Sunday, October 30, 2016

State Rep. Andy Nuñez Could Be in Serious Legal Trouble

The New Mexico Secretary of State's Office (“SOS”) is investigating charges that State Senator Andy Nuñez embezzled campaign funds and broke election laws. 
On September 30, citizen Linda Alvarez filed a detailed complaint, including dozens of pages of documentation. The SOS wrote Nuñez that he was alleged to have violated “the Campaign Financing Law and possibly other state statutes,” inviting him to respond within 15 days. The law strictly limits campaign expenditures. Nuñez sent in a one-page response. The SOS is now doing its own investigation of his campaign reports. 
Nuñez denied embezzlement of campaign funds, or any other misconduct, but didn't confront most detailed allegations. He said he had never asked anyone for a campaign contribution; added that his accuser hadn't understood legislative per diem; and explained why he (or his campaign) hired and paid $15,000 to his daughter and grandson. (His daughter “has to come to Hatch [from Las Cruces] to not only file my reports but to send Thank-You letters” and his grandson put up signs for him.)

Alvarez accused Nuñez of using campaign funds to pay expenses incurred while he was a lobbyist, not a legislator. Nuñez lost his reelection bid in November 2012. He became a lobbyist for two irrigation districts. He apparently used campaign funds to attend several legislative and committee meetings during 2013, and some events in 2014. The SOS said that if Alvarez's allegations were true Nuñez's conduct would be illegal.

Nuñez's letter asserted that he'd “never used Campaign funds to subsidize my lobbying work, or as my position Mayor of Hatch.” 
The law reauires candidates to do their best to report the professions and employers of campaign contributors who provide more than $250. Nuñez lists under “Occupation” the word “Friend” for Don Tripp (three 2016 contributions totaling $6,000), Garry Carruthers ($250 in 2014), and other familiar names; but any casual newspaper reader knows Tripp is a State Representative and Carruthers is NMSU's President. Nuñez responds: “My entries as friends and is entered and has never been questioned.”

Alvarez alleged he'd paid his daughter and grandson “more than $15,000 for their 'help' on his campaigns.” Nuñez replied that this was true, because his daughter “has to come to Hatch [from Las Cruces] to not only file my reports but write Thank-You letters,” while his grandson “put up signs for me because he is capable and has a pickup and can do the work.”

Nuñez's letter didn't explain why reimbursement amounts for his expenses were usually round numbers – $200 or $400, rarely $349.23. He told me he rounded expenses downward, for convenience, taking less than he actually spent. Ken Ortiz from SOS commented that “for true transparency and best practice, he should be reporting the exact expenditure, down to the penny, and should be retaining receipts to substantiate them.” The SOS cannot force Nuñez to provide substantiation; but it can ask, and if he refuses it can fine him for violations and/or refer the matter to a DA or the AG.

Nuñez's letter did say “I have employed Legal Counsel to take Ms. Alvarez to court for calling me an embezzler of $32,000.02.” He added he had “included a list of her court records to show that this is not her first attempt to accuse someone of illegal activities.” SOS stated it received no such list, adding that Alvarez court cases would be “irrelevant to his campaign reporting.” Nunez's lawyer, T.J. Trujillo, says he's waiting to hear from the SOS, but “we don't feel the allegations have any merit at this juncture.”

It'll be interesting to see how this matter progresses.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruce Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 30 Ocrober, 2016, and is also available on the newspaper's website and KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome questions and comments on any of these sitesBelow, I've copied in two relevant statutory provisions and added more specific information on what Nuñez's own campaign reports (and his many changes to them) seem to show.]

[Perhaps the biggest allegation leveled by Ms. Alvarez is that through a series of loans by him to his campaign and reimbursement to himself by the campaign for expenses Mr. Nuñez embezzled $32,000.02 from the campaign account.   I'll leave the state officials to figure that one our.  Or I'll interview Ms. Alvarez at some point.  
I can make the following observations: 

