Sunday, August 2, 2020

Appreciating Lou Henson

Lou Henson was a good man who was damned good at what he did. His accomplishments and the esteem of all who knew him will live on and continue inspiring others.

Many can recite that he took two different teams to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, NMSU and Illinois, and retired as the sixth winningest basketball coach in NCAA history. But a key fact about Lou, buried in the 11th ‘graph of the wire service story on his death, was that in 1962, as a high-school coach from Las Cruces interviewing for his first college-level coaching job, as head coach at Hardin-Simmons, he said he’d take the gig only if they integrated the place. They did.

Lou was modest about his courage in risking the opportunity, saying he knew they really wanted him. But the fact that they really wanted him – a young man who hadn’t coached a college team – tells us that he was recognized early as special.

Integrating meant recruiting in the southern U.S. in years when civil rights workers were being killed. A white outsider associating with blacks in some Mississippi burg was sometimes in physical danger. Lou experience isn’t irrelevant to contemporary discussions of black and white. He was no crusader, and of course he was trying to coach better basketball teams; but he had courage and he cared. He also changed many lives.

I met Lou when I got here in 1969. Soon I was working part-time for him.

I was also one of the most visible campus radicals, agitating for black-white equality (on which he surely agreed) and peace (which he likely didn’t). When an outraged NMSU vice-president called Lou to ask “why are we paying that radical?” Lou asked his then top assistant, Ed Murphy, “What’s Pete doing for us these days?” Ed told him. Lou asked if I was doing a good job, and when Ed said I was, Lou politely told the VP to live with it. Lou was not going to fire one of his people, even a minor one, for speaking his mind.

A small matter.  And no one was going to argue with Lou, who had taken NMSU to the Final Four; but at the time, as part of an embattled campus minority fighting for change, I sure appreciated his attitude.

Lou was incredibly focused. Murph used to say that if someone took Lou to a play, Lou diagrammed plays on the playbill.

Friends of Lou’s and mine say he was similar at the bridge table. One friend said this week, “He was always the perfect, congenial gentleman.  Everyone who played as his partner enjoyed it and he enjoyed playing with as many different people as he could.  His Bridge was a little above average.  His memory wasn't what it once was but the competitive spirit was as strong as ever; always trying to learn from every hand.”

He did kvetch about the pay in his day versus the astronomical salaries many coaches now command,“ the friend added. Another friend said Lou was “thoroughly a gentleman and a true human being who had a real interest in whatever person he engaged in conversation.”

About seven years ago I got to talk with Lou for an hour on radio. It was a delight to gas with him about old times; and he was, as always, incredibly gracious.

Few attain Lou’s level of professional success. Even fewer also make the world a better place.

                           30 –


[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 2 August 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A radio commentary based on it will air during the week both on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (https://www.lccommunityradio.org/), and will be available later on KRWG's site under Local Viewpoints and on KTAL's under "Archives."]

[I arrived here just in time to experience the excitement on campus as the Aggies, in their most successful season ever, reached the Final Four and lost to their nemesis, UCLA, the eventual champion.  (I seem to recall they won the consolation game to finish 3rd instead of 4th.)  It was fun.  All the more so because I knew some of the players socially.] 

[I happened to travel with the team to North Carolina in early 1975 for the first round of that year's NCAA Tournament.  (I was making a film for Lou.)  Far less discussed than the 1969-1970 team, that NCAA appearance might have been one of his biggest accomplishments as a coach.  There were no stars.  The tallest player was Jim Bostic, 6' 7".  (I recall Jim, who hailed from Westchester County, NY, as I did, as rather more scholarly and thoughtful than many ballplayers.  I'd forgotten that Jim was drafted by the Kansas City Kings and actually played a few NBA games with the Detroit Pistons.  He later coached for years, but also earned a Ph.D. in Theology and became a minister.)  That unheralded team garnered an at-large bid; but playing 7th-ranked University of North Carolina IN North Carolina was no fun.  The Aggies lost by 25 points, but Lou was the Missouri Valley Conference Coach of the Year for getting them there at all. 

That trip was when the news broke that Lou was going to leave us for Illinois, where Coach Gene Bartow had been announced as UCLA's successor to ___ Wooden."  We were all happy for him, but sad for New Mexico.  I remember afterward hoping Rob Evans, Lou's top assistant then, would be the Aggies' next coach, but that wasn't in the cards.]

[Note: Lou's obituary is also in today's Sun-News, as is a compilation of comments and memories from many who knew him.]


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Dreams, Love, Death - Claude Fouillade

Lives are like intersecting circles, like a kid tossing pebbles into a pond, creating circles that ripple outward, some immediately intersecting and growing together, others touching just briefly before they disappear, leaving the pond still.

Claude Fouilladd grows up in Paris, after the War. There’s a park he loves, Jardin du Luxembourg; and, decades later, he spends a lot of time there with his wife, Sharon, the love of his life.

