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


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

Rep. John J. Valera's Response:
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. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

It Is Who We Are

(Rob Rogers cartoon)

 As I watch the horrifying human rights violation unfolding in my country, where children are being taken from their parents and sent to various locations around the country, I keep hearing, “This is not who we are.” That, unfortunately, isn’t true. It’s exactly who we are. It is who we’ve always been. 

A number of our founders owned slaves, and they wrote a founding document that counted those slaves as three-fifths of a person. From the very beginning, the US was okay with white people owning non-white people. The plantation system allowed those white owners to abuse the non-white slaves.  Eventually slavery ended, but the long-term effects continue to resonate in this country where black men are shot by police, without reprisal. 

Beginning in the late 1800’s Indigenous American children were forcibly taken from their parents and sent to boarding schools where they were given European style haircuts, European style names, and were forbidden to speak their native languages. There are many documented cases of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse that took place in those schools. Children were taken from their families and communities and tortured. Sound familiar?

In June of 1954, the US began what was charmingly referred to as “Operation Wetback.” This resulted in the arrests of over 100,000 people in a two month period, and as many as a million were affected during the life of the program.

We’ve always had a tortured relationship with Mexico. The US has interfered mightily in the political affairs of South America. We have always relied on undocumented workers to do the work we don’t want to do ourselves. Undocumented workers built Trump’s hotels. Undocumented workers clean our houses, care for our children, mow our lawns, and work in our meat packing factories, our hotels, our farms, and vineyards. And despite all that, we have nothing but contempt for these people who do all this work at considerably lower wages than white people would command.

The mythology sprung up that undocumented workers are taking jobs away from “real” Americans. (Real = white.) There hasn’t been a flood of white workers moving to California to pick lettuce. White Americans aren’t lining up at hotels to scrub bathrooms. The myth was useful though, because it allowed for the perpetuation of anger against all brown people. That anger simmered for decades, but reached full boil when Barack Obama was elected president. The ideological divide also became an ugly racial divide, which allowed the far right to blame Obama for inciting their racism.

For years we heard that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, he was born in Kenya. One of the loudest, crudest proponents of that belief is now the president of the United States. Trump has always been a racist. In the 1970’s, Trump the landlord fought against complying with the Fair Housing Act. He took out ads urging the death penalty for the black and Latino teenagers who became known as the Central Park Five, who were accused of raping a white women. A decade after they’d been exonerated by DNA evidence, Trump continued to insist they were guilty. 

Trump began his run for the presidency calling Mexicans criminals and rapists. He’s surrounded himself with white nationalists like advisor Stephen Miller, the architect of family separation at the border. Like Jeff Sessions, career racist.

That has led us to this place, where we have children being kidnapped by the US government at the border. We’ve seen footage of boys in repurposed Walmarts. What we haven’t seen is footage of wherever it is they take the girls and the babies. We don’t see where they take the girls and the babies, because that doesn’t fit in with the propaganda. Trump and Sessions talk about MS-13 all the time, to create the illusion that every brown person who crosses the border to escape from the hell their own country has become is a burgeoning gang member and criminal. Even the most hardened member of the Trump cult would have a hard time selling that story over footage of toddlers crying for their mothers. 

A nation that proudly declares itself Christian is allowing this to happen. A party that pretends to be pro-life is encouraging the torture of children.

The rest of the world is watching us in horror. The United States, is engaging in a massive human rights violation and no one dares step in because we have a lot of nuclear weapons, and our president is an angry, unpredictable toddler who lacks impulse control. The country that liberated concentration camps in WWII is now building them, right here at home.

It’s been an interesting experiment, the United States. We had a lot of lofty goals. Could we rise above now, and give voice to our what Lincoln called the better angels of our nature? I wish I thought we would. Racism has broken us. It is who we are. It is who we’ve always been. 

published as an op-ed in the June 22 edition of the Conway Daily Sun 

Thursday, June 07, 2018

The Gold Standard

New Hampshire is a state with no income tax and no sales tax. A state where we are constantly warned that we must live within our means. For decades, the Republicans who govern our state have worked overtime to ensure that we have such limited means that we can’t ever fix anything that needs fixing, which is why 12% of our bridges are red listed for “structural impairments.” Our intentionally limited means ensure that our state parks are in desperate need of maintenance and repair. 

