Sunday, March 17, 2019

Greed, Hatred, Karma, Trump

Have we reached a fork in the road?

We've used and abused other humans and our environment, living extremely comfortably. For decades it's been clear that our luck was running out – and should. 

Less clear is the nature of the reckoning. Materially, would the pie (world economy) grow, allowing our extreme economic advantage (being 6% of the population, controlling 60% of the resources) to decline in relative terms, nonviolently, and without causing us real suffering? Would technology, ingenuity, and some self-discipline mute environmental disruption?

One way forward starts with facing the situation realistically and trying to deal with it: protect ourselves from violence, retain what we can of our lifestyle, but recognize that we cannot rule like lords forever. Face the urgent climate-change danger and try to take the lead in mitigating it. This path would dent our pride and necessitate sacrifices, but hopefully not unbearable ones.

The other is doubling down. Telling the world to bug off, that we'll hold on tight, usurp what we can of the world's growing wealth, and leave others to clean up our environmental and political messes. 
Be not some shining example of democracy, but a pariah among nations.

We seem to be stumbling down that second path, mapless. Planless. 

Take our border. It's not the “emergency” Mr. Trump claims, but a humanitarian crisis. Certain Central American nations are almost uninhabitable, which is partly our fault. Traffickers mislead folks about their chances for asylum here, while Trump's huffing and puffing draws greater attention to the border. As people reach New Mexico's remote Bootheel, we're asking too much of Border Patrol folks. People have died. We must add personnel and infrastructure there, try to help repair the damage in Central America, and warn people they have little chance of gaining asylum.

The border patrol agent on Wednesday's Sunshine Week panel at Zuhl Library noted that, whereas bringing undocumented people into the U.S. used to be a “mom-and-pop operation” costing $300 a head, traffickers (cooperating with drug cartels) now charge Central Americans $7,000 to $9,000 and get them to the U.S. border in five days. They also mislead their passengers, leave folks in unreasonably dangerous places, rape women, and otherwise act inhumanely. 

Trump's proposal to wreck our economy further and screw up the southwestern environment to build a huge wall is absurd.

But following Trump and his enablers could increase the need for a wall!
Our country is a bastion of privilege. 

In South Africa, decades after apartheid ended, millions of blacks live in abject poverty in shacks without water or power, while whites, 8% of the population, still own 73% of the land, including vast, beautiful farms. Occasionally, a white farm family gets murdered, perhaps with extra brutality. Some well-armed whites are preparing seriously for civil war. 

U.S. citizens could become those folks, following Trump. Climate-change is harming many nations' ability to grow food. (Our Southwest may become too arid to support agriculture or humans.) As hunger increases the rage and violence of people in “shithole countries” we've helped keep back, desperation could cause much greater illegal immigration. If we remain arrogant, will some armed border-crossers start killing seemingly rich ranching families for the fun of it – and for revenge?

Sorry if that's bleak. Fortunately, we can correct our course. We will get past Trump, but must realize he's more symptom than cause. We must watch all our political and business “leaders” closely.
                                         -30-

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 17 March 2019, 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 (Wednesday morning and afternoon and late Saturday afternoon) and KTAL 101.5 FM (Thursday late afternoon).  KTAL can be streamed at www.lccommunityradio.org .

[It felt weird to finish the column, send it in, and start reading about the Christchurch massacre, which sounded like something out of the world the column envisions.  Tragic.  Seems unsurprising that the murderous white supremacist idiot cited with approval fellow racist Trump as "a symbol of white identity."  That's what Trump has tried to portray himself asHis spokewoman's evasion was amusing, when she was asked if Trump was disturbed by the killer's favorable mention of Trump; and she sounded a little like Louie in Casablanca shouting "I'm SHOCKED to find that there is gambling going on in here! as he pockets his winningsTrump himself kind of undermined that line by stating that the white supremacy movement wasn't a problem.]

[I am sorry if the column's bleakness depresses readers.  There are some pretty bleak aspects to our world right now.  I am guardedly optimistic that we'll steer clear of the worst responses-- although those seem the responses Mr. Trump favors.  His responses tend to remind me of an infant pushing over its milk cup in frustration, or a baseball pitcher who's just given up six earned runs in an inning and breaks two fingers punching a water cooler or the dugout wall.  Understandable, of course, but generally not real helpful.]

