Susan Bruce: Stuck in reverse

The day after being elected governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu started talking about voter fraud. He’s deeply concerned about it — though not so deeply as to question the legitimacy of his own election. No, our new governor is content to mutter about the need for “reform.” He’s even called for the elimination of same-day voter registration. Apparently, no one has explained what that would mean to our newly elected governor.
In 1993, the National Voter Registration Act was signed into law. It requires states’ governments to provide the opportunity for any eligible person who applies for a driver’s license or a renewal, or for some form of public assistance to also register to vote.  The state would be required to register applicants by mail, using federal registration forms. Private entities would be able to hold voter registration drives and register voters.
New Hampshire Republicans have always hated this idea. Registering welfare recipients to vote? Registration drives on college campuses? In poor neighborhoods? Oh, hell no! They hated the idea so much that they got out of complying with the motor voter law by having same-day voter registration instead. Given a choice between the two, I am certain that they will continue to prefer same-day registration, and that someone will explain all this to Chris Sununu.
Rep. David Bates (R-Windham) has adopted the cause of faux fraud as his new mission, and has filed 13 bills and one constitutional amendment to solve the non-existent problem. Imagine if he and his fellow legislators were even half as interested in solving the very real problem of our state’s crumbling infrastructure?
In speaking about his priorities, our new governor’s top three were voting, guns and union busting. Sununu would like to eliminate the requirement for licensing a concealed handgun. Current law (written by Republicans, by the way) requires one’s local chief of police issue a permit. The chief has the discretion of being able to refuse to give a license to someone he knows to be a bad tempered drunk or domestic abuser. That isn’t enough for the gun crowd, who will not be happy until there are zero gun laws in our state. In fact, some of the gun-happy legislators are opposed to domestic abusers losing their guns. Fifty percent of the women murdered in this state are murdered by their abusive partners, but apparently women are easily replaceable in the eyes of the MOAR GUNZ crowd. It is interesting though, that in a state that has so few gun laws, that the governor-elect considers this a priority.
Sununu also wants to sign right-to-work (for less) legislation, which we also call union busting. Less than 10 percent of the New Hampshire workforce is unionized, but it’s been the mission of the far right to eliminate that small percentage altogether for decades. They love to opine that it will cause businesses to relocate to New Hampshire, because RTW states are doing so well. They’re states in warm climates (no New Hampshire energy costs), states with good infrastructure in place, and states that invest in education — AND they don’t have New Hampshire property taxes. It’s really all about eliminating the perceived political influence of unions. Well, that and their deep belief that business should be able to pay workers just as badly as they want to.
Our new Gov wants to “fix” the state budget, so he’s brought in Charlie Arlinghaus of the Koch-funded Josiah Bartlett Center. Arlinghaus is going to find all the “pork.” It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. The voter fraud crowd wails about how voter affidavits aren’t investigated quickly, while failing to acknowledge that they underfund the state agency that is in charge of doing the work. Giving the Koch brothers more influence over our state government spending will ensure that not only will we continue to have the 11th worst infrastructure in the United States; we’ll climb higher on the list.
Sununu also wants to cut business taxes, because that will “send the message that New Hampshire is open for business.” It’s uncertain who will be hearing that siren call — but if they do, they may decide that our utility costs, crumbling infrastructure, limited telecommunications options, property taxes and failure to invest in higher education may not be what they’re looking for. One thing you can count on though, if all the business tax cuts are enacted, your property taxes will be going up. The money to run the state (even to run it as if it were going out of business) does have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is your property. Other states have income and sales taxes. New Hampshire has you, the property owner. As businesses pay less and less of their fair share, you’ll be picking up the slack. Live free or die — and be sure to keep voting for the pledge takers.
Sununu wants to ensure that Medicaid beneficiaries work if they are able. I’m guessing that what he meant by that was the New Hampshire Health Protection Program, which is the New Hampshire version of expanded Medicaid. Most of the people who are enrolled in the NHPP are low-wage workers — heck, some of them probably work at Waterville Valley. They already are working. The GOP is desperate to convince us that these folks are milking the system somehow to get health care benefits. Thing is — the NHPP doesn’t pay the rent, buy the groceries or put gas in the car. The people who make these claims either don’t understand how this works, or they don’t care, because it’s easier to get people all jacked up by lying to them. There are work requirements for food-stamp recipients, by the way. You never hear about that, do you?
In this way, when the Legislature votes next year (and it will) to end the NHPP, if they’ve told enough big lies, they’ll still get re-elected. Even when 40,000 low-wage workers lose their health insurance.
None of this will help New Hampshire’s stagnant economy. As long as the state is stuck in reverse, there’s no hope of moving into the future.  