He ends up teaching at NMSU.

Ilana Lapid grows up in Las Cruces. A young filmmaker and NMSU professor, she makes an award-winning docudrama in Belize about the illegal wildlife trade. About to leave for a film festival in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, she is diagnosed with a rare leukemia that would likely have killed her if she had left. (She recovers.)

After one of Ilana’s last chemotherapy sessions, she meets Claude, now 73, waiting for his first treatment. He has a rare, incurable cancer, certain to kill him within a few years. She reassures him about chemo, and they bond.

Claude writes a poem for Sharon and asks Ilana to make it into a film. A last gift to Sharon; but Ilana has not directed since her illness, and she declines. When she visits Claude in the hospital, he wakes up so happy to see her that she agrees, which fills him with such joy he announces he’ll act in it – and take along as many oxygen tanks as necessary.

They recreate the Paris park on a stage as Claude recalls it. In the poemfilm, an old man (Claude) sits in a rented chair, where he sits every afternoon. He pays the rent with coins so old they’re no longer legal tender. The park attendant accepts the coins then says, “Here’s your change, sir,” and hands them back. “Do you think she’ll come today?” the attendant asks. Claude consults his watch and says she’s already late, and the attendant says perhaps she’ll come tomorrow, and limps off. In postwar France veterans usually held those jobs, and many people were missing from war or concentration camps, or as refugees. Or maybe Claude is in the next life, awaiting Sharon.
Claude is seated at left; Ilana standing at right

Ilana gets a family friend, a motorcycle-poet grown old, to play the attendant, and films Claude explaining the poem to him. Portraying compassion ain’t hard when you’re watching an exhausted man, running on love and oxygen, working to make a poetic film for his soon-to-be widow.

Ilana also starts making a documentary about Claude, the poem, and the making of the poemfilm. The pandemic interrupts shooting. Claude’s condition worsens; but one day, during a shoot, after he’s started a new course of treatment and he feels great, Claude thinks they have much longer together than supposed. Claude and Sharon dance to “Parlez moi d’amour.”

Suddenly he’s in hospice. Ilana quickly finishes editing the poemfilm and arranges to shoot Claude giving it to Sharon, but because of hospice, they reschedule for the following Sunday. Sunday Claude is no longer around. The film becomes the gift-from-beyond-the-grave that he seems always to have meant it to be.

A wonderful life has been extinguished too soon. There’s a moving short film, and soon there will be the longer documentary. Everyone involved, including Ilana’s wonderful young crew, has given each other a gift that’s all the more precious because we know that, eventually, all our rippling circles will disappear.

Merci, Claude!

                                                    – 30 --


[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 19 July 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and on the newspaper's website, as well as on KRWG’s website. A radio-commentary version will air during the week on KRWG, and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (http://www.lccommunityradio.org/), and will be available on demand soon on KRWG’s website.]

[By coincidence, Claude’s obituary is also in today's Sun-News.] I want to let Sharon know how sorry I am sorry for her loss. I enjoyed my brief interaction with Claude, whom I wish I’d known longer and better. Thanks to Claude and Ilana for involving me tangentially in their project. The shoots moved me, the final version of the poem-film moves me, and of course losing Claude saddens me. It was impressive to watch him explaining to the crew how the park should look, telling me about the world of his poem, and playing his role, while frequently changing oxygen tanks. ]

[According to the obituary:

Dr. Claude Jean Fouillade (1946-2020) passed away in his sleep on July 11, 2020 in Las Cruces, NM after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Born an only child in Paris, France, Claude served in the French Air Force as an officer and English instructor. He was educated at the Sorbonne and then, upon moving to America, he completed his PhD studies in Romance Languages (Medieval French Literature) at the University of New Mexico.

Claude went on to teach language studies at the University level for over fifty years, including the last thirty-five years at New Mexico State University, where he served for some years as Chair of the Language Department. During his career Dr. Fouillade taught thousands of students French, Spanish, Latin, movie history, and French culture. He retired from NMSU in 2018 as Professor Emeritus. Beyond the classroom, Claude was immensely passionate in his research and writing on French literature and French art history across the American Southwest for which he published numerous works. ]


[It’s startling to realize that less than two full years ago Claude was NMSU’s professor of the month. On that occasion he wrote:

Hello Aggies! My name is Claude Fouillade. I have been teaching at NMSU since August 1985 so this is my 32nd year of teaching here. I was born and raised in Paris, France and it is my favorite place to travel back to. I hold a Ph.D. in Medieval Languages and Literatures from the University of New Mexico. Outside of teaching, I like to grow a vegetable garden with my wife, look at medieval manuscripts and watch European football matches or movies. I enjoy reading. I find it difficult to pick one book as my favorite, but one that I have enjoyed reading on several occasions is Chrétien de Troyes’ Li Contes del Graal which tells of the Knights of the Round Table and Perceval in particular. My favorite quote is from Voltaire, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin” (We must cultivate our garden). 

