Sunday, November 19, 2017

One Year of Donald Trump

After a full year, it seems fair to say that Donald Trump has been even worse than we expected.

It's not just the special counsel investigation, abandoning the Paris Accord on climate, and his ludicrous effort to resuscitate the coal industry. Nor is it the deep harm he's doing our judiciary, our environment, and consumer protection.

A random scan of one day's online New York Times is illustrative: Trump has been eerily silent regarding Alabama U.S. Senate nominee Roy Moore as women come forward regarding his taste for underage girls – a taste that was well known in little Gadsden, Alabama when he was a 32 year-old prosecutor banned from the local mall for bothering teenage girls; he's considering a special counsel to investigate a 2010 uranium deal; his envoys to a United Nations climate-change conference got jeered throughout their presentation; his choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services, which regulates the pharmaceutical industry, is a former Eli Lilly executive, after his first nominee misused public funds by using chartered jets for routine travel; Donald Trump, Jr. is admitting (after exposure by the press) multiple contacts with WikiLeaks, which published documents from Russia to help candidate Trump; the former pesticide industry executive he appointed to a top Department of Agriculture position has apparently reneged on her signed agreement to avoid matters on which she had lobbied during the past two years, and is under fire for alleged secrecy in meeting with her former industry allies; Missouri is opening an antitrust investigation of Google, as states and Europe deal with antitrust issues the U.S. used to handle; Republican columnist David Brooks discusses the “dysfunctional group behavior” that helped bring us “Roy Moore and Donald Trump, and the repugnant habits of mind that now excuse them,” while the editorial, entitled “President Trump's Thing for Thugs,” discusses Trump's apparent “man-crush” on Vladimir Putin and his fondness for Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines.

Even if he serves one term (or less), Trump's blunders will have long-lasting effects. Time lost in dealing with our climate problems is time the seas keep rising faster than they might have, wiping out island countries. Minimizing barriers to drug companies' abuses of consumers will mean some people die prematurely or grow ill unnecessarily. Greedily implementing a huge regressive change in our tax system will exacerbate our dangerous economic imbalance and jack up the deficit Republicans used to care about. 
He and his party are disregarding rules and traditions that protected us and helped foster at least the possibility of bipartisanship. If both parties follow Trump's lead in appointing extremist judges, our courts will become as dysfunctional as our congress.
Obama, bending over backwards for civility, resisted calls to investigate the Bush Administration, although Bush lied to sell us the Iraq War, which killed or injured many soldiers and more Iraqis, and the administration apparently tortured people, violating the Geneva Accords and U.S. law. 
Trump is trying to order the Justice Department to go after Hillary Clinton with no good reason – mostly hoping that if Robert Mueller was a potential target or witness, he could be accused of a conflict of interest and encouraged to resign as Special Prosecutor. We have a system where presidents are not supposed to use the Department of Justice as a blatant political tool; or at least we had one. 
But there's a lot in Las Cruces to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!

[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 19 July 2017,  in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website, and a spoken version of the column is aired on KRWG Wednesdays and Saturdays and on KTAL 101.5 FM.]

[Couple of interesting articles on some of the material mentioned in the column:    
, which was involved in Russian disclosures aimed at influencing the election and apparently provided the campaign with Russian-hacked "dirt" on Hillary Clinton;
-- another from on the fact that Roy Moore's obsession with young girls was obvious to everyone in town, when he was a prosecutor in his early 30's; 
-- this New Yorker piece that I'd read earlier in the week on how everyone in town knew about Moore, who was banned from the local mall;
-- this opinion piece by a law professor who shared Roy Moore's Christianity and conservatism but found Moore a real problem in class.  Moore took stupid positions, defended them vigorously, wouldn't change his opinion despite evidence and authorities, and never won a legal argument in class, but was basically (though the professor is too courteous to sum it up so bluntly) an aggressive and somewhat loony jerk;
-- Adam Davidson's New Yorker piece on "The Shocking Math of the Republican Tax Plan;
-- and this one from Vanity Fair on economists' universal skepticism about "trickle-down economics", which has never worked, though the phrase has been around since at least the 1890's.  Economists know it's nonsense; my limited reading of history certainly tends to show it is; and when I had a couple of mainstream economists on my show the other day on KTAL (101.5 FM), they couldn't take it seriously either.  I do want to have another show, with two economists -- one further left of these guys and one more conservative -- and get a wider sampling; but just reading generally, it's hard to find any evidence that this plan won't be a complete disaster for the country, and particularly for those who aren't extremely wealthy.  (I say that despite the fact that a couple of provisions in it might help me personally -- at least until we all have to deal with the destruction of the economy and massive increase in the deficit.)]