[Meanwhile, Las Cruces had a couple of interesting visitors this weekend and will have another this afternoon.  Friday evening, Ron Stallworth spoke on campus, in a great writers' series Russ Bradburd and Connie Voisine run.  Neat guy.  You know him as the Black K Klansman -- the police officer who infiltrated the KKK, by letter and phone and through a white officer when a personal appearance was required.  Saturday afternoon, a lady named Carolyn Brown spoke.  Dr. Carolyn J. Brown, as distinguished from the one who writes romantic cowboy stories or something.  This one lives in Jackson, Mississippi, where she wrote biographies of two interesting writers there, Eudora Welty and Margaret Walker.  They were roughly contemporaries, two very fine writers, one white and one black; and what kept spinning in my head was their combined story (which Carolyn had discussed in a presentation a few years ago), black and white, two lives so similar and dissimilar, both largely lived in Mississippi.  To learn more on Ms. Brown's three books (the third the interesting story of an early 20th Century woman painter from Mississippi), Google her by her subject's names, to avoid the other Carolyn Brown or start at her website, http://www.carolynjbrown.net.  (I hope to interview Ron and his wonderful wife Patsy on KTAL some Wednrsday morning soon; and Ms. Brown and I recorded an interview later Sunday afternoon, which we'll play on the show in a few weeks.
Third -- and related only in that all three speakers have stories to tell us that illustrate hate and prejudice, in one way or another -- will be Eva Schloss, speaking this afternoon at the Performing Arts Center on campus.  She was Anne Frank's neighbor, playmate, and posthumous stepsister.  (She and her mother lost family in Auschwitz, as Otto Frank lost his in Bergen-Belsen, and when they returned to the Netherlands Eva's mother and Anne Frank's father married.)  She is one of the few around who can speak firsthand about certain matters, having barely survived Auschwitz -- though her father and brother did not.
Just ten days ago Ms. Schloss met with 55 teenagers from Newport High (in Orange County, California), some of whom had been photographed giving Nazi salutes with cups arranged as a swastika.  Per The Los Angeles Times, she commented: "I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered and I would never have a family again.  She said the students apologized and said they hadn't meant any harm.  She expressed surprise that they could have been unaware of the pain the use of Nazi symbolism could cause, adding, "I hope the school and students have got the message and things will be different."
Ms. Schloss also said she believes anti-Semitism is on the rise in the United States and Europe and that the conflict between Israel and Muslims might be contributing to it, adding, "This causes a lot of difficulties. “It’s perhaps understandable why they support the Palestinian people’s cause."
We're looking forward to hearing her talk.  (Tickets are not cheap, however; and I've heard they may have sold out; but particularly NMSU students might want to give it a try.)
]



 



Sunday, March 10, 2019

The State of the City -- need more bike lanes / fewer leafblowers

Reading Mayor Miyagashima's “State of the City” speech prompted this citizen to reflect on the subject.

Generally, the state of the city seems good. The mayor, council, and city manager have done much. I particularly applaud the city's commitment to environmental/sustainability issues; and I agree that passage last year of four bond issues illustrated a healthy willingness of citizens to invest in improving Las Cruces – and our quality-of-life. 

I experience the city driving, walking, or bicycling around, playing pickleball, attending meetings, and the usual other ways. 

The pickleball courts are way overcrowded; we need a new gym to supplement Meerscheidt (where I started playing basketball in 1974); and I understand from youth soccer folks and others that we're not alone in needing more and better facilities. I hope the planned improvements will make a real difference. Physical fitness, for kids aged 7 or 72, is critical. 

Bicycling through Las Cruces is a mixed bag. Most motorists are courteous and thoughtful; but we need more bike lanes (and wider ones in some places), and at certain intersections along Solano and El Paseo, and Alameda, it's a challenge to get across while the light is green. I hope planned improvements are meaningful.

Two random suggestions: city council meetings at 1 pm. are tough for working folks to attend. With two meetings a month, has anyone thought of holding one at 1 pm. and the other at 6 pm.? Just sayin'.
Second: every time I see a gas-powered leaf-blower I mutter things about our city administration that I can't write here. 

The damned things are zillions of times more polluting than four-wheel-drive trucks. Ken and councilors: read up on this (and I will be the cranky old guy shouting about this at a council meeting soon), but, yo! You guys bill yourselves as sustainable; and you do some great stuff; but here's an easy one you're fumbling. 

I keep seeing city-owned leaf-blowers operated by city employees. Under the best of circumstances, leaf-blowers make little sense. Blow leaves (which are healthy for lawns and gardens) from your yard to mine, while making a godawful noise and using enough gas to drive a tank to Albuquerque. In mid-winter, frankly, there ain't a whole lot of leaves on the plaza or on the ground outside Meerscheidt. The city should stop using these things, stop using even battery-operated blowers except where there's a specific (cogent) reason, and consider an ordinance banning the things (with an appropriate “grandfathering” provision). 

I have mixed feelings about all the stuff about revitalizing downtown and attracting new businesses. I'm guardedly optimistic; but I'm underwhelmed by what Virgin Galactic has done for our area so far. And city leaders have engaged in some other weird flirtations with some other weird folks, e.g. ARCA Space Corporation, which got $57,000 from the city, and Pegasus.

Better mental health services are a critical need. Recently a visiting mental-health professional commented that mental-health services here used to be quite good – but no longer are.
I understand that Governor Martinez savaged a functioning southern New Mexico mental- health system to help a campaign contributor. Not the city's fault. But the city needs to take an active and intelligent role in rebuilding what we lost. 

The municipal court is the city's responsibility, and needs to be instructed that poor folks, the mentally ill, and the homeless are people too – and deserve fair and lawful treatment.
                                          -30-

[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 10 March 2019, 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, as well as on KTAL-LP (101.5 FM), Las Cruces Community Radio.]