My favorite thing about the Honors College is that it is one of the few places on campus where students and faculty from all colleges can meet, exchange ideas and discover new ones. If I could change one thing about the honors college it would be that every student at the University would be more exposed to it. My advice to students is don’t wait until tomorrow what you can get done today. “ ]




Sunday, July 19, 2020

New Mexico Restaurant Association Sues Governor -- Might Win Round 1, but Not in the NM Supreme Court!

Tuesday the New Mexico Restaurant Association sued the Governor, challenging her order prohibiting indoor dining. (Wednesday morning NMRA’s CEO discussed the situation with me on radio, repeating, “we’re not challenging the science” without mentioning the lawsuit.)

The case is politically-motivated. NMRA’s lawyer is Angelo Artuso. He has written that “Roe v Wade decided (wrongly), using both tortured language and logic, that pre-born humans are NOT ‘persons’ within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Actually, “pre-born humans” exemplifies tortured language.

NMRA filed in the conservative 5th District (Eddy County). Judge Raymond L. Romero is a career prosecutor Governor Susana Martinez appointed in February 2013.

In April 2013, one of Romero’s first cases was too deep for him, or too political. State Engineer Scott Verhine had scheduled a hearing on a plan to pump water into the drought-parched Pecos River. Some angry ranchers asked Romero to enjoin that, making the novel claim that since the Interstate Stream Commission (on which Verhine sat) had recommended the program under consideration, Verhine had a conflict of interest. Romero bought the ranchers’ argument. Days later the New Mexico Supreme Court overturned Romero’s decision. As Justice Daniels said, many state agencies perform similar roles, and Romero’s ruling could undermine much of New Mexico’s government.

Romero ran unopposed in 2014 to stay on the bench. I’m guessing he’ll figure that the anti-Governor position will be popular in Eddy County, where the Sheriff says he won’t enforce health orders anyway.

Thus NMRA may well win the first round.

New Mexico’s Supreme Court is unlikely to agree.

To gain a TRO or preliminary injunction, you must show that: you’re likely to win the case; you’re facing irreparable harm that outweighs threatened harm to your opponents; and an injunction is in the public interest.

Likely to win? The NMRA argues that the Governor’s order is “arbitrary and capricious” and that the Governor lacked the power. Courts this year have tended to agree that governors have the power to make emergency public health orders. “Arbitrary and capricious” means much more than “wrong.” It’s courtspeak for unreasonable and without supporting facts.

I don’t think the Governor’s Order is arbitrary and capricious, for reasons that won’t fit here; and courts don’t like to step in to second-guess governmental decisions in complex areas. Protecting public health against a novel coronavirus is pretty complex. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Roberts said in a recent case, “Particularly where the issues are fact-intensive, fluid, scientifically uncertain, and urgent, officials should not be subject to second-guessing by an ‘unelected federal judiciary,’ which lacks the background, competence, and expertise to assess public health.”

Restaurants WILL suffer irreparable harm. That’s unfair, but this virus is unfair to everyone; and Death is kind of irreparable, too. NMRA’s argument largely ignores the fact that human lives are at issue and stresses a flourishing economy, as if partially opening restaurants could undo the vast economic damage caused by death, illness, and lockdowns.

NMRA has reasonable arguments why the Governor should have made a slightly different order, but unless the Governor was demonstrably “arbitrary and capricious,” the court won’t wade into complex policy arguments. The Governor did make some complimentary statements about restaurants to help make her order more politically digestible; and NMRA clearly hopes to use those against her.

I predict the NMRA will ultimately lose, probably after winning Round 1. I’d rather they spent their resources helping our restaurants survive – and adapt.

                                              – 30 –

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 19 July 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's site.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and on KTAL (101.5 FM - https://www.lccommunityradio.org/) and will be available on demand on KRWG's site.  (Note: Monday Judge Romero did as expected and the NM Supreme Court did as expected.  Briefs are scheduled for filing July 27th and July 30th.]

[I've watched / listened to several of the Governor's press conferences.  She and Doctors Scrase and Kunkel provide a lot of facts to back up their actions; and no one wants to close down the economy.NMRA's point that the restaurants are being careful is affecting, in that many undoubtedly are (the two I ate at, outdoors, a few weeks ago, were incredibly careful); and the fact that some of my favorite local restaurants could go out of business while big-box stores survive is galling -- and I'm glad we're starting to see both some enforcement against big-box stores and some apparent buy-in by some managements; but there IS some evidence that despite all that care the face-to-face time, indoors, fairly close, sans masks in order to eat and drink, just IS more dangerous than spending a shorter time wandering around a bigger area without ever facing anyone for long except when checking out (preferably through a plexiglass screen between customer and cashier).  Just a sad, damned fact.  I shop local and eat local.  I drink coffee in one or another of our many wonderful coffeehouses, and haven't seen the inside of Starbucks for perhaps a year.  I love some of our local places and some of the people who run 'em.  But.]