[The only point in the column I'm not really certain about is whether he's worse than expected (because our expectations were pretty low) or the expectations just never got into such detail.  It's difficult to watch this play out day-by-day, and to watch Trump and his cronies screw up not just a few things but pretty much everything.  It's distressing that although many people who voted for him have recognized over this year that he's a disaster for the country, the vast majority of people who voted for him say they'd do it again.  However, that was (a) when his opponent was Hillary Clinton; (b) when they hadn't seen the reality of a Trump occupation of the Oval Office; (c) when they hadn't been treated to daily bursts of angry tweets that contrast with the gentlemanly nature of his predecessor, and (d) when many of them were getting health care they hadn't had before.  People must be just tired of the noise, if nothing else.  And (at least so far) polls certainly show him to be in deep trouble with the people.]

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Non-Conservatives Sweep 2017 City Elections

Tuesday was eventful for local governments here.

The Doña Ana County Commission announced a four-year contract with Fernando Macias to be the new county manager.

Then moderate to progressive candidates swept the city elections.

Gabe Vasquez got 70% of the vote in District 3; Yvonne Flores got a surprising 57% in District 6, beating incumbent Ceil Levatino; and District 5 incumbent Gill Sorg got 51% in a three-way race. Meanwhile Joy Goldbaum, the most progressive candidate in the Municipal Judge II race, got 51% against incumbent Kent Yalkut (29%) and Nelson Goodin (21%). 
These results reflect both relative contentment with the City Council's present course and strong discontent with the national political situation.

The Council has been generally progressive. Voters, knowing that, re-elected Sorg, booted Levatino (the most frequent dissenting vote), and added Vasquez, who was endorsed by retiring District 3 councilor Olga Pedroza. 
Businesses have voiced complaints in the past about permit processes and the like. The council and new City Manager Stuart Ed have taken steps to address such complaints. I hope those efforts continue. (Vasquez's business editor and Hispanic Chamber experience may prove useful.) Business is an important aspect of our community. It shouldn't dominate city politics, as it once did; but it deserves respect and fair treatment. Entrepreneurship deserves even more. 
The results were clearly a victory for shoe-leather. Progressive candidates and their supporters did a lot of canvassing. “We touched every door in the district, some of them three times,” one campaign manager said Friday. But there seemed to be a lot more newspaper and radio ads for Levatino and Montañez. Goldbaum walked a lot, and many people walked for her; but incumbent Yalkut bought many more (and much bigger) signs and newspaper ads. (Goodin spent nothing! Governor Martinez may well appoint him district judge, replacing Macias. He'd face another election next November.)

Some of the energy moving those shoes along our streets was generated by Donald Trump. His election, and his absurd and dangerous post-election conduct, awakened many people who can't do much about him but can try to keep local government sane, sensible, and caring. In Virginia, Washington State, and elsewhere, distaste for Trump fueled Democratic wins.

Some motivation was purely local. Many of Levatino's constituents were angry. That, plus the strong effort by and for Flores, turned a swing district strongly progressive. Voters know and respect Sorg, a decent man who really cares about water and quality-of-life issues, while Steve Montañez didn't inspire widespread affection. Vasquez's extremly strong qualifications and Bev Courtney's extreme politics and limited knowledge and experience made the District 3 race a mismatch. Gabe – just an outstanding candidate – had many more people walking the streets for him. He also had more money than Courtney, who didn't receive nearly as much funding from conservative and business interests as Levatino and Montañez. 
Meanwhile Macias is a promising choice as county manager – a post he's held before. (He was student body president when I was still around campus in the 1970's.) I liked what I saw of him as judge. Other judges weren't so keen, and replaced him as Presiding Judge in the Third Judicial District; but he certainly has the tools and the perspective to excel in his new post – and the four-year contract he wisely negotiated should help. 