[Las Cruces will hold its mayoral election this year.  City Councilor Greg Smith has announced his candidacy.  A lady named Gina Ortega has also indicated that she intends to run.  Three (?) -term incumbent Miyagashima hasn't announced his plans yet, but someone pointed out that the staging and content of the state of the city address didn't seem the work of a man looking forward to retiring from public life.
In any case, the election has not commenced.  As it happens, Walt and I will host Mayor Miyagashima this Wednesday (13 March) at 8 a.m. on "Speak Up, Las Cruces!" -- our regular show on 101.5.  Councillor Smith will join us on Wednesday, 3 April, also from 8 to 9.  (The show runs until 10 a.m.)  (KTAL can be streamed live at www.lccommunityradio.org and also repeats at midnight.)
As there's no election in progress yet, these are non-political interviews regarding the city and its government.  However, we are seeking to reach Ms. Ortega as well, to schedule an hour with her discussing her views on the subject.]

[On the leaf-blower issue, just google "leaf blower" and require also either "pollution" or "environment."  I just did that, and the top entry was a Wall Street Journal story Wall Street Journal entry that told me I'd understated the level of pollution: "The California Environmental Protection Agency estimated that operating a commercial leaf blower for one hour would emit more pollution than driving a 2016 Toyota Camry for about 1,100 miles. ... The reason leaf blowers and related devices are so dirty is because many use two-stroke engines."    It cites a California EPA study of which I read part, a while ago.  This is a good basic site covering the issue  if you've used up your free reads of WSJ, WaPo, and New York Times articles.  Here's the US EPA paper on this.

[So I will show up at a council meeting soon and rant about this like the cranky old fart I am.]

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Celebrating Lives, and Life


A week ago Friday, we signed our old friend, Orville “Bud” Wanzer, into hospice. Then on Saturday we attended a memorial for Edna Lucero, who'd died recently and peacefully at 96, making soup in the family farmhouse. Early Sunday morning, Bud died. (His obit is in today's Sun-News. Edna's appeared February 10.)

I knew Bud extremely well for half a century. I met Edna once, immediately wanted to visit her, and her husband of 73 years, Enrique, for a column, but never did.

Though very different, these were special people who prized education, exceeded what might have been expected of them, and affected many lives for the better. Bud and Edna were each widely and deeply loved. They continued to learn all their lives. Each greeted strangers with warm curiosity, not intolerance.

Born in Chihuahua, Edna urged her five children to go to college. Enrique was a shy kid at the small schoolhouse in Hill. He joined the Navy, and he and Edna saw the world. In Europe, they hungered so much to see and learn more that they traveled the continent, from Spain to Denmark, camping out with the kids. Enrique, after retiring from the Navy, joined the Federal Bureau of Prisons; and when he realized he needed a college degree to advance, he got one, at 50 – with Edna's support. He then became the system's first Mexican-American prison warden.

Bud grew up lower-middle class in Queens. His father and mother had never gone near a college. His father was a cop. Bud joined the Navy, then used the GI bill to get a B.A. and a Masters, and became a writer, film-maker and much-loved college professor. Even in his last year he was rereading Herodotus. 
 
Deaths bring the pain of loss, a sense of vulnerability, and an enhanced awareness of life's fragility. Life and death are two faces of one coin. If we can't face death, likely we don't face life too well either. The deaths of close friends or family are a powerful reminder to be grateful for – and savor – each moment. 
 
Midweek brought another vivid reminder of life's fragility: I spoke with former NMSU basketball star Shawn Harrington. His mother sent him to our desert to escape Chicago's street violence. Then she got shot dead when she walked in on two neighbors being robbed. In 2013, Shawn was shot by gang members who thought he was someone else, and paralyzed from the waist down. His warmth and resilience impressed the Hell out of me. So did the good he does, coaching and counseling kids in Chicago. 
 
The Buddha compared lifetimes to lightning flashes. Dogen wrote that in each moment we should think only of that moment, because no future is guaranteed. Keifer Sykes, a player Shawn coached, said, “fast as you snap your fingers, my life could go down the drain.”
We know we should value each moment. Not merely savor it, but make an impact. Life's too short for unnecessary friction. We can do surprising things if we dare try. 
 
The challenge is to remember and feel those truths in the moment. Recalling Bud's unique attitude toward life, how funny he was, and how loved, as Edna's kids recall how her love of learning and her caring inspired them, helps. 

We mourn people best by emulating the best in them – and supporting others, as Edna supported Enrique and Bud his students.
                                      -30-

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 3 March 2019, in the Las Cruces Sun-News and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air on KRWG and KTAL 101.5 FM (Las Cruces Community Radio -- streamable at www.lccommunityradio.org.)  I should note also that the column is accurate in stating that Bud's obituary is in this morning's Sun-News, and provides a link to Ms. Lucero's on-line obituary, this morning Bud's obit was not in the on-line obituaries, because the newspaper apparently hasn't yet figured out its new system.  By the way, Bud was also mentioned in an earlier column: September 2012 post "Teachers, Actors, Time"

[Not sure this column was a good idea, combining as it does at least three situations, each of which warrants a column and more, which means I do justice to none of them here.  But . . . it was a challenging week.]

