William Marvel: Mr. and Mrs. Crow

At our house we usually have breakfast with a couple from the neighborhood. No conversation passes between us save an occasional greeting or farewell as the other couple arrives or departs, but for a few minutes to half an hour we peck at our meals, glancing gratefully at each other now and then. Familiarity has so little dulled our appreciation for one another that we have yet to resort to first names. We address them as Mr. and Mrs. Crow, and they have never used any name for us that I have heard. Mr. and Mrs. Crow are glad that we maintain a cleared space within the forest where they can browse for seeds and worms, and we appreciate any wildlife that doesn’t carry rabies or try to molest our chickens.

They live somewhere nearby, for we hear them chatting with one another from the treetops in the morning and afternoon. They are perhaps surprised at our tolerance for them, since their kind are usually regarded as threateningly mischievous scavengers by those who dedicate as much ground to gardens as we do. Once in a while we hear blood-curdling shrieks from the treetops in the middle of the night, perhaps when the nest comes under inspection by a raccoon — one of those creatures neither we nor Mr. and Mrs. Crow care to see. Most of the time, however, we live in peaceful harmony.

Sometimes in the late afternoon all their relatives in South Conway will aggregate here, perching silently in there-goes-the-neighborhood proprietorship on the periphery of our field. Alfred Hitchcock notwithstanding, this seems to be nothing more ominous than an exercise in personal display, like the cruising of bikers on the local strip or the parade of gowns at Cannes, the Oscars, or the prom. Soon, with a rumbling flutter, they are all off for somewhere else. Mr. and Mrs. Crow doubtless soar somewhere in that gleaming black cloud, indistinguishable, but in the presence of their extended clan they don’t acknowledge us and we can’t distinguish them until they return for breakfast in the morning.

This house has been a breakfast spot for wild critters since I was little. When the kitchen windows were lower to the floor, around 1960, I ate my cereal while staring into the eyes of a bull moose who was munching bird seed in our feeder, about six feet away from me. He didn’t seem the least bit flummoxed at dining with a stranger. A couple of years later, my father left the table at dawn and went outside, still wearing his pajamas and slippers, taking the 1943-vintage flip-top Kodak to snap a photo of another bull that was standing in the field. I still have the photo.

We never had deer in the yard (as my father grumbled, often) until I lost the heart for killing healthy, unoffending creatures. Nor did any bears ever traverse the property until a few years ago. One that grew up around here feasted on all my high-bush blueberries for a couple of years running, but I was happy to trade the berries for the pleasure of watching him gorge himself. You can buy blueberries, after all. No bear has ever broken into my car for the snacks I had hidden there, so I have no complaints about them yet. The last one that passed through seemed rather playful, for when I drove him off with some late-spring snowballs he chased after them as though we were playing fetch.

Haven’t seen my bear friend for a couple of years now. I hope his reservations about human beings are as deep-seated as mine, so he can continue to ramble without tangling with that deadly biped interloper. The last moose I saw on Davis Hill crossed my path one New Year’s Day about a decade ago. Ticks, brucellosis, and development have thinned them out and driven them elsewhere.

No wonder we enjoy Mr. and Mrs. Crow so much. What was still relative wilderness just a few years ago has turned into a suburb almost overnight. People who find this latitude irresistibly beautiful seem unable to satisfy their appreciation for it in any other way than by turning it into the same kind of barren wasteland they fled. The most memorable animals to frequent our domain of late have been a rabid fox and a rabid skunk, both of which I had to dispatch, and a couple of loose dogs that got in and out of the chicken yard before I could draw a safe bead on them. Their visits persuaded me to keep a surprise greeting even handier.  Given the inevitable trend in “civilization,” the next passing predators may wear sneakers, which would at least make it less disagreeable to offer them the same welcome.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

National Perspective: Ferocity in pursuit of ... what?

By David Shribman
This will be the most contentious, most bitter, most polarizing and most unappealing race for president since James G. Blaine and Grover Cleveland competed in 1884. But it may be the least ideological presidential campaign since 1820, when the Federalists put forward a vice presidential candidate but couldn't even find a presidential nominee.
This is the most significant aftereffect to emerge from the two major parties' nomination fights that, ironically, were far more ideological than usual. The Republicans fought fiercely over which candidate was the most authentically conservative. The one who wasn't conservative at all won. The Democrats fought just as vigorously over who was the most progressive. The one who essentially adopted her rival's positions on the issues that most animate party activists — climate change, Wall Street, college financing — is the presumptive Democratic nominee.
This isn't to say that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Manhattan businessman Donald Trump haven't taken some clear stands, particularly in the fractious debates that won so much public attention. We know, for example, which one would build a wall at the Mexican border and which one would try to tear down walls.
But these two likely nominees are peculiarly unideological, and the profiles they will advance in the autumn represent dramatic drifts from their roots.
Trump is the ultimate in un-ideology. He has advanced more profile than program, more a general way of looking at the world than a program for dealing with the world. Even some of his supporters agree that the Trump platform — a phrase that overstates the coherence of his comments — doesn't account for the complexity of modern Washington, which may be shaped by personality but is regulated by the separation of powers and checks and balances.

Karen Umberger: Reconciling bills between the two legislative houses

The Legislature is winding down for the year. This past week, we spent one day setting up Committees of Conferences as well as concurring on a number of bills that the Senate had only made minor changes to.

Votes were taken in both the House and the Senate to agree to a Committee of Conference. A Committee of Conference is formed when the House and Senate versions of a bill differ and the policy committee (this is the committee that first heard the bill) wants to try to come up with some sort of compromise so the bill can be passed by both houses.

Both the House and the Senate have to agree that they want a Committee of Conference on a particular bill. There were 34 House bills that will have Committees of Conference and 32 Senate bills that will have Committees of Conference.

The speaker of the House and the president of the Senate appoint members to the Committee of Conference on each bill.

The House has four members and the Senate has three. Normally, there are three members of the majority party (Republicans) and one member of the minority party (Democrats). The Senate appoints two members of the majority party and one member of the minority party.

The chairman of the Committee of Conference is the first named member of the body that originated the bill. So, if a bill is an HB, a representative will chair the committee. If the bill is an SB, then a senator will chair the committee.

The chairman is responsible for setting up the meetings. These meetings are open to the public, but there is no public input allowed. All seven members of the committee must agree on the final bill. However, the members of the House vote separately as do the members of the Senate.

An interesting twist is if one member cannot vote in favor of the compromise he or she can be replaced by the speaker or the Senate president. This does occur.

Not all of the bills in a Committee of Conference will be approved. If a compromise cannot be reached the conferees do not sign off on the Committee of Conference report.

If there is no report, the bill dies. The bills that are unanimously approved by both the House and the Senate the conferees will sign a report stating they agree with the bill as it came out of the Committee of Conference.

Once the report is signed off, the bills agreed to by the House and Senate then go back to a session to be voted on by all House members and all Senate members.

The Committees of Conference will be meeting the week of May 23 and the final House and Senate vote on these bills will occur on June 1.

There were two other bills, SCR 3 and SCR 4 that I thought people might be interested in and what happen on the House floor.

An SCR is a Senate Concurrent Resolution. SCR 3, applying to the United States Congress to convene a limited convention for the exclusive purpose of proposing amendments to the federal constitution concerning election reform that do not abrogate or amend the first amendment to the federal constitution.

SCR 3 was tabled on May 19 and any member of the House can request a bill come off the table.

The pending motion on SCR 3 was ought to pass.

In order for a bill to come off the table a majority vote was required. The vote was 171 in favor and 106 opposed so the bill came off the table.

In a rather strange move, in my opinion, a motion was made to limit debate and this passed 176 in favor and 113 opposed.

This motion resulted in no debate on the bill and we moved directly to a vote. The vote on the bill was 171 in favor and 119 opposed.

The majority voted for the bill, but because House deadlines for a bill to pass by majority vote required SCR 3 to have a two-thirds vote in order to pass.

Therefore, the motion of ought to pass failed. A motion was made to table the bill which passed and the bill was be laid upon the table.

SCR4, applying for an Article V convention to propose an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that imposes a fiscal restraints on the federal government was also tabled on May 19.

A motion was made to remove SCR 4 from the table and the motion failed on 80 in favor and 211 opposed. So, SCR 4 remains on the table.

 All bills that have been laid upon the table will die at the end of this session. There are currently 32 bills on the table.

Karen Umberger is a state representative for Carroll County District 2, Conway, Chatham, Eaton, Hales Location. She lives in Conway. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call her at (603) 356-6881.

Susan Bruce: Legislative legerdemain

Every legislative session starts with most of our legislators displaying at least a modicum of dignity and good manners. Most years  that doesn’t begin to break down until the last month or so when it’s time to concur or not concur on amended bills.

