Susan Bruce: We built this

I know I’m not the only one who is appalled by the presidential election. The candidates from both major parties are terrible. The candidates from third parties are equally terrible. If we, the United States, had any sense at all, we’d ask Barack Obama to stay on for another year, and stage a do-over. This time it would be publicly funded. We could cut some money out of the Pentagon budget to use to fund the whole thing. It would take six months. No conventions, no hoopla – no dark money, no corporate cash, no Super PACs. Three months in would be a national primary — on the same day for every state. At the end of six months would be the general election. But, as this election proves, we do not possess any sense.

Like many of you, I watched part of the presidential debate on Monday night. I can usually find some cynical mirth in these sorts of proceedings, but not this time. This time I just felt sick and ashamed. Ashamed of this debacle and ashamed of all of us. We built this. It took us decades, but we built this big honking mess we find ourselves in.

It started in 1987 with the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine. For those who don’t remember, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to devote some air time to discussing matters of public interest. They were required to air opposing views. This was in news segments, public affairs shows, or editorials. Viewers were exposed to a variety of viewpoints.

Then along came President Bill Clinton who gave us the Telecommunications Act of 1996, a bill that the corporate media lobbies were desperate for. At the time, it was touted as a way of encouraging competition and consumer savings. Congressman John Dingell thanked God for this bill that would make this country “the best served, the best educated and the most successful country ... in all areas of communications.” Instead, it paved the way for huge media monopolies.

In 1983, Ben Bagdikian published the book, “The Media Monopoly.” He reported that at the time, 50 corporations owned the media. Thanks to Clinton, that number now stands at six. Before the Telecommunications Act, companies were not allowed to own more than 40 radio stations. Clear Channel owns more than 1,200. The name change from Clear Channel to iHeartMedia doesn’t make that any more palatable.

Print media suffered, too. Gannett owns over 1,000 newspapers and 600 print periodicals. I could go on endlessly — but we’re seeing what happens when there is a dearth of independent media. We get an angry, incoherent man with a ridiculous hairstyle on the verge of becoming president.

During the same basic time period, we went from a nation that had some concern for the common good, to a nation that worships at the altar of the Church of the Free Market. Greed went from being a sin to a virtue. The Reaganites celebrated selfishness. In just a few decades we went from the GI Bill to you’re on your own, Jack. When money becomes the same as speech, the people without money are not heard. Free speech has become very, very expensive. We stopped valuing education, unless it was business school. Our founders all spoke several languages, yet we’ve hunkered down into “English only” as if it were some kind of a virtue to be less educated than the men we claim to venerate.

The worship of profit uber alles and selfishness combined with a failed Fourth Estate has brought us to this point. The rabid ideology of the far right has our government at a standstill. We no longer produce statesmen who want to serve their country. We have far lesser men (and women) whose sole concern is party loyalty and obstructionism. The bulk of our national treasure is invested in defense, and because the Pentagon refuses to be audited, we have no accounting of where those trillions go. Our national infrastructure is crumbling, and our government refuses to do anything about it. Our telecomm infrastructure is a disaster compared to other developed countries, but it’s controlled by monopolies that have no reason to improve it. Their bottom line is what matters.

We are served a steady diet of celebrity gossip, sports worship and stories intended to create outrage. Take a look at the WMUR website sometime. There are stories posted every day of things that happen in other states, asking for comment. They’re intended to generate outrage and pit people against one another. Drunk people doing irresponsible things, stories of bad parenting — whatever. They are stories that are none of our business. The comment sections are filled with angry, petty judges, ready to pass sentence without full knowledge of the facts. It’s a safe bet that these same petty judges couldn’t tell you what the N.H. Executive Council is. This is what currently passes for “news.

As a nation, we have become stupid, angry, violent and greedy — and this is playing out for us in our current election cycle. A wealthy huckster and reality TV star somehow became the nominee of the Republican Party. The man has no idea what he’s talking about most of the time, and his views change from moment to moment. Trump has absolutely no impulse control, and as we saw in the debate, he is absolutely unfit to lead our country. The guy bankrupted casinos — which is virtually impossible to do — but people want to put him in charge of the United States?

Clinton comes to us with decades of baggage. Her supporters complain that decades of right-wing propaganda have turned people against her. Yet knowing that, the Democrats made the choice to foist a deeply flawed candidate upon us, and did whatever it took to anoint her. Now they’re mad at people who find the flaws problematic. Gary Johnson is a Koch-funded right-winger who likes to smoke pot. Jill Stein is just not leadership material.