[Bud's kids called yesterday and said that the Sun-News was struggling with its new system or site or something and that the obituary on Bud would not be in the paper.  Sad.  There's a lot more to say about him.  (Bud also did two of the first live local TV shows on KRWG, for example.)  I'll insert what I guess was the nearly final version below, and the obit also appears on KRWG's website.  One thing we didn't mention in it was that although Bud had expressed progressive political views decades ago, he had not voted since the 1970's, and insisted politics was all bullshit; in prior years, he mockingly rejected pleas to re-register and vote; but in 2018, after nearly two full years of Donald Trump, Bud repeatedly requested registration forms and an absentee ballot.  And voted.]

Orville Joseph “Bud” Wanzer left us early Sunday February 24th, after stating that he was quite ready to do. He remained funny and fiesty to the end of his life. A former NMSU professor, he was best-known in Las Cruces for making a feature film, The Devils Mistress, in 1965, and for starting and running, with John Hadsell, the NMSU Film Society. He also wrote a fantasy novel called The Elfin Brood and made award-winning photographs.

Professor Wanzer was born in Queens, NY December 5th, 1930 to Sophie and Orville J. Wanzer. Wanzer, Sr. was a New York City policeman and an Olympic-class shot-putter. Bud was a mischievous city kid. As he described it, in his gang “college was for [unprintable]s.” He served in the U.S. Navy from 19__ to 19__. Highlights were being a movie projectionist aboard ship and exploring places and people in Italy that came unrecommended by the Navy.

Having come to love literature, movies, and photography, Bud used the GI Bill to attend the University of Miami, gaining a B.A. and an M.A. He also met and married Joan Stapleton (year). He received teaching offers from the University of Hawaii and from a place in the New Mexico desert. A veteran who'd been stationed in Hawaii warned him that he might get island fever there, and the NMSU English Department sent him photos of Organ Mountains, so he and Joan arrived here in 1959.

A daughter, Katya, arrived in 1966 , and a son, Kip, in 197 (1 or 2?). He loved both deeply. Although his marriage to Joan ended in divorce in 197x, they remained fast friends.

After teaching English literature for several years, he received an invitation from Professor Harvey Jacobs to join in starting the NMSU Journalism Department. Bud was to teach photography, film history, and eventually film-making. Because he had such a range of interests that he could discuss Bergman and Fellini and also repair camera, he was able to turn the Film Department into a wonderful institution, way ahead of its time. When few universities offered film-making courses, the more famous ones didn't let students touch actual cameras the first year or two, and CMI was undreamed-of, his students used military-surplus 16 mm. Cameras to make films right from the start – and Bud used a surplus processing system to process footage free.

Meanwhile, Bud wrote a screenplay called The Devil's Mistress. Four escaping bank-robbers happen on a stone shack in the Organs occupied by a long-bearded and suspicious older man and his beautiful young wife (played by Joan). (The cabin is still there, more or less, if you know where to look.) They kill him and kidnap her, but unexpected events soon kill all four robbers, and the murdered man reappears to rejoin his wife.

A professor presuming to make a feature film, which only Hollywood did in those days, was such a novelty that the AP story on it, with a photo of Bud examining frames of movie film, appeared in many newspapers around the country. Bud and others invested in finishing the film, with high hopes of making profits that would allow them to continue making films here.

The film premiered in Las Cruces, to great local acclaim. Unfortunately, the would-be distributors defrauded the locals, who made no profit on the film.

Bud came to love the desert. Camping in the Gila. Wilderness and macrophotography became almost a religion with him.

Wanzer was a much-beloved professor to generations who enjoyed his film classes. Among his grateful students were Bernie Digman (Milagro), Denise Chavez (eminent Southwestern writer), consultant Nancy Barnes-Smith, and former Mayor Tommy Tomlin. Another Sterling Trantham, emulated Bud by teaching film and photography at UTEP. Among Bud's less grateful students was an LCPD cop who stopped him one day as Bud was driving. The cop said, “You probably don't remember me, but I was one of your students in Film History.” “How did you do?” Bud asked. “You gave me a D,” the cop replied, handing Bud a ticket.

Two Kuwaiti students ultimately started a movie business in Kuwait, and hired Bud to run a processor and otherwise help them, and he took a sabbatical in 1977-78 to spend a year in Kuwait.



When Bud retired from NMSU in 1985, he wanted to live in nature. On land he co-owned on the river west of Derry, he built a small house, doing all the work himself. He lived there for the next 28 years, off the grid, as somewhat of a hermit about whom rumors swirled in the rural northern part of the county. While there he finished and published The Elfin Brood, and later taught himself stained-glass and created unique and beautiful pieces, some of which he sold to customers as far away as New Hampshire. With few windows, he built perhaps the world's first stained-glass carport; and when he'd completed that, he just constructed stands with 2 x 4's around his portion of the desert and placed stained-glass in them – although kids with BB-guns could easily have destroyed them.