[ Although this study was not before the governor, when she acted, it's interesting that when JP Morgan compared credit-card spending records of 30 million Chase cardholders with Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 case tracker, it found that higher restaurant spending predicted a rise in new infections three weeks later.  They called in-person restaurant spending "particularly predictive," and said that spending at supermarkets predicted a slower spread.  I fact, the analyst said that among all categories of card spending, restaurant spending was the strongest predictor of an imminent spike in cases."  (Here's one news story on the study).]


[These facts, like Florida and some Texas cities renting freezer-trucks for bodies, are hard to ignore; the voices describing Trump's ghastly failures are getting pretty unanimous.  One interesting example (though played up to the writer's benefit) is:

REPUBLICAN Governor's Account of Trump's mishandling of the coronavirus.]

[It'll be interesting to see how the first round in NMRA v Lujan-Grisham goes.  I don't know Judge Romero.  Maybe he's grown some during seven years on the bench.  Maybe it's unfair to guess he'll make the politically convenient decision.  NMRA's lawyer seems to have a reasonable background, academically and with some years at a fair-sized law firm; but the writing sample I read regarding Roe v. Wade was a great example of circular reasoning.  I know abortion was intermittently illegal through our history, though also tolerated; but can you imagine explaining to Thomas Jefferson that when he was writing documents to protect citizens against tyranny he meant to include protecting "pre-born humans" against a woman's medical needs and preferences?   Whatever he thought about abortion, I'm pretty sure he'd have steered you toward the nearest asylum.  Using that phrase while complaining about "tortured language" in legal decisions is kind of a hoot.  None of which means he or his clients are necessarily wrong in the present lawsuit.  But I tend to think they are.]



Sunday, July 12, 2020

Crisis Triage Center?

Some respected local behavioral health experts fear the County will make a huge mistake Tuesday by going forward with Recovery International to run the long-vacant Crisis Triage Center; but the County officials who’ve worked on this longest and hardest say RI is the right choice“and we’re lucky to have them.”

Smart people who want the County to choose its best path have very different roadmaps.

Certainly the optics are problematic. Instead of publishing an RFP, the County (using a statutory exception) paid RI $50,000 for a plan, based on which the parties would now negotiate a contract if the Commission approves. 
 
In 2013, Governor Martinez savaged mental-health providers here, using false or hugely exaggerated allegations, and replaced them with an Arizona outfit with which her people had been talking even before suspending the local agencies. The Arizona outfit found disappointing profits and quickly fled. We’re still recovering from the damage.

The face of RI (another Arizona company) is Dr. Wayne Lindstrom, who was involved in that earlier saga. Martinez hired him after suspending those companies, but to some folks his presence alone might almost be a deal-breaker. County officials say Lindstrom was just helping to pick up the pieces; but others complain his conduct then was unhelpful. 
 
County officials say RI, which runs 12 other crisis centers, wrote the book. RI was one of several co-writers of the well-regarded SAMHSA Guidelines. Critics say half the “business plan” we paid RI $50K to write was cribbed from the Guidelines, to which access is free. County HHS Director Jamie Michaels says beyond the portion tracking the Guidelines, the plan contains more than $50,000 worth of good ideas and knowledge.

Commissioner Shannon Reynolds and others ask why we paid $50,000 for a “plan” when the RFP Process might have yielded more than one set of good ideas – free. Michaels and County Manager Fernando Macias say they initially lacked the detailed knowledge to write an RFP and sought RI’s expertise, then were so impressed, and developed such a good relationship with RI, that they opted to recommend moving forward with RI. 
 
People say RI relies too heavily on peers with “lived experience”; that RI would have a psychologist or psychiatrist on duty just 15% of the time, mostly by telemedicine; and that obtaining necessary licenses and certifications in New Mexico could take a year or two – and that we’d pay for it. Michaels says that RI’s experience and the State’s desire to get the center open would shorten that process to a few months, and that hiring a local person certified in peer crisis counseling would eliminate part of the potential delay. Maybe.
 
There are many more issues, including how RI would mesh with the local mental health community, and that the Triage Center is just one of four “core elements” of an effective behavioral health crisis system. The LC3 Behavioral Health Collaborative – with representatives from 60 entities here – wrote the County a long memo suggesting that providing “comprehensive and continuous care” embedded in strong knowledge of the community is essential. The message was: Slow down! Coordinate. 
 
Two capable county commissioners appear strongly against negotiating this sole-source contract with RI. Some capable staff strongly favor it. 
 
I’m not sure the Commission has adequately considered community concerns, which are sometimes expressed delicately because the County funds local agencies. For the sake of our community health and well-being, let’s get this right.
                                                      – 30 --

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 12 July 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper/s website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on both KRWG and KTAL, 101.5 FM (Las Cruces Community Radio), and will be available on demand on KRWG's website.]

