Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Betrayal in Redistricting

Senator Rosenberg:

You were a chairman of the commission which just redrafted the Massachusetts districts for the U.S. House. I’m sure you were hoping that no one back home would notice that you sold out your constituents. We did.

It was a foregone conclusion from the beginning that representation from Western Massachusetts would be reduced from three seats to two. The public hearings were a charade. In order to obtain the increases in population required to keep both John Olver’s and Richard Neal’s districts, these districts would have had to expand far eastward into territory surrounding Boston. The power brokers in the eastern part of the state would never give up the influence of the extra House seat. The two seats in Western Mass. would be centered in Springfield and Worcester, in order to insure the predominance of the Democratic majorities of the cities. John Olver would have to be retired. Your commission had no choice.

A major task for your commission was to redraw the lines of these new districts, with the goal of maximizing the protection of the Democrat incumbents that possess these seats. Senator Rosenberg, there is no whining or outrage here on my part. This is how the game is played, and this is part of the spoils won by the majority party in any state.

You accomplished your task with a precision that few would notice, unless one was carefully watching and attuned. Almost all of the Republican challengers for the House from 2010 were carved out of their previous districts by your plan. Bill Gunn is no longer part of the Berkshires; I am gone from Richard Neal and the Hampden County towns that I won. Marty Lamb, Mike Stopa, and Brian Herr, McGovern’s main challengers from 2010, are out of his district. Tom Wesley was taken from Southern Worcester County and put in with Barney Frank. Sean Bielat was taken out of his district with Barney Frank. All of these candidates have had their previous campaign structures dismantled, and their future efforts hobbled. Again, I’m not whining. You did a remarkable job in this. I’m impressed.

It was also clear from the outset that the Democrats would have to split up the block of suburban Republican towns that make up Southern Massachusetts from 495 in the east to the border of Springfield in the west. You accomplished this as well, giving half to Mr. McGovern and half to Mr. Neal.

Senator, this is what became a political problem for you. James McGovern now had a district that was dangerously Republican, even with Worcester in the middle. Worcester is not all that Democratic. Your commission realized that McGovern needed more Democratic voters. Where to get them?

Amherst and Northampton, your home towns, were attached to Worcester County to bolster James McGovern’s hold on this new district. Your constituent towns suddenly became the distant outposts, very far from the center of power in their new congressional district.

There is nothing in common to join our part of Hampshire County with Worcester. Northampton and Amherst have geography and a history of commerce that ties us with the other towns and cities up and down the Connecticut River Valley. Your assertion that the having U Mass in Amherst and the U Mass Medical Center near Worcester somehow makes us natural companions was remarkably absurd. I was surprised when you used this rather limp excuse to to cover for the true political nature of the decision which has left Northampton and Amherst a vestigial appendix on this district.

Certainly, I expect you to argue that we need to give McGovern a chance to show that he cares for our towns. Don’t expect much. Distance counts, and Worcester has the votes. We will only have occasional McGovern sightings. McGovern will always know that Northampton and Amherst will deliver Democratic votes, and he won’t have to do much to get them.

McGovern is a good fit politically for these towns, but this valley would otherwise have had its Democrat with Richard Neal, and he’s much closer to home.

So Senator, the interests of your home towns were sacrificed for the benefit of your party. Northampton and Amherst will be Congressional afterthoughts for at least the next ten years in order to protect McGovern.

You have thrown the interests of your constituents under the bus. A reasoned voting public should notice such a cynical disregard of their interests, and remember it in the voting booth.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


The Attorney General is the chief law enforcement officer of the U.S. Eric Holder has been all wrong from the beginning.

The entire country saw the video of members of the New Black Panther Party in front of a polling place in Philadelphia, dressed in paramilitary uniforms, wielding clubs, and yelling racial threats at white voters. By the time Holder took office, the Bush administration had won the civil suit against these perpetrators. Holder soon dropped the charges, claiming there was insufficient evidence.

Really? Everyone else saw the video.

Holder’s true motivation was revealed by his statement “when you compare what people endured in the South in the 60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, to compare …. that with what happened in Philadelphia, …does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line for my people.” No, Mr. Holder. The point was to protect the voting rights for all Americans. Same crime, just different players.