Eventually health issues forced him to move back into town, where he reconnected with old friends, but remained somewhat of a hermit because of his increasing deafness. Recently he became less and less mobile, and was grateful for the help and friendship extended by folks at Memorial Medical Center, Good Sam's, Home Instead, and Village at Northrise.

On Friday, February 22, he went into Hospice, and on Sunday, February 24, he died. He is survived by Katya and and Kip, as well as by his daughter-in-law, Anna, and granddaughter, Claire.
At Bud's request, his remains received a natural burial -- no chemicals, no box, no sheets, just into the ground to be processed as nature processes its own -- at La Puerta Natural Burial Ground in Valencia Counry, New Mexico. 


The kids say the place is beautiful.








Monday, February 25, 2019

Spike Lee or Donald Trump?



Can't say I was shocked to see Donald Trump hammering Spike Lee for Lee's Oscar acceptance speech urging folks to choose "love versus hate" in the 2020 election.

But it showed yet again how thin-skinned, self-centered, and, yes, racist Mr. Trump is.

Mocking Lee for reading from notes was sort of a low blow.  I noticed it too; and I'm guessing Lee was pretty near-sighted.  I too try not to use notes; but sometimes when you have an extremely limited time and a lot to say, notes are prudent.  (At a poetry reading or other setting where I use notes, though, I print 'em 16 pt instead of 12, which sure helps, particularly in uneven lighting.)
Trump doesn't use notes, but he also has the privilege of rambling somewhat mindlessly.

Lee didn't mock Trump (a great target, with his obesity and comical hair) or even mention him, but did say what he felt.  Praising "our ancestors who helped build this country" and thanking his grandmother, who sacrificed to put him through college, may seem racist to folks who are willfully blind to what that means, but it's real and honest.   You don't hear Trump thanking his father, who started Trump off with millions and bailed him out a few times when he screwed up.  Not sure whether he feels no gratitude or figures it'd be bad politics to remind folks.    In any case, the contrast between Lee, who struggled against racism and marginalization in the modern world, and Trump, whose enterprises repeatedly went bankrupt and who was given so much, is clear, and not too complimentary to Donald.

Note also that while Lee created movie ideas and struggled to make them into films and get them seen by a wider audience. Trump was a performer.  A ghost-writer wrote the book that established Trump's image as a savvy business guy, which he never was; and then when clever TV folks saw the potential, Trump was a performer.  I suppose he did it well.  (I never saw his show, nor wanted to.  Never even knew of it until one day a huge line of people were waiting outside a building on Battery Street, in San Francisco, to audition for his show, and we had to let one of them in to use the bathroom in our office.)

Lee's shout of "Let's do the right thing!" -- referencing his 1989 film -- reminded me of seeing that film.  Don't remember who I was dating, but we saw it with a Chinese-American friend I'd gotten to know in Hong Kong.  To me, the rhythms and language and sights of the ghetto were pretty familiar; but to Dan they were a revelation.  It was a good film -- but marginalized because of its setting and realism.  Lee had made a good film; but if Trump had made an inferior film, a comedy or love story set among wealthy white kids, it likely would have outdone Lee at the U.S. box office.

I think of Nothing but a Man, which is on my mind because Robert M. Young, who made it in 1965, visited Las Cruces recently, though I didn't get to see him because of other commitments.  That film was an excellent view of the U.S. South through the eyes of a black man, just trying to be a man.  He doesn't have any rebellious agenda, he's not organizing folks, he just wants to live and maybe look people straight in the eye instead of looking deferentially at the ground around white folks.  (I still recommend that film to anyone who wants an unvarnished look at the time and place, not at all over-dramatized -- even understated, as I recall. (I did get to thank him for it in person, in the early 1980's, when he made The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez.)

But that film brings to mind the lingering effects of racism even during my lifetime, even  now.  Most folks are aware of it now, though I don't guess Donald gives it much thought.  Spike probably helped make white folks a little more aware of it -- despite themselves, in some cases.

Is it overstating the contrast between these men to notice that while Lee's film, BlacKKKlansman, is about that lingering racism, which many would deny, Trump appeals to just the kinds of folks who holler white supremacist slogans at marches, and likely say worse in private?  If one looks honestly at Donald Trump, and treatment of blacks during his business life, or his reference to "shithole countries" populated by non-whites, -- Lee's suggestion to choose love over hate doesn't seem a bit overstated.
                       -30-




President Trump on Monday lashed out at Spike Lee after the director used his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards to urge viewers and attendees to choose "love versus hate" in the 2020 election.

e nice if Spike Lee could read his notes, or better yet not have to use notes at all, when doing his racist hit on your President, who has done more for African Americans (Criminal Justice Reform, Lowest Unemployment numbers in History, Tax Cuts,etc.) than almost any other Pres!" Trump tweeted.
Lee, who won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay for his work on "BlacKkKlansman," did not explicitly mention Trump in his acceptance speech on Sunday night. 
He praised "our ancestors who helped build this country" after invoking the history of slavery, and thanked his grandmother, who helped put him through college.
“The 2020 presidential election is around the corner. Let’s all mobilize,” Lee said to cheers. “Let’s all be in the right side of history. Make the moral choice between love versus hate,” he exclaimed.
“Let’s do the right thing!” said Lee, a reference to the name of his 1989 film of the same name.
Trump has drawn repeated criticism for his rhetoric toward minority groups, with some progressive lawmakers and critics labeling him racist.
He has reportedly referred to Haiti, El Salvador and some African nations as "shithole countries"; he said "both sides" were to blame for violence at a white nationalist rally in 2017; and for many years he pushed the false conspiracy theory that former President Obama was not born in the U.S.
Footage of the 2017 white nationalist rally appears in "BlacKkKlansman."
In response to criticism over his handling of race issues, Trump often touts historically low unemployment numbers for African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups.

