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The notion of designating a holiday for Ronald Reagan has reappeared at the NH State House in the form of HB 448, establishing February 6 as “Ronald Reagan Day.”  The bill begins:

The general court finds that:

I. President Ronald Wilson Reagan, a man of humble background, worked throughout his life advancing freedom and serving the public good, having been employed as an entertainer, union leader, corporate spokesman, Governor of California, and President of the United States of America.

It goes on from there.

“Freedom?”  “Public good?”  Not so fast.

With a pubic hearing on this bill scheduled for tomorrow, it’s timely to re-publish this piece I wrote when the  notion of a Reagan Day appeared a decade ago.  

But first it should be noted that HB 448 does not actually make Ronald Reagan Day a holiday.  State holidays are designated in Chapter 288 of the State’s statute book.  HB 448 merely orders the Governor to issue a proclamation each year on February 6, Reagan’s birthday, by adding a provision to an existing law concerning an annual proclamation of Genocide Awareness Day.  

I offer this to spare future governors from the obligation:

“NEW HAMPSHIRE REMEMBERS RONALD REAGAN” blared the banner hanging from the State House a few days after his death last June [2004]. Remember Reagan? Indeed I did. In fact, I remembered him speaking from the front steps of the State House September 18, 1985. It was only a month after the New York Times had exposed his government for giving secret support to the Nicaraguan “contras” in violation of the will of Congress.

“Rebels fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government have been receiving direct military advice from White House officials on the National Security Council,” Joel Brinkley wrote in a front page story.  Military aid to the contras had been outlawed by Congress the previous year. “The operation has been run by a military officer who is a member of the National Security Council,” Brinkley reported. It was one of the first public references to Oliver North.

Operating from bases in Honduras (where John Negroponte was U.S. Ambassador), the contras were known for attacks on schools and clinics. Reed Brody, a young attorney, visited Concord three months before Reagan to describe interviews he had conducted with Nicaraguan civilians about the contra attacks. “They attack towns, civilians and civilian leaders, and economic sites. They tend to do it with a barbarity that was difficult for me to understand,” Brody told the Concord Monitor [June 6. 1985].

Speaking at a public event in Concord, Brody, [who later became] a Special Counsel at Human Rights Watch in New York, quoted from a statement of a lay pastor about an attack on a Nicaraguan village. “We found [Juan Perez] assassinated in the mountains,” swore Innocente Peralta. “They had tied his hands behind his back. They hung him on a wire fence. They opened up his throat and took out his tongue. Another bayonet had gone in through his stomach and come out his back. Finally they cut off his testicles.”

The World Court, formally known as the International Court of Justice, ruled in 1986 that the United States had violated international law “by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua.” Specific acts the Court found to be illegal included the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors, a trade embargo, attacks on ports, and publication of a training manual instructing the contras in commission of acts that violated humanitarian law.

The FBI defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population or any segment thereof, in the furtherance of political or social objectives.”

In other words, the Reagan Administration committed acts of terrorism.

Twenty years after Reagan’s visit to the State House, New Hampshire’s legislature is considering a proposal to declare a New Hampshire holiday in his name. In the words of Reagan’s widow, “Just Say No.”

I was honored once again to be invited to offer the “communi8ty update” at Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast.  Here’s what I said on January 19 at the Alpine Grove in Hollis:

Honor and pleasure to be invited back. Thanks to Irving, Linda, Ray, and Governor Hassan. And congratulations to OBU for the 31st annual breakfast.

I want to begin by saying a few words about inequality, and I’ve learned that a trick to effective public speaking is to tell people stuff that they already know.

We know that for most families, most workers, most ordinary people, take home pay has been stagnant since the 1970s, two generations.

At the same time we know that the rich are getting richer.

The ultra rich are getting ultra richer.

The mega rich are getting mega richer.

And the giga rich are getting giga richer.

This has caused economic inequality to rise to record levels.

And we know that when race is added to the equation the situation is even more unequal. Net worth of white families is five times that of black families.

I think we know what Dr. King would say about that. He would say,

“The misuse of capitalism can lead to tragic exploitation.”

