Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mere Trumpery

George Washington was our first president. He was born into an affluent family, and inherited property and slaves after the deaths of his father, and later his older brother.  He became a surveyor at age 17. Thanks to his family connections, he was given the position of official surveyor of the newly created Culpepper County. Four years later, Washington began his military career, during the French and Indian War. In 1775 he was commissioned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. We all know how that turned out.

At the end of the war, Washington resigned his commission, rather than seize power as a dictator or king. He presided over the Constitutional Convention in 1787. That year he was elected president, and served as the first US president until March of 1797.

John Adams was our second president. He was born to modest circumstances. His father was a Congregationalist deacon, farmer, cordwainer, and a lieutenant in the militia. (A cordwainer is a shoemaker who makes shoes from new leather.)
As the eldest son he was expected to receive a formal education, which he did through schools and tutors. At age 16, John Adams entered Harvard College. After graduating, he taught school for a few years, and then decided to become a lawyer. He consciously chose not to become a member of the clergy. Adams wanted to become a great man, and once referred to his own hunger for fame as “mere trumpery.”  There’s a term likely to make a comeback.

Thomas Jefferson became the third US president. Jefferson was born to an affluent family. He graduated from the College of William and Mary, and practiced law. He was also an architect, president of the American Philosophical Society, spoke at least 6 languages fluently, and was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson served as the governor of Virginia, a member of Congress, a trade minister to France, Secretary of State, Vice President, and President.

Franklin Pierce was the 14th US president. Pierce was born into a relatively affluent and political family in Hillsborough, NH. His father was a farmer, tavern keeper, and state legislator. After graduating from Bowdoin, he got involved with state politics. Pierce served 6 terms as the town moderator in Hillsborough. He served as a state representative, and became Speaker. Pierce was also elected to the US House, the US Senate, and 10 years after leaving office he was elected president. The only president to come from NH, Franklin Pierce is widely regarded as one of our most lackluster presidents.

Warren G. Harding was our 29th president. He was born to a doctor and a midwife in Ohio. His father (the doctor) bought a newspaper, and so Harding began learning the newspaper business at age 11. After graduating from college, he bought a failing newspaper that he was eventually able to turn around. It was during this time that he began to get involved with politics. Harding was elected to the state senate, and began to enjoy the patronage and graft that came with the office. He served one term as lieutenant governor. His term was described thusly, “he had little to do, and he did it very well.”

Harding went on to become a US Senator, and eventually president. He died halfway through his term. He was quite popular at the time of his death, and was mourned by the nation. It was after his death that a number of scandals came to light that sullied his posthumous reputation, notably the Teapot Dome scandal. He was beloved when he died, but is now regarded as one of our worst presidents.

George W. Bush was our 43rd president. He was born into a family of great wealth and political connection. George attended the best schools, got middlin’ grades, and went on to have a life that was free of accomplishment. He failed at business, but succeeded wildly at using his family money and influence to become the governor of Texas, and eventually president. He was appointed president by the Supreme Court, after a contentious election where he received fewer popular votes than his opponent. His Wikipedia page lists “golf and smoking cigars” as hobbies. Bush was not an accomplished man. He showed no sign of intellectual curiosity during his tenure in the White House. He may be the happiest person in the nation that Trump was elected, since he’s not likely to maintain his position as the worst president ever.

Our newly elected president, who received fewer popular votes than his opponent, is Donald Trump. He was born into wealth. Young Trump went to military school, but never served in the military. He received 4 student deferments while he was at Wharton, which enabled him to avoid going to Vietnam. Eventually he was given a medical deferment for heel spurs. Trump began his real estate career in his father’s company, which eventually became his. There have been decades of deals, big gaudy buildings with his name smeared all over them, casinos, six bankruptcies, and three wives. He’s considered to be a successful businessman, despite the many failures, bankruptcies, and refusal to pay workers. He has never been involved with any sort of public service. His “charity” is used as a slush fund to pay himself. He wanted to win. Now that he has, it’s clear that he’s spectacularly ill-prepared to govern.

Trump is a very successful salesman, who has sold us the belief that he’s a good businessman. He’s also a reality TV star, who lives in a tacky, gilded palace with his most recent wife who we haven’t seen much of since the tapes of Trump’s bus trip with Billy Bush on Access Hollywood were made public. Melania Trump, it seems, is not going to be moving to the White House. His daughter, however, will have an office there, and take on some First Lady duties.  The White House is open for business.

There is so much wrong with all of this that I don’t even know where to begin. Suffice it to say, that we began this nation with men who were accomplished and educated. We’ve settled for considerably less as the decades have gone on. It was once difficult to imagine that we would elect a B-movie actor and McCarthy fink, but we did. Our recent Electoral College choice makes Reagan look like Socrates.

