Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Lawsuit and a Candidacy for County Commission

A young man with a trailer full of hay rams his truck into a metal barrier protecting the gas pumps at a Las Cruces Pic Quik. Doing very little damage.

Pic Quik reports the incident to the police. The young man sues Pic Quik for $10,000, claiming that the manager ran out, tried to batter him, and chased him off the property. He also sues for defamation, saying Pic Quik lied in telling police he left without providing contact information. 

Unfortunately for the young man, Pic Quik's four video cameras tell another story. Video shows that after strikng the metal bar, he gets out to look at the damage, then gets back into the truck. An employee approaches and stands near the truck's passenger-side window for about four seconds before the young man drives away. No one chases him around or tries to batter him. The video doesn't show any exchange of information.

Why should this crazy tale make an ocotillo seed's worth of difference? Maybe because the young man and plaintiff recently won the Republican primary for Doña Ana County Commissioner (District 4). His name is William Jarod Webb.

Not surprisingly, Pic Quik moved to toss the case out on summary judgment. (Meaning there ain't enough to the case to justify wasting public resources on a trial.) Webb reiterated that he'd given his contact information, but also argued that he'd been in a hurry. Judge Rossner held a hearing in which Pic Quik was ably represented by Raul Carrillo. Mr. Webb didn't show up. He lost. Later he indicated an intention to seek reconsideration, but he never filed any motion.

Based on the Pic Quik incident in January, and the resulting lawsuit, you might worry that maybe this guy shouldn't be out on the street by himself – let alone help run the county you live in.

But Webb's an interesting guy. He speaks several foreign languages and has a bachelor's degree from Baylor. He appears to have gotten an M.A. in business administration from the (in)famous University of Phoenix, attended Capital Law School for a semester, then started a masters of divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary, a Jerry Falwell creation that other chaplain schools tend to disparage.

You'd guess maybe Webb hasn't figured out what he wants to do. But he told the Sun-News, “I've been planning to enter politics since I was 16, when I started writing presidents and world leaders.” He also told the Sun-News he had no idea who the county manager was.

When I spoke with Mr. Webb this week, he didn't want to talk much about the Pic Quik case. He did say that he hadn't done enough damage to anything to worry about and didn't know “why they're making such a big deal out of this.” It's true, he did little damage to the barrier; but his bogus lawsuit cost Pic Quik whatever the Carillo Law Firm charges per hour. (Webb also didn't want to talk much about Donald Trump, beyond saying he supported the party's candidate.)

He's working hard on an economic development plan he'll share with us when it's finished, and said jobs are the key issue here. He particularly wants to streamline permit and rezoning processes because “county red tape” doesn't help draw businesses that could create jobs. 

He also said that building so many new residences without jobs for residents would lead to a housing glut. Another important issue, to a member of a farming family, is improving irrigation canals, either with a pipeline or by covering them to limit evaporation.

I'll be interested to see how Webb's campaign progresses.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, June 26th, and will appear presently on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website.   I welcome question question and criticisms here or there.]
[I initially drafted this based on the documents in  the court file, plus the video.  I didn't print it during the primary, figuring that Mr. Webb might not prevail in that, and this material isn't of public interest if it concerns a private citizen, not a candidate.  After Mr. Webb finally called me back, I softened the resulting column, because he seems a nice kid, despite this lawsuit; but the lawsuit wasn't something from long ago, in that the accident was in January 2016 and I think he filed the lawsuit in February; nor is it harmless: he may or may not have done more damage to the protective bar than I realized, but he surely damaged Pic Quik by forcing it to pay lawyers to defend a frivolous lawsuit, and they're after him now to recover those damages.]
[I didn't mention in the column that on February 12th Mr. Webb swore before a notary that he was a pauper, and should not have to pay for filing and serving his lawsuit.  Some might find that document as telling as the bogus lawsuit.  Not because poor people shouldn't run for the county commission; obviously I don't feel that way; but a man running on a conservative "fiscal responsibility" platform ought to be asked about the fact that his business failed six months ago (nine or ten months, now) and he's unemployed (though he may have a job now) and receives food stamps and medicaid.  None of that disqualifies him from holding office; but none of it really shouts "fiscal responsibility" at me, either.]
[Too, just a few months after that Affidavit he funded his primary campaign all by himself.   Maybe he had a good few months.  Not that he's spending Trumpish money, but according to official filings he donated $1500 to his campaign, recorded no other contributions during the primary, and spent $1200.  He donated the $1500 on May 10.
[How seriously to take all this is up to each voter.  Mr. Webb thinks it's private and shouldn't matter to his candidacy, and also says he's going to turn the Pic Quik case around and repair whatever damage it has done to his reputation.  He says the dismissal of his claim on summary judgment was unfair, and Friday he sent me a copy of a motion for reconsideration.  (I promised that if he successfully changes the result I'll try to give that equal play with this column.  I do not know whether or not he's filed the motion.)  I think that all of the foregoing is quite relevant to his campaign; but it might be fair to regard all this as raising questions, not providing answers.  Maybe he will create such an imaginative program or display other personal qualities that outweigh what I consider a real problem.]

