Sunday, April 15, 2018

Trump, Michael Cohen, and the Russian Mafiya

    This week, Federal investigators, pursuant to a warrant sought by U.S. prosecutors in New York, raided the office of Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, and confiscated files and his computer.

    Why is that so significant?  The attorney-client privilege matters to lawyers.  It hides all sorts of chicanery.  Judges and opposing lawyers just sigh at the phrase, and don't try to breach the privilege.  It’s a foundation of our legal system.   

    For a prosecutor to seek, and a judge to grant, such a warrant, both had to have seen damned strong evidence of serious misconduct.

    This isn't a Congressperson getting a subpoena to embarrass a political opponent.  It's career participants in the legal system acting within that system.  

    Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein signed off on this. Not some anonymous minion.  No Democratic Party ideologue – a Republican Trump appointee.  A long-time government lawyer who saw what the Trump people just did to career FBI officer Andrew McCabe.  (They fired him just quickly enough to screw up his retirement pension.)  If you're Rosenstein, you don't sign off on this unless you know it's righteous. 

    The crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege means that the privilege doesn’t protect a communication used to commit a crime or defraud someone.  For example, IF Trump told Cohen to pay to silence two women just before the 2016 election, and if paying her off was a crime, the exception might prevent using the privilege to hide Trump's participation in the crime. 

    The privilege doesn’t apply to everything a lawyer does.  Cohen doesn't just try cases.  He's a fixer.  He plays – and brags about playing – a bigger role, sometimes minimally related to lawyering.  Did prosecutors argue that the communications regarded non-legal work?  Or that Trump or Cohen had somehow waived the privacy of their communications?

    We don't know that whatever they have on Cohen implicates Trump in wrongdoing.  But they have something they're sure is significant.  And Cohen reportedly tapes most conversations.  Meanwhile, even Warren Harding never mustered such a collection of openly corrupt officials ripping us off in so many ways. 

    Trump is jumping up and down and throwing tantrums.  That has strengthened the will of some Republicans to pass a law that if Trump fires Mueller, Mueller can appeal to the court, get a hearing within ten days, and try to show that he wasn’t fired for good cause.  We don't know yet if that will pass, but it's under more intense consideration.  (Trump should welcome this protection from himself, some allies say!)

    If Trump can't personally fire Mueller, and Sessions is recused, then Rosenstein could fire Mueller.  If he declined, Trump could fire him and appoint some minion to do the dirty work.

    Older folks have seen this movie.  Richard Nixon played Trump, and Archibald Cox played Mueller.  And it worked out better for Archie (who, by the way, also drove a pickup truck) than for Tricky Dick.  

    What's different?  Nixon – plus Johnson's conduct of the war, and the second Bush's “misstatements” to get us into another war – have torpedoed our innocence, and we don't trust presidents the way folks trusted Eisenhower.  Too, no one anticipated Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre (firing Cox and his deputy), and no one thought to prevent it.  And Nixon started with a much bigger landslide and more respect (though not affection) than Trump has ever had.

    On balance, it feels like we’ve been here before.  What have we learned since then?

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 15 April (gee, my father would have turned 99 yesterday - I wish he were here) 2018 in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  During the week both KRWG and KTAL (101.5 FM -- or stream on will air a three-minute spoken version.]

[There's a lot more to say.  First of all, we should be clear that although Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller was one source pointing prosecutors toward Cohen, the investigation is being carried out by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, separately from Mueller's investigation.  Secondly, reports indicate that Mueller will soon provide Congress with the first of two reports on the results of his investigation.]

[Trump allies see the  Cohen investigation as at least as dangerous as Mueller's.  Cohen and others are desperately trying for a court order that prosecutors not review the material they seized; and that's as it should be, given concerns about the attorney-client privilege and perhaps the rights of clients unrelated to Trump and the Republican Party.  U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said Friday that she didn't yet have enough information to rule, and asked lawyers, including Cohen, to come back to her courtroom Monday bringing additional information, including a list of Cohen's clients.  
I'm way too far away to predict the outcome; but it's clear that at least as to some of the material, prosecutors have a great argument that Cohen was not even acting as a lawyer.  (The court filing says evidence from email accounts “indicate that Cohen is in fact performing little to no legal work, and that zero emails were exchanged with President Trump.” If Trump didn't communicate with Cohen, there's no attorney-client privilege.)  Judge Wood also told Cohen's lawyers, she expected "a good-faith effort to answer the Court's questions" and said, “You need to be prepared to substantiate that the relationship was an attorney-client relationship.”
Prosecutors are accusing Cohen's and Trump's lawyers of delay; Trump's lawyer said the decision in this case could affect everyone who consults an attorney and relies on confidentiality.  They've asked the Court either to let them go through the materials and determine which they think should be kept confidential or to appoint a special master to do so.   It seems likely to me that the Court will order an "in camera" (secret) court-review of some of the seized material, which is a very common step in cases that raise such issues; but I'll bet that as to some of the material the Court will rule right away.  The whole process could take awhile.
Prosecutors accuse Cohen's / Trump's side of just trying to delay a reckoning.  They're probably right as to some of the material, which isn't entitled to attorney-client confidentiality but is potentially harmful; but there may also be serious issues here that aren't so clearcut as to some material. ]
 [She also told Cohen's lawyers, she expected "a good-faith effort to answer the Court's questions" and said, “You need to be prepared to substantiate that the relationship was an attorney-client relationship.”]