One might think that in a state where tourism is our number two business, we’d want to make that investment, but our limited means do not permit. Speaking of number two business, we have closed rest areas in Antrim, Epsom, and Shelburne, in places where tourists would undoubtedly like to stop. They were all closed in order to save money. Perhaps we could reopen them if the tourists signed an affidavit saying that in exchange for using the rest room, they swear they’ll buy a case of Hennessy on the way out of state? (Paying cash, of course.)

Given our constant state of poverty, I was surprised to read what Governor Sununu had to say at the annual spring luncheon for Seacoast Republican Women. From the story in Fosters:  “Despite Democratic criticism of his budget he said, “we have more money than we know what to do with.” 

If that’s the case, it seems our governor lacks imagination. I’ve tweeted suggestions to him about things we might do with all that money. Build a secure psychiatric unit that isn’t part of a prison, for treating our people who have mental illness. Eliminate the shameful wait list for developmental disability services. Fix all the red listed bridges. Open up those closed rest areas, fix the state parks…the list is endless.

He also said, “We slipped for a long time, but we’re back. New Hampshire is the gold standard. A 2017 CNBC report found that NH has the second worst infrastructure in the nation. We don’t seem to be using any of that gold to repair our roads, bridges, dams, water systems, etc. In fact, given those closed rest areas, we don’t even qualify as American Standard.

I’ve said it before (and I’ll say it again!) that NH is the seventh wealthiest state. We are intentionally starving our state, so that we can continue to fail to invest in the present and the future. 
Our politicians are proud to take The Pledge, which refers to the Mel Thomson/William Loeb pledge against the creation of a state income tax or sales tax. The Pledge became popular in the early 70’s and continues to be GOP cult dogma.

New Hampshire’s peculiar system of funding our state government through fees and property taxes results in an underfunded state government. It isn’t the fault of the folks at the DMV that you wait for hours in line or can’t get through on the phone. They are chronically understaffed on purpose. That understaffing makes you the public unhappy, and willing to buy into the first tenet of GOP gospel: government is the problem. It certainly is when they’re running it. 

It’s all a false “economy.” As the 7thwealthiest state, NH is certainly capable of generating revenue. Our secret is that we don’t want to. One thing the Republican Party fears above all is having enough money to fix the things that were deliberately neglected for decades. The scaremongering around The Pledge is key to their continued dominance in the state. 

A recent twitter exchange was a perfect illustration. Greg Moore is the head of Americans for Prosperity NH. AFP is an arm of the Koch brothers that has managed to achieve a disproportionate amount of influence over our state finances. Greg tweeted out that NH revenues are up in May, and claimed Trump’s tax reform is driving the NH economy forward. A reply to that tweet came from Grant Bosse, who wrote, “Don’t tell them! They’ll come back to spend it!”  (He was referring to the legislature.) Grant Bosse is the editor of the Union Leader’s editorial page. Before that, he worked for the Josiah Bartlett Center, the right wing think tank funded by the Koch brothers. 

That is, of course, easily translated into “spending is bad.” A successful business that invested in itself would be lauded, particularly if that came in the form of higher wages for workers. In NH success is defined as austerity. We don’t invest in education or any real safety net. We don’t even fix what is broken. To say that NH has “more money than we know what to do with,” in the face of our state’s many desperate needs is truly an obscenity.    

Published as an op-ed in the June 8, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

NH Progressive Summit 2018

There's still time to sign up! See you there! 

The annual NH Progressive Summit provides space for new and veteran activists to come together and be inspired by one another as we collectively learn, train, strategize, and mobilize for the issue and electoral challenges and opportunities we face together. 

This year’s theme is “Resistance to Power.” We are a movement of ideas and action, and the last year has shown what we can achieve when we are focused and organized. We will continue to beat back the attacks on our health care and public education. We will fight for equal rights for immigrants and the LGBTQ community. We will support access to the full range of reproductive rights without stigma or shame. We will demand the clean air and water we all deserve. We will advance strong public safety laws. We will seek a local, inclusive economy that puts working families first. And we will take back our state and elections from powerful special interests and the politicians who aid them.

Facebook Event Page

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Dirty Little Secret

New Hampshire does things that other states do not. We’re the only state with a 424 member volunteer legislature. We’re the only state that funds our state park system with user fees. There’s a reason other states don’t do these things – they don’t work. 