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflecting on Pulse and Omar

The nut case who slaughtered 50+ people in Orlando was out of control in his hatred of gay folks.

Donald Trump is very controlled in his ugly efforts to make political capital out of the tragedy. 

Omar Mateen shot up a LGBT night club. He apparently also “pledged allegiance to ISIS.” Tragic and wrong? Of course! Directed by ISIS? Almost certainly not. 

ISIS will try to aggrandize itself by claiming responsibility. ISIS claims to be the grand Caliphate, and seeks the loyalty of all Muslims. ISIS wants people to see the world as a war between Muslims and the rest of us, even though ISIS has killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. Trump, screaming for President Obama to call out “radical Islam,” can only help ISIS.

We are not at war with Muslims. We wouldn't declare war on fundamentalist Christians because one massacred people at a women's health clinic and others have killed doctors who perform abortions. If this had been a Christian fundamentalist, mortified by LGBT joy, we wouldn't shoot up a church or ban foreign Christians. Or engage in false rhetoric that could encourage others to do so.

In today's world some number of people go crazy, or are too filled with hatred and anger to continue living a “normal” life. In this country, these folks have far easier access to automatic weapons than elsewhere, and we should correct that, but THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Right now, Many of these nut cases are Muslim, but THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

These people are encouraged by, or get ideas from, others full of hatred and prejudice who shout that the infidels or the heretics or the Christians or the Muslims or the blacks or the Jews or the LGBT community are the Enemy. 

Most Muslims do not consider ISIS's ravings or sadistic conduct to represent Islam. 

Should we help eradicate ISIS as a violent, destructive force in the world? Yes. ISIS harms many in the Middle East, and would harm us if it could. 

Should a person be able to buy an AR-15 when the fancy strikes? No. When a lone nut-case, whatever his religion or nationality, goes wacko, we'd be better off if he didn't have an automatic weapon. 

To fight ISIS, we should understand it. ISIS collects troubled youths who feel unimportant. They join for the same reason city kids join gangs. Does that suggest more promising tactics than accepting ISIS's claim we're warring on Muslims? 

Political “leaders” shouldn't encourage fear for political advantage. Almost all American Muslims are appalled by this tragedy. Many are more appalled than their Christian or Jewish or atheistic neighbors because their own religion was abused by this nut-case and because many of their children will face hostility in school.

ISIS would kill Muslims who do not kneel to the Caliphate at least as readily as it would kill Christians. If we are under attack, we are ALL under attack. We must not let fear make us throw under the bus our democratic traditions and our pride in being a nation of immigrants. 

Interestingly, Mateen didn't just wander into that club. He drank there for years; and a former classmate says Mateen hung out in gay clubs ten years ago. 

We should all look inward. Not only Trump (who brags about the size of his penis and has used women as showpieces since his teens) but all of us. What do fathers like Mateen's, loathing gays, do to their sons? Did others' judgments of Mateen help create a monster? And could our hateful rhetoric inspire another?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 19 June, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website I welcome comments and criticism here or there Below, I elaborate on two points: why Trump's comments are wrong-headed and dangerous; and Omar Mateen's apparent mind-set.]