Members of the Dept. of Justice resigned, revealing that they had been instructed by Holder not to prosecute minorities for civil rights violations. Is this the Obama post racial presidency?

Holder pushed to have the five 9/11 defendants headed by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed tried in civilian court rather than by military tribunal, the traditional venue for war related crimes. In the middle of a national economic catastrophe, this maneuver would have cost the taxpayers 2 billion dollars, given the terrorists a public propaganda platform, and put the people of New York City at risk for reprisal. All for a poorly thought out ideological statement that remains resistant to comprehension.

It was Holder that personally resurrected the closed case against CIA members involved in counter-terrorism after 9/11. He did this over warnings by President Obama and the objections of 7 previous directors of the CIA. Professional prosecutors under the Bush administration had investigated and cleared the agents of wrongdoing, and it was revealed that Holder had never bothered to read their memos before reopening the case. More misguided ideology, and the case was ultimately dropped in July, 2011.

In August, Holder’s justice department raided the Gibson Guitar Company, confiscating ebony fingerboards imported from India and used to make high range guitars. This action was taken under the Lacey Act, signed by McKinley in 1900, that protects against importing illegal plant products. It didn’t matter to Holder that the Indian government certified these products as quite legal. To our justice department all would have been fine if Indian workers had done some form of finishing of the fingerboards. Holder’s action threatened to close in the middle of an unemployment crisis two American plants which make valuable export products and which employ 1500 people. The justice department should have better things to do.

Other guitar manufacturers in the U.S. that use the same part were not raided. The CEO of Gibson Guitar is a registered Republican who contributes to Republican candidates. The owners of Gibson’s chief competition contribute to Democratic candidates.

Fast forward to Fast and Furious. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms under the Justice Department decides to sell thousands of automatic weapons to Mexican drug gangs in order to trace the flow of weapons. Bonehead. One of those weapons killed an American border agent. Who knows how many Mexican law enforcement agents and civilians are killed using these guns. Next we’ll sell processed uranium to arms dealers in Pakistan and see if it shows up in Iranian nuclear weapons.

This taxpayer funded secret program was exposed, and in his testimony before Congress, Holder stated that he had only heard of it a few weeks before. Trouble for Holder began when investigative reporters uncovered memos describing this program in great detail were sent directly to Holder a year before this testimony. Our chief law enforcement officer may be seen as having lied to Congress. This is a felony.

In his defense, Holder claims that he receives hundreds of memos and did not read these. If we accept his explanation, then the attorney general is simply lazy or incompetent. There is a pattern here. When Holder filed suit against Arizona to block its revised immigration law and was brought before Congress to explain, he admitted that he had not read the Arizona bill. He had heard about it on the news. Remarkable, as the bill was only thirteen pages long.

Eric Holder is supposed to be an Obama favorite. If this American justice, then we are a banana republic.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Picking Sides

By most recent estimates, 31% of Americans identify themselves as Democrats, 29% as Republicans, and 38% as Independent. The profile is different in Massachusetts, with 37% of voters seeing themselves as Democrats, 11% as Republicans, and 52% as Independent. What characteristics determine this identification? Certainly, how one’s parents, family, friends, and occupational/social milieu are positioned on the political spectrum may be very influential on the formation and maintenance of someone’s political identity. Affiliation with a political party may be driven by the propaganda of gross and inaccurate caricatures, such as that Democrats are Communists or Republicans are all Rich White folks. A person’s particular beliefs on one or more key issues, such as abortion, immigration, or energy and global warming may lead to their affiliation with the party that seems more aligned with those positions, though party breakdown on specific issues is not monolithic. However, I believe that there are far more fundamental beliefs that lead someone to choose their political team.

The single most obvious divergence between the parties has to do with the belief of the role of government in America. Democrats see our society as fundamentally being a group effort. We are all in this together. The government is the projection of collective decision making. As such, the government is inherently good and should play a very central and large role in our national life. Republicans believe that we are a society that fundamentally prizes and protects expanded degrees of freedom for our individual citizens. Americans should strive and live as they see fit. Government is necessary and has defined tasks, but should be kept limited and on a short leash. This is why Republicans frequently refer to the Constitution, which was penned by thinkers who did not trust centralization of power and was written specifically to control the potential abuses of big government. For Democrats who view a strong central government as the good and necessary expression of the common purpose, the Constitution is referred to infrequently and is viewed as an inconvenient quaint relic of a passed era.

