Sunday, September 27, 2020

Our Supreme Court's Crumbling Credibility

Many Supreme Court justices have been appointed in the final year of a Presidential term, including Anthony Kennedy in 1988 by Ronald Reagan with a Democratic Senate majority.

In January 2016, Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a widely respected moderate judge. Republican Senate leadership refused even to bring Garland’s name to a vote. The excuse was the presidential election ten months away, which Republicans said should decide which party could nominate a new justice. Sen. Lindsey Graham said the Republicans would do the same in 2020, if a Republican president were completing his term and a Supreme Court seat came open. Democrats complained, but were powerless.

The Republicans’ action was unprecedented. Further, their rationale was fatuous. If a party’s senators may go on strike for the last year of the term of another party’s president, why not the last two years? Or three? One party could simply freeze the other out of the Supreme Court Justice appointing business.

The Republicans have acted lawfully, but unwisely. This can’t end well. I don’t approve of the Republican leadership’s power grab in 2016, or the current hypocrisy in rushing Trump’s nominee through. I don’t like what the Democrats may feel compelled to do in response. Court-packing has a bad name, but Congress could do it. The Constitution doesn’t set the number of justices (initially six). Dems could create a 15-member supreme court; then some day the Republicans could up that to 21.

The Constitution doesn’t call for parties. One could reasonably argue we’d be better off without ‘em. But after Republicans have used Russian help and unprecedented tactics to create a Court out of step with voters, it’d be hard not to take lawful corrective measures.

The Republicans have weakened the Court. Our forefathers founded a country of laws, which works only so long as citizens trust that laws are enforced fairly. That’s what the black robes and formalities are for. Justice is blind to color, faith, or politics. Although no judge can be completely neutral, our system depends on approaching that ideal as nearly as we can. Many justices were approved by acclamation. But now, increasingly, the question is not the candidate’s experience, sagacity, and judicial chops, but her party loyalty and position on abortion. We may get a nominee with just three years on the bench, and who wasn’t primarily a trial lawyer. But she’s indicated she’ll place her political beliefs above legal precedents.

And what of our democracy? Trump has broken laws and destroyed many safeguards against a corrupt dictatorship. He’s fired inspectors general (positions created by both parties as watchdogs for corruption and misconduct), and this week replaced one neutral IG with an aide to Trump-worshiping far-right Congressman Nunes. Republicans are using various tricks to decrease the vote count among people of color. Trumpist lawyers will wage an incredible fight, on the least excuse, to overturn an adverse result. Now Trump refuses to say he’ll leave the White House voluntarily if he loses.

In 2000, Republican justices bowed to party loyalty in Bush-Gore, tossing cherished principles out the window. Now a far-right supreme court, including three Trump appointees, could decide this election. It had seemed the Chief Justice’s respect for law, and his concern for his legacy, might lead him to choose law over Trump; but this new appointment could “trump” law and legacy.

Republicans know they’re increasingly unappealing to voters. Are they hoping a dictatorship will save them?



[The column above appeared this morning in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG’s website. A spoken version will air during the week on both KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (, and will be available on demand on KRWG’s website.]

[We will now have a Supreme Court that is deeply out of step with the U.S. population. A majority of that population voted for Hillary Clinton and will likely vote for Joe Biden. The Supreme Court will have a two-thirds majority of deeply conservative justices. A larger majority of U.S. citizens believe pregnancies and abortions are for a woman, her doctor, and perhaps her husband or lover to decide – not the law. This Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade.

Two points are a little less obvious. One is that Supreme Court credibility is being shredded, and will continue to be shredded. Legally, the Supreme Court is supposed to be interpreting the U.S. Constitution (and U.S. laws). Usually if the Court has decided a point in the past, the Court will respect that precedent. If this Court flatly tosses Roe v Wade out the window, it’s saying “Listen, this isn’t about the Constitution or any orderly process, we just think this way and have the power to do this.” Similarly, if a later Supreme Court re-interprets the Constitution as it has been interpreted in the past, as including women’s right to choose to abort a pregnancy, that will seem a political decision, not a neutral interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. The more often and the more plainly these things happen, the less moral or ethical authority the Court retains.

Secondly, the Supreme Court makes a difference not only on Roe v. Wade and gun control. It makes decisions on other headline items (whether or not governmental regulations aimed at combating global warming are permissible; immigration; First Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of religion) but a host of unnoticed issues that matter to someone: what protections do we have against monopolies? What are our rights to sue companies that do things that hurt us? If a big company does something clearly wrong, that hurts many people a little but no one enough to make it sensible for anyone to sue alone, how easily can those victims band together in a class action? Who gets to control the Internet? Do certain issues get decided by the feds or by the states? And, occasionally, who won the Presidential election. Suffice it to say that if you are a middle-class or poor person, your rights against big corporations are in trouble; and if you’re an endangered bird, you’re history.  Oh, and if you have a pre-existing condition, forget health insurance! ]

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Socialism, What Is?