There are no better angels here. The evils are equally distributed. The consequences of this election are going to be ugly, and the long-term repercussions will be devastating to the republic.

I vote for a do-over.  

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

Tom McLaughlin: Further Down East

One measure of how Maine has changed would be the ratio of pleasure boats to working boats one sees tied up at docks or drifting on moorings. It’s about 10 to 1 on the southern/western shore from Kittery to Portland, and gradually reversing the farther Down East you go. In Nova Scotia, it was hard to find a pleasure boat at all, so the trend continues the farther east one goes.

Crossing another item off our bucket list, we took “The Cat” ferry from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia last Thursday.

Activity by the sea is all business in Nova Scotia, and one lobsterman likened his job to farming. He said his boat is his tractor and his crop is that red/green crustacean. Weather is a factor and he works all winter, November to May. Sometimes his crop is abundant, sometimes not. Sometimes the price is up. Sometimes it’s down, and it’s all out of his control. Right now, times are good because the price is up and there are lots of lobsters out there.

Lobster boats in the province are bigger than what one sees in Maine. They’re wider with no transom. The lobsterman explained that in Maine they tend one trap at a time — hoisting it up, pulling out the lobster(s), rebaiting and dropping it back down under its buoy. He, on the other hand, strings out his traps — 20 on a line, with a buoy and an anchor on each end. He pulls them up and arranges them on the transom-less back deck, harvesting and rebaiting one at a time, then letting them slide off the rear deck one at a time and getting out of the way as he does so.

Land in southwestern Nova Scotia where I explored is not fertile. Hardly anybody lives inland, and there are very few roads. There are lots of lakes but few rivers of any size. Yarmouth is at the end of Nova Scotia’s lower peninsula, which runs more east/west than north/south. The map shows a jagged coastline on the south/Atlantic side where I found more fishing villages, and straighter on the north/Bay-of-Fundy side where I found more beaches and some farms. Stunted fir and spruce dominated with few hardwoods, and I saw lots of bog. It’s a lot like mid-20th century downeast Maine.

Ethnically, the population has about the same distribution as Maine — mostly Scots-Irish, lots of Acadian-French, some Irish, some English, some Indian. The lobsterman asked me if I felt at home there. “Yes,” I said. “Why do you ask?” He said he felt at home all across Canada from there to Vancouver, but when he traveled to the States, he didn’t. When I asked why, he was reluctant to answer. “Try,” I said. “Find the words. I won’t be offended.”

In Canada, he said, people think “we” first, and then “I,” but in the States they think “I” before “we.” I pondered that for days. Learning more about each town’s history as I traveled around there, I found clues about why he had that impression. Digby, on the Bay of Fundy side, was established by shiploads of Loyalists fleeing rebellious colonies that became the United States. So was Shelburne on the Atlantic side, and British flags proliferated there — I saw more Union Jacks than Maple Leafs. Though ethnicities are the same in Maine and Nova Scotia, personalities differ, and I wondered if traits like an independent spirit or a herd instinct are inherited along with blue eyes and brown hair.

As Sen. Barack Obama said in 2008, Americans cling to their guns.  We also maintain a healthy suspicion, even hostility, toward government efforts to restrict them, but that’s not so in Canada. Handguns are forbidden everywhere and long guns are strictly controlled. I got a clue about this on a previous trip when a border guard spotted a box of .22 shells I’d left in the glove compartment. He called others over and they carefully searched my entire truck and its contents, going through every bag and suitcase while I stood around wondering what was the big deal.

A reconstructed Acadian Village Museum in Pubnico, which is the oldest Acadian settlement in Canada still inhabited by descendants of its founding families, was very interesting. It was established in 1653 by Philippe Mius D’Entremont and the entire community had been expelled by the British in the 1750s. Their property was given to New Englanders who moved up and took  over. Acadians were allowed back 11 years later but couldn’t recover their property and had to start over from scratch.

Col. Joseph Frye, who later founded Fryeburg, Maine, was ordered to carry out some Acadian deportations, but I’m not sure if he did so in Pubnico. According to his diary, he did not relish the task.

The Cat delivered us safely back to Maine Monday. It’s nice to go away, and nice to come home as well.