[Let's Not Do ISIL's Recruiting for It:
Just after sending this column in, I listened to a five-minute video of President Obama making one point more clearly and eloquently than I could.
He addressed directly the criticism that he hasn't use the phrase "radical Islam" -- calling it a "red herring," a "distraction," and "a political talking point."  He called the ISIL's views "a twisted interpretation of one of the world's great religions," and mocked the "Why don't you shout 'radical Islam'?" line as "a political talking point," adding it had "No military value" and that no military advisers were telling him "If we could only use that phrase we could really turn this thing around.
The central point is that "groups like ISIL want to make this a war between Islam and the U.S.  They claim to be the true leaders of millions who reject their crazy notions.  The claim that they speak for Islam.  That's their propaganda, that's how they recruit.  If we fall into their trap and somehow imply we're at war against all Muslims, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them."
This morning [Sunday] a New York Times news story illustrates the point.  Brigadier-General Hadi Razaij was the highest-ranking Sunni police officer in the recent offensive that took back some territory in Falluja from ISIL.  His brother is in a cell, accused of being part of ISIL -- and probably was, because he was arrested at a checkpoint with a car full of explosives.  The writers interviewed an Iraqi farmer who said of his brother had gotten involved with ISIL: "The Sunni youth, among them my brother, were caught up in the swirl of sectarian tensions." The farmer added that at the time the movement felt like a tribal revolution against oppression, but then it was quickly subsumed by the Islamic State.
This brother-against-brother battling underlines the fact that (as I try to articulate in the column) youth join ISIL for a variety of reasons, often because they are jobless and overlooked but also because, where Sunnis and Shias share a "country" with artificial borders drawn for the convenience of the British, there are tensions, and misconduct by each side, that could make it hard to know what to do.  Further, we invaded Iraq.  Whether our government's motive was oil or deposing a dictator or enriching Halliburton and Dick Cheney, we looked like invaders to a lot of people.  Invaders renewing a centuries-old Christian-versus-Muslim battle.  Why should we deepen the misunderstanding, and drive everyday Muslims into the arms of groups like ISIL?   
These are the kinds of subtleties Trump ignores, at least in his public pronouncements.

Trump's comments have aroused anger, even among Republicans.  See, for example:Bill O'Reilly advocates some sensible gun restrictions; A brief video in which prominent Republicans comment on Trump's comments; and This story lists several Republicans appalled by Trump's comments
Then Thursday Trump told Republican Congressional leaders to shut up.  “Our leaders have to get a lot tougher, and be quiet. Just please be quiet,” Trump said. “Don’t talk. Please, be quiet. Just be quiet, . . . we have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself.” Reportedly during Ryan’s Thursday press briefing, the House Speaker was asked if he would ever rescind his endorsement of Trump. Ryan noticeably did not rule out the possibility.  He said only, “That’s not my plan. I don’t have a plan to do that.”  A far cry from "Hell, no!"]
[Trying to See Omar Mateen:
Since I sent in this column, His wife's comments  and other stories have tended to support the view that this guy acted out of a very personal anger, spawned by confusion and embarrassment over his own sexuality, and dressed it up as ideology by pledging allegiance to ISIS.  Die as a hero rather than as a pathetic and uncertain young man.  His apparent inability to distinguish ISIS from its enemies adds a little support to that view -- but that view can also be a stereotype.
Thursday I spoke with a friend who happens to be both Muslim and gay, a rare combination.  We were meeting about something else, but as we parted I asked him his thoughts on Mateen.  He noted Mateen's autocratic and strongly Muslim father, and said Mateen "was almost certainly angry at those people, because it was so much easier for them to come out than it was for him.  He had to hide who he was from his family." 
"Is that what you did?" I asked.
"Absolutely.  That's all I did.  Hide who I was.  And when you repress those kinds of raw emotions, they're going to explode eventually, somehow."
We'll never know the truth; but the rush to see this massacre as ordered by ISIL or even motivated primarily by Muslim faith or anti-U.S. political views seems an oversimplification -- perhaps typical of the way propaganda and war fever affect us.] 

[One further thought, or caution: I don't mean to dismiss the likelihood that political or religious fever was prominent in the swirling emotions that led Mateen to do what he did.  He was undoubtedly on the FBI watch list for a reason.  A friend had gone to join a group (not ISIL, but a rival) and I think died as a suicide bomber.  But it sure looks as if he had other and deeper concerns.  He didn't measure up to his family's expectations, or to his friend's "heroism," and was a short-tempered, often violent fellow to begin with.]

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Trump's Neediness - Strength and Weakness

The real significance of Trump's comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel isn't the racism but the stupidity: his wild remarks are a clear message to reluctant Republican supporters: “I ain't gonna get more Presidential.”

The Indiana-born Curiel was a long-time prosecutor fighting drug cartels; even Trump's lawyer said Curiel (who postponed the fraud trial till after the election) is being fair. (The National Review reviewed Curiel's record.) Saying Curiel wouldn't be able to judge fairly (or recuse himself) because of Trump's remarks about building a wall was insulting. Judges deal with jerks daily, and try to deal fairly; and they frequently recuse themselves.

Trump says Curiel can't get over Trump's anti-Hispanic remarks, but that “I'm doing really well with Mexican-Americans.” If numerous Mexican-Americans support Trump despite his remarks (as he insists they do), why should Judge Curiel be too offended to do his job?

