Thursday, November 09, 2017

We Have A Man Problem



When the story of Harvey Weinstein broke, the floodgates opened. All over social media, women were talking about their experiences with sexual harassment, with the #MeToo hashtag making the rounds. Years (decades) of stories and outrage were expressed. After a few days of that, some men began to be very uncomfortable. They began by getting defensive. Some moved on to make accusations that some of the women were surely lying. This is why women don’t come forward. They aren’t believed. 

Every woman has a story of harassment, often beginning in childhood. A family friend or a relative might have groped her as a child. She might have been a teenager who was groped by the father of the children she was babysitting for. It might be the story of a boss with a hands problem, or a violent story of date rape. It might be an experience she had while working in a restaurant. In a business where customers directly pay a worker’s salary, the worker is forced to put up with a great deal of foolishness in order to get  their pay, also known as the tip.


Hot on the heels of revelation after revelation of bad behavior by wealthy, powerful, men came the shooting in Texas. A man went into a church in a small town in Texas and killed 26 people. Devin Kelley’s past was filled with stories of violence and abusive behavior. If anyone had taken any one of the events seriously, he wouldn’t have been able to legally own a gun. He probably wouldn’t have been able to perpetuate a massacre.

There are a few things that mass shooters have in common. Since 1982, all but three of them have been men. Most of them had a history of domestic violence. It’s one of the best predictors of a potential mass shooter, but we don’t really take domestic violence all that seriously here. After all, it’s only women.

Here in NH, in 2014, three state legislators voted against Joshua’s Law, which made domestic violence a specific crime. JR Hoell was worried about “unintended consequences.” The other two were Frank Sapareto and Michael Sylvia. Rep. Sapareto was charged with assaulting his girlfriend’s two children in 2012. In 2017, he’s the Vice Chair of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. As for Sylvia, during discussion of a Belknap County deputy who was accused of raping a woman in custody whom he was transporting, Rep. Sylvia commented, “You know what that tells me, that tells me he had time on his hands.” The real worry shared by all three was that domestic abusers would lose their guns. Because, of course, that  “unintended consequence” would be a real tragedy.


By now we all know the tropes: when a man who has skin color of a somewhat duskier hue starts shooting, he’s a terrorist. When it’s a white guy, he’s a lone wolf with mental health problems. We often discover that that the shooter has anger issues, and even more often that he has a history of domestic violence. The Las Vegas shooter was never charged with domestic violence, but he had been heard in shops being cruel and demeaning to his female partner.

One of the great mythologies of our country is the nuclear family, where mom stayed home and baked cookies for the kids while dad went off to work and brought home the paycheck. The single paycheck family went off the rails a long time ago. It takes both partners working at least one job apiece to keep a family financially afloat. That collides with the other mythology: the macho man. The myth of the hyper masculine man has been growing exponentially, and married into the gun culture family. Now the pervasive myth is that of the gun totin’ patriot with a gun who is going to save the nation (by himself, for he is a rugged individualist!) from gubmint tyranny with his gun.

Gun culture is all around us. In NH, our new governor’s very first order of business was a gun bill. In a state with crumbling infrastructure – his biggest concern was passing a law to allow any halfwit with a gun to carry it concealed. There are too many guns, and too many halfwits – and the halfwits are increasingly armed and angry. Too many of them regard women and children as their property. A woman trying to protect herself and her children by removing them from a violent situation is perceived as taking what is theirs.

We need to change our violent, sexist culture. We need to change our societal definition of manhood and masculinity. Given that so many men can’t even handle listening to the stories of women’s lives, I am not hopeful.





Published as an oped in the November 10 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Citizens Bank Auto Loan Nightmare


UPDATE: 

I posted the link to this blog piece  all over the Citizen's Bank Facebook page two weeks ago. I was contacted right away by a person from the chairman's office of the bank. After a week of playing phone tag, I spoke with her. This past Friday I received the title. 

This should not have been so difficult. I shouldn't have had to resort to being a jerk to get the title to a car that was paid off years ago. 