We know what Martin Luther King would do because we know what he did. We know what he was doing at the time he was killed. He was supporting working people in a strike for dignity in the workplace and calling on the federal government to take sides with the locked out, the cast out and the left out.

What else do we know?

We know that fifty years ago at this time Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were engaged in a dramatic campaign in Selma Alabama to win the right to vote for Black people who had been denied their rights.

We know that after marches, arrests, beatings, and several murders of voting rights activists that the Congress approved the Voting Rights Act. At last it became possible for African Americans to use the ballot to elect people who would respond to their interests.

What’s the state of voting rights now? It’s not good.

We know that in state after state – including New Hampshire – legislatures have adopted laws like photo ID requirements and other restrictions that make it harder for people to vote when we ought to be making it easier.

We know that the US Supreme Court struck down an essential element of the Voting Rights Act.

And we know that five years ago this Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that since corporations are people (really) and money is speech (yup), that restricting the ability of corporations to invest their money in the electoral system violates the first amendment protection of free speech. This widened the gates for floods of corporate cash into our electoral system. Instead of one person one vote we are getting a one dollar one vote democracy.

We know what Dr. King would say, something like, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are going to be a truly great nation you must solve this problem.”

I want to suggest a couple ways we can help solve this problem.

First, at the State House this year there will be a mighty fight over the state budget. The question our lawmakers will face is whether they will protect the interests of the well off or take the side of the locked out, the left out, the least of these. They will also consider a range of bills dealing with voting rights, some to make it harder to vote, some to make it easier, and some to reduce the influence of money in our elections.

You may have heard about a group in North Carolina, headed by Rev. Dr. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, that brings a prayerful presence into their state capitol every week. They call it “Moral Mondays.

We’ve got a group like that here. We call ourselves “New Hampshire Voices of Faith.” Mondays are pretty quiet up in Concord, so we’re more likely to show up for “Witnessing Wednesdays,” bringing a multi-faith, prayerful presence for justice into the State House. We’ll be calling on our lawmakers to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Look for us on Facebook at NH Voices of Faith. And if you are not receiving my weekly “State House Watch” newsletter by email, let me know and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

But we’ve got another big opportunity, one that comes around every four years.

New Hampshire has the eyes of the world on us because of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. The candidates are already among us. You might need to set some extra tables for next year’s breakfast. That means we’ve got the opportunity – and with that the responsibility – to let them know what’s on our minds. As Governor Hassan said, “democracy is not an every other year sport.”

At the American Friends Service Committee, we’ve got a new project we call “Governing Under the Influence.” It’s about the excessive power in the hands of big corporations – corporations that profit from violence, corporations that profit from prisons, corporations that profit from war. It’s about demanding that the democracy believe in is rooted in the one person, one vote principle, not in rule by those with the most money. We’ll be keeping track of the candidates’ whereabouts. Get in touch if you want to get involved.

But by all means use every opportunity to tell the presidential wannabes what is on your mind.

We who lift up the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. know that the struggle can be hard. We know the struggle can be long, but that ultimately we have faith that the power of the people can be stronger than the power of money, that justice can prevail over injustice, that love can prevail over hate.

Will we let anybody turn us around?

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor, January 15, 2015

When President Lyndon Johnson reached Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by phone on January 15, 1965, it wasn’t to offer birthday greetings. The president wanted to strategize about voting rights.

The two leaders were at the peak of their popularity. King had recently returned from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize and was gearing up a voting rights campaign centered in Selma, Alabama. Johnson, elected by a landslide two months earlier, had boldly called for “enforcement of the civil rights law and elimination of barriers to the right to vote” for African Americans in his January 7 “State of the Union” speech.

“We take the position that every person born in this country and when they reach a certain age, that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro or whether it’s a Mexican or who it is,” the president told Dr. King. “That’s right,” King responded.

But between the two leaders and realization of voting rights stood the power of southern politicians and the often violent enforcement of white supremacy that blocked blacks from the voting rolls in southern states. In Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was the major city, only 335 blacks were registered to vote by fall, 1964, despite repeated efforts. Outside Selma, black majority rural counties had no black voters at all. Attempts to register could provoke beatings, firings, or worse.