 

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Sunday, February 24, 2019

"Constitutional Sheriffs" Ain't too Constitutional

I'm glad we elected Kim Stewart sheriff. 

Her opponent was hooked up with a right-wing cult called the “Constitutional Sheriffs Association,” which holds that sheriffs outrank federal law-enforcement. Joe Arpaio and Clive Bundy are big supporters. It grew from the old Posse Comitatus. (Jews exploit Christian farmers through taxes and unfair loans.) 

These folks favor stronger penalties for illegal border-crossings and refuse to enforce laws they don't like. 

They mouth the same tired rhetoric against gun laws. N.M. Senate Bill 8 would require universal background checks. “Constitutional” sheriffs say such laws are unconstitutional – something even the conservative U.S. Supreme Court has not said yet. Essentially, these guys would refuse to enforce New Mexico laws they don't like. Non-lawyers, they'd use the U.S. Constitution as an excuse. 

They say that gun-laws will merely inconvenience law-abiding gun owners, while criminals, by definition, will ignore the law. I've asked some of my friends whether the same arguments apply to laws against murder, robbery, and child molestation. Criminals will be criminals, so why bother?
Well, we bother because: first, laws may have some deterrent effect; second, if we forbid known wife-beaters from owning guns, then if a known wife-beater threatens with a gun, or someone has knowingly put a gun into a known wife-beater's hands, we can impose appropriate punishment, and/or perhaps get someone off the streets for awhile. 

Their stance is all the more puzzling because they must know the statistics. In the U.S. in 2016, 93% of the women killed by men were murdered by someone they knew, and the most common weapon used was a gun. I've known for decades that domestic disputes are the calls that most often get cops killed. A lot of these men are neither confirmed criminals, planning to knock over a 7-11 with a gun, or carjack your Prius, nor wholly law-abiding. They are normal people, living their lives unexceptionally, except when they get drunk, or they get really angry, or a spouse rolls her eyes . . . and they lose it. It's not as clear as with a repeat armed-robbery offender, that the domestic-abuse suspect is going to buy a gun, with no regard at all for the law. And if he does violate the law by buying a gun, or by failing to register it, that's a ready-made legal basis for cooling off the domestic situation by removing the offender for awhile. Could save a few lives. Though you or I might have to spend an extra half-hour filling out papers.

I don't purport to know the answers. I wish we could seek those answers cooperatively, with my ex-DASO friends who know much more than I do; but they too hew to the NRA line of “NO to all gun laws!” – or express the paranoid view that any and all restrictions and regulation requirements are all sub rosa steps toward confiscating everyone's guns. Which wouldn't work in New Mexico, practically or politically – and which would violate the Second Amendment. 

Absent their help, I'm left to wonder why they deign to register their cars, instead of cowering in fear that we libtards are plotting to confiscate all cars in the name of fighting climate-change.

“Do nothing because nothing you can do will completely solve the problem” ain't an answer these guys would accept if investigating a cop-killing or trying to stem the tide of drunk-driving.

I'm glad our sheriff follows laws.
                                              -30-

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 24 February 2019, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spokenn version will air during the week on KRWG Radio and KTAL 101.5 FM (www.lccommunityradio.org).]


[The 93% figure cited in the column came from a 2018 study . . .  But it's not controversial.]

[The repeated argument that we should enact no gun-control laws because none of them will solve the problem is odd.  It's odd because there are so few fields in which the failure of a law or ordinance to solve the problem completely somehow bars enacting something that will partially solve the problem.  I don't hear these guys arguing against anti-DWI measures because even if you put in a governor, where the nine-times-convicted driver has to blow into a tube to start the car, s/he will drink anyway and get a pal to blow into the gizmo.  I don't hear them saying, "Let's do away with homicide laws, because most of the time people who commit murders are so worked up that a law wouldn't dissuade them."  They don't say, "Let's not bother carrying guns any more, because there'll be times we don't get them out and cocked in time."]

[The 2nd Amendment is another red herring.  Yes, it exists.  Yes, in Heller the U.S. Supreme Court ignored a century of precedent and the amendment's actual wording to find an individual right to carry guns that's independent of the need for a competent militia.   Whatever I may think, I didn't have a vote, so I live with the result -- as my ex-DASO friends and the CSA must also do.  Even though the decision was startlingly friendly to gun-owners, and expanded the reach of the 2nd Amendment, Heller did NOT ban gun-registration or reasonable firearm restrictions.  It specifically cited automatic weapons as something that perhaps could and should be regulated or prohibited. It certainly did not bar trying to keep guns out of the hands of wife-beaters.  So from just where do these "constitutional sheriffs" get their constitutional law courses?]