Susan Bruce is a writer and talk radio personality on “The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen”  on WNHN-FM. She lives in Concord. Visit her blog at susanthebruce.blogspot.com or find the broadcast at www.wnhnfm.org.

  • Category: Columns

Erik Eisele: We the people

I was listening to a radio program in the car this past weekend. The subject was A.I. — artificial intelligence, computers with the capacity for thought and reason and the analytic power to surpass us a thousand-fold. The commentator was saying something about how the most important development we could engineer into artificial intelligence would be safeguards to ensure A.I. maintains moral behavior even as its abilities outpace our own. That was a prerequisite, he said, the only thing that could make artificial intelligence viable.

It sounded like a great idea. But we humans have a knack for creating things outside of our control. Take money, for example. How many lives does money rule? How many people think they never have enough, that they spend all their time chasing it and it just goes on outpacing them, never quite allows them to sit quiet? The next job might finally be enough, maybe. Just a little more work will make ends finally meet.

Money didn’t exist before us. It’s a thing humans imagined into being, and now it runs lives. It transformed from being a helpful means to facilitate the exchange into something that keeps people in a race no one wins. How did that switch happen? When did it occur? Was it always that way, or did that relationship develop over time?

Regardless, the scorecard begins: Humans, 0; our creations, 1.

Then there’s religion: Ostensibly a celebration of our existence on Earth and the unexplainable power we call God (whatever version), religion is not only a foundation for kindness, generosity and warmth but also for exclusion, hatred and genocide. Regardless of your thoughts on God, we humans created religion. And somehow we allowed it to take control of our morality and bend it to terrible purposes. The Westboro Baptist Church reads the same Bible as millions of peaceful Christians. ISIS reads the same Quran as millions of peaceful Muslims. The Catholic Church has a history of atrocious acts dating back hundreds of years. Countless wars have religious roots, as did slavery. Yes, religion does wonderful things — just look around at the holiday spirit surrounding us today, the food pantries and the charitable organizations founded in its name — but here again, one of our creations has grown beyond our control, spurring us to do terrible things.

Again: Humans, 0; our creations, 2.

And then there is government, another of our creations. This is the one that makes me laugh most. “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union …” In a moment of sheer brilliance, a group of rich, white, land-owning men crafted a country from thin air. There was no history, no common heritage to justify bonds of nationalism, and the original ties were both tentative and exclusionary — they left out women, the country’s native inhabitants and millions of slaves. Imperfect foundations to be sure, but there was something in the seed of that idea.

And that seed grew. The restrictions dissolved slowly, first for white non-landowners. Then slaves became human. Then women became voters. Then black citizens earned “equality.”

Clearly, this is among the least-nuanced American history ever put in print, but the original brilliance of America’s founding ideas were not bound to themselves. They had capacity for expansion, to grow as America’s definition of its people grew. The country was as resilient as the people who lived inside its borders.

Something great happened here, something unique. We are the inheritors of that legacy.

But then we get to the tricky task of governance, the implementation of these brilliant ideas. Today, we live in an age of dwindling trust, where the people and Washington sit on opposite sides of a chess match.

But this is an illusion. Government, like money and religion, is something we conjured. It grew from our hands, and it cannot grow bigger than us. It is an instrument created by men, designed (in our case) to be wielded by its citizens. If we have lost trust in it, it means we have lost trust in ourselves.

Government has the power to oppress us only when we let it go to seed, when we forget it is ours, borne from us, an extension as our rights as citizens, rights we named for ourselves. Its power is derived from our willingness to come together collectively, our agreeing to “form a more perfect union,” and that perfection is a reflection of our vision. “Live Free or Die” is a mantra as communal as it is libertarian, for example, our collective agreement to use government to protect our individual rights.

So what is broken government? The fetid mess that is Washington is nothing more than our willingness to allow something we were entrusted to run wild. We are essentially bad dog owners, the kind that ought to leash their pets but don’t. Who besides us let Washington run free?

We are “the People.” We came together to form this union. It has the power over us that we give it. And yet somehow we’ve fallen into a narrative where the great American experiment in democratic rule has grown beyond our power to control. We must “starve the beast,” “clear the swamp,” to combat a government gone feral.

Such claims are hollow. They pawn blame onto the spectre of “government” without taking on the responsibility of our part in creating it. If “government is broken” then the blame rests with ourselves.

The truth is managing a country of 330 million is hard. It is complex and messy. Government isn’t broken, it’s just tired of been ignored. It runs wild only out of ignorance, not malice. It needs a willing master dedicated to training it, and that master is us.

We, the people, we form this union. The sooner we stop running away from that fact the better. We’re the best safeguard this government’s got.

Erik Eisele is a reporter for The Conway Daily Sun.

