Sunday, July 24, 2016

Black Lives and Blue Lives Matter; Plagiarism a Small Symbol of Problems in Trump's Campaign; and Other Reflections

Some reflections on recent events. 

The Republican Convention's first night reminded me of a B-movie in which a businessman gets nominated for president. Trump and his wife looked the parts, but B-pictures rarely had top stars. Mr. and Mrs. Trump were a little wooden. Not quite convincing.

Melania's plagiarism of Michelle Obama ain't no big thing; but it's typical of Trump's sloppy campaign. Most of us would have had the speech vetted by speechwriters and lawyers; but Trump knows better. What Trump does must be right. Campaign vehemently denies plagiarism, then blames speechwriter, who falls on her sword. She says Melania, who admires Michelle, read her the words over the phone, and she didn't check to be sure they weren't Michelle's exact words; but when she hands the speech to Melania, why doesn't Melania notice how exactly the speech tracks Michelle's words? 

Someone called introducing VP and wife “layups.” Trump missed one and committed a foul on the second.

I was sorry to hear Undersheriff Eddie Lerma resigned. Several DASO officers told me they were sorry to hear it too. According to them, Lerma was kind of sorry too. They say Lerma was surprised to hear from Sheriff Vigil that he had resigned, mostly because he hadn't. 

Moving on: there is no excuse for assassinating police officers. No sane person would do it. No sensible person would defend it.

Black lives matter. Should be obvious, but needs saying because our society doesn't quite seem to realize it. 

Blue lives matter. Also obvious, but people forget it. Police shooting of young blacks help people forget that blue lives matter, particularly when too many of those shootings seem indefensible. But blue lives matter.

Most obviously all lives matter. People shouting black lives matter don't mean other lives don't. But our society doesn't need reminding that white lives matter. We assume it. I hope the people shouting “blue lives matter” also know that all lives matter. They just don't get why many blacks hate police or why many whites mostly ignore cops when cops risk their lives daily and many of them truly want to serve. 

People shouting “All lives matter!” as if that solved the real problems others are pointing to, are clue-impaired.

We all need to to communicate better. Particularly police and black communities. How do we help that happen? 

Forty years ago in this town I was a young radical with long hair. One night I entered a house with two police officers, after neighbors called in a burglary-in-progress. Typical Cruces house: hallway with doors to bedrooms or bathrooms on both sides. At the end of the hall, on the left, a door opened. One cop jumped into a bedroom. I jumped into a bedroom. The lead cop had nowhere to go. He pointed his gun and shouted “Freeze!” as a tall Hispanic man emerged. 

Turned out the guy was a friend of the absent homeowners. The neighbors hadn't known he would be staying there. He'd been napping. Fortunately he quietly raised his hands. Startled out of sleep, he could have made some sudden move. I realized how easily the cop might have shot him, and that I'd probably be testifying for the cop. The cop realized the same thing. He was literally shaking as he spoke softly of what might so easily have happened. 

We could try not judging people nearly so much.

We can implement good ideas, positive steps for our community. Such as the detention center citizens advisory committee? Good idea. Commissioners liked it. Sank like a stone in a pond.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 24 July, and will appear presently on the KRWG website, where my friend Algernon D'Ammassa has articulated some similar thoughts and feeling in a column urging us to unite Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter.]

[There's obviously a lot more to say about several of the topics I touch on above.  I mention one personal experience that helped me understand the challenges police face; but both before and after that I had many experiences that illustrate the extra challenges police pose for ethnic minorities (and political dissenters, sometimes).  Saw it in the South in the mid-'60's, where it was blatant racism and not limited to the police.  

But racism was never limited to the South; and it wasn't and isn't limited to police.  Rather, because police are on the front lines the racism shows up more often and more dramatically (and tragically).  I saw it in the late '60's in New York, where people stared when I was out with a black woman and where a black friend and I acted out little riffs (one of us pretending to be the other's servant) to mock or challenge people; I saw it in San Francisco, where my best friend in San Francisco, who was also one of the best lawyers in town, not only got stopped for being a big black man in a spiffy convertible but even had police come and question him when they saw him washing his car in his own driveway -- and when I watched a very white and conservative general partner in a law firm unconsciously start trying to imitate ghetto jive when he went over to that same friend at a party; and in D.C. in the 1990's, where a younger lawyer noticed that whites sometimes crossed the street at night just to avoid passing him on the sidewalk.   

These people weren't "racist" in the sense George Wallace of Strom Thurmond or David Duke was, where it was a passionate cause central to their existence; they were just, they would have said, being careful.  Prudent.   But it's that same instinct (encouraged, yes, by the fact that young black men are disproportionately represented both among killers of police and among victims of police shootings) that too often leads a cop to pull his gun and use it a lot more quickly with a black citizen than with a white citizen.]

