Thursday, November 15, 2018

Change Comes to New Hampshire

NH has survived another election, despite the confusion around the NH Supreme Court decision concerning SB3, which was helpfully intensified by the Secretary of State.  In spite of the incorrect absentee ballots that were sent out, and without even the usual complaining about busloads of out of state voters. I’ve read grousing about how people from Commiechusetts are coming here to destroy NH, but the reality is, that most people who migrate to NH move to Rockingham County, the reddest county in the state. They aren’t coming to Carroll County. There aren’t good paying jobs, and there isn’t any affordable housing. The migrants to Carroll County are primarily in their 50’s and 60’s, coming to live in their second homes and protect their pensions in tax free splendor.

In 2016, the Republicans won control of every part of the NH state government. What did they do with that control? The governor’s first priority was passing a concealed carry bill – because, apparently, guns are more important than anything. After taking a pay increase negotiated by the State Employees Union, he tried to pass right-to-work legislation. The Republicans passed more business tax cuts. They tried to pass a voucher bill that would have dramatically increased property taxes. The governor referred (more than once) to a bill that would have provided family leave for workers as “a vacation.” Caring for a sick family member isn’t exactly a trip to the Bahamas. The Trumpublicans are nothing if not tone deaf. 

On the other hand, the Governor earned a reputation with the media for being “affable,” and “avuncular.” Anywhere a camera was held up and the lens focused, he was there. His party often touted his bold leadership, and I think we can all agree that Sununu did some fine work on the placement of price labels on deli cheese at Market Basket.

In May, he boasted that the state had “more money than we know what to do with.” What did he do with it? Nada. Nil. Nothing. He claims he wants to invest in infrastructure. Meanwhile, we still have hundreds of red listed bridges. We have rest areas on I-95 that are in less than stellar condition. Our parks are years behind in maintenance. We have a serious housing problem, and a very serious school funding problem. We need to build a secure psychiatric hospital that isn’t part of the NH prison system. If Sununu is having trouble coming up with ideas, he should call me.

At least we know that NH will not become a right-to-work-for-less state during the next biennium. NH will not pass a voucher bill. There’s already a bill to make the very questionable voucher program an amendment to the NH Constitution loitering in the queue of upcoming legislation for 2019. 

The legislature will be voting to choose a Secretary of State for the next 2 years. The House will be voting on a new Speaker. The Republicans will be voting for a new minority leader. All of the committee chairs will be different with a Democratic majority. The first year of the biennium is always the year that a budget is crafted. 

I urge all legislators, old and new, to spend some time on the Secretary of State’s website before they vote. I’m an adept researcher, but I had to spend a couple of hours trying to come up with the magic phrases that unlocked candidate financial forms. The magic phrase was different each time, and more difficult if one were trying to access a “Friends of Rep. Jim Jeremy” committee finance report. I was trying to access candidate forms for several different candidates, including Senator Bradley. Wheelabrator, an international solid waste incineration company mysteriously appeared in the biomass bill, which guaranteed them taxpayer subsidies. Bradley was a sponsor of the bill, and a vocal public supporter. It turns out that Wheelabrator generously donated $4,500 to Bradley’s 2018 re-election campaign. I should have been able to access that information easily, but the Secretary of State’s website is not user friendly. In an NHPR discussion with Secretary of State candidates, Gardner commented that the information is there, it’s just hard to find. That just isn’t acceptable. 

Northern Carroll County experienced a blue wave. The entire northern House delegation is now comprised of Democrats. In southern Carroll County, voters inexplicably chose to re-elect the same candidates who voted to dramatically increase their property taxes by attempting to initiate a school voucher program.

We should all take a page from Rep. Karen Umberger who lost her bid for re-election, and graciously wished the winners well. Rep. Umberger and I have disagreed on many issues over the years, but she has been unfailingly polite and willing to listen, which is what we should expect from citizen legislators.