There is a different basic ethic between adherents to the two parties. Democrats focus primarily on ameliorating the impact of failure in our society. Whether of fault or of no fault of the individual, Democrats look to soften the blows of poverty, familial disarray, school failure, or even just income disparity of unspecified degree. The Democratic model of “little guy” is the victim of the system, oppressed by racism or greed. Democrats operate through the auspices of the government as the agency best positioned to address these problems. The government operates for social justice by redistributing income by taxation and government largess.

Republicans concentrate on cultivating the conditions which lead to success. If government is to intervene, it is to enable the individual, whether rich or poor, to find and access the levers of achievement, and then enjoy the results of work and effort. Opportunity is provided, but outcome is not guaranteed. The Republican “little guy” is the budding entrepreneur who builds a business in his garage or the poor kid who picks himself up by the bootstraps and works his way through college.

There is a difference in whom the parties do and do not trust. Democrats trust members of the government who are seen as agents of the collective dedication to doing good. Democrats generally distrust their fellow citizens, who they believe will make unenlightened and self serving decisions. Business interests are the ultimate root of corruption. Extensive rules and regulations are necessary to control these economic and personal impulses. This is the source of the authoritarian streak of the Democratic Party.

Republicans do not trust members of the government. Corruption is to be expected as politicians and public workers once in place could manipulate their position to amass power and to maintain their office. American citizens are in a far better position to decide what works for their own lives than are bureaucrats. Republicans run the risk of seeming to believe that it’s every man for himself. However, protecting every citizen’s right to self determination is a grand societal effort.

Once the attachment to a party is made, members of the team accept and defend stances taken by their party even if they are destructive and nonsensical. Our politics are currently very partisan and polarized. Positions taken from core beliefs become absolutely unacceptable to the other side when those opposite core principles are challenged.

And then there are the independents.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Television talking heads; newspaper editorial columns; letters to the editor. It’s the same left wing craziness over and over. There must be some central think-tank for half baked ideas from which this nonsense is distributed at 3 AM through encrypted email, secret notes, and pneumatic tubes, a web of misinformation designed to distract the minds of America with implausible silliness.

There is so much to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start.

1) Republicans and the Tea Party want to protect the rich. ( I love this one) Yep, they found us out. All of the millions of blue collar conservatives across the U.S. sit around planning on how to make sure that millionaires continue to have piles of moolah. We may not know these people at all, but shucks, we love them so much! It doesn’t matter to us what else is sacrificed for the future of country. American corporate tax rates are second highest in the world and drive our jobs overseas. Tax the rich: it couldn’t be profligate governmental spending. We’ll try keeping tax rates low only because we adore them rich folk. But wait! All the super rich like Bill Gates, George Soros, Warren Buffet, and the Hollywood fat cats are behind the Democrats. What’s that about?

2) Republicans want to balance the budget on the backs of the poor. (Corollary of #1) Liberal/Progressives (yes, we know you’re the same thing, but being “liberal” isn’t cool anymore) are good and kind people, they love the poor. Conservatives are bad and nasty, they hate the poor. If we want to reform Medicare, social security, or Medicaid so they don’t go bankrupt next week, we must hate the poor! Want to reduce the size of the 14 trillion dollar federal debt, hate the poor! Shrink the energy department, hate the poor! Democrats are willing to raid the social security trust fund until its empty, keep the poor in perpetual dependency on welfare, and deny the poor educational choice for their children in order to protect the unions. That’s true love.

3) It’s Bush’s fault. Or maybe Eisenhower? How about Coolidge? Now Obama is blaming Mother Nature and bad luck. Oh come on. Bush may have blown some important decisions, but he never had the lack of grace and respect to blame his predecessor and anyone else he could think of. The last three years of the poor economy are the President’s. Obama has replaced “The buck stops here” with “I didn’t do it!”

4) The financial stimulus was not big enough. This is the email that went out last week to the lefty talking heads list:

“If we make the nonsense huge enough, then gullible Americans will think that the enormous amount of taxpayer dollars we threw down the hole was actually ok. Should we try and convince America that it should have been twice as big? Maybe we should go for three times as big? Hell with it, let’s talk the clowns into believing that the stimulus should have been four times bigger. This email is not for general circulation.”