******************************************************






I bought a car in 2003. My loan was sold to Citizens Bank. I paid off the car in 2009/10. I never got the title. I was busy with a dying husband and forgot about it. Fast forward to 2014. I was in a car accident and the car was totaled. I can't get it towed away for salvage because I don't have the title. 

Citizens Bank Auto Loan told me to call My Title Support. They can't do anything because Citizen's Bank Auto Loan hasn't cleared the loan. They sent me back to Citizen's Bank, who sent me back to My Title Support. Who sent me back to Citizen's Bank. Rinse, lather, repeat. 


Here's the thing. If I still did owe money on the car, they'd be all over me. In fact, they'd have repo'd it by now.

I have been jerked around endlessly and I've had enough. I want the damn title. Nothing should be as difficult as this has been. 


The photo from above is the end result of what I was told to do today. 

I want the damn title. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Is Bigger Better?




The story of the “unification plan” for Memorial Hospital got me thinking about bigger. There will be a vote in November to decide whether to “unify” the local board with Maine Medical Center and it’s 8 subsidiaries, into one single board. The local board would continue to function for the next five years, and after that, any decision would require a 2/3 majority. A 2/3 majority – and they have 8 subsidiaries. How is one little hospital going to fare in that power scenario? They also say there are no plans in development to reduce services at Memorial.

Not at this moment. Plans can change, quickly. If anyone can think of a situation where giving up local control worked out well, please let me know.

I have the same checking account I opened nearly 30 years ago, in North Conway, in a small bank that was locally owned. The bank was swallowed up, repeatedly by ever-larger banks, and is now owned by a bank that is one of the 10 largest in the US.

The branch I do my banking in is populated by a constantly changing group of employees. It’s impersonal. The website of the branch doesn’t even list the name of the manager, as I learned recently when I wished to lodge a complaint about the service. It’s a much bigger bank than it was 30 years ago. Bigger is publicly traded and has shareholders, and that’s what matters, not customer service. Bigger is not better.

Nearly any company you call will have you wrestling with an automated menu that purports to direct your call. None of the choices will be what you want, and you’ll have to listen to the menu about three times to make sure of that. It sucks up a lot of your time, and it’s lousy customer service, BUT it means that no one need be hired to answer the phone and direct calls, so the company is saving money. The bigger the company, the more impenetrable the menu. The bigger the company, the less transparency and accountability there is.

The bigger the company the less they care about whether or not you do business with them. Customer service is not a priority. Look at what we tolerate from airlines.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 paved the way for the giant media monopolies we see today. How do you like your options for cable? For phone service? How is your internet speed? Do you have lots of choices? The best customer service I ever had from an internet company was with a small company that served part of VT and part of northern NH. If something happened to my service, people would show up at my house within hours. They answered their phone themselves, too.

 How is bigger working out? We see this playing out in newspapers, where some corporate media group has mostly swallowed up the small, weekly papers in the top half of the state. In these scenarios the bottom line is the main concern. The news itself is in second place, and the employees a distant third. They all look the same and have the same bland tone.  

We see this playing out in radio. At the recent NHAB Granite Mike Awards, WMUR picked up most of the television awards, which isn’t all that difficult when you’re the only network station in the state. The big radio conglomerates won most of the radio awards. Congratulations to WMWV/WVMJ on their awards, and for surviving as the endangered species they are; independently owned commercial stations.

The more stations the company has, the more they all sound the same. I was spoiled by listening to WMWV for so many years, a station where, sometimes (in decades past) things could get a little unruly. It was not cookie cutter radio. The big corporate stations all sound mostly the same, with loud morning hosts bellowing inanities, and a lot of hyper compressed voices pitching ads. They are big. Are they better? Is money really all that matters?

Insurance is another area where we have corporate monopolies, especially health care. No one has ever told me how much they love their health insurance company. Health insurance is the greedy middle-man that drives up costs while providing nothing useful in the way of services. They often make your medical decisions – not you or your doctor. Because of them, doctors see patients on an assembly line, spending between 13-16 minutes with each of them. A study from 2016 showed doctors spending 27% of their work day with patients. The rest of their time is spent on documentation and paperwork. Health insurance companies and HMO’s have created an enormous, impersonal industry. They’ve also built monopolies. The relationship we have with our doctors and our hospital should be personal.

