Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making sense of the NH Republicans...and the UNPUBLISHED poll....

In the wake of yesterday's election of Jack Kimball over Juliana Bergeron as New Hampshire State Republican Chair, many news articles have attempted to present this as a battle between "two sides." And in America, we tend to simply battles into just two sides: Republicans vs. Democrats, Packers vs. Bears, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Toby Keith vs. The Dixie Chicks. But the reality behind the scenes is that the state GOP can be divided into at least three different factions, and the direction the party - and the State - will take is a function of how those coalitions come together - or fall apart - on individual issues.

In brief, the three main factions are The Establishment Yankees, The Theocrats, and the Libertarians.

The Establishment Yankees are best represented by the House of Sununu and the House of Gregg, two Republican families that have dominated NH politics for 40 years. These two families provided State Party Chairs, Senators, Governors, and White House Advisors (Sununu The Elder was Bush the Elder's Chief of Staff). And while the Sununus tended towards very conservative politics, their base has been the old tyme Republicans who worked the polls in the past, provided the votes, and had moderate tendencies (The McCain - Romney faction)

The Theocrats are a vocal, blistering minority of social conservatives, most of whom have moved in from out of state. They belong to Bible, Pentecostal, and Independent Churches. The Home Educate in droves. They are Pro-Life. And they have found their voice in the Cornerstone Policy Institute and its mouthpiece, Ken Smith. They are both fiscal and social conservatives, but it is the social issues that inflame their passions and drive them to organize and campaign and vote. When choosing candidates, they are the ones most likely to ask in a knowing whisper, "Is he saved?"

The Libertarians draw from two sources: young, fresh blood, drawn to the Granite State by its traditional bent towards libertarianism and publicity from organizations such as the Free State Project and the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance (Not to be confused with the House Republican Alliance); and from old tyme Yankees who have rejected some of the 'entrenched' politics of the Establishment Houses (see above). This group is fiscally conservative...but quite socially tolerant, if not liberal. This is the faction within the GOP seeking to preserve Marriage Equality through a variety of approaches (including getting government out of marriage all together), and support medical marijuana (as well as outright decriminalization).

To muddy the waters, there are many news reports trumpeting the success of Tea Party favorite Jack Kimball. But the Tea Party movement, while united on fiscal issues, is extremely fractured on social issues, and does not speak with one voice (a mistake often made by those on the left when commenting on the Tea Party).

And so, the recent election fell along these lines:

Julia Bergeron, Chair of the Cheshire County GOP, who rose through the ranks working within and for the party. Unsurprisingly, she had the support of The Establishment, including most of the GOP Senators, 4 of 5 Executive Councillors, and the House of Sununu.

Jack Kimball, former candidate for Governor, businessman, and Tea Party activist.

But where did they stand on the issues?

Juliana Bergeron was seen by some as a 'moderate,' by others as a conservative...and Marriage Equality was the lightning rod issue. Bergeron was not very clear where she stood: she voted against including an anti-same-sex marriage plank in the state GOP platform, and afterwards stated, “I’m 100 percent for our platform, but we have to respect those who don’t agree with every portion of it..." But she also made statements such as, “I have never been a proponent of gay marriage; I support traditional marriage." Her attempt to negotiate a bitter feud between pro-Equality and Anti-Equality Republicans in the Town of Swanzey resulted in her being seen as 'liberal' on this issue: she lost the support of Cheshire Republican strongman (and former NH Christian Coalition Chair George Fellendorf), and could not secure the support of one of five Executive Councillors, David Wheeler of Milford, a hero of the Theocrat faction.

Kimball, on the other hand, who cut his teeth on fiscal, not social, issues, came out with this beaut: “I won’t tolerate our party deviating from its conservative platform,” he told “I plan to get involved in activities at the Statehouse if and when I think we are straying from our platform."

In getting elected, Kimball attempted to make his agreement with the socially conservative platform very clear.

However, his actions belie his words: He then said Thursday he would name abortion rights supporters and U.S. Senate candidates Bill Binnie, of New Castle, and Jim Bender, of Hollis, to co-chair the GOP Finance Committee. Binnie openly appealed to abortion rights supporters in his unsuccessful campaign for Senate, and while news reports claim that he supports the the state’s same-sex marriage law, he told your Blogger, to his face, that he opposed it.

In the end, Bergeron had the Establishment. Kimball had the Libertarians (who were suspicious of Bergeron's moderation on fiscal issues) and the Theocrats, who were unimpressed with the strength of her support for the social issues in the Platform...though it's not certain that Kimball's action will support his words.