What’s this “socialism,” anyway?

It started with Christian Utopian Socialists such as the Hutterites, an Anabaptist branch that lived on communes. They felt that living in a communal manner, rather than seeking financial profit from each other, emulated Christ and his disciples. (I’m not saying Jesus was a socialist; but He did say, “You cannot serve both God and Money . . . Be on guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions!” Between pure socialism and unbridled capitalism, which would He preach?) History is littered with efforts by Christians to practice socialist ideals.

Neither pure socialism nor pure capitalism appears to work. Capitalism is too harsh and socialism ignores people’s selfish side. Each is theoretically consistent with democracy. In practice, either eventually perverts democracy, ending with a small group running things, usually corruptly, and holding power through force and/or propaganda. (Kerala, an Indian province, seems an exception. I’d love to visit there.)

Karl Marx didn’t invent socialism. He built on the work of many highly regarded philosophers we don’t find it necessary to hate. Marx essentially said that while capitalism had helped societies marshal technologies to develop new material goods, which worked great for some, but was not working for most people, and was therefore unsustainable.

During the early 20th Century, many local and even Congressional elections brought socialists to office in U.S. cities and states. Only extreme right-wingers considered it evil.

Then Russian Communists came to power. Although the Czar needed overthrowing; it’s probably unfortunate that the Communists wrested control of the revolution from the other groups involved. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics perverted socialism. While some (Julius Martov?) were benign idealists, Stalin and others clearly sought and retained power through any available means. While early on the Soviet Union tried to improve the lives of the average citizen, few would try to excuse Stalin’s conduct.

Soviet conduct toward smaller nations was ugly. Think Greece, Hungary, Czechoslovakia. Sadly, U.S. conduct was equally unfortunate and misguided. (Think Iran and Guatemala in 1954, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and, most tragically, Viet Nam.) Maybe a historian could parse out how much our legitimate distrust of the Soviet Union and the Soviets’ quite justified distrust of us led each government to excesses. Neither side was as evil as the other believed, or as pure as it claimed.

The philosophy, socialism, got mixed up with Russia’s expansionism (built on reasonable fears), which conflicted with our national interest. The Soviets used the socialist ideal as a cover for international power grabs. We got their philosophy and actions confused. Our leaders used that confusion to cloak justify our international power grabs. Socialism and third-world independence did conflict with the United Fruit Company’s profits.

Tien An Men Square

The Chinese Communist Revolution started idealistically and gained popular support. The U.S. opposed it, for some stupid reasons. Mao had better intentions than we supposed; and the Chinese government made an honest (though sometimes tragically misguided) effort to better the average citizen’s life. However, it’d be hard to justify what was done to Tibetans, or during the Cultural Revolution. (In China I met survivors of the Cultural Revolution, and Tibetans, whose stories broke my heart.)

Almost all present governments offer some blend of capitalism and socialism. Many are doing better than we are. Yet we still find ourselves hollering,“Socialist!” like some half-understood playground insult.

Democracy is fragile, and precious.



[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 20 September 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG’s website. A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 fm ( during the week, and will also be available on-demand on the websites.]

[It was ironic, this morning, to take a TV break and see an ad targeting a candidate for alleged sympathy to allegedly “socialist” ideas. Those ideas seemed to be ideas for aggressively tackling global warming. I’d call those “survival” ideas.]

[I studied China, then saw it firsthand in the mid-1980’s. I sympathized with China, and had little patience for Taiwan, where the anti-Communist Chinese had fled after the revolution, and were able to build a country because the U.S. protected them. China was interesting: compared to India, it was more egalitarian; one didn’t see the huge contrasts in wealth I heard about in India. Almost no one was well off, but everyone had a roof, a job, food. However, I met so many people whose lives the Cultural Revolution had destroyed, including some older folks I grew close to, who’d been punished for speaking English or being a Catholic or a professional, as well as casual acquaintances like a cabdriver explaining that for two years of his childhood, there had just been no school. Then in Tibet . . . well,

I’ll save those encounters for a different post, but it was a sad education. I realize Tibet was no perfect society before 1959, and there were serious inequalities, but the Chinese did wrong on a huge scale.

Meanwhile, I ended up staying on Taiwan while I wrote a novel and waited for approval on a film I’d pitched to National Geographic TV. I came to respect much about that country, and to be fond of it. Yet to build it, the mainlanders had started by massacring large numbers of native Taiwanese, a crime our government kept quiet about.. (It was a county the size of New Jersey. I actually played basketball on national television once.) At any rate, I saw the virtues and the warts of the Peoples Republic of China, close up; and I got an even closer look at the Republic of China (Taiwan). Perhaps the closer you get, the less simple anything is.]