[As to Trump's campaign, I agree with the Washington Post, which recently editorialized that Trump (regardless of ideology, of which he has none except growing the Trump brand) poses a danger unique among Presidential candidates because of his pathological narcissism.  A friend at the market asked me what I thought a Trump Presidency would be like, and I replied that the danger is, we don't know.  Trump has been on both sides of most issues, has rarely if ever read a book, has no real "center" as a man or a politician.  But we do know he has lied pathologically, about everything from his father's ethnicity (claiming Swedish when the truth was German) and his wife's education (degree in design, when she apparently attended a few first-year college classes) to his own career (downplaying the fact that his father gave him $7 million -- real money back then -- to start with and then bailed him out repeatedly and co-signed the loans for his first big project; when Trump and his siblings sold just some of his father's real estate holdings in New York a few years after Fred Trump died, that brought in nearly a half billion dollars).  Sure, Hillary has changed her position on some issues, as most politicians (and most people, if they keep learning as they mature) have done; but Trump has no real positions.

So Melania Trump's plagiarism, small in itself and not terribly unusual fits right in; but the fact that no one caught it is telling.  "An error like the one Melania Trump committed last night tells us that the Trump campaign lacks seriousness and structure, which is also demonstrated by its divisive style, weak ground game, and poor fund-raising numbers," commented Michael Gerson, formerly George W. Bush's chief speechwriter.

Above all, try to read by the man who wrote The Art of the Deal for him.  Jane Mayer's piece on Trump in the latest New Yorker issue, including a detailed interview of the man who wrote The Art of the Deal for Trump.  It rings very true.]

We can implement good ideas, positive steps for our community. Such as the detention center citizens advisory committee? Good idea. Commissioners liked it. Sank like a stone in a pond.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Minimum Wage Redux

The first stage of the local minimum-wage hike has not created the disaster opponents predicted.

The petition-mandated ordinance called for an initial raise from New Mexico's $7.50 to $8.40, then in two more stages to $10.10. To soften the impact on businesses, the Las Cruces City Council stretched out the process, so that the minimum wage rises again in January 2017, then to $10.10 January 1, 2019. 

Whether that amendment was wise or unwise, it violated the City Charter, which required the council to pass the ordinance unchanged or let all citizens vote on it.

The Council also directed a July 2016 “interim report,” and received it Monday.

City figures tended to show growth in the GRT (independent of rate hikes) and building-permit values. The figures did not purport to be precise, or to separate out different causes and effects. Critics said that there was more growth in El Paso than here (implying that our higher minimum-wage hindered Las Cruces) and that $8.40 is below the $8.50 the business community proposed in a belated compromise effort during the petition/initiative process. Pic Quik owner Oscar Andrade predicted many small businesses will go under next year because of the minimum-wage hike.

The vast majority of those speaking to the council on Monday praised the hike and urged the Council to “stay the course.” The council heard sometimes moving testimony from low-income workers whose lives the wage hike has improved. One anonymous server, whose letter was read by a retired minister, said that since she's now getting a small weekly check to supplement her tip income, she can take her kids to the swimming pool and even buy each an ice cream cone.

I'm no economist. I thought the protestations in 2014 were exaggerated, and I hope they are now; but we shouldn't lose sight of the value local business owners create. Although they often get well rewarded for owning a business, they create jobs and provide some appealing features of local life. (Where would I be without Milagros, Spirit Winds, Toucan, the Mountainview Market Co+op, Coas, Caliches, Mascitelli's, Al's, The Big Picture, Habañeros, La Nueva Casita, Cafe de Mesilla, a host of Farmers' Market vendors, and other local businesses?) Further, when people are collecting donations on behalf of non-profits or causes, many visit local businesses, and some business-owners give generously.

Unfortunately, some local businesses also funded the vicious and misleading campaign to recall city councilors who tried to follow the city charter on minimum-wage. Those businesses deserved to face negative consequences; we are all, myself included, either too forgiving or too lazy for our own good; but then, it is a small community. We can hope some of the recall advocates learned from the defeat of that effort and the (admittedly narrow) success of progressive candidates in the 2016 election. Minimum-wage was a discussion point, and the candidates who were more enthusiastic about raising it tended to prevail.

I hope businesses will back off from supporting reactionary and divisive local candidates. (Another campaign as vicious as the recall effort would deepen the political chasm. Many of us would no longer be able to find a bridge to local businesses that supported such efforts.)

But I also hope those of us with more progressive views won't write off such local businesses prematurely.

For the moment, congratulations to CAFé and the volunteers who gathered signatures, and to the councilors who followed the City Charter. It's hard not to be moved by the expressions of gratitude we heard Monday. 
Together, I hope we can keep all the expressed fears from coming true.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 17 July 2016, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website.]

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Guns and Dialogue

Tuesday's raucous city council meeting highlighted two problems: we need to decrease gun-deaths in the U.S. and that it's hard to have an honest dialogue.

Both sides seem dug in. One woman said that the opposition was “demonizing us gun owners,” and other speakers promptly demonized the “liberals and progressives who want to take our guns away.” Most on both sides seemed sincere. Not many recognized the sincerity of opposing speakers.

Compared to other prominent nations, the U.S. has way more guns and way more gun deaths. The gun-death epidemic ain't cool. But reasonable people can differ on how big a causal factor large numbers of guns are, what corrective actions might decrease the deaths, and how those actions do or do not square with the Second Amendment.