Trump is boorish and bullying. He's rarely in the same zip code as Truth. A nonpartisan site gave him a 76% “pants-on-fire” rating, to Hillary's 29%. 

Why is Trump where he is?

Two reasons are: that journalists' commitment to objectivity paralyzes them when one candidate spouts absurdities or has a poor record; and that Trump shouts “I'm angry.” So are most voters. (Too, the Republican competition was both numerous – 16 at one point, was it? -- and weak: Republican senators can't stand Cruz, Rubio looked about 12, and Bush needed to see the Wizard about a personality.)

In 2000: Al Gore was a serious man with a serious record and experience; George Bush had done little but fail in business (repeatedly bailed out by folks like the Government of Bahrain that wanted favors from his father) and be president of a baseball club on the strict condition, (imposed by the wealthy family friend who owned the club) that while Georgie could sit in the great seat and glad-hand the fans, he could have nothing to do with any business decisions. Newsfolk seemed to feel as if mentioning the extreme disparity would look biased. Bush got close enough to winning that the Republican Supreme Court could steal the election.

Anger? The system is failing most of us; we've been sliding back into extreme inequality and a deck stacked against us. People are rightfully angry. Trump (a rich guy) acts angry, and people figure “at least he'll shake things up,” as one Tea Party friend said recently.

(How do conservative Christians rationalize their support of Trump? They loathe Obama, who's a great father, faithful in marriage, and a compassionate Christian, but support Trump, who's record features adultery, divorce, greed, and bankruptcies. That's inescapably inconsistent. “Yes, but God uses people for His own purposes. He used a drunk, Churchill, to save England.” I don't know how they know God supports Trump, but you can't argue with Him!)

A great column by Matt Bai suggests another explanation: Trump's desperate neediness. Bai notes that when Trump was going to leave Queens and do business in Manhattan, his father said, “Don't! That's not for us. They'll never accept us.” Trump never felt accepted by the New York elite, and constantly compensates by overdoing and overpromising. (Bai likens recent Republican Trump supporters to someone marrying the person s/he hopes the spouse can become. Disappointment is likely.)

Like Bai, I thought Trump – an experienced performer – would start acting more Presidential. The Curiel incident shows he can't.

Maybe Trump's insecurity explains much of Trump's support: many people feel out-of-place or disrespected by some elite, and resent it. Trump builds huge towers with his name on them. He's doing what they wish they could.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 12 June, and will appear on the KRWG-TV website presently.  I welcome comments or questions here or elsewhere.]

[I found the Bai column (The Black Hole within Donald Trump) interesting, obviously.  Trump's apparent narcissistic personality disorder had also gotten some play.  It's a personality disorder characterized by grandiosity, an expectation that others will recognize one's superiority, a lack of empathy, lack of truthfulness, and the tendency to degrade others.  Sound like  anyone we know?  
This morning as I posted this I also read Is Donald Trump Really a Narcicist? - Therapists Weigh In .  Their willingness to weigh in at all suggests their deep concern about the damage he could do as President; and as a word of caution, note that some psychologists unwisely opined in 1964 about Barry Goldwater's fitness to be President.  Goldwater was dangerous, but I never saw any evidence that he was psychologically unfit.  With Trump, the signs are so obvious that one expert who lectures on the problem is taping Trump's performances.  "Otherwise, I would have had to hire actors and write vignettes.  He's like a dream come true."   Further, clinician's willingness to talk about Trump (who is also litigious) in light of the Goldwater incident means they're extraordinarily confident in what they're saying.]

[Trump's witless and racist comments on the judge appear doubly stupid because Trump's own lawyer said the judge is doing a good job; and even Trump's Republican supporters such as Newt Gingrich are gagging over Trump's remarks, while a Texas Congressman named Filemon Vela wrote that Trump should put his border wall where the sun don't shine.  An interesting sidelight on the Trump University fraud case is that while New York's attorney-general is pursuing it, as are private plaintiffs, Florida's AG unethically solicited a campaign contribution from Trump, announced Florida would join the fraud suit, then received the campaign contribution and announced Florida would not join the suit, while the Texas AG dropped the suit then got a healthy contribution from Trump when he ran for governor three years later.]

[For anyone who sees Trump as a good businessman, I'd recommend reading the facts in the New York Times' story How Trump Bankrupted his Atlantic City Casinos but Still Made Millions or the Gannett News Network piece, on how Trump cheated and bullied and lied to people who worked for him/ .]  He's certainly a selfish businessman, and a freedy one, and -- in terms of his business, not himself -- not a highly successful or honest one.]