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

  • Category: Columns

William Marvel: Endless Septembers

September brings me the same involuntary introspection that October did for Thomas Wolfe. Perhaps the earlier autumn of New Hampshire reflects the October atmosphere of North Carolina.
It may have been a September afternoon, well over half a century ago, when I first discovered the Hatch family cemetery on Davis Hill. The Hurleys, who lived in the house opposite the cemetery during the summer, had already gone back to Boston, where Mrs. Hurley still taught at one of the colleges. It was warm enough that I was rambling around in short sleeves, but just enough leaves had fallen that I caught a glimpse of the wrought-iron fence in the woods and went up to investigate.
The fence gate was frozen shut then, and I scratched my elbow pretty badly climbing over. A couple of the stones had fallen down, trees were taking over the interior of the cemetery, and a young maple had grown around part of the fence. There were eight graves—those of Calvin and Mehitable Hatch, three of their children, a grandson, and two men who turned out to be the Hatches’ sons-in-law. One of their sons and one of the sons-in-law had been soldiers in the Civil War, in which both had died. I expected great interest at home when I reported the discovery at dinner that evening, but my father just shrugged; he had known of the cemetery since his own youth, when it stood on a knoll in open pasture.
The Civil War centennial was about to begin, and I was ready for it. I’d been reading everything I could find about it practically since I could read at all, but what I could find was not terribly sophisticated. I still imagined the war as having been fought by small armies, with a few hundred men on either side in each battle. The two soldiers buried near my house therefore seemed all the more prominent, and I supposed that someone important might be delighted to know that their graves had been found. My father suggested I call the commander of the American Legion post, whom he knew, but I was thinking of somebody really big, like President Eisenhower or even Bruce Catton, who was writing a new book about the war every year, and would want to know.
As I later pieced their story together, Enoch Haselton was only 19 when he married Grace Hatch in 1862, and he enlisted in a new regiment soon afterward, followed a few days later by his 17-year-old brother-in-law, James Hatch. They were both probably living at the Hatch home on what we now call Baird Hill Road; it didn’t really have a name then, or need one. Their regiment, the 9th New Hampshire, left Concord on August 25 that year, and on September 14 Haselton was wounded at South Mountain, in Maryland. He died as October opened, and Hatch perished on a hospital transport four months later, a few days past his 18th birthday.
Twenty years later I learned that neither of the two soldiers really lay in the South Conway cemetery. Hatch was carried off the steamer at Washington and buried in the Soldiers’ Home cemetery, across Seventh Street from the cottage where President Lincoln spent his summers. In 1866 a quartermaster’s detail exhumed Haselton from a Lutheran churchyard in Middletown, Md., and reinterred him in Antietam National Cemetery. Whatever of their bones and buttons remain still lie in the Potomac watershed, but I grew up thinking they were right here, where they once lived.
In more than one September since then have I strapped on a backpack to hike the countryside where Haselton and Hatch made their first grueling march on blistered feet. The Appalachian Trail once followed the very ridge where they first met the enemy in battle. I have sat on the stone wall they clambered over to make their first and only bayonet charge and eaten lunch on the edge of the cornfield—still a cornfield—where Haselton’s knee was shattered by a piece of shell, 154 Septembers ago.
The first cool breezes of September have always reminded me of that cemetery, of the soldiers I thought it contained, and of the passing of the century that began with their war. I was, and still am, gripped by so nearly mystical a fascination with their era that even in my early teens I felt a nostalgic personal loss to see it pass beyond the reach of human memory. As a child I met an old lady who, when she was a little girl, had watched Confederate and Union soldiers tramp the streets of Savannah—the first departing in retreat and the latter entering in triumph. One hundred Septembers marks the outer limit of such recollections, after which the lives and deeds of all those who peopled a society fade into secondhand stories of uncertain accuracy and blurring detail. It seems to be the threshold beyond which the most significant characters and momentous events of an entire generation become irrelevant. One century to flourish, and another to be forgotten.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

  • Category: Columns

Erik Eisele: Entertainment? Debatable

This week included the first debate of the 2016 presidential election. Did you watch?

You could sense the excitement Monday evening, the closing of doors as people rushed home to make sure not to miss anything. It had the feel of the Super Bowl: blue lights of the TV screen flooding living room after living room, the proud rooting for a chosen team, a clawing desire to win.

But it also held the feel of a car accident, a train wreck that people wanted to glimpse. What would go wrong? What outlandish things would Trump say? Would Clinton be able to hem him in and fend him off, or would he eviscerate her as easily as he did the Republican field?

I met three friends for dinner Monday night. In town for an afternoon of rock climbing, they were on a mission to make it home in time for the debate. “I want to see what happens,” one of them said. “It won’t change who I’m voting for, but I know it’ll be good.”

He was not the only one to say so — another friend stopped by to ask if I was watching. He too wanted to see the drama unfold onstage. The unpredictability of 2016 has transformed the race for the White House into top-rated reality TV.

That is our election today: entertainment. A sideshow. We are ostensibly choosing America’s next commander in chief, but it feels more like a trip to the Colosseum.

What has happened? This isn’t the first time a presidential election has taken on the carnival feel — the selection of Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office was another step in that direction.

She brought folksy appeal to the ticket but neither experience nor a global perspective. After the 2008 election loss, the former governor moved on to reality TV, hosting a 2010 show called “Sarah Palin’s Alaska.” According to People Magazine (always a trusted source) she is currently developing a Judge Judy-type courtroom program.

Reality is no longer real enough. We now select candidates more focused on Hollywood than Washington. Is this what voters consider “meaningful change”?

But two policy wonks standing behind podiums arguing the merits of Social Security reform makes for terrible television. No one is going to tune in for that show. Analysts projected the Clinton-Trump debate will be one of the landmark viewing events of 2016, with 17 percent more television viewers than Romney-Obama in 2012. And in the intervening four years much watching has migrated to online streaming media, which those numbers don’t account for. If we are upset with our choices for president, we sure give them our undivided attention. Perhaps our interest is really to be entertained.

A Palin presidency, however, would not have been entertaining, and neither would a Trump presidency. While it may be hilarious to watch the Republican nominee resurrect his signature tagline “You’re fired” in political form, he is without experience, temperament or the necessary judgment to lead. He is a conman stoking divisions and discontent. More of it won’t be entertaining to watch, and a Trump presidency wouldn’t be entertaining to live under.

So, what were viewers looking for? How many of the millions of them were trying to decide which one of these two candidates had the makings of a president? Or is that not what debates are for anymore?

Television companies appreciate them. If discord as entertaining as Trump versus Clinton could face off every year, it’d sprout a cottage industry with as many advertisers as the Super Bowl. And who wouldn’t want to see creative, funny depictions of red state versus blue, candidate versus candidate, issue versus issue. Perhaps Planned Parenthood could deploy croaking frogs and Focus on the Family a new World’s Most Interesting Man.

Maybe this is how we make America great again. Maybe we can sell ourselves back to viability. Maybe taking a page from our reality TV nominee’s book and  stenciling our last names across the top floor of all of our houses from the North Country to the coast, from Cleveland to inner city Chicago, we pull us up by our bootstraps.

Really? That seems like a con. Rural America is struggling, and meanwhile Congress fails to meet to make basic compromises. America finds itself in a multipolar world amid powers not necessarily our friends. These are not joking times, not the moment for a clown, a conman. It will take vision, solid policy and hard choices to navigate the times we find ourselves in.

And yet, we as a country elect to tune in, to be entertained. We are trained to watch. We gripe about Washington and then refuse to engage in the boring meaningful work required to change it. We rush home in anticipation of getting to watch grownups act like toddlers onstage and then curse our lack of better choices. Is that true, we are without choices? Or are our politics a reflection of us? Do we have anything to offer, an attention span to listen on policy rather than vote for entertainment value?

There will always be conwomen and conmen. There will always be someone selling something we don’t need at a price we can’t afford, a shill looking to entertain.

And so, we have been left with one choice in this election. The cynical view has always been presidential elections are a choice between two evils, but not this year. This year we have a consummate politician, someone who in normal circumstances would be the very definition of bum in a call to “throw the bums out.” But the conman has transformed Hillary Clinton from sleaze into white knight. There is no other choice, the alternative is absurd, unthinkable.

So we have the election we built for ourselves. But at least we are entertained.

Erik Eisele is a reporter for The Conway Daily Sun.

  • Category: Columns

National Perspective: Expect hardball Monday night

By David M. Shribman
Throw away your images of presidential debates — the earnest exchanges over foreign policy and the economy, the canned laugh lines and scripted expressions of scorn, even the choreographed bonhomie at the beginning and end of these televised sessions. Monday night's confrontation will reflect the disruptive forces in politics that each nominee personifies.
As a former first lady, senator and secretary of state, Hillary Clinton presents a different kind of profile than anything Americans have seen since presidential debates began in 1960. As an insurgent with no political experience and a freewheeling style, Donald Trump eschews preparation but comes armed with the sort of zingers that have no precedent in the 30 presidential debates that have set Americans' expectations for these affairs.
  • Category: Columns