(a) it appears likely that some of the expenditures in 2013 and probably 2014 were not proper campaign expenditures under 1-19-29.1 (below);
(b) Mr. Nuñez didn't try to follow the requirement to include people's occupations in his reports if they gave him more than $250 in a campaign; 
(c) depending upon how many receipts he kept, he could be in a little trouble -- or a lot -- for all the expenditures for which he just gave round numbers.  While he sounds convincing when he says to me that he just rounded down, for convenience, the election overseers, like the tax people, are likely to want to see records, to ensure he didn't round UP -- or make up some expenditures out of whole cloth.  Either he has all those receipts or he doesn't;
(d) the $15,000 to daughter and grandson is another round number, and maybe a large one for the work he describes in his letter to the Secretary of State.  In most legislative campaigns, volunteers put up signs; and usually the candidate or a campaign treasurer, often a volunteer, fills out the reporting forms. Filing his reports, if his daughter's a CPA, could add up to  $___ per election.  Putting up the signs (not buying them, just putting some up) would seem a minimum-wage sort of job.  Depending on how many elections the $15,000 covered, his payments could be a little generous or way out of line
(e) Ms. Alvarez also alleged a "cover-up," noting that during the past three months Mr.Nuñez amended each of his official reports from recent election cycles, amending one of them ten times.  The amendments are public record.  Nuñez filed his Second General Election report for 2014 in October 2014. He amended it once in September of 2015 and then a whopping six times in September-October 2016. His Third General Election Report in 2014 was amended eight times, seven during the past two months. His Fourth? Nine times, eight in the past three months. Similarly his reports from 2010-2014 were amended numerous times in 2016.

By contrast, the ten reports filed in 2014 by Representative Jeff Steinborn have been amended a total of 0 times. Same for State Senator Ricky Little. State Senator Nate Gentry filed ten reports in 2014-2015, and amended five – but most within a month or six months, not in the fall of 2016.
Ms. Alvarez lists numerous payments to himself that she says disappeared from the reports in this amendment process.  She says they total $34,770.02.  I didn't check them all.
I did check the 2014 4th General Election report, covering mid-October to the end of November.  As submitted, it showed $7,420.36 in expenses.  As amended (final 2016 version), it showed $4,804.36.  (That shaved off better than 35% of the original amount.)  The two missing items in the final amendment were a $2,000 "debt payment" to himself on November 15th and a $616 mileage reimbursement to himself on November 29.]

[New Mexico      1-19-29.1 (Campaign funds; limitation on use) is very clear:

A.   It is unlawful for a candidate or the candidate's agent to make an expenditure of contributions received, except for the following purposes or as otherwise provided in this section: 

(1)   expenditures of the campaign;
(2)   expenditures of legislators that are reasonably related to performing the duties of the office held, including mail, telephone and travel expenditures to serve constituents, but excluding personal and legislative session living expenses;
(3)   [irrelevant];
(4)   [irrelevant];
(5)   expenditures to eliminate the campaign debt of the candidate for the office sought or expenditures incurred by the candidate when seeking election to another public office covered by the Campaign Reporting Act;
(6)   [irrelevant]; or
(7)   disbursements to return unused funds pro rata to the contributors if no campaign debt exists

It doesn't take a law degree to understand that when you are unseated effective January 1, 2013, expenses to go to meetings and legislative sessions during 2013, to lobby for a client or as mayor of a city or for personal reasons, are not campaign expenses under the law; nor should similar expenses in 2014 qualify, although if I were his lawyer I'm sure I'd argue he was taking such trips in aid of seeking election to the Legislature in November 2014.]
[1-19-31 (Contents of Report) provides:

A.   Each required report of expenditures and contributions . . . shall include:

(1)   the name and address of the person or entity to whom an expenditure was made or from whom a contribution was received . . .; [and] (2)   the occupation or type of business of any person or entity making contributions of two hundred fifty dollars ($250) or more in the aggregate per election.
Pretty obviously, Mr. Nuñez made no great effort to follow this portion of the law.]

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Breakfast with the NRA

Last Saturday I attended a National Rifle Association breakfast for local Republican legislative candidates.

An NRA lobbyist jetted in to tell a few lies and fire up the troops. The NRA desperately wants Republicans to control our Legislature, and will put up big bucks to keep making big bucks on gun sales.

When the lobbyist mentioned that Representative Rick Little was on the Safety & Civil Affairs Committee, “one of the places a good gun bill or a bad gun bill will go,” Little quickly added “and get killed.” A pocket-sized NRA handout made clear there are no good gun bills – except one that broadens the concealed-carry law or cuts the prices for licenses. 

The arguments against well-crafted gun laws – and I grant that not all legislation is well-crafted – are “slippery slope”: if you let the government require background checks or try to prevent terrorists from having guns, soon they'll be knocking on your door to confiscate your gun. 

No sensible person could deny that many unnecessary deaths involve guns. That doesn't mean get rid of all the guns: that's unconstitutional, impractical, and probably unwise. But automatically rejecting every proposal to improve the situation is good only for gun manufacturers. 