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard, and hats off to all the winning and losing candidates.

[The foregoing column appeared this morning, Sunday, 12 November 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, and on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website, and a spoken version will air a few times during the week on KRWG (Wednesday and probably Saturday) and KTAL (Thursday).]

[A Sun-News story carried comments on the "small" increase in turnout from eight to 11 per cent of eligible voters.  While that increase may have disappointed Scott Krahling and Delores Connor and others involved in trying to increase voter turnout here, a jump from eight to 11% is actually a 37.5% increase.  In any case, no one should use the voter turnout as an excuse to denigrate the city, the results, or the winners.  A lot of people just don't care.  Many who follow national elections really don't care much who runs the city or the county.  That's their right.  (As a young man here, I didn't have a clue who was on the county or city commission -- until suddenly I was hired as a local reporter for the El Paso Times.)  Everyone who wanted to vote in this election, or run in this election, or speak up for or against candidates had abundant opportunities to do so.   The races came out as they did.  The low turnout means little; and if it means anything at all, it means that the vast silent body of citizens obviously isn't desperately unhappy with the city government's direction.  At the same time, while Gill Sorg's win over Steve Montañez looks like a rout when you say 51% to 41%,  a difference of 121 votes doesn't sound huge, and progressives shouldn't rest on their laurels.]

[i have a couple more random observations:
1. Ceil Levatino will be missed.  As I've said elsewhere, I'd have voted for Yvonne Flores.  And I know Ms. Levatino irritated some constituents.  On the other hand, my interactions with her were always quite pleasant; and a couple of the councilors  who served with her, but generally disagreed with her, both say she was always been courteous and respectful in their conversations, and that they'll miss her.  She deserves credit for that, and for taking her work as councilor seriously.
2. It'll be interesting to watch Monday evening's city council discussion of when the cost-of-living increase in the minimum wage should kick in.  Appears councilors or staff made a mistake in hastily [and wrongfully, under the City Charter] rewriting the ordinance from the original petition-induced version.  A legal purist might be inclined to go back to the CAFe version for guidance.  On the other hand, after an election that removed the council's most conservative councilor, I'd be tempted to vote to delay the increase to show concerned small-business owners some concern.   The issue also reminds one of another important and as-yet-unaddressed issue, changing the charter provisions regarding ordinance petitions and possibly recall provisions.  (Not to eliminate either, but to bring the ordinance provision into line with what was intended and perhaps make the recall provision more like the statewide provision.)  Hope we'll see action on that early in the new year.
3. "Que Tal Community Radio" [KTAL-LP 101.5 FM] now has live streaming.  That's of general interest, because some folks can't get it so well and a few friends and readers are far away.  I should also note that by some accident I'll be on both at 9 a.m. and at 10 a.m. [New Mexico time] this morning, with my regular Sunday Show at 9 [discussing religions and the arguments against them with secular humanist Dr. Richard Hempstead] and at 10 a.m. [getting interviewed by Sandhi Scott on her show.  The Hempstead discussion is interesting.   On Sandhi's show, I'm sure she'll do her usual good job, but she's stuck with a somewhat dull interviewee, so no promises!]
4. Saw Macias's predecessor, Julia Brown, Saturday morning at Senator Martin Heinrich's "Coffee Talk" event at Salud.  Reminds me to note that although she seems to have been too-hastily fired and probably for the wrong reasons, about which we may learn more in a court trial, But Macias seems a solid choice -- though Interim County Manager Chuck McMahon, whom we saw last night at the opening of Four Corners Gallery, gave him tough competition for the "permanent" job. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fake News and False Advertising

For a great example of “fake news” just read this sentence from an op-ed column in Thursday's Sun-News: “This traitorous deal was facilitated by the head of the FBI at the time — none other than Robert Mueller. ” The “deal” was Russian acquisition of a Canadian company that controlled a lot of uranium. The writer offered no supporting facts.

For “false advertising,” watch city council candidate Steve Montañez's video designed to mislead voters into thinking actor and environmentalist Morgan Freeman endorsed him.

