National Perspective: Metaphors gone wild!

By David M. Shribman

Of all the moving parts in the Trump era — the changes in the American diplomatic and military profile, the challenges the new president is hurling at the judiciary, the tensions between the legislative and executive branches, the dramatic stylistic changes in the presidency, ranging from shiny ties to Twitter outbursts — none may be in such furious motion as the two parties, the steady rocks of our political system for more than a century and a half.
For decades these two parties have been cairns in our national passage, providing time-honored guideposts in our politics and actually serving as ideological shorthand. We knew Republicans as taciturn (Calvin Coolidge), stoic (Robert A. Taft), deliberate (Robert J. Dole), frugal (Judd Gregg), generally conservative. We knew Democrats as loquacious (Hubert H. Humphrey), emotional (Mario M. Cuomo), sometimes unpredictable (Lyndon Johnson), spendthrift (Edward M. Kennedy), generally liberal.
Much of that is changing in the era of Donald J. Trump, who once was a Democrat and thus — we will not use this metaphor promiscuously with this president — might be considered a bridge figure, though it is also possible that he is no more than a detour sign. And of course those stereotypes have been undergoing changes for some time; Newt Gingrich isn't taciturn, isn't stoic, isn't deliberate and isn't always frugal, and he was perhaps the greatest transitional figure in modern Republican politics, maybe even more so than Ronald Reagan.
The truth is that Trump — so formidable a figure in the United States today that he makes mixed metaphors unavoidable — is a giant celestial body in the political universe, warping the orbits of the other planet. And chief among the planets adjusting to new orbits, or perhaps careering out of long-established orbits, are the two parties.

  • Category: Columns

Jerry Knirk: How an idea becomes a bill

It is been a few weeks since my first column as I have been rather busy with this “part-time” job as a state representative. Part of the work has been shepherding my two bills through the early legislative process. In this column I will discuss how an idea becomes a bill using one of my two bills as an example.

During orientation we were warned that we should be cautious about introducing any bills in our first term because of the amount of work that it takes. Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I introduced two bills.

I proposed House Bill 320 (known in the halls in Concord simply as HB 320) to address the redistricting that needs to be done every 10 years after the census. Currently, the Legislature draws the districts, which means the party in power gets to decide how to draw the districts, and the members will draw the districts to favor their party.

Drawing long, winding districts which favor your party is called gerrymandering. This process leads to disagreements and lawsuits every 10 years. The lawsuits are costly, and the partisan appearance erodes people’s faith in the process.

HB 320 directs the Legislature to draw the districts using a computer algorithm to solve what is known as a mathematical optimization problem. Though that may sound a little esoteric, it is something that we do all of the time, every day. When we decide in what order to do some errands, we optimize the sequence in order to minimize the time it will take. The map function on your phone optimizes the multiple different potential routes to present the fastest available route. When you book a flight, Expedia will very rapidly give you a number of choices optimized by the lowest price.

To solve the redistricting problem and avoid partisan gerrymandering, one just needs to minimize the perimeter of the districts to keep the district compact (like a circle or square), with the constraints that the districts will have equal population, town and ward boundaries will be respected, and the district will be contiguous.

One of the basic principles when considering writing any bill is to consider the problem which you are trying to solve with the bill. In this case, it is the need for a transparent and non-partisan method of drawing districts. I had thought of the idea of using a computer algorithm in the fall. After being elected, I only had a few weeks before the deadline for submission of bills.

The Office of Legislative Services is a very valuable resource to all representatives. The attorneys in that office help us transform our idea and  rough draft into a finished bill with the appropriate language. They also have a research arm to help us learn more about which other states may have considered the same issues.

Once the bill was drafted, I engaged other legislators to sign on as cosponsors. In this case, one of my fellow representatives and the Senate minority leader, Jeff Woodburn, signed on as co-sponsors. The bill is then printed and assigned to a committee. HB 320 was assigned to the Election Law Committee. The bill is then scheduled for a hearing before the committee. At the committee hearing, the sponsor introduces the bill, and then interested parties testify either for or against the bill. Some of those individuals may be lobbyists, others will be representatives of interested advocacy groups and still others are ordinary citizens who wish to speak.

Introducing this bill was particularly complicated because I had to talk about the politics and needed to teach the math so that the members of the committee understood that aspect of the bill.

I prepared a written handout for the committee (called written testimony), including diagrams. I consulted with other experts who work in this field and reviewed references to this topic which legislative research had found for me.

There were some states that used a computer algorithm to determine degree of bias in districts which were drawn up by politicians, but we found no evidence that any other states had actually adopted the process of drawing the districts by computer to start with.