Published as an op-ed in the Conway Daily Sun newspaper, November 16, 2018

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Election Integrity

NH has a late state primary. This year it fell on September 11. The general election is November 6. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Secretary of State’s office to print up ballots for the 221 towns, 13 cities, or the absentee ballots – especially those that have to be sent overseas. The overseas ballots are sent out 45 days before Election Day. 

This year it didn’t go well. There were errors on the ballots. Some of the overseas voters received incorrect ballots. Stephen D’Angelo, a Democrat running for State Rep. in Rockingham District 4 was completely left off the ballot. In his place was the name of the guy he’d beaten by 5 votes in the primary. Tammy Siekman, a Democrat from Londonderry, running for State Senate was listed as a Libertarian. Gray Chynoweth, a Democrat running for the Executive Council was listed in the column for Democrats, but as a Libertarian. The mistakes have been corrected, but the incorrect ballots were sent overseas.

Deputy Secretary of State, Dave Scanlan, was quite offhand about it. He was quoted in the Concord Monitor as saying that it only affected about 50 votes, but those people would all get a corrected ballot. He said that it was a small percentage of voters who received incorrect ballots, but the key thing was that the ballots for Election Day, when most people vote, were corrected.

That sounds rather blithe to me. If I were one of the 50 voters who got a bogus ballot, I would be angry. I would feel as though my vote didn’t count, and that my state didn’t care about my vote. Secretary of State Bill Gardner was quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “We do a lot of proofing here, but things happen.” Things happen? We should just accept these errors as part of the process? That’s ironic, coming from a guy who claims to be concerned about election integrity.

Bill Gardner has been the Secretary of State in NH since 1976. He is elected every biennium – not by the voters, but by the NH legislature. For decades he enjoyed the support of legislators from both parties. But that was before he bought into the Republican fairy tales about our elections. That was before candidate Chris Sununu went on the Howie Carr radio show and talked about busloads of people from Massachusetts coming to vote in NH. It was before he got involved with Kris Kobach’s voter integrity commission. It was before he surrendered to becoming a pawn of the far right and their voter fraud/voter suppression agenda.

The bus rumors began when Democrats began winning elections. NH Republicans felt entitled to those seats, and they were plenty miffed when they started losing. Then came Chris Sununu who really put the rumors up in lights – and by doing so, enabled Donald Trump to question the integrity of NH elections. Somewhere along the way Republicans decided it was easier to blame their failure to recruit young people to their party on student voting, and they’ve been desperate to eliminate it ever since.

And so they set about undermining our elections. Every year there are nearly a dozen bills filed that attempt to redefine the words “residency,” “resident,” and of course, everyone’s favorite, “domicile.” SB 3, currently in a bizarre legal limbo, comes with a provision that if your residency is in question, people may come to your house and question you. Yep, that’s voting in the free world, folks. In a state that has no problem with voter fraud. Brought to you by the political party that ran an out-of-stater as their goobernatorial candidate in 2014.

A study done by the Secretary of State’s office and the AG found that voter fraud is quite rare in New Hampshire. Yet, State Senator Regina Birdsell (a zealous perpetuator of the false fraud narrative) often refers to the “perception” her constituents have about voter fraud. It’s a perception that she and her cohorts in the Republican Party have worked hard to create. Our hapless Secretary of State has fallen right into their trap.

When asked about the busloads, Gardner said at a hearing at the State House, that his office has never been provided proof, but a lot of people in this state believe that is happening. Under no other circumstances do we write laws based on perception or the beliefs of “a lot of people.” It is truly unfortunate that Bill Gardner didn’t choose to retire before he tarnished his own legacy. 

Finally, there are those who continue to spout the fiction of college students influencing our elections. A helpful reminder: the Republican Party won control of every branch of our state government in the last election. It seems all those college students and busloads of Democrats voted Republican. 

Published as an op-ed in the November 2, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Vote to Amend?

November 6 is Election Day. This year on the ballot there will two proposed amendments to the NH Constitution. They are CACR 15 and CACR 16.

Every year a number of potential amendments are filed. Some are filed every biennium, despite their lack of popularity. That’s what you get with a 400 person volunteer legislature. In order for a CACR to advance to the ballot, the bill must receive a three-fifths vote in the House and again in the Senate. In order for the state constitution to be amended, two-thirds of the voters must vote in favor of the amendment. 

CACR 15 is titled, “relating to legal actions. Providing that taxpayers have standing to bring actions against the government. This means that anyone eligible to vote would have the standing to sue over the government’s use of revenues, without having to prove they were harmed by the expenditure in question. In the past courts have dismissed cases on the grounds that the person doing the suing wasn’t personally injured by the expense. The example used most often is the 2012 case of Duncan v. New Hampshire, which concerned public funds for state education going to private religious schools, which is a violation of the state constitution. If this amendment had been in place, that suit would have gone forward. 

That’s the upside. The downside is that New Hampshire is filled with libertea-loving miscreants who think paying any taxes is illegal. This amendment would give the malcontent crowd an opportunity to sue cities, towns, and the states. The sponsors of the bill claim this isn’t so, that there are adequate protections against nuisance suits. Former NH Supreme Court Justice Chuck Douglas is a supporter of the amendment. In a recent radio interview, he was unable to guarantee that there wouldn’t be a barrage of lawsuits about taxation.

No one has proven to my satisfaction that this won’t be a disaster. Those lawsuits come at a high cost, which is seldom reported on. The money to respond to those lawsuits comes from our tax dollars, which means that something important isn’t getting funded, while Joe Free Stater’s lawsuit about how taxation is theft at gunpoint will get the money instead.

Be sure to read the text of the amendment. At the NH General Court website, there’s a box on the left side of the page where you can look up a 2018 bill. Type CACR 15 (or 16) into the box. When the bill comes up, click on “Bill Docket” and you’ll be able to follow the history of the bill from the beginning. At the top of the page you can click on “Bill Text” and read it. 

CACR 16 concerns privacy.  The text of what would be added to the constitution reads, “An individual's right to live free from governmental intrusion in private or personal information is natural, essential, and inherent.” 

I have problems with the language. What does this even mean? It sounds good, but how does this translate into legal interpretation? Don’t we have enough trouble with interpreting the word “domicile” in this state? How about the vague language of Second Amendment to the US Constitution?

It’s a laudable goal, trying to shore up an individual’s right to privacy from the government. I applaud the intent; it’s the language that is problematic. This is a good idea that needs a lot more work. At this point, there is no way to know how this will be interpreted in the context of other amendments to both our state and federal constitutions. It’s also worth noting that this barely passed in the House and Senate. It was one vote that secured the three-fifths needed in each chamber.

This bill also guarantees a surfeit of nuisance lawsuits. There will be those that think the DMV has no right to know if they wear corrective lenses. Again, responding to those suits costs money, and we’re already spending a boatload of tax dollars on lawsuits already in progress. Also, to be clear, this proposed amendment does not address the right to privacy from companies, who can buy, sell, and publish our personal information without fear of reprisal.

Both amendments are well intentioned. I don’t believe either is ready for prime time. The online news publication, Manchester Ink Link has two pieces on the amendments, one written by State Representative Timothy Smith of Manchester, and one by reporter Laura Aronson of Ink Link. Smith’s piece is in the opinion section, and Aronson’s is in the news section at 

There is still plenty of time to read up on these amendments and research the candidates you’ll see on your ballot on November 6. Amending the NH Constitution is serious business, and it is our civic duty to be well informed when we vote. 

Rep. Tim Smith in Manchester Ink Link

Laura Aronson in Manchester Ink Link

The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen, October 5  - the interview with Chuck Douglas starts at about 29 minutes in. 

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

Thursday, October 04, 2018

I Believe Her

Brett Kavanaugh must have the most inept handlers in the history of handling. His story could have been spun as the mistakes made by a young man who had a troubled relationship with alcohol. A young man who realized he was in trouble, and changed his life, leaving him with profound regrets. He would apologize to anyone he had wronged, and added a tearful, personal apology to Dr. Ford. If he’d done all that, he’d be sitting next to Clarence Thomas right now. 

But he didn’t do that. Instead, he showed us the kind of rage that an entitled scion of privilege can summon up when he’s held accountable. Here’s a guy who has had (despite his protestations of working his butt off) everything in his life handed to him. The idea that he might not have this latest prize handed to him was so unacceptable that he had a tantrum on national television.

Imagine going to a job interview, where you shouted, cried, gulped water as if it were straight vodka, and talked obsessively about beer. Think you’d get hired?

Climb into the wayback machine with me and travel to July of 2009, when hearings were held on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor. Senator Lindsey Graham expressed concerns about her judicial temperament. In a story by ABC news, he said, 
"She's a terror on the bench. She's temperamental, excitable, she seems angry. She's overall aggressive, not very judicial.”
Poor Judge Sotomayor. Who knew that the key to impressing Senator Graham was screaming, crying, and talking about beer? 

When women ask tough questions, they’re angry and aggressive. When men are denied what they feel entitled to, they have tantrums that are justified by other men. Women don’t get to have public hysterics and then get lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court.

At this point in time, our country is so dysfunctional that sides are being chosen. Either you believe Dr. Ford, or you think she’s lying. I asked a guy why the evil Democrats didn’t do this to Neil Gorsuch. His response? “They hadn’t thought of this tactic then.” It’s far more likely that Neil Gorsuch, though he may have traveled in similar elite circles of prep schools and fraternities, managed to avoid engaging in constant drunkenness and attempted rape.

What do we know about elite prep schools? We know that that rape culture was alive and well at St. Paul’s, Phillips Exeter, Horace Mann, and Milton Academy. We know that these future captains of industry, after being groomed at pervy prep go on to Ivy League colleges to finish their development. We know there’s a troubling culture at Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, and pretty much any school where there are fraternities.  

Donald Trump warns that it’s a very scary time for young men in America. Womp womp. It’s been a scary time in America for young women for forever.  In the US, 90% of adult rape victims are female. It is estimated that at least 63% of rapes are never reported. The percentage of false rape accusations are somewhere near 2%, and even that may be inflated. Remember, this warning comes from a man who was caught on camera boasting of his proclivity for sexually assaulting women.

On Tuesday night, at a reassurance rally in Mississippi, Trump mocked Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who testified that a drunken Brett Kavanaugh attempted to rape her. This is the president of the United States, a position we once believed should involve dignity and statesmanship.

This sends a message to your daughters - that when they are raped or assaulted, they will not be believed. It sends a message to your sons – that it’s okay. Boys will be boys, and that means that white boys get to rape girls without fear of reprisal. The dull witted men who wonder why she didn’t report it are the reason that she didn’t. Girls and women who report are seldom believed and frequently harassed. Only one in every thousand rapes ends in jail time.

Brett Kavanaugh is a lawyer who has never tried a case. He was one of Kenneth Starr’s Clinton sheet sniffers. GW Bush put him on the bench to reward his years of partisan service at the White House. His testimony before the Judiciary Committee was unquestioningly partisan (and self pitying), which calls into question his future ability to be impartial. We’ve already seen his lack of self-control. This is a privileged white guy failing upward. It will mean that 20% of the Supreme Court is comprised of sex offenders. It will also mean the Court no longer has legitimacy.  

If you think you don’t know anyone who has been raped, it means they don’t trust you enough to tell you.

The 24-hour sexual assault hotline: 1-800-277-5570. 

This was published as an op-ed in the October 5, 2018 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper

Check out  I Believe Her  by Emma's Revolution 

                                     I believe her. I am her. 

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