 [Perhaps one of the least noticed but more significant bits of new information this week was that Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer, visited Prague in late summer of 2016.  "So what?" you may ask, reasonably.  Well, the famous Steele dossier, which Trump's supporters have been maligning, said, as I recall, that Cohen had gone to Prague for a meeting related to Russian support for Trump.  Cohen strenuously objected that he had never done so, had not even been in Prague.  If evidence has surfaced showing conclusively that he was in Prague that summer, (a) his credibility is torpedoed and the credibility of Steele's dossier much enhanced, (b) he could face perjury charges if he said under oath what he said to the public, and (c) that's some indication that he was there for an unsavory purpose, because if he just went to Prague to get laid or see the museums, why deny he went there at all?]
[Remember, Christopher Steele was the former MI6 agent who alleged, among other things, a "golden shower" incident involving Trump.   Steele alleged that the Russians were blackmailing Trump, and that Cohen went to Prague to negotiate.  Cohen denied he'd even ever been to Prague, and posed a picture of his passport on social media.  It's not clear what evidence Mueller now has, but some note that Cohen could have kept his passport clean by entering     through the open border with Germany.  Question: did the Russians give Cohen a copy of the "golden shower" tape, to verify that they had one -- and was it among the materials seized this week?]

[I can't resist adding one experience we had with a court's in camera review.  We represented a major client claiming a company had defrauded it by claimingto have developed a self-driving forklift.  (This was decades ago.)   In fact, the company was working on the new-fangled forklift, but perhaps wasn't as far along as it had claimed in order to get the contract.  As part of discovery, we asked for all documents discussing the forklifts or the project.   We got a lot, but the company objected that the personal diary of a key employee working on the forklifts was not subject to discovery.  His religion encouraged him to keep a journal, and this was for his kids, ultimately.  Nothing to do with the project, they argued.  The Court accepted our argument that there should be an in camera review.  This wasn't as much material as there is in the Cohen case, so the Judge (or his clerk) read the diary and ruled that while most of it needn't be turned over, there were 17 pages mentioning the project.   One of those pages actually contained the employee's account of an inspection by representatives of our client, during which they watched the forklift work, with the employee riding on it but not controlling it, and thanked God that he'd been able to use the brake on the side of the forklift our clients couldn't see!]

[ Thanks to Charlotte for the reference to the interesting Rolling Stone article, Michael Cohen's Ties to Russia, Crime, and Trump, based on a new book (an excerpt from by Seth Hettena from his new book, Trump / Russia: A Definitive History, to be published by Melville House Publishing on May 8th. ).  Basically, Cohen's whole life -- starting in childhood -- has been intertwined with Russian mob figures, and much of his professional career had more with connecting Russian money to Donald Trump than with practicing law.  

Cohen's uncle owned the a Brooklyn catering hall and event space that was a well-known hangout for Russian gangsters. Cohen and his siblings all wre part-owners.   According to the uncle, Cohen didn't give up his stake in the club until after Trump's election!)

Two former federal investigators told Hettina that Cohen's father-in-law, Firma Shusterman, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Ukraine who came to the U.S. in 1975, introduced Cohen to Donald Trump and also set Cohen up in the taxi business.  Shusterman owned a fleet of taxicabs with two partners.  All three men were convicted of a money-laundering related offense in 1993. A former federal investigator said the father-in-law might have been a silent partner with Trump and a conduit for Russian investors in Trump properties and other ventures."  The investigator also said Trump's group gave Cohen his job as a favor to the father-in-law, but Cohen denied that to Hettina, commenting: "Your source is creating fake news.")