Mike Laracy, the CEO of Rapid Insight, an analytics software company here in North Conway was kind enough to come to Concord to testify. He gave his thoughts about the bill and addressed the technical issues.

The next step for a bill is for the committee to decide what to recommend for the bill in what is called “executive session,” where the committee members discuss the bill and decide whether it should be killed or go forward. In the next column, I will discuss these next steps of how a bill actually ends up becoming a law.

Jerry Knirk is a freshman representative from Carroll County District 3: Tamworth, Madison, Freedom and Albany. He lives in Freedom.

  • Category: Columns

Susan Bruce: Magic bus

Donald Trump won the New Hampshire Primary — and he won it bigly. That night he said, “THANK YOU NH! I love you all.” Ah, gratitude … an emotion with a very short half-life.

Fast forward to a year later. Trump did NOT win New Hampshire in the general election, and it’s been eating at him ever since. That he sits in the White House is not enough for him. He’s miffed that he didn’t win EVERYTHING. The one thing Donald Trump loves more than anything is being seen as a winner. New Hampshire wounded his overweening ego, and like every petulant tyrant, he’s lashing out. If he didn’t win New Hampshire, it’s because thousands of illegal voters were bused in from Massachusetts.

The fantasy of busloads of people from Massachusetts voting in New Hampshire began sometime in the late ’90s, and was spread by the Republican Party. In a strange coincidence, this rumor began to circulate at the same time Democrats started winning elections. The more Democrats won, the louder the rumbling about buses became.

I sat through a hearing on a photo ID bill at the N.H. House a few years ago. It was such a big hearing that it was held in Representatives Hall. Dozens of people went to the microphone to testify that they had seen buses full of people from Massachusetts pull up to the polls and all of the passengers went inside to vote. Under questioning by members of the committee, it turned out that not a one of these folks took a photo of the bus, wrote down the license plate number, made a complaint to the moderator, spoke with the police officer on duty, called the Secretary of State or the AG’s office.

The ugly undercutting of our state elections has continued. Every year, a handful of bills are presented attempting to cast the runes in some magic combination that will change the definition of the word “domicile” to allow the Republican Party to ensure that college students don’t get to vote any more. This year, there are well over a dozen voter suppression bills. One of the concerns endlessly voiced by the voter suppression crowd is that of the same-day voter registrations, or those who vote without an ID, signing a voter affidavit. They claim there are thousands of them that need to be investigated, even though there is no proof that anyone did anything untoward. Given the high volume of indignity expressed, one would think they’d be chomping at the bit for those investigations.

One would be wrong. They’re all mad at the Attorney General’s office for not investigating – BUT – they aren’t funding the AG’s office sufficiently to do the investigations. That tells me that all this hype about voter fraud is intended to gin up the base and cast suspicion any time Democrats win. If they were really concerned, they’d pony up for the staffing the AG’s office needs.

This constant drumbeat of fraud serves to create a kind of cynicism intended to discourage voter participation. Republicans may have once had some interest in public service, and the best interests of our state. Now their service is to the shoddy values and dubious actions of their political party.

Now that Trump is in on the act, the stakes have suddenly gotten a lot higher. I’ve always said that when New Hampshire loses the first in the nation primary, it will be because of the Republican Party. The end feels increasingly near. The newly minted, unofficial leader of the GOP is nothing if not petty and vindictive.

Over the weekend, professional New Hampshire embarrassment, state Rep. Al Baldasaro was on WBZ-TV, showing a reporter some photos of Massachusetts license plates he saw at the polls in Londonderry on Election Day.

A license plate isn’t proof of anything –—but putting that aside, we also know that Al didn’t take his deep concerns to the moderator, the officer on duty, or call the Secretary of State or the AG’s office. He saved those concerns for three whole months — until he was in front of a TV camera, noble patriot that he is.

In the days before the election, candidate Chris Sununu had plenty to say about voter fraud in New Hampshire. Now he’s in the unenviable position of having to flip-flop. If Gov. Chris Sununu followed his leader, that would mean that the legitimacy of his own election was in question. Can anyone explain to me, why, if busloads of people from Massachusetts came to hijack the election, do the Republicans have control of every branch of the state government?

Given the accusations leveled by Trump and his minions, there’s only one thing New Hampshire can do to put this matter to rest.

We need to do the New Hampshire general election over, right away.