NH is also the only state where people who have been civilly committed to the state psychiatric hospital can be transferred to the Secure Psychiatric Unit (SPU) at the state men’s prison even if they haven’t been charged or convicted of a crime. If they are considered a danger to themselves or others, they can be transferred to the men’s prison, even if they’re women. Once there, the patients intermingle with the inmates.

The state prison is home to male inmates. The SPU is part of the prison. NH is the only state in the union that imprisons people with mental illness who have committed no crime; just because there is no place else secure enough for them.

This practice began 30 years ago. It was touted at the time as a temporary solution. Thirty years ago, the mental health system dismantled by Ronald Reagan and his acolytes. Institutions were emptied, with no planning for the now de-institutionalized patients. A month before Reagan was elected, President Carter signed the Mental Health Systems Act, which proposed to continue the federal community mental health centers program, and funded federal grants. This was all trashed when Reagan took office. Meanwhile, the folks who had been institutionalized often wound up living on the street, with no supports or treatment.

In 1986, the NH Supreme Court ruled that putting people in the SPU was not a violation of their constitutional rights. It was all too easy to forget all about those folks. If there’s one thing that the legislature hates, it’s spending money. And so, the practice of putting non-criminals behind bars in the name of treatment was ignored for a couple of decades, while the legislature blithely kicked the can down the road.

In 2004, there was an audit, and in 2005 a House study committee. In 2010 there was another study committee. For some years, State Representative Renny Cushing has been filing legislation to try to end this practice, as he did again this year. A few weeks ago a story in Fosters quoted Speaker of the House Gene Chandler as saying that lawmakers weren’t familiar enough with the situation to speak about changing it. It’s only been going on for 30 years.

In that same Foster’s story Associate AG Anne Edwards claimed that patients aren’t treated like inmates at all. The patients have prison numbers, can’t use the phone, and visitors have to go through background checks. Nothing I have ever read or heard suggests that patients at SPU are not being treated like prisoners. They are locked in wire cages for “therapy sessions.”  They are civilly committed to a prison. If this were normal, if this were considered therapeutic, other states would be doing it. 

They don’t. Only NH does this. 

In Colorado, psychiatric patients in crisis can be held in a jail for 24 hours if there are no psychiatric beds available. Colorado is a big rural state, and that 24 hours began to turn into 48 hours, or more. Sheriff’s tried to have the hold time lengthened. The governor vetoed the bill. A task force was created to look at the problem, and it actually did – and that work led to change. It’s now against the law to hold anyone in a county jail for a mental health problem. A bill was passed to increase funding for community based mental health treatment. Much of the funding will come from the state’s marijuana tax.

The difference, of course, is that in Colorado there was law enforcement and legislative support for ending the barbaric practice of imprisoning the mentally ill. In NH, there is no support for change. NH is perfectly happy to continue to sweep the criminalization of the mentally ill under the rug.

It’s been our dirty little secret for a long time. Social media can be a force for good, and in the case of SPU it has been. Nancy West of, an online news site, got a grant to investigate the SPU, and has been covering it for some time. Those stories led to coverage in the mainstream NH media. A young man named Andrew Butler is currently incarcerated in the SPU, and his case is getting a lot of attention. The legislature is finally paying attention, and recently moved to require the Department of Corrections to have the SPU accredited as a behavioral prison unit.

This is not a solution; it’s a way of normalizing the practice of incarcerating the mentally ill, in the 21stcentury, in the state of New Hampshire, the seventh wealthiest state in the nation. Shame on us. 

Published as an op-ed in the May 25, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun Newspaper

Edited to add this press release that the Treatment Advocacy Center sent to me. This is a snippet:

"New Hampshire's treatment of people with serious mental illnesses makes it a poster child for hypocrisy," Treatment Advocacy Center executive director John Snook added. "Instead of 'live free or die,' their credo should be 'go to prison and die'. The Governor and the Legislature need to fix this."
Using prevalence rates for schizophrenia and severe bipolar disorder, the Treatment Advocacy Center estimates that there are 36,000 people in the Granite State with serious mental illnesses. In the event of a psychiatric crisis, however, there is virtually no place for that population to receive inpatient care. As of 2016, New Hampshire had a total of 158 state hospital beds, or less than 12 per 100,000 people, which falls far below the minimum standard of 50 beds per 100,000 people.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Vampire Vouchers

Senate Bill 193 is titled: “Establishing education freedom savings accounts for students”, and was filed in January of 2017. It sped quickly through the Senate, and moved to the House in March 2017. It stayed in the House till last week. The bill spent 10 months in the NH House Education Committee, and four months in House Finance. During those four months, there were two public hearings, and 13 committee work sessions. It may have whizzed through the Senate, but the House really worked on it. The majority of the Finance Committee recommended it be sent to Interim Study. A simple legislative rule of thumb: any bill that has “freedom” in the title is going to be bad. 