Cohen once ran 260 yellow cabs with his Ukrainian-born partner, the "taxi king" Simon V. Garber, until they parted ways acrimoniously in 2012. A private investigator who examined Trump's Russia connections during Trump's presidential run, testified to the House Intelligence Committee that Cohen "had a lot of connections to the former Soviet Union, and that he seemed to have associations with organized crime figures in New York and Florida – Russian organized crime figures," including Garber.

Cohen, his in-laws, and others connected to him invested at least $17.3 million with Trump, according to Hettina.  Hettina adds:
"In the 1990s, there was an informal group of federal and local law enforcement agents investigating the Russian Mafiya in New York that called themselves 'Red Star.' They shared information they learned from informants. It was well known among the members of Red Star that Cohen's father-in-law was funneling money into Trump ventures. Several sources have told me that Cohen was one of several attorneys who helped money launderers purchase apartments in a development in Sunny Isles Beach, a seaside Florida town just north of Miami. This was an informal arrangement passed word-of-mouth: 'We have heard from Russian sources that … in Florida, Cohen and other lawyers acted as a conduit for money.'"

It's no news that Trump was kept afloat by Russian and Ukrainian money for years.  I remember seeing during the election a documentary that included footage of Trump's son bragging about all the money.  Hettina provides some numbers: "a Reuters investigation found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in the seven Trump-branded luxury towers. And that was a conservative estimate. At least 703 – or about one-third – of the 2044 units were owned by limited liability companies, or LLCs, which could conceal the property's true owner. Executives from Gazprom and other Russian natural resource giants also owned units in Trump's Sunny Isles towers. In an observation that several people I spoke with echoed, Kenneth McCallion, a former prosecutor who tracked the flows of Russian criminal money into Trump's properties, told me, 'Trump's genius – or evil genius – was, instead of Russian criminal money being passive, incidental income, it became a central part of his business plan.' McCallion continued, 'It's not called 'Little Moscow' for nothing. The street signs are in Russian. But his towers there were built specifically for the Russian middle-class criminal.'"

Anyway, I've quoted or summarized enough from the Hettina excerpt.  There's more in the Rolling Stone piece, and still more in the soon-to-be-published book.]

[Can't resist adding that as more and more information comes out, the Trump-Cohen "attorney-client privilege" argument looks sillier and sillier.  First, it's clear that prosecutors had already looked at Cohen's emails, pursuant to an earlier subpoena, and knew he did "little or no legal work."  Secondly,  Trump (in tweets) and Cohen's lawyers (in court) claimed that the seized files involved confidential communications to and from many other "innocent clients"; but Cohen has often said he has just one client, Trump; and when Judge Wood asked for a client list, Cohen's lawyers couldn't provide one.  Given a few extra hours, they still couldn't.  Now they're supposed to bring in a list Monday.  Nonsense!  I practice a little law too.  Under current rules, you need to keep some records, for various reasons, and if I had to provide a client list I could do it instantly.  So could most lawyers.]

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Science and Faith -- Recalling Robert Ingersoll

In the local March for Science on Saturday, I will march thinking of Robert Ingersoll.

Maybe I'll carry this quotation from him: “We are the advocates of inquiry, of investigation and thought. This of itself, is an admission that we are not perfectly satisfied with all our conclusions. Philosophy has not the egotism of faith.”

He said that during the last half of the 19th Century, when he was famous – and infamous – as “The Great Agnostic.” Many religious folks hated him passionately; but he was a hugely entertaining speaker. People in the Southwest would ride miles on horses or mules to hear him. An Iowa newspaper described faithful Baptists buying tickets and laughing loudly at his witticisms, even though they vehemently disagreed with him.

Ingersoll was a self-educated man who spoke sense, an eloquent dissenter with much to say, not only to his own time but to ours. 

Ingersoll and other “freethinkers” believed in reaching conclusions based on evidence and reasoning, not appeal to ancient authorities (or, as he stated, to sacred writings by men who believed that the sun revolved around the earth). A part of his work was to explain Darwin's discoveries in a way that laypersons in the audience could “get” evolution. Many who heard him maintained their strong faith, but recognized that certain aspects of the Bible were not literally true. 

Questions about science and faith were newer then than now. Ingersoll's belief that these questions were being answered forever was a bit optimistic. Most of the western world assumed after the Scopes Trial that religious objections to the scientific evidence of evolution would fade away; but I'm still hearing them from Las Crucens.