It was a close vote: 222-199.

Now, the straw poll...the media are announcing Mitt Romney's win among the delegates (an Establishment win), even if they are ignoring Ron Paul's second place showing (a Libertarian win).

But the "other story" is the poll that is not being reported. Delegates were asked, in a second poll, to indicate ALL the candidates they could support. Here are the results:

Tim Pawlenty 46
Michele Bachmann 44
Mitt Romney 42
Rick Santorum 41
Sarah Palin 38
Ron Paul 38
Jim Demint 34
Mike Huckabee 29
Mike Pence 24
Paul Ryan 24
Gary Johnson 20
Rudy Guiliiani 20
Haley Barbour 19
Newt Gingrich 19
John Bolton 15
Judd Gregg 15
Joe Arpaio 12
Donald Trump 11
John Thune 10
Mitch Daniels 9
Herman Cain 8
Jon Huntsman, Jr. 6
George Pataki 5
Scott Brown 4
John Cornyn 2
Tom Tancredo 1
Steven King 1

Notice the cluster of hard-line social conservatives at the top of the list: Pawlenty, Bachmann [shudder], DeMint, Huckabee, Santorum, Palin.

Notice the Libertarians in the second tier: Paul, Johnson

Notice no one gets more than 1/3 of the delegates voting.

Any appearance of a united, monolithic NH Republican Party is a news media invention. Any announcement that the "Tea Party" has taken over is premature and unhelpful. The NH GOP remains divided between its three camps. In the short term there will be an unpredictable dance between these the long term, as The Establishment dies off and loses ground....we will see a war between social conservatives and social libertarians. Who knows how far off that was is...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Ceilidh House: a personal retrospective on a special Pub

This past weekend, I got to take a brief trip to Albany, NY, to participate in an event sponsored by Bear Albany. "Bears," for those of you who may not know, are a 'subset' of the gay male 'community': a little (or a lot) heavier and hairier than the models you find on the cover of Mens Fitness or dancing in a g-string. "Bear Runs" take place just about every weekend of the year, all around the world, and each one serves as sort as a 'reunion-party.' Having been to many of these, I can say that "Bears" are the nicest, most 'normal,' accepting, easy-going, non-judgemental bunch of gay men you could ever meet.

Two bars, ROCKS, and the Water Works, served as host locations for this weekend, and at one of them, a familiar looking face came up to me and said,

"You know, the Ceilidh House changed my life."

Now, the Ceilidh House was a Celtic Pub that I co-owned in Westmoreland, NH from 2007-2008. It swiftly developed a very loyal, wonderful "fan base," people I still consider some of my best friends in the world. Friends who would clear tables if necessary, help new patrons figure out the quirks of the place, spend their money, and offer their support and friendship. They helped set up our musical events, and prepared party favors for New Years Eve. The Ceilidh House "regulars" became sort of a private 'Club,' and the Ceilidh House was their clubhouse. In the single instance where we had trouble with some young drunk punks who came in and gave me a hard was a combination of employees and patrons who actually beat the crap out of them and sequestered them in the parking lot until the police - and the ambulance - arrived. I am incredibly grateful and have wonderful memories of that Pub.

The clientele was an eclectic mix: friends, singing compatriots, collegiates, local "townies," karaoke enthusiasts, celtophiles, music-lovers, rugby clubbers, an afterwork crowd from the city of Keene, and snowmobilers and cross-country skiiers who would happen upon our pub. And on one Wednesday evening a month, we sponsored Bear Night: with no gay bar anywhere within a 90 minute radius, The Ceilidh House became a meeting and reunion center of sorts for gay men from a three state area.

He continued:

"I never realized there were other guys out there like me. I used to drive 75 miles just to come on Bear Night, and stay over. It has changed the course of my entire future."

We hugged, and he and his friends disappeared among the 250+ men dancing to technoversions of Lady Gaga on the dance floor...

I can never quite figure out how to sort out my emotions when things like that happen. And it wasn't the first time. I often hear my friends refer to the "Ceilidh House" gang...and I am at a loss for words to describe the bittersweet mix of deep pain and fondness I instantly feel.

As the Ceilidh House entered its first winter, it was quite clear that its financial survival was very much in question...and equally clear that my business partner and I had less and less of the common vision we had when the Pub was launched.

The revenue was no where what had been represented to us as typical in the past before we signed the lease, even on our best nights.