The Mueller allegation was nonsense – and had nothing to do with the big uranium deal.
In 2006 Republic of Georgia police, and the U.S. Department of Energy, carried out a sting operation against several men (one Russian, several Georgians) trying to sell highly-enriched uranium. The sting was kept secret until it succeeded. Then it was widely reported. “Republic of Georgia authorities, aided by the CIA, set up a sting operation last summer that led to the arrest of a Russian man who tried to sell a small amount of nuclear-bomb grade uranium in a plastic bag in his jacket pocket, U.S. and Georgian officials said,” the Washington Post reported.

A 2009 U.S. cable (courtesy of Wiki-leaks) notes that Russian investigators had asked the U.S. for a ten-gram sample of the stolen uranium, formerly owned by Russia. The U.S. complied. Normal international police cooperation. Mueller, then head of the FBI, was directed to deliver the sample when he arrived in Moscow. The delivery occurred on an airport tarmac, a detail that excited some highly partisan web sites and Trump fans who suddenly wanted to attack Mueller recently.) I don't know whether Mueller was flying to Russia on other business; but the cable mentions “chain-of-custody,” an important principle in criminal evidence law. That could explain why Mueller was the delivery-boy.

Mueller has an excellent reputation. He's a registered Republican and somewhat conservative. He's said to be highly diligent and a model of integrity. This kind of attack shows how desperate some are to prevent an impartial investigation of Trump's possible collusion with Russia regarding the 2016 election. 
I'll assume the local op-ed columnist honestly, but naively, believed that Mueller had something to do with Russian acquisition of a much larger lot of uranium.

But Montañez – does he think we're that dumb? He knows Morgan Freeman (from Mississippi) had any interest in urging District 5 voters to unseat Councilor Gill Sorg for Montañez. 

He apparently funded and posted a video narrated by a Freeman imitator, with a picture of Freeman at the end, urging voters to elect Montañez (By the time I looked, the still was gone. The video's still up.) 
The Freeman bit isn't even original. Fake Freeman ads started in 2010 with far-right Republican Scott Walker in Wisconsin.

Ironically, Freeman's strong environmentalism suggests he'd prefer Sorg, who actually knows something about water and the environment. Sorg wants the best for Las Crucens – not higher real estate profits. The same Montañez video that lies by implying Freeman supports him adds that “We are here to serve the families and residents.” Sorry, Steve. You've undermined your own credibility.

In a supposedly non-partisan race, Montañez also ran an ad saying he was endorsed by “Isabella Solis, Democrat.” He's a registered Republican. Is he ashamed to be a member of Donald Trump's party? 
Next, watch for a mailer saying Gill Sorg helped steal that uranium.

[This column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 5 November 2017, and also on the newspaper's website on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  KRWG and KTAL-LP (101.4 FM in Las Cruces) will also air a spoken version a few times during the week.]

[Before providing some back-up to the points made in the column, let me say, to Las Crucens who haven't voted yet this year:
Local elections matter!
Please Vote!
If I lived in District 3 (currently represented by Olga Pedroza) I'd vote for Gabe Vasquez.  He's an impressive young man with impressive experience and a deep sense of the district and the region.  Bev Courtney, his opponent, is a very fine person.  I like and respect her too.  At the same time, I don't think Tea Party political views are a good fit for this city or this specific district.  She also can't nearly match Gabe's mix of professional experience and personal knowledge of this region and its problems.  Few of us could.
If I lived in District 5, I'd vote for incumbent Gill Sorg.  He's not an eloquent speaker; but he has substance, and cares.  I see him at water conferences and such, really wanting to know the facts -- and having the background to understand them and think about what to do about them.  So far, Mr.  Montañez hasn't shown me anything that generates enthusiasm in me for his candidacy.  He's smart; he presents himself well, as realtors are well-advised to learn to do; but he makes me uneasy.    With Gill, what you see is what you get. He's a good human being, studies issues carefully, and speaks honestly.  While in Montañez we might see the image of a charming family man with a genuine interest in bettering the city, it's not at all clear we wouldn't find he's someone who decides most every issue on how it would affect the real estate and business interests and cares relatively little about others.
In District 6, I hope Yvonne Flores unseats incumbent Ceil Levatino.  Although Ms. Levatino is savvy, and extends herself to engage in courteous discussion with people who don't share her views, and I like her personally, her votes seem always to represent one sector (business) disproportionately. Ms. Flores is smart and progressive, and has spent more of her life doing good things than many of us have.  She's also campaigned with impressive dedication and energy, which I suspect she'd apply to work as a Councilor should she be elected]
[With regard to Steve's false "Morgan Freeman ad," I happen to respect Morgan Freeman greatly.  For some of his acting, including in a couple of films by Clint Eastwood, and for his principled positions on some issues.  If Steve weren't too trivial for Mr. Freeman to notice, there might even be consequences to this.  
This article discusses earlier uses of this silly trick.
If they haven't taken it down, you can find Steve's video here, on You-Tube here and re-posted here with a statement by Steve that he approves it.
The whole thing is "Freeman's" voice-over, referring to "our city" and "our children," and is as false as a three-dollar bill.  