If the U.S. Constitution had mentioned automobiles, would a National Automobile Association be screaming against DWI laws and speed-limits? You'd laugh if someone claimed that outlawing drunk driving is part of a plot to confiscate our cars. If I drunkenly drove through the Plaza de Las Cruces, could I argue in court that outlawing drunk driving violates my Constitutional right to travel? 

But all our Republican candidates toed the NRA line: no gun-law is a good gun-law. Rep. Terry McMillan said he got “the chills” over “a group that systematically tries to disarm the citizenry.” He claimed he started buying guns when Obama was elected, and “rumors were flying” about guns being outlawed. Does acting on wild rumors recommend him?

The lobbyist, calling our county “ground zero in the fight for our Second Amendment rights,” bragged that the NRA had gotten a big turnout to speak against the Las Cruces City Council resolution favoring background checks. She said they'd gotten only “24-hour notice on July 4th weekend.” In fact, the Council gives at least 72-hour notice of meetings – and sets the agenda in an open meeting the previous Monday. 

The lobbyist stood in front of signs for Donald Trump and local Republicans, none of whom disclaimed support for Trump. I sat near an elderly man who told me he was a devout Christian. I pointed to the big Trump sign and asked how he, as a Christian, regarded Trump. He confided that “I don't think my vote will be missed. I'm going to vote for the Constitutional Party candidate.”

One candidate mentioned the fraudulent scheme to recall our city councilors. Bankrolled mostly from outside the city, and run by an outsider, its agents consistently lied to voters to procure signatures. The recall ultimately lost because the councilors had strong constituent support; but Andy Nuñez (currently under an ethics investigation) said of his opponent Nathan Small, “the recall effort just shows you what kind of guy he is.” Actually, Andy, it shows me that you'll say any old misleading thing for a vote. A fraudulent recall effort by outsiders rebuffed by Small's constituents says only good about Small.

The visiting NRA lobbyist criticized “the determination of people who live far from here to tell you how to live.” Ironically, she “jetted away” before I could praise her perfect description of the recall effort – and NRA's lobbying.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 23 October 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticism here or on either of those sites.]

[What do I have against the NRA? I have many friends who joined when it was an organization concerned with helping hunters and other gun-owners.  Some of them feel betrayed by its transformation into a lobbying organization controlled by gun manufacturers and devoted to maximizing their profits. Further, the group maximizes those profits (and its political influence) by one of the oldest tricks in the book, playing on people's fears then convincing those people you are their potential savior.  I have friends with many guns.  I'm not advocating we take away all guns; but the NRA take-no-prisoners approach, in which nothing that could possibly interfere with gun-makers' huge profits is acceptable, is no good for any of us.
Had the NRA remained as it was, it could have performed valuable service, not only to hunters and other gun-owners but to all of us.  Some gun-laws are well-intentioned but not very practical.  Experts, including the NRA, could have helped us select the more promising among various possible steps; but by taking the gun-manufacturers' position, that every attempt to ameliorate the situation is by definition part of a plot against our freedoms, the NRA has become a major part of the problem.]

[Some readers may wonder how I happened to be at the members-only NRA breakfast.  Each member was allowed to bring a guest.  I was a guest.]

[I mention in the column the allegations that AndyNuñez illegally and unethically used campaign funds for personal purposes.  The investigation led the Las Cruces Sun-News, which had endorsed him, to reverse its endorsement of Nuñez.  That suggests the seriousness of the thing -- and says eloquently that even folks who find his politics acceptable recognize that his dishonest conduct is not.]
[Any voter uncertain about the allegations ought to read details of the actual complaint to the Attorney-General against Nunez.  He allegedly dipped illegally into campaign funds for personal expenses -- and did so not even while he was a legislator, but during the two years he was a lobbyist.  That is, he put thousands of dollars of campaign funds to use while not even a legislator, using them to work for a water-district client that also has a strong interest in what the Water and Natural Resources Committee does!  He also spent $4,230 of campaign funds to repair his personal pickup truck -- and paid a parking ticket, bought a new drill from Sears, and bought some chile ristras -- misspelled as "restras."
Mutual friends say he's a charming fellow; but this conduct, combined with his attempt to attack Nathan Small using the fact that Nuñez's own political allies from outside Las Cruces mounted a scurrilous campaign to trick voters into recalling Small, suggests he should stick to being Hatch's mayor.]

[McMillan complained at length that he's been the target of misleading ads attacking him personally, or attacking his practice of medicine.  That's wrong.  (And, as I mentioned, a friend -- a staunch Democrat -- has consistently told me McMillan's a great guy, as a doctor.  I hadn't seen the ads; but when I saw Joanne Ferrary briefly, and mentioned them, she said they'd come as a complete surprise to her.  Of course, the irony here is that last time around McMillan was helped back to the Roundhouse by a bunch of extremely misleading fliers attacking Ferrary.  So far as I recall, he didn't speak out against those -- although there was little time to do so, as they were timed to affect the election without allowing time for5 anyone to respond or investigate.]

