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Nicholas Howe: Through Hikers


My home is almost geometrically centered opposite the Presidential Range of the White Mountains. Mount Washington rises on the horizon
of my side yard and the Northern Peaks reach away on one side and the Southern Peaks on the other side. The Appalachian Trail runs the length of this range and it must be traversed by all through hikers, those hardened, driven people making the long walk from Georgia to Maine along the spine
of the Appalachian Mountains, 2,100 miles of woods and rocks, heat and cold, rain and snow, bugs and snakes, hostile dogs and unpredictable wild animals, and all the other hazards of life in modern America.
The launching spirit behind the Appalachian Trail was Benton MacKaye, who first came to the White Mountains in 1897 and went on to hike the length of the Green Mountains of Vermont in 1900. He was a Washington bureaucrat, but one of an unusual stripe, as one writer put it, "A nineteenth-century New England reformer who strayed into the Jazz Age, whose politician radicalism partook of pre-Marxist utopian socialism, but bucolic and spiritual, rather than the urban, gritty proletarianism of this century."
Just the person to promote a footpath through the wilderness of America.
The job was finished in 1937, but hiking the whole length of it in one stretch apparently hadn't occurred to Mr. MacKaye.
Inevitably, it occurred to someone. Three people tried and gave up before World War Two, then Earl Shaffer made it all the way in 1948. This feat was considered so improbable, so close to the outer edge of human possibility, that it seemed likely that he'd be the only one who'd ever do it. Who else could do it? Who else would want to?
No one did it in 1949 or in 1950, then Earl Shafer made it all the way in 1951. I was working for the AMC at Madison Hut and Earl passed through without notice. The pace picked up and, inevitably, some quirks developed. Stephen Nuckolls made the trip northbound, turned around at Katahdin and hiked back to Georgia, turned around again and hiked back. Children made the long hike, a blind person made it, and another did it barefoot. Two over-achievers raced it in 1991, one took 52 days, nine hours, and 41 minutes for an average of 40 miles a day. His rival took 56 days. That year, Bonila Heaton became the first woman to make a round trip, now several hundred women each year make the trip that was once considered impossible.
One day I was having lunch on the ledges of Mt. Webster and admiring the dizzying drop into Crawford Notch at my feet and those hundreds of square miles of fall foliage spread before me, it's something even we jaded natives see every year as if for the first time. Then there was a small sound in the woods behind me. It was a young women and after she'd settled herself
I asked where she'd come from. Up from the Crawford Notch road? "No," she said, "further." From the highway in Franconia Notch through the Pemigewasset Wilderness? "No," she said, "further. I started in Georgia."
Then said, "I guess I wasn't a regular girl. When I was in high school, I wondered what it would be like to spend a summer living by my wits on a desert island." She wasn't thinking of some sybaritic idyll in the South Pacific where food would fall unbidden from the trees. She had herself dropped off on an uninhabited island on the Arctic Circle, then she walked out onto the tundra, sat down, and began to collect supper from the plants around her.
The next school year she began to think about parachute jumping, so after graduation she enlisted in the Canadian Air Force and earned her jumping wings. Then she had herself assigned as an instructor at the survival training base in the Canadian Rockies where her duties included pushing military men through the most uninviting terrain she could find. Then she heard about the Appalachian Trail.
She went to her commanding officer and asked if she could change her leave schedule. Instead of taking the usual annual leave, she'd like to save it up until she had five or six months accrued, then take it all at once. The commander asked if there was a specific reason and she told him about the Appalachian Trail. He said he'd think about it, then at supper he came over to her table and said that she could make the long hike and it wouldn't be leave time, he'd count it as part of her training because it would make her more valuable to him in her military duties.
She was a remarkably small person and she was so clean and her clothes were so fresh that she might have been out for a walk on a golf course. "The physical part isn't difficult," she said, "but you have to keep your mind in shape. The dangerous part is waking up in the morning and having this image of the planet with a long line drawn up the edge of North America and you at the beginning of it. You have to find other things to think about. But by the time I'd finished South Carolina I'd used up every thought I'd ever had, and I'd barely started."
Another through-hiking woman was at the hut the Appalachian Mountain Club maintains in Carter Notch, and I asked what she was going to do when she finished at Katahdin. "I'm not sure," she said, "maybe I'll just turn around and go back to Georgia. I mean, it takes about five hundred miles to figure out what you're doing, to get your equipment and your food and your head right. When you learn a foreign language, you don't stop talking that language as soon as you're finished with school, do you? So yeah, I think I'll probably turn around and go back."
I met two other through-hikers on the Mahoosuc Range that spans the border between Maine and New Hampshire, a section that many consider the toughest terrain anywhere between Maine and Georgia. This couple was distinctly elderly and one of them said that they'd been hiking together for more than forty years. The other said, with a note of unmistakable sadness in his voice, "Yes, and this is probably the last thing we'll ever do together."


Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 07:59

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National Perspective: Races to Watch in 2014

by David M. Shribman

It happens every four years. The political party on the defensive tries to portray the gubernatorial, House and Senate races in off-year elections as individual races without a unifying theme. The party with the whip hand tries to portray these races as a national referendum on an important issue or on an unpopular president.
That's happening again this year. But whether these races are national or local, several statewide contests will have national importance. Here is an observer's guide to some that may matter most:
— Arizona governor. The last three governors of the state were women, one Democratic and two Republican. Of the 14 governors since mid-century, seven were Republicans and seven were Democrats. Three Arizonans — one Democrat who was not nominated, two Republicans who were — have run for president in the past half-century.
All that suggests the state is a model of political balance. It is not. Since the middle of the 20th century, the state has voted Republican in every presidential election but one (1996, when Bill Clinton defeated Robert J. Dole).
But that does not mean it is not a bellwether. The state may have championed a restrictive immigration bill in 2010, but Arizona may be only a decade and a half from being a majority Hispanic state. Right now, nine Republicans and one Democrat are seeking their parties' gubernatorial nomination. The Republicans are emphasizing business and development, the Democrat is courting gays and Latinos, both aggrieved by Republican initiatives.
This gubernatorial race may signal how Arizona, and perhaps America, will lean in the future.
— Iowa Senate. Tom Harkin has been an unbending oak in Iowa politics for a generation, first as a crusading House member, later as a liberal stalwart in the Senate. He's retiring. The race to fill his spot is important, and not only because the destiny of every Democratic-held Senate seat is important.
The issue here is the political profile of Iowa, the site of the first presidential caucus in 2016. The state's gubernatorial race won't tell us much significant. The incumbent, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, is running for his sixth term — if he wins, he'd be positioned to be the longest-serving governor in American history — and so the gubernatorial race is less about issues than it is about Branstad.
The focus instead is on the GOP Senate primary, with special attention on whether the nominee is identified with what are known in Iowa as "Liberty Republicans," who are basically members of the Tea Party, or with party regulars. The resolution of this contest — one of the candidates is a woman who says she has experience castrating hogs, positioning her perfectly to cut pork — will provide insights about the character of the Republican caucuses a year from January.
— Illinois governor. Anything unusual that happens in a president's home state is important — and a Bruce Rauner victory in the gubernatorial race in Illinois this fall would send an especially powerful message.
Rauner, who owns a share of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the former chairman of a private equity firm in Chicago. He is a novice to elective politics and his is a traditional Republican profile, emphasizing business values, government efficiency, reduced spending and lower taxes. To that he has added a vow to cut the state's minimum wage.
His opponent is Gov. Pat Quinn, a traditional Illinois Democrat with traditional experience (six years as lieutenant governor, four as treasurer) but an untraditional Democratic problem — opposition from unions, in large measure because of his support for a state pension plan that undermines public employees' retirement plans.
All this puts a key political force, organized labor, in a difficult position, chary of the Republican challenger and skeptical of the Democratic incumbent. Quinn's job approval numbers provide no comfort for the governor.
This race will reveal more than who sits in the governor's chair in Springfield. It will indicate whether the Democrats' populist themes (increase millionaires' taxes and keep the minimum wage above the federal level) or the Republicans' populist themes (cut taxes, improve the commercial climate) prevail among alienated voters in a big state, providing a hint of which campaign strategies might be effective in the 2016 presidential race.
— Florida governor. Once again in 2012, the struggle for Florida's 29 electoral votes, tied with New York as the third biggest prize in American presidential politics, was close — and, for a time, unresolved. In the end, Barack Obama prevailed, the final count giving him a victory with just a fraction over 50 percent of the vote.
With California voting Democratic the last six times, New York going Democratic the last seven times and Texas going Republican the last eight elections in a row, Florida remains the most significant swing state, with the parties splitting Florida's electoral votes over the last six elections. So Florida will loom large in both parties' 2016 political calculus.
With no Senate race this year, the battle for the governor's office is the best indicator of Florida's mood.
The incumbent is embattled GOP Gov. Rick Scott, and his possible opponent is a former Republican governor himself, Charlie Crist, who was upset in the 2010 U.S. Senate primary by Marco Rubio, now a possible presidential candidate. Crist ran in that year's general election anyway, finishing second as an independent. Two years later he joined the Democratic Party.
Here the principal issue is health care. Republicans have strong majorities in both houses of the legislature, and when state lawmakers blocked the expansion of Medicaid, they provided an opening for Crist to charge that Scott was responsible for a situation where "six people in Florida die every day as a result." For his part, Scott and his allies have loosed attacks against Crist for his support of Obamacare.
On television and on the Internet, the health battle is raging. Both parties believe health care is a formidable weapon for their side.
In a state with $192 billion in gross hospital patient revenues, according to the American Hospital Directory, just about even with far larger Texas, which has about 7 million more people, and vastly outpacing New York, with about the same population and only $147 billion in gross revenues, there are few more important issues in Florida. As a result, there are few better indicators of the potency of the parties' health care profiles as a 2016 presidential issue.