As to the Mueller foolishness: here's the original op-ed column mentioned in the column, in case you want to read it; and here's the Snopes refutation of the part about Mueller.

Why can't people like Montañez (and Sanchez if she wasn't honestly misled) just argue based on facts?  As an economist said to me this morning regarding a colleague, "We agree on the facts.  In economics, the facts are the facts.  We disagree about what they mean."   Facts are such propositions as that "Mueller delivering some evidence to another law-enforcement agency has nothing to do with the Russians buying a Canadian uranium company years later" and that "Morgan Freeman had nothing to do with a video Steve Montañez made to support his candidacy, using a Freeman imitator."]

Sunday, October 29, 2017

County and Deputies' Union

The state supreme court has mercifully ended the County's appeal of an adverse arbitration result; but questions persist.

The DASO deputies' union prevailed in a compulsory arbitration in August 2016. The County appealed to district court. Judge Manuel Arrieta, in a thoughtful opinion, affirmed the arbitrator's decision in January. Modern courts give great deference to arbitration results. Such results are difficult to overturn if any evidence at all supports them. 

That should have been it.

The parties differed by $780,000. Appealing had already cost both sides a lot. Further appeals were unlikely to succeed, and would cost more. And would deepen the rift between Deputies and Commissioners. We don't have to hold hands and sing Kumbaya, but we do have to work together.
Deputies were leaving to make more money elsewhere. That wasn't the only reason people were leaving. Several of the 11 officers leaving DASO for LCPD told their new employer or me they were leaving because of Undersheriff Ken Roberts. (I think one took a pay-cut.) But as I wrote then, “county residents deserve reasonably capable law-enforcement, and should, within reason, pay for that. I don't mean give in to any and all demands; but when a federal arbitrator tells you in an 86-page decision and Judge Arrieta agrees, maybe it's time.” 

Meanwhile, deputies getting stiffed saw high county officials get big raises. 

The County appealed to the Court of Appeals – which was so unimpressed that it tried to affirm summarily. That is, “This one looks easy. Union should win. Don't waste resources on further briefing or oral argument.” The Court called the Arbitrator's 84-page decision “thorough and thoughtful.” Still, the County filed a memorandum opposing summary affirmance. Filed more papers. Lost.
Reading the Court of Appeals decision, I thought Vegas odds-makers would favor the Union by six or seven touchdowns at the next level. But the County petitioned for certiorari. The Supreme Court promptly denied the petition, letting the Court of Appeal decision stand.

The Commission is left looking like a small child being repeatedly told “No!” and given cogent reasons why not, but insisting anyway – or just screaming pointlessly in frustration in the corner.
Regarding the long-shot petition for cert, the commission did a weird dance – after several closed meetings, the three newest commissioners tried to suspend the rules to reverse themselves. They needed a fourth commissioner to agree, but neither Ben Rawson nor Billy Garrett would do so. Exemplifying the deputies' view, Union President Benito Casillas said Rawson “claims to be pro public safety, and yet his actions don't support that.” Too, the three newer commissioners must at some point have voted for the petition, or there'd have been no need for a redo. 