[The real problems with McMillan are different.  First of all, he votes with his party like a robot, and has voted against some good measures that would have helped New Mexicans.  I guess I'd also argue that what he said at the NRA breakfast . . . .
Most importantly, he's so busy with his practice that he misses all or most of the committee meetings between sessions -- where, in fact, much of the real work gets done.  DS quote.  Even one of McMillan's fellow candidates, at the breakfast, praised himself for attending committee meetings, and testified to their importance -- without, perhaps, realizing that he was effectively criticizing McMillan.]

Sunday, October 16, 2016

A Vote for Merrie Lee Soules is a Vote for Southern New Mexico

U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce's extremism is out-of-step with his constituents, while Merrie Lee Soules promises us vigorous, competent, and thoughtful representation in Washington. 

Mr. Pearce consistently lets his ideological views outweigh our interest. He helped shut down the government, costing taxpayers at least $20 million*, simply to make a political statement he knew would fail, although Pearce poses as a prudent fiscal conservative. Even most Republicans in Washington can't stomach the nuttiness of Pearce and the “Freedom Caucus.” [* A friend informs me I was too kind to Pearce here, and that the official estimate by the Office of Management and Budge was that this senseless shutdown in 2013 cost us $2 billion.]

For someone who's taken an oath to defend the Constitution, he's way too cozy with the Bundys and others who oppose Constitutional federalism, sometimes violently, and put their personal interests above the public's.

The well-armed Bundy Bunch took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last year. Already in default on public grazing leases, the Bundys wanted the refuge “returned to the state” so ranchers could do as they wished with it. (The group's slogans about freedom reduce to grabbing ranchers' freedom at the expense of birders', hikers', and environmentalists' freedoms.) That Malheur was federal land -- with authorities trying to balance the interests of campers, hikers, hunters, ranchers, and environmentalists -- meant nothing, because the Bundys loath the U.S. Government.

So, it seems, does Pearce, who voiced sympathy with the takeover: "[P]eople in the West are furious. They're furious going into this situation. We're fed up." (But he said he was “not taking sides on the Bundys”!)

In 2011, Pearce backed Otero County's dangerous and futile challenge to the U.S. Government's Constitutionally granted power to manage federal lands. Otero County threatened to “treat” 1,500 acres of National Forest, and to arrest any U.S. official who interfered.

Wyoming had unsuccessfully made the same weak argument to U.S. appellate courts in 2002. But Pearce egged these guys on, echoing their contempt for the U.S. Government and the Constitution. The U.S. sensibly caved on a minor point to avoid threatened violence, then won handily in the courts. Pearce irresponsibly boasted of his participation and encouraged “other local areas” to emulate Otero County – days before the Court of Appeal summarily trashed Otero County's legal arguments.

These are odd positions to take when you've sworn allegiance to the United States. The quaint legal positions of the Sovereign Movement make little sense and have been rejected by the courts. Even the Bundys, now being tried for their crimes, are mighty silent about their ideology. If I were a misguided “patriot” facing criminal charges, wonder how I'd feel about Pearce egging me on from the safety of the sidelines – then making political capital out of my passion?

Pearce's politics also trump his decency: Trump disparages Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and Pearce has called Trump's comments on women “horrid,” yet Pearce supports Trump. He tries to save face with his constituents by claiming he doesn't “endorse” Trump, but merely “supports” him – whatever that means. More double-talk.

He says he can't support Hillary Clinton because of Benghazi. Pearce and his conservative pals cut budgets, endangered diplomats' security, then made Clinton their scapegoat.

Merrie Lee Soules is forthright, hard-working, and constructive. She's already fighting for us: her intervention in the El Paso Electric rate case helped save us millions. 

Soules brings progressive values and decades of real-world business experience to the possible job of representing us in Congress. She'll carry Las Cruces, and may appeal as well to politically moderate businesspersons who might be ready to exchange Pearce's costly shenanigans for a more thoughtful, evidence-based approach. 

Let's elect someone who'll fight for us, not banks and oil companies; who combines progressive values with business sense; and who weighs evidence rather than obeying ideological biases.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News and other newspapers today, Sunday, October 16, as well as on the newspaper's website and  on KRWG-TV's websiteI welcome comments, questions, and criticism here and/or on those sites.]