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

Robert Gillette: Trump and Russia, part 2

Among the many mysteries of Donald Trump — in some ways the central foreign policy question — is the new president’s consistently uncritical view of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, a stance that never wavered throughout the long campaign or since the election. Every major politician, Democrat or Republican, would like to see better relations with Russia. But for all except the new president there are major obstacles to a new detente with Moscow that Trump has consistently ignored or dismissed: Among them are Russia’s military seizure of Crimea and its proxy war in Eastern Ukraine, for which the U.S. and its European allies have imposed economic sanctions; Putin’s brutal attack on Aleppo; and Kremlin interference in U.S. and European elections.

Rather than criticizing Russia for undermining the legitimacy of his election, Trump has disparaged the U.S. intelligence agencies that discovered Moscow’s meddling. His repeated denigration of NATO as “obsolete” and his encouragement of a populist breakup of the European Union correspond with Russia’s strategic aims of fracturing western military and economic alliances. What’s the explanation?

Fascination with one-man authoritarian power? A narcissistic belief that he alone can make “deals” with America’s adversaries? Collusion with Moscow for personal self-interest? All of the above, or none?

A long-standing collaboration between Trump and the Kremlin is the core allegation of a controversial 35-page dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, a respected former Russia expert at MI6, Britain’s CIA. Trump dismissed the dossier at his news conference on Jan. 11 as “all fake news … It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen,” while Putin himself, a KGB veteran, weighed in on Trump’s side a week later, calling it “clearly fake.”

Media have uniformly labeled the dossier as “unsubstantiated.” Yet key parts of it have been corroborated, including Steele’s assertion in a June 20 memo of Putin’s personal control of the election interference operation — six months before the U.S. intelligence community reached the same conclusion.

The dossier’s 17 terse memos, from June to December, cite multiple high-level sources in Russia and at least one “Russian emigre close to the Trump campaign,” presumably in New York, that Steele indicates he tapped through intermediaries.

The dossier’s claims of sexual improprieties on the new president’s part and his alleged vulnerability to blackmail have attracted the most media attention but comprise only a small part of the dossier. Citing two sources, its most consequential assertion — in the same June 20 memo that identified Putin as directing Russia’s election operation — is that “Russian authorities had been cultivating and supporting U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for at least 5 years” in an operation “both supported and directed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.”

A July 30 memo, citing a third source “close to the Trump campaign,” contends that two-way intelligence operations had actually been running between Moscow and the Trump organization for at least eight years. This implies a beginning around 2008, when Trump was toying with running for president and Donald Trump, Jr. told a real estate conference, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. ... We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Putin’s primary information requirement from the Trump organization, the July 30 memo claims, was “intelligence on the activities, business and otherwise, in the U.S. of leading Russian oligarchs and their families.”

“Trump and his associates duly had obtained and supplied the Kremlin with this information,” the memo says.

In return, a senior Russian foreign ministry official was said to have confided to a “trusted compatriot” in contact with Steele that Russian authorities had been “feeding Trump and his team valuable intelligence on his opponents, including … Clinton, for several years.” A “close associate” of Trump’s was said to have called the Russian information “very helpful.”

No media, and no public statements by the U.S. or foreign governments, have corroborated these specific allegations.

If any collaboration existed, it had to have U.S. intermediaries. Steele’s sources in July pointed to two: then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, with deep pro-Russian political and business ties in Ukraine, and Carter Page, an obscure former staffer at Merrill Lynch in Moscow whom Trump listed in March as one of his foreign affairs advisers. In October, Steele added a third: Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. At Trump’s news conference on Jan. 11, spokesman Sean Spicer indignantly denied any such role by Manafort or Cohen, but he bluntly threw Page under the bus: “Carter Page,” Spicer said of the former Trump adviser, “is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.”

On Jan. 20, The New York Times reported that the FBI, CIA, National Security Agency and the Treasury Department were engaged in a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of the then-president elect. The Times named Manafort, Page and Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, as targets of the counterintelligence investigation. What did the Russians expect to accomplish by meddling in the U.S. election? With the sole exception of Ivan Sechin, Russia’s de facto energy czar and a close Putin ally said to have met with Carter Page last July, Russian officials in Steele’s reporting did not seem confident that Trump would win.

Explaining Russia’s support, a senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Steele cited on Oct. 12, pointed to long-term strategic goals: “Russia needed to upset the liberal international status quo, including Ukraine-related sanctions, which (were) seriously disadvantaging
the country,” Steele paraphrases the official as saying.

Trump, the official continued, “was viewed as divisive in disrupting the whole U.S. political system; anti-establishment; and a pragmatist with whom they could do business.”

The source added: “He would continue as a divisive political force even if he lost the presidency and may run for and be elected to another public office.”

Robert Gillette is a former science and medical reporter for the Los Angeles Times and a news writer for the U.S. research journal Science. He lives in the Mount Washington Valley.

  • Category: Columns