[I'm tempted to say that the only thing everyone agrees on is that that the Crisis Triage Center should be named after Ron Gurley, whose idea it was and who worked so hard to make it happen. ]  




[inserted Monday evening, 13 July:]

In writing the above column and blog, I assumed, without researching it, that the statutory “Hospital and Health Care Exemption” applied to permit the county’s proposed departure from the normal requirement to publish a Request for Proposals. However, once a County Commissioner suggested I read the statute, that reading raised new questions. I’m not a municipal law specialist, and the press of other business today precluded my researching the law as completely as I’d have liked to. However, below I’ve reprinted the law and raised some questions I hope county management will address before or during tomorrow’s meeting.

13-1-98.1. Hospital and health care exemption.

The provisions of the Procurement Code shall not apply to procurement of items of tangible personal property or services by a state agency or a local public body through:

A.  an agreement with any other state agency, local public body or external procurement unit or any other person, corporation, organization or association that provides that the parties to the agreement shall join together for the purpose of making some or all purchases necessary for the operation of public hospitals or public and private hospitals, if the state purchasing agent or a central purchasing office makes a determination that the arrangement will or is likely to reduce health care costs; or

B.  an agreement with any other state agency, local public body or external procurement unit or any other person, corporation, organization or association for the purpose of creating a network of health care providers or jointly operating a common health care service, if the state purchasing agent or a central purchasing office makes a determination that the arrangement will or is likely to reduce health care costs, improve quality of care or improve access to care.

History: Laws 1998, ch. 69, § 1.

I have not heard the County specify whether it contends that subsection A or Subsection B authorizes its proposed conduct here. However, as (A) applies solely to an agreement to “join together for the operation of hospitals,” and the Crisis Triage Center would not seem to be a hospital, (B) seems the more likely. (Each subsection requires that either “the state purchasing agent or a central purchasing office makes a determination that the arrangement will or is likely to reduce health care costs, improve quality of care, or improve access to care. Has the county’s purchasing department made such a determination? Did the determination provide a factual basis for a conclusion that proceeding without an RFP was superior in one of the ways set forth in the law?)

Subsection (B) could apply if this is “an agreement . . . for the purpose of . . . jointly operating a common health care service.” Let’s assume the Triage Center constitutes a “common health care service.” Does the County contend that its proposed engagement of RI to run the Crisis Triage Center is a proposal to run the Center jointly? Certainly it has sounded more as if Doña Ana County would pay RI to run the Center.  And Resolution 2013-90 states that "the Commission has determined that it is time to move forward with the process of selecting a provider to run the center" and authorizes the County Manager to start that process. 

These are questions. I do not presume to offer answers. However, underlying the discussion that Legislature’s language suggests doubts be resolved in favor of maximum fairness, not maximum administrative convenience:


13-1-29. Rules of construction; purposes.

A.  The Procurement Code shall be liberally construed and applied to promote its purposes and policies.

. . .

C.  The purposes of the Procurement Code are to provide for the fair and equitable treatment of all persons involved in public procurement, to maximize the purchasing value of public funds and to provide safeguards for maintaining a procurement system of quality and integrity.

In short, I hope the county manager or the county attorney will articulate with specificity the legal basis for concluding that the exemption applies. I think doing so, rather than leaving the matter uncertain, minimizes the chance of wasteful misunderstandings and perhaps unnecessary litigation.


Sunday, July 5, 2020

Who's Screwing Up Our Reopening?

It’s like sailing.

Reopening during the pandemic involves understanding water, wind, and sails, then tacking as accurately as we can toward port (protection) and starboard (profit) in turn.
Staying closed has had huge economic and social costs. Learning more about this virus helps governments chart reasonable courses – and citizens analyze risks and act prudently.

Closing was essential to “flatten the curve,” minimizing deaths and preserving health resources. Now we should be reopening. Sensibly.

We know how. We know this virus spreads mostly through the air, although surfaces also can infect us. We know that infected people are most dangerous in the 2-3 days right before symptoms start. If an infected person sneezes, coughs, shouts, or sings at you, s/he could infect you quickly. Even talking quietly across a restaurant table, we’re vulnerable to infected droplets reaching our lungs. 
 
We know masks, physical distance, and limiting exposure to others are critical. Studies show that where most people wear masks, COVID-19 cases drop sharply. The less we go out, the less we’re face-to-face with people or in crowds, the more we wear masks and wash hands, and the fewer surfaces we touch, the better our odds to avoid getting or spreading the virus. 
 
I wear a mask because I could endanger not just myself but my wife, my high-risk, diabetic friend, and my radio producer’s 95-year-old father. Even my dog. Protecting others ain’t unmanly! Nor is this pandemic a plot concocted by George Soros or Bill Gates. 
 
Other countries are reopening. But in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona, reopening has meant spikes in cases and deaths. 
 