Both sides offered slogans; but there was no chance to go further, to ask probing questions, to allow each side to speak more deeply and meaningfully. Perhaps people of good will might even learn something. 

None of us knows it all. I sure don't. I'm ill-equipped to spot flaws in the various proposals. 

I'd love to see a local task force of people who also don't know everything, but at least know different somethings. If we can take reasonable steps that would decrease gun-deaths, we should. Those need to be both practical/sensible and legal/constitutional. Taking away everyone's guns is not the goal. Aside from whether it would be right or Constitutional, it ain't gonna happen. Prohibition of alcohol and the war on drugs haven't worked. 

It's time to unite the deep concern people have on this issue with the knowledge serious gun owners have.

The city passed a resolution, not an ordinance, urging the State to act to close a loophole in laws requiring background checks, which most of us accept the need for. It has no legal force. If the State acts, the action will not solve the problem. It may help a little.

Tuesday, I was particularly annoyed at the NRA. Sincere and angry people, who fear everyone else wants to take away their guns, delivered and appeared to believe NRA lines that simply aren't true.
One repeated, “Switzerland requires every man to own a gun.” Ain't true. (On my blog, I'll provide links to sources.) Most Swiss men do serve in the army; and the army issues guns, which may be kept at home. In earlier times, fearing a sudden invasion by a larger neighbor, the Swiss required soldiers to be ready to fight their way from home to wherever. But today Switzerland requires gun permits and forbids privately-owned automatic weapons. The “requires everybody” story is false. So is the assumption that what works for a unified little nation such as Switzerland would necessarily work here. Yet there likely are lessons we could learn from the Swiss. 

One local Tea Party leader called consideration of the resolution an illegal ploy to “take away our sacred right” to trade, buy, and sell weapons.

There is no “sacred” right. Jesus never promised unrestricted use of weapons, and never made them “sacred.” There is a constitutional right, the precise nature of which – as with all legal matters – judges and scholars interpret in varied ways.

There's a constitutional right to travel state-to-state, although I damned near have to strip to exercise it. Even freedom of speech gets regulated around the edges. And freedom to pursue happiness doesn't permit you to do drugs that make you happy, or steal your neighbor's TV.

We share this wonderful corner of the Earth, so let's keep talking to each other – and listening.

[The above column appeared this morning in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 9 July, and will presently appear on the newspaper's website (under Opinion: Real Dialogue Needed) and KRWG-TV's website (under News --> Local Viewpoints).]

[A lot happened after I wrote this!  The week included two very publicized shooting of black men by police and the assassination of five Dallas police officers by a black man angry about those shootings. Obviously these were all tragedies.  There is no justification at all of the Dallas murders; the police shootings strongly appear unjustified, pending further investigation.  The obvious fear is that both police and young black men will fear and distrust each other even more deeply -- with some good reasons and some bad on both sides -- and act unwisely.   The obvious need is for enhanced communication and understanding.  Police need even more training, and better understanding of young black men and black ways; and communities need to recognize that police have a tough and dangerous job requiring split-second decisions without full information.  How do we make that happen?]

[One thing left unclear after the City Council meeting was this: Greg Smith and Ceil Levatino sought to delay the vote so that there could be fuller community discussion, and Mayor Miyagashima and the other councilors also seemed to favor further discussion.  My perhaps mistaken impression was that although they had voted on the resolution, they'd also called for further discussion at a work session.  Although Greg Smith's reference to a possible "consensus" is so optimistic as to be nonsensical, I think we all believe that progress locally can only come from further and more meaningful dialogue.  Even if no further "rules" result, which is most likely, the meeting described in the column proves how much gun owners and gun control advocates, generally, need to understand each other better.  That doesn't have to be through a city work session, and there are likely better venues (perhaps including a Great Conversation); but it needs to happen.]

[The column mentions the gun industry's misleading attempt to justify lax gun control by arguing that Switzerland "requires all men to own guns" and has a very low homicide rate.  This site asks whether the gun industry's comments about Switzerland are fact or myth, noting that in fact Swiss gun regulations are pretty strict.  This is Wikipedia's article on the Swiss and guns , which is fairly detailed.   There's also this Time Magazine piece on the Swiss gun culture.  The fact that the gun industry misstates the facts about Switzerland doesn't mean that we might not learn from the Swiss example.  Unfortunately, it wouldn't be easy to transport Swiss rules and norms from a small, homogenous, European nation with a culture of "community before individual" to a sprawling, heterogenous nation that emphasizes Individualism above all. 

Another misleading use of Switzerland that we see after nearly every shooting tragedy is the  comparison of Switzerland and Honduras which notes that each has about 8.2 million people, but the Swiss, with more guns, have fewer gun deaths -- ignoring that one is a wealthy European country surrounded by peaceful neighbors while the other is on a drug-running route.  The comparison claims the Swiss require gun ownership while the Hondurans ban guns, yet Honduras has the world's highest homicide rate and Switzerland the lowest.]

Sunday, July 3, 2016

City Fights IPRA Lawsuit

Las Cruces City Government has refused to let Heath Haussamen inspect city manager applications. Under the Inspection of Public Records Act, does it have a legal leg to stand on?