The cost of rent and heating oil (for a three story uninsulated barn with living quarters in the basement) ate up a third of the monthly intake. It's location on a hilly, rural stretch of road often made winter weekend visits treacherous: a single freezing rain storm on the weekend would destroy our ability to make ends meet for that month.

My partner's approach to management was more that of a "landed proprietor" than a "working partner." I could not get him to arrange for the beer tanks to be filled, to put up a simple employee schedule, or to open or close on time. On our explosively packed opening weekend...he took off with a friend and left me alone to work the crowd. I would bartend or cook; he would learn neither, but insisted on hiring others. On our single most profitable party - Mardi Gras - he chose not to show up to help at all. He cut short a training session I arranged with him to balance the financial books, to go on a date. He refused to allow me to sell ownership shares to our loyal clientele to raise capital to get through the winters. Eventually, as revenues fell, costs increased, and the task of keeping the Pub afloat took its physical and emotional toll on me, it was clear we were not going to be able to work together.

And so, in March 2008, I relinquished my ownership position and never returned. Most of my patrons were shocked, and many of them continued to try and help the Ceilidh House survive.

And I was left in a terrible, no-win situation: I could explain to each and every person why I needed to leave, and why it would eventually close, and what the problems were - - but what would that accomplish? Sure, I could 'justify' my decision to leave, but I would be bad-mouthing a place that people loved, and which, to be honest, I hoped would survive. I had no right to hasten the Pub's demise by talking poorly about it, and I did not want to be blamed for seeking to destroy it through such talk.

And so, I said nothing to anybody.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And in my mind, my friends - all those who had helped me for months and enjoyed the Ceilidh House - must have been hurt, insulted, and bewildered, wondering why I walked out on it all without so much as an explanation. But what could I say? It hurt, and still does, but I felt that the short-term pain would eventually give way to longer-term understanding.

Three months after I left, the Ceilidh House closed.

I have seen my recipes - some of which were unique to the Ceilidh House - show up in the menus of other area restaurants, and have smiled. Every former patron I meet, whether an 'old friend' or not, still speaks fondly of 'what we had.'

I lost money, and I left many good friends hurt and bewildered. But every once in a while, I have an unexpected experience like the one I had this weekend...and I realize, in the long run, in spite of the was all very, very good. I think the healing is finally complete.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Tucson aftermath, civility, and freedom...

I don't expect many people to agree with this post...but that's never stopped me before.

Growing up, I remember some of the icons of the news reporting industry: Walter Cronkite. Peter Jennings. Edwin Newman. Ted Koppel. Chet Huntley. David Brinkley. John Chancellor. Roger Mudd. Tom Brokaw.

These reporters, though they they had their personal opinions, attempted to report news - information - with objective facts. Though often accused of being 'slanted' one way or another, they saw their jobs as providing information, and not entertaining or outright campaigning.

Today (with notable exceptions such as George Stephanopoulos and Robin Roberts), Americans don't seem to want to hear 'news.' We prefer to hear partisan, angry finger-pointing...and we are entertained by this. On the right, Fox News is stacked with talking heads who use anger and alienation to attract viewership. Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter never let an opportunity pass to offer their opinion on the news without a good dose of outrage.

But the left is not immune from this. Keith Olberman is just as prone to name-calling and passionate rants as O'Reilly, and Rachel Maddow drips with disdain and self-righteous superiority as she discusses the right. Bloggers (and their reader's comments) on both the left and right regularly say things in print they would hesitate to say in a face-to-face situation.

The Internet has insulated us from the need for civility.

We have decided that we would rather be entertained by comedians posing as newscasters or have our opinions and passions "confirmed," than actually be informed by news and information.

In the wake of the Tucson shootings, many blogs and commentators have retreated into the Blame Game. Blogs on the left have ripped the right for the anger and hate that has emanated from some right-wing sites. But in so doing, they are blind to the fact that they themselves are engaged in the same thing: Divide, Blame, Marginalize, Disdain. Define "The Other Side" as evil, and affix the blame on THEM.

A child who taunts a dog every day is not blameless when one day the gate is open and the dog chooses to bite in return.

Partisan Division is a Two-Way Street, and BOTH the Left and the Right are equally guilty. The problem with the lack of civil discourse is not the "Other Side"....The problem is the Man in the Mirror.

But equally as troubling as this irresponsible, childish move away from "real news" are the recent calls to 'clamp down' on basic freedoms as a result of the shootings. Stricter Gun Control. Restrictions on "Hate Speech." Pima County, Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was right when he recognized the atmosphere of hate and division that the media has engendered...but the suggestion that free speech needs to be monitored or prohibited runs counter to the most basic of American freedoms.