What stands in the way of safely re-opening theaters is that this got politicized. Donald Trump wanted nothing to do with a pandemic, so he dismissed it as a plot by the Democrats or the Chinese. None of us wanted to close down, but Trump made a political cause out of staying open – while denying the facts. That works in politics, but you can’t con a virus. 
 
Imagine a U.S. President stating in February, “This new virus from China is highly unfortunate, but dangerous. It will spread. If we all listen to health experts, act prudently, and think as ‘We’ not ‘I,’ we’ll get through it, as Americans pulled together to get through wars and disasters.” Had that happened, tens of thousands of dead U.S. citizens would be alive today. Most of my generation would be paralyzed (or limping badly) had Trump, not Eisenhower, been president in 1955, and said polio was a Communist hoax and we could cure it by drinking Listerine. Ike said, “I’m not a scientist, but . . .”

This is not political. As Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said this week, Unfortunately this simple lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says if you're for Trump, you don't wear a mask. . . . The president should occasionally wear a mask. . . [Trump has] “millions of admirers. They would follow his lead.” 

Tragically, current record levels of infection and death are plaguing mostly states with Republican governors. (This week Texas imposed mandatory mask-wearing.)

I’ve been saying that Trump, not our Governor, is endangering our economic reopening. This week Goldman Sachs reported on a study showing that people not wearing masks are hurting our economy to the tune of 5% of our GNP.
City, county, and state should force businesses to require safe practices – for everyone’s good.
                                                  – 30 -- 

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 5 July 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website KRWG's website.  A radio version will air during the week, both on KRWG and on KTAL, 101.5 FM (www.lccommunityradio.org ) and will be available shortly on demand at KWEG's site.  (Tough as our times are, I urge everyone to contribute to both radio stations, which both do a great deal for our community.]


[As if to illustrate Trump's disconnectedness from any kind of Presidential response to this crisis: in a week when the nation and many states and cities were setting scary new records of new COVID-19 cases, and even his vice-president and his allies such as the governors of Florida and Texas are beginning to face some facts and urge or mandate mask-wearing and other protective steps, Trump had an unnecessary gathering at Mt. Rushmore, in the reflected glory of men who acted like leaders in national crises, where people ignored masks and physical distancing while they shouted with Mr. Trump.  Telling folks at home by his conduct as well as his misleading words (that 99% of the infections are "Totally harmless") not to worry.   
He is so out to lunch that by the time he gets back his building will have been demolished and replaced by a parking lot.  But one-liners won't mitigate the actual damage he is doing by telling people it's just fine to gather close to each other maskless -- or go to restaurants or the farmers' market maskless.
Meanwhile the Republican Mayor of Miami, the Republican Governors of Texas and Florida, are belatedly struggling desperately to put out serious fires.  Trump, who also said Friday, "We have learned how to put out fires," ought to share that knowledge.

 
[Fact is, Trump has no clue, his fiddling during the fire has cost lives, and yet he continues to fiddle away instead of taking appropriate action.  Per a "TheHill" story this morning:

Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease specialist, is attributing the spike to two underlying factors. First, he noted that many states opted to reopen while new cases were at a plateau, whereas other countries remained locked down until they demonstrated sharp reductions in new infections. Second, the U.S. was much more lenient than other countries in allowing social activities during the virus’s early spread, he said, even in the states that adopted the most stringent measures
"That allowed the perpetuation of the outbreak that we never did get under very good control,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the BBC recently


[The blame is not wholly Donald Trump's, by any means; and this was a tough enemy to fight; but others, including his allies, have learned a little from experience.  Others also lacked his position: no one else could have set and sold a sensible national policy; no one else could have so effectively encouraged masses of people to ignore, like lemmings, his own atministration's warnings -- or encouraged them to follow those.]
[And don't miss the fact that New Mexico's cases are very much on the rise -- as our Doña Ana County's, specifically.  The past two daily reports counted 257 and 291 new cases in New Mexico, both records, and 40 and 56 in Doña Ana County.  Not long ago when I was reading such information daily on  the radio, state numbers were usually 100-150 and county numbers often in single digits.  Please be attentive to your surroundings!]

 

Sunday, June 28, 2020

TIDD Sought by Private Developer Raises Yellow Caution Flag for City

In a work session Monday, the City Council will discuss an unusual deal with a Nebraska developer that could be a costly mistake. 
 
The deal concerns the old country club area, where Nebraska developers have built a “boutique” hospital that may help or hurt Las Cruces. They now want to add retail spaces near it. 
 
The developers want the City to create a Tax Incremental Development District (TIDD) in which city-authorized bonds would fund infrastructure and other costs that developers usually bear. The city would pledge substantial future increased GRT revenues to pay off the bonds. One document suggests that could be tens of millions of dollars. 
 
TIDDs can work well for public needs (such as downtown Las Cruces) where a city wants to develop or improve an area and increase GRT income, and uses a variety of developers to do so.

Las Cruces has never created a TIDD for a single developer. In Albuquerque, TIDDs to help single developers have a somewhat sorry history.