[On the often “socialist” theme of the Bible, there were many other quotations, including some from the Old Testament, that wouldn’t fit in the column. Then this morning a friend and reader commented:

Thanks very much for the excellent reminder of a very neglected Biblical theme.  A careful study of the Old Testament laws had quite a few “socialist” features including rules about gleaning the crops, cancellation of debts and proper treatment of travelers and immigrants. 

Christ practiced “socialized medical/mental health care” without discrimination based upon social taboos/distinction.  Matthew 20 names full employment and living wage as “kingdom of heaven” characteristics.

Acts 4:32-37 records the establishment of socialism within the Christian community in Jerusalem early in the history.  Same thing with healings (medical/mental).  Indeed the whole community became so popular that the whole community was driven out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-3) just like in the US several times in our history.

The 1st centuries saw the formation of monastic groups that are still in existence and are still socialist.  Mondragon cooperatives in Spain were founded by a Catholic priest and he used the Catholic social justice teachings to structure it. 

So these theological feather weights that are so noisily prominent in the US are the “anti Christ” in our midst!!!  Quite a history, no senor? ]

[Finally, the author of our “Pledge of Allegiance” was Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), an American Baptist minister and a leading Christian socialist. Like Pope Leo, he championed the rights of working people and a more equal distribution of wealth and income, which he believed reflected Jesus’ teachings. In 1891, Bellamy was fired from his Boston pulpit for preaching against the evils of capitalism and describing Jesus as a socialist. His Looking Backward was a favorite book of my father’s. But Bellamy is best known for the “Pledge of Allegiance,” which he wrote in 1892 as an antidote to Gilded Age greed, misguided materialism, and hyper-individualism, as reflected in the radical words “with liberty and justice for all.” (Bellamy did not include “under God” in the Pledge. Congress added that in 1953, during the Cold War).]



Sunday, September 13, 2020

What Would You Say to Your Grandchildren? / "What did you do in the Climate Crisis, Daddy?"

Whether we agree or disagree with removing historical figures from places of honor because of their terrible treatment of other groups, we must acknowledge that, in their times and cultures, these figures were regarded as heroes and statesmen. 

Most such people thought of themselves as good. Many now think otherwise. 

Southern slave owners thought Blacks were less intelligent. Blacks had no English-language skills and knew nothing of European culture. Whites kept Blacks uneducated, partly to avoid facing the horror of what they were doing. Eventually, the existence of black poets and scholars, if nothing else, should have made equality obvious to anyone whose economic interest or psychological weaknesses didn’t require believing themselves superior to someone. 

The question we all should be asking is how our conduct will be regarded by our great-grandchildren and their kids. They will loathe us for our selfish inaction as the Earth warms. 

We have had ample warning about warming. In 1981, leading scientists warned us in a British TV documentary, “Warming Warning.” In 1988, Dr. James Hansen testified to the U.S. Senate that, “it is already happening now.” In 1997, the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report was published. “An Inconvenient Truth” was released in 2006, but clearly proved too inconvenient. 

Two things are very clear right now: warming is happening faster than predicted, and that as the Earth warms, the harm compounds and grows exponentially. Replacing reflective white ice with brown land and blue seas expedites the warming. 

We are already realizing the consequences of inaction: the melting Alaskan tundra, Miami's endangered water supply, and our 100º days and drought. It was 120º in L.A. county last week. Wildfires have turned the sky over San Francisco a sci-fi orange. Greenland’s ice is melting at a rate once predicted for 2070. In December, fires sent people in Australia running for their lives into the ocean. This week fires threatened Portland, Oregon. 

 It’s too late to prevent significant warming, but we can somewhat mitigate the damage. If we do not take meaningful action soon, including national and personal sacrifices, your kids’ kids’ world (even ours, in a decade or two) will be mighty grim. 

Temperatures will be higher, and stay higher longer, exposing people to potentially fatal heat levels. The Arctic Ocean will be iceless in summer. Forty percent of permafrost will melt, releasing massive amounts of methane and carbon, further raising temperatures. Eighty-plus million people will be refugees. Destructive superstorms will be stronger and more frequent. Rising seas will inundate low areas along the coast, despite vast amounts spent on seawalls. Many areas will be abandoned; but with the world amply populated, and many other areas becoming uninhabitable, where will people go? And what will they eat? 

As our great-grandkids – who will avoid having children because of the ugly world surrounding them, and the scarcity of food – struggle to squeeze into Patagonia and southern New Zealand along with everyone else, I wonder if they will recall our treatment of Latin American immigrants and whisper, “Karma?” Surely – if history is still taught (and taught somewhat honestly) – future generations will hate us. They will know that when their hellish predicament could have been avoided, we knew (or twisted everything around to avoid knowing) and did nothing. 

Our evasions and rationalizations will look even less reasonable and more inhumane to them than slave owners’ do to us. Maybe we should sacrifice some comfort for their sake. 

 – 30 –


 [The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 13 September 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website. A related radio commentary will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL ( and will be available on demand as well.]

 [A book I want to read -- and kind of don't want to read -- is Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency. I remember when the discussion involved how to keep the Earth from warming one or two degrees Celsius before some point in the future. Now, if we continue blissully ignoring or denying the problem, we could see the two degrees in my lifetime]and four degrees by 2075. Mark Lynas's book will sharpen a reader's focus on just what that means in human terms. And natural world terms. We're losing species rapidly, and the polar bear is one we'll lose pretty soon.) None of it is real pretty. All of it is something we should all know. And if you can accept that kind of world as your kids' and grandkids' future, that's interesting.




Sunday, September 6, 2020

How This Could Go

Donald Trump should be toast; but will precisely the problems that should sink him help keep him afloat?

Capping four years of incompetence, lawbreaking, and ethics violations, Trump has mismanaged the pandemic so badly the U.S. easily leads the world in per capita cases and deaths; and just when several troubling police shootings of Black people have awakened more whites to systemic racism than anything since the 1960’s, Trump is still peddling racism. Logically people would reject Trump to save lives and to diminish our society’s racism and divisiveness. Plus, Joe Biden capped the Democratic “convention” with the best speech of his life. Why wouldn’t Biden rout Trump?

Polls show people recognize Trump has screwed up big-time; but beyond the death toll, COVID-19’s big impacts are confusion, grief, fear, and cabin fever. Though most people respect the restrictions many state governors have imposed, despite Trump, many people are impatient, angry, and frightened. History shows that such people often leap into the hands of an authoritarian demagogue making false promises that it’s all okay, or that only he can fix it.

Could impatience with the restrictions that stall COVID-19’s spread, and fear of the unknown course of the pandemic, draw many to Trump’s simplistic worldview? Yep. From the frying pan into the fire. But it’s happened before.

Even some white people whose eyes were opened by the murder of George Floyd are not immune to Trumps’ thinly-veiled racism. The George Floyd murder was horrible; but if Trump says violence could reach my neighborhood, . . .

Substantively, in the debates, Biden should cut Trump into pieces. Biden knows his stuff; he projects a good nature and good intentions; Trump is lazy and doesn’t read. But Trump will freely assert whatever comes into his head, in oral bumper-stickers. He’ll project absolute certainty, and complete contempt for Biden. Biden’s thoughtful responses may get lost, or seem weak by comparison, or exceed his time limit. Fact-checking by networks or newspapers will seem dry and unconvincing – and be labeled an anti-Trump plot.

If you read transcripts of Biden's and Trump’s convention speeches, you’d laugh at Trump. While Joe was Mr. Good Guy, Trump (low-energy as he was) stood in front of a live crowd, at the supposedly non-partisan White House, with scores of flags and bigger fireworks. That image will stick. Most folks can’t or won’t compare their speeches’ accuracy.

Yeah, the polls are cheering, although some who fancy Trump don’t admit it. (Some of those people are friends of mine.) But polls only approximate what people think and feel.

Vote totals are different. Our undemocratic electoral college system means Trump could win despite losing the popular vote by 5%. Extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression mean 100 strong Biden voters may not translate into 100 valid votes for Joe. That’s particularly true with balloting by mail. Many mailed ballots get lost or disallowed.

So yeah, I worry. Trump is destroying our country.

I don’t predict a Trump win. But it’s clearly possible. Each of us should spend more time than we might wish on trying to do what we can to convince everyone we know to vote for Mr. Biden and make sure Biden voters vote early and accurately.

If you’re a Trump voter, look honestly at the man’s conduct.

Our democracy is at serious risk. Our founders (in Ben Franklin’s words) gave us “a Republic if you can keep it.” We can. Will we?

                                   – 30 –

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 6 September 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website. It will also be on KRWG’s website shortly; and a related radio commentary will air during the week on both KRWG and KTAL, 101.5 FM ( Later today it will also be available on-demand at KRWG’s site.]

[There are a lot of encouraging signs. Record numbers of Republicans are endorsing Biden; top military officials recognize what a disaster Trump is; and while many who voted for Trump or Hillary Clinton in 2016 will vote in 2020, for Trump or Biden, Biden holds a significant lead among those who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson last time around. Those voters (as am I) are dissatisfied with how our system has been going, but they also recognize that Trump is a special kind of disaster. I hope and trust that enough of my fellow U.S. citizens will see that Joe Biden is a good man with substantial experience and judgment, and that Mr. Trump is destroying our democracy.  The most recent polls I've seen show Biden up six points among Wisconsin voters (50% to 44%) and leading nationally 52 per cent to 42, with very few undecideds.


After drafting this column, I read Michael Moore's warning.  (Trump read it too, and texted that Michael was a smart guy.)  We should take that to heart – not just to mutter, "Oh, shit, I wonder what Canada requires of new residents?" but to STAND UP AND DO SOMETHING.

What you can do is to make damned sure that every day you try to change someone's voting plan or strengthen a Biden voter's commitment to getting to the polls.  We each know some folks who see things somewhat as we do, but don't always bother voting.  Help them with whatever form-filling they need to do to vote absentee, or make sure they know about early-voting and that you'll be happy to drive them to the polls; or remind them of the facts.]

[In a forthcoming post I’ll detail what four more years of Trump would mean for our country.

For now, let’s just contemplate that for patriots and veterans to ignore (or deny, even though Fox News has also confirmed them) Trump’s disparaging remarks about dead veterans and his unhealthy admiration for Vladimir Putin (most recently expressed in his resistance to believing that Russia, as it has done in other situations, used some special nerve poison to weaken and perhaps kill an important political dissident) takes either a special kind of love for Trump or a strong preference for some of what Trump is doing (e.g., anti-choice on abortion). To me, that’s like fussing with the paint on your boat while it sinks. But it’s what they feel, and talking with them is important.]


The photograph? Just to say the gentleman on the right was neither a "sucker" nor a "loser."  (She obviously didn't think he was!)  I guess Trump might not call him a loser, because he survived; but neither was he a sucker.  As a graduate student at Duke, close to receiving his Ph.D., he made a reasoned decision to leave for training as a Marine bomber pilot, and thereafter flew in the Pacific.  It seemed the right thing to do.  The village they moved to eventually gave him a special award honoring his integrity -- another thing Trump would have mocked.  What can you get for that plaque on the open market, dummy?  But I guess his many squadron mates who didn't make it back were "losers," which sure would have been news to the surviving squadron members when they were having their reunion at our house in the 1960's.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Reflections on the Trumpist "Convention"

 The Trumpist Convention was an alternate-reality show of questionable legality.

There were moments of grace: Senator Tim Scott spoke well, but he IS the entire Congressional Republican Black Caucus. Karen Pence spoke movingly of art therapy helping a PTSD-plagued veteran, but didn’t explain the connection to Trump.

Mostly people said, straight-faced, how much Trump cares about the average person, and how hard he works. Trump even mentioned the “unnecessary deaths” from COVID-19, as if our absurd global lead in per capita deaths had nothing to do with him. (In Trumpworld, when China “let” this virus spread, Trump started the biggest national mobilization since WWII. And he “follows the science.”)

The Hatch Act forbids federal employees to engage in partisan activities while on public business or federal property. Doesn’t apply to Trump. Applies to the official who naturalized five new citizens in the White House for the Republican convention video suggesting Trump (who’s sharply cut legal immigration) welcomes immigrants. Applies to the minions shooting and editing the videotape.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a convention speech while on federal business in Israel. Other Trump Administration figures spoke at the White House violating the Hatch Act.

Florida Attorney-General Pam Bondi spoke about fighting corruption. In 2013 she was preparing to have Florida join in a fraud lawsuit against Trump’s charity. Trump’s charity donated $25K to her re-election campaign, and Florida didn’t join the suit. Charities can’t legally contribute to candidates; Trump was fined, but bribing Bondi worked.

Eric Trump, VP of The Trump Organization, spoke the same day New York issued another subpoena to him to testify about allegations The Trump Organization inflated assets to facilitate loans.

While pro athletes were canceling games over police shootings of unarmed black men, the Trumpists used Kenosha, Wisconsin and exaggerated tales of violence to illustrate the refrain, “You won’t be safe in Biden’s America.” ( “What part of 180,000 deaths don’t they understand,” a commentator asked.)

On the Centennial of U.S. women’s suffrage, Trump had a speaker who believes in “household voting” (each household gets one vote), and says, “In a Godly household, the husband would get the final say.”

Melania Trump came out against slavery. Talking about a former slave fort in Ghana was her most emotional moment. Otherwise, she was wooden – and victimized by whoever placed the teleprompters so far apart she had to look too far right then left, exaggerating her discomfort.

Trump spoke for a record hour and ten weird minutes. He seemed at his best attacking Biden. Mostly he looked bored, particularly when reading about U.S. history.

It was wholly inappropriate to hold this event at the White House, which has always been a kind of national shrine, above politics, belonging to all of us. While presidential speeches and family photo-ops have had political implications, no one previously made the place a prop for a political extravaganza designed to project power and patriotism. Trumpists installed scores of flags, illustrating Samuel Johnson’s 18th Century remark that “pretended patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.” (Trump has repeatedly ignored national interests to serve his own.) The grand finale was a fireworks display at the Washington Monument.

Trump used the White House as a dictator would. Like a dog urinating, he showed us this was HIS territory, even boasting, “What’s the name of this house? We’re here. They’re not!”

I hope that changes soon. But appeals to fear can be effective.



[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 30 August, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will also be available on KRWG's site, and will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM ().]

[Among the lawbreakers backing Trump were Mark and Patricia McCloskey.  Although the convention avoided mentioning the white youth who killed two people and wounded a third with a semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha, the RNC had the McCloskeys speak in prime-time.  They're the St. Louis couple whose only claim to fame is having illegally (and pointlessly) brandished firearms at passing Black Lives Matter protesters last month.  They were charged in July with unlawful use of a weapon, a felony.

[One of the creepiest and clearest Hatch Act violations surfaced afterward: a federal official, a Trump supporter who oversees public housing, invited four women to talk with her about conditions.  She did so as a federal official, and concealed from three of the women that she her real purpose was to edit a two-minute video clip of them to be played at the Trumpist convention.  Suddenly famous (or infamous), the women hastened to explain that they do not support Trump.  One added that as  a first-generation U.S. citizen from Honduras, she was "not a supporter of his racist policies.  More than the Hatch Act violation is wrong with that conduct!]

[Watching the “convention” was painful.  I may watch Triumph of the Will again this week.  I found brief respite in watching, again, the end of It Happened One Night on another channel.  If you don't know it, I strongly recommend it.  It's a 1934 Frank Capra comedy.   That and My Man Godfrey (1936), which is not by Capra, are a fine treatment for cabin fever or depression about the pandemic or politics.  The latter begins with two flighty sisters from a wealthy New York family competing in a scavenger hunt in which "a forgotten man" is one of the items each must find, with
William Powell at his best as the forgotten man they find in a homeless encampment under a bridge.  It Happened One Night features Clark Gable as the recently-fired newspaperman who happens to run into a famous millionaire's runaway daughter (Claudette Colbert) whose activities are dominating front pages as she tries to make it to New York with neither money nor much of a clue about life.
[Gable and Colbert, neither of whom really wanted to do the film, each won an Oscar – and the film actually won five major awards, including Best Director and Best Picture.

Sclupture by Sami Muhammed
World War II started a few years later. In the interim, Lombard married Gable, and was the love of his life. Then she died at 33 in a plane crash in Nevada, returning from a trip selling war bonds, whereupon Gable enlisted.  Capra had enlisted right after Pearl Harbor, and when General George Marshall assigned him to make a series of documentary films called Why We Fight, he saw Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, and initially concluded "We can't win this war!" then saw how to use the Germans' own propaganda against them.]


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Reflections after the Democrats' "Convention"

The Democratic “Convention” talked policy, but stressed character, competence, openness, and grace. And highlighted real people with real feelings for the candidate, from the New York elevator operator who’d spontaneously said, “I love you!” to the New Hamshire boy who stutters as Joe did, whom Biden encouraged.

Capped by a Joe Biden speech even Karl Rove praised on Fox, the well-produced event taught us who Biden and his wife are. Character counts, and whatever Republicans do next week, they can’t copy this with Trump’s life and character.

Biden’s father was a workingman, a loving father with character and principles. Dad losing his job was a defining moment in Joe’s childhood.

Trump’s father was a very successful and unscrupulous businessman, and a demanding father. You can call Mary Trump disgruntled, believing Donald and his siblings ripped off her father’s share of her grandfather’s wealth; but all accounts portray a cutthroat family dominated by a cutthroat Father.

Biden quit a high-paying law job to be a public defender. When he ran for the U.S. Senate, Republican Caleb Boggs was so entrenched that no top Democrats sought the nomination. Joe took it and won, narrowly. Before he was sworn in, his wife and daughter died in a car crash. His sons survived. Friends talked him out of resigning from the Senate to care for the boys; but he was home for supper every night, in Wilmington, working on the commuter trains to D.C. and back.

Trump ran a half-dozen businesses into bankruptcy. His life is littered with lawsuits by suppliers, contractors, and investors. He was saved by a crafty ghostwriter whose book in Trump’s name attracted a TV producer.

Widower Joe met a lovely, smart, and strong-willed young woman, Jill, who married him and made them a family again. Dr. Jill Biden, who taught school through eight years as Second Lady – and who reacted to a rough spot in life by running marathons.

Trump’s three marriages and other sexual arrangements resemble a bad soap opera. His first wife alleged rape. He got his second wife pregnant while still married to the first. I defy anyone to claim s/he’s seen Trump and Melania share a moment of spontaneous love or humor.

I think it matters who you are inside.

It’s no sin to make money; but competence, good judgment, and caring for your workers are consistent with making a fortune. Having the self-confidence to listen openly to others is not weakness. Had Trump listened, our nation might not have suffered the world’s most unnecessary COVID-19 infections and deaths. He tries to cover inadequacy with boasts and bullying. He asserts that he knows best, and when facts show otherwise, he denies the facts and calls people names.

Meanwhile, a bipartisan Senate Select Committee (Republican-controlled) has finally reported that Trump’s campaign manager was sharing confidential information with the Russians; and his former top advisor Steve Bannon has been indicted for bilking investors in a (purported) non-profit “build a border-wall” scheme from which Bannon and others were secretly profiting. Trump didn’t deny their initial statements that it had his blessing, but now he says he didn’t know about it – and was against it.

Trump also encourages Q-Anon, people who actually believe that Democratic leaders like Biden and Harris are devil-worshiping pederasts (and cannibals) from whom Trump will save us. And after the 2017 Charlottesville white-supremacist rally and attack, Trump spoke of “very fine people on both sides.”

                                                      – 30 --


[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 23 August 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG’s website. A related radio commentary will air during the week both on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM ( and be available on demand as well.]

[I don’t claim Biden or Harris or anyone else is a saint, or profess to agree with all anyone’s positions. Under all these folks, the U.S. government continues to make errors and omissions that are both unwise and sometimes illegal. However, I thought the virtual convention was effective, at times eloquent, even moving, in illustrating Biden’s decency and the party leaders’ variety. Then his speech, which I feared might be too long and too dull, pretty much knocked it out of the park. It was effective, direct, personal, and powerful.]

 [Families are important.  Donald Trump has a strong father who taught his kids that life's goal was to make as much money as possible, that anyone who didn't was a loser, and that only weaklings worried about others.  Donald was compelled to emulate that.  No mitigating influence appeared to counter the lesson that other people exist to be taken advantage of or to be induced to admire him.  Women to be groped, if decorative, and demeaned as "horse-faces" if not. 

Trump sure won't have his niece, Mary Trump, at the convention. He won't have older sister Maryanne Barry, the recently-retired U.S. appellate judge, appointed to her first judgeship by Ronald Reagan.  I urge everyone to read this Washington Post story about Barry's honest view of Donald, recorded by Mary without her aunt's knowledge.  In summary, pretty much what we say about Donald she says too: that he's "only out for Donald," that "he doesn't read," and that his immigration policies are hateful. That “Donald is cruel.” And  “He has no principles. None. None. And his base, I mean my God, if you were a religious person, you want to help people. Not do this. . . . His goddamned tweet and lying, oh my God,” she said. “I’m talking too freely, but you know. The change of stories. The lack of preparation. The lying. Holy shit.”

Bottom line?  Biden's family, who know him well, love him.  Trump's family, knowing him a lot better than we do, loather him.  Fact. ]

[Biden would also try to rebuild what Trump has destroyed, as often by incompetence as by design, and deal more sensibly and honestly with the current pandemic.]

[For another perspective, read Algernon D’Amassa’s Sun-News column this morning, “When You Vote, You're Choosing a President, Not a Friend.” I tend to agree with much of it. However, despite that, I see a sufficiently significant difference between current policies of the parties, and particularly between Trump’s incompetence and lack of compassion and Biden’s relative competence and basic decency, that I will vote for Biden and encourage others to do so. I still know, as I did in my youth, that this bus is driven to benefit the wealthy far more than the poor or middle-class; but if that bus runs off the mountain road, that’s no good for any of us.

Looking through the paper, before reading Algernon’s column I read a story about a tragic car crash that killed a 32-year-old wife and mother in Santa Teresa. Drunken driver charged with depraved-heart murder, not just manslaughter or vehicular homicide. As likely he should be; but what’s the right charge for a guy who’s so selfish, narcissistic, and childish that he lets a dangerous pandemic kill a vastly higher percentage of his country’s citizens than it kills in any other country, despite wealth and relatively good health technology and healthcare people?]

Celendin Market

© Peter Goodman

La Encantada

© Peter Goodman

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Guardianship Redux

The plight of Dorris and Rio Hamilton has adult guardianship on my mind again.

I hope Rio and his lawyer provide all the information the court has requested, to stop the huge drain on family emotions and finances. I hope the lawyers and professional “guardians” let that happen.

Mrs. Hamilton needs supervision. That’s a sad fact after her impressive career as an educator. Her son Rio returned home from New York to take over providing that supervision. He seems capable of it, he wants to do it, and she wants him to. The court-appointed “guardian ad litem,” David Lutz, told the court he thought Rio should be helping his mother. She’d remain in a congregate-living facility and have a financial advisor, but Rio could make decisions for her or with her, take her to medical appointments, etc.

There’s also a “lawyer for Mrs. Hamilton,” Caralyn Banks. Mrs. Hamilton doesn’t want her. Nor does Rio. Casual observers wonder what Banks adds that Lutz can’t. The fact that Banks has passionately advocated that Advocate Services be the well-compensated guardian for adults in many cases (but denies that she’s ever represented AS as its lawyer) might suggest finding someone more neutral – if there must be two attorneys for Mrs. Hamilton and one for Mr. Hamilton collecting fees for each hearing.

Providing guardians for cognitively-challenged (usually elderly) folks without family or friends, or with family that’s distant, dishonest, or incapable of care-taking, is an important service. Agencies such as AS do that. (I hope they do so when the “person in need of protection” is poor, too.) Courts naturally appreciate that. But courts should recall that when family-members want to take care of Aunt Sally, the folks collecting hourly fees for helping her are not impartial observers but highly interested parties. There’s an inherent conflict of interest: as paid guardian, I want the best for my ward, but I like getting paid.

Some agencies, having stepped in during a crisis to help, are reasonably graceful in releasing control to a capable family. Others all too often get into pitched battles. From what I’ve seen (and heard from others) the folks at Advocate Services can be particularly abrasive. In the case I’m most familiar with, the professionals testified that the stepson seeking custody had come to a meeting with food on his tie and that his wife (who denied this) had said he was losing cognitive abilities himself.

A family-member who rushes home to take care of someone may be upset, even angry -- then may face blame for not having intervened earlier. Disagreements are inevitable. Professional guardians often paint those as attacks on the court’s decisions.

So why do judges sometimes seem to take the word of guardians as gospel? Why isn’t keeping families together a higher priority? Why isn’t it a high priority to stop the financial bleeding? Why don’t lawyers, collecting fees from a helpless person who doesn’t want them intervening in the first place, try to economize, so that the protected person doesn’t incur unnecessary legal fees? Too often I hear remarks that our judges are paid off by lawyers or guardianship agencies. I strongly disagree with that conclusion, though I understand the frustration.

Adult guardianship (and abuses thereof) is a national problem. New Mexico recently started trying to make the process fairer and more open. Sadly, that job is far from finished. And none of us is getting noticeably younger.

                                                    – 30 – 


[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 16 August, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A related radio commentary will air during the week on both KRWG and KTAL-LP, Las Cruces Community Radio [ 101.5 FM) and will be available on demand at KRWG's site.]


[I sure wish Dorris and Rio the best, as do many in the community. One step we can all take, and should, is to write and sign a plan that states whom we'd like a court to appoint if we are ever found incompetent.  A judge also makes that suggestion in this video on a Nevada case. Rick and Terry Black ( the son-ion-law and daughter in the Nevada case) now work full time trying to help fight guardianship abuse around the country.  I met them through Rio, and Rick was a guest on my radio show a few weeks ago.  email  for information. ]

 [One suggestion Rick made during our radio discussion our radio discussion, which I've seen elsewhere, is to provide for jury trials in contested guardianship cases.  Traditionally, we kept such cases highly secret, to protect the "person in need of protection" from having everyone know s/he was losing it.  A worthy goal; but experience showed that ruthless guardianship companies, lawyers, and perhaps even judges around the country abused that secrecy by using it to cloak misconduct.  New Mexico opened the process; but might we do even better to go the whole hog, and put these matters into jurors' hands?  The traditional argument, as for all jury trials, is that open court is more ethical court, and that jurors, even when they may not understand all the technical or legal jargon, have great instincts about people, and usually get it right.   The counter-arguments would be that it more openly washes a family's dirty laundry in public, could be traumatic for the person in need of protection, and could lead to having the most superficially persuasive lawyer -- not necessarily the most deserving side -- prevail.  I should probably note that I worked on worked on a case in which Advocate Services attempted to maintain control of someone, arguing that moving her to California as her stepson and she desired would not be in her best interest, and have written on the subject previously in "Why New Mexico Is Improving Its Guardianship Laws," "Someday You'll Be a Person in Need of Protection,"  and "Further Thoughts on Guardianship Issues."]    

[There's a hearing set for 11 a.m. Thursday, 20 August, in New Mexico 3rd Judicial District Court.