Ingersoll applauded our Founding Fathers for creating “the first secular government in this world” when all European nations were still based on union with churches. He called ours “the first government that said every church has exactly the same rights, and no more” and said our government had “retired the gods from politics.”

Meanwhile, the Doña Ana County Commission has passed an ordinance calling for all meetings to begin with a prayer or similar statement of good wishes for the Commission and the public.
That feels like we're going backwards. We're entitled to our various gods (or none). Most beliefs are based on some beautiful words. I hope faith improves the lives of the faithful but good sense and the thought-out preferences of our Founders mandate keeping those gods out of the business of self-government.

I discussed this with an Islamic acquaintance. No one had notified the mosque, or invited anyone from the mosque to pray; and the supporting materials in the agenda packet concerning this indicate that the proponents contemplated Christians and Jews – but would allow humanists, Wiccans, etc. to give invocations, to keep things legal and “fair.” 

When I asked him how he felt about the ordinance, he said that religion and government should be separate. I wondered later whether recent Middle Eastern history illustrates the importance of separating Church and State with an immediacy we lack. I asked if Moslems should challenge the ordinance, or sign up to give an invocation. Gently, he replied, essentially, that although he felt somewhat excluded from the plan, and disapproved, he did not want to make unpleasantness. That sometimes the better course was staying quiet.

His gentle way is not always my way, but seems wiser, somehow.
[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, April 8, 2018, 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.] 

[I truly wish folks well in their religious faith.  There are so many appealing faiths, each of which contributes many fine ideas or practices to our collective potential.  So long as those faiths are used to unite people toward the benevolent purposes most or all faiths espouse, great!  When they are used to separate and divide, even to justify killing and other hoorrible mistreatment, that's an affront to all of us and to the god in whose name someone hates or kills.
On the other hand, science is common to all of us.  It does not know all the answers, and does not claim to; but it approaches the gathering of knowledge by rational thought, experimentation, and rigorous method.   It determined long ago that the earth revolves around the sun, which certainly seems to be true, although personally I could probably not prove it; and after some quibbling, which cost a few notable lives, the Church accepted that.  Science determined in the 19th Century that we developed through evolution, not by having a Creator design us and plop us down on this planet in our current form a few thousand years ago.  Those principles -- evolution and the fact that the planet is considerably older than some religious texts suggest -- have so far stood the test of time.  Again, I couldn't prove either, personally; but if evolution is somehow wrong, someone will prove that by using the scientific method to assemble facts and scientific observations into a powerful package that disproves evolution in a way none of us could reasonably disagree with -- not by whining, "Evolution sort of conflicts with my religion, so can we pretend it never happened or teach kids 'Creationism' instead?"  I'm aware of no scientific evidence of a Creator -- let alone that some Supreme Being wishes to be called "God," or "Allah" or "Yahweh" or "Jehovah," or "the Great Spirit" to the exclusion of those other names.  Most of the religious leaders I've met tend to agree with that, but argue that what we observe in nature and national history is perfectly consistent with the existence of a God.  I'd probably agree, and I think Ingersoll did too.]
[I've picked up Ingersoll's biography again.  I hadn't realized much about his war record.  "Colonel" wasn't some honorary moniker.  He fought valiantly, once saving a large force by holding off, with a small force of mostly inexperienced soldiers, a larger Confederate force advancing; and he would have been a higher-ranked officer except that he disapproved a lot of how the war was being run, and resisted promotion. He was captured by the Confederate Army -- but General Forrest "paroled" him after coming upon a scene in which Union prisoners and Confederate soldiers alike were listening spellbound to an impromptu speech by Ingersoll, standing on a box outside where he and others were being confined.]    

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Combining Open State Government with the Spaceport Business

Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of moderating the annual Sunshine Week panel on transparency in government, which focused on the Spaceport.

Access to public information is critical to our democracy. That’s what the Legislature said in enacting our Inspection of Public Records Act. That’s what courts consistently say in deciding IPRA cases. I agree.

Spaceport America is a public entity. But it’s success depends on luring customers and tenants. Those companies have trade secrets (protected by law) and other information they prefer competitors not see. 
The new Spaceport Commercial Aerospace Protection Act – called “The Spaceport Secrecy Act” by detractors – aims to balance these conflicting interests. Whether or not it strikes the right balance, it’s an interesting example of the legislative process working reasonably well.