TIDDs are intended to draw new economic activity and jobs – not to move businesses into the district from surrounding areas. They shouldn’t be used unless they’re the only way to bring about desired development.

Here, the area is appealing, and the boutique hospital got built, so is a TIDD necessary? If developers screw this up, and bonds don’t get paid off, bondholders suffer. Does the City’s reputation or credit-rating? If the development just shifts business and jobs from downtown or El Paseo, that’s not NEW economic activity that enriches us – but Cruces tax monies would go to pay off the bonds. 
 
Legally, this developer is the brand-new “LC Nova LLC,” which lists Zachary Wiegert as manager and registered agent. The out-of-state entities that own the surrounding property are apparently involved, and the value of their property stands to increase, particularly if this works. 
 
Quick Google hits for Wiegert do not show mayors happily cutting ribbons.
Rather, one (from 2011) describes old friends of Wiegert’s trying to hold him and his partners to an oral agreement – but when they met, Wiegert “lost my temper” and shouted insults in an allegedly intimidating manner. The entity with which Wiegert was associated dropped out. The deal fell apart. 
 
In another, Project 19 LLC (for which Wiegert spoke) announced it was abandoning promised plans to develop the site of the old Omaha Civic Auditorium, though the same developers had expressed great excitement about the project. The deal required a major tenant. Omaha’s mayor said the developers’ failure to sign one was the reason they walked. 
 
Whoever was to blame, those reports don’t tend to instill absolute confidence these folks will do better by Las Cruces. Each included allegations Wiegert’s team wasn’t sticking to a deal. 
 
Perhaps more critical are the many questions the basic idea raises. If we use TIDDs in this way, won’t every developer want one? Should we do TIDDs at all? How do we protect our interests? How much potential “public good” do we require for a developer to get this help? If we’re now going to subsidize developments, hadn’t we better agree on coherent ground rules before facing the onslaught of applicants?

We owe it to ourselves, to residents near the TIDD, and to folks who buy the bonds – to be very cautious, and to be quite careful who gets help from our GRT revenues and gets to have the city’s good name behind their operations.
                                                          – 30 --


[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 28 June 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and (presently) on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on both KRWG and KTAL, 101.5 FM (www.lccommunityradio.org) and will also be available on-demand on KRWG's site. ]

 [I have little to add.  This was a column I felt less than usually comfortable writing, because I don't have detailed knowledge on the subject.  There appear to be some passionate economic-development fans advising the city who have not really looked at this thing as critically as one might wish, but also a lot of passionate opponents.  There seems, as there often is, a lot of misinformation floating around -- to which I hope I haven't contributed any.  It does seem that the weight of what evidence there is tends to suggest caution with this kind of development tool; the city should require pretty strong evidence that this development would really CREATE economic activity here rather than draw it from elsewhere in the area, to these developers' profit but with no significant gain to the City; and it's pretty obvious that if the ice cream truck starts offering stuff like this other kids will join the crowd around it.  So, yeah, I'd be instinctively skeptical.]

[Thanks to Greg Lennes, who responded to this column by supplying, this morning, a link to this story on a detailed study of how such things work out.  The referenced study was by something called the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.  (It is not named after Abraham Lincoln, but after some wealthy but thoughtful gent named Lincoln, and studies how to use tax policies and such to improve things.  It lists as its six core concerns: low-carbon, climate-resilient communities and regions; efficient and equitable tax systems, reduced poverty and spatial inequality, fiscally healthy communities and regions, sustainably managed land and water resources, and functional land markets and reduced informality."  Sounds like more than six, but all laudable, although I've no idea what "reduced informality" is It also has a fairly heavyweight and varied board -- and several Lincolns still working for it.)  The study suggests some policy considerations and would be worth a read by city councilors.]

[Monday's work session is at 1 -- and can be watched on various media including  Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/CityofLasCruces/), YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/user/CLCTV20), the city's website (https://lascruces.civicweb.net/Portal/Video.aspx) and Cable Television 20. ]

(c) pgoodmanphotos 

(c) pgoodmanphotos



I should probably add this comment from a friend:
"I worked diligently along with many others in about 2010 on TIDDs here and in ABQ.  The NM TIDD law was newly passed then, focused on a big development in ABQ.  TIDDs were all the rage around the country.

"The TIDD concept, as with many others, is good.  The devil is in the details, starting with the state law.  The entity in control of the TIDD can do amazing things with the tax money they get, and they are free from all normally expected rules of transparency and good practice in how they spend the money.

"Cities have set up TIDDs to get things going, and suddenly found they gave away so much of their tax money they can no longer operate to support the new business, if it ever shows up - it really messes up the bottom line if overdone.  If Las Cruces approves this new one it could put them in a fiscal bind down the road.  The financial flow into the TIDDs is for a very long time.  And once started it is very difficult - maybe impossible - to stop.