I asked commissioners “Why?” and didn't get convincing answers. One said that the arbitrator had overstepped his bounds by awarding more than the County had authorized; but Judge Arrieta's decision disposed of that issue, and the Court of Appeals didn't bother really addressing it, but praised Arrieta's work. Clearly the Supreme Court sure wasn't going to get excited. 

Rawson mentioned that Deputies were “getting paid to bargain.” He said that violated the anti-donation clause. But negotiating a peaceful resolution of a public union dispute does serve the community, and I believe deputies were only paid half-time for that work. Houston reportedly pays police negotiators their full salary. And an Arizona Supreme Court case decided the same issue in favor of the Phoenix police union.

This is not Doña Ana County's finest hour. I'll be interested in whether the deputies get decent interest on their back pay. They should.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Community Radio and Community

Recent experiences have strengthened my respect for what local people, with good ideas and energy, can accomplish with little money.

Southwest Environmental Center, La Semilla, and the Mountain View Market Co+op are all locally-created. None is the local office of any state or national group. Each fends for itself. 

Same for Friends of the Taylor Family Monument, The Beloved Community Project, Doña Ana Communities United (with its Timebank), and The Great Conversation. Neat ideas getting implemented on a shoestring. Dreams being realized. 

My own experience? More than two years of hard work and uncertainty, collaborating with a great group of people, grumbling over frustrations along the way, all to put a community radio station on air. Two years feeling like an idiot, wondering if it would ever happen.

Now I'm humbled and grateful to be listening to people do interesting local interviews and an astonishing variety of music shows on KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM. Some are pros. Others, with little experience, always kind of thought they could do radio – and they can! It's delightful.

Tuesday, Nan Rubin interviewed two local men doing some interesting local film-making. Doing it – not just talking about it. Wednesday, I was privileged to host the three municipal judgeship candidates, each sounding as if s/he would make a great judge; then the articulate District 6 City Council candidate Yvonne Flores, whose opponent declined to appear; then representatives of the Potters' Guild and El Caldito talking about the annual Empty Bowls event. (Potters make bowls, local restaurants donate soup, and folks like us contribute money to the soup kitchen and get in return a handmade bowl, tasty soup, and enjoyable conversations.) 

Thursday, Kari Bachman treated us to a wonderful hour with Florence Hamilton. At an age most folks don't reach, Ms. Hamilton spoke movingly about growing up in segregated Kansas City, Missourahh, struggling to find work in a world where young black women were meant to be domestics or elevator operators (“Light-skinned only,” read the newspaper ads), and later watching her kids experience the mixed bag that was school integration after the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education. Her comments were a welcome respite from the steady drumbeat of mostly white male pronouncements that all that racism stuff is past.

I'd stack those three morning shows up against the three morning shows most any other local radio station did this week in any comparable or much larger city. 

Our trials in getting “Que tal!” on air also enhanced my sympathy for the great group of people I watched working for months to make the recent SWEC gala the best ever; and for the folks who created and sustain the Timebank, where people contribute what they can do and get something done for them in return. Same with Beloved Community, now coping with a loss of funding, yet still committed to making young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities feel uniquely beloved. And too the Progressive Voters Alliance, where people confronting changing political realities gather to exchange ideas – with two minutes or less per speaker. Then there's El Caldito, community staple, feeding more needy people each year.

A recent radio interview also gave me insight into how hard folks work so that Las Cruces has a symphony of exceptional quality for our size.

With globalism all the rage, and Washington a playpen, these local efforts are truly heroic. And I could name many more! Fellow Las Crucens struggling to survive and do right. 

Add in a vibrant and generous arts community, and our desert home is rich in the stuff that really matters.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 22 October 2017, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air periodically on both KRWG and KTAL-LP.  (Speaking of which, at 9 a.m. this morning on KTAL - 101.5 FM - "The Sunday Show" features an interview with Roman Catholic Bishop Oscar Cantú.)]

