NH isn’t a springboard for Shaheen’s ambition. This is where her family and friends are. This is where her life is.

Scott Brown may have lovely memories of vacations in NH. He has not been a public servant here. He hasn’t done anything for us. He doesn’t know what NH needs to move into the future. Quoting glib GOP slogans isn’t going to move our state forward – but it’s all he’s got.  NH is just a handy way station on his road to higher office. NH is not where his family and friends are. His life isn’t here – only his ambitions.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

APF: They Often Call me Freedo

From today's Americans for Prosperity email:

Their friends call them Freedo but their real name is Mr. Koch.

I misread it the first time and went here:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Beauty Contest

From the moment girls are born, we are wrapped in little pink blankies and put into little pink outfits. We are encouraged to love Disney princesses, dress up our Barbie dolls, love sparkle and glitter, behave like little ladies, and above all, be pretty, pretty girlies!

The beauty contest begins the moment we appear. For the rest of our lives, we are judged on our appearance, and unless we are considered beautiful by societal standards, we are usually found wanting. The judges in the pageant that is our lives are not at all hesitant to let us know where we fall short of the male ideal of beauty. We are judged too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, too shrill, too feminine, too masculine, too much, or not enough.

From the time we start developing breasts, they become the focus of the male gaze. They are stared at, hooted at, and sometimes grabbed by complete strangers. Rather than look us in the eye, strangers speak to those breasts, as if they are unaware that they are attached to actual sentient beings. The older we get, the more intense the beauty contest becomes. The beauty contest includes our voices (don’t be shrill or strident!) our behavior (be ladylike – don’t make waves) and our brains (boys won’t like you if you’re too smart.)

What we look like is everything. That is reinforced daily through advertising and through the comments of men – men we may or may not know. If we are not cheerful chipmunks in every public moment, some guy will come along to tell us “you’d be so much prettier if you smiled.” In fact, throughout our lives, all kinds of people endlessly provide advice on ways to be “so much prettier.” The fun never stops.

If we choose to go into politics, the beauty contest is exacerbated. Men have a distinct advantage, beyond the whole patriarchy/money/power thing. They wear a uniform. Photographers never close in to catch a look at their ankles or their shoes. There are no write-ups on what a male candidate is wearing at an event. Seldom is the appearance of a man ever even remarked upon. There are some exceptions. Chris Christie is remarked upon for being portly, but it is often done in a joking way. Paul Ryan was photographed lifting weights. We were all supposed to be dazzled by his manly muscles. Wes Clark had the sweaters and the Speedo. Then, of course, there is Obama, who has been roundly mocked for wearing “dad” jeans, though how many of us would want our dads wearing anything else? Then there was the big kerfuffle about the tan suit. Because no president has ever worn a tan suit ….er…. except for Harry Truman, Ike, LBJ, and even Saint Ronnie Reagan. Of course it doesn’t matter what Obama wears, it’s always going to be wrong.
It’s a different ballgame for women. We had to hear about Hillary Clinton’s appearance endlessly. Her hair, her clothes, and as she aged, even her ankles. On a Twitter account, there’s a space for a short bio. Hillary’s mentions that she’s a “hair icon” and “pantsuit aficionado.” Sarah Palin was on the other end of the beauty obsession. From the beginning she was advertised to us as the hot GOP chick from Alaska, but the relentless focus on her hair, glasses, shoes, and wardrobe was tiresome. No one took photos of John McCain’s comb over, or his shapely legs. Michelle Obama has been criticized for wearing too many sleeveless dresses, for having muscular arms, for spending too much money on clothes, and for not spending enough; just whom does she think she’s fooling by shopping at Old Navy?

It never ends. For men, though, it never really begins. Scott Brown is the rare candidate whose looks are commented upon. I’ve never read a critique of Walt Havenstein’s suits or hairstyle. No newspaper ever remarks on the fact that Frank Guinta seems to wear a lot of red ties. All of the criticism and commentary is saved for women.

In 2011, an interviewer asked Elizabeth Warren a question about Scott Brown posing nude in Cosmo. She answered, “I kept my clothes on.” Brown heard about this and said, “Thank God.” His contempt for women was on display again over the weekend when he attended a tailgate party at UNH. While drunken fratboys shouted out rapey slurs about our US Senator, Scott Brown said nothing. If he’d turned to them and told them to stop, that’s no way to talk about our US Senator, or ANY woman, I’d be writing a very different piece, one that included the use of the term “respect.” Try as I might, I can’t remember a gang of women bellowing similar comments about any male candidate, anywhere, ever.