The efforts to 'control' Americans have a parallel in "Star Wars": Senator Palpatine, speaking to the Senate, convinces them that the Republic is under attack...and to give him extraordinary powers to answer that threat. The eventual result, of course, is that Senator Palpatine becomes Emperor Palpatine, and the Republic becomes the Evil Empire...leading to the Rebellion.

The United States has always been a disorderly, raucous, free-wheeling nation. To quote Ben Franklin from the musical 1776, "we're less refined, more vulgar" than Europe. "We require a new nation."

It was a bad enough blow to liberty when the Patriot Act was enacted. Current calls to restrict speech and firearms ownership to preserve order at the expense of liberty is the slippery slope that moves us towards The Evil Empire. And once the Evil Empire is in place, the 'rebellion' will grow.

I fear we may be in a no-win situation here:

Calls grow for greater security.

Freedoms are reduced.

That encourages black-market and 'under the radar' activities. And it encourages Defiance.

Defiance speaks the language of Violence and Resistance.

Calls for Resistance increase the calls for greater security.

Those desiring Security and those desiring Liberty demonize the other side, and draw hard and fast lines.

The first American Civil War has clear geographic lines. I'm not sure how the next lines will be drawn.

I *do* know that I am tired of Republican AND Democratic partisanship, and the rhetoric of BOTH the left and the right...and am destined, I think, to wander an in an Independent wilderness for the rest of my life while my country decides who and what it wants to be, and how its going to get there...Ive had it with both "sides."

Monday, January 03, 2011

Birds...Fish...and John P. Wheeler.

[Update at end of post]

As a general rule, I'm not a conspiracy theory enthusiast. But I have to admit to some degree of uneasiness here.

New Years Eve, and 5,000 blackbirds and starlings fall from the sky in Arkansas. I don't buy the explanations that have been offered. "High Level" hail wouldn't be able to kill birds that roost in trees at night. Lightning might be the culprit...but meteorologists confirm that there wasn't any. Fireworks scared them all?! All 5,000? When Boston's 4th of July Esplanade cannons never killed one bird? Please, give me a break.

They were scooped up by guys in Hazmat suits, and spirited away to labs. Preliminary results are 'blunt trauma to, and bleeding of, their internal organs.' Of course, rat poison acts the same way: it causes bleeding of the internal organs.

New Years Eve, and the first of 100,000 fish begin washing up on the banks of an Arkansas river. Strange thing is, the fish kill is limited to a single kind of fish.

Yeah, it could be a coincidence. In fact, its quite likely. Except.....

New Years Eve, and the body of John P. Wheeler is found in a dump in Delaware. The cause of death is ruled a homicide. Wheeler was returning from Washington, D.C. His family didn't know precisely why, or when to expect him to return.

Who is Wheeler? A respected Army Officer and Vietnam Veteran who served as the guiding force and Chair of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund from 1979 - 1989. Not only was that the time period during which "The Wall" was being planned and was the height of the Agent Orange Trial.

By the mid 1980s, a class-action suit launched by Vietnam Vets against Monsanto, Dow, Diamond Shamrock, anda few smaller chemical companies had hit the federal court system. All these companies were involved in producing Agent Orange, a defoliating agent designed to strip the jungle of vegetation. In the process, the breakdown of the constituent chemicals of the substance (Di- and Trichlorophenoxiacetic Acid, otherwise known as 2,4 D and 2,4,5 T for short) crated Dioxin. Vietnam Vets exposed to the substance suffered everything from severe skin rashes (chloracne) to cancer and death...and their children experienced a range of horrible birth defects.

John "Jack" Wheeler was instrumental in demanding medical treatment for, and focusing attention on, Veterans health issues - especially those affected by Agent Orange.

I know. I worked for Dean, Falanga & Rose, one of the law firms that represented the Veterans at the time. My job involved reading through the deposition of Monsanto officials...and tracing how much the company officials actually knew about the poison they were selling. And how much the government knew about the poison they were buying and dumping on American soldiers. It was Ugly.

Jack Wheeler went on to serve multiple Presidential administrations. At one point, he authored a document on the US Military's use of Biochemical weapons.

The document concluded that the US must never engage in this type of warfare.

Sometime after Dec 28, Jack Wheeler left Washington DC on a train for his home in Delaware. He never got home. The experienced Army officer was ambushed, killed, and dumped in a landfill.

Did he know something? Was he warning Washington?

Was he threatening to blow a whistle on another government chemical 'experiment?,' or another Chemical Corporation-Government endeavor gone awry?