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has a vacation home in Kearsarge.


Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 00:03

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National Perspective: Van Buren or Muskie?

by David M. Shribman

PORTSMOUTH — There she is on the cover of Time magazine. And look, on that bizarre cover of The New York Times Magazine, there she is again. She's everywhere, and the story line is pretty much the same: Hillary Clinton is a pretty good bet to be the Democratic presidential nominee. If she runs.
That's a big "if," but it's hard to imagine that a woman who has been one of the most prominent members of her generation since her fabled college commencement address — a woman who has been secretary of state, senator from an important political state and first lady — will decline a presidential campaign and a chance to grab the brass ring of history merely because she's weary of travel, or that she will decline a chance to preside over the Rose Garden because she wants to cultivate her own garden in Chappaqua.
A campaign almost certainly will be even more irresistible to her because women still haven't won their share of power in American politics. It is not only that the country never has elected a female president; it's also that even today only a fifth of the Senate is female, and that only 30 women in history have entered the chamber through election.
But in the end — indeed, in the beginning — Clinton's gender is very likely not going to be a principal, or even an incidental, factor in the 2016 presidential race, and not just because Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel have preceded her with strong performances as national leaders.
The real reason has two parts and has nothing to do with Clinton's being a woman and everything to do with her credentials and background.
First, political figures from New York such as Martin Van Buren, Millard Fillmore, Grover Cleveland and Franklin Delano Roosevelt almost always are natural candidates for president, even if, like Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson Rockefeller, they do not prevail or, like Mario M. Cuomo, they decline to run.
Second, throughout our history the office of secretary of state has been a natural stepping-stone for the White House. Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren and James Buchanan all were secretaries of state before they became president, and a number of other secretaries of state, including Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, Lewis Cass and Alexander M. Haig Jr., have run for president.
Of all those luminaries, only Van Buren and Clinton claim both of these launching pads before entering a presidential campaign. (Charles Evans Hughes was the GOP presidential nominee exactly a century before Clinton's putative campaign, but the former governor of New York became secretary of state after his presidential campaign, not before.)
One thing is almost certainly not a factor: Clinton would be the third graduate of the Yale Law School to become president, but the first graduate of Wellesley College. This may be a factor, however: She has not driven a car in 18 years — since before some 2016 voters were born. This does not underline her populist credentials.
Already some Democrats worry the Clinton rush threatens to short-circuit the nomination process in favor of dynastic succession, which seems incongruous in a political party that considers itself the representative of the common people. At the same time, the phrase "Clinton fatigue" is in the air again.
Each presidential race is different — trying to graft precedents or even insights from earlier presidential campaigns is risky business, no matter how many times this typist has attempted it — but one rule does seem to apply: Presidential nominations aren't inevitable. For proof, visit the Edmund S. Muskie Archives at Bates College in chilly Lewiston, Maine, where the papers of the 38th president of the United States do not reside.
A codicil to that iron law: Sometimes presidential candidates who seem inevitable nominees still have a hard time winning the nomination.
The best recent example comes from the 1984 campaign of former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, who assembled perhaps the most impressive array of endorsements in modern history only to lose the primary here in New Hampshire. "I thought I might be going through the Muskie thing again," says James A. Johnson, a veteran of the Muskie campaign who ran the Mondale campaign. "We shifted from winning easily to grinding delegates on the last day."
Even so, the friends of Clinton are mighty busy — and mighty visible, so much so that Republicans in New Hampshire already have concluded that, as one operative put it pointedly last week, "subtlety is not in their playbook."
Nor in their tactical operations. This winter the "super PAC" Priorities USA, a vital part of the Obama political operation, began to mobilize on behalf of the woman whose candidacy it crushed eight years ago. Meanwhile, groups around the country — and especially in Iowa, site of the first caucuses, and here in New Hampshire, site of the first primary, usually six days later — already are reaching out to activists and supporters.
Last month the Iowa affiliate of the Ready for Hillary organization assembled in Des Moines, and in the crowd were state party chairman Scott Brennan and veteran organizers such as Teresa Vilmain.
The New Hampshire affiliate of Ready for Hillary met shortly before the holidays with Craig Smith, a White House political director in the Clinton administration.
"We're not the campaign and we're not going to be the campaign, but we're building lists and making contacts," says Terry Shumaker, co-chairman of Bill Clinton's 1992 and 1996 campaigns here and a major figure in Hillary Clinton's 2008 primary campaign. "There's an amazing amount of pent-up demand — to do something, to help her decide to run, to provide an outlet for people who are looking ahead to 2016."
Clinton lost the 2008 Iowa caucuses to Obama, but staged a comeback here to win the New Hampshire primary — and she capped it off with perhaps her greatest political speech. "Over the last week," she said, "I listened to you and, in the process, I found my own voice."
But now, about two years before the next New Hampshire primary, political professionals are waiting to hear her voice. In the meantime, here is my maxim for our time: It can't be over if it hasn't even begun.