We’ve gone from statesmen to a twitter troll. This may be the end of the Great American Experiment.

I wish you all Happy Holidays – see you in 2017

 This was published as an op-ed in the December 23 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Stuck in Reverse

The day after being elected governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu started talking about voter fraud. He’s deeply concerned about it – though not so deeply as to question the legitimacy of his own election. No, our new governor is content to mutter about the need for “reform.” He’s even called for the elimination of same day voter registration. Apparently no one has explained what that would mean to our newly elected Governor.

In 1993, the National Voter Registration Act was signed into law. It requires states governments to provide the opportunity for any eligible person who applies for a driver’s license or a renewal, or for some form of public assistance to also register to vote.  The state would be required to register applicants by mail, using federal registration forms. Private entities would be able to hold voter registration drives and register voters.

New Hampshire Republicans have always hated this idea. Registering welfare recipients to vote? Registration drives on college campuses? In poor neighborhoods? Oh, hell no! They hated the idea so much that they got out of complying with the motor voter law by having same day voter registration instead. Given a choice between the two, I am certain that they will continue to prefer same-day registration, and that someone will explain all this to Chris Sununu.

Representative David Bates (R-Windham) has adopted the cause of fauxfraud as his new mission, and has filed 13 bills and one constitutional amendment to solve the non-existent problem. Imagine if he and his fellow legislators were even half as interested in solving the very real problem of our state’s crumbling infrastructure?

In speaking about his priorities, our new governor’s top 3 were voting, guns, and union busting. Sununu would like to eliminate the requirement for licensing a concealed handgun. Current law (written by Republicans, by the way) requires one’s local chief of police issue a permit. The chief has the discretion of being able to refuse to give a license to someone he knows to be a bad tempered drunk or domestic abuser. That isn’t enough for the gun crowd, who will not be happy until there are zero gun laws in our state. In fact, some of the gun happy legislators are opposed to domestic abusers losing their guns. Fifty percent of the women murdered in this state are murdered by their abusive partners, but apparently women are easily replaceable in the eyes of the MOAR GUNZ crowd. It is interesting though, that in a state that has so few gun laws, that the governor elect considers this a priority.

Sununu also wants to sign right-to-work (for less) legislation, which we also call union busting. Less than 10% of the NH workforce is unionized, but it’s been the mission of the far right to eliminate that small percentage altogether for decades. They love to opine that it will cause businesses to relocate to NH, because RTW states are doing so well. They’re states in warm climates (no NH energy costs), states with good infrastructure in place, and states that invest in education – AND they don’t have NH property taxes. It’s really all about eliminating the perceived political influence of unions. Well, that and their deep belief that business should be able to pay workers just as badly as they want to.

Our new Gov wants to “fix” the state budget, so he’s brought in Charlie Arlinghaus of the Koch funded Josiah Bartlett Center. Arlinghaus is going to find all the “pork”. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. The voter fraud crowd wails about how voter affidavits aren’t investigated quickly, while failing to acknowledge that they underfund the state agency that is in charge of doing the work. Giving the Koch brothers more influence over our state government spending will ensure that not only will we continue to have the 11th worst infrastructure in the United States; we’ll climb higher on the list.

Sununu also wants to cut business taxes, because that will “send the message that NH is open for business.” It’s uncertain who will be hearing that siren call – but if they do, they may decide that our utility costs, crumbling infrastructure, limited telecommunications options, property taxes, and failure to invest in higher education may not be what they’re looking for. One thing you can count on though, if all the business tax cuts are enacted, your property taxes will be going up. The money to run the state (even to run it as if it were going out of business) does have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is your property. Other states have income and sales taxes. NH has you, the property owner. As businesses pay less and less of their fair share, you’ll be picking up the slack. Live free or die – and be sure to keep voting for the pledge takers.

Sununu wants to ensure that Medicaid beneficiaries work if they are able. I’m guessing that what he meant by that was the NH Health Protection Program, which is the NH version of expanded Medicaid. Most of the people who are enrolled in the NHHPP are low-wage workers – heck, some of them probably work at Waterville Valley. They already are working. The GOP is desperate to convince us that these folks are milking the system somehow to get health care benefits. Thing is – the NHHPP doesn’t pay the rent, buy the groceries, or put gas in the car. The people who make these claims either don’t understand how this works, or they don’t care, because it’s easier to get people all jacked up by lying to them. There are work requirements for food stamp recipients, by the way. You never hear about that, do you?

In this way when the legislature votes next year (and they will) to end the NHHPP, if they’ve told enough big lies, they’ll still get reelected. Even when 40,000 low-wage workers lose their health insurance.

None of this will help NH’s stagnant economy. As long as the state is stuck in reverse, there’s no hope of moving into the future. 

This was published as an op-ed in the December 9 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper