Sunday, December 9, 2018

George H.W. Bush

People aren't saints just because they die or grow old; but honestly recognizing their defects shouldn't blind us to the good or heroic in them.

George Bush? There's a lot to admire, even love; but he also did some terrible things. It's beyond my pay grade to attempt some final accounting.

He was courageous in dangerous situations, but modest. He maintained a loving marriage for a lifetime, and seems to have been a good father. He was capable, and by all accounts personally decent. He cared more about government than about politics. He resigned loudly from the NRA and spoke out against Mr. Trump. He gains stature by comparison with Trump: Bush could read, think, and collegially talk with opponents. 
He was born with the proverbial silver spoon (son of a U.S. Senator from a prestigious family), with all that entails. He had self-assurance and “class.”

He also used the Willie Horton ad, considered the most racist presidential campaign ad ever, pre-Trump. He lied to the country in creating the racist War on Drugs, which most law-enforcement officials now concede was misguided and ineffective. 
But he was better than he might have been. 
I'm prejudiced in his favor regarding the first Kuwait war. I'd been in Kuwait with my Kuwaiti friends, and wanted them freed from the Iraqi occupation. The occupiers arrested and nearly executed one of my closest friends. So I'm not objective as to our getting into that war – though I do wonder about reports that U.S. officials including April Glaspie covertly signaled approval to Saddam before Iraq invaded.

Most or all of Bush's misdeeds he believed were in his country's interest – or at least in his party's interest, or his political interest. We're all partially blinded by the belief systems we grow up with and by our life experiences. 
Strongly opposing the bad things Bush did, or acquiesced in, doesn't keep me from appreciating a great deal about him. (I'd likely feel different if I had a black son destroyed by the War on Drugs, or if I'd been bombed by the U.S., or imprisoned by a U.S.-supported “government” in Latin America.)
A close friend posted on Facebook a lovely image of George and Barbara dancing against a starry night-sky. I understand my friend's romantic feeling about the private Bush; but he shouldn't lose sight of significant facts about the public one. 
Other friends have re-posted the long analysis in the Intercept of Bush's misdeeds. Many of its charges are accurate; but to those friends I'd say, if you can manage it, don't lose sight of what was good in this guy.

Yeah, I mostly opposed him, politically; but he was Yale's baseball captain, a war hero, a good husband and father, and a capable public servant, even if his skills were sometimes used for appalling purposes. He was the kind of moderate Republican that party has eradicated. He celebrated his 80th birthday by jumping out of an airplane. 
I'm not convinced there's Heaven or Hell. I've rarely met anyone wholly evil or wholly good. Even Barack Obama, a very decent guy, could be considered a war criminal. So I try to see the good in folks I disagree with, and the warts on people I like or admire – and retain that vision after people die.
Seeing clearly is even more important with local political figures here at home. 
                                                 - 30-

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 9 December in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air periodically during the week on KRWG and KTAL (101.5 FM /]

[It's interesting how the internet, specifically Facebook, affects some things.  I'm not sure I'd have written a column about former President Bush's death, but for Facebook.  I'd have noticed all what was going on, grumbled about the hagiographers, mulled over what I admired and what I loathed about Mr. Bush, and gone about my business; but all these postings and comments and links from everyone made me feel as if I had to have a "position" on Bush.]

[The reactions to Bush's death, and his life, illustrate some deeper point I can't fully articulate, about the range of reasonable perceptions people can have of anything or anyone, and do have, depending upon their vantage point and previous experience, each of which (if expressed honestly) is a truth and which, collectively, approximate something in the same zip code as Truth.  For most of us, if the person or thing matters much, we are or should be open to letting our perceptions, or our assessment or those perceptions, grow, develop, and change over time as developments or new information may warrant.  We are always blind people struggling with some elephant.]  

[fyi -- this is the image a friend posted that I mentioned in the column:



Sunday, November 25, 2018

Reflections Late in a Misspent Life

Thanksgiving. What, other than to be grateful for our lives, would I tell a visiting child. (Such as my marvelous grandson,Teddy.) 

Not that he'd listen. At any age I'd have wriggled uncomfortably until allowed to go play.

In our time of renewed rancor and tribalism, what would I tell a kid, who's inheriting the horrors of unbridled climate change we caused? (But then, in the late 1940's, what would I have told little Peter, about to face a world where a Holocaust had just occurred, Hiroshima and Nagasazki were toast, and a Communist hid under every bed?) 

What really matters?

To keep in mind always that others have roughly the same needs and feelings we do. We're part of a family, a community, a nation, humanity, and some greater ecology of animals, plants, and human products that can destroy everything. Whether or not the Christians or the Buddhists are right, karma (that we reap what we sow, one way or another) – and heaven and hell (a more primitive, mechanistic version of that) are helpful ideas. 

With or without Santa or God, doing what you think is right feels better, once you've gotten some youthful craziness out of your system – to do what you think is right. Stealing and other misbehavior may tempt you; but they're not worth the consequences, or the nerve-wracking suspense wondering whether or not you'll get caught. 