[Washington State is experiencing what we may soon see: 13 rural county sheriffs refusing to enforce gun laws.  There, 60% of the state's voters approved a law tightening rules on background checks for semi-automatic weapons and prohibiting anyone under 21 from buying them.  In certain rural counties where the new rules didn't gain a majority, sheriffs are refusing to follow the law.  Klickitat County Sheriff Bob Songer said, "I follow the rule of law, when I believe it's constitutional."   Washington's lawmakers think the law is constitutional; but the NRA doesn't, so Sheriff Bob has just the company he deserves.  By contrast, King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht argued that "as law enforcement leaders, we defy our oath and betray the public trust if we pick and choose which laws we will uphold."]















































Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Wisdom of Fortune Cookies

“Fear is the darkroom in which negatives are developed.” So said a fortune cookie at a local restaurant Thursday. 

“Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is. Fear is perhaps our most primal instinct, so it’s only logical that people’s level of fearfulness informs their outlook on life.” So write two political scientists in Prius or Pickup. (We have both.) They say our deep political divisions aren't over policies, but between the “fixed” worldviews of people wary of change and suspicious of outsiders, and the “fluid” worldviews of those comfortable with social change and “welcoming of people who look and sound different.”

Fear seems a major factor in our country's current policies and actions.

Ironically, a recent Pew poll of 26 countries showed: (a) that people's greatest security concern is climate change (which brings out the ostrich in Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans); (b) Islamic terrorism is second; and (c) people's most rapidly increasing fear is us. U.S. power and policies.

Fear is essential to survival. Alertness to danger and close observation of surroundings have saved my life. I don't suggest we step blissfully off cliffs like the Fool in the Tarot.

But when fear dominates someone's mind, s/he either stays home all the time or lashes out preemptively at others – or, less dramatically, misses out on a whole lot of life unnecessarily.

It is no different when fear dominates a nation. Our “fear-dominant” moments include the McCarthy Era and the briefer “Red Scare” soon after World War I. September 11 catapulted George Bush's poll numbers from a historic low to a historic high almost overnight. That doesn't mean we had nothing to worry about at any of those times; but hysteria makes us jail leftists with long names (1919-20) put patriotic citizens with Japanese heritage into camps (1942), and blacklist people who are guilty of no crime and pose no danger (1950's); and ban all travelers from whole countries, including nationalities from which no terrorist had ever attacked us.

In other countries, appeals to fear have turned democracies into dictatorships. Hitler is just the most famous example. Citizens of Perú, Russia, and Venezuela all experienced that transformation. (I strongly recommend How Democracies Die.) Frightened people will let things slide a little, such as press freedoms, civil liberties, and fact-based policy-making. A little snowballs into more.

There's plenty of political room between “an open border,” which almost no one advocates, and treating refugees and illegal immigrants as a danger to our national security. That's nonsense. Refugees seeking asylum are fleeing unbearable conditions in their home countries. The U.S. shares some responsibility for those conditions in many countries. Since the root cause of people's flight is conditions at home, policies ameliorating those conditions might work better than treating these people as if they were armed invaders or terrorists. (You got a fire down the block, do you mow down fleeing people with an AK-47 'cause they're trespassing, or call the fire department?)

Yes, there are more of those people right now than at earlier times; and, yes, that creates certain administrative problems; but we are not being “invaded.” Illegal immigration is down; and folks who enter illegally seeking work aren't attacking us. 

My fortune cookie fortune read, “Greet each morning with curiosity and hope.”
                                            -30- 

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 17 February 2019, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website KRWG's website.  A spoken version airs during the week on KRWG (Wednesday and Saturday) and on KTAL, 101.5 FM --  www.lccommunityradio.org -- (Thursday).]

[Discussing fear also reminds me that about six years ago, when Keith Whelpley and I co-hosted a daily discussion show on a commercial station, we were followed by Rush Limbaugh.  The folks who called us largely shared his point-of-view, so it was a lively and sometimes draining two hours.  At some point the station gave us a manual on doing talk-radio.  Some of it was sound advice, like going into a station break not by saying "We gotta take a break now" but "When we return from break, I'm going to ask Joe about the time he was attacked by lions and only had a knife to defend himself    with."  But at some length it explained, quite explicitly, that the key to being a successful talk-radio host is to convince listeners of a grave danger and that only you can deliver them from that danger.  Then you got 'em.]



                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     




Sunday, February 10, 2019

44 Years Ago in Las Cruces -- A Young Reporter Learns the Ropes

Forty-four years ago this week I started work as the Las Cruces Bureau Chief for The El Paso Times
 
It was a different town in a different time. Cruces was much smaller then, though it had added a second high school. Telshor Boulevard was quite new, and there was nothing but desert between it and the Cox ranch house up in the Organ foothills. I-10 met up with I-25, but didn't continue through town. Folks used University Avenue, Valley Drive (“Truck Bypass”), and Picacho to get back on I-10 toward Deming. One of the town's biggest businesses was the Palms Motel on Picacho. The county commission was three people, and met in a tiny room in the courthouse. Tommy Graham was mayor. Bob Munson and Albert Johnson were on the city commission, each to become mayor within a few years. 
 