Proponents offered a bill that insulated from IPRA “all records relating to a customer, the disclosure of which would reveal trade secrets or adversely affect proprietary interests of the [Spaceport] or a customer.” Way too broad. A huge explosion or fuel spill might “adversely affect proprietary interests.” 
Legislators agreed. The bill stalled. Then a substitute bill emerged for consideration. (Daniel Ivey-Soto was one key player.) The substitute bill tried to help the Spaceport without savaging our public interest in transparency. It protects “proprietary technical or business information, or information that is related to possible relocation, expansion, or operations . . . of customers, for which it is demonstrated, based on specific factual evidence, that disclosure of the information would cause substantial competitive harm to the aerospace customer.

That requires the Agency to show a court, with “specific factual evidence” that disclosure would (not could) cause competitive harm and that the harm would be “substantial.” As a columnist and curmudgeon, do I like that? No. Not really. But when I contemplate asking for information, and suing if I get wrongly turned down, I mind it a whole lot less than the initial version. Particularly because abundant case-law says IPRA exceptions will be narrowly construed by courts, in favor of disclosure. I might have liked an explicit balancing test too; but under IPRA most courts will consider the actual public interest in specific information.

Moderating the panel was helpful. Spaceport Executive Director Dan Hicks, State Senators Bill Burt and Jeff Steinborn, NMFOG board member Tom Johnson, and Walt Rubel from the Sun-News all spoke. I had wondered, among other things, whether Hicks would admit that the final bill was tougher on the Spaceport than the original version, or try to gloss over the differences; he was frank, which I appreciated. 
Though attendance was down from previous years, the event shed light on a significant public issue. It was streamed live and will be telecast by KRWG. Citizens participated by asking questions.
Thanks to the NMSU Library, its staff members who helped organize this, and Dean Elizabeth Titus, and to Tim Parker, whose generous support makes this annual event possible.

Even the supper afterward was insightful – as well as fun. I still have no idea whether the Spaceport will prove a wonderful boon, as Hicks and so many political leaders predict, or will turn out a magnificent failure that blew money New Mexico could have used more wisely – as some pretty savvy friends of mine seem certain. 
But I see why others I respect, such as Heath Haussamen and Rubel, have viewed the thing a whole lot more positively after talking with Hicks.

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 1 April 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 at times on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM.]

Sunday, March 25, 2018


If you think it's wonderful that kids keep getting massacred in schools, raise your hand.

Didn't raise it, did you? That means we've just agreed there's a problem. 

We haven't agreed on what to do.

It's not purely a gun problem. Some mix of pain, insecurity, lovelessness, hopelessness, anger, feeling left out, and too much TV (or video games) leaves a dangerous minority of our young people itching to shoot up a school and be famous for a day. (Other than Charles Alan Whitman, who shot up a college decades ago, I can't remember the name of a single idiot who's done that.)

But it ain't purely a people problem, either. The ready availability of guns helps make shootings, accidental or otherwise, the third leading cause of death among children. Ready availability of modern weapons of war contributes to school shootings. The NRA (like purveyors of stuff that pollutes our environment, induces cancer, or causes obesity or drug-dependency) muscles up with money and misinformation to avoid meaningful regulation or responsibility. 

Some say it's a mental illness problem – or that it's because we took prayer out of the schools, or don't spank kids any more. Increasing mental health and kids' values would help. But assume putting religion in schools would work. (whose religion? all of them? and which hasn't involved violence?) If it somehow discouraged young folks from massacring fellow students, you'd affect the problem in ten or fifteen years, when 19 year-olds would have experienced religion in schools since kindergarten. What do we do in the meantime?

Watching the anger at Monday's City Council meeting, I wished again that more people who know a lot about guns would help craft steps that could decrease deaths without unduly burdening responsible citizens. Although gun enthusiasts were angry, they seemed less angry and threatening than a similar group two years ago. When Mayor Miyagashima noticed that, and started asking if they thought background checks were a good step, instead of laughing or shouting they quietly said, “Yes. Sure.” I sensed that though they're still loyal to the NRA line, the continued bloodiness of schools is softening more folks' resistance to attempting a few sensible steps.

The NRA has its fans worked up that they'll lose their guns. Ain't gonna happen. Even if, politically, you could ban guns, it wouldn't work. It's too late. And the Second Amendment ain't going anywhere. In fact, the NRA's course – absolute opposition to anything that might decrease the bleeding but impair profits – is the only way imaginable that we'd eliminate the Second Amendment. A vast majority want gun-control. Only more and more shootings, with more and more NRA indifference and bluster, could conceivably make that vast majority so sick of guns it might try to amend the Constitution. 

It's a complex problem. Slogans and simple fixes won't work. Both sides say we should do what some other countries do; but we've a unique mix of ethnic diversity, open spaces and huge cities, and gun-related traditions. And constitutions protecting gun ownership.

The City Council is right to express concern. Those who brought guns to the council meeting shot themselves in the foot: they merely reminded others how easily a demented fool with a gun could kill scores of people. If I were a counselor, intimidation tactics would encourage me to vote against the would-be intimidators.

How about both sides bending a little to seek reasonable steps?


[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 23March 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  During the week, a spoken version will air on KRWG (probably Wednesday morning and evening and again on Saturday) and KTAL, 101.5 FM, on Thursday.]

[By the way, we're going to have a two-hour radio discussion of these issues on KTAL 101.5 FM (which you can also stream at on Wednesday, 11 April, 8-10 a.m. on "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" with a real mix of viewpoints, including several gun owners of various political persuasions -- e.g. Lucas Herndon, a gun enthusiast whose politics are generally Progressive, Harvey Daiho Hilbert, a gun enthusiast who's also a Buddhist roshi, and Bev Courtney (a gun instructor and Tea Party stalwart) and William Webb (also very conservative), plus (briefly) Bill McCamley, Greg Smith, and others.  Haven't figured out just who'll speak when or how it will all work, but we'll have a mix of strong opinions, so it should be interesting.  I hope and believe these are people who won't just toss slogans back and forth at each other like snowballs.]

[I should probably mention that on KTAL, 101.5 FM, the Sunday Show -- this morning at 9 -- will replay our interview with Frank Zamora, former Baptist minister and current professor of philosophy and religion, and that from 8-10 a.m.this Wednesday morning "Speak Up, Las Cruces!", on 101.5 FM,  will feature:
8-9 Algernon D'Amassa, journalist, actor, theatre director, Buddhist teacher, and friend, with a break at 8:30 to talk about Dona Ana County with its PIO, Jess Williams.
first 40-45 minutes: Brandon Gass, whose six-minute film will play at the famous Cannes Film Festival this year, along with his leading lady, and then for the last 15-20 minutes, Kevin Bixby concerning the lawsuit against the Border Wall, possible further protests at that site, and other environmental matters.]
You can also stream KTAL, Las Cruces's Community Radio Station, at


Las Cruces Community Radio's station KTAL-LP

Sunday, March 18, 2018

People, Pickleball, and PTSD

This morning, I'll just reflect on pickleball. And people. And PTSD.

Most mornings I play pickleball. Pickleball looks like tennis, mostly doubles, played on a court about ¼ the size of a tennis court with short-handled rackets and what looks like a wiffleball. If you played basketball daily until 61, then couldn't, then got some new body parts, you might try pickleball. 

Our passionate pickleball community plays mostly at Meersheidt Rec Center and Apodaca Park. About half men, half women. Mostly not real young, although the sport is growing among young people. We play hard, but laugh a lot too. We rarely argue. 

I've wanted to write a column expressing gratitude for that community and the folks working at Meersheidt who have to put up with us. We're mostly pleasant, but when you're addicted to something, even exercise, you can be short-tempered when anything delays your fix. 

One player, CeCe Hunter, often brought her twin son and daughter, Aaron and Kiley. I liked 'em a lot. Played well, but were pleasant and thoughtful. Really sweet. 

On January 8th, Aaron killed himself. I was shocked. His incredibly friendly and easygoing demeanor completely masked the pain and inner wounds of war. He'd fought in Iraq. 3rd Artillery, in the first invasion. But he kept all that inside. His only real symptom was inability to sleep, but he claimed he just never needed much sleep, even felt lethargic if he slept four hours or more.

CeCe's grief fueled efforts to help veterans. Including the Aaron Gifford Memorial Pickleball Tournament, April 7-8 at Apodaca Park. All proceeds to Mission 22, founded by three vets (and PTSD sufferers) to help other vets. I urge you to play, if you know the game, or to donate. This problem won't just go away.

CeCe's friends shared her grief and helped. The pickleball community pitched in. 

The tournament is a small step; but it'll raise a little money and raise awareness. 

So I write to applaud CeCe and the others, and to honor Aaron, but also to be one more nagging voice in some veteran's head. Problems? Who wouldn't have 'em after such an experience! It's all too common. It's no shame, and no weakness. And there is help. Meanwhile, each day, 22 vets do as Aaron did. 

Harvey Daiho Hilbert talked with CeCe and me on KTAL radio Wednesday. Daiho enlisted in the Army as soon as he was old enough, was badly wounded in Viet Nam, and suffered PTSD before it was called that. Then he found Zen Buddhism. Then he became a psychotherapist. He still motorcycles with young vets back from Afghanistan. Talking with them, listening, counseling. Hanging out. 

Daiho notes that we depend on a world with some order to it: we don't go to the post office worrying we'll get injured by bombs, strangers don't approach us on the street and shoot us. War can turn that upside down.

He says people often respond to trauma in any of three ways: denial, which may have been Aaron's response; coping, which could mean popping pills or drinking buckets of booze or hiding in a routine, to get you through the night; and, lastly, confronting trauma's effects and trying to deal with them. With help.

I admire CeCe. I appreciate our community. I hope you pass this column on to a veteran, for whatever it's worth. Healing IS possible. With help. And we all should help!

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, March 18, 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 KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM.]

[To be clear on the details for signing up, or for donating:  
to register or donate or just get more information, go to
and click on upcoming or future tournaments, and since they're listed alphabetically the Aaron Gifford Memorial Tournament on April 7-8 should come up soon.  Men's and women's doubles are on Saturday the 7th and Mixed Doubles on Sunday the 8th. ]

[For further information on Mission 22, you can go to its website .]

Sunday, March 11, 2018

This seems like a no-brainer: we live in the southern part of the second sunniest state in the United States; fossil fuels are costly, and grow more so, and have undesirable environmental consequences; why wouldn't the City of Las Cruces, which now uses 6.5% renewable energy, resolve to increase that to at least 25% by 2022?

Albuquerque has resolved to reach at least 25% renewable energy by 2025, and will offer incentive programs for homes and offices to invest in solar panels. 

City Councilor Gill Sorg has introduced an ordinance that would commit the City to the “25% by 2022” goal. (That's three years earlier than Albuquerque because we're starting from a higher percentage; and because we're better than Albuquerque.) By 2050, we should approach 100% renewable energy. With 300 days of sunshine per year, it sounds feasible. U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich has called these “attainable goals,” adding that “Many of New Mexico's communities are leading the nation in solar deployment” and that “the solar industry added 1,000 jobs in 2016 alone.”
More than thirty Las Cruces-owned businesses have signed up to support this, and a petition campaign is garnering plenty of signatures.

The draft resolution notes that producing a kilowatt-hour of energy from solar energy takes about “one-ninth the water it takes to produce that kilowatt-hour from a combined cycle fossil gas plant, and 1/17 as much as from a coal-fired plant.”

Last time I looked, we live in a desert. With no clear end to our current “drought” (actually, normal here) and every likelihood of ongoing water shortages. I've rarely seen the Rio flowing in recent years. Meanwhile, the folks who grow those mammoth waterhogs called pecan trees keep planting, and have announced a humongous national marketing campaign! Too, people keep screaming about “economic development,” which means more people and more businesses lapping up our dwindling water supply.

What part of “WE SHOULD DO ALL WE CAN TO CONSERVE WATER!” does anyone not understand? 

The draft resolution notes that “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported with 95% certainty that anthropogenic carbon pollution is causing global temperatures to rise, exacerbating extreme weather events such as droughts, floods, and wildfires.” 

I understand that a small minority of us still doubt global warming is occurring and/or doubt human activities are contributing to it; but no one could contend that burning fossil fuels is somehow wonderful for us. (Ever noticed all those warnings on gas pumps about pregnant women?) Unless one had a fistful of stock in a fossil-fuel corporation, who'd argue that using more solar, more wind-power, and less fossil fuel would somehow harm us – even if the tiny minority were right that the signs of global warming are illusory or fake news?

If your doctors agreed that there was a 95% certainty you had cancer, would you say it was just normal growth (or a plot) and go fishing rather than get treatment? What if the treatment was something independently good for you? 

The resolution's non-binding; but it's fair to ask how feasible this really is. One knowledgeable city official says it's “totally doable” but would cost money. (Even tariff issues may complicate things.) City lawyers and legislative analysts are looking at financing options and legal issues. Much depends on what financing arrangements are available – and on the council's political will. 

It's time to act. Particularly with national efforts temporarily stalled, we need to do our part.

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


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Split Image

This morning I feel schizophrenic – though only under the secondary definition: “a state characterized by the coexistence of contradictory or incompatible elements.” Life this year inspires intense gratitude and satisfaction; but also frequent daily moments of hopelessness.