[The Trump candidacy is a sad turn of events.  "The party of Lincoln" running a loudmouthed racist.  It may bring some good, though: it might help Merrie Lee Soules unseat Steve Pearce.]

A word on the title I gave this post: Bill Clinton was a great example of a political phenomenon: his almost pathological desire to be liked, and to be reassured as to his worthiness, was both his great strength and his great weakness: it both caused him to appeal brilliantly to citizens and to stupidly seek reassurance screwing interns.  (Liking women is one thing, and I'm not condemning sexual activity; but risking so much for such a limited kind of sexual contact as Clinton apparently had with Ms. Lewinsky seems more a symptom than anything else.  But Clinton also did much good and made people like him instinctivelyTrump's apparent illness is different.  He is so little under control, or so deeply needy, that he can't even make folks like him.  They'll support him, because he articulates resentments and anger they themselves feel or because they dislike our political system enough to support anyone who shouts loudly enough; but he's so little liked that, as noted in the column, many of his Christian supporters need to suppose God is using Trump for God's purposes.]

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Desert Spring

It's spring in the desert.

We got a quarter-inch of rain Monday, and briefly lost satellite television service just around tip-off in the Golden State Warriors Game 7 NBA win over the OKC Thunder. And we heard plenty of thundering. Saw beautiful lightning, too.

There's a unique scent to the desert receiving the rain it has so longed for. Lightning crackled above the dark peaks. The cat hid under the guestroom bed. The birds, afterwards, seemed a little tipsy.
A week or two earlier a huge hailstorm made the world suddenly look wintry; and while it did no real harm to us, it slammed our neighbor. She had about a dozen leaks, each with a bucket or bowl under it, catching the drops. Her front yard was a stew of various-sized hailstones and the leaves and small branches they'd taken down. At Saturday's market some favorite vendors were absent or looked at us mournfully across tables devoid of vegetables.

Recently, a dozen tiny Gambel's quail chicks wandered in for a drink. Birds are sitting on their nests, ready to defend them. The Texas horned lizard appears to be scouting the same area where she hid eggs a few years ago. A baby rabbit so tiny we wondered how it was out alone turned up in the garage.

One day we watched a bull snake climb up into the cypress where we've often seen nests.
I don't think he got any eggs for breakfast, but as he lingered near the tree two curved-bill thrashers hopped up and down, scolding him, until, finally, he slithered away.

Two days later a young roadrunner stood on the railing of the deck out back. When he
flew up into one of the ash trees, a desert cardinal chased him away. (Their nest sits in the next tree.) Later a couple of birds chased away a golden eagle who'd wandered too close. 

We love this life. The desert creatures and plants are a welcome relief from various human concerns. There's an elemental nature to life here, a rawness: the lightning isn't hidden by buildings or forests, and we can see storms long before they reach us; and the birds and animals live out their dramas right in front of us. They painstakingly build a nest, then might helplessly watch something eat their offspring.

Life's fragility is more obvious here. We're perched on this naked earth as precariously as the desert cardinals' nest in the ash. The life-giving water we greet so joyfully can also destroy whatever lingers in its path as it rushes down an arroyo. 

And then there's our drought, one that won't just disappear if that reality-TV guy denies it as he did the drought in California. Even if he promises to abrogate water agreements requiring us to send much of the Rio Grande water to the “rapists and murderers” down in Mexico, we're still suffering a drought and have begun drawing on long-term reserves of water that won't be replenished any time soon. 
Nor will withdrawing from climate-change agreements (as he's promised to do) make long-term climate changes magically disappear. Refusing to acknowledge a rattlesnake's warning doesn't prevent a bite.

But for now our little patch of desert is our refuge. We can sit listening to the birds in the morning, and watch blossoms dance in the breeze, or just contemplate the magnificent, billowy white clouds that gather in late afternoon – then marvel at a multitude of stars (despite increasing light pollution).

If I refuse to read the newspaper, let alone write a column, will all the problems and politicians disappear?

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 5 June.  It will also be on the KRWG-TV website presently under News-->Local Viewpoints.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticism there or on this blog.]

[Black-throated sparrows are some of our most consistent companions, and a lot more courageous than larger birds about hanging around near us.  (If I sit at the table on the deck, so that the white-winged doves stay away, the sparrows are the first to take advantage, feeding a few feet from me.)  Dael discovered a nest they'd built near the well house -- on the ground, in a clump of grass at the base of a Bird-of-Paradise.  We worried about their judgment.  Sure enough, after I'd written this column but before it appeared, the three eggs had disappeared.]

Desert Willow

Mexican Hat


Texas Horned Lizard

Bat-Faced Cuphea