5) The Republican candidates for president are political dwarfs. Really? We have three governors, three long term congressmen including a former speaker of the house, a prior senator, and a corporate CEO who was also a District Federal Reserve chairman. Wasn’t it the Democrats in 2008 who nominated a candidate for president with virtually no qualifications or experience?

6) Democrats are the party of civility (the good guys remember?). That’s why they can call the Tea Party members suicide bombers, terrorists, and racists that “can go straight to hell”. Nice.

7) The Tea Party is Racist. I could argue this by saying that I’ve been at many Tea Party rallies and meetings, and have never seen any racism, and this would be true. However, this one is vicious and makes me too angry for a measured response. These allegations so readily thrown around by liberal/progressives are simply foul, shameful, and libelous. What is truly displayed is a political and intellectual bankruptcy on the part of the left, who have no other response to the differing ideas by a spontaneous political movement of Americans than to throw around what they believe is their most powerful invective. The left has taken to accuse anyone who disagrees with their credo as being racist. Just like the boy who cried wolf, no one is paying attention any longer.

Yes, indeed. The left needs some new material.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In Our Backyards

There was a particularly telling interchange during the debate between the candidates for the ward 3 city council seat in Northampton. One candidate expansively described his notion that the large swath of open space in the ward known as the Meadows should be made more available for public recreational use. When his opponent countered that this was in fact private property owned by some of the few remaining city farmers, the first candidate scoffed at the idea of respecting private ownership and dismissed this aspect as a nuisance to be overcome in the realization of his quest for the greater public good. If I was a home owner in the ward, I would seriously wonder what help I would get from this counselor if the city were to come after my property under the guise of eminent domain. This resonates with one of the most egregious of Supreme Court decisions of this era. In Kelo vs. the City of New London, the court allowed for an expanded assault on private property rights. An issue of national importance appeared in a city ward debate.

In my years on the Northampton school committee and board of health, issues that were truly national in scope would appear translated into our local discussions. Most notable was the encroachment of government on the liberties of citizens. The controversy around the establishment of a hookah smoking bar came before the board of health and a public forum several years ago. I believed that the board was responsible for public health, not personal behavior. If a citizen of age who is informed about the dangers of smoking wanted to engage in poorly considered behavior for themselves, then it was not the city’s right to limit that behavior. The board of health’s job was to make sure the people who did not want to be exposed to the smoke were adequately protected. The public hearing broke down into competing positions. The thirty and under participants made the argument that if they were old enough to go to war, vote, and pay taxes, then had the right to make their own decisions. The over 50 crowd made the argument that smoking is bad, they knew better, and that smoking should be banned.

The same issue appeared years earlier in the school committee discussions on school choice. I believed that parents should have as many choices as possible for their families, and that the school choice program offered families without economic means some options as had families that could afford private schools. The school administration and city government felt that these children were public property, a communal livestock that needed to stay in the public pen for the good of the farm. Here was government limiting choice, rather than enlarging the scope of freedoms.

Issues around fiscal responsibility of government are easily evident locally. In discussions at the committee, board, or city council level about spending, there seemed to be no recognition that we were talking about real money, taxpayer dollars harvested from property taxes or state income taxes that came from the pockets of our fellow citizens and neighbors. We were spending play money picked from trees, disconnected from its true origins. Local officials used the same camouflage as the federal government, referring to the need for revenue enhancement instead of raising taxes.

The struggle around citizen entitlement appeared on the docket during my time in city politics. The school committee was always desperately short of money. I scoured the budget to find funds that could be redirected to the books we needed, and for supplies that teachers were buying with their own funds. There was $20,000 that was used to subsidize food services so that school lunch prices were kept artificially low; not for needy parents who had free lunch subsidies, but for all of the other parents who could pay. Some members of the committee felt that parents were entitled to these low cost lunches. I felt that the children were entitled to new books, and teachers should keep their salaries.

We do not have to go to the Supreme Court or Congress to engage with the most profound political struggles of our time. They are manifested locally, and are more immediate and intimate in our communities. Local politics is not insignificant. Who we elect and how they behave is deeply important. If you are only watching the national news, you are missing the battlefront in your backyard