[I should note that I left messages for Mr. Pearce early Monday, inviting him to comment for the column, but never heard back from anyone.  There are questions I'd have liked to ask him, and I'd have liked to give him an opportunity to address what obviously seem to me problems with his candidacy; but his previous comments on these matters are a matter of record.]

[I mention the Otero County incident.  Otero County -- perhaps with reason -- disagreed about forest management.  That was a matter within Federal discretion.  Some in Otero County disputed that, even disputed Federal jurisdiction, and threatened to take action -- which could have led to violence.  The Feds compromised by allowing Otero County to take down some trees in a public "kickoff event," but only within a small area where the Feds had already marked some trees to be taken down.  This avoided potential violence while the case moved swiftly through the courts.
Pearce left no doubt where he stood: in a piece published in The New Mexican on September 26, 2011, he urged other local governments to "follow Otero County's lead so as to regain an alleged 20,000 logging jobs he claimed were lost when the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species."  His piece explained the law and the facts in somewhat idiotic fashion:

1. Despite the unambiguous Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, Pearce pontificated that "I  have continually said that forest management can only be done successfully if local government is an equal with the federal government."
FACT: The Supremacy Clause, for easy reference, reads:

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives . . . both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In short, legally the local government is not an equal to the federal government with regard to managing public lands.  The Constitution says so pretty clearly, adding that people in Pearce's position must support that Constitution.

2. Pearce wrote, "Recent events in Otero County prove that local governments are more than capable of managing their lands.  Their plan was legal and . . . initiated what will hopefully be the renewal of the timber industry in New Mexico . . . If we can get local governments to take the initiative and tell the federal government that enough is enough."
FACT: Some of his pals and allies threatened violence.  Had the Federal Government been less patient, people might have died or been injured.  Perhaps innocent people would have been hurt.  Showing more good-sense than Pearce and his pals, the Feds agreed under pressure to let Otero County officials do a symbolic "kickoff" in a one-acre parcel where the Feds had already marked trees for cutting.  Then the Feds quickly consulted the courts.

3. Pearce added "[T]he U.S. Constitution specifies which powers are given to the federal government.  The 10th Amendment of the Constitution states that all powers not given to the federal government belong to the states and to the people.  The right to determine how the forest should be managed belongs to states, counties or the people.  It is a local issue that directly affects our homes, our communities, and our safety."

FACT: Four days later, the 10 Circuit Court of Appeal rejected these arguments on summary judgment.  That means the court didn't even have to bother with an actual trial.  Pearce's legal arguments were that lame.  He should have known (must have known?) those arguments weren't an accurate statement of the law, because the 10th Circuit had tossed out exactly the same arguments in a 2002 case where Wyoming sued the U.S. (showing more cool-headed judgment right there than Pearce and his pals did), claiming the right to vaccinate elk to protect local herds of cows from bruccellosus.   The 10th Circuit explained that the Supremacy Clause means what it says.
So the question remains, why did Pearce incite and encourage all this anti-governmental rhetoric, which wasted court time and resources and could have wasted a few lives, when he must have known it was all legally frivolous?  (I assume he knew that because I give him credit for being smart enough to talk to a lawyer; but perhaps I err.)]

[Pearce also backed the recent Malheur Refuge takeover, at least implicitly.

It's worth recalling the "cause" that the Bundys and Pearce used to justify action: local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond had set a fire to protect their land from an approaching fire, and had thereby damaged federal land (and endangered firefighters they knew were nearby).  Mandatory sentence for their conduct was five years' imprisonment.  A friendly judge reduced Dwight's five years to three months (and reduced Steven's I forget how much), which federal courts later rejected.
I loathe mandatory minimums.  Reading the account, it's easy at first to sympathize with the Hammonds; but the 2006 fire was their second known arson, as they had also started a fire (on federal property or their own, depending on whose view you buy) that burned 139 acres of public land.

Further, the elder Hammond apparently had assaulted a federal refuge staffer in 1994; had made death threats for years against refuge managers; repeatedly violated terms of permits and moved herds across the refuge without giving the requisite advance notice; often allowed his cattle to trespass on refuge streams for days, trampling new willow trees that crews had just planted; and evaded serious jail time only because of the intervention by the local Republican congressman.

In January 2016, Pearce voiced sympathy with the takeover, without actually condoning it: "[P]eople in the West are furious.  They're furious going into this situation.  Now I'm not taking sides on the Bundys.  I think that's a sideshow.  I think the Hammonds are the ones who have been badly treated, and that's what we're expressing in the West.  We're fed up."  It's worth noting that the tone and substance are sympathetic with the Bundy's, who are at that point committing crimes against the U.S. Government Pearce supposedly serves; and "I'm not taking sides on the Bundys" states flatly that he refuses to take the side of the U.S. Government against criminals. (Note that he did not say "I'm not taking the Bundy's side" or "I'm not taking sides with the Bundys.")