Recognize what you are: an animal, though one with opposable thumbs and consciousness. You'll hear fancy nonsense about not being an animal, but you are one. However, you have the blessing and curse of consciousness. Only we humans produce symphonies, poems, or penicillin. Yet only we humans herd thousands of others of our own kind into enclosures and kill them. 

See the world clearly. It has beauty and horrors. People you love will die. You will die. Don't fall into the trap of creating some complex way of denying those realities. Face them. Live honestly and, when the time comes, face death honestly. 

Be honest but kind to others. Lying means worrying, and the burden of piling more lies on top of the first. 

Be alert for dangers; but expecting the best from people often inspires the best in them. 

There are fundamental differences between people, but not based on color or religion. One is between people who never doubted, during childhood, that they were loved – and people who did doubt that, often with good reason. If you're among the former, be grateful for a marvelous emotional head start, and be patient with others not so lucky. If not, maybe life saddled you with a deep insecurity and urges to lunge awkwardly after illusions of security. 

Be true to yourself. Parents and teachers have much to offer, but have their own insecurities and misapprehensions. They matured facing a different world, different challenges. Treat what they say like the water in a gold-miner's tin pan: sift it carefully to find the nuggets. Hear the part of the sermon about love and humility, but ignore the divisive part, and illusions that only your group has The Truth. Recognize that we live in a somewhat capitalistic society, but don't conclude that other people and natural resources exist merely for you to manipulate and profit from. 

Last, do not take or use more than you need. Enough yields a deeper satisfaction than excess. And helps preserve. 

Savor each morsel of life. Be grateful.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 25 November 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.   A spoken version (if I don't feel too pompous trying to record it) will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 (streamable at]

[This is the kind of thing I never write.  And the kind of thing nobody will read through who doesn't already agree with.  Too, I will not pretend my conduct in my youth -- or at various times thereafter -- was as consistent with this homily.   In particular, I always, as my parents kept saying, "had to learn everything the hard way."   And some older person telling me what to do or how to do it tended to push me into just the opposite sort of conduct.  So this is stuff I believe, but have mostly learned from a long life more devoted to creativity and adventures than to building a family or a career; and in that sort of life you experience a lot of stuff that stops you with awe or wonder, but also wander down lots of blind alleys and do things that ain't necessarily so wise or "good."]

[But the combination of Thanksgiving and that Teddy (who's 5) was visiting must have led me to write this -- though it's nothing I could say to him for many years, and nothing he'd actually hear until decades later.]

[There's a lot of additional advice I'd probably give the world that wouldn't fit into the column, but I'll stick to one important point: if you must go to White Sands the day after Thanksgiving, expect long lines to get in, or to get into the parking lot, or to get into the bathroom, and take along a sled if you have kids who may want one, because they sell out early.  "You'd think the folks who run this place would have noticed people bring family hear Thanksgiving weekend, and had both admission booths open today," I snorted, to which the wiser part of this marriage replied that I should look at how badly Washington -- under Trump but not starting with him! -- funds national parks and monuments.  Our visit was a lot better because of the chance encounter with some very fine new friends who had more sleds than kids and had good hearts -- A.W.M.L. (About Which More Later), as Holden Caulfield would have said.]


photo by Jacob or Jasmine
Is there a certain thematic consistency here:

2018 11 23 New Mexico

1951? New York

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Voting Nine Times Each - in Disguises

Donald Trump – who insisted Barack Obama was not a citizen, wildly exaggerated his inauguration crowd, and says he really knows Matthew Whitaker and doesn't know Whitaker at all – witnessed an election the rest of us missed.

In Trump's election, Republicans would have won except that Democrats voted, then went to their cars and changed shirts or hats, then voted again. (I voted with a bushy red beard, then a purple wig.) “It's really a disgrace,” he says . [Note: did he confuse Election Day with Halloween?]
Here we are right after voting for the 9th time!
Apparently Dems fooled pollworkers and Republican watchers in sufficient numbers to affect Congressional elections. 

CD-2 Republican candidate Yvette Herrell is suggesting there was something fishy in our county's absentee-ballot count. (She hasn't returned my call, and the Sun-News has tried in vain to reach her.) I respect Ms. Herrell – who upset her favored primary opponent and ran hard against Xochitl Torres Small – but crying to Fox News while declining to comment to others suggests she's not real confident in her insinuations.

She claims the CD-2 result was shocking: she went to bed thinking she'd won.  [Note: since the Republican Party got daily reports, someone should have told her there were a boatload of absentee ballots still to be counted in this county!]

I'm a nobody, without her resources. I went to bed thinking Herrell was ahead, but twice during the night I stumbled to my office to look online, and found the 1900-vote margin unchanged with not all precincts fully reporting. I didn't know who would win; but since many uncounted votes were in Xochi's native Las Cruces, I figured she had some chance.

Come morning, it was clear that there were nearly 8,000 uncounted absentee ballots in Doña Ana County, plus a few hundred in Cibola. Xochi had gotten 60+ % of the vote here. It seemed likely she'd get at least that share of the 8,000. Dems were 51% of the in-person voters and more than 60% of the absentees, so the odds favored Xochi. Cibola was another county Xochi won big, and soon its report of absentee ballots narrowed the margin. Suddenly Xochi had a great chance to win, and I said so on my Wednesday morning radio show. None of this was rocket science!

Ms. Herrell's complaint that votes “magically appeared” seems to be magical thinking, unfounded and unfortunate. We could do with less “fake news” from all sides; and in talking with Ms. Herrell during the campaign, I'd taken her to be more reasonable. She spoke persuasively about working across the aisle. 

(The existence of a few provisional ballots doesn't indicate wrongdoing. The vast majority of provisional ballots never count. People mistakenly vote in the wrong county, forget they hadn't registered here, move without notifying officials, or find they've been purged from the rolls.)

It helps to have perceived this in real time, even secondhand. Democrat Frances Williams spent hours in the absentee-ballot counting room, as did a Republican. This wasn't 2015's 2,500 absentee ballots, or 2016's 2,900, but a massive 8,517, many delivered on Election Day.

If Herrell has real reasons to believe there was dishonesty, I hope she'll articulate them to the Sun-News and the legal authorities. If she doesn't, I hope she'll make a gracious statement saying she doesn't, and wishing Xochi well. 

Insinuating dishonesty without a solid basis may feel good; and it seems contagious nationally, particularly among Republicans; but it helps undermine faith in the democratic process. (Is that what Ms. Herrell's advisers want?) At every step, Republicans and the local press witnessed the process; and, despite unusual difficulties, it worked.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 18 November 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will aire during the week on both KRWG and KTAL 101.5 FM (or stream at]

[In the column, I say that Ms. Herrell's complaint that votes “magically appeared” is magical thinking.  I knew both Republicans and Democrats had been watching the unfinished counting on Election Day.  I later learned that both parties got a daily report from the clerk stating how many absentee ballots had been cast. There were thousands.  An unprecedented number.  How could either party claim those later “appeared magically?"
Other than wishful thinking, how does the Party NOT know there are several thousand absentee ballots, not yet added to the totals, in a county where one candidate is winning by a landslide.  If Ms. Herrell didn't know it, her advisors should have told her -- instead of encouraging these apparently unfounded insinuations.  Her party didn't do her any favor there.

[The suit filed on Ms. Herrell's behalf actually undermines the credibility of her effort to overturn the election or undermine its credibility.  She references "complaints by hundreds of voters" about something.  That's pretty vague.  It's hard to see what the mysterious complaints might have to do with her problem -- or, if they have something to do with the absentee ballots, why they weren't made at the time.  There were Republican and Democratic watchers and challengers at many precincts, and watching the absentee-ballot counting.  I haven't heard of hundreds of complaints -- or even one -- from the absentee-ballot counting.]

[Not sure what Herrell is trying to accomplish, or what someone's trying to accomplish through her.  For her, the challenge is a bullet in her own foot.  She could leave gracefully, having run a good race and favorably impressed a lot of people, some of whom liked her but preferred Xochi or liked her personally but disliked her politics.  Pursuing the lawsuit very far, absent some compelling evidence, will change her image to that of a spoiled brat -- or worse.  It says that with no evidence of wrongdoing she's happy to waste public resources and undermined the credibility of election officials just to vent steam.  In fact, it will undermine her own future credibility with independents, and with Democrats who might have supposed she was a reasonable person.   Perhaps even with Republicans who like good government and responsible public officials.]
[At least Ms. Herrell's consistent -- following Trump's lead, as she said she would do if elected.]
[Meanwhile Xochi's starting a new and challenging job.]
Silver City, NM

Sunday, November 11, 2018

This Week's Election

This election was an intense experience. I'm delighted by the state and local results, impressed by the strong efforts of both sides, but sad for some of the losing candidates. 

I felt a certain camaraderie with others working hard (or just rooting) for the election of progressive candidates, including Congresswoman-elect Xochitl Torres Small; there were inspiring moments; but I empathize with folks like Ben Rawson and Yvette Herrell who busted their tails, invested great energy and emotion into campaigning, and probably believed (as fervently as Xochi or Steve or Shannon or Kim) that they were fighting for the best interests of our community and country. I can't help but respect their efforts. 

Election Night, David Brooks commented, “This is a great night for humility.” Republicans, he noted, were riding a great economy (albeit a recovery initiated during Obama's tenure), and still couldn't do better. Democrats were opposing a much-disliked president with low approval ratings who struck even supporters as a buffoon, but couldn't do better.

What does all this mean?