It's a beautiful, sunny morning in New Mexico. My wife and our cat and I are healthy. I've had a good morning, writing, and will play pickleball shortly. We live in a vibrant community where the city council cares about improving lives, even making our city walkable and bikeable! Our new community radio station is drawing a tremendous response, the soups at Mountain View Market Co+op are incredibly tasty and healthy, and the near-full moon above our mountains has been stunning. 

But we live in a desert, during a drought, and people keep planting waterhog pecan trees to sell pecans to China. 

Each morning's online Times Digest is full of statements and actions by the national government that are not only unwise and inconsistent but absurd and downright dangerous. Lacking an adult attention span, the Commander-in-Chief makes significant decisions on impulse, having seen something on TV or heard something from his most recent visitor. He childishly insists on a military parade military officials don't want. While staff saying they're still checking on the legalities, he announces he's going to jack up tariffs, sending even his Republican allies scrambling for cover and tanking the stock market. 

Donald Trump is politically schizophrenic: he strongly opposes chain visas, for example – in which folks get to live here because a relative has become a citizen. Like the case of Maria, a Mexican immigrant who worked as a model, married a rich guy, and got citizenship under the “Einstein Visa” program, even though she was a college dropout with no discernible intellectual or artistic accomplishments, then got her parents Guillermo and Hortencia legal residency. Oops! That was Melania, from Slovenia.

He strongly opposes gun control, and rescinds regulations keeping guns away from people officially declared incompetent; then he repeatedly says that mental health is the problem, not guns; then he proclaims we need gun control – until a “come-to-Jesus” meeting with a top NRA lobbyist. He's a fat old guy who ducked the draft when he was young but would rush into a school, unarmed, to defend students against a young man with an automatic weapon. He's so tough he can't stand up to Vladimir Putin. He's a nationalist who won't even instruct officials to confront known Russian interference in our elections. 

Still, we are so fortunate! We don't live in a war zone. Many of us have ample food and medical care, and we're working to extend those to others – along with better mental health care. Our community cares about tolerance, helping the less fortunate, and the arts. We have an international film festival, a farmers' market where committed farmers sell healthy food, and we're small enough to allow for real friendships and even pleasant conversations with people we disagree with. We're slowly housing the homeless. We have local businesses like the Shed, whose owners offer patrons tasty food and also help feed the poor. We have a fine symphony, and great local artists. And a Catholic bishop who washes Dreamers' feet. We have problems, but we're working on them. 

And those mountains!

So I'm grateful. But how deep and permanent are the wounds from experimenting with a clown in the Casa Blanca?

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 4 March 2018, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL 201.5 FM.]

[Perhaps the clearest sign of White House absurdity this week, among many, was that in a week when Putin rattled sabers by announcing a super new weapon that could outsmart our defenses, Trump was up at 6 in the morning Tweeting a response . . . . to Alec Baldwin's Saturday Night Live imitations of him!   Can we really imagine any other U.S. President insecure enough to respond in public at all to someone's imitation of him, other than to appreciate it?  Let alone, to make it such a priority.  Aside from everything else, Trump should have learned enough from his showbiz experience to realize he's enhancing Baldwin's and SNL's audience.  I'm decades removed from the time I watched it regularly, but will start taping it or viewing skits on the Internet now because of Trump's reaction to them, and I doubt I'm the only one.
I hope someone at SNL is crafting a Baldwin skit in which Baldwin-Trump is up at six crafting tweets about Baldwin.  I envision advisors trying to interest him in various other matters, such as Putin's comments and the growing concern about Jared Kushner's incredibly deep conflicts of interest, while Trump (who's so childish that Baldwin ought always to have a teddy bear, or perhaps a Donald Trump doll, in his lap during skits) keeps jabbing ineffectively at Baldwin.]
[Rivaling that for absurdity are the about-face on guns and the apparent fact that Trump's trade war announcement, which even his allies say is the dumbest thing he's done so far, resulted from his frustration over Kushner's problems and other reverses, so he announced the trade wars in a snit fit -- even though the officials who should have been involved in any such decision had no idea he was going to announce such a thing.  It was under consideration -- and subject of great inner conflict in the Administration -- but not vetted as to legalities and implications.  As some staffer said, "Well, he won't be signing anything, because there's nothing to sign.  There's no paperwork."  Another great skit would be a version of Trump's late-night meeting with NRA representatives, after which his brief foray into gun-control advocacy ended quickly.]
[He did show up at the Gridiron event this year; and he or his writers had come up with some good lines.  If the White House and our relationships with allies and our credibility in the world and our security were not all in flames, that could have been fun.]