  • Category: Columns

National Perspective: Outposts of transformation

By David M. Shribman

HEART'S CONTENT, Newfoundland and Labrador — Of all the landmarks of high tech — the Menlo Park lab where Thomas Edison perfected a marketable incandescent light bulb, the Palo Alto garage where Hewlett-Packard's audio oscillator was developed, the Harvard dormitory where Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook — none is as unlikely as the ragged shoreline of this remote fishing village, where 150 years ago the Old World and the New were connected by an underwater trans-Atlantic telegraph cable.
Here, in a tiny maritime outpost where women still hook scraps of old fabric into wall hangings, a communications revolution was born, prompting the Illustrated London News to proclaim the Atlantic cable, stretching from Valentia, Ireland, to a western terminus on Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, "one of the mightiest and most famous undertakings of the present age."
Today that 1866 revolution is all but forgotten, and Heart's Content, population 418, has returned to a version of its original isolation. But for a century this hamlet was the center of the West's international communications system. Cables from the Titanic were pulsed through here. So were details of births, weddings and deaths.
This corner of the world may be on a vital shipping crossroads, but it nonetheless lives in a crease of time. In this onetime communications hub there is — epic irony — no cellular telephone service. Many of the homes on the island were built from debris from shipwrecks. In her luminous 2000 novel "Latitudes of Melt," the Newfoundland writer Joan Clark described her home as "what the world must have looked like when it was nothing more than water and rock, when God was practicing creation and had not yet moved on to greener Edens."
Heart's Content was chosen for the first electronic communications link across the Atlantic because it possessed a deep-water port that could accommodate the huge cable-laying ship employed for the task. When the SS Great Eastern arrived on these shores with a crew of 300 passengers, plus sheep and pigs, some four-dozen soldiers dragged the cable on their shoulders to the accompanying din of a musket and cannon salute.
The first message to course through Heart's Content was a cable from Queen Victoria to President Andrew Johnson. Before long, New York and London stock market reports were exchanged daily, weather forecasts became more reliable, ocean navigation became safer. The Heart's Content station relayed 2,800 messages in its first two months of operation. The transmission at the speed of eight words a minute was a technological miracle at the time, which you might think of as the email of the mid-19th century.
The history of technology is the story of social and cultural change and, for a time, Heart's Content was transformed. Soon a technical class supporting an international industry was living parallel with a fishing class supporting a local economy. A 1,000-seat Anglican church was built. A curling club was founded. Theater performances were produced. And, perhaps most important, women were employed, often making more money than men.
This was dramatic social transformation for Newfoundland, which David Macfarlane, in his masterpiece "The Danger Tree," described as a landmass of 42,000 square miles that "sits, all dark cliffs and muscled capes, like a rugged jigsaw piece of peninsulas and bays between Labrador, Cape Breton and the coal gray seas of the North Atlantic."
Indeed, a half century after the cable arrived in Heart's Content, two landmark events underline the enduring, special character of Newfoundland.
The first, in 1912, was the arrival by cable here of urgent messages about "much heavy pack ice and great number (of) large icebergs, also field ice" in seas that eventually would consume the Titanic.
The year 1914 was a time of many tragedies, but one forgotten beyond Newfoundland was the stranding of 132 sealers who floated in the frigid winter water for two days with only partial shelter from the ice walls, the rain and snow, and the cold north wind.
Frozen, exhausted, hungry and numb, they sang "Does Jesus Care?" and wandered through drifts, men dying as they marched. Some saw visions, some went mad and two-thirds perished.
"Nature had not been kind to Newfoundland," Cassie Brown wrote in her classic "Death on the Ice," the authoritative account of the great Newfoundland sealing disaster. "Surrounded by the hostile North Atlantic and attacked from the north by the frigid Arctic current, the island rises gaunt and gray out of a cold gray sea."
Those difficult conditions shaped the communications revolution that was playing out on the finger-like peninsula that separates Trinity Bay and Conception Bay in the cold ocean waters. In 1868, the year 13 men and boys from the town died searching frantically for food, Ezra Weedon, a cable official, wrote the head office in London that almost all the employees at Heart's Content had been ill, explaining there "is no doubt whatever that the sole cause of the sickness is draughts while sitting in the house and during the night in bed."
In a letter the station superintendent sent to his manager in London 34 years later, he spoke of Heart's Content as a dreary place, "its only attractions ... being filth and drink."
The cable station closed in 1965, when modern satellite communications and a trans-ocean telephone cable rendered the Heart's Content operation unnecessary. At its peak, during World War I, when torrents of sad and urgent news were transmitted through Heart's Content, the station employed 300. At the end there were only 18.
Closing the station," Ted Rowe wrote in his comprehensive history of the Atlantic cable connection, "removed a large part of what made Heart's Content the way it was." For 99 years it was connected to the world in a way other Avalon Peninsula communities, such as Heart's Desire and Heart's Delight, never were.
Today you can stand at the harbor, breathe the salt air and see remnants of the cable, once beautifully woven but now frayed and frizzed by time and tide, rusting on the rugged, rocky shore as it enters the town and, under the road, slides into the station. It is a sobering reminder that yesterday's technological revolutions eventually become tomorrow's ruins. But it is also a reminder that developments that change the world often occur in unchanging corners of the world. Sometimes they carry names like Heart's Content.
David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has a vacation home in Kearsarge.