Well, a Democratic House majority is a ray of hope for saving our republic. The House will be able to vote down some pernicious legislation and hold hearings (subpoenaing witnesses and documents) on alleged wrongdoing. (They should use that power judiciously, for only the worst abuses.) Trump will oppose them vigorously, rejecting legal requests and mocking the Congress, while hoping a friendly Supreme Court will stretch or ignore laws to protect him.

At least two more years of a Republican Senate means two more years of rubber-stamping unqualified judicial nominees who meet the far-right ideological criteria of the Federalist Society. It means automatic approval of more administrative nominees who are unqualified, inept, and/or corrupt. It means two more years of ignoring climate change, environmental concerns, and consumers. It means that if – yes, if – Robert Mueller's report, or House investigations, uncover solid reasons to impeach Trump, nothing will happen absent grounds so compelling you'd impeach your mother for such conduct.

The election won't cure our incivility epidemic or the uncompromising nature of our leaders (and us). When the Democratic House tries to do its job, Trump will ratchet up the rhetoric and so will Democratic Congresspersons. But the House-Senate split will require some conversation and compromise to keep things going. Meanwhile, Trump's firing of Attorney-General Jeff Sessions and appointment of a dishonest and unqualified puppet may require Senate Republicans to make some tough decisions. Many have said that firing Mueller would be going too far; but will they stick to their words? 

We have a lot of work to do. Money is still way too powerful in politics. Economic inequality continues to grow, which is bad for society and for the economy. We continue to ignore serious infrastructure needs, and the Trumpists have hobbled the government financially. We're missing the opportunity to take the lead in the global shift to renewable energy, so that when our rapidly changing climate forces a reckoning, and we finally try to act, we'll be buying Chinese technology, along with everyone else. (In trying to resuscitate coal and subsidize oil and gas, Republicans resemble early 20th Century leaders putting all our money on better horses and harnesses, certain that horseless carriages are a silly notion.) 

This election, hard as it was for so many people in so many ways, is a step in the right direction.
And Ms. Torres Small is going to Washington!

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 11 November 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG Radio and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (stream at]

[When we discussed the election Wednesday morning on "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" we discussed several points that didn't find their way into the column.

First, the relatively positive Democratic result occurred despite continued Republican efforts at voter suppression.  Second, the cross-section of the overall electorate that voted Democratic is the segment that's growing, and Republicans were saved from disaster by the portion of the electorate that's declining.]

[Key to the second point is that old white guys --- who dominate the Republican presence in the House and Senate and to whom Trump's bellicose racism and sexism are supposed to appeal -- are not the electorate.  Ethnically, we're increasingly diverse, and the Republican focus on Christian whites, particularly Christian white males, is out of step.  Each election, whites are a smaller proportion of the voters.
Meanwhile, political sentiments among older folks (of whom I'm one) will change.  Dems looked good among younger voters, and each year there's a new batch of those.  Republicans do well among older folks, of whom a bunch die off or lose interest each year.  This year, the Republican edge among over-65 voters was down to just 2 points.  In the 2014 voters, over-65's voted Republican by 17 points.  
That change is partly attributable to Donald Trump, but I think there's a more systemic change in progress.
I'll be 72 in a few weeks.  When I was 20, very few U.S. citizens were against the war in Viet Nam.  I'd been down South in the Civil Rights Movement in 1965, at 18, and at that time many of my white friends at home and at college didn't approve.  Many whites at my high school, north of New York City, were racist, though the degrees of racism in them varied.  Most favored the war or paid no attention.  
Within just a few years, things changed.  By 1968 the so-called counterculture was at least a significant minority among youth.  Younger kids grew up seeing and hearing the ideas of peace and equality being espoused by dynamic young men and women.  
What that means is that the folks who are 70-72 were right on the cusp of something.  A high percentage of the folks older than that were formed more by the 1950's (which extended into the early '60's) and opposed the changes going on then, and likely accepted those changes less grudgingly than people my age.
Among people my age, I noticed that a lot of friends and acquaintances had the same conversation with me a few years later, or even decades later: "Man, you were right." They'd come around to more tolerant views (because they got to know non-whites at work, or a kid married a non-white person, or whatever) and we all learned more from the feminist movement and then Gay Liberation.   This didn't affect everyone; but the folks over 75, who are declining in numbers, boast a higher percentage of folks who grew up racist and intolerant; and the folks just turning 65 have a high percentage of people who matured in a more tolerant moment.]
[As to the first point, anyone who's followed Republican's extreme gerrymandering and imaginative ways to suppress poor or minority voting knows the "blue wave" could have and should have been more powerful.  The North Dakota trick of requiring a physical address -- when the vast majority of Native Americans live out somewhere rural and use a post-office box -- was just one blatant example.  As it happens, the response was a heroic effort to register or re-register Indians.]


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Vote Tuesday! Preferably against Trumpism

Please vote Tuesday. 

This election is important. Mr. Trump is so dangerous in so many ways, his Republican enablers are so deferential, and there's so much at stake, that a Democratic majority in the House is essential. 

So, please, vote for our wonderful, home-grown Xochitl Torres-Small.

Even with local races, it's important to ask why Republican candidates don't speak out against Trump. Do they blind themselves to Trumpism's dangers, see it clearly but accept it to accomplish certain ideological goals, or simply lack the courage to speak out? Trump is making a last-ditch effort to deepen white Christian male privilege, and to “save us” from the modern world by simply denying its realities. He shows open contempt for Mexicans, Muslims, and women. Do we want local leaders who find that acceptable?

One local Republican leader told me, “I haven't spoken out on President Trump, because I'm focused on the County. I didn't speak out against President Obama, even when I disagreed with him.” That sounds reasonable; but we all have a duty to speak out when our national leaders are dangerously wrong. If someone I supported behaved as badly (and dangerously) as Trump, I'd have to speak out. Having helped empower him, I'd try to limit the damage.

A philosophical difference permeates the local races: shall we use the power of government to make our state or county as good as possible, for all of us – or strictly limit government's activities, even starve government as Republicans are doing nationally?

I'd choose the former, so long as we can pay for beneficial programs. So would most Democratic candidates. Local Republicans have deepened this divide by running folks who aren't just somewhat conservative but extremely so. (Exceptions include John Zimmerman and Kim Hakes. Ben Rawson is a closer call.)

In several state races, the Republican candidates are disastrous: Steve Pearce, who consistently puts his extremist ideology before state and national good; PRC candidate Ben Hall, whose record is beyond spotty; and Pat Lyons, who wants to recover the Land Commissioner position where he once did so much harm. Why trust any of them – when we can vote for the extremely appealing Michelle Lujan-Grisham, Steve Fischmann, and Stephanie Garcia Richards?

Our Republican former sheriff, Todd Garrison, seeks to regain the office he nearly destroyed during his Seeberger episode, while the thoughtful Democrat Kim Stewart has both experience and smart, modern ideas. (Allegations that Stewart would take away deputies' long rifles or disband the SWAT Team, are just plain false.)

Lynn Ellins should win his county commission race, and likely will. He truly knows county government and the law, and works well with others. I'd prefer Karen Trujillo to Kim Hakes, although Hakes seems sensible and good-humored on the dais. (I just think Karen has a better understanding of their district's needs.)

Although I have a good working relationship with Ben Rawson, he seems to lack the vision to make our county the best it can be for all its citizens. Although he emphasizes constituent service, he (and county government) dropped the ball on fire-fighting, sending insurance rates skyrocketing; and he resisted the UDC, an effort at coherent planning. (The last-minute Talavera uproar over trailers, which the county handled just fine, didn't have to be so last-minute.) Relative newcomer Shannon Reynolds holds more moderate views that are more in tune with a majority of District 3 voters. 

In any case, vote!

[The above column appeared this morning, 4 November 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air both on KRWG and on KTAL (101.5 FM /]

[Voting against Trumpism is a basic duty this year -- even for folks who understandably wanted to throw a monkey wrench into the system.  As I've mentioned elsewhere (see earlier posts, including ), Trump is doing more damage than we could have imagined, and a Democratic House majority is probably essential to maintaining our country in anything like the form it should be.]

[I've also touched at times on some of the local and state races: 
If Kim Stewart's combination of experience and modern ideas aren't enough reasons to vote for her as sheriff, glance again at these past columns concerning Todd Garrison.  (From  Questions about a Surprising Hire by the County Sheriff on 2 March 2014 to Lawsuit against Many of us Crashes and Burns on 30 August 2015, you can read the sad saga by searching "Seeberger" on my blog or just clicking here.  The misery Garrison caused the majority of employees with his Seeberger fixation was astonishing -- and heart-wrenching, if you happened to be airing that story publicly and talk to deputies suffering under Garrisonburger.  (And don't forget the contributions of Garrison's would-be undersheriff, Curtis Childress.  It was Stewart's investigation of his racist drawings that led to (or contributed to) her firing, which jurors later concluded was wrong enough that they gleefully ordered the county to pay her a big judgment.  See Jury Orders Dona Ana County to Pay (17 July 2015)) 
If Steve Fischmann's consistent consumer advocacy, record of integrity, and mix of business savvy and awareness of the urgent need to radically increase our use of renewable sources of electricity aren't enough for you to want him on the PRC, contemplate Ben Hall's record contemplate Ben Hall's record.  (And I may have just scratched the surface.)
Incumbent state legislators Nathan Small, Joanne Ferrary, Rudy Martinez, and Doreen Gallegos have worked hard and thoughtfully for our community's interests, and our state's, and deserve re-election.  To varying degrees, the Republican Party has made these choices even easier by running extremists.  Similarly in the District 33 race between newcomers Micaela Lara Cadena and Charles Wendler, she's a sharp young progressive with good ideas and he's somewhat of a Tea Party Republican with a strong ideology. I voted for her.
Lynn Ellins should and will win, but if you're a new resident or a forgetful one, take a look at this moment in our past, when Ellins recognized constitutional truth and acted, as county clerk, in a way the Supreme Court then agreed our constitution required regarding same-sex marriage: County Commission Knocks One out of the Park (1 September 2013).]