[Mostly, I felt delighted by how the radio station is doing.  It desperately needs money; but people are getting a chance to host radio shows are doing so quite well.  I run into people who enjoy the station, for both its local programming and the acquired show, and tell me they listen to it all day.  It's strange.  I remember wondering more than once whether we'd ever even get on the air.  I still worry how we'll survive.
Meanwhile, I had recently watched friends go through intense planning for or work on successful events for non-profits.  (I think some folks are more active than ever because of distress over last fall's national election results.)  We have a pretty fine community of caring people hereSome we're hearing from in radio interviews as well.]  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Basketball in Las Vegas -- on Doña Ana County's Nickel

In late July, some Doña Ana County Sheriff's Deputies played in a basketball tournament in Las Vegas, which you and I helped pay for.
Some other deputies weren't too thrilled. Nevada seemed too far away for the event to help improve cop-community relations. They also found it odd that, although the players who'd been scheduled to work initially put in for vacation time, approved by their supervisors, their time records were later changed to reflect regular work. (Union President Sergeant Ben Casillas changed all the time records except his own, and Undersheriff Ken Roberts changed Casillas's.) Other deputies had actually worked 10-hour shifts for their money. 
Some felt it was unfair and illegal: that if the trip was a departmental activity, it should have been more widely advertised within the department; and that if it wasn't, why did the public end up paying for it? Further, it's well known that Roberts and Casillas are close. Adding to the confusion, around that time Casillas sustained a leg injury that reportedly required changes in his duties for awhile.
I got curious, of course. I asked for and received documents, including Kronos records that confirmed the belated change from vacation to regular time. ( I also received emails I haven't been able to open yet.)

Casillas confirmed some of the information and denied some. He admitted there was no department-wide advertising of the tournament, just “word-of-mouth.” He said that participating in the Police and Firemen's Games was a positive thing for the department, and that he'd spoken to Sheriff Enrique Vigil (not to Roberts) about that. Vigil authorized the change to regular time.

He also denied that he was injured in the tournament. He said he was injured playing basketball, but not during the Vegas tournament, which he didn't play in because he was sick. (He declined to say whether he'd put in for workman's comp, but his statement that he hadn't been injured while working seemed to suggest strongly that he hadn't.)

I asked him how the trip benefited the department. He said that “law enforcement agencies participate in a lot of other things that do not involve your typical work duties.” He cited local events, including Law Enforcement Night Out and participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run, plus representing the department at funerals.

I said I could see calling, say, a neighborhood versus DASO softball game as a community activity. But Las Vegas, Nevada?

He said that there was a benefit to the department. That playing enabled deputies to mingle with other law-enforcement entities, and build relationships with some of those entities, some of which were from neighboring Arizona. He said these Games were “like the law-enforcement Olympics” and that participating “put the department on the map” with others, including big-city agencies. (It was a highly-competitive tournament.)

He also pointed out: that although men scheduled to work who'd taken vacation time ended up getting paid, no one who hadn't been scheduled to work those days was paid anything for going; that having the agency pay for players to participate was common, according to what he heard from players from other cities; and that while DASO's players paid for their own travel and got only their regular pay if they'd been scheduled, some larger-city departments paid for the trip and gave their players per diem as well.

Talking to Casillas, I got the sense that there's some dissension in the union. I'd heard long ago that some members weren't keen on his closeness to management, and thought he'd gotten special treatment from management. (Roberts preceded him as local union president.)
[The above column appeared this morning, Sunday, 15 October 2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will air during the week on KRWG and KTAL-LP.]

[Certainly some at DASO were displeased with the way this trip went down, and the belated change to the way people's time was characterized.   On the other hand, Casillas says it was reasonable and that the change wasn't intended to be belated.  Not my job to decide, just to shine some light on these events.]

[I got the sense from Casillas that he viewed the complaints as related to a possible challenge to his presidency of the local union.  If there is such a challenge, it may prove interesting to see how that comes out.  There's an unusual history: Sheriff Vigil fired his previous undersheriff and appointed then-union-head Ken Roberts undersheriff.  Roberts and Casillas are reportedly pretty close.  (Certainly some have complained about cronyism.)  Whether that level of closeness between management and the union is healthy or unhealthy isn't for me to decide, although it would seem a bit unusual.  Since many have complained about Roberts's management, the results might suggest something about how widespread the negative feelings are.  I forget whether or not it's a secret ballot, although I think it is.]

[For those keeping score, it was a very competitive tournament, with teams from Los Angeles, Chicago, and other big cities.  DASO's team stood little chance against some very tall teams that had played together in such tournaments a lot over the course of several years.]