Before the Selma-based campaign led to passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of people would be arrested for peaceful protests, dozens would be beaten, and at least three – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo– would be murdered by white supremacists. In Jackson’s case, the killer was a state trooper. (Jonathan Daniels, a seminary student from Keene, would be murdered three weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.)

One Person, One Vote Principle is Under Attack

Fifty years later the principle of one person, one vote is again under attack, though the forces arrayed against democracy are less bloody.

For starters, federal election law been tilting toward the power of dollars and away from votes – just look at the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. In a 2013 case, Shelby vs. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School calls “a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting.” Congress has power to rewrite the provision and restore this power to the Justice Department but has taken no action to date.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court famously affirmed the principles that corporations are people and money is speech, thus opening the gates for floods of corporate cash to pour into the election system. In 2014’s McCutcheon decision, the Court enabled donors to invest as much as $2.4 million in congressional candidates every two years. Then Congress piled on at year’s end with a last-minute amendment to the budget bill that raised the limits on contributions to political parties from $97,200 a year to $776,000.

Meanwhile the states have again become major battlegrounds for voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, 21 states, including New Hampshire, have approved measures to restrict voting since 2010. These include Voter ID requirements, laws making it harder to register, reduced voting hours, and measures making it harder for people with criminal records to regain their voting rights.

Race Still Drives Attacks on Voting Rights

“Race was also a significant factor,” the Brennan Center reports. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”

New Hampshire is likely to see further efforts to erode voting rights in 2015. Bills to restrict same-day registration and suppress student voting are on the legislature’s agenda.

It’s not like the country has a problem of too many people voting. Nationwide, only 35.9% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. In New Hampshire, 47.6% of eligible voters went to the polls – hardly a figure to be proud of if we really believe in government of the people by the people and for the people.

Fortunately, lawmakers and voting rights advocates are taking action. In New Hampshire, bills are being proposed to make it easier to cast absentee ballots and to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the General Election.

A bi-partisan bill to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act is likely to return to Congress. At the grassroots level, a growing nationwide movement is calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish clearly that the rights enumerated in the Constitution are intended for actual persons, not corporations, and that government regulation of campaign finance can be accomplished without infringing on political speech. In New Hampshire, more than 50 communities already have adopted resolutions backing such a measure.

The January 19 holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision on January 21 can be occasions for us to re-assert our commitment to democracy. Shall we overcome?

That the Ku Klux Klan was in local and national news yesterday is perhaps just a coincidence.

At the national level, Republican Congressman Steve Scalise acknowledged he had been a speaker at an event organized by a Klan group in Louisiana 12 years ago when he was a State Representative.   The GOP is in damage-control mode.   

Locally, the sale at auction of a KKK robe presumably worn by a Rochester NH man in the 1920s drew attention mostly as a modern curiosity.   The robe was discovered by the robe-owner’s daughter in her attic.  It drew $475 at auction yesterday in Dover. 

Largely ignored in the press coverage is that the KKK had an active presence in the Granite State in the mid-1920s, when the white supremacist group made strides in northern states. 

A 1988 article in Historical New Hampshire, the journal of the NH Historical Society, provides background.  The author, Stephen H. Goetz, explained that KKK organizers, called “kleagles,” were able to “translate social tensions into simplistic, easily understood platitudes.”

Delivering highly charged emotional diatribes, the Ku Klux showmen blamed societal change on groups of scapegoats: blacks, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants.   It is significant to note that in those areas of the country where Klanism become most powerful, these particular groups formed only a small, though growing minority.  People alarmed by social dislocation naturally held these ‘new’ elements responsible.

Spreading west from Maine, the KKK established footholds in Rochester, Portsmouth, Dover, and Somersworth before pushing further west to Manchester, Concord, and Keene.  According to Goetz, major KKK rallies were held in the summer of 1914 in Concord, East Holderness, and Rochester, with the one in Rochester drawing as many as 10,000 people.  Take a look at the Town of Hampton’s official history and you’ll see a pull-out black and white photo showing a huge march of Klansmen along the beach.  Anti-immigrant sentiments along with anti-Catholicism were key elements of the KKK’s success in attracting members.  