This year, the breakdown began early. As part of the House committee process, a member of the committee writes up a summary of a bill that is ready to go to the floor for a vote. It will explain what the intent of the bill is, explains any moving parts, the fiscal aspects and gives the committee’s recommendation. There may be a majority report, detailing why the majority of the committee supports or does not support the bill, and a minority report explaining why the minority does or does not believe it should pass. This write up is included in the House calendar. They are generally written with a neutral tone and language.

Not this year. Fellow calendar geeks undoubtedly noticed that a number of committee reports were written in either a sarcastic or self-righteous tone. This was an exceptional year in many respects. The NippleGate scandal was the result of Rep. Josh Moore opining on Twitter that a nipple bared in public was open for grabbing. Rep. Ken Weyler announced his opinion that giving public benefits to anyone practicing Islam is treason. Rep. Kyle Tasker brought glory to the GOP when he was arrested at the place where he was supposed to be meeting a 14-year-old girl he’d been soliciting sex from on the internet. He met a cop instead. More cops found his house full of drugs, and there is reportedly a list of his legislative customers, that may go public at some point. As someone once involved in the informal pharmaceutical trade, let me give ya’ll some advice. One thing you really want in a drug dealer is discretion. Don’t buy drugs from the guy who drops his gun in the State House and is always in the news for saying and doing obnoxious things.

As the Legislature winds down, it’s time for shenanigans and deals. Any bill that was amended by either the House or Senate must go back to the body it originated from, where that body votes on whether to concur with the amended version, to non-concur (which kills the bill), or to ask for a Committee of Conference.  

The language from dead or tabled bills can be tacked on to completely unrelated bills (a phenomenon known as the non-germane amendment) in an effort to sweeten the deal or twist arms. Some of the weirder examples include HB 636: relative to forfeiture of property; relative to the sale of premixed synthetic urine; establishing a grant program for high schools for heroin and opiate prevention education; and clarifying who may petition to adopt. Because when you think adoption, you think synthetic urine.

And SB 495: relative to the health-care premium contribution for retired state employees who are eligible for Medicare Parts A and B due to age or disability, relative to funding of retiree health benefits, making appropriations to the department of administrative services, and relative to the definition of a cigar bar. (One of these things is not like the other.) The goal is to give the other guys something they want, so that they’ll vote for your bill, even though they don’t like it.  

That’s how a bill written to fund the police standards and training council and purchase some state police cars (SB 527) was amended to include a provision about bi-weekly paychecks. The Senate tabled the original biweekly paycheck bill. In the Legislature, tabling can also be defined as “saving for future leverage.” In this instance, money for cops and cop cars would not be approved by the anti-cop libertea crowd — but tack on the language from the biweekly paycheck bill that was written and sponsored by a number of libertea restaurant owners, and the cops might get their cruisers. This bill is still in the Committee of Conference.

Once in a Committee of Conference, the members have to unanimously agree to changes, and everyone has to sign off on the report. The report then goes back to the originating body for an official vote on whether to pass the whole thing or not. If it passes, it will eventually hit the governor’s desk.

Another fun aspect of the Committee of Conference process is that the members of the committee can be changed at any time, depending on the desired outcome. For example, SB 4 is yet another attempt to solve the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. The bill will require a voter to live in the state for 30 days before being allowed to vote. This is almost certainly unconstitutional, but that does not deter the voter suppression crowd. Wasting money on court challenges just means less money to spend frivolously on things like roads and bridges. The House amended the bill to add some rather pompous language about the intentions of the 1974 Constitutional Convention and the meaning of the term domicile, and the Senate asked for a Committee of Conference. A dissenting senator (Democrat) was replaced by a Republican senator and suddenly there is agreement! Not because it’s a good or necessary bill, but because it’s partisan jiggery pokery.

Eight voter domicile bills were filed this year. There were four concealed carry bills. These are the priorities of the current Legislature. They aren’t the priorities of the average voter, but they do reflect the mindset of the ideologues that currently populate the majority party.

There is a link on the House General Court website where you can check out the bills currently in Committees of Conference, and who the members of the committee currently are. A look at the bill’s docket will show any changes in the configuration of the committee.

Legerdemain is defined as “sleight of hand when performing conjuring tricks.” That’s what the end of the legislative session is all about.

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.

Erik Eisele: Socialized soldiers on quieter battlefields

The ceilings hung squat and low, traced by fluorescent lights dotted among recessed tiles. The hallway was dingy, scraped paint along bare walls and floors that wouldn’t shine no matter the scrubbing applied. Worn signs hung on the bathroom doors, faded now after too many handprints, only half the words now visible. Someone redrew the head on the men’s bathroom symbol, but they’d drawn it square. Inside, a black Magic Markered smiley face stared out.