On January 7. 2016, Steve Pearce released a statement on the Malheur Refuge takeover stressing that "we understand their frustration with increasingly heavy-handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers.  He stated that he did not condone the takeover; but as far as I can tell, he certainly didn't urge the out-of-state ranchers to abandon their illegal control of the Oregon refuge. 

At a NM Cattle-Growers Association meeting, a Pearce ally said of these eventa, "Two men accidentally burned 140 acres of tumblewoods and they are in prison in Oregon for five years mandatory for setting the fire." Pearce himself spoke moments later, saying "we are in a fight for our lives," adding that the government will not and cannot secure the border, they do not desire to secure it, and they have not secured it."
[FACT: the border protection is working much better than it did in the past.]]

[Few sane citizens realize there's actually a "Sovereign Movement" which holds that for some arcane legal reason having to do with the paperwork ending the Civil War, elected county sheriffs are actually the highest legitimate law-enforcement officers in the nation.  (Some county sheriffs tend to like that idea, and I learned about this stuff while I was looking into our previous sheriff's hiring of a gentleman named Seeberger.)

[If I were a Bundy cohort, or misguided patriot, pleading guilty to a crime, how would I feel about Steve Pearce egging me on from a safe spot on the sidelines -- then making political capital out of my passion and anger?]

As a citizen of this Congressional District I'll vote for Merrie Lee Soules with great delight.  She's so superior to Pearce that one friend of mine, after witnessing their recent debate in Las Cruces, said he "almost felt sorry for Pearce."  She's a longshot.  Pearce has an abundance of money from banks and oil and gas companies and the National Rifle Association.  But each vote counts.  And Pearce's support for Trump, who appalls even most Republicans, ought to weaken his credibility, particularly here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

More Images from around Home

I've been too busy to post something like this recently, with a crazy legal case going on and Sunday columns to investigate and write and a bunch of other stuff; but here's a sort of quick-shot gallery of some of the images around home the past few weeks.

Living where we live is an important aid in staying who we are, or would like to be.  A trip outside to feed the birds or take a couple of pails of water down to the compost bin or take a leak on some nutrient-starved little plant turns into a moment of wonder.
The sun will be hitting some flower just the right way or the hummingbirds will be performing their aerial dances or the vinegaroons mating near the front door -- or a rainbow is decorating the mountains.
I tried a couple of treatments of this rainbow, and liked this one.

The cactus flowers below, I haven't tried transforming into faux toes.  Still, I guess I felt like they might be lonely, or feel slighted, if I didn't let them come join the others in the gallery.


These guys have taken off for Cabo or somewhere,
leaving the milder-mannered hummers who winter with us.

I'd rather no feeder, but a hesperaloe or California fuchsia, but getting three or four of these fellas together, and in focus, is always fun.

I don't photograph a lot of white-winged doves.  They're the big guys who get in the way of my images of house finches, pyrrhaloxia, black-throated sparrows, and quail.  (The quail are comical figures.)

But one morning the sun happened to catch this guy when most everything around him was dark.  
 Meanwhile, more hummers . . .
Anyway, here are a bundle of recent images I meant to post here a couple of weeks ago.  Time keeps moving way too fast.  I keep expecting to hear the astronomers or physicists or someone announce that things have sped up in the universe, but it could just be my own vast age.
The familiarity of the red rose doesn't keep me from appreciating it every time the light catches a blossom in a slightly different way. 
This is our view East, just before sunset.  It's also exactly where the full moon rises, at certain points in the year.


Like in Ireland

Like in Ireland
Early one morning just walking back up from the goat pen, where the compost and worms now live, the desert after some decent rains suddenly looked like Ireland or something, all this lovely green.

This is how the photo looked, without any playing around.

Rose at Sunset

Mexican Hat


Yellow Butterfly

Clouds above Mountains at Sunset

New Mexico Sunset #83

The Moon Near Full

Red Sky at Night?

Sunday, October 9, 2016

New Mexico Should End its Marijuana Prohibition

Bennett Hertzler lived in my college dorm freshman year. I didn't know him well. Sweet-natured, gentle guy. In a dorm sweep in the spring of 1965, police found a few marijuana seeds in his desk drawer. He went to jail for years. Miserable experience. He was never the same. Died young.