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has a vacation home in Kearsarge.


Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 00:03

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Tom MacLaughlin: Corrupt Democrat Machine Calls Voter ID 'Racist'

Pull quote: I had no real expectation or preparation for the blood sport that American politics is.



"Vote early and often for Curley," was a lyric from one of Democrat mayor, congressman, and governor James Michael Curley campaign songs I heard often while growing up as a Boston-Irish-Catholic-Democrat in the 1950s. Democrat voter fraud was not only winked at, it was celebrated from the early 20th century onward. Sticking it to Yankee Republicans was a way of life when you grew up Irish in Massachusetts. Oppressed in the 19th century, the Irish ruled Boston and the state during the 20th and the spoils system became a way of life. By the time I was growing up, it was who you knew or who you were related to, and there was nothing wrong with that in the Boston-Irish-Democrat code of ethics. It's the way things were done, and it swept the Kennedy dynasty into power during its heyday.

Kennedys are gone from the scene now. The Democrat coalition today comprises unions, blacks, Hispanics, homosexuals, feminists, single women, and aging Irish pols like Richard Daley, John Kerry, and Joe Biden. Election fraud committed by people in any of those groups is winked at and publicly denied by Democrats and the mainstream media, which look the other way. They don't sing songs about it anymore the way Curley's people did. They celebrate it privately now.

Into such a similar, but Texan, Democrat political arena waded small business person and political neophyte Catherine Englebrecht. Starting in their garage, she and her husband Bryan had built a small manufacturing business outside of Houston which, after two decades employed 30 people. Then she started volunteering at the polls where, according to national review.com, she became "appalled and dismayed to witness everything from administrative snafus to outright voter fraud." She started attending local Tea Party meetings, eventually founding "True the Vote," an organization that aimed to clean up voter fraud. Then she filed for 501.C.4 status with the IRS.

That put her in the sights of the national Democrat political machine. "I had no real expectation or preparation for the blood sport that American politics is," she told Nationalreviewonline, but she found out quickly. In 20 years of doing business, she and her husband Bryan never had contact with the federal government, but soon federal agents were crawling all over them like maggots. Testifying before the House Committee on Investigations in February, she said:

"In 2011, my personal and business tax returns were audited by the Internal Revenue Service, each audit going back for a number of years. In 2012, my business was subjected to inspection by OSHA, on a select occasion when neither my husband nor I were present, and though the agency wrote that it found nothing serious or significant, it still issued fines in excess of $20,000. In 2012 and again in 2013 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms conducted comprehensive audits at my place of business. Beginning in 2010, the FBI contacted my nonprofit organization on six separate occasions — wanting to cull through membership manifests in conjunction with domestic terrorism cases."

Whew. "Not a smidgeon of corruption"?

There are hundreds of cases like Englebrecht's, and when the IRS scandal broke last May, President Obama called it "outrageous." Two months later he called it a "phony scandal" and blamed Republicans for hurting the economy by focusing on it. The Obama Administration continues to stonewall investigation and its mainstream media allies continue to play down the scandal. Republicans in the House have not pressed it nearly hard enough, even though they have subpoena power with which to do so.