The beauty contest came home to NH in another form this weekend. State Representative Steve Vallaincourt of Manchester felt compelled to pen a blog post giving his opinion of Congresswoman Ann Kuster’s appearance. It was puerile and mean spirited, but that doesn’t surprise anyone who knows Steve Vallaincourt. The story hit the international fan hard, which meant the NH media couldn’t ignore it. Now he’s whining about being misunderstood. Some of his staunch male GOP defenders (brothers in misogyny) are blubbering about his First Amendment rights. What these guys never seem to get is that, yes, the First Amendment gives you the right to free speech. It does not give you immunity. If you say stupid stuff, you get to deal with it. I believe they call that taking personal responsibility. Why the women of the GOP continue to tacitly condone this kind of behavior remains a mystery.

That we’re still dealing with this kind of double standard in 2014 is depressing. That we haven’t evolved sufficiently to evaluate our female candidates (and all women) on the basis of their talents, experience, and qualifications is maddening. In 2013 a study done by the group Name It. Change It. found that when a female candidate’s appearance becomes the focus (positive or negative) they lose elections. One could begin to think it’s done intentionally.

They always say the Miss America Pageant isn’t a beauty contest, it’s really a scholarship program. If that’s the case, why don’t we just put all the contestants on "Jeopardy” and pick Miss America that way?“ Jay Leno

Monday, October 06, 2014

Happy Birthday Lucy

Today is Lucy's 5th birthday. Lucy's father had my daughter charged with a heinous crime, and the state of Maine seems intent on railroading my daughter, with ZERO interest in actual investigation or justice. 

That's a story for the days ahead. 

Today on Lucy's 5th birthday, her mother is not allowed to see her or have any contact with her. Today and every day, her heart is breaking. It's unimaginable. 

I can't see Lucy either. 

Lucy's father has refused to let me see her. He even threatened me, via text message, something that Sargent Jared Austin of the Rangeley, Maine police force was completely uninterested in when I called to report the incident. He and my former son-in-law are buddies. No surprise there. Sargent Austin spoke to me in a shockingly unprofessional manner. I wrote a letter of complaint to Chief Dennis Leahy of the Rangeley Police Dept. He has not responded. The inappropriate and unprofessional behavior of one of his officers is apparently of no concern to him.

Today is Lucy's birthday, and I cannot see her. Her father told me that Lucy has no idea who I am. Just before he had Lucy's mother arrested, Lucy and I had a conversation about the hat she had just made for me. "I love you Grammy!" Lucy said to me. I don't believe for a minute that Lucy has forgotten who I am. I do believe that Lucy is living with people who are hurting her physically and emotionally. 

Maine does have so-called grandparent's rights. Unfortunately, those rights are only accessible if one has an attorney. There is no standard form that one can fill out, one has to navigate the process with a lawyer and costly filing fees. I can't afford this. One can hardly call it a "right" if one has to pay a lot of money to have access to it. 

Something is really rotten in the State of Maine. I have no intention of letting that go. 

Today is Lucy's fifth birthday. I love my granddaughter with all of my heart. 

Note: I have no desire to use my family as fodder for my blog. Thing is, my daughter is being railroaded - and I'm not going to let that happen quietly or without a fight.

Friday, October 03, 2014

405 Manchester St.

Mark Hayward's latest story on the continuing saga at 405 Manchester St. appears in today's Union Leader. Some highlights:

Manchester Water Works said Thursday it restored water service to a problem-plagued apartment house at 405 Manchester St., only to discover that someone had stolen copper pipes from the building.
No pipes means no water - and this comes AFTER the tenants had made a downpayment on the water bill. A bill that was not paid by the landlord. Water was included in their rent. Now some of the tenants are buying new pipe and hoping to get the water on today. 
However, the city may close the property sooner. Community Development Commissioner Leon LaFreniere said city lawyers are working with Schaefer’s local attorney to go to court and ask a judge to secure the property.
The City would like this story to go away, as quickly as possible. The City does not want to have a big discussion about deteriorating buildings, the need for new housing codes and more stringent enforcement. 
Paul Schaefer, the disappearing landlord, bought 405 Manchester St. in October 2005. In November 2005, he was issued a Certificate of Compliance. That CoC was revoked on July 20, 2006 because of fire alarm system failure. It was reinstated shortly afterward. That same CoC expired on September 22, 2008. The next CoC was issued on June 2, 2011. It took nearly 3 years for Schaefer to "fix" the 95 violations cited by the housing inspectors.  

The violations included water stained ceilings and water damaged floors in many of the apartments. The ceilings and floors may have been fixed - but nowhere was there any mention of fixing the actual leaks. Leaking pipes in an old wooden building are going to cause ongoing deterioration, as well as providing a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, rodents, and insect infestation. 

It seems there is no real enforced time limit for making the necessary repairs, even though the building isn't supposed to be rented out without a CoC in place. The code enforcement department is woefully understaffed and underfunded. Lowell, MA has 11 housing inspectors. Manchester currently has 4. 