Perhaps. I have no way of knowing.

But I know I sure as hell will not accept pathetic stories about high-level hail or fireworks.


Pine Bluff Finishes Chemical Weapons Disposal
Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2010

"...The Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas on Friday finished destroying the very last of its chemical weapons stockpile, completing a five-year disposal process, the Associated Press reported.

Depot officials said a mustard blister agent-filled ton container was the last item to be incinerated.

"For more than 60 years, the Pine Bluff team stored approximately 3,850 tons of the nation's original chemical agent stockpile," U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency Director Conrad Whyne said in comments released Monday. "Today the Pine Bluff stockpile has been safely disposed of. From the very beginning, employees at Pine Bluff and throughout the (agency) made safety the cornerstone of our chemical weapons stockpile storage and destruction missions."

Pine Bluff originally stored VX- and GB-filled rockets and VX nerve agent-filled land mines as well as mustard agent. The arsenal's chemical warfare materials at one time amounted to 12 percent of the nation's total chemical weapons stockpile. The weapons were destroyed in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, which mandates that all chemical arms be eliminated by April 2012.

The depot will now turn to the work of retiring and rendering safe all chemical weapon destruction equipment, a process that is anticipated to last roughly two years. The depot also manufactures and assesses chemical agent protective gear.

Approximately 82 percent of the country's chemical arsenal has been eliminated, the Chemical Materials Agency said (Associated Press/Times Union, Nov. 15).

Does anyone think it is at all possible that there may have been an accident in the disposal process, or the burial process, of these biochemical weapons...located in the same place as the bird and fish kills...and that the military expert most likely to understand the events and repurcussions was demanding action from Washington (the expert who has been murdered)...while we continue to get pitiful explanatons about noise and hail causing these events?

2011: The Year for GLBT Federal Income Tax Civil Disobedience

For as long as there has been a federal income tax (1917), the federal government has asked taxpayers to indicate their marital status on their tax forms. Taxpayers need not prove their status, they need only swear that all the information contained on the form is true.

And so, come April 15, I, along with other gay and lesbian couples in New Hampshire and other states permitting same-sex marriage, will have a choice: we can check off "married" on page 1 of our 1040, and sign the bottom of page 2 in good conscience that our return is truthful, or we can call ourselves 'single,' and sign that statement, knowing that calling ourselves 'single' would be a patent lie under state law.

The choice, of course, has both legal and financial consequences: two people filing as married pay far less in federal income tax than those same two people filing as single, especially if there is a large income disparity between them. It is even worse when one spouse adds the other to their health insurance: gay and lesbian couples get taxed on "imputed income," the amount of the "additional income" that the federal government pretends we have based on the value of our spouse's health insurance policy. For an average middle-class working couple, this amounts to more than $3,000 annually in federal income tax.

The problem stems from "DOMA," the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act," a 1996 law that privides a federal government definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman.

Constitutionally, it is not the federal government's jurisdiction to define marriage. There is no federal Constitutional provision permitting a federal law in this arena. Marriage laws are very specifically creatures of state jurisdiction. In Rhode Island, first cousins can marry; In Illinois they can as long as they can not bear children; in Oregon they can if one was adopted; while in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania there is no first-cousin marriage permitted at all. The rules for who can and who can not get married are state-specific, and the federal government has always accepted the definitions of the states, even though they differed from state to state. By imposing DOMA, the federal government has involved itself in a sphere that is clearly not within it's own jurisdiction, but, under the 10th Amendment, "reserved to the states or to the people." At least one federal judge, in a case brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has ruled that DOMA is Unconstitutional for precisely the reasons we have been arguing in this blog.

And so, I am choosing to engage in an act of civil disobedience under federal law, because this year I will choose to answer my marital status honestly under state law, and I am asking other married gay and lesbian couples to join me.

One can only wonder how the Feds will choose to pursue this:

Nowhere on the federal income tax form do they request 'gender'.

Millions of Americans file Joint Income Tax returns annually.

Any effort by the IRS to root through millions of tax returns and try to determine genders would be a cost-prohibitive nightmare for them.

If every gay married couple that gets 'caught' files objections with the IRS and then takes them to court, citing the Unconstitutionality of DOMA, it is likely that the IRS court calendar with result in a logjam...and time is on our side as all the existing suits wind their way through the courts.

So, on April 15, I will be checking "married," and I will be signing a sworn oath that I have told the truth.

Let the feds argue in court that I was wrong for so doing. And while I will do it alone if necessary, I invite other couples in our situation to join us.