[County Commission Chair Ben Rawson has his good points.  However, his vote last year to fire Julia Brown (Julia Brown's Firing Was Foreseeable but Abrupt --  April 2017) has already led to a huge payment to Ms. Brown in settlement of her lawsuit.  (Rawson had the grace to apologize to her immediately.  I happened to be sitting at the table with her and county staff when he did, during the break after the vote, and wondered a little about what was in his mind.)  Too, I don't agree with his consistent and sometimes misleading trashing of the nascent bus system.  (Commission Ducks Transit Issue -- Citizens Shout "Shame!" -- 14 May 2017  )  I also didn't agree with the rightwing position the county (definitely including Ben Rawson) took regarding a union issue.  The deputies union consistently won in arbitration, trial, and appeal, and the County's intransigence cost us more money in legal fees and perhaps interest.  (County and Deputies Union -- 29 October 2017)   I also questioned the Commission's move to add an extra step that could slow down opposition to El Paso Electric moves to raise our rates, although the Commission's justification wasn't wholly unreasonable. (Did the County Commission Just Do El Paso Electric a Favor? 2 April 2017 )  I'd also note that while 70 to 80% of the citizenry supported designating the Organ Mountains / Desert Peaks National Monument, and the City Commission voted unanimously in support of that designation (opposed vigorously by Steve Pearce), when Trump's administration threatened to reduce the monument, Mr. Rawson was "the lone holdout" when the County Commission voted 4-1 to support keeping the monument intact -- as reported by the Sun-News on June 2017.  
Rawson works hard.  He knows the rules and procedures.  He's a very reasonable guy to talk to.  But Shannon Reynolds barked like a watchdog about the fire insurance issue, well before I got interested and well before the Commission did anything; and his views would appear to be more in line with those of the district's voters.]

[Finally, Probate Judge Diana Bustamante has done a good and professional job in that office, and should be retained.   This is not an ideological or "political" office; she has four years of experience and knowledge; and to unseat her should require her opponent to show some misconduct or serious mistakes on or part or propose some brilliant innovation in how to run the office, which he couldn't do and hasn't done. He's also a newcomer, who moved here in 2014 from California, and I don't know that he speaks Spanish or knows the country very well. ]

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Freedom of Expression in 2018

Freedom of speech is endangered, but not only because of Mr. Trump. 
He attacks journalists verbally. He encourages folks to [body] slam reporters. When CNN gets a pipe bomb, Trump blames CNN. 
Divisiveness, discord, and incivility are encouraged and utilized by politicians – on both sides of the aisle, though most dangerously from one. We got angry when ISIS beheaded a journalist; but now it's acceptable if the killers buy weapons from us. And murder a mere Muslim. 
IF we manage to save our country, history will mention this period as it does McCarthyism -- or the Red Scare, with its Palmer Raids, soon after the Great War. 
This moment seems different. In earlier difficult times, people disagreed passionately, even violently; but we shared a reverence for our country's ideals. Both sides wanted to do right and thought they were; and at some point, as more and more members of the public began to learn that McCarthy was a con artist or the Viet Nam war was unjustified and counterproductive, opinion shifted. Based largely on facts. 
Now, it's less clear that many of us are just missing some facts and could change our minds if we learned more. Imagine trying to use facts and logic to convince a passionate Michigan fan to root for Ohio State. Besides, in the midst of this information explosion, we can find “support” for any position.

Free speech also faces new and subtler challenges. Its venues and enemies have changed. 
We can speak our minds at city council meetings, but much of our so-called political discourse occurs online, in privately-owned “town halls” – out of reach of the First Amendment. Billionaire owners of those fora don't like to be taxed and don't want economic equality. 
Meanwhile, the natural allies of free expression, the weak, are trampling on it. Progressives, including many women and ethnic minorities, are threatening free speech rights. It's not just politicians and evil capitalists. People with excellent motives, such as protecting the vulnerable from hate speech and verbal harassment, argue, quite reasonably, that we must protect people we've wronged. 
But vetoing a moot court topic because it involves racists burning crosses is absurd. Yeah, our past and aspects of our present are painful to contemplate; but you don't make real change by pretending racism and violence against women are ghosts under a kid's bed. Strengthening young minds to confront this world's madness makes more sense.

I favor universities imposing rules to prevent people from being targeted by hate speech or bullying; but when it comes to more general public speech, I stand with free speech. Not merely because I'm old, and have said and written unpopular things; but because booting Alex Jones from major Internet communication sites or keeping Richard Spencer from speaking this week could mean banning you or me next week. Yeah, some incredibly hateful and ridiculous things are getting said; but fifty years ago many thought that demanding ethnic equality or opposing the wanton destruction of Viet Nam was loony and dangerous. 
At the same time, let no one discredit the important concerns motivating these folks. Curtailing free speech is the wrong remedy, but their complaints are real. 
Today's brand of censorship by progressives and the legalities of cyber-speech are complex matters reasonable folks could disagree on.

Trumpitis is an acute illness we can heal – if we begin treatment by voting his enablers and sycophants out of office.
[The above column appeared this morning [ 28 October 2018] in the Las Cruces Sun-News and on the newspaper's website, and will shortly appear on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on both KRWG and KTAL (101.5 FM / ).]

[These ideas were particularly on my mind because when I sent in this column Friday morning, I was scheduled to discuss freedom of expression with the Southwestern New Mexico ACLU chapter in Silver City several hours later.  The folks there were sharp, committed, and extraordinarily welcoming, and I hope they enjoyed the discussion as much as we did.  We thoroughly enjoyed Silver City and the many interesting people we met, at the ACLU and wandering around town the next day.]

[Of course, the "pipe bombs" and Mr. Trump's reaction to those punctuated my thoughts as I was preparing for the Silver City event.  His handlers must be tearing their hair out again.  They got him to say a few "unifying" sentences; but he still couldn't resist saying, essentially, "Too bad CNN got attacked, but they should tell the truth as I see it more often."  Like saying we sympathize with Charlie Hebdo but those folks shouldn't have said things offensive to Muslims.  When someone shot Republicans on a Congressional softball team, I don't recall Democratic leaders saying, "That was reprehensible, but then again Scalise shouldn't have opposed health care and lied so much about it." 
The guy seems just absolutely incapable of even a moment of grace or real compassion.  But, even so, no one should shoot at him.  Not because he lives in the Casa Blanca; but because he's a fellow human being, and we are all comical, absurd, and thoroughly imperfect.]

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Steve Fischmann rather than Ben Hall for the PRC

Our choice between Steve Fischmann and Ben Hall for the Public Regulation Commission is clear.

Fischmann is a smart former state senator who's spent years working for the public good on regulatory matters and fighting usurious interest charged by payday loan companies.

Hall, 82, has “good ol' boy” charm and a welcome bluntness. 
Fischmann understands our desperate need to use more renewables and for a functioning utility system that's fair to both the public and businesses – and considers environmental consequences.

Hall agrees we should move toward more renewables, but he's not so sure human activities have much to do with climate change.

Fischmann has a positive record as citizen, legislator, and businessman.

Hall's record is so full of financial and legal trouble that it won't all fit here. (Today's blog post has more details.)

Hall has littered his life with bankruptcies (one personal, and a business he denies he controls), liens (more than a dozen state and federal tax liens, and others filed by subcontractors or other creditors), and judgments. In 2015, Hall's ex-son-in-law won a $53,916.83 judgment against Hall, charging Hall never repaid a loan. Hall immediately declared bankruptcy. (Hall says the man lied, there was no loan, and Hall went bankrupt “so he wouldn't get a damned dime.”)
In 2013, the PRC paid $200,000 to Jocyln Gonzales, who in 2011 was standing by her car and was hit by a PRC vehicle Hall was driving. He admitted fault but said he was driving slowly.

Hall says the tax liens were forty years ago (despite significant liens in 1998 and 1999, and one in 2007 against Sierra Blanca Construction). He says Sierra Blanca Construction wasn't his company. (His wife and daughter were President and Secretary.) He added no one could be a contractor for forty years and not have some disputes. 
His 2014 PRC campaign apparently paid him and his lady friend. He reportedly claimed the Secretary of State had okayed paying himself. Secretary of State Dianna Durbin wrote him that Hall's campaign couldn't legally pay Hall. In October 2014 Hall told the Albuquerque Journal he paid Maria Cottom and himself $25 per hour, but paid himself only for campaign work after 5 or on weekends. To me, he said, “I didn't pay her any money, I didn't pay me any money,” and “I never paid anyone $25 per hour in my life, so I don't know where he got that.” The reporter stands by his stories, adding that Hall never sought or obtained a correction. 
Hall claims his initial campaign reports were wrong because “the girl who filled out my forms” was inexperienced. He says that once he filed amended reports omitting the self-payments, Durbin cleared him of wrongdoing. 

I also asked Hall if it was true that he gambles a lot at Casino Apache Travel Center. He replied, “I don't know as it's a lot,” adding, “I used my own money.”

Hall's extraordinary history of financial and legal difficulties doesn't qualify him to handle a bunch of our money, or make important public decisions. If he's “a thief and a liar” as one former adversary called him, that's a problem. If he's thoroughly honest but mismanages money, that's a problem. If it's all just bad luck, I'd still worry that his bad luck could affect the PRC. 

Fischmann's a strong candidate. Someone we need, as our climate changes. Hall's problems only make our choice even clearer. 

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 21 October 2018, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL (101.5 FM).]

[Near as I can tell, Hall was untruthful or inaccurate with me on several points:

He said his tax liens were "40 years ago," which would be 1978.  In fact, he had tax liens in the 1980's and in 1991, 1992, 1998, and 1999; and Sierra Blanca Construction had one as recently as 1997.  (He denies that Sierra Blanca Construction is his company, and says he's just the qualified contractor.  His late wife, Wanda, and his daughter were listed as Sierra Blanca's President and Secretary, respectively.)  Hall's  one-time opponent, Bill McCamley, alleged that:
“ • From 1983-1998 there were 14 tax liens placed on Mr. Hall and his construction company totaling $356,233.89.
“ • 10 of these liens were for failure to pay Federal taxes, and 4 liens were for failure to pay State taxes.
“ … • From 1983-1998, there were 7 liens placed on Mr. Hall by individuals, subcontractors, and the Ruidoso State Bank totaling $112,681.59 for failure to pay for completed contracted services.]
[Hall denied paying himself or his significant other $25 per hour for campaign work in 2014.  He denied paying himself at all.  These statements contradict numerous campaign filings (eventually amended) with the New Mexico Secretary of State, a letter from the Secretary of State commenting on his paying himself, and his comments quoted in two 2014 Albuquerque Journal articles.

He denied making those comments, adding "I don't know where he got that."  The reporter, Thomas J. Cole, said the quotes were accurate, adding that Hall had not requested or received any kind of retraction or correction.  Further, the articles have indicia of accuracy.  "I don't see what the big damn deal is" is just the way Hall would phrase his response.  Secondly, there's an extra level of detail beyond what Cole would be unlikely to invent, in that he quotes Hall as saying he paid himself and Cottom but only paid himself for work after 5 p.m. or on weekends because of his PRC job.  It seems highly unlikely Cole would have thought to make that up.  He also quoted Hall as claiming the Secretary of State had told him it was legal to pay himself for campaign work.  (In a letter dated 29 October 2014, then Secretary of State Deanna Duran bluntly denied her office had told him any such thing.) That's another detail Cole wouldn't have likely invented.  (In addition, there were two separate articles . . ., suggesting more than one conversation -- without, apparently, any criticism of the first article; but that's my speculation.)  At any rate, Duran apparently absolved him of legal wrongdoing after the amendments.]

[Hall blamed the filings that mentioned payments to himself on "the girl who filled out my forms for me," saying that she was new and made mistakes.  That seems unlikely; and the filings persisted through several amendments, and correction was only made after the election and after earlier amendments (including Nov. 17 and Nov. 21] didn't make the change When he amend again on November 22, some put in entries claiming the payments to Cottom were reimbursements for expenses she'd paid.  But with other entries, there was no such change.  For example, the October 4 and 5 entries originally had payments of $500 (10/4) and $465 (10/5) to Hall and Cottom for "Campaign Work" (which at $25/hr. would have been 16 hours, or 8 apiece, of going from house to house campaigning).  The final amendment eliminates mention of Hall, keeps the amounts the same, and replaces "Campaign Work" with "Door-to-Door Advertising."  Unlike the 10/2 entry, for going door-to-door in Deming, where the entry switched from paying them both for "campaign work" to paying her but included the notes "Campaign Forum" and "paid to helpers," the 10/4 and 10/5 entries have the campaign paying her for going door-to-door  -- for 16 hours on the 5th and a little more than 12 on the 4th.  And the mention of the "forum" adds a new mystery.  The earlier entry seems to be paying him, in part, for attending the campaign forum.  But now with him out of the payment picture, the amount is the same, and part of what the campaign is paying for is her attendance at the forum.  A further amendment might be in order.

"The girl wasn't experienced and made mistakes" sounds a little like "the dog ate my homework"  -- or, as one of Grant and Tenya's grandkids had it on a T-shirt yesterday, "the unicorn ate my homework" -- and if I'd been employed at the secretary of state's office in 2014, I might have suggested an investigation. note: see below for images of the actual entries mentioned]

[He seems also to be lying either when he says he owns Sierra Blanca Construction or when he denies that!
In a 2018 candidate profile in the Albuquerque Journal, Hall says he "owned and operated a construction business for 40 years."  I think he's said that elsewhere.  And it seems probable: three construction companies, including Sierra Blanca, list as addresses either his residence or another address he's associated with.  (The other two are or were Hall Brothers Development, Inc. and ABC Building Corporation.)  To me, when I asked about Sierra Blanca's lien and bankruptcy, he said it wasn't his company, he was just the required "licensed contractor" associated with the business.  (His late wife was listed as the President and his daughter as the Secretary, I think.  He was not listed in the filings I saw.)   Without his years with Sierra Blanca Construction it's not clear how he'd have 40 years owning and operating a construction business. 
But maybe he lent his name to his wife's business, and worked for her a little, but also owned and operated something else for some of those years.]

2014 Second General Report -- October version

2014 Second General Report -- November 22 version