Memorial Hospital is of vital importance to the community. Think long and hard before surrendering local control.




This was published as an op-ed in the October 27 issue of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 
  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Impropriety




Once upon a time, people who held elected office used to strive to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Back in those halcyon days, we were concerned with corruption and ethics. There were big public investigations. There were legal charges and fines. People went to prison.

Wherever there is any kind of power there is the possibility of corruption. During the Grant administration, the Whiskey Ring scandal was exposed in 1875. Whiskey distillers were bribing government officials who, in turn, helped the distillers evade federal taxes on their product. Millions of dollars in federal taxes were diverted. Orville Babcock, private secretary to President Grant was indicted as a member of the ring, which contributed (along with other scandals) to his administration being seen as emblematic of corruption.

The Teapot Dome scandal also involved bribery, and took place between 1921-1922, during the Harding administration. The US Navy converted from using coal to fuel oil. President Taft designated several oil producing areas as Naval Oil Reserves. In 1921, President Harding issued an executive order that turned control of the Teapot Dome Oil Field in Wyoming and the Elk Hills and Buena Vista Oil Fields in California from the Dept. of the Navy to the Dept. of the Interior. This was implemented in 1922 at the request of Interior Secretary Albert Fall. Later in the year, Fall leased oil production rights at Teapot Dome to Mammoth Oil, a subsidy of Sinclair Oil. He leased the Elk Hills reserve to Pan American Petroleum and Transport Company. There was no competitive bidding in either case. Fall became a wealthy man, after receiving gifts from the executives in both companies that would today be worth $5.42 million. The sudden improvement in his standard of living brought about his downfall. The leases themselves were not illegal. The secret deals and the bribery were.

There was an investigation. Other oil companies were miffed about the no bid licenses that had been granted, and Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin led an investigation by the Senate Committee on Public Lands. Fall had done a good job of covering his tracks, but Edward Doheny of Pan American Petroleum had given Fall a no-interest loan of $100,000. Once that loan (bribe) was discovered, Fall was finished. He was found guilty of accepting bribes. Edward Doheny was acquitted of paying bribes to Fall.

Corporations will always find ways to bribe public officials into aiding their pursuit of lining their pockets. Coal, oil, and uranium aren’t the only natural resources that are being mined by the unscrupulous. Right in our own back yard, the largest food and beverage company in the world is mining water, and seeking to expand their extraction operations in Fryeburg, Maine. Local elected officials have failed – and failed mightily - to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

NestlĂ©’s lack of ethics became national news in the 1970’s when we learned that they were aggressively marketing baby formula to third world mothers. They handed out literature, had women dressed as nurses to discuss the benefits of formula, gave out baby bottles, and free samples. After the mother’s own milk dried up, they were forced to purchase formula, and often had nothing but contaminated water to mix it with. Many diluted the formula to stretch it out, because they were so poor. They weren’t told that diluting the formula, especially with contaminated water, could lead to malnutrition and the death of their infants. 

The ensuing scandal and Nestle boycott brought about the creation of the International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes in 1981. The code states that baby food companies may not promote their products in hospitals or shops. They may not give free samples to mothers or give gifts to health workers or mothers. They may not give misleading information, and must explain the cost of using the formula. 

Nestle is still under scrutiny. The boycott was called off for a few years, but it is back in place, because, naturally, they’ve found ways around the code. The opportunity to make money from some of the poorest people on the planet was too alluring. Nestle exploits, creates misfortune, and then profits from that misfortune.

In Michigan, where Flint residents were poisoned by their tap water, Nestle is working to increase the pumping of spring water in Osceola Township. They pay nothing for the water they pump there. Nothing. In Fryeburg they pay next to nothing, and that isn’t enough. They always want more. Nestle always finds unscrupulous elected officials to help sell their town down the river – a river they’ll suck dry, just as they sucked the original Poland Spring dry.

Dear Fryeburg: there’s always a quid pro, as Fightin’ Bob LaFollette found when he investigated Albert Fall. Find it. And oust those who would sell your town.


Published as an op-ed in the October 13, 2016 edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 



Thursday, September 28, 2017

Alternate Realities




It’s that time of year – when it’s time for our state representatives to file bills for 2018. At this larval stage, they’re called LSRs, or Legislative Service Requests. A legislator has an idea for a bill, and so they come up with a title and may begin drafting it, before turning it over to Legislative Services where the intent and language will be fleshed out. Some will be withdrawn by the sponsors. Some will make it all the way to being on the House docket in 2018. Right now, the fledgling LSRs are titles only, and available for viewing on the NH General Court website. There are currently 685 LSRs proposed by House members. Sixteen have already been withdrawn.

In preparation for this column, I took a quick, unscientific poll, asking people for their top 3-5 issues that badly need to be addressed in New Hampshire. The number one concern was health care (includes dental, mental health, and addiction), followed by a broad based tax (property tax relief), affordable housing, funding higher education/supporting public education, infrastructure, livable wages, and climate change/the environment. Other high ranking concerns: ending voter suppression, childcare, gerrymandering, legalizing marijuana, public transportation, and protecting water. 

This was not a scientific poll, but it’s likely that most voters in our state have some of the same concerns. Worried about health care? Representatives Josh Moore and Jeanine Notter are sponsoring a resolution to affirm the state’s religious heritage and constitutional right to practice religion and fee speech. Desperate for property tax relief?  Jeanine Notter and Victoria Sullivan are sponsoring an LSR, “relative to information regarding abortion.” That’ll help you hang on to your house.

Concerned about the lack of housing? This very newspaper has pages of help wanted ads and about a column and a half of rentals. If affordable housing is one of your issues, you’ll be glad to hear that Rep. Dave Testerman has an LSR that would include “sexual reassignment” under the definition of child abuse. Worried about our failing roads, bridges, sewer, and water systems? Rep. Dan Itse wants your driver’s license or non-driver ID to include your citizenship status.

Is the cost of higher education and the loss of young people worrying you? Rep. Brian Stone would like to establish the University System of NH as a political subdivision of the state. Because putting the legislature, a place of science denial, where at least 40 representatives don’t know how to use email, in charge of the university system is a brilliant idea.

Worried about low wages and income inequality? Rep. Dan Itse is sponsoring a resolution calling for the pardon of Jerry DeLemus who was convicted for his role in the armed standoff at the Bundy Ranch, where he was “protecting” Cliven Bundy who owed the government over a million dollars in grazing fees.

You get the idea. The issues that are most concerning to NH residents are not reflected in the 2018 LSRs. Rather than deal with the real problems facing our state; the Republican majority is throwing a Tea Party. They know, of course, that this is may be their last chance to do the kind of social engineering that the basest of their base drools over. They have a Republican governor for the first time in decades, and Trump acolyte Chris Sununu is their best chance at passing some of this dreck.

Abortion, gender reassignment (three LSRs so far), eligibility for public assistance, coercive abortions, voter ID, domicile (seriously – more of this?) …. none of these are issues that even came up in my survey. There is an LSR proposed by Rep. Steve Smith to eliminate the commission that studies the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. One can see why that would be a priority.

There are LSRs that do deal with pressing issues. Rep. Renny Cushing is sponsoring a bill to require the secure psychiatric unit at the state hospital to be accredited as a psychiatric hospital. As it is now, we put people who have committed no crimes behind bars at the state prison because we don’t have a secure psychiatric unit in a hospital anywhere, and we’re too cheap to build one.  

Rep. Mindi Messmer is sponsoring an LSR aimed at protecting our water from PFOAS, and remediating the Coakely Landfill in Greenland – a superfund waste site. Rep. Travis Bennett is sponsoring an LSR establishing a committee to study the fiscal impacts of repairing or replacing our water supply systems, aka our crumbling infrastructure. None of these are likely to go anywhere in the coming session.

The entire point of our foolishly large, volunteer legislature is to provide real, accessible representation. Because they are unpaid, we get the rich, the retired, and the crazy.

They’re having a tea party at the legislature in 2018. Let’s hope it will be the last.


This was published as an op-ed in the September 29  edition of the Conway Daily Sun newspaper 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

RIP, NH Primary



It’s been quite a week in New Hampshire. An armed man went into the ICU at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and shot and killed his mother. There was an attempted armed robbery at a bank in downtown Concord. The investigation into the attempted lynching of an 8-year-old biracial boy in Claremont continues. The Pence Kobach Fraud Commission met in NH to continue in their attempt to legitimize their bogus claims of widespread voter fraud.  

The meeting of the commission was held at St. Anselm’s College, a private, religious school. Former US Senator Judd Gregg helped St. Anselm’s obtain $15 million in federal funding to renovate the building that became the school’s Institute of Politics. The executive director of the Institute of Politics is Neal Levesque, who worked for former Congressman Charles Bass for 12 years. A In other words: a public, allegedly non-partisan commission met at a private, religious, rather partisan school.

Two months ago, I wrote that Kobach was under investigation for violating the Hatch Act, using his role in the commission as part of his 2018 campaign for governor of Kansas. That investigation continues. Since then, we’ve also learned that not only is Kobach the Secretary of State for Kansas, he’s also moonlighting as a paid columnist for Breitbart News. Breitbart being a far right “news” outfit run by Steve Bannon, the recently expelled advisor to President Trump. Breitbart’s ties to white supremacists resulted in them losing 90% of their advertisers between April and June of 2017.

This is the publication that pays Kris Kobach to write a column. A Kobach column in Breitbart was part of the misinformation packet handed out at the meeting of the Fraud Commission. Testifying before the Voter Fraud Commission in NH were 12 white men. There were no women. No people of color. No town clerks or supervisors of the checklist participated in this fact-free extravaganza.

As soon as Donald Trump was elected president, he began to whine about voter fraud. He won the election through the Electoral College. That he failed to win the popular vote has been a terrible blow to his overweening, childlike ego. Trump is the bestest, smartest, most wonderful person ever, and that every person in the United States didn’t vote for him can only mean one thing – fraud.

NH Governor Chris Sununu paved the way for this by bleating about “busloads of voters from Massachusetts” on the Howie Carr radio show, days before the election. Chris Sununu did not attend the fraud side show – how could he? His father, the disgraced philatelist, was ensconced on the dais. No one asked him how all that fraud impacted his son’s election. No one asked him why his family wants to sabotage NH elections.

Sununu-the-younger has had to walk back his claims of voter fraud, given that he was elected. The Republicans would have us believe that the fraud was confined to only two races – the presidential race and the US Senate race. We’re being asked to believe that people came to NH to fraudulently vote for only two candidates. In that same election, Republican Chris Sununu was elected, and the Republican Party now controls the entire state government. We’re also being asked to believe that THOSE votes weren’t fraud.

You can’t have it both ways.

One of the ideas suggested by a witness testifying before the Fraud Commission, was doing background checks on voters. The kind of background checks that are so bitterly opposed by NH gundamentalists. These are the kinds of contortions that the far right will engage in to try to ensure they stay in power. Another suggestion is raising the voting age; to ensure college students don’t vote. It seems the GOP platform has little appeal to young voters, so rather than do the hard work of recruiting, they’d prefer to just eliminate young voters.

NH Secretary of State, Bill Gardner is part of the Sham Commission. In recent years he’s become the tool of those claiming voter fraud, chosen to give them bipartisan credibility. Gardner has been in office since 1976. After a long career in public service, he has besmirched his legacy of defending the first in the nation primary by legitimizing this charade.

What should offend every one of us is the damage being done to our elections by this commission. This craven nonsense is an insult to every town clerk, every moderator, the supervisors of the checklist, the ballot clerks, and every volunteer that is part of our election process – a process that has been working just fine for hundreds of years. That the majority party has chosen to perpetuate this circus tells us that they’ve abandoned any integrity they may have once had.

I’ve long said that when NH loses the first in the nation primary, it will be because of the GOP. Say goodbye, NH. It’s all over now but the shouting.




This was published as an op-ed in the September 15, 2017 edition of the Conway Daily Sun  newspaper