Despite the title, this is a school voucher bill. It would take taxpayer funds from the public schools, and launder them through a third party, to bypass the Constitutional prohibition against using taxpayer funds for religious education. The cash would leave the Freedom Laundry, and go to private schools, religious schools, or to homeschooling families.

This bill comes to us from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, where far right conservatives draft model legislation and pass it on to the ALEC representatives in the various states. ALEC ‘s model bill is called “The Education Savings Account Act.” (Look it up at  There are a number of NH legislators tied to ALEC. Senator John Reagan of Deerfield is on ALEC’s Health and Human Services Task Force. Senator Reagan is also the sponsor of this voucher bill. Governor Sununu loves this bill – it’s one of the centerpieces of his legislative agenda.

The bill claims it will help low income families to be able to afford private school or home schooling. The Freedom Laundry has little in the way of accountability built into it. Tax dollars should be publicly accountable, transparent dollars, not dollars siphoned off to someone who wants to keep their kid out of gummint schools so they can teach them what kind of gun Jesus carried when he rode a dinosaur. 

State Representative Neal Kurk from Weare chairs the House Finance Committee. Kurk is a solid conservative, usually beloved by his party for the parsimonious state budgets he compiles every two years. Long time readers may remember me mocking Neal Kurk for an opinion piece he co-wrote with Rep. Laurie Sanborn in 2013 on the dangers of expanded Medicaid, where they bemoaned the possibility that low income yacht dwellers would be mooching free health care. It will cause an income tax, they cried!  Another rule of thumb: if a policy helps people, it will create GOP cries about an income tax. If a policy is proven to hurt taxpayers, the silence is deafening. 

Neal Kurk did not support the bill. He did the math, and found that SB 193 would bleed $99 million from the public schools and jack up property taxes. The House voted to send the bill to interim study, in a roll call vote of 170-159. Speaker Chandler immediately gaveled the session to a close, before a motion to reconsider could be made, which would, if defeated, prevent the bill from coming back.

After an evening of brisk arm-twisting by the Governor and other ideologues, the bill came back the next day. The motion to reconsider was defeated. That was the end of that, or so it seemed.

Alas, nothing bad ever dies in the NH legislature. It comes back again and again, sometimes for decades. This only took a few hours. The Senate was in session far into the night, and they attached the vampire voucher bill to another education bill, as an amendment. In other words, the people pushing this bill (and the special interests behind it) are going to do any underhanded thing they can think of to jam it through. 

Senator Jeb Bradley justified this late-night chicanery in the Concord Monitor, as “an opportunity to allow the discussion to continue.” The Carroll County Republican delegation all voted to drain the public schools and increase your property taxes. The only exception was Karel Crawford, who was excused.

Republicans used to call themselves the party of fiscal responsibility. There is nothing fiscally responsible about this bill, as Neal Kurk pointed out, to the public displeasure of his party. Today’s NH GOP has no interest in listening to voters or doing what is best for the state. They have an ideological agenda, and those who refuse to march in lockstep will be vilified.

By the time you read this, the House will have voted to concur or not concur with the amended version of HB 1636, the bill that the voucher amendment was attached to. A week of strong-arming and threats might win over the remaining Republican representatives that can still think for themselves. Those legislators live in other counties. Be sure to ask your Carroll County Republican representatives why they want to raise your property taxes. 

UPDATE: The House voted on concurrence. Twice. The first vote was on a motion not to concur, and to ask for a committee of conference. The Carroll County delegation all voted for that, save for Rep. Karel Crawford who voted nay. The motion failed. 

The second vote was to just flat out non-concur. Two Carroll County Republicans voted not to concur; Representative Karel Crawford, and Representative William Marsh. (Last week Marsh voted for the voucher bill.) The motion carried. 

A third vote motion was made to reconsider, with the same amendments. This motion also failed. 

After 5 votes, the vampire voucher bill is finally done for the year. We can all look forward to seeing it come back next year - and those Republicans who didn't toe the party line can expect to be punished in the primary. 

published as an op-ed in the May 11 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper