Sunday, February 18, 2018

A Cogent Voice from the Past

“Too often, we find ourselves living in monologue rather than dialogue.”

Though this aptly describes our current scene, it was said on March 12, 1961, in a Boston synagogue, by Martin Luther King. Thanks to a long chain of events (see today's blog post), a bunch of us listened to a recording of that speech last Sunday afternoon at Temple Beth-El. 

March 1961? Six weeks after Jack Kennedy's Inauguration. Five years and a week before Texas Western (now UTEP) shocks the world by starting five “Negro” players and upsetting Kentucky, and its racist but famous coach, to win the NCAA Basketball Championship. 

A Kenyan graduate student and his pregnant white wife, just married in February, haven't a clue that the son who'll be born in August will someday be the 44th President of the United States. In 23 states, they could be arrested and jailed for getting married. March 1961 is six years before the U.S. Supreme Court will decide Loving v. Virginia, striking down a law forbidding “interracial” marriages. If Barack Obama's parents had married in Virginia or Texas, not in Hawaii, they could have been sentenced to a year in prison. 

King discusses “whether there has been any real progress” in race relations. He notes “there are three possible answers: “the extreme optimism” that points proudly to “marvelous strides” and concludes “we can sit down now comfortably by the wayside and wait” for the inevitable equality; the “extreme pessimism” that calls those strides “minor,” notes the insurgence of the KKK and the White Citizens Council in the South, and concludes “that we have retrogressed rather than progressed” and that “there can be no progress” in race relations; and “the realistic position” that “combines the truths” of the first two positions but avoids their extremes. He concludes, “We have come a long, long way” but “We have a long, long way to go.”

He adds, “To put it figuratively in biblical language, we have broken loose from the Egypt of slavery Editand we have moved through the wilderness of segregation and now we stand on the border of the Promised Land of integration. Now the great challenge facing the nation is to move on.”

I recall those times. I recall how strange the neatly dressed young black men “sitting-in” seemed to most whites. Nonviolently, they integrated lunch counters in more than 100 southern cities. I recall that even in my northern high school, Italians and blacks were at odds. When a white girl dated a black boy, the principal called her parents to make sure they knew. That angered a few of us. In August 1965, just back from going south in the civil rights movement, I was drinking beers with our softball team. A black man briefly came into the bar to buy cigarettes and one of my teammates muttered “Nigger!” under his breath. When I spoke up, I nearly got attacked by my own teammates.
March 1961 was a pause along a steep mountain path with a lot of switchbacks and the usual mix of grand “Aha!” views and weariness. 

“Are we there yet?” 

No, but despite a racist president we have made even greater strides. Integration is mostly assumed; but equality is still somewhere around the bend. Some day, people will wonder what the fuss was ever about. But today, as in March 1961, that's a future we cannot assume, but must struggle for.

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

[How we happened to listen to this "lost" speech involved the Rabbi who had invited King to speak that day, and Frances Williams.  King was invited to speak at Temple Emanuel, in Worcester, Massachusetts, by Rabbi Joseph Klein, who'd served as Rabbi there since 1949 and would continue until his retirement in 1977, when he became Rabbi Emeritus.  Still in 1977, he then became the first Rabbi at Temple Beth El in Las Cruces, where he remained until 1984.  He was well acquainted with Frances Williams, and respected her work; and when she gave him a YEI Indian Rug, he wanted to give her something special in return, and gave her the tape of the MLK speech.  Long afterward, when she had extra time, she dug it out and got it enhanced by a friend.  The listening was enhanced by a video made of various stills from the time, and a choral group sang before and afterward, and some folks talked about the history of the speech and about its meaning today, and there were refreshments and lots of nice people.]

[Anti-miscegenation laws.  Most or all states had 'em at some point.  New Mexico had one from 1857 to 1866.  Many such laws forbade "whites" to marry not only "blacks" but Asians and "nonwhites," which I assume included Indians and Mexicans.   New Mexico's extend only to blacks.  Ten states rescinded such laws in the 19th Century.  Fourteen (including California, Oregon, Colorado, and Arizona) did so only during 1948-1967, before Loving.   That court decision overruled the anti-miscegenation statutes in 23 states, including Texas (where the laws extended to other nonwhites).  A 24th state, Maryland, where the law even prevented marriages between blacks and Filipinos, only rescinded its law while the Loving case was in progress, in response to that case.
So New Mexico was a star; but before we get too self-congratulatory, consider a bit of history mentioned by NMSU Professor Bobbie Greene: in 1939, when the first black woman to graduate from NMSU was there, state law required that she sit outside the classroom!  Although some of her professors (perhaps risking a possible criminal citation) let her sit inside their classrooms, but the law was what it was.
Looking at the history of those laws, one key fact stands out: that from 1877 until well into the 20th Century, no such laws were repealed and several, repealed in southern states during Reconstruction, were reinstated.  Virginia had strengthened its law in 1924.  One more bit of evidence of how far we slid back once Reconstruction ended -- which resulted partly from another cliffhanger (and allegedly stolen) Presidential election in 1876.]

[Obviously we have come an incredible distance from March 1961. But we will not be "there" yet until skin color means as little -- and can be commented on as naturally as -- hair color or the color of a man's suit or a woman's dress, or where you went to college.  We will not be "there" yet until kids are all gradations of human coloring and no one feels a need to classify someone a little dark-complected as anything.  We will not be "there" yet until none of us feel the impulse, referring to a professor or deliveryman or citizen who made a speech at a city council meeting as "the black professor" or "this black woman got up and said . . ." unless skin-color is directly material to the subject the person teaches or was talking about.  When no one is in the least surprised every by a couple who are of mixed ethnicity.  And when cops are not startled to see a black man walking in a neighborhood with expensive homes in it.  (As to that last, right now it's perhaps wroth noting that while profiling is wrong, and I was furious that my closest friend at the law firm in San Francisco, a friend I'd gone to law school with, was questioned by police in his own driveway, washing his own car, because he was black and the car was a pretty cool one, at the same time if you're a cop, you're meant to be alert, and the natural tendency to include ethnicity in the factors that go into an almost instantaneous assessment of a situation may represent not "racism" but the nature of the unequal world in which we find ourselves.)]

Note: What follows is an email I received in response to the above column.  I insert it here (without the writer's name because I haven't had a chance yet to ask him whether that's all right) not for the undeserved compliments but for his summary of his own background, and particularly the role the Gospels played in developing his character and consciousness.  It feels particularly welcome because with regard to gun issues today (following the latest school massacre) my suggestions of some reasonable responsive steps have been met by comments from other friends that the problem isn't the guns but the move away from a deeply Christian society.  (Haven't yet gotten a good answer to the question of "Okay, assuming we need to get everybody back on the Christian track, could we, until we accomplish that, take some sensible steps?")

Thanks Peter, for the long term dedication to helping us move toward peace.  It seems like the move is away from peace right now, but I think you all will prevail.

My parents were Virginian by birth, my dad being raised in Baltimore (slums), my mom being raised in an isolated hollow in in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  My dad said very little, but showed us how to live an honest, decent life.  My mom was fearful and hot tempered.  Both were always aware of the wolf at the door.  Since we lived in a remote mining camp in Colorado, the issues of race were not really present.  We had northern European, Mediterranean, Hispanic (Mexican) and Indigenous (Ute) neighbors and they were mostly kind people, with a background of poverty (our parents were WW1, Great Depression and WW2/Korean War survivors).  It wasn't until I lived in the Southeast, that I actually saw what the social conflicts were all about.  

Fortunately I received a pocket size New Testament in the military (pre Vietnam thank God).  The 4 Gospels more or less came to be the standard I looked at when I judged my own actions or assessed what I saw around me.  So I managed to live peacefully with my neighbors down through the years.  Over the years, though I noticed a schism develop in society.  It seemed to me the black churches were doing a better job of teaching than the "white" ones.  Indeed the very presence of "black and white" churches flew into the face of the 4 Gospels.  And I knew it wasn't the black churches that were driving the segregation.

The upshot of all this was I drifted along at peace with my neighbor, voting but not civically active until around 2000.  By then I felt reasonably confident that I understood what was going on.  It became apparent I needed to do a bit more than I had been doing.  It was then I began to become acquainted with people like yourself who had seen the problems decades before and had been "fighting the good fight" all along.  If people like you hadn't been persistent, I'd have been adrift when I finally figured out I should be doing more.

Thanks very much for your persistent efforts!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Clean Air and Water Ain't "Special Interests"

Carla Sonntag's recent op-ed alleged that “lawsuits funded by deep-pocketed special interest groups [were] aimed at ending the [oil-and-gas] industry altogether.”

Dictionaries define “special-interest group” as “a body of persons, corporation, or industry that seeks or receives benefits or privileged treatment, especially through legislation.” Like the industry-funded lobbying outfit Ms. Sonntag runs, which has opposed raising the minimum wage and tried to weaken unions.

The phrase doesn't mean what Ms. Sonntag pretends it means. Can even she believe that folks who contribute to environmental groups “seek or receive privileged treatment?” Does she mean clean water to drink or clean air to breathe is special treatment?

I contribute to the ACLU, SWEC, and the Environmental Defense Fund. These groups aren't advocating for “special interests” but our common interests in fair legal proceedings and a healthy environment.

If you wade through Sonntag's snide rhetoric, she's attacking an effort to cut emissions 91% by 2050. With global temperatures rising, trying to do that in 32 years might be prudent. Proponents are not, as Sonntag claims, “trying to destroy the source of many jobs and livelihoods in New Mexico.” Her carping that environmentalists get contributions from rich people is ironic from someone whose source of income is wealthy businesses and corporations who (unlike contributors to environmental groups) are concerned only with personal profit.

If Ms. Sonntag used more logic and less name-calling, she might be more convincing. The people pushing the steep emissions cuts are trying to help save us from imminent danger. Yes, a side-effect of moving away from fossil fuels would be more jobs in other segments of the energy industry and fewer jobs in fossil fuels. (And more modest profits for the people who pay Ms. Sonntag's salary?)

Even fellow Republicans don't consider Ms. Sonntag a truth-teller. Harvey Yates and the New Mexico Republican Party accused her of false and libelous statements in emails attacking a candidate for party chair. The party said the “deceitful” statements showed “a lack of integrity.” Yates said private investigators had traced the emails to accounts set up by Ms. Sonntag and a son. Ms. Sonntag replied that she hadn't been involved in party politics for years. 

Sonntag sued the party for defamation in January 2017, demanding an apology, a court order, and damages. She dismissed her lawsuit in April, issuing a press release that mentions neither any settlement payment or any apology. She also stated that she'd “filed the lawsuit to obtain a report from the RPNM.” (The lawsuit's discovery phase would automatically provide her the report.) She claims that the report “proves . . . the Republican Party had no basis to attack me.” If so, the report would be strong evidence that would encourage a plaintiff to continue the lawsuit. Sonntag waved the white flag. 

Sonntag understands that words matter – when they refer to her.

Folks like Ms. Sonntag give business a bad name. Opposing any and all modest efforts to improve wages, water, or working conditions undermines credibility and strengthens the impression that businesses are bad. They're not. They're part of a healthy economy. Unfortunately, because they involve maximizing profits, they sometimes oppose too aggressively improvements that might cut into profits. Or pay folks like Ms. Sonntag, to try to convince us that fighting climate change will destroy our economy. 

Using our words honestly is a great step we all can take to improve the quality of public and political dialogue.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 11 February 2018, 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 KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM.]

[Part of our problem is that we cannot just disagree, we feel the need to vilify and insult each other.  Newspaper reporters are never just "mistaken" or "wrong" anymore, they are LYING.  A story this morning about Pence exemplifies that.  A gay Olympic athlete expressed unhappiness that Pence was leading the U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics.  He mentioned his understanding that Pence had at one time supported "gay conversion therapy."    A veteran reporter then reported that Pence's people had reached out to the athlete, seeking a meeting, and been rebuffed.  Pence could not merely deny that.  He had to tweet that a reporter was dredging up  "an 18-year-old nonstory, to create disunity."  A simple denial would have been more graceful and persuasive.  Why call the reporter a liar?  Why insist that she was trying to create dissension.  Pence protesteth too much.  If he said he hadn't sought a meeting and had no idea where she got the idea that he had, or why the athlete was saying he had, and that the story was an unfortunate blemish on a wonderful moment of national unity, one might wonder whether there'd been some mistake and the story was inaccurate or exaggerated.  (What would have been wrong with seeking such a meeting also isn't clear to me; and regretting the gay athlete's attitude as rigid and based on inaccurate allegations about Pence's views might have made one respect Pence more than his descent into Trump-like name-calling.

Did Pence actually advocate "gay conversion therapy?"  Implicitly, but not explicitly.  While running for Congress he did "advocate funding institutions which provide assistance to people trying to change their sexual behavior."  That was on his website in 2000, so it should express his belief.  The context made it clear that he was no fan of gay sexual behavior, but he didn't explicitly refer to gay conversion therapy, at least there.  (Interestingly, some website in Nevada later alleged, with no apparent factual basis, that Pence had stated that "gay conversion therapy saved my marriage, by helping me resist certain urges."  That may have been meant humorously.  It might even accurately reflect an aspect of Pence's character, but he never made that statement and would have been stupid to make it publicly that the story should hardly have convinced anyone; but it may have fueled Pence's annoyance at the whole issue."]

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Can We Make Political Leaders Behave?

How do we investigate and discipline public figures?

Some do very shady things. Some get hit by vicious but unfounded allegations. Obviously we need fair and competent investigations. 

Thus we appoint a special prosecutor for Donald Trump. We reasonably fear that the Department of Justice or the FBI, whose bosses Mr. Trump can fire, will not be completely impartial.

That process yielded Robert Mueller. A Republican. A decorated war veteran. A former FBI Director with such a stellar record for fairness and toughness that knowledgeable people from both sides of the aisle essentially said, “Wow!”

Mueller seems to be working carefully and quietly. Unlike Mr. Trump, he keeps his mouth shut. He hasn't said whether or not the investigation will bear fruit.

Trump acts as if he's scared silly by what Mueller may uncover. Some Republicans who praised the choice of Mueller are now attacking him. Trump decided to fire him (as he fired FBI director James Comey for investigating Trump's Russia connections) but reportedly backed off when his lawyer, Don McGahn, said he'd resign if Trump insisted. Trump fans in Congress concocted from a couple of snide emails by an FBI investigator (immediately fired by Mueller) the idea that the FBI was conspiring to perpetrate a coup. Facts quickly exploded that conspiracy theory.

Whatever's scaring Trump, he hopes to keep it hidden by eliminating Mueller.

Closer to home, Undersheriff Ken Roberts committed sexual harassment (even crimes) against a female subordinate. He entered her office knowing she was alone, closed the door, sat uninvited on her lap, and ground his butt into her. An investigator sustained the charge. Roberts, in the wimpiest testimony imaginable, reportedly said he “couldn't recall” the event but that the lady “would have no reason to lie.” How could you fail to recall whether or not you'd done such a thing?

Roberts's conduct was criminal. In New Mexico, “Battery is the unlawful, intentional touching or application of force to the person of another, when done in a rude, insolent or angry manner.” The felony of “false imprisonment consists of intentionally confining or restraining another person without [her] consent and with knowledge that he has no lawful authority to do so.” As I recall the jury instructions, I think Roberts was guilty of that too.

Sheriff Kiki Vigil, a biased judge at best, merely suspended Roberts for ten days and required Roberts to attend classes that would teach him his conduct was wrong. (Roberts, who's plenty smart, surely knew that already!) Frightened, the victim immediately obtained from court a temporary restraining order against Roberts. (What of the others who've complained?)

Vigil has tried to fire people over far less serious allegations. And sacked the previous undersheriff for no known offenses. Roberts, a disastrous undersheriff, has cost the county or its insurers plenty of money and may cost us more with his misconduct toward female employees. (He already got us into one lawsuit based on his apparent carelessness in dealing with a black employee.)

Vigil and Roberts are a continuing embarrassment to a wonderful county. (As Trump is a continuing embarrassment to a damned fine country!) As deputies flee an already short-handed department, Vigil endangers public safety. His litigiousness and mismanagement endanger our public purse.

Vigil faces two challengers in the Democratic Primary: Eddie Lerma, who served as undersheriff to three sheriffs, including Vigil; and Kim Stewart, an investigator who probably has better credentials than Vigil had for sheriff.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 4 February 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  During the week a spoken version will air on KRWG and on KTAL 101.5 FM.]

[AND THIS JUST IN, . . . The Las Cruces Women's March and other organizations have announced a Dona Ana County "Time’s Up" Protest/Rally Against Harassment scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, 2018 at 8 a.m. at County headquarters, 845 North Motel Boulevard.
The organizers say "The purpose is to advocate for change in the culture of harassment, intimidation, and abuse in the County.  The County Commission needs to stand up against these unacceptable behaviors, revise related policies, and strengthen support for safe and respectful work environments.  Bring appropriate, respectful signs or banners.  (If you enter the Commission meeting that begins at 9:00 am, leave your signs/banners in your vehicle.)
By the way, I've added some of the organizers to the guest-list for my radio show, "Speak Up, Las Cruces!", this coming Wednesday on KTAL-LP - 101.5 FM.  They'll be on from 8:30 or 8:45 to the end of the hour.   Earlier, we'll have Jimmy Zabriskie on at 8 to discuss local plants and trees and the new Tree Steward program at the City; County Public Information Officer Jess Williams will be with us very briefly just after 8:30 to hit the highlights of what's going on in county government; and from 9-10, a discussion of Iran with Ali Scoten and Yosef Lapid.]

[In addition to the situations discussed in the column, County Commissioner John Vasquez's intemperate and sometimes bizarre Facebook posts, insulting constituents and apparently making up some odd and inaccurate story about the mother of one constituent he doesn't like, have drawn strong criticism.  I'd initially intended to include something about that in the column.  
I understand their concern.  There were several nights (a few months ago) when he posted multiple Facebook posts about me that were more offensive than anything I've seen quoted in the paper. (They were mostly after 8 p.m., while posts the next morning were civil, sometimes even friendly.) I made no report. I thought it was funny. Some posts were somewhat nutty. I figured it was his problem, not mine.  I also probably responded with posts criticizing him or making fun of his spelling or whatever.  Or inviting him to be a guest on my radio show to talk about his criticisms of me.   
But my tolerance doesn't mean other community members have no right to complain that such treatment by a county commissioner is offensive and wrong. It's not a crime, but county policies forbid conduct that embarrasses the county.  “ _____”

That applies to commissioners. Vasquez's conduct fits. Certain commissioners quickly invoked that provision to punish employees who they thought spoke discourteously to Commissioner Solis during public input at a meeting.

Those employees' language was far less colorful than John's.  I think the Commission should have quietly and informally warned him that his conduct appeared to violate county policy, and that continuing it could get him formally warned or censured.
Before his election I thought John Vasquez a bright and promising candidate.  I understood that he had some problems, but thought he fully understood that too and was dealing appropriately with them.  Since his election, he's done some odd things and some good things.  I think he'd do better not to post a bunch of silly and abusive stuff on Facebook, agree that it undermines his credibility and arguably the commission's, but do not put his Facebook foolishness in quite the category of what former County Treasurer Gutierrez did or what Vigil and Roberts are doing to DASO and the people who work there.]    

[As to DASO, . . . it needs work.  By the way, I'm trying to schedule the candidates for County Sheriff, including Mr. Vigil, on the radio show.  Eddie Lerma will be a guest Wednesday, February 14, Kim Stewart has agreed to appear but we haven't specifically scheduled that yet; and I have calls in to Mr. Vigil.]

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Let's Build an Art Hive!

I was stuck in Albuquerque for a day recently. There were a lot of homeless people in Robinson Park, so I bought a bunch of pizzas to give away. Food. Warm – and unexpected. 

When I returned with six pizzas, only a couple of tables were occupied. I took a pizza to each. 

Driving down the block, I saw a guy with a backpack and a knit cap on the opposite side of the street. “Excuse me, are you hungry?” He was. Emphatically so. He thanked me profusely. When I asked where there might be others who could use a pizza he praised the community arts storefront I'd noticed earlier while hanging out at Java Joe's. 

So I wandered back there. On the way I gave another pizza to two more gents walking in that direction. As I parked, a cheerful fellow came out. I held up the pizza. He said they usually gave out snacks, but could certainly give out pieces of pizza.

Inside, an art class was in progress. At least a couple-dozen people were painting or doing crafts or just hanging around. Folks of all ages and ethnic groups and at least two sexes. At one table a guy I'd passed on the street was eating the pizza I'd given him.

The Community Arts Center (formally, Offcenter Community Arts Project!), felt like a place people were grateful to be. It's funded by community donations and grants, including one from McCune. It's open to everyone – but especially those “at the lowest incomes or marginalized due to age, mental health issues, physical disability, immigration dislocation, or other complex social challenges.” The Art Rules posted around the place start with “Respect Each Other and Yourself,” “Come Ready to Work on Art,” and “Be Creative, Make Art and Have Fun,” but also stress cleaning up and delicately discourage stealing. 

I gabbed with the cheerful guy for awhile. He was the Director, Robert Allen. He stressed the importance of “having a safe place to come and explore self-expression,” which is particularly important to “people who are marginalized.” Everyone sometimes feels isolated, and being able to share artistic self-expression can be incredibly healing. Agencies bring people to the Center, as sort of a half-way stop – or, as Robert calls it, “an integrative point for people with disabilities.” As a writer/photographer I know how essential to our person-hood art is. As someone visiting Albuquerque, I see clearly that a whole lot of people, some obviously marginalized but most not, are here working quietly, alone or together, in an particularly peaceful way.

The Albuquerque Community Arts Center is the first of 60-80 “art hives” around this country and Canada. There are thirty in Montreal alone. (The lady who started this one in 1996 later moved back to Montreal. 

There oughtta be one in Las Cruces. We know what art and self-expression mean to people. We have a vibrant art community, great artists and teachers, and also folks who feel isolated or maginalized. 

We have some vigorous and imaginative nonprofits. I know our city council has to emphasize grander stuff that supposedly will bring in big bucks and a bunch of jobs; but maybe it could look at hleping form an art hub, or something similar.

At a time when we need to help make life better for all, why not consider an art hive? It would enrich the lives of many citizens, and not just marginal ones.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 28 January 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air periodically during the week on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM ( for streaming)]

[If you're interested in further information about the Offcenter Community Art Project, check out its website or drop by 808 Park Avenue.  It's just down the street from the Blue Hotel or Robinson Park, before you get to Java Joe's, a fun place for coffee or breakfast.  (And there's a good pizza place next door.)]

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Race to Replace Pearce

Here's hoping Progressives keep their eyes on the ball.

Steve Pearce, despite losing our county to less experienced candidates, has held Congressional District 2 for years, using it as a platform for spouting far-right ideology most folks here don't share.
We need to get the seat out of ReTrumplican hands. For everyone's sake.

We have some highly promising candidates. Xochitl Torres-Small is someone I've long thought has promise. Angel Peña comes highly recommended, and I look forward to meeting him. David Baake, a bright, committed environmental lawyer, campaigned hard, despite limited connections to New Mexico. (All three are professional environmental watchdogs.) I don't yet know Mad Hildebrandt, but she'll appear on my radio show soon.

I'm delighted Xochitl is in the race. She's a water lawyer who grew up among us and worked on public-interest matters here – as well as on statewide matters for Senator Udall. Her parents grew up here. One became a teacher and the other a social worker. She's a lifelong resident who went away to Georgetown, then UNM Law School, and chose to return. I know her to be capable, incredibly ethical, and deeply caring. Her candidacy has quickly generated a lot of excitement. 
Thursday I received an anonymous letter to Democratic leaders saying that Xochitl (whose work commitments delayed her announcement) met with David to tell him she would be announcing, and that the DCCC was (understandably) enthusiastic about her candidacy. The anonymous letter bashed the DCCC, which probably deserves some bashing for not having treated CD-2 candidates very well and not being much help to Merrie Lee Soules two years ago. The letter was obviously from people still bitter – and reasonably so – over the appearance of Democratic Party favoritism in the 2016 Presidential race. That concerns me too. 
Unfortunately, the letter seems to attack Xochitl as well. It snidely calls her “Mrs. Small,” presumably because her husband is State Rep. Nathan Small. It refers to her as “an assigned candidate,” suggesting that DCCC encouragement and financing equates to forcing us to vote for her.
The DCCC should concentrate most on helping the Democratic candidate win the general election. 
But make no mistake: Ms. Torres-Small's obvious appeal, and the longstanding local support for her, created the national party's interest – not the other way around. She's well-qualified. She's locally popular, for good reason. She has every right to run – as do the other candidates. She and Peña, and perhaps Hildebrandt, are promising. I hope and trust they won't do anything that prevents uniting behind the ultimate nominee. (At least one of the letter's authors is a serious progressive who'll work hard for whoever wins the nomination.)

The letter addresses continuing issues that the Democratic Party must deal with at some point.

But those issues should not be used to attack a local candidate who may be our best chance to get the congressional seat back into the hands of the people. As Baake said, “I don't blame Xochi at all for the way the national party handles its business.” He's a fine young man. I hope he'll stay in New Mexico and do good here. 
Still, the letter's suggestion that Baake was “the will of the people” was a little premature. (Ironically, one of its authors was voted out of local party office.) 
The people of the desert will make their will known in the usual way. In June and November.

[The above column appeared this morning, 21 January 2017, 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).

[This column happened more rapidly than most: I had drafted a column on a different subject, but received on Thursday evening the anonymous letter discussed above.  Along with others, I received it from Marty Rennert, whom I know and respect, and inferred that he had probably helped write it.  I pointed out that the anonymity of the writers weakened its persuasiveness, and I wished they'd signed their names.  I quickly investigated a little and wrote the column.  

The following morning, Charlotte Lipson, another progressive I know and respect, sent around copies of the letter, adding that as a supporter of Angel Peña she was unhappy with the DCCC's reported favoring of Ms. Torres-Small.

Certainly the anonymous letter, despite its bitter tone and snide references to Ms. Torres-Small, raised a reasonable issue that reasonable people could differ on: how much and under what circumstances is it appropriate for the DCCC to encourage a particular candidate in a congressional primary?  My first reaction when I heard informally that the DCCC was excited about Xochitl's candidacy was, "Gee, so am I."  However, reading the letter, my first reaction was to question the propriety of the DCCC helping one candidate in a primary.  It's legal, but is it right?  Further reflection suggested that the DCCC is doing what it should do, as I discuss below in the response I sent Ms. Lipson.  It's mandate is to help take back the House.  If it believes Ms. Torres-Small is clearly more likely to prevail in CD-2 than anyone else seeking the nomination, shouldn't it act, within the relevant legal and ethical constraints, to make that happen?

On the other hand, I'd likely be irritated if I'd been out campaigning hard for Mr. Martinez, Mr. Baake, Mr. Peña, or Ms. Hildebrandt.  I'd be all the more irritated if I'd worked hard for previous candidates whom the DCCC hadn't even been courteous to.

Again, I hope this doesn't become a big deal or create disunity.  We have some great candidates.  The DCCC thinks Ms. Torres-Small is a great candidate.  I hope she doesn't use that as a big point in her favor, but she also doesn't deserve to be attacked for that.  I hope no voters vote automatically for or against her based on attitudes toward the DCCC.  It's a plus for her -- in the sense that the DCCC's historical stinginess toward candidates in this district has hurt, and its excitement about her is encouraging -- but a limited one.  We should each make up our own mind about the candidates.

(One local Democrat's response to Ms. Lipson's mailing was "I forwarded this to David. He said that he already ran out of money and was already set on dropping out before he met with Xochitl at the end of December. He reiterated that he withdrew because of lack of funds and he said that uncertainty made it hard for donors to commit to his campaign. (there were rumors of 1 to 3 new people entering the race soon, which 2 later did) People were even bringing up these concerns at his last fundraiser in December. I don't think he felt fully supported in the community, many Democrats were openly giving up on CD-2 when comparing Baake and Hildebrandt. He also told me when it first happened that he thought withdrawing was the best thing for party unity.")

Certainly my impression was that David is likely to endorse Xochitl.

My response to Ms. Lipson was:

Charlotte -
             I do not want to step into the middle of something or aggravate it, but several things are pretty clear:
1. Xochi Torres-Small is a great candidate;
2. From all I hear, so is Angel Pena.  If you're in touch with his campaign, let them know I'd love to have him on my show some time.  Baake and Martinez were on it, and I think Hildebrandt will be, and Ms. Torres-Small will be on January 31.
3. Marty Rennert is a committed progressive and a thoughtful and energetic person who, so far as I know, has no agenda except to move us forward in a positive way.
4. There are lingering pockets of bitterness over the national Democratic Party's handling of the 2016 Presidential Election.
5. We could have a fair and honest debate about the proper course of the DCCC.  I believe its primary task should be helping the Democratic candidate prevail in the general election, and that it has written this race off too easily in prior years; and I could reasonably argue that it ought not to tip the scales at all in favor of anyone in the primary OR could reasonably argue that it has a duty to do so.  To some degree, our perceptions vary with our positions.  We've seen Democrats who aren't progressive, and we've seen some Las Cruces people change from R to D in order to run for a judgeship or DA position.  If a prominent Republican turned Democrat today and started collecting signatures tomorrow, to run for the CD-2 position as a Democrat, I think both you and I would hope the DCCC could help oppose that.  On the other hand, if I were running for that seat, and was considerably to the left of the Clintons (or if Marty were), and the DCCC heavily funded someone more moderate who "has a better chance to win the general," I'd be annoyed.
6. I have no firsthand knowledge, but I do not know that the DCCC has helped fund Ms. Torres-Small at all, or intends to, although I suspect they've provided some advice and I infer that they've indicated they'd help in the general. 
7. I do not want to see anyone among several exciting or viable candidates do anything that will prevent us all from uniting behind whoever wins.  
8. I don't think past sins or perceived sins of the national party should be blamed on Ms. Torres-Small.
9. I think Mr. Baake will indeed endorse Ms. Torres-Small, enthusiastically.  He seems a very bright and energetic young man who was running a great campaign, but whose limited connection to New Mexico would have hampered him in the primary and, if he were nominated, the general election.
10. I think the DCCC has not treated candidates so well; but to the extent that the DCCC has been waiting to see whether or not Martinez or Baake generated huge local support, and who else might get into the race, that's not unreasonable -- although I'd likely be irritated if I were one of the candidates who's been trying to get the DCCC committed to support me.  (Come to think of it, if Mr. Pena has been talking to the DCCC about getting more help, his supporters can hardly complain that Ms. Torres-Small apparently did so, perhaps more successfully.)
11. I agree with Larry that authors or co-authors of the letter should own up to it, but I may help with that in my blog post supplementing Sunday's column.
12. Thanks, as always, for sending these pieces of important information around.  I think reasonable people could disagree with each other about this one, and I regret the anonymity of the authors.  I think there are legitimate issues here worth discussing, and that's easier to do if, say, I could invite the anonymous writers on my radio show to discuss it with others who might disagree with them. 
13. I look forward to hosting Ms. Torres-Small, Mr Pena, and Ms. Hildebrandt on my radio show at their convenience.  And/or to having coffee with any of them to discuss their campaigns. 
                        - peter goodman

Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Developments on Bail in New Mexico

In 2016 we amended the state constitution to change long-standing bail rules. Under those rules, a poor defendant who wasn't a danger to the community or a serious flight risk could linger in jail because s/he couldn't post bond. A wealthier defendant, even a dangerous one, could post bond and be out on the street again. The new rules aimed to change that.

Bailbondsfolk complained that the change threatened their livelihood – and was unconstitutional. (A court challenge failed.) 

Prosecutors complained that to hold a dangerous felon required an immediate evidentiary hearing, which could be hard to manage so quickly and represented significant extra work without added resources. They also said that judges, by strictly construing the “clear and convincing evidence” requirement, were still releasing obviously dangerous people. But civil liberties proponents reasonably claimed that if judges eased up too much on the rules of evidence, they'd be holding folks in jail on hearsay, rumors, or a bad reputation, rather than facts.

Everyone was asking the state supreme court for clarification. 

This week, in two opinions written by Justice Daniels, the court unanimously held in three cases that a dangerousness hearing “is not bound by formal rules of evidence but . . . focuses on judicial assessment of all reliable information . . . in any format worthy of reasoned consideration. The probative value of the information, rather than the technical form, is the proper focus.”

Any reasonable person would decide (for reasons discussed on my blog, with links to the opinions) that each defendant was certainly dangerous and two were obvious flight risks. 

Evidence such as videos, text messages, witness statements, or physical evidence found at the scene supported detention; but evidentiary rules at trial require live witnesses to authenticate such evidence, not just a cop reporting what witnesses said, as would occur in a grand jury setting. The three defendants neither offered evidence nor articulated denials, but merely challenged the strength of the state's evidence without witnesses.

My first reaction was that since the defendants were obviously dangerous, the judge who released two was an idiot.

But I've witnessed and read about police and prosecutorial abuses. I've seen justice take a back seat to southern cops' distaste for civil rights workers and “uppity” blacks or get ignored by northern cops who could see only our antiwar politics. I haven't personally suffered extreme abuses, but I've been close enough to know that procedural protections for defendants are in place for damned good reasons.

Justice Daniels wrote that defendants and prosecutor took “absolutist positions” that live witnesses were always required to authenticate evidence or were never required. The Attorney-General, and the court, held that such witnesses weren't always required but that courts may require them where there's doubt regarding the evidence. 

That sounds reasonable, given limited funds. I'm not certain it's right. These cases were clearcut, but these questions are troublesome. Will certain judges, for whom each word uttered by a police officer is gospel, take shortcuts in less clearcut cases – violating the rights of people who aren't guilty? But if we required live witnesses a biased judge might ignore devastating cross-examination of those witnesses. On the other hand, if a record is made an appellate court can review that.

I come out with Justice Daniels and with prosecutors I've talked with; but somewhere inside, a younger me is shouting an obscenity at the grizzled old guy writing this.
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 14 January 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News and on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL (101.4 FM).]

Sunday, January 7, 2018

We Live in Extraordinary Times

[NOTE:  We can relax, and ignore the column below, because the President of the United States has announced that Donald Trump is a "highly-stable genius" and "like, smart."]

We live in exceptional times.

The sheer breadth of the harm Donald Trump and his cronies are doing to us is unprecedented. 

Watching the flames burn up consumer and environmental protections, health care, and the judicial system has been painful for some of us, while others have danced with delight. As the flames engulf stuff conservatives used to care about, will they even notice?

The tax bill is one example. For decades conservatives cared about the deficit. Now suddenly that's a mere pimple on the butt of progress in the urgency to lower taxes even further on the wealthy and corporations. Economists predict disaster with near unanimity? Background noise! Our strength as a nation is another. No matter how clearly military leaders tell us that the changing climate and weakening the economy are defense problems too, politicians can't hear them.

Similarly, people who pounced on the least flaw in Barack Obama's foreign policy don't seem to notice Vladimir Putin and the Chinese play Trump like a toy drum. His man-crush on Putin is a standing joke. (Well, the Russians did help save Trump from financial ruin.) While Congress pretty much unanimously votes for sanctions, Trump drags his feet.

The Chinese and the Saudis understand as well as many of us do that this is a damaged individual, a desperate narcissist more easily blinded by flattery and extreme hospitality than most of us.
Trump and his pals select personnel with more purely political criteria and less concern about competence than anyone for a long time. Appointing judges who've never even worked trials as lawyers and don't know what a motion in limine is would be kind of like appointing me (or, say, LeBron James) to perform surgery on you tomorrow. Not caring about the State Department is fine, except when suddenly people have to handle difficult negotiations and prove so inept and clueless that other nations just tune them out and cooperate without us. 

Our past competitors and enemies could only have dreamed of open hostility between the President and our diplomatic corps, the President and the CIA, the President and the FBI, the President and our judiciary and economists. Presidents who cooperated, or worked out differences as adults, projected a kind of strength we now only remember fondly. 

Other nations are consistently amazed when our personnel are too clueless to push back or too inexpert or uninterested to work together. In a host of situations, we've left the field open for the Chinese to look responsible and dependable. Making friends at our expense. Yeah, we still have a huge nuclear arsenal. But Trump's childish “Mine's Bigger than Yours” spat with Kim Jong-un merely shows other nations we're a dangerous joke. 

Maybe I grew up watching too many westerns where self-control was a manly virtue. Where reasonably self-confident heroes didn't need to act like jerks to get attention and prove something, but were ready to fight hard and well when they had to. 

It may be promising that Republicans are so concerned about possible impeachment that they're vigorously attacking Republican Robert Mueller, a decorated combat veteran whose competence and fairness even Trump fans applauded when he was appointed special prosecutor. But impeachment won't be fun for anyone.

And it's not just Mr. Trump. Pence and the Republican Congress will merely use better manners when they rob us.
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 14 January 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News  and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG-Radio and on KTAL (101.5 FM).

[The bottom line is that if you'd made a film about the Trump Presidency and showed it to audiences 50or 20 or even probably 10 years ago, they'd have laughed, but not believed the film realistic.  Well, as an old guy, I wake up every morning and that movie is playing, whether I believe it or not.  That same movie.  It's kind of like when you've had a cancer diagnosis  or lost a championship final, or your spouse has left you for someone else: you get up in the morning, the sun's shining, the dog's wagging his tail, everything feels fine -- until you remember.  Awww, shit! ]

[By the way, I recommend the article "Making China Great Again" by Evan O  in the current New Yorker issue, which I started reading yesterday.  It provides further evidence that the Chinese have Donald Trump's number.   Chinese experts see Trump as our Mikhail Gorbachev -- in that they see Gorbachev as having presided over the disintegration of an empire.]

[It is a little frightening that Republicans outside the White House have started sniping more and more at Special Prosecutor Mueller.  It couldn't be clearer that whatever the truth about Trump and Russia may be, they are afraid it will be politically inconvenient for them for us to hear it.  They control the Congress (at least when they can manage to control themselves) and could sit quietly by if Trump had Mueller fired.  What a long, sad road from Watergate, where both parties were interested in the truth about Nixon's misconduct!]