The War on Drugs grew out of the 1960's.

Many citizens were scared. White and black young people were going around together, and demanding fair treatment for all. Long-haired students listened to strange music and questioned why we were killing Vietnamese. The generation that had lived through the Depression and World War II, and worshiped safety and security, was shocked when its sons and daughters chose change and adventure. 

Now, even the Republican elder statesmen who advocated the War on Drugs acknowledge that it failed. But back then it was a convenient way to control blacks and progressives. Can't bust 'em for their thoughts or words? Catch 'em with a joint.

There never was a good reason for outlawing marijuana. It's more benign than alcohol. The country had tried prohibiting alcohol, for good reasons, but it didn't work. Made criminals of most young people, increased bribery and corruption, and lessened respect for law enforcement. Prohibition made drinking more fun.

Same with marijuana. 

In this year's special session, called so that New Mexico's “leaders” can discuss how to make ends meet with oil and gas income down, Bill McCamley is saying. “Let's legalize marijuana and tax it. It'll add 10,000 more jobs and $400 million to our economy, and probably add $40 million to the state's tax revenues.” (The Governor, having no good answer for our economic woes, is trying to distract us with capital punishment.)

Our urgent need for revenue is just one reason for legalization. We spend $33 million a year processing marijuana criminal cases, when we could be reaping $40 million in taxes.

Marijuana laws, even with lightened penalties for personal use, still destroy lives.

Marijuana does people no significant harm. I've known many people who've smoked grass daily for decades and have remained bright, thoughtful members of society. When I was younger, friends regularly got stoned and went to work. (I never could. Grass was great for manual chores, but try being a reporter when you keep laughing uncontrollably every time you try to ask a question. I gave the stuff up decades ago.)

The claim that marijuana “leads to stronger drugs” is a gross oversimplification. Most of us got hooked on chocolate and drank booze before we tried grass, so you could say the same about those “drugs.” If marijuana has led some people toward stronger drugs, maybe that's because laws undermined the credibility of parents and police and forced us into the arms of the bootleggers. When we could see grass did no harm (and impaired driving far less than booze did) the arguments against it sounded like “if you masturbate, you'll go blind.” 

Instead of destroying kids' lives and undermining parents' and cops' authority, why not reap some of the benefits Colorado and Washington enjoy? 

This shouldn't be a partisan issue. We all need that tax revenue. We all want the government not to interfere with our Constitutional rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness without a real strong state interest to justify that interference.

Here, the smoker's fun can help the States' budget. 

Republicans refuse to hear McCamley's bill. Like kids screaming and covering their ears to avoid hearing that it's bedtime. Hearings on the bill would reveal how sensible it is!

So speak up to your legislator and our lame-duck governor.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 9 October, 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website, and on KRWG-TV's website.  I welcome comments, questions, and criticisms here or on those sitesAlready a Dr. David Allen has added an interesting comment on the KRWG website regarding the importance of marijuana-related health research being "delayed by politics."  He adds a link to a paper on the endocannabinoid system -- a paper on which I have as yet no opinion, not having read it or having time to do so this morning, but it looks interesting.]

[Is it cynical to conclude that the bottom lines are, as usual, greed tinged with ethnic bias?  By any measure, sustained and significant use of alcohol does far more long-term damage to folks than sustained and significant use of marijuana does.  Demonstrably, as I mention in the column, driving interferes more seriously with driving than marijuana does, and its effects tend to strengthen with the passing minutes and hours, while marijuana's impairment lifts with time.   Yet alcohol is all around, advertised on TV and readily available.  (And I'm not suggesting we try to prohibit it again.  But I will note that in some parts of the country support for prohibition 100 years ago was based on the belief that prohibition would help control the blacks.)  Isn't the disparate treatment of these substances largely that big-money interests would be hurt by making booze illegal, while other folks are making so much money off marijuana's illegality that they'd rather keep the stuff outlawed?  The private prison industry and others would be hurt by legalization, and (again, as with alcohol prohibition) the bootleggers don't want to see any such change.]

[I mention that I don't see this as a partisan issue, but that Bill McCamley introduced a bill recently that Republicans refused to hear.  In briefly researching this column I learned that a bill to legalize marijuana was introduced in Texas last year -- by a Republican, David Simpson.  His essay The Christian Case for Drug Law Reform articulates his position, and should be interesting to any sincere Christian whose doubtful about this issue.  His bill passed the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee 5-1.]

[Will Texas outsmart New Mexico?  I sure hope not.]