Nationwide, the KKK swelled to more than 1 million members in the 1920s as recruiters exploited whatever local prejudices might attract members.  Wyn Crate Wade, in The Fiery Cross: the Ku Klux Klan in America, wrote:

If a town was afraid of labor unions, then Kleagles pushed the Klan’s position against alien-inspired strikers.  If the Kleagle was working a dry community, he promised that the Klan and the Klan alone had the guts to deal with the dead heads and bootleggers.  If a city was being swollen by immigrants, Kleagles proclaimed that the Klan stood for 100 percent Americanism, and would never allow the country to be taken over by a pack of radical hyphens (i.e. Italian-Americans, Irish–Americans, etc.)

And when the neighborhoods expressed fears over the postwar ‘New Negro,’ they were quietly reminded that the Ku Klux Klan had always known how to handle [n—–].  In short, kleagles pandered to every regional prejudice and fear, offering a scapegoat for every local tension.

It should be no surprise that members of New Hampshire’s white, Protestant, majority were just as prone to being taken in by such rhetoric as people in other states.  

The KKK effort petered out by the late ‘20s for two reasons.  First, the state’s Catholic minority was already large enough and well enough established that KKK ideology failed to take hold.  But secondly, the KKK lost wind from its sails when Congress approved restrictions on immigration, one of its major goals.

Hooded Klansmen are rare these days.  But ideologies of scapegoating based on race, religion, national origin, and immigration status live on.  The recent incidents can help shine a light where it is needed.    

“One Day Longer, One Day Stronger”

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With an inflatable corporate pig hovering behind them, hundreds of IBEW and CWA members with their allies rallied at the State House yesterday calling for a fair contract with FairPoint Communications.

The two unions went on strike ten weeks ago following months of frustrated bargaining before and after their contract expired on August 2.

“In April, FairPoint came out with their one contract proposal,” IBEW leader Glenn PC190063 Brackett said, waving his index finger while speaking from a stage attached to a Teamsters truck parked next to the State House.

The unions made three comprehensive proposals and even offered $200 million in concessions, Brackett said. But the company has refused to deal and lied to the public along the way. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers have complained to the Public Utilities Commission that the company, which took over Verizon’s New Hampshire landlines in 2008, is not providing the services for which it is getting paid.  Vermont’s E-911 system has been among the casualties, as has the City of Nashua’s internet service. 

“This company has no credibility,” Brackett charged.

“The corporation is in North Carolina and this morning they have internet.  They’ve got 911 and their telephones work,” Brackett said.  “Why?  Because FairPoint does not provide services to the communities in which their executives live.” [see video] 

“How long will the State of New Hampshire allow its public safety to be threatened by a company frPC190054om North Carolina?,” Brackett asked. 

Strikers and supporters took a few circuits around the State House lawn, chanting and chatting, while  Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and retired IBEW member Linda Horan greeted them as they went by.  Other political figures in the crowd included State Representative Renny Cushing and State Senators Jeff Woodburn, Donna Soucy, and Lou D’Allesandro. 

The crowd left the State House at about 12:30 pm and walked a few blocks to the FairPoint office on South Street, where they chanted some more and tauntedPC190065 strikebreakers who were looking down from company windows. 

The conflict is not just about wages and benefits.  Central to FairPoint’s strategy is its intent to outsource jobs now held by union members.  The unions points out that the service problems consumers are experiencing now will become the norm if FairPoint can hire unqualified contractors to perform functions now carried out by experienced union workers. 

The conflict over contracting out is emblematic of developments in the larger PC190064

economy, where outsourcing via staffing agencies is becoming the norm in ever larger sectors of the labor market.  Strong unions are about all that stops the slide toward a disposable workforce.