I wasn't a journalist. I needed to make money. I lived cheaply, in a big green school bus I'd driven from Brooklyn back to Las Cruces. I'd been substitute-teaching a little, and working part-time as a night projectionist, showing Deep Throat and similar flicks, way out in the county. (Just that one memory speaks to how much things have changed!)

When editor Fritz Wirt interviewed me, all I could give him as a writing sample was some poems.
I knew nothing of local politics. After my civil rights work and antiwar activities, I'd thought of myself as exiled (or self-exiled) from mainstream society. I told friends the new job would be “a crash course in Middle America.” With long, braided hair and a motorcycle, I was such an oddity that Graham, after watching me plunk my helmet down on the reporter's table at a city commission meeting, mockingly dubbed me “Captain Zoom,” which some old-timers still call me. 
 
It was intense. The Times wanted to increase its presence in Las Cruces. I covered everything, from murder to county fair hog competitions. The “bureau” was the bus, staffed by the dog and me. Naturally curious, I threw myself into the work. I became immersed in local life, and all the ideals and cynicism, joys and sorrows, and ups and downs that entailed. 
 
People talked to me. I had no dog in any local fights; the Times was miles away in El Paso, impervious to local pressures; and people figured the crazy biker probably wouldn't get intimidated into revealing his sources. Therefore, whenever local authorities wanted to keep something secret, people whispered to me, and I broke the story before the Sun-News.
  
It was a different world. I dictated stories on the phone or used some primitive ancestor of the fax machine. Gannett was building the Times, not shrinking it. Newspaper and radio were what there was for local news. No Internet. No cell-phones. Computers were huge things few had actually seen. People who were gay kept that fact to themselves, to survive. 
 
But it was also the same. Occasional stirrings of hope for the Las Cruces Airport; exciting changes that outside experts said would make downtown special (then, the new downtown mall, now, relief that we've gotten rid of it); a long-time mayor facing a challenge; and impeachment under discussion for a president who'd committed crimes, or tried to cover them up. 
 
Those three years with the Times deepened my love for this place, taught me that there are almost always two sides to any story, and created many lifelong friendships.
                                                          -30- 
[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 10 February 2019, 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 both KRWG Radio and KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM, (www.lccommunityradio.org)

[There's a lot more to say about that time.  It was eventful.  Jerry Apodaca's election as Governor in 1974; Bob Munson was a truly interesting person, and I remember too well the time when he and Diana died tragically in the crash of a small plane in 1977; Countess Jones was a wonderful, older reporter, working as a radio journalist, a staunch Republican with whom I was often allied on press freedom issues and others we just saw as "commonsense" or "good government" point; and there were so many other folks I got to know and enjoy.  From that, I'll add a couple of anecdotes below.  The "Bureau" was so successful that after awhile we got an office (130 South Water St.] and another reporter, and an assistant.  Meanwhile I got kind of interested in law.  I watched trials, and realized trial-lawyering would involve a couple of things I had done a fair amount of, advocating causes in public and acting; and when  I covered lawsuits involving the city or county, lawyers would show me the relevant statute or contract and explain how each side interpreted the language, and I would enjoy the discussion and sometimes point out a third possible interpretation (an intellectual exercise known as "statutory construction," although I certainly didn't know that phrase yet); so I bought some book in a drugstore on the LSAT, and started doing pieces of the test when I was eating supper, as I might have read the bridge or chess column or (later) done the sudoku.  I enjoyed it, and decided maybe I'd go to law school; but as Las Cruces had none, I had to leave town; and although I returned here most every year after I left, if I was in the country, it took me about 34 years to get back here to live.]

[One thing I learned was that if you reported the facts and quoted both sides (or all sides) a lot, the stories went over pretty well with everyone.  The Democrats, or the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, or the city commission would see their sides' quotes and feel pleased that the story expressed them, and they'd see the quotes of what their opponents or critics had said, all of which they thought was dishonest nonsense, and be glad I'd shown up those bastards by quoting 'em.  One of the clearest examples was the morning after my weekly TV show on KRWG.  I usually had several guests with different views on an issue; but Bob Munson (who'd become a close friend, though I also often criticized him) had been defeated for re-election to the commission.  He was pretty thoughtful and interesting, so I had him on as my sole guest for the whole hour, and we just talked.  The next day, when I went on my rounds as city hall, I had at least one employee invite me in, close the door, and say, "Thanks for showing Bob as the wonderful leader he was!" while at least one other did the same and said, "Man, I am so glad you nailed that sonofabitch!"  I thanked 'em each, and felt like maybe I'd learned something.]

[Let me add one suggestion, irrelevant to the column: see the LCCT production of The Crucible!  Next weekend will be the last, but its brilliant theater -- miraculous theater for a small city in New Mexico.  A great (and, sadly, perennially relevant) play greatly performed. ]