Not that I can see.

Numerous New Mexico cases stress that guaranteeing public access to public records is essential in a democracy because the integrity of elections depends on an informed public. Providing such access is “an essential function” of government entities. Courts interpret IPRA broadly, to prioritize openness in government.

Two cases seem particularly relevant here: City of Farmington v. The Daily Times and Toomey v. Truth or Consequences.

Farmington concerned whether the municipality could withhold city manager applications. The court said, “No!” The court noted that if the applications weren't available, the public would have to accept officials' claims that they acted appropriately. “In this Court’s opinion, New Mexico’s policy of open government is intended to protect the public from having to rely solely on the representations of public officials that they have acted appropriately.”

Toomey concerned videotapes a third-party under a city contract made of city council meetings. Plaintiff served an IPRA request. Defendants denied it, saying the videos were in the hands of a third-party, not the city. The court essentially said that was nonsense. Public records couldn't be hidden from the public by such a dodge. Not everything a contractor ever does for a city is a public record. For example, an architectural firm's internal calculations and communications about a project it's hired to design for a city wouldn't be public records. Where the third-party is performing a governmental function, however, the documents are public records. A private entity that “contracts with the city to perform a public function is subject to IPRA.” 

What could be more clearly a governmental function than assessing applicants for the city manager position? 

Farmington makes clear that the applications are public records. Toomey shows that using a private consultant shouldn't change that fact. As the Court of Appeals said, “the dispositive question is whether the recordings of the City meetings were made on behalf of the City so as to constitute public records within the meaning of IPRA.”

Toomey adopted a nine-factor test for courts to use in deciding such issues.  The City, in its Response filed Thursday, argues that the “totality of factors” test supports the City here. The City notes that only some of the nine factors help Heath. But those are the most critical. (See my blog post today for further discussion.)

Full disclosure: I'm a strong believer in IPRA and I'm currently litigating an IPRA case, though not against the city and not about manager applications.

I recognize the reasons Cruces or NMSU would wish to withhold applications from prospective managers or football coaches. Almost all of those applicants are already managers or coaches (or assistants) somewhere else. Some will feel freer to apply for a new job if they can keep their current employers in the dark until they know they're leaving. 

There are often reasons officials want to keep public documents from view. Sometimes good reasons. Our Legislature has set the rules: except in certain narrow areas (such as attorney-client communications, personnel files containing opinions, ong oing investigation records that could reveal a confidential source or method) it's more important for a democracy's population to see public documents. 
That's the law.  I'm familiar with the cases; and a quick look at the Response suggests it's a game try but shouldn't prevail. 
If the Councilors want us to obey city ordinances, they oughtta set a good example.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 3 July 2016, and should appear presently on the newspaper's website (under "Opinion") and on the KRWG-TV website (under News-->Local Viewpoints).  I welcome questions criticism, and other civil responses here or on those sites.]

[I wrote this column because it seemed time to write it.  Then I realized the City's Response was due Friday.  I went with the column anyway, figuring that I could use this blog post to make observations concerning the City's Response. (I also had not read the Petitioner's (Heath's) Petition for Writ of Mandate prior to drafting the column.  Still haven't.)]

[The column mentions the nine-factor test stated in Toomey v. Truth or Consequences, adapted from one enunciated by Florida's Supreme Court in a Florida public records law case.  The nine factors are:
1) the level of public funding;
2) commingling of funds;
3) whether the activity was conducted on publicly owned property;
4) whether the services contracted for are an integral part of the public agency's chosen decision-making process;
5) whether the private entity is performing a governmenta function or a function which the public agency otherwise would perform;
6) the extent of the public agency's involvement with, regulation of, or control over the private entity;
7) whether the private entity was created by the public agency;
8) whether the public agency has a substantial financial interest in the private entity; and
9) for whose benefit the private entity is functioning.]

[My first reaction to the present case was that the Court of Appeals would have little trouble ordering the City to turn over the applications.  First of all, the surrounding discussion makes clear that if the private entity is performing a truly governmental function, that's the basic issue.   The court says so.
Applying the nine-factor test:  (1) the work of reviewing applications and dealing with applicants for Las Cruces City Manager was certainly paid for by Las Cruces;  (4) the services would seem integral to the decision-making process selecting a new city manager; (5) recruiting and evaluating applicants seeking to be the City Council's sole employee would sure seem "a governmental function or a function which the City would otherwise perform; and (9) the Mercer was doing this work for the benefit of the City, although one could equally say Mercer was doing this work to make a profit.
I assumed there'd be (2) no commingling of funds; I didn't know (3) how much of the activity was conducted on City property; (6) control and regulation would seem a push, in that while the City wouldn't micromanage Mercer's work, the City undoubtedly gave Mercer some direction and standards and could have terminated the Mercer contract for cause if it didn't like something; and the City (7) certainly didn't create Mercer and (8) has no financial interest in Mercer.

Thus three factors (the most important ones) support finding these are public records, and three are pretty inconclusive, while the City's best arguments are that it didn't create Mercer, and has no financial interest in Mercer, and much of the work  was done elsewhere.

Where it's so clear that this is a public function, a key part of the making of an important public decision, the documents related to that likely will be found to be public records.  (By contrast, if Heath were asking for Mercer's profit and loss statement or a list of other accounts it had handled, those likely would not be public documents unless they'd been given to city officials.)  It would be hard to read the full decision (not just the list of nine factors) and not conclude the Court of Appeals is likely to hold that these applications are public documents.  For one thing, the discussion emphasizes the public function / public decision point, not whether there was commingling of funds.  I'd guess some of those factors are there to help guide the court in a closer case, not involving such a key public function as choosing a city manager.  But I guess we'll see.

Basically: the City has stressed that unlike many other entities involved in these cases, Mercer is not a creature of the public entity it is performing work for.  But where that work is such basic public work the court should conclude that the requested documents are public too.  City residents paid for the work and will be affected by that work, and deserve to be able to see the documents.  That's the overriding theme and mandate of IPRA. As the Toomey court stressed, "We emphasize, however, that IPRA should be construed broadly to effectuate its purposes, and courts should avoid narrow definitions that would defeat the intent of the Legislature" because "access to information concerning the affairs of the government is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state."

Also public, although I don't know that Heath asked for them, would be contracts and correspondence showing how the City came to hire Mercer to do this work, what we are paying for it, and what guidelines were given Mercer. ]

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Lawsuit and a Candidacy for County Commission

A young man with a trailer full of hay rams his truck into a metal barrier protecting the gas pumps at a Las Cruces Pic Quik. Doing very little damage.

Pic Quik reports the incident to the police. The young man sues Pic Quik for $10,000, claiming that the manager ran out, tried to batter him, and chased him off the property. He also sues for defamation, saying Pic Quik lied in telling police he left without providing contact information. 

Unfortunately for the young man, Pic Quik's four video cameras tell another story. Video shows that after strikng the metal bar, he gets out to look at the damage, then gets back into the truck. An employee approaches and stands near the truck's passenger-side window for about four seconds before the young man drives away. No one chases him around or tries to batter him. The video doesn't show any exchange of information.

Why should this crazy tale make an ocotillo seed's worth of difference? Maybe because the young man and plaintiff recently won the Republican primary for Doña Ana County Commissioner (District 4). His name is William Jarod Webb.

Not surprisingly, Pic Quik moved to toss the case out on summary judgment. (Meaning there ain't enough to the case to justify wasting public resources on a trial.) Webb reiterated that he'd given his contact information, but also argued that he'd been in a hurry. Judge Rossner held a hearing in which Pic Quik was ably represented by Raul Carrillo. Mr. Webb didn't show up. He lost. Later he indicated an intention to seek reconsideration, but he never filed any motion.

Based on the Pic Quik incident in January, and the resulting lawsuit, you might worry that maybe this guy shouldn't be out on the street by himself – let alone help run the county you live in.

But Webb's an interesting guy. He speaks several foreign languages and has a bachelor's degree from Baylor. He appears to have gotten an M.A. in business administration from the (in)famous University of Phoenix, attended Capital Law School for a semester, then started a masters of divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary, a Jerry Falwell creation that other chaplain schools tend to disparage.

You'd guess maybe Webb hasn't figured out what he wants to do. But he told the Sun-News, “I've been planning to enter politics since I was 16, when I started writing presidents and world leaders.” He also told the Sun-News he had no idea who the county manager was.

When I spoke with Mr. Webb this week, he didn't want to talk much about the Pic Quik case. He did say that he hadn't done enough damage to anything to worry about and didn't know “why they're making such a big deal out of this.” It's true, he did little damage to the barrier; but his bogus lawsuit cost Pic Quik whatever the Carillo Law Firm charges per hour. (Webb also didn't want to talk much about Donald Trump, beyond saying he supported the party's candidate.)

He's working hard on an economic development plan he'll share with us when it's finished, and said jobs are the key issue here. He particularly wants to streamline permit and rezoning processes because “county red tape” doesn't help draw businesses that could create jobs. 

He also said that building so many new residences without jobs for residents would lead to a housing glut. Another important issue, to a member of a farming family, is improving irrigation canals, either with a pipeline or by covering them to limit evaporation.

I'll be interested to see how Webb's campaign progresses.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, June 26th, and will appear presently on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website.   I welcome question question and criticisms here or there.]
[I initially drafted this based on the documents in  the court file, plus the video.  I didn't print it during the primary, figuring that Mr. Webb might not prevail in that, and this material isn't of public interest if it concerns a private citizen, not a candidate.  After Mr. Webb finally called me back, I softened the resulting column, because he seems a nice kid, despite this lawsuit; but the lawsuit wasn't something from long ago, in that the accident was in January 2016 and I think he filed the lawsuit in February; nor is it harmless: he may or may not have done more damage to the protective bar than I realized, but he surely damaged Pic Quik by forcing it to pay lawyers to defend a frivolous lawsuit, and they're after him now to recover those damages.]
[I didn't mention in the column that on February 12th Mr. Webb swore before a notary that he was a pauper, and should not have to pay for filing and serving his lawsuit.  Some might find that document as telling as the bogus lawsuit.  Not because poor people shouldn't run for the county commission; obviously I don't feel that way; but a man running on a conservative "fiscal responsibility" platform ought to be asked about the fact that his business failed six months ago (nine or ten months, now) and he's unemployed (though he may have a job now) and receives food stamps and medicaid.  None of that disqualifies him from holding office; but none of it really shouts "fiscal responsibility" at me, either.]
[Too, just a few months after that Affidavit he funded his primary campaign all by himself.   Maybe he had a good few months.  Not that he's spending Trumpish money, but according to official filings he donated $1500 to his campaign, recorded no other contributions during the primary, and spent $1200.  He donated the $1500 on May 10.
[How seriously to take all this is up to each voter.  Mr. Webb thinks it's private and shouldn't matter to his candidacy, and also says he's going to turn the Pic Quik case around and repair whatever damage it has done to his reputation.  He says the dismissal of his claim on summary judgment was unfair, and Friday he sent me a copy of a motion for reconsideration.  (I promised that if he successfully changes the result I'll try to give that equal play with this column.  I do not know whether or not he's filed the motion.)  I think that all of the foregoing is quite relevant to his campaign; but it might be fair to regard all this as raising questions, not providing answers.  Maybe he will create such an imaginative program or display other personal qualities that outweigh what I consider a real problem.]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflecting on Pulse and Omar

The nut case who slaughtered 50+ people in Orlando was out of control in his hatred of gay folks.

Donald Trump is very controlled in his ugly efforts to make political capital out of the tragedy. 

Omar Mateen shot up a LGBT night club. He apparently also “pledged allegiance to ISIS.” Tragic and wrong? Of course! Directed by ISIS? Almost certainly not. 

ISIS will try to aggrandize itself by claiming responsibility. ISIS claims to be the grand Caliphate, and seeks the loyalty of all Muslims. ISIS wants people to see the world as a war between Muslims and the rest of us, even though ISIS has killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. Trump, screaming for President Obama to call out “radical Islam,” can only help ISIS.

We are not at war with Muslims. We wouldn't declare war on fundamentalist Christians because one massacred people at a women's health clinic and others have killed doctors who perform abortions. If this had been a Christian fundamentalist, mortified by LGBT joy, we wouldn't shoot up a church or ban foreign Christians. Or engage in false rhetoric that could encourage others to do so.

In today's world some number of people go crazy, or are too filled with hatred and anger to continue living a “normal” life. In this country, these folks have far easier access to automatic weapons than elsewhere, and we should correct that, but THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Right now, Many of these nut cases are Muslim, but THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

These people are encouraged by, or get ideas from, others full of hatred and prejudice who shout that the infidels or the heretics or the Christians or the Muslims or the blacks or the Jews or the LGBT community are the Enemy. 

Most Muslims do not consider ISIS's ravings or sadistic conduct to represent Islam. 

Should we help eradicate ISIS as a violent, destructive force in the world? Yes. ISIS harms many in the Middle East, and would harm us if it could. 

Should a person be able to buy an AR-15 when the fancy strikes? No. When a lone nut-case, whatever his religion or nationality, goes wacko, we'd be better off if he didn't have an automatic weapon. 

To fight ISIS, we should understand it. ISIS collects troubled youths who feel unimportant. They join for the same reason city kids join gangs. Does that suggest more promising tactics than accepting ISIS's claim we're warring on Muslims? 

Political “leaders” shouldn't encourage fear for political advantage. Almost all American Muslims are appalled by this tragedy. Many are more appalled than their Christian or Jewish or atheistic neighbors because their own religion was abused by this nut-case and because many of their children will face hostility in school.

ISIS would kill Muslims who do not kneel to the Caliphate at least as readily as it would kill Christians. If we are under attack, we are ALL under attack. We must not let fear make us throw under the bus our democratic traditions and our pride in being a nation of immigrants. 

Interestingly, Mateen didn't just wander into that club. He drank there for years; and a former classmate says Mateen hung out in gay clubs ten years ago. 

We should all look inward. Not only Trump (who brags about the size of his penis and has used women as showpieces since his teens) but all of us. What do fathers like Mateen's, loathing gays, do to their sons? Did others' judgments of Mateen help create a monster? And could our hateful rhetoric inspire another?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 19 June, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website I welcome comments and criticism here or there Below, I elaborate on two points: why Trump's comments are wrong-headed and dangerous; and Omar Mateen's apparent mind-set.]

[Let's Not Do ISIL's Recruiting for It:
Just after sending this column in, I listened to a five-minute video of President Obama making one point more clearly and eloquently than I could.
He addressed directly the criticism that he hasn't use the phrase "radical Islam" -- calling it a "red herring," a "distraction," and "a political talking point."  He called the ISIL's views "a twisted interpretation of one of the world's great religions," and mocked the "Why don't you shout 'radical Islam'?" line as "a political talking point," adding it had "No military value" and that no military advisers were telling him "If we could only use that phrase we could really turn this thing around.
The central point is that "groups like ISIL want to make this a war between Islam and the U.S.  They claim to be the true leaders of millions who reject their crazy notions.  The claim that they speak for Islam.  That's their propaganda, that's how they recruit.  If we fall into their trap and somehow imply we're at war against all Muslims, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them."
This morning [Sunday] a New York Times news story illustrates the point.  Brigadier-General Hadi Razaij was the highest-ranking Sunni police officer in the recent offensive that took back some territory in Falluja from ISIL.  His brother is in a cell, accused of being part of ISIL -- and probably was, because he was arrested at a checkpoint with a car full of explosives.  The writers interviewed an Iraqi farmer who said of his brother had gotten involved with ISIL: "The Sunni youth, among them my brother, were caught up in the swirl of sectarian tensions." The farmer added that at the time the movement felt like a tribal revolution against oppression, but then it was quickly subsumed by the Islamic State.
This brother-against-brother battling underlines the fact that (as I try to articulate in the column) youth join ISIL for a variety of reasons, often because they are jobless and overlooked but also because, where Sunnis and Shias share a "country" with artificial borders drawn for the convenience of the British, there are tensions, and misconduct by each side, that could make it hard to know what to do.  Further, we invaded Iraq.  Whether our government's motive was oil or deposing a dictator or enriching Halliburton and Dick Cheney, we looked like invaders to a lot of people.  Invaders renewing a centuries-old Christian-versus-Muslim battle.  Why should we deepen the misunderstanding, and drive everyday Muslims into the arms of groups like ISIL?   
These are the kinds of subtleties Trump ignores, at least in his public pronouncements.

Trump's comments have aroused anger, even among Republicans.  See, for example:Bill O'Reilly advocates some sensible gun restrictions; A brief video in which prominent Republicans comment on Trump's comments; and This story lists several Republicans appalled by Trump's comments
Then Thursday Trump told Republican Congressional leaders to shut up.  “Our leaders have to get a lot tougher, and be quiet. Just please be quiet,” Trump said. “Don’t talk. Please, be quiet. Just be quiet, . . . we have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself.” Reportedly during Ryan’s Thursday press briefing, the House Speaker was asked if he would ever rescind his endorsement of Trump. Ryan noticeably did not rule out the possibility.  He said only, “That’s not my plan. I don’t have a plan to do that.”  A far cry from "Hell, no!"]
[Trying to See Omar Mateen:
Since I sent in this column, His wife's comments  and other stories have tended to support the view that this guy acted out of a very personal anger, spawned by confusion and embarrassment over his own sexuality, and dressed it up as ideology by pledging allegiance to ISIS.  Die as a hero rather than as a pathetic and uncertain young man.  His apparent inability to distinguish ISIS from its enemies adds a little support to that view -- but that view can also be a stereotype.
Thursday I spoke with a friend who happens to be both Muslim and gay, a rare combination.  We were meeting about something else, but as we parted I asked him his thoughts on Mateen.  He noted Mateen's autocratic and strongly Muslim father, and said Mateen "was almost certainly angry at those people, because it was so much easier for them to come out than it was for him.  He had to hide who he was from his family." 
"Is that what you did?" I asked.
"Absolutely.  That's all I did.  Hide who I was.  And when you repress those kinds of raw emotions, they're going to explode eventually, somehow."
We'll never know the truth; but the rush to see this massacre as ordered by ISIL or even motivated primarily by Muslim faith or anti-U.S. political views seems an oversimplification -- perhaps typical of the way propaganda and war fever affect us.] 

[One further thought, or caution: I don't mean to dismiss the likelihood that political or religious fever was prominent in the swirling emotions that led Mateen to do what he did.  He was undoubtedly on the FBI watch list for a reason.  A friend had gone to join a group (not ISIL, but a rival) and I think died as a suicide bomber.  But it sure looks as if he had other and deeper concerns.  He didn't measure up to his family's expectations, or to his friend's "heroism," and was a short-tempered, often violent fellow to begin with.]

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Trump's Neediness - Strength and Weakness

The real significance of Trump's comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel isn't the racism but the stupidity: his wild remarks are a clear message to reluctant Republican supporters: “I ain't gonna get more Presidential.”

The Indiana-born Curiel was a long-time prosecutor fighting drug cartels; even Trump's lawyer said Curiel (who postponed the fraud trial till after the election) is being fair. (The National Review reviewed Curiel's record.) Saying Curiel wouldn't be able to judge fairly (or recuse himself) because of Trump's remarks about building a wall was insulting. Judges deal with jerks daily, and try to deal fairly; and they frequently recuse themselves.

Trump says Curiel can't get over Trump's anti-Hispanic remarks, but that “I'm doing really well with Mexican-Americans.” If numerous Mexican-Americans support Trump despite his remarks (as he insists they do), why should Judge Curiel be too offended to do his job?

Trump is boorish and bullying. He's rarely in the same zip code as Truth. A nonpartisan site gave him a 76% “pants-on-fire” rating, to Hillary's 29%. 

Why is Trump where he is?

Two reasons are: that journalists' commitment to objectivity paralyzes them when one candidate spouts absurdities or has a poor record; and that Trump shouts “I'm angry.” So are most voters. (Too, the Republican competition was both numerous – 16 at one point, was it? -- and weak: Republican senators can't stand Cruz, Rubio looked about 12, and Bush needed to see the Wizard about a personality.)

In 2000: Al Gore was a serious man with a serious record and experience; George Bush had done little but fail in business (repeatedly bailed out by folks like the Government of Bahrain that wanted favors from his father) and be president of a baseball club on the strict condition, (imposed by the wealthy family friend who owned the club) that while Georgie could sit in the great seat and glad-hand the fans, he could have nothing to do with any business decisions. Newsfolk seemed to feel as if mentioning the extreme disparity would look biased. Bush got close enough to winning that the Republican Supreme Court could steal the election.

Anger? The system is failing most of us; we've been sliding back into extreme inequality and a deck stacked against us. People are rightfully angry. Trump (a rich guy) acts angry, and people figure “at least he'll shake things up,” as one Tea Party friend said recently.

(How do conservative Christians rationalize their support of Trump? They loathe Obama, who's a great father, faithful in marriage, and a compassionate Christian, but support Trump, who's record features adultery, divorce, greed, and bankruptcies. That's inescapably inconsistent. “Yes, but God uses people for His own purposes. He used a drunk, Churchill, to save England.” I don't know how they know God supports Trump, but you can't argue with Him!)

A great column by Matt Bai suggests another explanation: Trump's desperate neediness. Bai notes that when Trump was going to leave Queens and do business in Manhattan, his father said, “Don't! That's not for us. They'll never accept us.” Trump never felt accepted by the New York elite, and constantly compensates by overdoing and overpromising. (Bai likens recent Republican Trump supporters to someone marrying the person s/he hopes the spouse can become. Disappointment is likely.)

Like Bai, I thought Trump – an experienced performer – would start acting more Presidential. The Curiel incident shows he can't.

Maybe Trump's insecurity explains much of Trump's support: many people feel out-of-place or disrespected by some elite, and resent it. Trump builds huge towers with his name on them. He's doing what they wish they could.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 12 June, and will appear on the KRWG-TV website presently.  I welcome comments or questions here or elsewhere.]

[I found the Bai column (The Black Hole within Donald Trump) interesting, obviously.  Trump's apparent narcissistic personality disorder had also gotten some play.  It's a personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, an expectation that others will recognize one's superiority, a lack of empathy, lack of truthfulness, and the tendency to degrade others.  Sound like  anyone we know?  
This morning as I posted this I also read Is Donald Trump Really a Narcicist? - Therapists Weigh In .  Their willingness to weigh in at all suggests their deep concern about the damage he could do as President; and as a word of caution, note that some psychologists unwisely opined in 1964 about Barry Goldwater's fitness to be President.  Goldwater was dangerous, but I never saw any evidence that he was psychologically unfit.  With Trump, the signs are so obvious that one expert who lectures on the problem is taping Trump's performances.  "Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes.  He's like a dream come true."   Further, clinician's willingness to talk about Trump (who is also litigious) in light of the Goldwater incident means they're extraordinarily confident in what they're saying.]

[Trump's witless and racist comments on the judge appear doubly stupid because Trump's own lawyer said the judge is doing a good job; and even Trump's Republican supporters such as Newt Gingrich are gagging over Trump's remarks, while a Texas Congressman named Filemon Vela wrote that Trump should put his border wall where the sun don't shine.  An interesting sidelight on the Trump University fraud case is that while New York's attorney-general is pursuing it, as are private plaintiffs, Florida's AG unethically solicited a campaign contribution from Trump, announced Florida would join the fraud suit, then received the campaign contribution and announced Florida would not join the suit, while the Texas AG dropped the suit then got a healthy contribution from Trump when he ran for governor three years later.]

[For anyone who sees Trump as a good businessman, I'd recommend reading the facts in the New York Times' story How Trump Bankrupted his Atlantic City Casinos but Still Made Millions or the Gannett News Network piece, on how Trump cheated and bullied and lied to people who worked for him/ .]  He's certainly a selfish businessman, and a freedy one, and -- in terms of his business, not himself -- not a highly successful or honest one.]

[The Trump candidacy is a sad turn of events.  "The party of Lincoln" running a loudmouthed racist.  It may bring some good, though: it might help Merrie Lee Soules unseat Steve Pearce.]

A word on the title I gave this post: Bill Clinton was a great example of a political phenomenon: his almost pathological desire to be liked, and to be reassured as to his worthiness, was both his great strength and his great weakness: it both caused him to appeal brilliantly to citizens and to stupidly seek reassurance screwing interns.  (Liking women is one thing, and I'm not condemning sexual activity; but risking so much for such a limited kind of sexual contact as Clinton apparently had with Ms. Lewinsky seems more a symptom than anything else.  But Clinton also did much good and made people like him instinctivelyTrump's apparent illness is different.  He is so little under control, or so deeply needy, that he can't even make folks like him.  They'll support him, because he articulates resentments and anger they themselves feel or because they dislike our political system enough to support anyone who shouts loudly enough; but he's so little liked that, as noted in the column, many of his Christian supporters need to suppose God is using Trump for God's purposes.]