 

  • Category: Columns

Tom McLaughlin: Oh little town of Bethlehem

“Too much history, not enough geography.” That was how a veteran of the 1948 Israeli War for Independence described Israel. His name was Dan and he came to our house for dinner about 10 years ago in the company of some old friends from San Francisco. My wife and I later toured Israel in May 2007, and I can attest to Dan’s summation. It doesn’t take long to drive the length and breadth of that tiny nation. There’s a definite lack of geography and every bit of it is contested almost constantly. In Jerusalem, it’s not unusual to see Jewish civilians walking around with AR-15s slung over their shoulders while pushing a baby carriage. They’re in a constant state of war. Israel is located at what has been a crossroads between empires for millennia — throughout recorded history, actually.

Last month, Italian journalist Giulio Meotti wrote a short piece objecting to how the Vatican advertises tours of “Palestine,” or “The Holy Land,” but not tours of “Israel.” It seems the Vatican has as much trouble saying “Israel” as soon-to-be-former President Obama has saying, “Radical Muslim Terrorism.” Israel is a constant victim of radical Muslim terrorism — hence the profusion of AR-15s I saw there — and I’m thinking my church and my president are both refusing to recognize what is quite obvious to anyone visiting Israel.

“Catholic pilgrims spend virtually all their time visiting holy sites in Palestinian-run territory,” wrote Meotti, “staying in Palestinian Arab hotels and listening to Palestinian Arab tour guides. As a result, these pilgrims return filled with hatred towards Israel.”

That reads true because it’s exactly what our tour was like. We had a Palestinian guide and bus driver who were Christians from Bethlehem. In spite of the harassment Palestinian Christians were receiving from Palestinian Muslims, however, our guides were loyal to the Muslim view of things in that troubled land. For example, three times our bus passed the Battle of Hattin site in northern Israel at which Saladin defeated a Crusader army in 1187. Each time, our guide proudly described how Saladin outsmarted the Christians and slaughtered them. I was dismayed, but none of the other Mainers on our tour was disturbed by it.

Our first hotel was the Vatican-owned Notre Dame Guest House just outside the New Gate to the Old City of Jerusalem. Outside it, I could see bullet holes from battles during 1967’s Six-day War, during which Israel took control over Jerusalem for the first time since the Revolt of the Maccabees in 164 BC.

The entire hotel staff was Palestinian and I was awakened by a Muslim call to prayer from a minaret just inside the Old City wall.

From there, we traveled to nearby Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity — the oldest church in Christendom. Five years before, it had been seized by Muslim terrorists who held hostages for 39 days, until an agreement allowed them to leave for Gaza. While we were there, Hamas terrorists in Gaza were fighting other terrorists from the Palestinian Authority — Yasser Arafat’s organization. Bethlehem was peaceful when Jesus Christ was born there during the Roman occupation, but it was relatively brief respite.

At the end of our tour we stayed at the Seven Arches Hotel in East Jerusalem overlooking the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock, but were instructed not to venture outside the hotel because it wasn’t safe for Americans. This was the neighborhood where they danced in the streets following the Sept. 11 attack.

I was surprised to learn that populations of both Bethlehem and Nazareth are majority Arab Muslim. When I asked why the Palestinian Christian populations of Nazareth and Bethlehem were leaving after 2,000 years, both the bus driver and the guide said it was because they were looking for better jobs in America. I knew different, but neither would acknowledge that much of the migration is because of severe Muslim harassment. I saw posters of Yasser Arafat on buildings, and each time we passed through an Israeli checkpoint going into and out of the West Bank they complained bitterly. Neither, however, would answer my questions about the war then raging between Hamas and the Palestinian authority even though we had to cancel our trip to Hebron’s tomb of Abraham because of it.

Finally, they said we would go to a dinner in Bethlehem at which the police chief and other municipal officials would be present and I could get answers to my questions. The restaurant was right beside the tall, Israeli-built, black wall. As we got in, however, the music was so loud conversation was impossible. Instead, we had to watch a Palestinian dance by himself using his Yasser Arafat keffiyah as a prop. I could go on, but yeah, Meotti got it exactly right.

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine.  He can be reached on his website at tommclaughlin.blogspot.com.

  • Category: Columns