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fresh Eyes

We love New Mexico, but seeing home through a new visitor's eyes is always invigorating.

Our 17 year-old niece visited recently from New England. She landed in El Paso marveling at the unfamiliar landscape she'd seen as the plane descended. Trans-Mountain Drive yielded a satisfying mix of cell-phone-camera clicking and exclamations of “Incredible!” Plus questions about whether people hiked in the Franklins. It was a particularly showy day, with late-afternoon sunlight striking peaks wearing bright white cloud-caps. The road itself felt like a roller-coaster.

We had to go to Albuquerque for the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government Dixon Awards luncheon and some meetings Wednesday morning. We transformed the trip into an adventure, driving up Tuesday by way of White Sands National Monument, Casa de Sueños Restaurant in Tularosa, Three Rivers Petroglyphs, and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

We don't always brag to visitors about what we're going to see. The strange, stark beauty of White Sands can only be enhanced by surprise. “Oh, we're gonna stop at a monument.” “OK.” Then suddenly that vast expanse of brilliant whiteness, the sand's cool feel on bare feet, and a bleached earless lizard posing for a few pictures under a bit of vegetation. 

“We'll get some Mexican food then look at some old
graffiti.” After her vegan calabacitas enchiladas, sopapillas are a new treat. Gary, the volunteer host at Three Rivers, is a genial gent with a big smile, a friendly dog, and a lot of new knowledge to share. His introduction enhances our niece's experience. She walks a good ways up the trail, contemplating images someone chipped into volcanic rock long ago and feeling a new connection with a long-dead civilization.

Wednesday's NMFOG luncheon is reassuring, a roomful of people, including some heavy hitters, focused on transparency in government in New Mexico.

Then we're on the road again. We reach the Bosque visitors' center just before closing, disappointed by the absence of water in two ponds where snow geese and sandhill cranes spend their nights, using the water as a protective moat between them and hungry coyotes. From late October to January, they land at sunset, sometimes struggling in high winds, and awaken at dawn to fly off to forage in nearby fields.

It's a bit early for the cranes. But there's water at the Boardwalk, so we take a look.

Our brief stop becomes one of those afternoons that take control of you. Lines of turtles are sunning
themselves on floating logs. More than a dozen white pelicans perch in a straggly line on a sand bar, along with ducks and geese. The pelicans, passing through, are a rare sight. The light catches them just right, accentuating their whiteness against the dark blue water, the golden reeds, and the mix of clouds and blue sky. We're captivated. We watch and photograph for what I'd call “a very long time” if I even
remembered time existed. Through the long lens, the pelicans' postures, and the varied shapes their beaks assume during a yawn, are goofy, but oddly beautiful.

Then we hear the unmistakable purr of sandhill cranes. Eleven circle high overhead, then fly further south.

Our guest is . . . uhh . . enchanted. The sun sets, and the full moon watches over us as we hurtle south toward Las Cruces. Watching our niece come to appreciate our desert home is like introducing beloved friends to each other and watching them share laughter and secrets.

Before dawn Thursday morning, as we drive to the airport, New Mexico bids her farewell with a magnificent lightning show.


[The column above appeared this morning, Sunday, 8October2017, in the Las Cruces Sun-News, as well as on the newspaper's website and KRWG's website.  A spoken version will be aired by KRWG and KTAL-LP 101.5 FM, during the week.]

White Sands - study

Lone Turtle, White Pelicans

Lone Turtle, White Pelicans - as photograph

Lone Turtle, White Pelicans, Watchers

Lone Turtle on Floating Log

Dael and Daisy at the Boardwalk

White Pelican Flying

White Pelican Flying

11 Sandhill Cranes

11 Sandhill Cranes

Bosque - Late Afternoon

Bosque - Late Afternoon

Bosque - Late Afternoon

I wanted to add a couple more quick shots of the shapes a pelican's beak can assume during a yawn:

And a couple of images from White Sands National Monument:

The visit even included a chance to record a station ID for our new community radio station, KTAL-LP, 101.5 FM:

Daisy and Dael at Sunset over Rio Grande River