The people living at 405 are living in a terrible situation. The building is a mess. One man's windows blow out if the wind blows too hard. He has to tape them to the frame from the inside. There are a number of broken windows in the building. The place is infested with bedbugs, the mailboxes don't lock, doors don't close properly, and the yard is full of trash. 

Given the precarious legal position these folks are in, and with the City desperate to close this place down, I worry that they may make an investment in the building and still wind up out on the street. 

This is no way for people to be living. Not in the 21st century in the wealthiest country in the world. 

previous coverage:

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Learning from History

One of my friends wrote a book about town meeting a few years back. I contributed some stories and research. I spent a day at the Gorham Historical Society reading old town reports. The earliest town reports were mostly inventories of what the town owned. Shovels, snow rollers, rakes, and other tools. Those terse summaries show how the town began to grow and change.

The town reports also changed over time.  Early reports contained a narrative school report. The town meeting narratives came later. In 1891, advertising was introduced in the town report. In 1895, the town report contained a report from the Board of Health on the topic of sanitation. The school outhouses were decried as “unsightly and unclean.” Gorham’s status as a burgeoning summer resort was also a concern. The Alpine House hotel was lauded as “first class” for emptying their sewerage into the river.

In 1896, the town report included a list from the Library Trustees of the 476 books that were purchased for the new library. The list was updated for several years in subsequent town reports, along with a stern admonition each year that young readers needed to use more care when handling books. In the 1901 report, the library has 1700 books. In 1902 there were new volumes from Darwin, Kant, Hegel, and Adam Smith.

Then, as now, the town reports included births, marriages, and deaths. The causes of death were interesting. In 1897, there were deaths from “exema rubrance", spasms, a gunshot wound, and “general decline.” In 1899, two people were run over by cars. In 1901 a woman died of “natural decline” at age 91. In 1904 the tailor died of a bullet wound.

1903 was the first year there was an official notice of town meeting, and the first year the town report was indexed.

In 1904 the report contained 32 pages from the road agent that included every ditch dug, every man who plowed or shoveled snow, or fixed a bridge. Many more roads required many more man-hours. Twenty men were paid varying amounts for fighting forest fires.

1905 was the first year with a police report. Some 70 people were arrested for “drunk.” In 1908 there were 48 completed water closets in the town.

From counting shovels to water closets, the history of the town unfolds. I’m betting you cringed when you read about the hotel dumping sewage into the river. Polluted rivers were taken for granted when I was growing up. We moved to Groveland, MA when I was 10, and the nearby Merrimack River reeked in the summertime. The shoe factories along the river in Haverhill emptied their sewage right into the river. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1968. The environmental movement began. We stopped throwing trash out of our car windows. We stopped dumping stuff into rivers. We learned.

Human history is comprised of lessons learned, followed by vigilance, followed by the erosion of vigilance started by people who know we can do it better this time, followed by either the same problem or a variation of it. Rinse, lather, and repeat.

Reaganomics, supply side, trickle down, laissez faire – whatever we want to call the response to Keynesian economics has been a failure since it was imposed during the Reagan administration. We’re encouraged to believe that all of that wealth concentrating at the top will eventually trickle down to the peons at the bottom. This type of economic policy has been failing us for 30 years, with no end in sight. Meanwhile our infrastructure crumbles, and taxpayers pick up the tab for food stamps for the “job creators” at the top who refuse to pay their employees a living wage. This lesson remains unlearned.

THE PLEDGE seems to have begun on the fringes of NH politics in the 1950’s. In the seventies, under the stewardship of Governor Meldrim Thomson and Union Leader editor William Loeb, THE PLEDGE went mainstream. For over 40 years now, some of our elected officials pledge every two years that they promise that they will not support a state income tax or a sales tax. The Pledge is now seen as inevitable and necessary. It’s called The New Hampshire Advantage. As I’ve pointed out before, taking pledges is easier than thinking.

There’s a definite NH Advantage for the state’s 27,000 millionaires and the numerous military retirees who move to NH as a sort of tax shelter. For the rest of us, the advantage hasn’t been evident in some time. What the pledge really means, is that we will continue to raise insufficient revenue to fund our state at anything more than a bare minimum. Our infrastructure will continue to crumble, our state parks will continue to deteriorate, and we will continue to rank in last place in the nation when it comes to investing in our state university system. When this lesson is finally learned, it’s going to come at a very high price.

The lessons of the Gilded Age brought about the Progressive Era. We’re now watching the reforms of the Progressive Era erode. All of the positive gains through the 1970’s are disappearing faster than the polar ice cap.

Gorham learned that libraries are a great idea. They learned that dumping sewerage in the river was not such a great idea. In a 13-year period, Gorham went from applauding the dumping of sewage into the river to having 48 water closets. Progress through plumbing! It is possible for us to learn from our history and our mistakes, but we don’t seem to do it very often.

“I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.”  Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

© 2014 sbruce
published as an op-ed in the Oct. 3, 2014 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper.