Ah, Politics in the Spring

(Reprinted from the Keene NH Sentinel)

Politics is a year-round sport in New Hampshire, I’m learning. You old-timers perhaps were aware of that.

Case in point: the 2016 presidential election is two and a half years away — roughly the period in which Apple will introduce at least three new iphones and an wristwatch which morphs into a portable television (or have they already invented that?). Yet aspiring presidential candidates already are taking aim at the Granite State voters with all the eagerness of a hunter on the first day of duck season. And from the duck’s viewpoint, that’s not such a great thing.
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A glob of Republican nominee wannabes, along with Donald Trump (seen above in an especially cuddly photograph), came to the state last weekend to show off their wares, though Trump seemed more motivated to sell shares in his buildings. Amazingly, several hundred people showed up to sit willingly in a stuffy room and listen to them on a day when it wasn’t cold or snowing outside. Given our recently concluded winter, those must be some serious New Hampshire political wonkers.

No one knows, of course, if any of those wannabes will wind up as the party’s nominee. And we haven’t yet seen much of the Democrats who will want to be renting the White House beginning in 2016. Hilary Clinton seems to be the prime favorite for that task, but again, the nominating process won’t be completed for another two years, during which time General Motors will have recalled every vehicle ever sold and the nation’s airlines will be charging an extra fee for anyone wanting to use a bathroom (or do they do that already?).

One of the races which appears to be generating almost as much interest as it has money is the contest for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s seat in the United States
senate. Sen. Shaheen, of course, is a Democrat who is running for re-election. She’s been holding one office or another in New Hampshire for three decades even though she’s not a native; Missouri was her birthplace.

I mention that last point because it seems to bear on her re-election bid. Her Republican opponent — yet to be determined, like almost everything about politics this year — just might be former Massachusetts resident and U.S. Senator, Scott Brown. He already has made several campaign visits to the state — just like everyone else — but now has decided to move in and become a Granite Stater. Democrats say he’s a (fill in your favorite derogatory term for anyone from Massachusetts), while Republicans insist he’s as much a resident as anyone else, specifically Sen. Shaheen, who was also born somewhere else. How this epic verbal clash over residency plays out is anyone’s guess. My guess would be that television stations will be the only winners because they’ll get the morass of advertising money the candidates spend to convince you of their rightness.

So in the big picture, what does all of this add up to, apart from a sentence that ends with a preposition in spite of the warning against that by my English teacher decades ago? I think the answer is not much. At least right now. And perhaps the reason why has to be the weather.

Can many New Hampshirites really sustain their enthusiasm for hotel meeting rooms in the face of a spring that brings us the sun and clear days? Will more than a handful of voters seriously even think about political candidates as we begin to move toward warm weather? Will anyone who has a rod and reel devote their brain to more than a micro-second of thought about anything that doesn’t live in a lake?

I said earlier that politics strikes me, a newcomer, as a year-round sport here in our special little corner of the world. But like the snowmobile, it’s likely to be a lot harder to find and pay attention to between April and October, when it’s more than two years — or, a long enough time for North Korea to begin manufacturing iphones and Vladimir Putin to seize France (he hasn’t done that yet, has he?) — before we get around to actual, serious voting.

Let’s Get Steven Colbert

The rank paranoia and sheer foolishness of today’s Republican Party is a constant source of surprise, even when it shouldn’t be. Nothing, it appears, is safe from the far-fetched, fearful, freaky, fanciful mind of the right wing GOPers.

Case in point: in today’s Wall Street Journal — which boasts distinguished news coverage and a bevy of the most noxious, wacko columnists, the always-wrong Karl Rove among them — there is a column about David Letterman’s upcoming retirement on CBS and his anointed successor, Steven Colbert. This would seem to be a pretty easy-going piece, you would think, but in fact as you read through it, it becomes an inflamed diatribe against a television network, Steven Colbert and liberal Democrats, who will be the only people who will watch the show. Really. I couldn’t make this up.
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The columnist is Raymond Siller, identified a a former writer for Johnny Carson and now a political consultant (do you suppose he consults mostly with the Tea Baggers?). He writes that the selection of Colbert — whose character on Comedy Central is a conservative Republican blowhard — is likely to alienate conservatives (i.e., Republicans) when Colbert hits CBS. Why, you ask? Siller seems to believe that while Colbert is abandoning his character when he moves to CBS, he will appeal largely to liberal Democrats because … well, because I don’t know why. Siller never gets around to telling us why. Only that — and I’m quoting to show I didn’t make this up — “By picking Mr. Colbert, CBS seems to be signaling that its target demo is Democrats of a decidedly liberal stripe.”

What utter, witless tripe. The WSJ further descends to the bottom of the columnist pit with such bizarre imaginings. Could it not be that Steven Colbert’s appeal stretches across the political spectrum because he’s funny? Where are the demographics that tell us how many liberal Democrats watch Colbert compared to how many right-wing Republicans? Maybe it’s a lot. I never seen any numbers, however, and I’ll bet neither has Siller. It’s all conjecture from the extremely irrational right wing point of view, to which I can only add that is there any other point of view those people hold?

Colbert is a wealthy, middle-aged white guy. Therefore he fits into the perfect Republican right-wing demographic. The only difference is that from all I’ve heard, Colbert cares about people who are less well off and who don’t supply outrageous sums of money to support their anti-poor, anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-minority policies. But then — I haven’t seen the poll numbers on that. So we’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose.

When Equal Isn’t Equal

If blog length were determined by the “rightness” of the topic, this column would be almost infinite. Instead, it will be brief, though the subject is of such clear, unblemished “right” that it defies sense and logic that I or anyone else would still be writing about it.

The topic is equal pay for women. The fact is this: for every $1 men earn at their jobs in this country, women earn about 78-cents, give or take a couple of pennies. If that strikes you as something that’s just fine, then you are living in the wrong century. Or perhaps you’re a Republican. It’s blatant financial discrimination and does a terrible disservice to tens of millions of American women who either are the sole breadwinners in their families or whose income is essential to family support. This is a no-brainer.

The state of New Hampshire and the US government are at least recognizing this sad truth with the creation of “Equal Pay Day” to call attention to the problem. And there are bills pending in Congress that seek to ensure wage equity. Democrats in the US Senate support them, and so do some Republicans. In the House of Representatives, many Republicans do not. This is really no giant surprise given that Republicans — at least their demented right wing — do not endorse most legislation that helps women, poor people, gays, immigrants or the middle class. That’s a fact.

If you’re a voter, please keep those things in your mind. If you’re voting for a “good” Republican — one who might support women on this issue — you are lending support to the majority in the GOP who will use their members to deny basic rights to millions and millions of people. Think about it. This topic is all about what’s right. There’s only one way to go with it.

Another Top Ten List

Top 10 signs it’s spring in New Hampshire (with apologies to and thanks for the wonderful David Letterman):

10. My wife suggested it’s time to take off the flannel shirt I put on in December.

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9. A dandelion and my mailbox suddenly appeared out of the ice pack.

8. The truck finally got washed — just minutes before sloshing through a muddy road.

7. The nighttime low temperature finally exceeded the daytime high temperature for the last three months.

6. Ski resort owners are no longer smiling.

5. Four different companies sent notices that it’s time to clean my wood stove.

4. The tee-shirt I wore so much last year apparently shrunk during the winter.

3. A friend down in Florida called to ask about a visit to New Hampshire this summer.

2. Another friend in Alabama called to ask about a visit to New Hampshire this summer.

1. It no longer gets dark while I’m eating lunch.

Hooray for Rich People

I think I can speak for all the rich people in the world today when I say “thank you Supreme Court.” Not only have the justices established that corporations are people, but that rich people have all the rights of corporations. It’s all part of the First Amendment; read it yourself.

The court, in a 5-4 decision (that once again inexplicably includes the vote of Clarence Thomas — more on that in a moment) has ruled that the limits on individual gifts to political campaigns need to be upped. This seems like such a good idea it’s a wonder no one thought of it before. Oh wait, they did. Back in 2010, the court found that there shouldn’t be limits on contributions by corporations. So really, we’re just bringing everything in line here.

In spit of the obvious advantages of these decisions, there are a new nay-sayers who see in them “the evisceration of America’s campaign finance laws.’Interestingly, not a single one of the scoffers in the wake of the court ruling yesterday was a Republican. Hmmmmm. What do you make of that?

Frankly, for the rich people who only want to use their money to get their ideas better known –like those zany multi-billionaires Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers — this ruling merely affirms their rightness in the American political culture. It’s all about unlimited giving because that’s freedom and that’s the American way. If some want to see the seeds of corruption being sown, let them. All the court is doing is sustaining the First Amendment, which apparently includes a section about how rich people shouldn’t be discriminated against.

Which brings me back to Clarence Thomas, the most pathetic member of the court. Thomas yesterday voted with the majority but wrote his own opinion (isn’t that sweet?) saying he sees no reason for any regulation on political contributions. And this from a justice who regularly consorts with the same very rich people who stand to benefit from this ruling. And would do so even more if everyone adhered to Thomas’ opinion.

I wonder if the Koch Brothers might be interested in buying a Supreme Court? Or have they already?

Wackos and Misfits

Even for a political party that tacitly or indirectly supports the wants of wealthy, aging white men over the needs of minorities, women, the poor and just about everyone in the “middle class,” the Republicans have a really dumb cast of presidential wannabes for 2016. Seriously. Given that the GOP wants to re-capture the White House in two more years, the bizarre assortment of characters who aspire to the party’s nomination suggest a parallel universe peopled with wackos, misfits and — I’m not kidding — yet another Bush.

Let’s take a (mercifully) brief look:
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CHRIS CHRISTIE — The governor of New Jersey lost his mojo when the bridge scandal showed him up as a mean-spirited, disloyal, smart-ass bully. Given that that seems to describe his personality, it’s hard to believe he won’t step in more deep poo between now and 2016. Watching him twist and twirl to appeal to the Tea Party crazies will be fun.
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TED CRUZ — Speaking of Tea Party crazies, here’s the Prince of Wackos, a Texas senator who’s dedicated to destroying much of what makes America function with irrational, obstructionalist, anti-Constitutional rants. Which is, of course, precisely why the extreme right wing of the GOP adores him.
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RAND PAUL — The Libertarian-leaning senator from Kentucky, who’s mostly in favor of giving up America’s international commitments, will attract a huge majority of Libertarian voters. That means that in the Republican primaries, he’ll finish somewhere around fifth place.
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JEB BUSH — Seriously? Surely Republicans would agree we’ve had enough of the Bushes. Three strikes (Bushes) and you’re out. Jeb has been away from politics for seven years, and he’s probably a bit of a brighter bulb than George W., which are the best things about him I can think of.
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MARCO RUBIO — He’ll certainly have an appeal to Hispanics, at least until they realize that the rest of the Republican Party doesn’t. Rubio is no dummy or fraud (see Ted Cruz), but it seems doubtful he can muster enough votes from the GOP’s base to win a primary.
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PAUL RYAN — He was an unsuccessful vice presidential candidate in 2012 (and running with Mitt Romney, who expected anything else?). Ryan’s intellectual chops are compromised by the vacuity of his financial ideas, but he remains attractive in a who-else-is-around sort of way to Republican establishment members.

There are a few others who seem interested, like Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal and — dare we speak it aloud? — Newt Gingrich. My goodness, even Sarah Palin might be daft enough to run. Whatever happens, it will be fun for sure, and definitely bad for the great majority of people in this country. For sure.

Thanks for Not Much, Mother Nature

(Reprinted from the Keene NH Sentinel)

“Mother Nature isn’t getting an invitation to my birthday party this year,” said the exasperated reservations clerk in northern Maine as we chatted last week about a fishing trip I’m making there in a few months. But then, Mother Nature isn’t going to be getting invitations anywhere from most winter-chapped New Englanders this year.

The signs of spring — you remember spring, don’t you? — have been infrequent so far this season. A flock of geese here. A daffodil there. A snow pack not quite as high as it was last week. My New York City daughter says it’s all because of me — Mother Nature and the gods of revenge have me squarely in their cruel sights. I look at it paying my dues.

You see, way back when, before retirement, we lived in the South, that sunny region below Hartford where spring truly arrives in March and occasionally in February. Where the azaleas and dogwoods leap into fiery color, plants begin to display blooms and grass actually threatens to grow. Where people drive convertibles with the top down. Where restaurants find their al fresco business booming. And where — year after year, faithfully and relentlessly — I would call my daughter to recount the glories of the new season, with mentions of 75-degrees and my need for some new shorts and and tee-shirts. She, of course –stuck in a New York that resembled something out of Dickens’ worst-imagined, filthy snow, sub-freezing temperature urban landscape — could only grit her teeth and vow I would someday regret my familial callousness.

She was right.

Retirement brought us to rural New Hampshire to be much closer to the kids and grandkids and to fully immerse ourselves in the lovely, charming New England of our imagination. Alas, no one ever mentioned the fact that we would lose sight of the woodshed behind the snow pack in January to have it reappear only recently. No one mentioned that the dog would decide the sheet of ice on his runway was something to be avoided until the temperature hits 50. And definitely no one mentioned I would pull into the garage one chilly morning to discover that Mother Nature’s evil invention called black ice was ready to send my truck into the side paneling.

She was right.

And now that spring is upon us — or what passes for early spring in these parts, something I believe only ski resort owners could applaud — I am finding that I’m drawing ever closer to the New England ethos (forgive me that inflated phrase). I used to respond to queries from my new friends as to how were coping with the snow and cold by insisting we were doing fine. And we were. the wood stove is a marvel, without which I would be even deeper in debt to the fuel oil company. We didn’t lose power. The cars ran. We visited the kids. Life moved forward.

Now, when our friends — really, everyone we encounter — remark on how awful the cold weather is and bemoans the delay of spring, we concur. In fact my southern accent was apparently sufficiently covered by a scarf the other day that one storekeeper in Keene asked if I remembered a winter around these parts colder than this one. “Nope, this one just won’t quit,” I replied with all the pseudo-authority I could muster. “I don’t know that we’ve had one this cold for a while.” That is actually true, but I would be referring to Atlanta, where it truly has not been this cold this year. Or ever. I felt a little ashamed as I left the store, and think I heard the man behind the counter laughing.

So she was right.

But here’s a little secret for us now-New Englanders to share with our new neighbors. That 75-degrees in Atlanta I mentioned? Those lovely blooming flowers? They are now disgorging reams of yellowish pollen, which will stick to everything in sight including the flowers, convertibles and tee-shirts. And anyone with even a hint of allergies will wish themselves in the worst New England winter for the next six weeks when the pollen avalanche reaches its peak. And by that time the humidity levels will have risen to spectacular heights that appeal mostly to alligators.

So I’m right where I want to be, as it turns out. Joining my fellow New Englanders in a chorus of whining and complaining about our never-ending cold. Preparing to celebrate when that first 60-degree day arrives. And dreaming about getting a truck wash someday. And seeing our dog rejoice in Mother Nature, whose cruelty we will certainly have long forgotten.

Town Meetings

Among the most anticipated parts of our move to New England was the opportunity to participate in one of the region’s iconic town meetings. They have been a central part of life for New englanders since the 17th century, a moment when the residents of a town or community come together to debate and resolve in a public forum issues involving budgets, governmental policies and occasionally some unrelated matters. Town meetings have been observed and celebrated for centuries, as much a part of New England as snow, maple syrup and the Red Sox, and I am eager to join in this venerable tradition.

But first, it turns out, I had to figure out what SB 2 is and then vote against it, which I did earlier this week.

SB (Senate Bill) 2 was a plan approved by the New Hampshire legislature nearly 20 years ago which would, in effect, do away with town meeting as we’ve come to know them. It was devised as a “positive:” a way to get more people involved in the democratic process (too few people seem to have the time or commitment to attend lengthy town meetings) and ensure ballot access for everyone. But what has happened is that by substituting ballots for debate, the democratic process has been circumvented, and town meetings have become largely a rubber stamp for what has already been approved in earlier, small-group sessions. At least that’s my view.

A number of New Hampshire communities have approved SB 2, though a majority retain the traditional town meeting format. And apparently some of those municipalities that earlier endorsed SB 2 have changed their minds, finding SB 2 now restrictive and even, in some ways. anti-democratic. In my community, there have been outspoken voices against SB 2, and while the results of the vote on it haven’t been announced, unofficial sources say it was defeated.

And assuming that’s the case, I’m pleased. I plan to go to my town meeting, my first one, this Saturday. I intend to listen carefully, to tolerate periods of boredom, and to participate with full commitment and the understanding that I am carrying on in a tradition I heartily endorse and am thrilled to be part of. Even if I have to end a sentence with a preposition.

Fear of Flying

Did you read that American Airlines recently announced that it would no longer offer free cabin pressurization on its flights? Pressurization will continue to be free for first class and business class flyers, but coach passengers will have to pay a fee.

And no, it’s not true; the item appeared in the satirical newsmagazine The Onion. But the fact that a lot of people have read the above and reasoned for at least a moment that it might be true tells us all we need to remember about the business of flying today: no matter what they claim, the airlines are not your friends.

Of course, if you’re a coach class passenger, you already knew that. The race to make coach class anything but a second-rate experience ended a long time ago.

Low fares, the biggest inducement for coach passengers to buy tickets, aren’t nearly as low as they once were. And they keep rising, often several times during the year. The increase in special fees — everything from overweight bags to changing your reservation — are aimed almost entirely at coach, lower-fare paying passengers. The airlines recently announced they want to shrink even more the size of seats in coach class and add more rows of seats to already tightly squeezed sections. Your comfort as a coach passenger seems of little evident concern. And bereavement fares — those slightly reduced fares offered when you had to make a last-minute flight because granny died six states away — are as gone as poor granny.

The latest shoe to fall came a few days ago when Delta announced it is changing its frequent flyer reward program to reward its highest paying, elite customers at the expense of coach class flyers. Beginning January 1, Delta will base its rewards on the price of your ticket rather than the length of your flight. So, on a trip from Boston to Los Angeles, the person who bought the high priced ticket will get about three times the points as someone who bought a cheaper advance coach fare, although both will have flown the same number of miles.

And who buys nearly all of those high priced tickets? That would be business flyers, who seldom purchase lower priced fares since their travel — often paid for by their companies — is more often last-minute and may also require changing flights. Those flyers and elite-level flyers stand to benefit hugely, exactly as Delta and other airlines intend. All of their efforts at improving service, making seats more comfortable and front-loading the perks stem from a determination to reward those flyers who spend the most money while at the same time they are paying less and less attention to others.

And what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t people who pay more get more? If I’m spending $900 on my ticket, shouldn’t I get better treatment — maybe three times better treatment — than someone who paid only $300? And, by extension, shouldn’t someone who paid $1,800 get at least treatment at least twice as nice as mine including, perhaps, being carried on board by a retinue of flight attendants? That seems only the American (or Delta or United) way, really.

So maybe it’s just something we ought to accept. After all, the evidence of the income gap between Americans has become all the more obvious over recent decades. This is just one more manifestation. The 1% has earned what it gets. Complaints about the privileged getting more come down to just whining by ingrates. Can’t legitimately blame the airlines for what’s a critical element in the structure of our American society.

So, congratulations to the first class. Those of us in the back of the plane salute you and ask that you please not trip us as we struggle to the rear, secure in the knowledge that our section of the plane will land only a millisecond after you do.

Guns Everywhere

Ardent gun enthusiasts — that relentless minority including the hierarchy of the National Rifle Association — believe that you shouldn’t be prevented from carrying your weapon of choice wherever you go. Church. School. The office. The local bar. The airport. Efforts to require gun registration are only efforts to turn law-abiding citizens into criminals. The Second Amendment is inviolate, usually in ways that any of the Ten Commandments are not. And towns ought to be able to require anyone living there to own guns.

I know this because I come from Georgia, which is one of the states in thrall to the NRA and where the noisy minority persist in setting the agenda over common sense. There is actually a town in Georgia that forces all residents to purchase guns if they wish to live there. No kidding. Georgia, like Texas, allows concealed weapons in the most unlikely places. And now the legislature is looking at a proposal to allow people who “accidentally” bring a gun into the security checkpoint at airports to avoid arrest. In Georgia, lawmakers and even clergymen have been arrested and had their weapons confiscated because they showed up in the security lines. Their universal excuse has been that they “forgot” they had a gun packed in their bags or in their jacket or wherever. That makes us all feel really good about the kind of people who are bearing guns, doesn’t it? Nothing is as heart-warming as the thought of a totally absent-minded, gun-totin’ citizen headed for his bar or to church or the airport. He’d make a swell driver on busy highways, too, wouldn’t he?

In response to the Georgia proposal, David Borer of the American Federation of Government Employees — representing TSA workers at the airport — is quoted as saying “The public has had 12 years’ notice that guns are prohibited … Sooner or later they need to take responsibility for violating the law that’s meant to protect our officers and the traveling pubic.”

I read a letter to the editor in our local paper a while back from a Granite Stater who was upset because the New Hampshire legislature had the temerity to debate — although it did not pass — a bill to require background checks for gun purchasers. Just another attempt to deprive law-abiding, would-be gun buyers of their God-given rights to purchase weapons anywhere, anytime without the hassle of “big” government interference. He also didn’t like registration fees because they are just another attempt to squeeze poor gun owners out of their holy, sacrosanct automatic weapons.

Whew. That’s a lot of worry about not a whole lot. You get the feeling that this fellow doesn’t like having to get a drivers license or pay auto registration fees either. After all, you ought to be able to just to buy and car and then drive it, dammit. Same with guns. Just buy one and shoot it; nobody’s business whether you have a license or the guy down the street has one. Guns, guns, guns.

The response to this foolishness — really this dangerousness — is too evident to belabor. And surveys repeatedly show us that a majority of Americans (among them a majority of NRA members) want background checks and safeguards on gun registration. It’s way, way past time to fix this sad, tragic dilemma as some states like New York have been attempting. And while no one honestly believes that these steps will settle the ghastly problems, there is little doubt they would at the least help. That’s more than enough reason to try it.