Last week, President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder both spoke at the lavish convention put on by the allegedly Reverend Al Sharpton's "National Action Network" (NAN). Sharpton, the FBI snitch, anti-semite, race-hustler, and liar, was paid a quarter million in salary by the NAN, which had no problem getting its non-profit status from the IRS in spite of owing $1.9 million in payroll taxes to the IRS and State of New York for 2006, the last year for which records were available.

In his speech, Obama actually blamed Republicans for trying to "prevent people from voting." If he was talking about dead people he would have been correct, but he wasn't. Obama is against requiring voters to present identification at the polls, which would prevent not only dead people from voting, but also others from voting "early and often" as early Democrat shyster James Michael Curley encouraged.

Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder actually dismissed charges against the New Black Panthers for wearing paramilitary garb, waving night sticks at white voters, and threatening: "You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker!" One was a Democrat Party operative and credentialed poll watcher named Jerry Jackson.

That kind of poll watching is OK with Attorney General Holder, but voter identification is "racist," as he claimed when suing the state of Texas for requiring it. Curley would be proud.

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine.  He can be reached on his website at tommclaughlin.blogspot.com.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 April 2014 04:41

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William Marvel: What They Teach

Voting margins are frequently as instructive as the actual outcome of elections. It was interesting to see what support the tax caps won, especially after the campaign that was waged against them by one of the negotiators for the teachers’ union. For all the ridicule, lamentation, and promises of impending disaster that the tax caps elicited, 47 percent of the voters supported the 2.5-percent cap on school budget increases. That fell well short of the required three-fifths supermajority, but it came close to a majority, which ought to apprise the more prodigal members of the school board how precarious their support is.
The teachers’ contract only passed by 9.5 percentage points, which is hardly a measure of broad popularity. Even the gargantuan school budget won a margin of nearly 21 points, while the town budget passed by 47. The teachers’ contract would have gone down in flames if only 67 people had changed their minds. Support for teachers — because of their numbers or their compensation, if not both — is not overwhelming.
A quarter of the town’s registered voters took sides on the contract, and the teacher lobby doubtless came out in force, given their reported anxiety for more money. A hefty portion of the school district’s nearly-400 employees live in Conway, and it doesn’t seem likely that teachers or their family members would have voted against their own raises. Even a conservative estimate of the number of votes cast by that class suggests that a majority of those who would not benefit directly from the contract did not approve of it. That doesn’t say much for the school board’s negotiators.
One article on the town warrant was really a school issue in disguise, and it revealed more than one might have expected. The request to plow another section of Greeley Road and rename it Abrams Way was presented by — and for the exclusive benefit of — a teacher at Kennett High School, who chose to live there against all warnings that it was a summer road that was essentially closed in the winter. Of the 30 people who signed her petition, 25 were school district employees, one was the wife of a teacher, and another was Kelley Murphy, the former teacher who now looks out for school staff from the school board. Of the other three, I believe one has been a substitute teacher, and the others may be as well.
New Hampshire courts have ruled that it isn’t fair for one family to subject an entire town to the cost of plowing a summer road by simply choosing to live there year-round. Ultimately, most people understood that it was not that different from someone building a home in a remote location and expecting their town to build them a road to it. That sense of exaggerated entitlement seemed perfectly normal to the article’s defenders, most of whom are — or have been — associated one way or another with Conway schools.
In each case, their comments in defense of the road article betrayed considerable misunderstanding, and it was not always confined to the issue itself: Some of them even seemed confused about where they live. Jessyca Keeler (I hope I have misspelled her name correctly) identified herself as a resident of South Conway, but to reach South Conway from her house she would have to bushwhack across part of Eaton and swim Conway Lake. Jason Smith offered a list of very tentative “facts” about the question, insinuating that he was a Conway resident by implying that he would share in the tax burden he wished to impose on us. Town records presently record no voters or taxpayers by that name, however, and perhaps he is instead an Albany resident whose wife works as an aide in our district. I presume he did not mean to mislead us for the purpose of giving his opinion some value, and that he is merely uncertain which town’s roads his taxes pay for. It happens, I guess.
Given the disbelief several of these people expressed at the potential cost of more plowing responsibilities at that end of Conway, it was clear they had not heard the presentation at our deliberative meeting, where those costs were explained. From the direction debate took on this issue alone, one might infer that cronyism and an attitude of entitlement are more commonly learned in our schools than critical thinking and the concept of informed argument. No wonder the system seems to be losing favor.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 02:00

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