That may be why clergy from the United Church of Christ have decided to speak up about the FairPoint strike.  In a column published in the Valley News, they wrote:

So here we are today: hedge fund corporate owners versus dedicated New Hampshire (and Maine and Vermont) workers who have the courage to take a stand to protect the kinds of jobs that sustain families and strong communities. Shades of Moses standing up against Pharaoh’s hard heart, perhaps? Or David versus Goliath? Or Jesus challenging the greedy money changers?

According to the Concord Monitor, a spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan said she is “concerned about the disruption in FairPoint services and its impact on the state’s communications infrastructure, our public safety systems and economy, as well as the company’s overall commitment to the people and businesses of New Hampshire.”

“One day longer, one day stronger,” the strikers chanted.  That’s great spirit, but some emergency funds for workers on strike more than two months will help.  You can contribute to the IBEW/CWA Solidarity Fund by clicking here.

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In the same week that the Air Force admitted it has to repaint fuel trucks in order to keep F-35 planes in the air, the US House is on the verge of providing more money than the Pentagon requested for the most expensive plane in history.

It’s not just expensive; it doesn’t work very well, for example catching fire on the runway.

In a report posted December 6 on an Air Force web site, spokespeople for the  56th Logistics Readiness Squadron in Luke, Arizona, acknowledged they are repainting their fuel trucks white.  It’s not a fashion thing.

"We painted the refuelers white to reduce the temperature of fuel being delivered to the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter," said Senior Airman Jacob Hartman, a 56th LRS fuels distribution operator. "The F-35 has a fuel temperature threshold and may not function properly if the fuel temperature is too high, so after collaborating with other bases and receiving waiver approval from (the Air Education Training Command), we painted the tanks white."

NBC News notes “there have been no publicly reported cases of current jet fighters experiencing problems with hot fuel. At the same time, repainting trucks bright white could make them easier targets if based in hostile territory subject to high temperatures, such as deserts. Temperatures in Iraq, for instance, can exceed 120 degrees.“

Meanwhile in Washington, House budget writers have padded their trillion dollar proposal – which needs to be approved by tomorrow to avoid a government shut down – with “funding for four more F-35 fighter jets than the Pentagon requested, for a total of 38 of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft,” according to Brendan McGarry of military.com

It is no coincidence that Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s prime contractor, has spent more than $10 million lobbying so far this year and invested more than $4 million in politicians, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  #GUI2016

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, with a total cost of $1.5 trillion.

The F-35 program has been plagued by cost overruns and delays, has been grounded twice, and even has been criticized by those within the Pentagon.

The $1.5 trillion that will be spent on this wasteful Pentagon program is an enormous sum. It is equivalent to the cost of the sequester.

http://f35baddeal.com/

By the way, military.com says the House proposal also includes funds for “three Littoral Combat Ships, even though the House wanted to decrease the number to two; 15 EA-18G Growlers (the Navy didn’t ask for any, but included 22 of the aircraft on its so-called unfunded priorities list); M1 Abrams tank upgrades, even though the Army says it has enough tanks; and the A-10 Warthog, even after the Air Force pushed to retire the aircraft.

“Lawmakers also included $273 million for Israeli missile-defense programs. That includes an additional $175 million for the so-called Iron Dome system, which was used extensively this summer to intercept rockets fired from Palestinian fighters in Gaza. The funding brings the total U.S. investment in the system to $1.2 billion since 2011.”

Black Lives Matter

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Manchester Marches for Mike Brown

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Sixty people rallied, chanted, and marched through downtown Manchester, New Hampshire this afternoon in memory of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed in August by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.IMG_1435

Organized over Facebook and word of mouth, the mixed race, mixed generation group held a speak-out by the entrance to Veterans Park on Elm Street.  Speakers denounced an epidemic of police killings of young black people and the racist system which enables such killings to recur. 

 

Many participants carried home made signs, with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Mike Brown,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice, No IMG_1434 Peace.”  The slogans served as chants, too.

My own sign said, “More Justice, More Peace.”

Following the speakout, the crowd marched along the sidewalk up the east side of Elm Street through the busy downtown area to the corner of Bridge Street, then crossed over and marched back on the other side.  

 

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