"Since the City has yet, to my knowledge, to face their immediate fiscal problems due to the economic shutdown, I wonder if their fiscal analysis capability has the ability to assess the impact of this TIDD.

"The City's Downtown TIDD is a textbook example of the best way to set up and administer a TIDD, and a perfect use of the money.  The funds are from a bet against future growth - and that bet is not sure to pay off, so there is risk - and should be used conservatively and to build the infrastructure needed to enable new development.  The Downtown investments are yet to pay off - we'll see.

"A concerted effort stopped the County from approving a TIDD for Verde in the Santa Teresa area.  The way it was written it had the capability to bankrupt the County while enriching Verde.  

"The group got the state to turn down a huge TIDD in the petroglyphs area in ABQ which was a bold rip off.

"If the City sees the TIDD for this area as a "Must Have" for some reason, it should be set up as a City TIDD, just like the downtown one, with the City running it and controlling the use of the funds.  That is about the only way to keep it under control.

"The more things change....   It didn't take long for the TIDD lessons of 10 years ago to fade into history and the experience begin to repeat itself.  Reminds some of us old farts of the Police Review situation.  We had it in pretty good shape and getting better 10 years ago, then it was allowed to just fade, then lapse, and we are right back where we started.  Maybe we need an 'Office of Corporate Memory'."


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Two Saturdays

One beautiful Saturday morning a family ventures out from pandemical isolation to the Farmers’ Market. Kids, grandma, and cousins are all enjoying aguas frescas. Suddenly a woman starts shouting at the family, “We don’t want you N_____s here!” The beautiful day is worse than ruined.

A school board member tells me this happened to an LCPS program director, whom I’ll call “Teacher.” I’m appalled. That it happened, and that no one spoke up for the family. 
 
A walk is planned for the following Saturday, to express support for the family and affirm that racism has no home here. Before the walk, I question the vendors, from whom we buy fresh local food weekly. None witnessed the attack. One, a conservative Korean War Vet, says someone should have shot the hate-spewing woman. Another says, “I did see a beautiful black family, kids and grandparents, maybe 15 people, having a great time.” (Later I learn that it happened a little north and west of the Plaza, where vendors were very unlikely to hear it.) 
 
I join the walk. Without publicity, we’re a good-sized group, including U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small. I meet Teacher, her mother, and her eldest daughter. She’s left her two youngest at home, uncertain what might happen. This week, crafts vendors have returned to Main Street. They and others are supportive, though unaware of the previous Saturday’s incident.

Outside City Hall, Teacher and some school board members speak. Teacher truly teaches us, by the grace and directness with which she describes the attack and expresses her appreciation of the support. “I didn’t realize my Superintendent would be like a second mother, calling to inquire about the kids.” Afterward I have the pleasure of talking with Teacher awhile, and days later we discuss the attack on radio.

The walk is a little island of peace and sanity. The attack – coming at a moment of joy and laughter, when the market must have seemed a refuge – was a grim reminder that there is no refuge in the U.S. if you are not white. The attacker didn’t permanently harm Teacher, who recognizes that the attacker revealed more about herself than about anyone else. Teacher’s mother, from Georgia, may have experienced worse, and would have liked to leave that in the past. The children are struggling with an ugly memory they’ll digest, and learn from, in their own ways. (Some day, “n___” will be as dusty an insult as “pleb” or “tsoulus.”)

Friends and I discussed what to do in such a situation. Stand with the family, absolutely. Some friends said ignore the attacker, don’t make it worse. I might quietly ask the woman, “What’s so weak or poisoned in your life that you have to take things out on strangers?” She is simply so unable to handle her pain or problems that she’s lashing out wildly at a family with more love, education, and class than she could aspire to. 
 
The attacker has earned our hostility; what she did is despicable; but her hatred is a poisoned cup she offered the family – who were wise enough not to drink it. Hating poisons the hater. One might pity her, but this old white guy shouldn’t advise anyone what to feel. 
 
Although we wish nothing had happened, this ugly incident inspired our community to share its love and respect for Teacher and her wonderful family, with hopes that this place can still feel like home to them. 

Racism has no place here. Racism has no place here.
                                                     – 30 -- 

"Uncertainty"  (c) 2020 pgoodmanphotos
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 21 June 2020, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and also on KTAL, 101.5 FM (www.lccommunityradio.org), and will be available on demand later today on KRWG's site.]

[I know that the woman who shouted at the family is an outlier.  The overwhelming trend of history is toward recognizing that we are one human race and come in all shades and a variety of ethnic groups.  I truly believe that some day only historians will recognize "the N-word."  That is so despite a brief wave of nativism and ethnic violence represented in the elections of folks such as Donald Trump and Narendra Modi and in Britain's "Brexit."  However, vigilance is always wise.  There are particular dangers present in the 2020 election.]

[Meanwhile I'm grateful to have met Teacher and her family, though I loathe the attack that sparked that meeting.]