It didn’t look like a hospital. Or it didn’t look like an American hospital, particularly not one in a major city. American hospitals are shiny and well-lit, with glass walls and artwork lining the corridors. They are regal, siblings to university buildings and museums and federal government offices.

But this wasn’t. What came to mind was Cuba — the dark hallways and simple plastic-upholstered seats lining the waiting room walls in the public clinics, the cement stairwells and overcrowding.

But even in Cuba the lines of patients move. People get seen promptly. Not here.

The emergency department was full. Some people stood along the walls. The woman behind the desk said it was a five-hour wait, maybe more.

“Busy day?” my friend asked.

“No,” the woman said looking apologetic. “This isn’t bad.”

We sat down beneath an overhead television. It was 1 p.m. The afternoon soaps were on.

Seven hours later, the evening news was coming to a close. Our wait also was ending.

Welcome to the VA system.

I’ve heard not every Veterans Affairs hospital is the same. Some, I’m told, don’t feel caught in the Soviet era. I don’t know; I’m not a veteran, and I’ve only ever been to one VA hospital. But that one visit was disturbing enough.

My friend and I were in San Diego. Our visits to California overlapped by a few days, so we decided to team up for some surfing, snorkeling and exploring the city.

But on day two she began complaining of lower back pain. An Air Force vet, she Googled the local VA services. There was a hospital on the outskirts of the city, just outside La Jolla Cove where we’d been snorkeling the day before.

She looked at me. “This should be fun,” she said.

Being a veteran, she knew. I did not. But within a few steps of walking in the door I understood viscerally. All the news stories I’d heard in recent years came flooding back, about long wait times and how the head of the VA had resigned and the system was again due an overhaul. It was akin to walking into an inner-city school — one look was enough to know the facility was under-resourced, that the job it was expected to do far exceeded its capacity. Long waits, substandard care, lost files and missed diagnoses seemed to ooze from every exam room. This was less a hospital than a holding pen. Prisons are better equipped.

And sitting there I had ample time to consider the string of ironies I was witnessing. Here I was in a VA hospital, and I kept having flashbacks to Cuba, a country where the population lives on a fraction of the American standard. But despite appearances, Cuban hospitals get better results. Their version of socialized medicine competes favorably with the profit-driven system employed by the United States, and it blows the VA system out of the water. I was looking at America’s finest — the soldiers, airmen, seamen and Marines of the U.S. military — as they were served up the worst of American health care. Some of them may have even served on Cuban shores, may have stood guard on Guantanamo Bay, Cold War warriors who fought the spread of communism.

What did they earn in return for their service? Socialized medicine.

It almost made me laugh: Fight in honor of American values and you earn guaranteed free government-run health care. “Oppose communism to secure your place in socialism.” I doubt that made it onto many recruiting posters.

But there is a tragedy hidden within the comedy: The modern American application of socialized medicine offers veterans few gifts. They give us their best, and we give them our worst. The VA system is known for wait times that sometimes outlast patients, for diagnoses that come too late. “Support our troops” seems to only hold until the fighting is over. After that we leave them to die on quieter battlefields.

The problem, of course, is not socialized medicine. Plenty of countries pull that off at a high standard — most of Europe, Canada, Costa Rica. But the United States has proven incapable at setting up its own system, even for soldiers. That U.S. soldier who was stationed at Guantanamo Bay may have done better to wander off base to see a doctor than visit the hospitals provided by their own government.

So, every day we rob veterans of what they have earned. We underfund and understaff and under-resource to the point of no return, to the point that servicemen and women die as a result.

It’s easy to blame the bureaucracy, to rest at the myth government can’t run anything well and move on. But that is a farce. Government-run health care works worldwide, just not here.

But the VA has to work. Not marginally, not sluggishly, but well. Efficiently. Smoothly, with dynamism and grace. We owe it to every American willing to pledge more than taxes and a vote every four years for his or her country. It may not have been on the recruiting poster, but it is the promise we made.

And we’ve failed. For a generation now we’ve failed. We’ve accepted the myth that government can’t work, that socialized medicine is doomed to fail, and our soldiers have paid the price for it. Sagging buildings and five-hour wait times are not the best we can do. Our veterans are worth more than that.

Erik Eisele is a reporter at The Conway Daily Sun.