[Early this morning as I walked back up to the house from the compost bin, I was greeted by a text message suggesting "Peter Goodman for President, Bill McCamley for Vice-President," but I replied that while grateful for the thought I'd leave that to Bill.]

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Football: great game, but . . .

How does it feel to be a 21st Century football fan?

I loved playing football and baseball as a kid. 

I've watched the NFL for decades. I was a New York City cabdriver when Joe Namath and the Jets shocked the world by beating the highly-favored Baltimore Colts. I moved to San Francisco in 1980 – just in time for the Niners' first Super Bowl, as Joe Montana helped rescue them out of years of mediocrity. 

But the facts are the facts about what the game does to its best players – including the way repeated concussions can destroy a brain. “Yeah, he got his bell rung!” coaches used to laugh. 

Jim McMahon, who threw his first college touchdown pass against UTEP, then won two Super Bowls, has early-stage dementia at 53. Star linebacker Junior Seau, 43, committed suicide after texting his family to have his brain scanned for damage. Thurman Thomas, who played in four straight Super Bowls, is 50, suffering from uncontrollable mood swings and sometimes getting confused about where he is while driving a road he drives every day. Doctors say Thomas's brain looks as if his head went through a windshield multiple times at high speed. Brett Favre says he wouldn't let his kid play football. 

I feel uncomfortable watching football now. Like Favre, though without his credibility, if asked, I'd likely discourage a kid from playing. But my warnings would be as ineffectual as the ones I got against driving too fast, drinking too much, falling in love too easily, or going to remote or dangerous places.

I wonder when the mild discomfort of watching younger men destroy their bodies and brains for our amusement, like modern-day gladiators, will morph into guilt. Will we soon conclude that by watching football we're abetting a nefarious scheme that destroys young men's lives in order to sell billions of dollars of beer, sugar-filled sodas, poisoned hamburgers, and what-not? 

I'm not taking a political position here. 

I'm trying to figure out where I stand in relation to the ugly truth that's emerging.

I follow the game with a little less interest now. Sure, the Niners, run by egotistical baboons, shot themselves in the foot by firing Jim Harbaugh. And I'm aging, perhaps even maturing. But I'm also uneasy about what the game does to people's health. 

Then there's the social cost. Football injures affect not only players, but their families – and ultimately, the rest of us. Many who suffer brain injuries will burden our over-stressed health system. Some will become public charges. Sure, the luckiest or most skillful players are extravagantly well-paid; but for every player with a zillion-dollar contract, there are thousands of kids who are unlucky enough to suffer serious brain injuries without getting closer to the professional game than a 30th-row seat. All to what end? 

Someday we'll face the ugliness head on. It was ugly when TV-advertisers reaped zillions of dollars by promising kids that smoking cancer-sticks was glamorous and cool and would help a kid get somewhere with girls. It's ugly that selling beer by associating it with sexy women objectifies women as sexual products in men's eyes -- and messes up young girls' self-images. 

So as the Aggies play their first conference home-game, and as everyone breaks out the Trojans and Bulldawgs banners, let me play crotchety old man. I haven't given up watching football. I haven't forgotten how glorious it felt to play the game, or how much I wished to be a better player. But if I'd played better then, perhaps I couldn't have written this as coherently today.

[The above column appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 2 October 2016, as well as on the newspaper's website the newspaper's website, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website as well.  Please feel free to comment here or on either of those other sites.  And thanks for readingFor football fans, apologies for typing in "Green Bay Pakcers" instead of "Baltimore Colts" -- it was the Colts, with the great Johnny Unitas and coached by Don Shula, who lost to Namath and the Jets, to our delight.  Green Bay I think had won the first two Super Bowls by big margins, over Oakland and Kansas City, before the American Football League finally won one.]

[I'm not advocating anyone outlaw football tomorrow.  More, I'm musing on a present in which our awareness of its dangers, or our willingness to deal with those, lags way behind their importance -- and on a future when, if leagues and teams and coaches and schools and parents don't deal with the realities, football might be outlawed or a lot less popular.  I'm aware that some local schools and coaches don't abide by rules to protect their kids, but also that the kids are the last to insist on that.  I'd never have wanted to come out of a game of any kind for any reason!  Still not too keen on it.]

[I mentioned to a friend at Farmers' Market yesterday that today's column was on football.  He made a face and told me he loathed sports.  That's not an unreasonable position, particularly when sports so dominate academics and other concerns at so many institutions of learning.  But it ain't my position.  I'm addicted to playing sports and I'll watch professional baseball, maybe a little football, and maybe even a little golf on TV today.  But I also understand the downsides of sports, which are not limited to injuries.]